Habits And Struggles

I’m typing this on my Alphasmart Neo. It’s been a while since I used this thing, and the keys don’t feel quite as clicky as I remember them. Maybe, like me, it’s feeling its age. It’s also possible that they never were that clicky to begin withโ€ฆ my mechanical keyboards may have spoiled me. Anyways…

I am typing on this because I am away from screens when using it (though of course, I am on a screen again as I post it a number of hours later on my blog, where you are now reading it). It is a rest for my eyes to work on this little machine, and a respite for my brain.

I have to admit that lately, I am not doing so well.

It started gradually, and predictably, when I grudgingly remade my Twitter accounts, and even my Instagram. I had to do this, because by staying on FurAffinity alone, I could no longer get enough commission work. Once back on Twitter, I ran a few polls, and it was evident that most furry commission work happened via Twitter, while as I’d observed, commercial and book illustration seemed to favor Instagram. It felt like a curse returned. I could not make a living on art and break free of these services that I had grown to hate so deeply. And I do. I think most of you who have followed me for longer than a year know by now how deep that animosity goes.

I thus attempted to offer my work in these platforms without having to engage beyond what was needed: follow no one, “like” no content. Reply only to people engaging with my work. Basically, do the bare minimum. And in fact, long ago this might have worked. There was a sweet spot where if you did not follow or interact, your growth would be slowed significantly, but not be completely stalled. These days though, without such constant interaction, Twitter will very purposely hide you. Not quite like shadowbanning, but perhaps not far from it in practical terms.

Twitter is so intense in forcing you to interact, that I get an average of 10 “recommended tweet” notifications to each of my five accounts if I don’t make an effort to create and/or interact with content in all of them daily. There is no good way of turning this off permanently.

So, with no obvious alternative and much to my chagrin, I did begin to follow other accounts. By compartmentalizing my content in five very different accounts geared towards specific audiences, I was able to somewhat reduce my exposure to toxicity. I forced myself to interact here and there. But in spite of everything that I tried to do to prevent it, before I knew it, the sense of addiction, of constantly refreshing to seek validation, the dread of reading my feed and consuming its ever-more-toxic content, it was all back.

The difference is that escape no longer feels easy or feasible, as it did on that freeing day a couple of years ago when I wiped all of my accounts. I am aware now that the bulk of my work, if it comes, will come from Twitter. And that if I don’t interact to some degree, Twitter will hide me. If Twitter hides me, I will sell little to nothing. Gradually, this is making my dream of making art for a living feel much less like my dream. My job is inescapably on Twitter, and working on Twitter was never my dream. But I don’t know what the solution is.

Moreover, it’s not just about my work. The following is a rehash of something you’ve seen me write a million times, but it rings true still: I feel isolated from my community.

When I first joined FA over ten years ago, the sense of small, strong community support and interaction lifted me up at a time of my life when I was so deeply lonely, that I sometimes cried myself to sleep. The fandom is made up of many small clusters and groups: I just happened to find one of them. Even my own subcommunity is made of these smaller clusters, so it’s not like I’m saying the fandom is dead/ruined or anything like that. I did say things like that before, now I think this is nonsense. It’s just my own “cluster” that has changed beyond recognition. And in the current zeitgeist, I no longer feel a cluster where I am “home” exists.

When it comes to the fandom, I very much present a completely different front depending on who I am speaking to. Very few people in the fandom (perhaps two or three, if that many) know me as myself. Maybe that’s normal. But way back in my early days, I did truly feel like I was being myself to everyone I met. This is very much no longer the case. I don’t remember exactly when it changed; I suppose it was gradual. Incredibly, I feel almost as isolated now as I did in my childhood days, something I never thought would happen after discovering the fandom, and while still being part of it.

I think I’ve expressed this before, though likely less strongly, but I hate the Internet. I used to love it, at least in the first form I experienced. Possibly many of you reading this were born after the Internet that I loved ceased to exist.

To me, the Internet of those days (mid to late 90’s and early 2000’s) was a place to pop in for maybe an hour or two once a day for a little fun and connection with strangers, all of which, it felt like to me, were potential friends. It was not life-encompassing. You did not carry it in your pocket. Life and its possibilities were still all mostly offline, and this made everything feel more solid, more real, and the Internet more like TV, something you’d turn on for a bit every day, but that was it (at least, so it was to me).

You got some emails (which you probably didn’t even check every single day) and maybe that was exciting. You wrote on your Livejournal, or your MySpace (that was the very, very tail end of the Internet I loved). In what were my earliest days, you found a topic you liked and went from page to page on a Webring, because it was the best way to find the niche content you were interested in. Going from page to page was a completely and almost always pleasant surprise.

Websites had these little awards they gave to each other, think stuff like “Most Informative MLP Site” or “Coolest Rocketshipper Page” which they presented to one another out of sheer goodwill and for fun. They’d have link pages full of wonky banners on their topic of choice. Maybe you’d email the webmaster to tell them you liked their page and you’d make a new friend. Or you’d sign their guestbook.

In most of the interactions I had, politeness and friendliness was the assumed behavior. Even in forum disagreements, I generally saw politeness. It’s very likely that my own experience was insulated and limited, but when I talk with other people my age, they often describe similar experiences.

And the biggest difference to me was that, even though the Internet felt way, WAY smaller back then, the connections you made, the comments or replies you received, felt so much more meaningful and important.

But anyway, why, when and how it changed isn’t really the point. For me, it is no longer a refuge of any sort. It is a prison I cannot escape, not even when I leave my home. I fantasize a LOT about not having a smartphone. I feel that I need it, but I hate it. I hate that anyone can message me at any point. I miss having a stupid flip-phone, that sometimes I could not afford to pay and then no one could reach me, and you know what, it was okay. The world didn’t end.

That is impossible now. Payphones are no longer a thing, so if I have an emergency, I need my phone. People no longer have landlines, so if I want to talk to anyone, I need my cellphone. I depend on my phone for maps, for Ubers, and for my banking apps. I’ve removed so many features from my phone to make it as basic as possible. But it still feels like this ball and chain I must carry.

I’m not sure where I am going with this post. I haven’t been “well” mentally and even physically as a result of all I have written here, and needed to let it out somewhere. Maybe it will help me achieve some clarity.

The world has become a very unfriendly place, online and offline. Offline, making new acquaintances is harder than ever. Online, navigating a sea of toxicity and self-righteousness on one side and of hate, bigotry, and intolerance on the other, takes a lot out of me. Among all this, I must somehow sell my work, and maintain relationships. If I go completely offline, I make no money and feel deeply lonely and isolated. If I stay even somewhat online, the result is an ever present brain fog, an exhaustion and jaded feeling in regards to everyone and everything. Nothing feels good.

Moreover, the more I allow myself to be online, the harder it seems to be for my brain to function normally. I’ve lost a large amount of my ability to concentrate on anything for any long period of time. This always improves if I go mostly offline for a period of weeks to months, it is absolutely caused by having to be online, I’ve confirmed it repeatedly. But if I do that, the algorithms destroy me, and most acquaintances forget me, even some friends do, if only temporarily.

I do not say this with any form of resentment: there are people I love a lot, and yet I can go days or weeks without thinking about them very much if at all, if those same algorithms force them out of view. The online world is far too noisy. So much is happening all of the time. A brain can only keep track of so much information.

I don’t know what to do. I am not asking for anyone to give me a solution: trust me, you do not have one. I’ve been contemplating this quandary and trying a myriad of solutions for over half a decade.

But at least in the time I spent writing this, I was not online. So maybe I just need to tweak my blocks a little more here and there, optimize my time better, so I can be more present in my offline and offscreen activities.

Offscreen. That’s important, too. Reading was once the most important activity in my life. I used to read hundreds of pages in a single week. The problem is, I still do, but now it is all in the form of tweets and news articles. What place does that leave for books?

Unbelievably, I’ve given up (as in, donated) both of my drawing boards: these days, it is all iPad and watching YouTube while I work. It has been for years. Crime, science, history channels: I’ve half-watched hundreds of hours of them while pushing art piece after art piece. I remember almost nothing I have learned. I used to draw and ink traditionally, while listening to podcasts or to music. My eyes did not get tired anywhere near as much. I was more present. I was happier. I actually learned stuff.

I feel old. I miss my flip-phone. I miss my iPod Nano. I miss the Today page on the (very) old DeviantART. In a few days, I will be 39: perhaps this is some sort of midlife crisis.

I know I need to do something. Hopefully, perhaps, I will figure that something out. It is difficult to figure out what a happy place for me should look like, and what I will have to sacrifice to find it. Interaction with friends? My form of livelihood?

Something that I am fully aware of is that at any given time, I could pretty faithfully recreate the conditions I myself carried my everyday life in before. I cannot control how other people carry theirs, however. So if I do this, I will miss on things I like, that I got used to: being able to take commissions, conveniences like Google Maps, Uber and Spotify. Talking to friends. Heck, even keeping/having friends. I do have the Internet to thank for that.

But in exchange, it takes a really heavy toll on me. In exchange for friends, interaction and validation, I have lost the ability to be present, to concentrate. Maybe I’ll figure something out though. I have to keep trying.

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