Here are some of my feelings in music form.
I had a very full and interesting day yesterday. After my intense morning thoughts and post about belonging, I settled into doing the Work. I zoomed with an old friend Aaron, who was the editor in chief at Red Bull Music Academy before they shuttered. We ended up talking about Twitter, and what it means to be “good at the internet.” He was mentioning producers that comment on the tweets of every top DJ, “great track!” as a way to build name recognition and force the algorithm to draw attention to them. This is certainly vapid self-promotion, but I was struck by how similar the fundamental practice was to something I’ve been thinking a lot about.
How do we translate the culture of generosity we’ve been engaging with on Akimbo to the internet as a whole? What does it look like to give generously on the internet? What does “typing and tagging” look like on social media?
Before this workshop, I was an expert internet lurker. I’ve always had a wide range of fairly obscure interests which have consistently led me to a variety of forums since the late 90s. In fact, my first experiences of being my authentic self were in the late 90s early 2000s in the anonymous reaches of AOL chat rooms. I had no idea what it meant to be trans then. But as soon as I was online, I was she/her. I never felt that I was playing a role. Sure it felt transgressive, but I never made a decision to do it, no moment of “I wonder what this would be like.” It was with the rise of the profile (which conveniently arrived with puberty in the early 2000s) that I watched myself become trapped into an identity that I didn’t understand. I slowly stopped posting. Stopped reaching out. Stopping sharing how I was feeling internally. Really, I stopped feeling internally.
As I’ve engaged in the work of physical, emotional, and spiritual recovery I’ve been constantly reimagining and understanding what it means to share and be vulnerable. I’ve come to see that my isolation was and is a choice that begins and ends with my giving into shame and the fear of being judged, rejected, and invalidated in my truth. I’ve discovered the way out - when we give ourselves the validation we seek through the daily practice of creative and spiritual work, our vulnerability no longer holds the power to arbitrate our value.
I always looked at social media as a sort of toxic cesspool, filled either with people desperate to be seen and crying for attention, or self aggrandizing ego maniac looking to promote their brands that have no value to me. What if there’s another way? One that’s built on generosity? That doesn’t seek to share in order to be seen or to demand attention, but as an act of creative generation in service of those that we wish to serve? In my practice, those that I wish to serve started with myself and my own spiritual development, which has become a model for the Others that I wish to connect with.
I’ve been thinking about this in very abstract terms. Within this workshop, I think there’s always been a general feeling of “out there” and “in here.” In here in Akimboland being a warm and fuzzy space of generosity and openhearted sharing and out there being a cold hard place where the dreams of newly vulnerable artists go to wither and slowly harden as the buzzards of the internet pick the flesh off their bones.
As I was talking to Aaron, he was telling me about his approach to cold emailing people as a journalist. It was remarkably similar to the way I’ve learned to network as an entrepreneur, no surprise there. What caught my breath is when he said, “and I’ve also started just direct messaging people who wrote articles or released music that I like and saying - Hey, you don’t know me, but I really loved _, because _, nice one, thanks!” He said a lot of people don’t respond, but that a lot do, usually to warmly just say thanks. He usually doesn’t ask for anything, but sometimes he does. Like emailing a professor to ask for a PDF of a paper mentioned in an article that he couldn’t find outside an academic paywall. Or a composer who produced a musical that was only performed live to ask if there was a recording. In each instance, people wrote back quickly and kindly and sent the work.
I think we’ve been trained by the hoards of trolls, marketers, and bad actors on the internet to forget that behind the handle of the artist, writer, director, or random YouTuber is a real person with vulnerable hopes and dreams. When we ask who we wish to serve with our work and our generosity, why isn’t our first answer the artists that we respect? The people that inspire us? The first and best way we can give generously to others is with our generous feedback.
This is also how we build a network, how we engage in community. When we reach out, we invite others in. The first challenge in the creative practice is doing the work. Of showing up for our own creative practice. Of producing our own content and sharing it. But I think I’ve often done this in a confused order. I’ve been deeply inspired by others my entire life. I’ve read thousands and thousands of posts that have touched my life.The vast majority of my thoughts, reactions, and work exist not independent of, but in relationship to these people and their own willingness to show up and to share their work. To not give back is to rob both of us the opportunity to connect authentically. I think we often think that __ person wouldn’t want to hear from us. That we aren’t important, that what we have to say isn’t worthy of attention. But I choose to believe that by existing we are worthy of attention, and that when we encounter work that inspires us, we have an opportunity to engage generously, to make the change we wish to see in the world.
What does this actually look like in practice? It looks like responding. It looks like looking up the twitter handle of the author of the article you just read and messaging them or tweeting at them to say “hey, nice work, I liked _.” It means commenting on the instagram post of the artist you admire, no matter how many other people already did. It means approaching sharing our work on social media with the intention of it being an opportunity to connect with and engage generously with others.
Yes, there are bad actors, there are trolls, there are people who will make all of this about them. That is the fundamental nature of making change. If you do work that is on the edge, any edge, some people won’t like it. Just yesterday a friend who stayed with me months back messaged me to ask me to stop casting my work as a mirror of his body, that he knows I hated my body before my transition but that he doesn’t appreciate his being my foil. I was a bit flabbergasted. The work isn’t about him, it never has been (although it's certainly relevant). I choose to see this as an indication that the work is resonating. If it touches a deep enough part of him that he might think I’ve secretly been writing it all with him in mind, haven’t I done my job? Isn’t that our goal, to touch people deeply? I think we have this opportunity with every person who has a strong reaction that looks anything other than the kind and warm “thank you” we all seek to hear. To recognize that we have provoked a strong emotion through our vulnerability. That something within our process may rub against a part of someone else that they aren’t yet ready to look at and hold with love and compassion. Anger and finger pointing are always the result of shame. If we send shame back, if we blame the messenger, we are propagating the same. Instead, can we choose to respond kindly (if we must at all)? To say “thank you for reaching out, I’m glad the work resonated with you so deeply. No it was not written with you in mind specifically. I wish you well.” Or do we (I) choose to see this as a reason to not share? To rage against the presumption of the cishet white patriarchy that the words of others are always in relation to them?
I believe we have this choice in all of our engagements on the internet. When we ask, “Is it appropriate to message, @mention, #tag, or share,” can we instead ask, “is it generous?” Is it kind? Does it seek to participate in community in the way we want to be participated with? It it giving outwards or attempting to grab attention back towards us? Going back to our twitter self-promoters - the problem isn’t with the engagement, its with the lack of generosity. If you love the release, comment on it. Don’t comment “check out my track.” Trust that when you give, what you give will return to you, multiplied. This is the mathematics of creative community. As we give outwards, our efforts are transformed into love within us. What returns may not be what you expect, and when it comes, you’ll realize you don’t really need it, because you’ve already given yourself everything - freedom.