A Contradiction in Visibility

Here’s a thing I’ve spent too much time thinking about: Now that I have a book deal, I am kind of…visible now? I am kind of…a public person? A public figure possibly, if things continue to go well? (See the use of question marks as a means of underscoring my discomfort and uncertainty, not really a question). Obviously, “putting yourself out there” has always been a part of the process of being a successful author, but the reality of what that looks like has changed quite a bit over my lifetime. As a kid, authors were mysterious creatures: the dead ones were all painted as tortured geniuses or visionaries, unknowable despite years of private journals or preserved correspondence. For living authors, well, maybe you knew what they looked like from their (usually very outdated) book jacket photo, and if they were really super successful you might have seen interviews with them on various talk shows. Still: for the most part, they were total strangers.

Now authors have blogs (hi), newsletters, and social media accounts. Not just authors, even–all kinds of celebrities have become suddenly (relatively) accessible to the masses (authors just seem to be one of the few “celebs” where having an online presence feels requisite within the industry). Social media has brought about an age of flourishing parasocial relationships, egged on by any minor interaction from the object of attention. We all feel like we know the people we follow online. We see how they talk about their family, how much they love their pets, how much they care about, or don’t care about, certain causes. And I’m not just talking about public figures, even. We do this to our peers, too.

Meme borrowed from @haykebyr but idk where the template came from

Anyway, as much as I’ve kept this public blog for most of my adult life, it was always fairly safe to do so because it was so short-reaching. I felt comfortable sharing intimate thoughts and feelings because I knew/had interacted with most of the people reading, and they’d given me enough positive feedback about what I was posting that I felt I was possibly offering some kind of help/support to folks by sharing my journey and my insights.

But now I really have to think before I post, don’t I?

And I’ve had to think, too, about how I want to present myself to the world, now that more than a handful of people could potentially be reading this. Like most of us, I’ve been semi-consciously curating my online presence to project a certain image for quite a while, but now…well, it all comes down to branding, doesn’t it. What is my brand? Do I have one? Do I want one?

Long ago I wrote a blog post about the fact that a person is not a brand, but these days, I can see the benefit of it. Similar to writing under a pseudonym, there is a positive trade-off to keeping your real self hidden from the world. If I play the part of The Author, rather than putting my whole Me out there, there is less of a chance that I, personally, will get hurt. Any criticism will be for the character I’m playing, not for me. Some part of me has always wanted to try my hand at acting, so why not now?

Well, for starters, I find it difficult to even reply to “how’s it going?” with anything less than the actual truth. I dislike the feeling of knowing a person thinks of me as one thing when I am actually another. I find it exhausting to hold myself in, like a social girdle wrapped around my too-much emotion and “quirk.” Maybe this is because I recently realized I’m neurodivergent and have been masking my true self since I was a wee child. Maybe it’s just because I’m too tired, for all the reasons, to play pretend for anything but my fiction.

And so, it seems it would be easiest to just be myself in all walks of life, yeah? Except, if I am myself, then any criticism directed towards me is for the actual Me, not the brand. And that means being vulnerable to more than just a handful of people–it means being vulnerable to the whole wide world.

Which then makes me wonder: what is my responsibility to my audience? At what point of success do I become a person with a “platform” of any significance? At what point does me writing strange books about angry girls and blogging about my creative/spiritual/mental health journey become “influential” and a source of power that I have to be careful with?

I have a sense that I should probably be a little more careful and less self-indulgent on these posts, now that more strangers will be seeing them. My pathological demand avoidance rages against that idea, but my self preservation is equally loud. I have a tendency to over-explain myself, and I find myself wanting to do just that–to use this blog as a means of explaining why I am the way that I am, why I write what I write, why I wrote the book that I wrote. (I guess I’m already doing that right now, aren’t I?)

People are going to ask me, eventually: What compelled you to write this? How do I explain that it really was a compulsion? That I tried to let it go, back away, work on something else (because I knew it was difficult, and I knew it would be a hard sell, and I knew people were going to feel uncomfortable reading it) but for seven years I could not keep away from this story. Because while I knew all the reasons I should not devote my time and attention to writing this book, and all the reasons why it was going to be incredibly difficult to write this book, I also believed that if this book was published, people were going to see themselves in it in a way they haven’t seen themselves before. I knew that the things driving me to tell this story (rage, pain, powerlessness, and confusion, all inextricably linked to being a woman under a late-stage capitalist patriarchy) were not mine alone, and to remain silent would be of service to no one.

And that’s ultimately the reason why I keep this blog, too. I express myself best through written words, and the complicated thoughts and feelings that go into having a life experience are easiest for me to express through my meandering, exploratory essays that eschew standard essay structure for better or worse. Maybe you’ve noticed if you’ve been reading for a while: I never start with a thesis, I discover it, and I leave it like that–leave the evidence of my journey written down for all to see–because that’s what it’s like to be human. (Or maybe that’s just what it’s like to be neurodivergent…I’m still trying to figure that one out.)

And every time I post something new, I think, “who the hell cares? Why do I think anyone wants to read about me processing my life out loud?” And then I remind myself of all the people who have shared their life with strangers on the internet, and how it helped me/us feel less alone. I recall the people who have reached out after reading a post to say they were going through something similar, and reading my post gave them hope. People read these kinds of blog posts and newsletters for the same reason we need mirrors in fiction: we want to see ourselves in other people, because it means we’re not broken, weird, messed up, crazy, weak, stupid, etc. It means we are not alone.

Maybe that’s my brand, in the end: a woman on a quest to discover her own truths, with a compulsion to share them with the world, just in case it can be of any help.

I think I could live with that.

Four feral girls believe they are princesses from another world. The world believes they are brainwashed kidnapping victims.

What is the truth?

You decide.

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