On Self-Commodification (Why I Signed Up on Facebook, Twitter, and the Rest of Them)

I signed up on Twitter the other day, and felt the Great Resistance of my introversion kick its last and sink into the muddy grave of social media.

(I’ve always had a flair for the dramatic.)

As of today, I have profiles on the following social media sites: Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, and the lovely WordPress. The most developed of my virtual personalities is probably the Facebook one, just because I’ve had it for the longest (just like my future first kid will be the favorite). On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve disowned my Myspace. Because seriously, I mean really seriously, who wants to keep something around that reminds them of their adolescence? Exactly.

Each of these personalities has a hypothetical purpose. Facebook to keep up with family and friends and reassure prospective mates and/or employers that I am not one of those offline lunatics; LinkedIn for professional networking (wait, what’s that now?); Pinterest to hoard without risking an appearance on the A&E series; Tumblr to keep tabs on the sister I worry about; and WordPress to write about whatever tickles my fancy, and to practice for when I’m all grown up. I’m not sure what Twitter is good for yet, other than a glorified “telephone” game, but I’ll get there. The one exception is probably Google+; I just got bored one day and felt like I wasn’t enough of a person, so I filled up that yawning crevice of a black hole with another virtual me. And then cookies.

This is not counting profiles on the sites like Pandora and 8tracks that I maintain for explicitly passive use (i.e. I can open them in a tab, press play, and let them do their thing). And sites like Goodreads, YouTube, Gallivant, and BucketList, all of which require extensive curating of whatever they sling.

And even more accounts that I’ve forgotten all about, so many faded personages turned to salt or ash or whatever other fine-grained element the various powers of the universe choose to curse heroes with. It’s not quite betrayal, or maybe it is but only a new flavor. Self-betrayal, the coining of which makes me cringe. There are too many ‘self-____” words these days.

Back a few moments, to the Google+ conundrum. So I didn’t feel like enough of a person. I’m an introvert, which doesn’t mean I’m antisocial so much as I don’t like mosh pits and I get tired from talking and listening. I have a lot of extroverted friends who will go on and on and on, and eventually they realize I have the door open and am sliding their coat on for them and that they need to get the hell out. Which they graciously do. But when you’re trying to be a person on Facebook, there is no way to ask to be left alone for awhile without looking like a psychopath. Think about the options you have: ‘Hide,’ ‘Ignore,’ and ‘Unfriend.’ Really, Facebook? I might be introverted, but I don’t like to just ignore or hide from people. Sometimes it’s necessary, like in a dive bar at last call. Then I allow myself to be impolite. But social media is marginally better than a dive bar (most of the time). So what, do I just message the person and say, hey, you should really stop inviting me to Farmville, because I can’t even keep my own life organized and I don’t have time for an entire farm thank you very much? Have you ever done that? How many people on Facebook have had friendly discussions about personal space? 

I’m not going to count, but maybe you get it… Thanks for getting it.

Even hiding things from my newsfeed makes me feel rotten. Do I tell Cousin Jeff I unsubscribed from his posts when he asks me why I don’t already know his cat died? Not unless I want to ruin his Christmas.

But all that’s peripheral to my main picking bone. Similar to how comedians feel they always have to be ‘on’ at parties, as a writer I feel I always have to be ‘on’ when posting on any of my profiles. To give you an idea of how far my writing process reaches and how stupid it is: The other day, my mother asked me to send a text. Twenty minutes later I’m laying on the floor trying to decide between ‘would you want to’ and ‘do you think you could…’ For chrissake.

You get how I could be worn out trying to be all these persons all over the place. Being expected by potential editors/agents/employers etc. to be savvy in all of them and not turn into the Gollum from lack of sunlight/nutrition. Believe me, I’m resolute in being here. I am determined to be all the heres I can be. But at a certain point you just run out of attention to give, of willpower to decide, even if it’s choosing whether to put a BluntCard on your Wall (Would they get it? Would they be offended? Would it ruin my chances of getting that internship? AM I A REAL PERSON ANYMORE?)

Lately it seems as if we are the ones being bought and sold. And while I would rather opt out of a society that tracks my activity for purposes nefarious and otherwise, no one wants to be the last toy left on the shelf.

Aaaand scene.

…Master of What, Now?

I’ve been dreaming of pursuing an MFA in creative writing since I was an undergrad. One day, while I was wandering around the university bookstore, I stumbled upon The Creative Writing MFA Handbook by Tom Kealey. I read the first three chapters right there in the store, caved and bought it. A bit redundant, daydreaming about school when you’re already in school, but my trains of thought are underailable. By now I know better than to fight it. Undergrad dragged on / flew by and I gravitated toward the idea of the MFA. The only problem was, I was going to have to chill out for a little bit before I gave chase; a few classmates of mine applied to programs during senior year, but I only knew of one– a terrifyingly gifted writer– who was accepted to a Lit MA program. Other than that, the overwhelming response was, “Go mess around for a while, then reapply when you have shit to write about.” I moved home and waited for something remarkable to happen.

Eventually I realized that some guy wouldn’t just knock on my door and say hey I found some extra writing material that I can’t use, maybe you could take it off my hands. So I got three jobs, went to parties with the explicit and yet subconscious purpose of humiliating myself as much as possible, dug into relationships way past the point of no return, and thought a lot about everything I could think of. Couldn’t tell you what exactly I’ve learned or if the things I’ve written down have any utility or entertainment value whatsoever, but maybe other writers could. Regardless, I now have material.

Out of the 215 programs on the Poets & Writer’s database for Creative Writing MFAs, I’ve narrowed it down to 16 just by asking myself, “Could I live with myself in [insert city]?” Call it oversimplified, reductive, or obtuse, but I learned my lesson in undergrad when I moved from Minnesota to Los Angeles. You can love the people there all you want, but the city itself is a personality that you’re going to have to deal with for the duration of your residency, and I’d rather not take up with another– excuse me– lunatic like LA. It was fun and all, but it gets old. Like that one “free spirit” you dated for awhile, or Joan Rivers. Maybe you dated Joan Rivers. Who would date Joan Rivers?

I digress.

The resulting shortlist:

1. University of Minnesota
2. Minnesota State University – Mankato
3. Hamline University
4. University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
5. University of Iowa
6. University of Wisconsin – Madison
7. Cornell University
8. Syracuse University
9. Columbia University
10. New York University
11. Emerson College
12. Boston University
13. University of Baltimore
14. Johns Hopkins University
15. University of Virginia
16. University of New Orleans

Poets & Writers have ranked these programs in various places, and some of them are in the top twenty and some aren’t even close. But after a bit of digging, I’ve decided the veracity of their methodology is tenuous at best. Sure, there are certain deal-breakers and -makers, but beyond that I think it’s a bit of a crapshoot. I need a good city, full funding, and a solid writing community. The rest is gravy.

Sometimes I lay awake and tell myself I’m as looneytunes as the city I left, that maybe some of its crazy rubbed off and I should keep my nose on the 3-part-time-jobs-grindstone. But then I pull out Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions, or O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, or the book that started it all, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. I’ll fall asleep rereading those passages that made me want to become a writer in the first place, and wake up with the words riding on the air in my lungs, stretching out to nap in the synapses between my neurons. They affect the way I put on my coat in the morning and how I pour the milk on my cereal. Arranged a certain way, words change the little things. And the little things are everything.