I’ve drastically reduced my diet of all delicacies Social Media since March of last year. My God, what a difference! It’s such a glorious blessing to actually experience the world around you! What ecstasy to feel your long dormant humanity awaken in a veritable explosion of forgotten memories and emotions!
For the first time in four years, I’ve actually gotten to watch a movie or read a book and become emotionally invested in the plot line and characters. Not only that, but I’ve rediscovered myself as a character in the plot of my own life! I’m no longer enslaved to the constant onslaught of messages and alerts from my phone. Alerts, which let me know that someone, somewhere, demands I halt whatsoever I was doing and devote my attentions to them.
To endure, I’d put myself into a state of functional torpor, becoming a hostage in my own existence. I had no choice you see, I had asked for this. I’d spent 4 long years grovelling before the alter of social media, desperate for my art, writing and audiodramas to gain recognition. Only my work had been largely ignored. People wanted to engage with me.
For most, that would be a success of sorts. They would enjoy basking in the ceaseless flood of attention. Yet I can’t. Oddly, I’m immune to the supposed dopamine hit that clicks and likes can bring. I couldn’t care less how intrigued people are with me as a person, if that attention comes at the cost of my work being overlooked.
To explain, at 41 years of age, I’ve struggled to hold down a job. I’m diligent, punctual, respectful and as an employee, my work ethic is unquestionable. Some would say robotic. There in lies the crux. I’ve never really been terribly interested in other people, and by extension, socializing. I just feel like there are so many other things more worthy of my attention. I come into the office to work after all! I perform my allotted tasks, speak cordially when spoken to and go home at the designated time.
That makes me the office weirdo, the quiet one who keeps to themselves, (it’s always the quiet ones you know.) Come lean times, when the hammer falls, no one is terribly concerned with preserving the weirdo’s place in the office dynamic.
It was during one of my lulls between jobs that I first considered a more solitary career. I was already compulsively creating art, comics, illustrations and audiodramas in private, why not try and turn a profit from them? In six months I had written and illustrated a novel, published my first of many websites, and started my foray into the social media wasteland.
When forced to socialize, be it digitally or otherwise, I can be deceptively charming. I do precisely what your hairdresser, your waitress, even your dental hygienist does, I read you. I examine your clothing, your hairstyle, is that pet hair on your sleeve? I snatch snippets of your conversation that I overhear and put them in my mental Rolodex for later. Yes, Rolodex, P.S. I’m old. The alternative title of this piece could be “Okay, Boomer!” or “You Kid’s Get Off My Lawn!”
I use all the bits and pieces I’ve gleaned and create a welcoming persona to greet you with. When I was in advertising, I’d even go as far as looking up a client’s Myspace page (again, I’m old) and make sure I had a band they liked playing in the background during their appointment. I’m brilliant in small doses. Humble too. Unfortunately, my congeniality will never be more than that, a performance.
Autism? That diagnosis only sticks so long as you’re the type who can be paraded around by people as proof of their own benevolent and accepting nature. When you aren’t lovably awkward or pitiable, and your mask inevitably slips, you’re regarded as something much more malevolent.
Now, in the olden days, once a client closed their account with you, that was it, they were out of your life. Perhaps you’d get a Christmas card for the first two years afterwards, maybe you’d exchange brief niceties when you encountered one another at the bank, but rarely anything beyond that.
Those clients who did carry it further, the ones who looked up your home phone number or sent flowers to you at the office? Well, everyone was in agreement that they were sad and creepy specimens of humanity.
The Social Bestiary
Social media changed all of that. Now the performance is unending, there is no intermission, the curtain never falls. What’s more, the definition of what a friend is seems to have become increasingly broad to the point of losing all meaning.
Friendship is no longer a communion between two people who enrich one anothers’ lives. Friendship has evolved to become the recognition that you like the same show, listen to the same band, have the same God awful fashion taste or any other small nuance that can be mined for social appraisal. There’s a troubling amount of weight put on arbitrary interests and commonalities. More so if those commonalities carry social or political caché that can be used to affirm one’s online persona.
What’s more perplexing is that people refuse to do business with someone who isn’t their “friend”. The social and business worlds have fused, meaning the net you cast already has some serious holes in it. Potential clients want to be sure that you bolster their own values and beliefs. They need to see that you actively champion the causes near and dear to their hearts.
So you’re an artist, a woman, a pod caster? Well then it’s your responsibility to support others of your ilk! How? By liking their posts, responding to their comments, replying to their messages, and doing so promptly.
This creates a damnable culture of reciprocity. No one actually cares for anyone else’s work. Rather, they’re obediently keeping correspondence out of obligation, hoping to have the favour returned. We all like, comment and subscribe our lives away, awaiting that happy day when the algorithm finally smiles upon us. Then, at long last, our years of toil and suffering will mean something.
Should you fail to uphold your end of this amorphous, mercurial bargain? Well, expect an avalanche of dissenters, tearing you down for so hideous a transgression! You’re cancelled, and all your hard work, accomplishments and accolades come to naught.
For someone like me, this raises a perplexing question. Which mask should I wear and when?
The social media feedback loop has breathed an abhorrent new life into acquaintances I’ve made through vending at conventions and art shows. Acquaintances who otherwise would have fallen away into memory, but instead discovered how shackled I am by these laws of social media reciprocity. Acquaintances who became my subjugators once they learned how I could be puppeteered.
Puppet is just the word for what I am. Overwhelmed by the hectic demands and endless rules of social performance, my mind shuts down and I drift into a sort of emotionless fog. There I float, like a leaf suspended in a puddle, helpless to pull of those around me.
Very often, I can’t recognize my own emotions till I see a similar scenario played out before me in a film. It’s difficult for me to convey the internal workings of my head without using cinematic metaphor. My experiences online tend to awaken scenes from Stephen King’s “Misery”.
In it, we are introduced to one Annie Wilkes, the “number one fan” of author Paul Sheldon. Though she seems sweet and helpful at first, if a little overwhelming, her fanaticism takes a dangerous turn. Like Annie, my number one fan stole their way into my life with favors and indulgences, only hers were rooted in social media. I’ve had a number of similar run ins, but I want to focus on one in particular. This encounter, spanning over many years, really forced me to recognize an ongoing pattern in my life. I still haven’t quite found my way but taking time off from social media to reconnoiter has helped.
As a writer myself, I found my novel didn’t seem to garner much interest from people. Overtime, I restructured the original story-line into the “Lost Bread”comic series, the “Creeping Wave Radio” audio-drama and the “U Mind” podcast.
I knew my target audience would have to get pop culture references, dark humor that makes “Bo-Jack Horseman” look like my little pony, and vibe with the overarching theme of being an outsider. The obvious choice was to start lurking at comic and video game conventions.
It was at my second show that I encountered my “number one fan”, heretofore referred to as “No.1”. My husband and I shared a vendors table with her, which is common practice at these sort of affairs. Half the table was used to display my work and the other half hers.
At first, No. 1 seemed pleasant enough. We talked about how I was new to the San Diego art scene. She responsively whipped out her phone, asked for my socials, and began sending links to art shows, galleries and venues in the area that were accepting submissions. They were all smaller, more intimate affairs. Later, I would come to understand that I could have done the same for myself if I cared to click around Facebook long enough. At the time though, I though she was a Godsend.
Annie Wilkes at first appears to be the savior of her story too, coming to the rescue of her darling Paul Sheldon. Paul is the writer of her beloved “Misery Chastain” romance novels. It’s a trashy series and he’s desperate to wash his hands it. At the start of the film, he’s just closed on a screenplay and is eager to start his new career.
While driving to a meeting for said screenplay Paul is involved in a near fatal car crash. The crash leaves him with both legs broken, multiple fractures and his left kneecap shattered. He is rendered helpless.
As fate would have it, the crash occurs just outside Annie’s home. Being his number one fan, she lovingly scoops him up off the road and begins nursing him back to health.
“We’re put on this Earth to help people Paul,” Annie says through a smile, ” like I’m trying to help you. Please, help me help you.”
She says the line before wheeling a barbecue up to Paul’s bedside, and demanding he set fire to his screenplay. She’s read through it while he was unconscious, and doesn’t not approve.
I was quick to draw No.1’s disapproval in my own life. At the 1st days close of the art show, she offered to help me carry some of my wares out to my car. Upon catching sight of it, she was absolutely appalled. I’m not so socially unaware that I don’t realize it’s rather hard to feel sympathy for someone who drives a…
“BMW!?!?!?” She sneered.
“Oh…yeah, a Z4. I got it back when I was in film production. It was kind of a childhood dream fulfilled, you know?” I muttered sheepishly.
I took her tone to be the sort of posh bashing vagabond artists and free spirit types like to engage in with me. Normally its just a gentle ribbing. I get called a corporate slave, or a suburban drone and hey, I am, but its all in good fun. I want a very different life than they do.
Punching up is acceptable, of course punching down is not, so I’ve learned to just smile and keep my mouth shut.
“And its a convertible?” She continued, “Eww. Why?”
“Claustrophobia?” I tried.
“I hate it!” She declared definitively, “You should sell it.”
“Oh, okay.” I humored her, packing up the last of my goods and shutting the trunk, “Well, see you tomorrow!”
When I got home, I discovered that I had a bevvy of new digital friends requests, all mutuals of No.1. I also saw that she’d filled my inboxes with ads for more economic cars in my area. This seemed more than a bit of fun at my expense, but I decided to ignore it. She had been so helpful after all, and I was making new connections. I could overlook it.
The second day of the art show, No.1 couldn’t wait to resume the conversation where we’d left off.
“Did you get the ads I sent?” She chirped.
“Oh, yeah.” I said, sorting some papers that really didn’t need to be sorted.
“I can send you more! We’ll get you out of that ugly thing and into something that suits you.”
Suits me? You only met me yesterday and you’re deciding what car I should be driving?
“Yeah, I’m not interested.” I tossed back.
“OH! There’s more, lots more.” She said with an impassioned grin, “I saved a bunch of them last night. I’ll send them to you right now.”
“Could you not?” I asked her.
A look of pure rage took over her face, which she quickly molded into a makeshift smile.
“Now I know change can be difficult,” she said admonished, resting an uninvited hand on my shoulder, “but this is for the best, believe me, I know.”
“Right,” I groaned, “It’s just that my cars actually paid off and it would be more money for me to buy a new one…”
“Well, you can just trade it in!” She pounced on my words like a rabid dog.
“I don’t want to.” I said coolly, “and no offense but, how is it any business of yours? It’s my money isn’t it?”
She stared at me disbelief, slowly letting her face settle into a petulant pout.
“I was only trying to help!” She whimpered, “that’s all I ever try to do! No matter how hard I try, people just push me away.”
“No help needed, thanks.” I said, shooting my husband a glance.
His look confirmed my suspicion, that the exchange had been, odd.
It suddenly hit me that this woman was much better connected in the art scene than I was. All my precious new social media friends could easily turn against me should I make her my enemy. I could wind up being ostracized from the San Diego art scene entirely. I had to make amends.
“Oh, I like that piece.” I said, pointing to a hand drawn picture of a Pokemon she’d set out on her side of the table.
Her face lit up and she thrust it at me, exclaiming jubilantly “Here, it’s yours!”
It would be the first of many gifts she would shower me with. Among these would be gracing me with the news that she not only rubbed elbows with people in the local art scene, but with various figures from my past. This including past sexual partners of mine, with whom things ended quite viciously, and people from that epoch of my life who I’d secretly hoped were dead and gone.
In that moment, she’d seized possession over my life. I just didn’t realize it yet.
The Broken Rolodex
One of the other advantageous features of my mental Rolodex is that it has 41 years of memories to sort through. When I fail to glean enough information from my initial assessments of a person, I just sit and listen to them talk. As they do, I’m flipping through old entries for relatable experiences. I use these to foster conversation.
The problem is that there are some very dark and disturbing entries in my Rolodex, which I’ve become desensitized to over time. Often I need an outside party, my husband, to help serve as the referee of good taste for me. He’s my social buffer.
As a rule, most people keep their conversation with acquaintances light and breezy. Unfortunately, No.1 didn’t abide by that edict. She immediately threw open the flood gates of her past, sending forth a tragic deluge of sorrowful tales and love gone wrong.
Even I realized it was quite a lot to burden a stranger with. Regardless, I did my best to match her morose yarns with comparable horrors of my own.In doing so, I may have unwittingly fostered more than conversation. She didn’t see this as playing tit for tat, but rather me baring my soul and placing my trust in her. I regret having done anything to make her believe that, it was never my intention. My husband must have out getting coffee.
The cycle established in those first days seemed to play on repeat.
She’d be very friendly and helpful, showering me with attention on social media. Likes, shares, retweets and comments rained down around me in torrents. At times, this attention bordered on suffocation. Still, I couldn’t turn down the free promotion.
Inevitably, she’d offer a bit of advice, testing the waters. If I didn’t shut her down initially, she’d push further, getting more and more personal, more and more violating. It became apparent that her efforts were to cultivate me into the friend she needed me to be. A friend who was a near carbon copy of herself.
What’s more, she refused to let me enjoy anything in my life without the reminder of her influence.
If I posted pictures from a visit to a local cat cafe, she’d comment,
“Oh, I have lots of friends who volunteer at that place. I’ll be sure to let them know who you are!”
If I wrote about trying a new taco shop , she reminded me,
“It’s not new! I used to go there when it was the Clair de Lune coffee shop. I’d sit for hours, drawing on the balcony. So sad to see it go but I still have so many dear friends all over that area.”
When I went to a tea house for my birthday, which was clearly too much a dalliance into posh territory. I was greeted with,
“LOL! Oh that place! I’ve never bothered to go in, but its right down the street from the print shop where I work! Tell me you at least went to the thrift shop down the street!”
I was forever under her scrutiny, enshrouded in shadow, surrounded by her legions at all times.
Then there was the messaging.
I was slowly drowning in maelstrom of messages from old No.1. Paragraph upon paragraph, tumbling in one after the next, all detailing how I might improve myself. She never awaited my reply, my voice was irrelevant. It wasn’t a conversation, rather a monologue, and I was her captive audience.
“Maybe this was one of those normal things I take unwarranted offense to,” I told myself, “like small talk? Is this small talk?”
I grinned and bore her eternal sermons and digital dress downs. After all, I didn’t want to risk incurring her wrath. It only takes one particularly dedicated and venomous person to start an online cancellation or wake the skeletons in one’s closet.
When I would at last push back, she’d pout for a time, and punish me by withdrawing her digital doting. I might have actually appreciated these rare moments of peace if they hadn’t been followed by cryptic posts.
Her timeline tirades, which I fully recognized to be about myself, always insinuated but never named her tormentor. There on Facebook and Instagram (Twitter has a character limit) she’d bemoan the great tragedy of her existence. She wept web-based tears, lamenting how she is forever condemned to let down everyone in her life, no matter how desperately she tries to help!
She was laying down bait, and very quickly a swarm of replies that followed.
“Girl, you have NEVER let me down! Your strength in the face of adversity is a constant inspiration to me!”
“You are beautiful inside and out! If someone can’t accept you for who you are, then they don’t deserve the gift of your friendship.”
Then the inevitable,”If you need to talk to someone, I’m here for you. DM me,”
Knowing how monstrously verbose she was in my own DMs, I had no doubt that my perceived acts of cruelty would be revealed in full, and richly embellished upon.
“You better start showing me some more appreciation around here, Mister Man!” I could hear Annie Wilkes shriek through the hallows of my mind.
In these moments, it was if a projector snapped on in my skull, showing me selected scenes from “Misery.” The film played out with such clarity in my head that at times I could simply close my eyes and watch it projected onto the backs of my eyelids.
Annie utters this immortal line upon finally bullying Paul into writing a new manuscript for his defunct series of romance novels. His own emotional investment in the story is null, but that’s neither here nor there. Annie only needs him to cultivate a new book and revive the series she holds so dear.
Annie of course controls whether or not he gets his pain medication. In his agonized, helpless state, Paul is easily cowed into obedience.
My phone buzzed an alert, snapping me out of my internal cineplex.
No.1 had detonated yet another charge in my inbox.
“I made something for you. I’ve been working on it for weeks, but if you don’t want it, I’ll understand.”
“Why?” I wondered to myself, deeply confused by this development.
“Please don’t just ignore me!?!” She typed her reply with shocking alacrity, “Not after everything I’ve done for you!”
“Fine, what is it?” I ask nonplussed, expecting some nasty gif or unflattering picture of myself.
“Give me your address and I’ll send it to you.”
So, did I mention I’m an idiot? Because that’s going to be important here.
I deliberated over this for a minute or two. The idea of No.1, appearing in my doorway, horrified me. The last miserable scraps I had left of my life would no doubt be greedily devoured if she crossed that threshold.
“But what if you make her angry?” I posed, “she knows everyone in the local art community. She’s friends with all your friends on social media, and all your enemies!”
It was true, she had seemingly managed to tangle herself into my digital life and by extension, career. I couldn’t risk angering her.
“Oh, people steal our mail at the apartment complex.” I tried.
It was partially true, as that had happened… once.
“You should get a P.O box. They’re not expensive, we have one and…”
I wasn’t willing to endure another lecture on what I SHOULD do.
“Maybe you could send it to my parent’s house?” I suggested.
They had a Ring door camera, if she tried anything crazy, there would be evidence against her. Besides, I sometimes had larger packages or delicate equipment sent there. This wasn’t all that much different.
She mailed the package, a hand painted postcard, without incident. The gift dredged up the necessary amount of guilt in me to allow this cycle to perpetuate.
I can’t deny that I rather enjoyed the gifting period of this trauma loop, I even indulged it. An assortment of gifts found their way to my parents porchstep, bespoke clothing for both me and my nieces, original paintings and other curiosities all materialized regularly. Then there were more questionable items, glass acorns, vintage photographs of terrified children, even a cat vertebrae. It was the kind of bric-a-brac you find while cleaning up your closet and wonder to yourself, “when did I even get this?”
Kids today call this “love bombing.” I didn’t really know what to call it, but it seemed innocent enough. She was just trying to be nice, wasn’t she?
Beyond interacting with her at art shows, our encounters were almost exclusively mail order and via social media. Still, I couldn’t ignore the fact that she was most certainly spreading her tentacles, slowly but surely.
It wasn’t until she showed up during the taping of an interview I was doing for “The Creative Brew” that I really started questioning where this was all going.
The interview was at a public coffee shop, and she was within her rights to be there. What made it so unsettling was that I had made the announcement I’d be a guest on the show, via social media, only an hour before. I was trying to promote my appearance, but I never expected someone would show up there and interrupt filming just to say,
I looked up and there she was, a coffee in her hand. It was awkward for everyone involved. We had to stop the cameras and audio to accommodate this visitation. I greeted her with a half-hearted hug and promised her we’d catch up once filming had wrapped.
Sensing my and the hosts annoyance, she immediately leaped to into the final stage of her cycle, gathering pity.
The Guilt Trip
“I was only in the area to visit my psychiatrists office!” She informed me, “I was just picking up my meds!”
I nodded. Frequently in this stage, she’d draw attention to her past traumas or one of her many mental health diagnoses in an attempt to shut down the conversation. My hands were effectively tied. If I didn’t immediately absolve her of all wrong doing, then I was demeaning her suffering or refusing to accommodate her condition. By this point, I had been trained into concordant silence.
“You clearly said, ‘come on by’ in your Instagram video! You know you did!” She turned it back around on me.
I may well have, but most people would have waited quietly, sipping a drink, till the filming wrapped.
“I had to pick up my meds today!” She reiterated, “There wasn’t any other day I could do it!”
“That’s fine.” I lulled, shocked by how numb I’d become to it all.
“If I don’t get my stimulant, I don’t wake up!” She insisted with a hearty chuckle, sensing the tides turning her way, “Bipolar depression you know!”
“Should you be drinking coffee with a stimulant?” I ventured.
“Oh sure.” She said, delighted for a chance to monologue once again, “I take the stimulant in the morning, then I drink espresso all day to keep me perky, then when I get too wired I switch to bitch beer.”
“Bitch Beer?” I repeated back her words questioningly.
“Oh, ha! Smirnoff Ice. That’s what I call it. Bitch Beer. Its the only kind of beer I like.”
“Wow” I said, drawing the word out through a forced smile. I stopped myself from making a Judy Garland crack. She wouldn’t have understood it anyway.
Soon I stopped showing up to art shows, afraid that No.1 would be waiting for me. I offered the excuse that I simply couldn’t pay the vendors fee, but the truth is, I was trying to pull away.
“You need to go!” She commanded through Instagram chat, “You need to get out there and socialize.”
“Socialize?” I thought to myself, “I’m trapped at a table with you the entire time!”
She would arrive, dressed in some elaborate get up, and spend the entire night sitting by my side, grinning. It was as if she was reenacting the day we’d first met.
Few people ventured to talk to me with this costumed character by my side, and no one took me seriously. I rarely sold more than two prints in a night.
There’s no polite way to ask someone not to sit next to you while dressed like a clown, so I just smiled and urbanely endured her presence. All the while, I’d watch enviously as other vendors sorted tens and twenties into the slots of their cash boxes.
“Sorry, I’m not going to do shows anymore.” I said resolutely, “Not worth it. Parking’s a pain in the ass anyway.”
“You have to fight against your depression!” She declared.
Depression? I was confused. I don’t have depression, I never have. I get sad when appropriate but I’ve never had a lingering, unexplained depression. I informed her of such.
“Yes you do. I can tell from the conversations we’ve had!” she decreed.
Well, I did find those conversations depressing, but it always seemed to clear up once I turned off my phone for the night.
“I’ve suffered so much in my life.” she went on, “I have bipolar depression you know, and I can’t bear to see someone go through what I have. I know exactly what you’re going through. I’ve been there! I’ll help you get through this. I can help.”
“Yeah, its not depression.” I assured her. “To be honest, I don’t really care much about socializing.”
“Yes you do, that’s just your mental illness talking.” She insisted, “Come to the show tonight. I can help you.”
My first boyfriend used to run this racket too. If I didn’t want sex the moment he did, it was because I was mentally ill, or had a hormonal imbalance. If that didn’t coerce me, he’d loudly accuse me of wanting to be with someone else (guilty), latent lesbianism (half-guilty), or clinging to some repressed sexual trauma involving whichever member of my family would be the most humiliating (nope, sorry).
It was never the fact that we were in the middle of Denny’s, or that he hadn’t showered or changed his underwear for a week. His nickname was skid-Mark.
Kids today call it gaslighting, trying to manipulate someone into questioning their own sanity so you can coerce them into obedience. In my day we just called it being a manipulative dick. The problem is, that even if you realize what’s going on intellectually, you can still be broken down emotionally.
One particular scene from “Misery” used to flood my mind more often than any other. In it, Annie Wilkes becomes furious over the realization that Paul has healed enough to where he can leave the bed of his own accord. He’s been sneaking around the house behind her back, dosing himself with pain medication and Annie is terrified by this loss of control. After all, her book is yet to be finished!
n retaliation, Annie injects Paul with enough meds to knock him out. He awakes, strapped to the bed with a block of wood wedged firmly between his feet. Annie, stands at the foot of his bed, a sledgehammer clutched in her chubby hands, and proceeds to shatter Paul’s ankles. He is once again her helpless pawn.
In real life, Annie Wilkes types don’t scoop their broken victims up off the street. The find people who are already deemed broken by society. Their tools are more insidious and far less obvious than a sledgehammer.
The character Annie Wilkes lived in a time before the internet had taken hold on society. She had to read dust jacket bios, devour magazine articles and watch television interviews to gather information about Paul. Today, anyone hoping to make a name for themselves is told to build a repoire with their online audience online. We’re told to share our passions, our dreams, our vulnerabilities with the world. In doing so, you simultaneously reveal your weaknesses to those who’d care to use them.
The Beginning Of The End
I had shown No.1, that the only thing I cared about was my work and gaining recognition for it. She’d used that information to control me. By pulling away from art shows, I deceived myself into thinking I’d robbed her of that power. I’d even braved the web wide wilderness and reached out to people beyond her sphere of influence. Her pouting fits and revocation of likes or comments really didn’t hold the sway over me they once did. Indeed, she’d gone quiet for an unprecedented amount of time. It was in her absence that I decided to revamp my podcast and audio-drama.
In the back of my head, I had always wanted to do both U Mind and Creeping Wave as interconnected, animated shows. I had graduated with my second bachelors in multimedia design, and made a number of animated sequences with production houses I’d work for.
Unfortunately, after creating the U Mind intro, which we still use, I realized that my computer was not up to the task of rendering a half hour cartoon. I simply didn’t have the processing power or software I’d had access to in my old workplaces. I didn’t have the money to buy it either.
I was however able to produce animatics (still pictures of the major frames between fluid animations.) Realizing my limitations, I emulated the style of “Tom Goes To The Mayor”. I loved the ridiculous postures of the characters, the extreme minimalism of the art and slide show style animation. To this day I’d have to credit Tom Goes To The Mayor, as a major influence, along with Moebius and Frank Miller’s “Sin City.”
I decided that I’d start each interview for the U Mind with a tie in animation for Creeping Wave Radio, previewing the plot of the upcoming season. It would give me a chance to flush out some finer details in the story line I’d been working on, and introduce my guests in a creative way.
When the first of these new episodes went up, No. 1, seized upon the opportunity to dig her claws into me once again. She was on the attack, and in rare form, tearing the animation apart from beginning to end. She wrote what amounted to a nearly three page critique in my Instagram inbox, rubbing my nose in all of my failings.
Honestly, at first it made me giggle, considering what the animation style was modeled after. The fact that someone was taking it so seriously seemed like a the most marvelous, meta-joke to me. It was like an a celebrated food critique writing a scathing review about the local preschool’s take on beanie wienies.
“I used to go to school for animation, so I can help you.” She insisted, “I can give you my old text books.”
Judging from exhaustive sermons I found waiting in my inbox, it was obvious she wasn’t working in animation at current. Even the short animations I had done on for websites, DVD menus and web ads took hours of focused labor. The U Minds animations alone saw me in front of a computer for 18 hours a day, 7 days a week. I was splitting my time up between my job, my work for clients, commissions and the art for each new U Mind.
“I can help you” became her was her constant refrain. With each new episode I released came a novella of critiques, with a couple of attaboys thrown in for piddly things here and there, as back handed compliments.
“It seems like you put more effort into this one, good job!”
I copy pasted a few lines from one of her messages that seemed unusually poignant for her, and found that they’d been directly lifted from the “Rotten Tomatoes” critique website. She was just so desperate to grind me down, it didn’t even matter if the words were her own.
Despite knowing her game, this ceaseless cascade of critique still drained me. Over time, I came to believe that no one saw anything from my work other than the flaws. She even took the liberty of going through my old episodes, critiquing everything from audio quality to my character designs in the cover art.
My creative life had been my sanctuary. Now, I had nowhere to hide. There wasn’t a single aspect of my life where she hadn’t burrowed herself into my affairs, telling me how I might improve myself. I knew full well what I was doing wasn’t up to the standard I’d have been asked to meet at any production studio. I knew why too, I had from the get go. Regardless, my creative work just became another chore.
I had been sober since Covid started, but backslid for the first time in almost a year. I started drinking heavily to cope. I mention this, because I feel its what dropped what natural, protective inhibitions down low enough to where I made my next major decision. I decided to let No.1 help me.
The workload had become too much for me, and she was always volunteering her services, so I said,
“Sure, why not?”
She submit several still photos of watercolour paintings she’d made, based on the plot our current episode. No animations, because of course, she wasn’t set up for that, (HEY, me either, weird!)
I am profoundly appreciative of the work she contributed, and will never diminish that. Unfortunately, it left her, and everyone else who watched the episode with the idea that we were a team now.
I felt so unbelievably defeated at this point that I decided the next episode of the U mind was going to be a simple Q & A, with viewer submitted questions. I didn’t have the strength to try and tackle much else.
No.1 started to brim with ideas for promoting it. She created art, on her own, and posted it, without running it by me first. I was furious, but knew that if I didn’t measure my words, I’d be met with a guilt trip of some kind. I asked politely if she could run things by me beforehand. Then I did a little damage control and made my own video promoting the episode.
It went as I should have predicted. She took to messenger to let me know I’d induced a panic attack in her by shaming her work, then creating a video of my own. She claimed that my video insinuated people hadn’t liked her art for the episode (it didn’t) and that she was up all night crying. Of course, she made sure to mention that she wasn’t crying for herself, but crying over the thought of having made life more difficult for me. The irony would have been hilarious if I hadn’t been so blanched of emotions by this point.
I let her make a few more pieces that I did approve and post them, two in total. We went back and forth on certain issues. I didn’t want to use anything with religious iconography in advertising, as it could be seen as sacrilegious.
“Not necessarily!” She insisted.
I wanted to reference surrealist and dadaist imagery, as per the theme of the episode, but it had to be relevant.
She suggested a guest, a friend of hers who was a local musician. I found out she’d already asked to come on the show before running it by me, so I went ahead and scheduled an interview.
I realized I really couldn’t work with someone who expects total immunity for everything they do. I started devising my exit strategy, which is a fancy way of saying, I just stopped posting online for weeks at a time to avoid her. I even removed the icons for Facebook, Instagram and Twitter from my phone’s home screen. Marvelous business acumen, I know.
It was during this period I realized that Social Media had become something of a habit for me. I had taken away my access through phone, but I still got online at work. I didn’t post, but I liked other people’s posts. That was enough to alert No.1 to the fact that I wasn’t dead (I had kind of hoped that would be the conclusion she might leap to.)
“Hey! I have an idea!” She typed, seconds after I had foolishly hearted a picture of a sphinx cat.
I braced myself for whatever it was she planned to vomit forth into my inbox.
“Why don’t you interview me, since I’m the artist for the show now!” She proclaimed.
She overlooked that fact that I was also creating artwork for the episodes, and continued to make original episode art. She also conveniently omitted the fact that we had several writers who had contributed their work as well. Before I could remind her of this uncomfortable little fact, she’d messaged me a character design she’d worked up for her appearance. She wanted to do the interview as a cartoon character.
“I can make the illustrations and you can animate it.” She proposed gleefully.
Sure, give me the hard job why don’t you? I refused, saying I was doing a question and answer episode because I needed a break for animation and illustration. I also pointed out that it was an ensemble piece, and if I interviewed her, I’d have to interview everyone.
“Not necessarily.” Was her predictable reply.
She went on, justifying why she should be given a chance to explain her art and motivations to people. I relented, desperate to just shut her up. I figured we could do a short interview and just tag it on at the end. It wasn’t worth debating over, I had work to do.
She’d always worn bizarre get ups when I had seen her at art shows, but when she came on screen for her interview I was a bit perturbed. She was dressed in something akin to a nun’s habit or a hijab. I recalled our conversation about not using religious imagery. I had to think that this was a direct affront to my refusing to let her use the proposed character animations.
We concluded the interview, and I didn’t hang up. I was petrified, thinking she’d take this to be some kind of slight. I just stayed on screen, chit chatting, till at long last her computer ran out of batteries and she disconnected.
I kept working on what would be my last episode of the U Mind to date, but stopped posting on social media. I pulled away from the internet almost all together. I actually went outside, talked to my husband, reintegrated with life.
My husband and I started hiking together. The sight of the natural world, spread out in front of me made me break down and cry. All of this had been outside my apartment, all the long, but I’d lived as a hostage in front of the computer.
It brought to mind a piece I’d read in college,
In the vast reaches of the dry, cold night, thousands of stars were constantly appearing, and their sparkling icicles, loosened at once, began to slip gradually towards the horizon. Janine could not tear herself away from contemplating those drifting flares. She was turning with them, and the apparently stationary progress little by little identified her with the core of her being, where cold and desire were now vying with each other. Before her the stars were falling one by one and being snuffed out among the stones of the desert, and each time Janine opened a little more to the night. Breathing deeply, she forgot the cold, the dead weight of others, the craziness or stuffiness of life, the long anguish of living and dying. After so many years of mad, aimless fleeing from fear, she had come to a stop at last. At the same time, she seemed to recover her roots and the sap again rose in her body, which had ceased trembling.Albert Camus, Exile In The Kingdom
I knew I had to break ties with No.1, permanently.
I responded to her next message with a very businesslike “We appreciate your contributions, but cannot keep up with the volume of emails from clients and interested parties. Therefore, we will be redirecting messages to an answering service, thank you.”
I hoped the idea of her wild tantrums being seen by some receptionist, laughing behind their computer screen at the melodrama of it all, might be enough to silence No.1. for good.
Hoping to return with a professionally animated episode and put No.1 in her place, my husband suggested we subscribe to Adobe Creative Cloud. It would have given me access to all the programs I needed. Unfortunately, my Macbook is from 2012, and the Sierra operating system I was using couldn’t support it. Desperate to create my vision at last, I found a pirated version of Catalina, (1.0 was no longer available on the Apple store.) This was the most current mac software update that could run on my computer and support creative cloud at the same time.
Sadly, my current computer was overloaded by the new software. It runs, but now I have to deal with random freeze ups and crashes. Illustrations for clients that used to take a few hours now take days to complete. My old software isn’t compatible with the new operating system and I haven’t had any luck trying to reinstall Sierra. My business is effectively dead in the water. Ten points to No.1!
I realize she didn’t force me to download anything, but she put me into such a frantic, desperate headspace that I’d made a very detrimental decision. For some reason, I still needed to prove myself to her. Such was the power of her manipulations.
“Why don’t you just trade in your car?” I heard No.1’s voice echo through my head. She’d even infiltrated my brain now.
She’d have loved having that little victory over me. Unfortunately for her, my BMW is a 2006 model, and requires loving maintenance from me and my husband. We’ve had it assessed before in the past. As a trade in, it would only yield about $1400, which would leave me with a computer below my processing needs, maybe a few hundred in spare change and no car. That, and I really love my car.
I started to put my focus less into digital art, and more into traditional painting. It was yet another opportunity to further disconnect from the digital world and reconnect with my humanity.
At this point in time, I’m very close to having enough for a new computer.
Soon, No.1 was back, defecating guilt all over my inbox. I suppose she hoped my fictional answering service would take pity on her and see me as a monster.
I relented, and sat with my husband, typing what I hoped would be my last exchange. There were a few more after that, written by him more than me (he’s much more diplomatic.) She was offended regardless, anything other than getting her way is a vicious affront in her mind.
My husband suggested we go on a much needed staycation in Downtown San Diego. He recognized that I needed this time to get reacquainted with being a functional member of society. I appreciated the chance to spend time with him. It felt like rediscovering a long lost friend, and yet he’d been there all the while. I’m ashamed to this day that a gave No.1 such authority over my life and neglected my marriage.
During our staycation, I was too busy to check my messages. I posted photos of what we were doing, but when messages from No.1 came through, I opened them up only long enough to delete them. When my husband and I returned home, and I attempted to get caught up with my digital correspondences, I saw that No.1 had blocked me.
I laughed at the realization that just starving her of attention was all it took. I could have been free long ago, had I not been so terrified of the social retribution she could exact. As of yet, its been minimal. I expect an uptick should she ever discover this post.
I’m slowly relearning how to use Social Media in a way to promote my business and stave off the Annie Wilkes types of the world. I’m not yet proficient or fully recovered yet. I have no passion left for my art or writing most of the time, but I don’t really have a teaming mass of fans, chomping at the bit for it either. I don’t know if I could handle it if I did.
I remain hopeful that in time, my art will become my sanctuary once again.