On this blog I’ve mediated a lot on the nature of friendship and also described the shortcomings of being an expat in a constantly shifting community. Becoming a self published author has ratcheted up the nature of this long standing inquiry towards larger questions about the nature of friendships in the 21st century. Friendships that make up networks which are supposed to be the backbone of a distribution channel. If people mystified me before I started publishing ebooks, I’m out and out stumped now. I”ll give you three case studies as to why.
In the nearly two years since I’ve been a blog tour host, I’ve never won the traffic breaker poll. To win, a blogger has to get people over to a poll to click their blog name. That’s all. There’s no merit involved. The average winner has 100 votes. The most I’ve ever had is 3. According to my network stats, the goal of 100 should be fairly easy to reach as this is about 1% of my “friends” on Facebook.
During a Skype chat, my mother admitted she hadn’t yet liked my Amazon.com page for a newly released title. My own mother. No wonder the goal of getting to 50 likes on Amazon was a monumental task, even for someone with a newsletter distribution of 75 people.
Perhaps you’re not that compelling, you’re thinking and it’s an idea that has occurred to me as well. Imagine our surprise when our son was a finalist for a “Beautiful Baby” contest sponsored by a photo studio. Here surely was a cause that our friends and family would rally around. Well, he has yet to break 100 and the winner has nearly 400 votes. And yes, someone in our family went to the voting page and actually like another baby. (Voting is open until the 25th, so give the kid in the blue a like).
As someone who has funded friends to walk/run marathons, produce their own music, or live their dream at a certain moment, imagine my surprise when at least these same people didn’t join a Kickstarter campaign to fund a pilot for a TV show I was working on. I didn’t want to push, since of all the examples, this is the one that is tied to money. But the mailing list of another Kickstarter campaign sent me weekly updates on their fundraising. Updates that included a “we did it.” Sadly, my campaign could not say the same.
So what is it? What is that the others who are getting the likes, winning the traffic break, the mamma whose kid has 400 fans, what are they doing I’m not? I don’t quite know but I do know that the answer will be important to me as I continue to write, market, and promote my work. There are dozens of articles telling us not to spam people with our links or requests. But how else to explain the phenomena of in a world of online voting?
The last two activities are the ones that make me cringe. Self promotion has never come easy. After all work should speak for itself. Apparently not in the era of social media. Relentless self promotion is how to mobilize. Perhaps irritating someone is better than people not knowing that a contest is even happening (as two of my friends professed on the baby contest at lunch this weekend). What do you think? What makes you give a click? Where is the line between friendship and support?
One thing is certain: indie authors rely on the kindness of strangers who often become friends. I’m hosting Michelle Cornwell-Jordan today and her cover reveal for Night School for this very reason (and why I have the Writer’s Studio). Michelle’s solo debut YA title Night School: Vampire Hunter Bk.1 (Angel) releases March 31st 2012. The first in a trilogy, Night School mixes a little of Michelle’s favorite obsessions: Twilight versus Buffy the Vampire Slayer! (Amazon,BN.com, Smashwords &Goodreads). Read more about the heroine Dasheen and Michelle’s work below.
Dasheen Bellamy has lost everything. Now with just her brother, they enter Ame Academy. Soon her only family is threatened… That’s unacceptable… Dasheen enters Night School…where the monsters play…. Angel is born… She is a Vampire Hunter and also…Angel is like any other kid…except the monsters are afraid of her…
Michelle is a book lover, with YA paranormal adventures as her favorite genre, although she can be a glutton for any young adult title. Michelle’s other love is writing, Michelle has been writing about as long as she has been a bibliophile! Losing herself in a fantasy world that she or others have created is how she loves spending her spare time. Along with author Danny Jones, Michelle Cornwell-Jordan completed, a YA paranormal called Reahket, which is available on Barnesandnoble.com, Amazon.com, Smashwords and Goodreads.
I love Ramadan, have from the first time I experienced it in Qatar. The fact many places are closed in the middle of the day removes the temptation to run around the city in an exhaust induced daze, wilting from heat and hating humanity. Instead it’s sort of like desert hibernation: I withdrawn into myself for entertainment until friends are free in the evening.
This is the end of the second week, exactly halfway through. Muslims (and those wishing to share the experience) have not eaten food or drank water from sun up to sun down for the last fifteen days. The contrast between day and night is often dizzying. At work everyone is somber, quiet, waiting to go home and wile away the hours until sunset. At night the city comes alive as cars careen the streets taking passengers to visit one another, manage errands that have been delayed, and in general stay up until the wee hours in the morning for the last prayer before sunrise.
This particular year is my first time as a full time freelance writer. Instead of spending the better part of the day promoting the work of others, create as much as I can; the words keep forming on the page, sentence by sentence, until my next social obligation. Rather than decline into stasis, Ramadan allows me to make use of all the hours I have to myself, uninterrupted by lunches or afternoon meetings. But already, as others, I’m thinking about the time when fasting will end and we return to “normal.”
In the past few weeks, as others have strained not to swear, fight, lie, or any of the other things that would invalidate their fast, I’ve started to withdrawn from that great sustainer I’ve depended on for most of my life: friends. Perhaps it’s because I’m getting older, have started a family, am married to an introvert, or some combination of all three, but I’m starting to wonder about life as it was before.
What I’m not missing during Ramadan are the negative interactions that tend to be a part of life in a very small community. When people “are people” as the saying goes, how do you deal with the disappointment? The questions all boil down to a central theme with an elusive answer: why don’t more people treat others the way they want to be treated? Said another way: why aren’t people the same kind of friend to you, you are to them? My only solution seems to be to avoid the cause of the problem.
I wanted to say hi, a friend said, because I don’t want to be one of those people you’re talking about who only call when they need something.
I used to not mind, the person who called after a long time, suddenly popping up, ten minutes into the conversation asking, (you already saw this coming) for a favor. The call was also a chance to renew a shared relationship – no dancing around the word friendship – and so a connection would be revived.
In Doha this context shifted slightly: there was suddenly less room to avoid those who in a larger pond would likely only be acquaintances. Seen at the same events, with the same likely suspects, you’re forced to have conversations about summer, Eid, winter holidays; or the plans for whatever vacation was around the corner.
It was hard to tell in the first few years who was genuinely interested in you as a person and who just wanted a night out on the town (especially if you are a generous person who often reaches for the check). In a high school like atmosphere where you live, work, and befriend those in your proximity, these aren’t friendships but rather alliances of a sort, of the feudal kind, made to beat back the threat of boredom and loneliness.
The extrovert in me didn’t mind having repetitive conversations. After all, extroverts just love to hear themselves talk, about anything. Then a funny thing happened. The predictability of the conversations started to fray at my other defining characteristic: a love of variety.
Where are you from, where do you work, how long you been here became a litany that even me, hyper extrovert, began to dread.
Because if people liked your answers, then they hold on to your contact details. Most people call this networking. Surely that term applies mostly to reciprocal exchanges of information, referrals, favors?
For an extrovert personality with a serious helping handicap, this situation became parasitic. I was like an injured athlete at the competition. I couldn’t look away, but I knew it would only do me further injury to get involved.
The list of people who called once or twice a year began to grow. One year blended into two, then three, most of the out of the blue calls were around getting g someone a job or passing along a resume. And now they all have invariably the same theme: can I help them get their book published; give them advice on getting started in writing, recommend an agent?
The fact is I really like people. They were my favorite hobby in fact: meeting new people, learning about them, keeping up, and collecting them as part of a human menagerie. Malcolm Gladwell in his best seller The Tipping Point even coined a term for the type of person I am: connector.But the obvious evidence that people were counting on my weakness, in fact playing on the fact I rarely let an email go unanswered (even if on maternity leave) or couldn’t not reply to a cry for help grew apace with the sinking suspicion of being used was mounting. And the end result was that my usefulness to people, that very thing I used to love to give away freely, was now the thing I hated about myself.
The vulnerability left me exposed to others, who had called for a reference, or asked for a piece of advice, the same people who never answered when in the same town, or who were too busy to invite you along to a party you’d already sent a gift for, these people who gladly took the first fruit of your time.
Yet, when it came time to return the favor, when you need a referral, follow through, a sign of caring, the idea of reciprocity vanishes. The lights are on, yet no one comes to the door to answer your knock.
Make no mistake, all the people I’ve helped over the years, they were thankful. Some even had the grace to be slightly abashed. I know we haven’t spoken all summer, I’m sorry for that…. one recent text began. I replied. Of course I did. To delete would be to become someone I don’t know. But the more of these I get, the more I realize this is the kind of reputation I want to consider reforming.
They know they can behave badly and yet rely on inert goodness.
But is the definition of grace. Unmerited kindness.
Joy is spelled Jesus Others You, the pastor said last week in the service. I listened, thin lipped, as a knife twisted in my heart, where all of these unrequited actions stemmed. I have practiced the JOY philosophy since first hearing it’s rationale as a teenager, the message singing straight to my core like a hot arrow.
But joy is the last word that would describe how I feel about people.
Here I am, torn between a religious ideal and giving up on humanity all together. Shall I continue in my endless well of assistance because in eternity I may have the reward – please let it be the type of friendships I give – for my trials?
Or perhaps I will become one of those hermit writers; living at the keyboard and speaking only when spoken to. The question then is equally murky: How long would it be before someone did, just for the sake of company?
Any major life occasion is an opportunity to celebrate with those closest to you. And whether it’s a graduation, wedding, funeral, or the birth of a baby, the people in your life will reveal themselves and the nature of their relationship to you.
Since our son was born three weeks ago, we have been overwhelmed but not by the plague of sleepless night. But by the generosity of our co-workers, neighbors, and friends. From chocolates, to flowers, to clothes and toys for the child, I’ve not written this many thank you notes since we got married.
And not unlike with our wedding, the most unexpected people were the happiest for us. In some cases, there were surprises as well from good friends who have been nowhere to be seen since the days following his birth. Luckily in this instance, I remembered those days.
Instead of focusing on those who have mysteriously disappeared, this time I decided to focus on those who were excited for us instead of being upset by the absence of others. This was a new choice for me since in the past I have generally fought hard to keep friendships, even those that had long expired, out of some false sense of loyalty. Just after college this policy cost me a lot emotionally and spiritually; the rift between friends who joked about picking up each others dentures in the retirement home grew so great that those whose weddings I had been in didn’t even bother sending a card or calling for mine.
At almost four years of marriage, I am only now realizing my life is better without that energy drainer. I didn’t friend them on Facebook; I don’t look them up when I’m in town; in general it’s like we never knew each other. It’s a strange answer to the question is it better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all? In the nearly 10 years since those friendships ended, I have to say forgiveness is the greatest gift you can give yourself or others. I’m not angry at those people or wish them off the planet: I simply keep that energy for myself.
Focusing on gratitude had a strange effect on me during the birth and early days of our little one: it made me even more grateful because I was with people who were bringing positive energy and light into my life. I was partly forced into this decision being so worn out from the delivery and then learning how to adjust to my new role as mother. Surrounding myself with only positivity has never been an option – particularly in the home I grew up in which had a lot of guilt and fear. The last month was one of the first times I’ve been able to do this as in the past I’ve been so surprised by people’s behavior that the disappointment has made me so disillusioned it’s been hard to have faith in people.
The day our son was born my devotional – which I only managed to read four days later – admonished me never to be surprised by what people do, good or bad. This is easier said than done (as the saying goes).
But the last three weeks have been good practice.