Judging An Author’s Life
Recently—and by “recently” I mean a month ago—I posted this photo on my Facebook page, Instagram, Twitter, and . . . well, pretty much anywhere on the Internet that I have an account on. To my surprise, (and still to my confusion), I received a bit a slack for this. It was a Wednesday afternoon, fairly nice outside, and due to the events of my day, I ended up in my hometown with one of my best friends. When it started raining, we ducked into a bookstore, and I couldn’t help myself. I bought a book—Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan to be exact—and some sticky notes for work since my stockpile was dwindling. The caption of my photo read, “Silly rain. Forcing me to hide in a bookstore to collect books until the sun came out.”
I didn’t think anything of it. I simply thought, “Hey! I am having fun. This has to do with reading, and I bet my readers would enjoy sharing this moment with me.” Because that’s what I think every time I post something—I think about how much fun it is to share these bits and pieces of my life with my wonderful followers. I don’t think much beyond that. So, I guess that’s why I was so surprised when I received a message, stating that I was adding to the misguidance of the industry and how authors live—how our lives actually are and how much of a struggle it is to be a writer—that I was adding to the “problem”, to the mirage of authordom.
And this is my open letter to you, dear sir, about that photo and my life as an author.
First and foremost, social media is up to the individual controlling that social media. No one else. I share what I choose to share, and I choose to share my fun and delightful moments. That goes to say that I’ve often—more often than not—discussed many difficult aspects of my life on my blog, particularly my mother’s death and my college roommate’s death. I’ve discussed moving around a lot as a child and finding myself creating stories and characters to make up for my lack of real human connection. I’ve confessed to doubting everything, and I’ve strived to remind myself (and my readers) why we write . . . which is always because I love to write and read. All of these topics have been on my blog. Numerous times. Throughout almost three years of blogging. But I’m assuming you’re judging me based on one or two photos posted during the afternoon. I know which ones you’re looking at. After all, I’m the one who shares all the moments of coffee, cats, and books. And guess what? That is my life. But it isn’t my whole life, and by no means have I ever expressed that “I do this every day.” Take this photo for instance. At no point does it state, “Here I am on my daily afternoon walk, just buying a dozen books for me to read this week.” In fact, I only bought one . . . with a gift card that my older brother bought me for Christmas . . . five months before this photo was taken . . . five months in which I saved that card just for the perfect moment to buy a novel on a day I needed some cheering up.
You see, back in January, I lost my car and my job, and I had to move to another state. (Something I openly discussed on my blog, by the way.) And ever since January, I’ve been building myself back up. On the very day this very photo was taken, I had finally saved up enough to buy a car, and I did, but I was broke afterward. That gift card was then used to help me buy office supplies (the sticky notes) that I had run out of, and I happened to see a novel I really wanted. Did I have to buy it then? No. Of course not. But it was a way of reminding myself that I am proud of how much I saved from my hard work and how far I’ve come in the five months since hitting rock bottom. My car was a long-needed necessity. This novel was a reward for the five months I’ve worked and saved and walked without one.
Why didn’t I put that story as my caption? Well, aside from the fact that it would be the longest caption in the world, the caption was my decision—and my decision was to express how much fun I was having and how much fun I wanted to share with my readers.
By no means was I trying to portray myself as an author who spends their days browsing bookstores. By no means was I trying to pretend I could afford every book left and right. By no means was I trying to prove something at all. I was just being me. I was just sharing me. By stating authors have to share ugly moments of their lives, we’re stating something ridiculous—that we assume they don’t have human lives—and that is a ridiculous presumption to have about anyone.
There is ugliness in everyone’s life, but I choose to focus on the happy moments, and I want my readers to know that they can have fun and encouragement when they come to me. I choose to share laughter and coffee and silly cats and paperbacks slung over my shoulder. I choose to post only when I’m smiling too—because I want to smile with my readers. I want my readers to feel encouraged when they come to me, not discouraged, and that is my choice, just like sharing my emotions around my mother’s death is my choice. I am not perfect, and I do not pretend to be, but no one should assume that about me either. Authors are human, after all, but not every detail of my life needs to be publicized all across the web (even though a large portion of it is).
Take my cats for instance. They’ve stared in my YouTube channel. They’ve done interviews on my blog. They’ve popped up on my Instagram and even shown their kitty faces on my Twitter. I love them, and since I work at home, I spend a lot of time around them. I share them in the grass, on the couch, while they are sleeping and playing. I make cartoons with them and pose with them and cuddle with them all the time (sometimes even when I don’t want to cuddle). And when I share them, people have fun—because most people love animals—and I have fun—because most people have shared their pets with me—and it’s a fun way to connect and relate to one another as friends instead of Internet strangers. I’d even like to exchange photos of my pets with you. But if you really want to see the ugly moments instead, I’d be more than happy to send you photos of me cleaning out the litter box instead of my three cats cuddling on the couch. (Just kidding, of course . . . I think.)