When The Internet Stares Back

Want to know how to win friends and influence people? Write on the internet.

Want to know how to isolate yourself and acquire a collection of nationwide haters convinced you're an undercover rep for a multi-million dollar pharmaceutical company disguised as a mom with postpartum anxiety? Write on the internet. 

If you would have told me a year ago I'd be writing for the likes of Huffington Post and Scary Mommy, I'd laugh in your face and then go home and Google how to get in with Huffington Post and Scary Mommy. Then I'd email them until they offered me login credentials.

True to my impatience, that's basically what I did--and it worked. Sort of. A few months ago, a glass of wine or two deep and likely deflated by a few Instagram unfollows (no, I don't have an app, but yes, I sometimes notice), I emailed Arianna Huffington an excerpt from an article I had written on epidurals (big crowd pleaser). And by the hilarious grace of God, Arianna Huffington emailed me back and said we'd like to feature your voice on our parenting page.

To say I lost my mind would do that moment no justice. The publication at the very top of my list--the one I was sure would make me a viral sensation, the sleeper hit of 2016--said yes to me. My voice, my words, my ideas. My bad jokes. My story. 

And then, I lost my mind again. This time when I read the comments on that article. The one I thought would change the world. You just want attention, they said. Why do you need our approval so bad? they asked. If you really don't care what people think why do you need to write about this online? I mean, they had good points. I did want attention, a little bit. And HuffPost didn't even pick me-- I pushed.

As it turns out, the only big break I'd have online that go-round came in the form of a breaking point. It was like dancing on stage in my underwear in front of a million strangers. I shared something vulnerable, something I hoped would leak a little freedom into someone's life. Then, the internet cracked me open, and I got a pretty good look at what was inside. A girl who pushes to be picked, and sometimes aims her life at the people and things most likely to celebrate her. But wedged somewhere beneath that self-serving motive is a real desire to use what I've been given to help others.

So, what's next? Do I quit because there's some bad mixed in with my good? Do I resist the gritty work of platform building because there's a chance I might make much of myself? Sure, that'd be easy. But not without a price. When I resist the mess, I save myself some trouble, but I also miss out on the breakthrough that makes the story.

Here's what you'll learn when the internet stares back--if there's any story worth telling, it's hidden in that sliver of space where darkness becomes light. And it goes a little something like this: 

Encounter hope. Lay it all out there for someone to find. Question your motives. Hit publish anyway. Acquire haters. Learn to trust yourself. Keep writing. Get big, maybe. Get small, no question. Grow your platform. 

Grow your heart. 

5 Things: Writing as Soul Care

Since graduating with my English degree, I’ve noticed myself dropping the craft of writing in favor of my spiritual to-do list, as if the two are mutually exclusive.  In those seasons when the pragmatic prevails over the luxury of art, I categorize writing as an ad hoc part of me and dismiss the urge to put pen to paper as selfish, a hobby reserved for a more seasoned, elegant version of myself. I focus all my attention and emotional energy on getting my act together, when what I really need is to just get my craft together. My act, as it turns out, will politely follow.

Writing, like any other creative act, is a form of sowing, and it sows seeds into our souls. Planting anything requires equal parts practice and patience, so it should be no surprise we don’t see a harvest straightaway. What matters is we’re planting something, and at just the right time, when we’re ripe for it and when we need it most, we will explode into harvest. Wielding words, for me, is an integrative practice, a steep and winding road leading me to the version of myself I’d been waiting around for all along. Here’s what I mean.

1. Writing summons emotion, giving us permission to break.

You know how the professionals warn us not to stuff our emotions, lest they seep out of us in some undesirable way later on in life? When we take our hands and write, we remind our hearts it’s okay to feel. I wrote a line in a poem once in about benching my emotions, blaming whatever melodramatic college season I was in at the time. The line was something pithy about building dams to redirect my pain until a time “better suited for breaking.” Ironically, I employed poetry to process an emotion about non-emotion, which, in retrospect, would have lent some texture to my poem had I mentioned it. All that to say, the act of writing, whether or not we like it or even know it, guides us through our own emotion, the deeper places of our souls. Putting pen to paper is like a memo from our outer lives to our inner lives: “you can come out now, old friend, there’s a safe place for you out here.”

2. Writing calls forth hope, reminding us of what could be.

In practicing our art, we feed our souls the hope they crave. Sometimes the only thing to sustain us in the dark pit is the little glimpse of light we see through the cracks, reminding us we’re not there yet, but almost. Words do that, too, because writing down our stories not only tells us what was and what is, but also what could be. In this way, an ad lib journal entry poured out in the thick of things can be about as spiritual as a psalm-- a symbol of our humanity, a song we sing to woo the light back in.

3. Writing creates space, showing us what we believe.

I’m not Buddhist, and I think you know that, but a friend I sat down with recently told me about a Buddhist retreat she attended at a Franciscan convent. What she observed about herself resonated with me, and it’s something I want to try. She said she noticed thoughts she normally wouldn’t have in the intentional time of quiet. For me, writing cultivates a similar mindfulness. I heard a metaphor once that writing is like dipping your brain in ink and stamping it on paper. How visceral is that? Pardon the new age adage, but noticing things happening in our brains is a stepping stone to change. Again, but in Christian-ese: we are transformed by the renewal of our minds. 

4. Writing releases energy, guarding us from spending it on anxiety.

Just like exercise is a release of pent-up physical energy, art releases emotional energy. When we’re anxious or frustrated or heartbroken our bodies physiologically respond to protect us, creating energy can either well up into something unproductive or into something fruitful.  We could impulse spend that energy on further anxiety, or we can revisit our crap and work it out of us. I usually choose the former, but when I choose to engage and look my life in the eye through writing, things move forward.

5. Writing redeems our pain, shaping it into beauty.

I really believe writing, and all art, mimics redemption. We take our pain, our messes, through the chrysalis of our craft, and it emerges in an altogether different form. Something almost unrecognizable. Something that infuses our lives with meaning. Like a kiln, our writing seals the trial, turning raw material into art-- a piece of art we can hold up to the world as a sign that we are here, we are alive, we are enough.