Even those living icons who would once have rejected the idea out of hand, now seem forced to cope with what’s real. Literary news, reviews, books and journals, applications for grants and awards, buzz—in short, literary life—occurs more online now than off.
I can think of dozens of distinguished artists whose names, when they pop up on Facebook, startle and confuse me. They are venerated names, standing for a deep, uncompromising sensibility. Their work will endure.
Why would they put up with the nonsense niceties, the endless tickertape of forgettable quips, homilies, valentines, pet photos, recipes, squabbles, bad jokes and slackerisms of social media?
And yet their names appear there: often “suggested” to me as possible friends, colored that telltale robin’s egg blue that invites clicking. Of course I do click on them, make sure it’s them, befriend them, and (though we won’t exchange information) be thereafter networked to them just the way others are networked to me.
It’s the best possible imitation of—well, pick your analogy. Mine might be a big seething organism that keeps expanding. Another could be that parade of stuck-together people, stumbling along behind the kid who’s carrying the goose that laid the golden egg.
One obvious explanation for established, respected authors showing up on Twitter and Facebook is that publicity reps for their publishers have commanded the authors directly: Get yourself seen in these venues. You may find it distasteful: too bad. Keep your name visible. Because of course the publishing world is ever-more-frantic to capture whatever eyes it can. And social media’s where most everybody now lives.
I’m hardly exempt. I check Facebook all the time. What’s good about it? Raw courage. Joy. Babies. Loss, grief, rage. Gossip. The link to some excellent piece, or poem.
What’s regrettable? Bad taste. Whining. Trivia. Self-immersion.
But no matter what anyone thinks—it’s taking over.
The great author and poet Stephen Dobyns once told a gathering of writing students that life didn’t seem real to him until he could put it into language.
I’ve wondered lately about a bizarre mutation: whether modern adults no longer consider life to be real until we see it transmuted, reflected back to us, on a device.
Joan Frank is the author of five books of fiction, and a recent essay collection called Because You Have To: A Writing Life, just nominated for the ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Award in Nonfiction. Joan holds an MFA in creative fiction from Warren Wilson College, is a MacDowell Colony Fellow, Pushcart Prize nominee, winner of the ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Award in Short Fiction, Richard Sullivan Prize, Dana Award, and is the recipient of grants from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation, and Sonoma Arts Council. A two-time nominee for the Northern California Book Award in Fiction and San Francisco Library Literary Laureate, Joan has taught creative writing at San Francisco State University, and continues to teach and edit in private consultation. Joan also regularly reviews literary fiction for the San Francisco Chronicle Book Review. She lives in Northern California.