A Message from The Article You Shared on Facebook That Nobody Read
Thanks for posting me. At least you know someone (probably) read the headline. Maybe they even read the first few lines of text that appear beneath the thumbnail image, or the pull quotes.
But you know that nobody read me, like, actually read me, right? You don’t have to look so sad about it. It’s fine. I know, I know—I backed up the argument you were making to your former co-worker perfectly. I’m very well-researched. Yes, I won a prize. Yes, it was a Pulitzer. It doesn’t matter. The fact remains that your former co-worker, the one who got fired for vaping in the bathroom, did not click through.
Don’t feel bad for me, I’m used to this kind of thing. Your Mom’s elderly neighbor, the one who accused her of stealing his mail, didn’t read me either. Neither did that girl who bullied you in high school and now tries to sell you collagen pills. Your friend’s teen-aged son skimmed me, actually— just enough to cherry pick something out of context that reinforced his own worldview. Even so, it felt good to post, didn’t it? For one fleeting moment, didn’t you feel like you had a grip on things again? Wow, you really showed them… an article. That they glanced at for five seconds.
Did you know that it took five years of reporting for my author to complete me? In the intervening time, their partner dumped them and they had to buy those blue light glasses for staring at the computer screen late into the night (out of pocket, because they didn’t have health insurance). They didn’t get paid until I was done. More than once, my creation placed them in mortal peril. But they couldn’t stop writing, they were determined, and more importantly, they felt compelled.
If asked, they might tell you they were compelled by their commitment to the truth, or to an idea. But I suspect that they don’t really know. I mean, do you know what compelled you to jump into that quagmire of a Facebook comment thread? What inspired you to argue with this tangential character in your life, in a forum designed by a baby tech-bro in a half-zip to rank the hotness of his Harvard classmates, and has since been redesigned to keep you “engaged” there as long as possible, even if it must make you miserably depressed to do so?
I’m sure there’s more than one reason you could offer, and then an honest one that you might not even understand. Perhaps it gives you a sense of control. There’s a nice logic to it. Surely this former co-worker of yours wouldn’t think those things, wouldn’t say those things, if they knew what you know. If only they had all the information. If only they saw things from your perspective. And that’s where I came in: I was the perfectly packaged encapsulation of what you know to be the truth. But what if I told you this isn’t about logic? Your heart was open to receiving me because it has been shaped already by the contours of your life, and the way your body must move through the world, and the way it hardens in places to protect you.
Did you really think that I, as well written as I am, as well researched as I am, that I could actually reshape the muscles in a human heart? The folds of a human mind, and then, what? The world? That’s not how this works.
When someone says something abhorrent, out loud, in a meeting, for example: you interrupt it. You have to. And that’s not necessarily because you’re trying to change the mind of your co-worker Bob who has just cut your co-worker Lisa to her very core, as a joke. Bob’s terrible. Bob insisted the Mr. Coffee be replaced with a Keurig but never shares his pods except the maple flavored ones from the multipack that no one likes. This isn’t about Bob! This is about Lisa. Because you never want that to happen to Lisa at the Tuesday Mini-Muffin Status Update Meeting again. It’s because you’re trying to rearrange the air molecules in that conference room. Orient them so that Bob and Everyone Else knows, as simple as they know how to breathe, that We Don’t Do That Here.
And the girl who bullied you in high school, and your friend’s kid, their Facebook walls (are they still called walls?) are not environments that can be easily changed in this way because you’re nobody (to them) and the “Lisa” in this situation is purely hypothetical (to them).
If you simply cannot scroll past the post in question, you can ask your higher self do I have time today? and perhaps your higher self will be like, yes. But just keep in mind that this “friend” of yours can delete your comments. They can “react” with a laughing face which will summon their friends, who will demand that you explain, over and over again, all the ideas already articulated by The Article (which no one read) because they are simply waiting for an opening to post their own articles in rebuttal, which you read (against your better judgement, to the ruination of your algorithm forever). Suddenly, it’s three hours later, you’ve given out an entire course syllabus for free, and all your ads are now targeted to the version of you who moved to The Upside Down.
Suddenly, it’s three hours later, you’ve given out an entire course syllabus for free, and all your ads are now targeted to the version of you who moved to The Upside Down.
The collagen “ambassador” hasn’t learned anything (she’s now live streaming from inside of a Cracker Barrel, not exactly the chain you’d risk it all for, but okay) and you certainly haven’t learned anything except for the fact our human brains are able to hold profoundly discordant thoughts within its folds. Because admitting to being wrong about one thing could mean we’ve been wrong about lots of things, which might mean that we are bad people, and we know we aren’t bad people, so how could we be wrong? So, she places a laughing face at the end of your long string of well-thought out, heartfelt words, haha, and meanwhile your dinner’s gone cold. The air molecules are stagnant. You’ve been vulnerable for nothing.
Or maybe not. Maybe you did what you needed to do. Wrote what you needed to write. For yourself. The same way you write everything. You write, not to teach a lesson, not to convey some big idea you’ve outlined perfectly, with citations and sound reasoning, clean lines and unquestionable logic. But to imagine some other way to be in the world. Or to imagine another world entirely. Not to tell someone what to do, or what not to do, but to uncover some true thing that you didn’t even know was there. Maybe to write (to be vulnerable) is to hope. That twisted, muddled, thing in your head may never come out clean, but something compels you to try.
To stare at the screen, late into the night. And early mornings. And in-between times.
For years on end. Maybe even for your whole life.
Targeted ads for blue light glasses appear on your Facebook feed. You’ll have to buy them out of pocket because no one pays your health insurance for the work of untying the knots in your own mind and typing them out for other people to read. It’s possible that no one will pay you for it, period. And, I’m sorry, but I feel like it’s my responsibility to tell you this, given everything we’ve covered so far: no one will read it.
Not the people who you think you want to read it, anyway. Not the ones you’re reaching out to with hungry, open palms. Not the ones you bang your head against a wall over, dying to get through to them. Not the ones who you long to be understood by. To recognize you as valid. You can spill your blood onto the page, and their eyes will slip right over you, the way they always have.
What if you just accepted that?
You would have so much more time. Time to spend talking to the people asking all the right questions, rather than the ones who want to laugh at you, or sell you something, or worst, the ones who don’t think about you at all.
Time to spend working on yourself. Time to spend imagining and creating the future.
Again, thank you for sharing me. And you never know, it’s possible that somebody who actually wanted to read me managed to find me in that steaming pile of rot. I hope so, because in spite of everything, I came out quite good in the end.
As for your project: it’s okay if you don’t have all the answers yet.
You’re not writing because you have something to say. You’re writing because you don’t know. You don’t know why you’re writing. You’re writing because you just do.