At the start of the year, I decided to recommend something new every day on my Tumblr. I started with the book I was reading at the time, and went on to talk up essays, songs, podcasts, films, and people whose writing I love. (You can see all my recommendations here.)
My reasons for doing this were simple. I wanted to force myself to be positive on social media, on a daily basis, instead of taking days off when I feel low, or worse, passive-aggressively grumping it up on Twitter and Facebook. I also wanted to have a daily commitment, like one of those people who publishes a bestselling book or gives up their job to write a blog and a movie about how they changed one small thing and became less self-obsessed and now here they are in a mansion by the sea feeling more fulfilled than they ever thought possible.
Also, and this is so embarrassing I didn’t even admit it to myself until a couple of weeks ago, I think I secretly hoped it would make my Tumblr stratospherically popular and people would be so impressed with my taste that I’d get a huge boost in Twitter followers and people who want me to write for them and my craven neediness would finally be satisfied.
That didn’t happen. When you have about a hundred people following you on Tumblr, your posts are really unlikely to go viral. And I’m not Beyoncé, so no-one was dying to know what my favourite movies are. And that’s OK. I’m not saying they should care. But I slowly realised that when I posted to little or no response, I felt bad about myself. I felt like an idiot. I felt exposed. And that was the other thing.
A short paragraph about why you like a certain thing isn’t a big deal. But do it every day, and it starts to feel like a confession. You have to dig deep to come up with things you like because it’s easy to forget when you put yourself on the spot like this. And it’s just you: there’s no layer of sarcasm or humour to hide behind. You’re not snarking on something, or saying “You know, I guess this is OK…” You’re being deeply, profoundly uncool by showing your enthusiasm.
And if someone sees that you love electric blankets, or a book Oprah’s been raving about for years, and think that makes you a dork or a naif or a complete snooze, you can’t take it back. (Yes, I am doing well with that “not caring what people think” thing, why do you ask?)
All of my earnest, unvarnished sentences made me feel self-conscious and stupid.
” I hope to never, ever go back to that awful world of freezing cold sheets and barely effective hot water bottles.”
“Martin Sheen has been my favourite so far, but they all have something to recommend them.”
“It’s a futile fist-shake at the increasingly entertainment-driven focus of news programming…”
Ew. Oof. Stop it.
Yet it took everything I had to type them. Being positive was like using a muscle that’s weak from lack of use: painful, unnatural. And all the time my inner critic was telling me, “No one cares what you think.” But I kept going, because I have a tendency to quit things. I quit ballet, tap dancing, disco dancing, ice skating, soap-collecting, vegetarianism, yoga, step aerobics, owning guinea pigs, Amnesty International, a different yoga class, learning to drive, university (twice) and several friendships. Probably the only things I’ve stuck to since I was a kid are breathing and watching TV.
You could be kind and say I’m a seeker but it would be more truthful to say that I’d rather lie on the sofa looking gormless than try to change my life. Deciding to be more positive felt like a hopeful decision. So I pushed myself to write posts when I didn’t feel like doing it, because that’s what consistency is about. You don’t have to feel good, you just have to do it. (It was almost exactly like training for a marathon.) But one day when I was pushing myself, at the end of the day when I was tired and needed to go to bed but was forcing myself to write a paragraph of soul-exposing bumpf that a couple of people might click on, the thought popped into my head: What are you doing this for, really?
That’s when I realised: approval. And also, distraction.
I have a lot of writing goals, but I’m really good at finding ways to not achieve them – and I don’t even know I’m doing it. Here I am, with limited years on the earth, an energy-sapping illness, and a long list of things I’m desperate to write, and I’m spending up to half an hour a day on a project that doesn’t get me any closer to finishing any of them.
This isn’t new. In the past, I’ve written things for blogs because people asked me to, got into worthless debates on forums, and, you know: social media. At the same time, I’ve told myself that I haven’t got time for the kind of writing that makes me feel fulfilled and like life has meaning, as wanky as that might sound. (That’s why this article made me do such a loud hollow laugh.)
I’ve been filling up my time with online busywork because I’m scared to try and fail, and a to-do list is a great defence. And also because putting my nose to the keyboard while I see writers I vaguely know being published in high-profile places can make me feel invisible, so dashing off an opinion about books/TV/movies lets people know I’m alive.
But ego and self-sabotage? Those are my reasons for keeping up this Tumblr? Yeah, that sounds logical and reasonable and worth giving up my deepest-held ambitions for. So I quit. And I feel bad thinking about how I started something and let it drop, again. ( I just want to be perfect and do everything, is that so much to ask?) But now I’ve got more time, so I can focus on what I really want to write. And I will. I WILL. I really hope I will.