Shark Infested Waters

Welp.

once-more-with-feeling-20-years-of-buffy-10-amazing-musical-moments-where-does-the-end-1359289

How was your week?

I have nothing to add about the election that hasn’t already been said. I am still grieving Hillary’s loss and it’s clouding my ability to fully process his win, but I’m getting there.

The last time a president won by the skin of the electoral college, I was 16 years old. I was used to feeling helpless about the world around me. I was politically aware as a teenager and I tried to be politically active in my 20s. I marched in a few protests against the Iraq War, donated to causes I believed in, and was outspoken among friends and family. And maybe that is being politically active, but it’s the activism of a young white woman who would never be truly effected by any failed efforts.

To many, this isn’t the New World Order. It’s been reality for quite a while. This isn’t comforting, but it is sobering. To me, it’s Kafkaesque. It’s a world I knew existed, but refused to believe could gain power and become legitimized. I’m more connected to other perspectives and worldviews than I’ve been in the past. Social media is a large part of this, but it’s also my own maturity and ability to interpret what I couldn’t see before. And I still feel so naive. There is so much I still need to learn and understand. This blog post is not going to be the thing that does that. It’s my bare minimum of moving forward and becoming a member of society again. I have clients to represent and work to do, but first, a few things.

1) Hi. I’m Sarah. I’m an introvert with sporadic bouts of depression and anxiety. Everyone grieves differently, but people like me often need to grieve alone – and silently. You may notice that a lot of people you follow on Twitter or Facebook have announced they’re “taking a social media break.” I’m one of those people. I promise, it’s not to cut ourselves off from reality or ignore those effected most. The word “introvert” became kind of trendy in the last couple years, and I’ve even had people ask me if “it’s really true” that we need to “recharge.” Yes, it is. And that’s just after a night of socializing with friends. What I think is less understood is that introverts don’t only need to recharge after a night out. Coupled with depression and anxiety, my own mind is sometimes beyond the restorative power of taking a yoga class or having a glass of wine. Sometimes I need to cut myself off so that the noise in my head doesn’t multiply any more than it will on its own.

2) I am an optimist. My first instinct is to give people the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes they don’t deserve it and I end up disappointed. But, this is who I am and I like this part of my personality. Despite where we’re heading, I’m holding onto two things:

  • She won the popular vote. Even with low voter turnout, she won the popular vote. The majority of Americans did not sign up for his ideology. There is hope in this knowledge, and I am clinging to it.
  • The calls/texts I’ve received and made in the last week have reminded me of the good around me. Whether it’s in depth conversations about what happened, or just a random heart-emoji to say “I’m thinking about you,” I’ve felt incredibly lucky to have people in my life who are smart, engaged, and care.

3) Since I always try to relate my blog posts to writing and publishing… let me say this: Before Tuesday, my biggest mental occupation was that a few writers were disappointed in a comment I made about #ownvoices. (Remember when I said I have anxiety? Sometimes things like that keep me up at night too.) On Wednesday, I thought of how I had planned to elaborate after the election, but I became too numb to think. Then I thought, MY GOD WHAT DOES IT EVEN MATTER NOW ANYWAY!? But, it does matter. Maybe not on a grand scale, but here’s what #ownvoices means to me:

  • I made a comment that some Pitch Wars entries were using a loose definition of #ownvoices. This is because my own definition of #ownvoices has always been limited to societal marginalization. i.e. Other than stigmas and internal struggles, how does society treat you? Do you get paid less? Are you subject to discrimination in a way that puts your livelihood at stake? Are you more likely to be the target of violence?  In some of the Pitch Wars entries, it wasn’t always clear the main character was marginalized at all, even if the author pointed out how they, themselves, were. That’s because we live in a society where white is the default. Straight is the default. Able-bodied is the default. Status quo is the default. If a character isn’t that, but it’s not specified on the page, that default wins.
  • I’m usually vocal about wanting to see more #ownvoices queries in my inbox. My agent bio on the Bradford Lit website explicitly states I want to see books that challenge the status quo. I mean this now more than ever. The authors and projects on my list do this – sometimes in obvious ways, and sometimes in very subtle ways. I am proud of the list I have so far, and am SO ready to grow it from here. We can write and create and help sway the conversation through art. As small as I can feel, I do have a voice, and I’m in a position to raise other voices. Sometimes it might feel pointless, but I am going to take advantage of what I can.

4) I’ve dealt with feelings the same way since I was 14 years old – listening to a lot of Ani DiFranco. Whether it’s my crush not liking me back, my parents not understanding me, not knowing what I want to do with my life, or feeling like the world as I know it is about to become very, very scary – music and art and words have been there for me. I can’t offer any final words of inspiration because I truly don’t know what will happen. I still haven’t fully processed everything myself. But, I’ll leave you with Ani for now and hope we can continue this conversation another time when things look a little clearer.

I’ve had a lack of information
I’ve had a little revelation
I’m climbing up on the railing
Trying not to look down
I’m going to do my best swan dive
Into shark infested waters
I’m going to pull out my tampon
And start splashing around
‘Cause I don’t care if they eat me alive
I’ve got better things to do than survive

That Guy You Love to Hate

This week, I learned something about myself: I am the only person on the face of the e-earth who doesn’t hate Jonathan Franzen. I’ve written about J-Franz before when Freedom was released in 2010, but after a year of a post-publication quiet, The Franzen is back with a vengeance in 2012.

After just coming off He-Called-Edith-Wharton-Ugly Gate, he had this to say about Twitter:

“Twitter is unspeakably irritating. Twitter stands for everything I oppose… it’s hard to cite facts or create an argument in 140 characters… it’s like if Kafka had decided to make a video semaphoring “The Metamorphosis.” Or it’s like writing a novel without the letter “P”… It’s the ultimate irresponsible medium.”

Now, I love Twitter. During the week, I use it to talk about publishing news, queries I receive, writing tips, and Doctor Who. I started using Twitter to fit my role of literary agent, so I never get too personal. (Likes, dislikes, and political leanings are about as deep as I go. Hopes and dreams are for offline friends.) Of course, there are those who use Twitter as an unfiltered stream of consciousness. Perhaps these are the people Jonathan Franzen finds irritating. Or maybe he hates me too. Who knows?

If you asked me three years ago what I thought about Twitter, my response would not have been too far from Franzen’s. I didn’t get it. It was glorified Facebook statuses at best, and a complete waste of brain cells at worst. Then I found my niche, gained some followers, and learned that if it’s used effectively, it’s more about communication than it is about self-promotion. I’ve even made real-life friends out of people who were once only avatars, and have made contacts in my industry that I wouldn’t have made otherwise. For an introvert who skips every networking event I can, this was a big deal.

As a converted fan of Twitter, I read Franzen’s comment with the same level of attention I give my grandmother when she complains about Madonna being a floozy. I shrugged it off, and reasoned that it’s no surprise that guy who said ebooks are “damaging society” doesn’t really care for social media. My only real problem with Franzen’s quote is how melodramatic it is. 
Apparently, a lot of people had deeper problems with it. Twitter (of course) exploded with anti-Franzen sentiment and started the (often hilarious) hashtag #JonathanFranzenHates, which included “your mom” and “pina coladas and getting caught in the rain.” There were also a lot of “get off my lawn” jokes. Yes, Franzen is behind the times and is perhaps yelling about things he doesn’t understand. But why do we care? We use Twitter; he doesn’t. Lots of people don’t. If Franzen wants to go all Andy Rooney about it, then why can’t we just let him? 

The thing about Jonathan Franzen is that he’s an extremely talented writer, and one of the last of his generation of white male literary novelists who still use typewriters. Whether you read literary fiction or not, it’s hard not to respect him as an author. If he wasn’t a Great American Novelist, then no one would pay attention when he speaks. But now it seems we’ve reached a point where we’re looking for reasons to pay attention, when in reality we can probably just ignore him until his next book is published.
I don’t understand the scrutiny of Franzen’s remarks or the notion that it’s actually people like Franzen who are destroying society. No, they’re not. He’s not telling us not to use social media. He’s stating his opinion on it. In his usual style, it comes off as judgmental and harsh, but it’s not meant to be divisive. We’re doing that. And the irony is, Franzen doesn’t even know we’re doing it because he doesn’t use the Internet.

At some point between The Corrections and now, there’s been a collective glee in taking Franzen down a notch, but no one will explain why it means so much to them to destroy this man. If he misspeaks in the media, his haters not only make sure the story doesn’t die, but will take things out of context so he seems like even more of a monster. The worse he looks, the better they feel. 

It’s hard to pinpoint when Franzenfreude first started. Was it when he dissed Oprah? Was it that Time cover? Or perhaps the “feud” he had with Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Piccoult, that was unbeknownst to him? I’m not defending Franzen’s personality. He seems exhausting, but he’s not unlike most other literary authors who have an inflated sense of self-importance. As I described him in my 2010 post, he’s pompous, sure, but he’s also socially awkward (which can lead to saying the wrong thing) and resistant to change (which often comes with choosing a field that’s mostly solitary). In simpler terms, he’s just kind of a dick. But is he a bad person? A purposely vindictive character in our literary world? No. 
Jonathan Franzen is the literary world’s Gwyneth Paltrow. (Until she decides to conquer our world too.) One wears a cloak; the other wears a cape. Gwyneth is not a bad person. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say she’s probably a very good person. The problem with Gwyneth is that she’s severely out of touch with reality, undeniably privileged, and doesn’t understand why everybody can’t buy the same $450 moisturizer she uses. She is very easy to roll your eyes at, and even more fun to flat out hate. She’s a symbol of privilege, a walking Monty Python sketch, but she isn’t someone who deliberately causes harm. 
Like the people who subscribe to Goop ironically, every time Franzen says something like his Twitter rant, I’m more amused than outraged. Oh Franzen, I’ll say to myself, You so crazy. Then I go on about my day. But when I see the indignation from people who seem to forget that he’s completely predictable, my inner monologue tends to sound more like this.

So, let’s all calm down and keep things in perspective. Maybe Franzen does think women are ugly subordinates (he doesn’t). There are real attacks on women going on in this country right now. As a feminist, I don’t want to waste my efforts on a man who may or may not think he’s a better writer than I am based solely on my gender. If there are men who think that, then that only speaks to a larger issue in our society that needs attention.

Similarly, there are real implications of resisting change. We do need to adapt and modernize and understand what’s necessary to survive. Using social media to complain about a guy who doesn’t use social media is not in our best interest. It only proves him right.

Social media is for connecting with others, giving ourselves a platform, and showing people like Franzen that it can be useful without attacking them for not joining in.

And sometimes, just sometimes, it’s for talking about Doctor Who.