Monday, March 5, 2012

Sabbatical Sunday—"Be a person"

Sorry for the late Sunday post; I've been in Chicago, at the annual Associated Writing Programs (AWP) conference. Now there's a test of Mindfulness, if ever there was one: 10,000 writers all in the same hotel, buzzing and bumping and endlessly talking; 15 panels and readings every hour; the Bookfair, with its endless rows of tables chock full of swag to give away, to lure you into their clutches.

I was at one of those tables, dear reader. I wanted people to stop, to look at the magazine I edit, the book I wrote, the blog I write. Hundreds of people walked by with their gazes aimed at chest level, reading name tags, determining who was worth talking to and who was not.

And there were SO MANY panels and discussions about one's presence as an author, about how to promote oneself and keep building your audience, especially online. It seemed like we were talking more about how to market our writing, than about doing the writing itself.

So, the best advice I heard—in a panel on online writing and literature—was simply: "Be a person." The guy who said it, Blake Butler, is the editor of HTML Giant, one of the most popular online aggregation sites out there. He said it in response to a question about networking online, and all the advice we'd been receiving about blogging, twittering, linked-inning, Goodreading, and the rest of it.

He shrugged his shoulders. He said "Just be a person."

Forget all the rest of it. Do what comes naturally. If you read someone's blog and like it, tell them so. As a Person, not a "networker." If you have something to say in your blog, do it As a Person, not as a promotion hound. If you friend someone on Facebook, be a friend—As a Person, not someone padding their database.

It seems so simple. But as I sat there in the grand ballroom of the Palmer House Hilton—surrounded by people staring at their cell phones or listlessly flipping through the weighty conference schedule—I knew how easily our personhood gets squashed in this life. And yet how easily we can resurrect it, if we're reminded to do so.

So my motto this year is Be a Person. Be a Person first. In my work, my writing, my friendships, my life. And all the rest will follow.


  1. Agree - 100%. It's easy to get lost in the self-marketing madness. If we connect online, we should do it as people who like and respect each others' words and art and personhood.

    1. Thank you Kate (so good to see you here!)

  2. person to person: thanks

  3. You are such an amazing person. Thanks for sharing yourself with us in blog posts and books. As crappy as the web/FB/twitter world can sometimes be, it brings together people of like minds (and unlike as well). Without it, I would certainly miss having people like you in my life every day.

    1. Erin, you're an amazing Person too; your blog really opened something up in me.

      And Jack, thanks for being so open as a Person as well.

  4. Oh I love this. Thank you. I know the AWP madness...and I can work myself up into a tizzy thinking I need to blog more, which has nothing to do with actually *wanting* to blog more. Sometimes I want to. Sometimes I don't. And when I do, the "be a person" mantra is a good one to keep by my desk, so I don't slip into thinking I have to recreate myself, writer a la writer *persona*... *To thine ownself be true* has never felt so important, here in my 40th year of living.


What say you?