Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret
among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture Marly Youmans is a novelist and poet out of sync with the times
but in tune with the ages. --First Things

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Facebook, twitter, words, us--

Wondering what Facebook and twitter and such places tell us about words, about ourselves... While terrible things can result from being part of such a community, my experience has been primarily positive. I've had the fun of getting letters and comments from readers, and I've met a jolly bunch of people. It's interesting to see characters emerge through brief snips of words. From time to time, friends from the past surface.

To my surprise, such sites have even been useful to me as a writer. Blog comments tend to appear more frequently on Facebook than at the site, so it widens the reach of the blog--good for a busy woman. I've been introduced to writers and critics I value, some of whom have gone on to be a help to my in-print books, and I've been able to help others in turn with advice or an introduction. Some readers have discovered my books through twitter and Facebook. That's community, and I like it, especially since I live in a remote place with few writers, no full-service bookstore, and little in the way of support for books.

The things I don't like are pretty clear. I very much dislike all forms of proselytizing in print, even when I care about the issue. And when compassion and humor are both missing, I feel deeply wary. Humorless proselytizing without a heart for other people is especially difficult.

I've noticed that people are quick to anger if the reality of someone on Facebook comes into question. Some of this is because of fears of various sorts of abuse. The curious thing is that a mob mentality comes into play quickly and leads to a sort of e-witchhunt, a version of Salem that may or may not be grounded in truth--didn't the Salem residents vary in their opinions as well? One ill leads to another, just as in off-screen life. Meanwhile, on twitter the fictional person tends to be in-your-face false, the moniker of a dead author or well-known figure, or some fantastic creation.

Friends with mental problems and personality disorders are on facebook, just like the rest of us. One good thing about that is the way they can form a community where they are not judged by appearances but are free from bodily constraints. I've been touched by the way some I know "in real life" (it's all real life, isn't it?) have built a little world for themselves.

Announcements of family deaths are tricky: on a blithe stage, a dark note can sound peculiar if handled awkwardly--and what death is not a break in the flow of life? There's a clash between the nature of most posts and death. And yet one has more of a daily sense of the wheeling nature of life as births and deaths scroll across the screen, and surely that is a good effect in a culture that tends to hide death from the living.


  1. When someone dies, too often those who are left have no one to discuss their feelings with.
    People like to offer solutions (or platitudes with the appearance of a solution) and to try and 'fix' things.
    So people say little - embarrassed by the lack of any logically useful input open to them.
    Those who are left grieving most deeply often have to deal with daily life until new experiences become their primary consideration.
    I like that social media allows people to share their experience and that we are confronted with a reality that many find hard to deal with.... namely, that we cannot always 'do something' but we can be there.
    I think that matters.

    So much that happens within communities such as offered by the social media (Facebook, Twitter, MySpace) is extremely healthy and balances out the inadequacies of 'real life' interaction.

    Interesting post, Marly.

  2. Yes, I think that "being there" matters, too, though it is said to think that for some, there is no "being there" in daily life in the flesh...

  3. I have always admired and wondered at your ability to balance such a busy writing life with a large presence on social media. It's just more writing, isn't it, and that with a more immediate and interactive audience?
    Interesting reflection, and I hope you'll have more to say about this another time.
    Thank you for dragging me kicking and screaming into the network, and thanks for being part of my virtual and everyday life.

  4. I just . . . persist. I think that's it. And use the internet in little bits of time that are too small for other things.

    Didn't know I had that much infuence, Robbi! Thanks.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.