…heh, you think I’m kidding about the boundary issues. Now, I totally get (and agree with) what J. Anderson Coats said in her self-censorship post. If you’re swimming around in the same big steaming cauldron of social media as all the other writers it’s hard not to be aware of the accepted wisdom about discretion, you know? It’s all extremely public and searchable and so on – stick that foot in your mouth and a picture of you, mouth stuffed with foot, will live in eternal infamy on the internet somewhere. For example, Verla Kay took this photo of me at SCBWILA10 and it’s never, ever, ever going away.
And yet, and yet, and yet yet yet, I still find myself carrying around an armload of perplexity, because I think too much information is a little subjective. And when I say “a little subjective,” what I mean is “really gigantically subjective.” One person’s “dude, TMI” might be someone else’s “heartwarming detail that humanizes the working writer,” to blatantly steal J’s verbiage. That’s not to say there aren’t concrete lines that shouldn’t be crossed – of course there are, and please ignore that horrendous triple negative. One of the perverse joys of landing that first book deal and bounding into the glittery landscape of published authorhood is the fact that you can ask your editor and publisher about stuff like this! So cool! And your editor can also alert you to stuff you have said online and say “yo, take that down, pinhead.” Which is admittedly less cool, although I’m relieved to say it hasn’t actually happened to me. Yet.
No, I’m not talking about obviously verboten stuff like “der, gee whiz, I think I’ll put my editor’s cell number on Facebook so people can call him to say how much they love him, hyuck hyuck!” My editor would deliver a five-fingered cobra strike of instant death to my sternum if I did that, and all I could reasonably do is whimper “I deserve it” and expire in a cloud of pulverized sternum. I’m talking about stuff where the danger doesn’t involve spillage of confidential info, but instead involves potentially negative perceptions of me.
In some ways this feels like a very delicate and fraught time in regard to the “negative perceptions” thing, because so many of the X-factors are in flux now that I have a book deal! I’m definitely in uncharted territory. Whoa, when I announced the book deal I got all these new Facebook friends! More people are reading my blog! My name is appearing in places it’s never appeared before! The level of exposure, scrutiny and potentially bad juju feels much higher. It also feels specifically (if unsurprisingly) personal, since it’s all about me and how I present myself to the world. It’s certainly not about my still-embryonic book. Not yet, anyway – that’ll be a whole new bellyful of anxiety, and I’m sure it’ll feel even more personal than things do now. “My book! My baby! Why, you’re reviewing a piece of my soul, you jackals!” And so on.
I do worry that people think I’m a big jerk, which may be hard to believe if you’ve seen me swaggering about the interwebz, crowing about my totally rad agent, superexciting book deal and mondo awesome editor. Subtlety has been a bit lost on me in recent weeks. But subtlety’s never been one of my hallmarks as a user of social media, and really, there are a thousand ways in which I might be irritating my fellow children’s book creators, whether it’s through too many exclamation points!!!!, AN OVER-RELIANCE ON CAPITALIZATION, the air of sycophantic pathos I occasionally project, or my particular sense of humor. Sometimes an excess of braggadocio feels like just another weapon in Mike’s Massive Arsenal of Ways to Annoy People. That’s a somewhat dangerous attitude – I don’t want to stop caring, and I don’t want slip unthinkingly into a mode of being insensitive, insulting or inflammatory – but I don’t necessarily want to accept a blanket definition of TMI either.
We all have different thresholds, right? I wrote a post for Dear Teen Me which was probably the most exposing thing I’ve written in my life. Too much information? In some contexts I’d say yes. And I know plenty of people who would never write a blog post like it. That’s not a criticism, BTW, it’s an entirely valid choice to not flay yourself open on the screen in such fashion. But look at all the authors who did! I’m really glad I wrote that post, and my EMU’s Debut status actually gave me a smidge more confidence to do it.
So when you think about it, my thoughts really aren’t that far from what J. said in her post on Monday. Be mindful. Think about the ramifications of what you say. Think about how the world might change its perceptions of you in reaction. Be aware of risk. And be aware that sometimes it’s okay to take the risk, even if it makes some people uncomfortable. After all, one person’s TMI is another person’s treasure.
Fully aware of the discomfort I may be causing you right this second,