Writer On the Road: Kansas. A.K.A. Why I Was So Obnoxious During The Election.
When I was in my 2010 pre-publication meeting for THE STORMCHASERS, I was advised by my publisher and publicists, as we all are these days, to maximize use of my online presence. To write a consistent blog. To be active on Facebook and Twitter. And not to write political posts.
"You don't want to alienate readers," was the prevailing attitude. I nodded, without for a second feeling as though I were selling out. I was not and don't consider myself to be a political writer. I'm not a pundit. I write fiction. My whole life, I've been writing about things that matter to me in the guise of them happening to somebody else.
Plus, I recognized the wisdom of the advice. "A book," my agent always says, "is sold one reader at a time." I write these things I believe in the fervent hope that somebody--a reader--will pick up that book and read it and come to feel those things as deeply as I do. Why would I want to alienate such a person? Losing one reader feels to me like a light going out.
On top of that, I had learned my lesson in 2008. That was the first year I'd been on Facebook during a presidential election, and I not only had the unpleasant surprise--repeated over and over--that treasured friends I'd thought shared my political convictions didn't, I realized that there's a big difference between the noun "friends" in the real world and "friends" on Facebook during political elections, defined in this instance as "people who don't know you but who feel free to spray ignorant sh*t all over your Facebook wall like Jackson Pollack with a bad case of mental mucus."
It wasn't that I expected everyone to think like me (although that would be nice). It wasn't even that beloved people whose opinions in other realms mean so desperately much to me could differ so much from me in the political arena--although that made me sad.
It was the total shock of having people throw around terms like "fascism" without the slightest concept of what a fascist regime is. It was having them compare political candidates to Hitler, that they would dare post mock-ups of Nazi lithographs on my Facebook wall--me, a woman who'd the unimaginably great honor of interviewing Holocaust survivors. It was their not knowing that if we really lived in the Fascist regime they envisioned, they would not have been able to post what they did without disappearing--forever--in the middle of the night.
It was having people I didn't really know call me a hater, a Kool-Aid drinker, somebody brainwashed by certain types of media, a typical woman, an idiot, a fool.
In short, posting my political views anywhere was like inviting a really big, mean, stupid, scary monster into my living room.
So why would anyone want to do that again?
So why, in the months leading up to the 2012 Presidential election, did I find myself doing it ?
It didn't start out with political posting--sharing the things that mean the most to me, my actual words, online. It started with simpler, more innocent things. A magnet on my Jeep.
Then, a pumpkin.
And then, t-shirts. I mean, come on. A girl has to have her retail therapy, right? Especially in an election year. And she has to have SOMETHING to wear to the gym. What, do you expect her to go NAKED?
I kept waiting for eyebrows to be raised over the fact that I am not an Asian American or Pacific Islander--that at least from appearances I am clearly a German-Norwegian-Polish/Russian chick. But nobody so much as looked in my direction, it seemed, as I huffed and puffed and panted patriotically on the elliptical.
So I ventured back online.
I started endorsing my candidate. Posting on my Facebook wall. Tweeting my brains out during debates. (& those of you who saw those Tweets will suspect I mean that literally.)
Immediately the big mean scary stupid monster came back. Instantly I was once again a hater, a silly brainwashed woman, a drinker of Kool-Aid, an embracer of socialism, a lover of fascism...etc etc.
So I posted this:
...a warning that, unlike our country, my Facebook wall was not a democracy, it was and is an autocracy, and I would summarily remove any comments, from supporters of either party, that were disrespectful.
What followed was a two-month-long reading comprehension test on the part of my online visitors (I'm happy to report that about 90% passed) and my new job as editor: prowling my social media outlets day and night NOT to remove opinions that dissented from my own, much as I sometimes would have liked to, but to delete the big mean stupid scary monster's snarling, through the mouths of my friends, readers, and acquaintances, at each other.
It became a full-time job. It was exhausting. It was unpaid. Offline, I spouted founts of indignation at my partner. I ranted to my mom. I recalled with unease my therapist's admonition that anything I write that won't eventually bring in money can be counted as procrastination. I was unfriended and unsubscribed to. I remembered my publisher and publicists' advice not to alienate readers whenever I received a message, as I did almost every day, from a reader who was disappointed in my views and informed me s/he would not be buying another of my books.
I considered stopping my posts and hiding the ones I'd already written.
Why didn't I?
It might have had something to do with the fact that I'm an East Coaster born and bred and am currently living in the great conservative state of Kansas. There are many things I love about Kansas. There are many people I admire and consider friends. There are even some people who share my political views. But there's nothing to make a girl feel more like a blue dot in a red sea than not being in her home state during an election. I felt pontilist. Therefore, I made my point.
It also had to do with my rising unease over the vitriol online--from dots of both colors. I got a lot of messages from people saying, "Are you crazy to be wearing that t-shirt there?" and "Girl, you'd better get a gun." Yet while it was nice to have the support, I have to tell you that Kansans, being a polite bunch, for the most part ignored my vehicle magnet, stickers, pumpkin, and t-shirts--or gave me a thumbs-up and paid for my Starbucks in the drive-through when they saw we had similar stickers--whereas the incivility I experienced online, and witnessed every day, was like an uncontrolled police hose.
I love my country. For the last several years, on book tour and storm tour, I've had the enormous privilege of visiting every corner of it--and all the places in between, the ones most Americans never see, because you can't get there except by hundreds of hours of driving, sometimes by off-road SUV.
And I love my friends. I may not always agree with their political views, and sometimes, it's true, they sadden and terrify me greatly--but the whole POINT of this country is to defend to the death their right to say what's on their mind.
That's why I was so obnoxious before the election, so outspoken in my posts--despite losing readers and alienating friends. That's why I'll do it again whenever I feel a matter is that important.
Because I didn't become a writer to hide the things I believe in.
And thank God I live in a country where I don't have to.
Speak your minds, writers.
Jenna Blum is the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of novels Those Who Save Us, The Stormchasers, and The Lost Family as well as the novella "The Lucky One" in anthology Grand Central. Jenna is also one of Oprah's Top 30 Women Writers. Jenna has taught for GrubStreet since 1997 ; she currently runs the master novel workshop and seminars focusing on craft and marketing.See other articles by Jenna Blum