Last year, a friend and I decided to conduct a highly non scientific social media experiment in the great state that is facebook.
My friend, who usually goes for sarcasm and humorous fare, had posted a heartfelt sentiment earlier in the day about changing the world through one act of kindness at a time. Good words that came from a good place inside of her, so she was surprised to find out they did not seem to have much statistical significance when posted. And by statistical significance I mean, hardly anyone liked them.
She expressed surprise to me, having felt particularly good about her kind worded sentiment, and having hoped that others would feel especially good about it as well, and having expected that it’s goodness would be celebrated in a giant sea of blue thumbs ups. Instead, she was left feeling bewildered about the lack of reception. “Doesn’t anybody care about sincerity and kindness?” she asked. Actually I take that back, she has the mouth of a sailor, so if I remember correctly what she really said was, “What the f- is wrong with people?!”
As a seasoned veteran of posting well intended, good, kind worded sentiments and observing how those thoughts hold up in the giant sea of blue thumbs ups, when compared to something like a picture of my dog or the glass of wine I had for dinner, I consoled her and sagely shared the conclusions I have reached from my observations. Which is that in this particular form of social media, more often than not, people are more likely to “like” something fun and simple like a post about what you had for brunch, than words of heartfelt sentimentality.
I like to think of it as the bacon phenomenon. Bacon tends to trump heartfelt expressions. I might add that the same seems to hold true for pictures of alcoholic beverages, scrumptious cupcakes, pictures of beaches, athletic feats and doe eyed fuzzy animals. I should also add, in the interesting of self-disclosure so I don’t give you the impression that I go around sounding all deep and spiritual all the time, that I love to post pictures of all these things.
But back to my friend, who promptly put the bacon phenomenon theory to the test by posting the words, “I like bacon!” just to see how it would compare to her words on kindness. Here is what we found out: that there are indeed many, many, many admirers who also like bacon, and who readily chimed in with not only a heartfelt little blue thumbs up, but took the time to comment about how much they too (!) like bacon. Apparently bacon is one strip away from having a fan base big enough to nominate it for presidency. People love their bacon.
Here’s the thing about transparent expression, bacon and writing. When I first started writing I had the same unrealistic expectations as my friend. I expected to put something heartfelt and utterly sincere into the void, and have it be well received. While I didn’t expect a kick line and a row of glitter cannons, I believed people would connect with the things I had to say and we would have a complete-“You see my heart, I totally see yours! Isn’t authenticity awesome!”- fist bump kind of moment.
Here’s the thing about expectations- they exist to be challenged. Life will challenge them. Mine certainly have been. And you either collapse into a sad spiral of shame and desolation and giving upness, or you dig deeper and find a way to creatively adjust them to make them work for you, and you learn to see life from a different perspective.
My best lesson in this was the time I wrote a personal piece on authenticity, found an online journal willing to publish my submission, and sat there glowing on the day it went live. Here I am world, ready for my soulful fist bump! Unfortunately, the fist bump wasn’t happening. I could tell from the stats buttons that nobody was liking it. Or sharing it. Or doing the kinds of things that make it seem like somebody is reading and connecting to my work.
It sat there alone in an awkward hover, vulnerable and exposed in it’s lack of receptivity. My little warm glow started to fade as I realized I’d wrenched those words from the guts of something deep and pure inside of me, and it didn’t seem like they mattered. I was left feeling alone, vulnerable and exposed. This was the day when I realized it is a strange world we live in, where one can etch off a bit of their soul, encase it with sincere, transparent language, cast those words into the void, and realize that bacon will usually garner a more enthusiastic reception.
This was the day where I started a) get a much thicker skin as a writer b) realize that likes, shares and followers do not necessarily reflect good writing and c) started reflecting on just why some people like to like bacon so much. Or a picture of a cocktail. Or a fluffy puppy frolicking in the grass. Or that photo of the sunset.
These things are easy. Uncomplicated. Effortless. Simple moments that elicit feelings of warmth or beauty or inspiration or joy. Who doesn’t love to feels those kinds of things?, I know I do. They feel good. Light, fluffy and fun. Like a fabulous, mimosa brunch. And goodness knows that in a word where life can be tough enough, sometimes we all need a side of easy to go with the hard we’ve been handed.
That’s the things about life though, it is hard. The work of being human is hard. The work of the soul is hard. Complicated. Messy. Deconstructing. The kind of thing that will rip you apart so it can piece you back together to make you more than you were before. A brilliant patchwork of experiences reflecting dark and light and easy and hard and every shade of feeling that rainbows the spectrum of humanity.
Sometime reading words that give voice to the hard, is hard. Soulful writing can make you reflect and excavate your own stuff and think about how change applies to you. And that can be a threatening place to be, for when we really start diving down into the depths of our own selves in search of our hidden treasures, we have left the table of light and fluffy brunch fare and are now at the banquet of soul. And there is nothing easy to be found there. But there is authenticity. There is courage. There is wholeness.
There is change.
There is where you start to meet your most real self.
There is worth it.
A few weeks after that lonely piece was published, a comment popped up in my inbox. It was from a woman who said she read the whole thing with tears running down her face, because “Yes, yes, yes, your story is so similar to mine. This is what I’m going through right now, and now I know that somebody else out there feels what I feel. I am not alone.”
There was my fist bump.
There was my expectation adjustment and reminder to just write what’s on my heart, and let life take care of the rest.
There was worth it.
I posted a link on my facebook page this week to a poem that was recently published. It was another one of those wrenched from the guts kind of offerings. A letter to my younger self sort of deal, that I hoped people would relate to. Some indeed did and took the time to say so- it is so very good to know you guys are out there. Fist bump, Soul People! But to be honest, more people “liked” the picture of the sunshine, chilled margarita I’d posted the day before. Sometimes that is just the way of things.
Margaritas are easy. Bacon is easy. Light is easy. Soul is not.
And that’s okay. There is room enough for both.
But if you please, I would just rather take my bacon on the side. Next to a main dish of depth and heart and the sincerest of souls.