My Social Media Rendezvous

It’s impossible to explain just how much pleasure I get from finding public domain pictures for PaperGirl posts from WikiCommons. My thinking here is that a) social media is a pantomime in every sense and b) this picture is fabulous! WikiCommons tells us that it’s a performance by students at the Holy Cross School in Salem, India.


If you follow me on social media, you probably know that I’m in London. If you don’t follow me on social media and we don’t communicate IRL, London might come as a surprise. Heck, London is still a surprise to me and I’ve been here for two months.

There’s a lot to cover. But we have to start somewhere, and I’d like to start with social media. Let me put down my fish and chips. (Drops greasy wax paper into bin; wipes mouth with sleeve.)

This summer, after years of resisting all but the barest minimum of engagement on social media, I succumbed to her deadly embrace. For the past couple months I’ve been regularly posting content on Instagram, and it turns out that I like making short videos for the internet and captioning the pictures I post with more than brief, sterile descriptions and arbitrary timestamps, which is all I did with my Instagram photos for years.

I’ve not been completely out of the social media game, it’s true. I like Instagram because I genuinely enjoy taking pictures and it’s fun to throw my adventures into the mix with everyone else’s. It’s a good thing I like Instagram because at this point, you have to commit to at least one platform. My husband is a Twitter person, for example, but I never use it. So Eric, the Twitteriot, reads me breaking news and I, the Instagramarian, show him puppies. Neither of us do complicated dance breaks, as those are best left to TikTokerean youngsters who, judging by the volume of content they create, are very, very ready for the pandemic to be over.

But I never felt like I was doing Instagram — or any social media — correctly. In case you missed it, “doing” effective social media now basically requires a master’s degree. (I think I’m kidding, but it could be true.) Successful social media engagement is a scientific proposition. Or a militaristic one. Because if you want results, it takes a war-room approach: You have to tag things, always, and you’d better be cross-posting to all the platforms or you’re wasting your time. You have to use the right hashtags and follow others so they’ll follow you, but don’t just randomly follow anyone; you must be smart about the followed and the followers — and you need a lot of the second kind. No, like a lot. At all costs, you must not commit a cardinal social media sin in front of God and Mark Zuckerberg and everybody, because they will eviscerate you. What sin? It depends. And who is “they”? No one knows. It’s just them, and you’d better watch out because if they decide you screwed up, they will hate you. But who cares! It’s the internet. Everyone’s attention span has been worn down to a nub by this point. They’ll forget about it by tomorrow. It’s just social media! Have fun with it!

All this is vexing in the extreme, so my post volume has always been extremely low. Until recently, I never posted videos. And I’ve always been religious about writing as little as I could in any given caption or comment box. I mean, if you want to write 500 words on the internet, get a … blog.

Well that’s an interesting point, Mary.

Right, so about a month ago, I caught myself writing a paragraph’s worth of copy for a single Instagram caption. “This is a blog post,” I said to myself, looking up at the clock. I’d been at it for 20 minutes. “What are you doing?”

It appears that I’m still producing content on the internet, just in a different form. I’m not entirely comfortable with this arrangement, but I have to admit it reminds me of something.

From about 2001 to 2005, I was a hardcore performance poet, slamming my early-twenties heart out every Sunday night at Chicago’s legendary Green Mill Cocktail Lounge, the birthplace of slam poetry, the cradle of slam civilization. The form has extreme specifications: A slam poet goes onstage in front of a captive audience and gets a microphone. That’s it. No props, no costumes. She does not have access sound cues or lighting changes. It’s just her and her poem. And the simplicity of that set-up, the restrictions imposed by it, that spareness, it shapes the work in a beautiful way. You, the poet, have nowhere to hide. You have to come out swinging because you are the show and your poems and your performance provide the drama, the humor, the set and the scenery. But a good slam poet shouldn’t need light cues or a soundtrack to evoke emotion: The words and the delivery should be enough — and when performance poetry is done right, it’s more than enough.

By the way, everything I just said I learned in real time. And after years in the solo performance trenches, I had to admit that I desperately wanted to play with some props. Anything, really. Plastic lobster. Paper hat. Peanut butter and jelly. Anything. I had so many ideas! Imagine what I could do with just one tiny sound clip! My kingdom for a sock puppet! I had the word stuff down well enough; I needed to advance to the next level of making work for the stage: blackouts. Stage doors. Sound effects. Maybe someone other than my damn self onstage for once.

So I auditioned for the Neo-Futurists — a prop-friendly ensemble if there ever was one — and for the next almost-six years, I had all the plastic lobsters a girl could want. I got my paper hat, my light cues, all of it. The work I was allowed to do with the Neos was full-color and required tremendous physical effort. There was so much material in every sense of the word. The two eras shared much in common (e.g., wild creativity, breathless excitement, incredible people) but if Neo-Futurism was abundance, slam performance was austerity, and both eras brought tremendous gifts.

I think PaperGirl is slam. And my social media content isn’t Neo-Futurism, exactly, but it’s definitely a space where I get to use props if I want to, or goof around with sound cues, or make as many set changes as I please. You could make the argument that I’d better use all of those things if I want to exist in the dripping, gaping maw of social media. And doesn’t that sound fun.

So, if you want to hang out with me on my Instagram page or on my Facebook page, that would be nice. You’ll get a peek at London, and at Eric, every once in awhile. I styled a photo shoot for Liberty, and I posted about that. I am posting pictures of London, a city I am deeply in love with, which is alarming. And I’m filming a lot of quilt-related video content and that makes me happy.

Most of the content is on Instagram but I try to make sure it’s cross-posted to Facebook. However much I advance in the social media game, I remain deathly allergic Facebook. It’s bad. Facebook makes my throat close up and my body gets all scratchy and puffy and then I basically die of anaphylactic shock and then I’m buried and then I rise from the dead and come back and put a 1,000-year curse on Facebook for its crimes against humanity and then, just to be safe — and since at that point I’m a sentient, powerful ghost — I melt all Facebook’s servers and turn the resulting river of boiling plastic into a sweet, clear, babbling brook, which becomes a home for magic ducklings who grant me three wishes.

Oh, look: I have a chunk of fish left and a few chips.

(Picks up fish, eats. Wipes mouth on sleeve.)

23 Responses

  1. Heather
    | Reply

    That last paragraph! I needed it in my life! So glad to be reading your words, wherever you decide to share them.

  2. Barbara R. Dengler
    | Reply

    Hi Mary! I am writing from EriePa.
    I am happy for you being in London. It seems to agree with you. I will look forward to your pictures and hearing more about your adventure. Please stay safe. We are in for another wave of this virus.
    I think about you a lot while I am working on my quilts. I am not as talented as you but I watched your shows and appreciate all your tips.
    Barb Dengler

  3. Lesley
    | Reply

    You do make me laugh 🙂 🙂 🙂

  4. Laura Dene McHugh
    | Reply

    Glad you are back, in any and every form.

  5. kari merkel
    | Reply

    wow! lucky you! Missed you and hope you are back?

  6. Miss Daisy
    | Reply

    I miss your quilting !

  7. Valerie
    | Reply

    Thanks for your post. I miss your regular blog posts. I barely do Facebook, but I do follow you there and don’t want to take on Instagram. Glad all is well with you!

    • Sheila
      | Reply

      Married!? Oh my! Congratulations. And London! Super. I do facebook so will look for you there.

  8. elizabeth a hinze
    | Reply

    Why not skip Facebook?
    Thank you for your post, love your writing.
    I’ve missed it, I do follow you on Instagram,
    but I so miss the stories behind the pictures
    that you are so good at sharing.

  9. pat mainster
    | Reply

    Good to hear from you Mary.

  10. Caroline Nelson
    | Reply

    You are helping me find the pleasure in Instagram and am slowly moving from
    FB to Instagram. For that I thank you! You are so funny and right now, in my slightly damaged psychology, I really need to know I will someday cross back over to a less damaged me. Bless you. Also – I LOVE LONDON!!

  11. Lois Wilhelm
    | Reply

    Wow, I have been out of the loop! Married? Congrats!!!! London? Awesome! Just saw a peek video on Facebook of up coming you tube wuilt history show….look forward to that, and thanks for sending out a “note” sound happy

  12. Mary
    | Reply

    Are you living in London or visiting? I may have missed something along the way. I enjoy your blog and miss your quilting videos!

  13. Tammie
    | Reply

    I’m so happy to read your post! Love hearing from you!!

  14. Susan Nicol
    | Reply

    Speaking of sock puppets, how is Pendennis?

    • Mary
      | Reply

      He’s great, Susan! You are sweet to ask. He’s back in Chicago, but I’ll be home before long. He’s probably eating candy pumpkins. He’s fine. 😉

  15. Vicky Shurtleff
    | Reply

    I just love your writings and although I do miss your quilting videos (I do go back and watch sometimes) I so enjoy that you’re back and keeping in touch again. And , I love London as well!!

  16. nan
    | Reply

    Missed your blog posts! So glad you’re back. I may have to join Instagram to keep up with you.

  17. Helen
    | Reply

    Missed you so much. I don’t “do” FB or Instagram. I was so worried about your health. WOW, England, living my dream. Enjoy it for all of us who will never make it there. You go, girl!

  18. Summer
    | Reply

    I found Instagram a few years ago and have since abandoned my blog. The blog was all about posting pictures to document my quilting journey and Instagram is so easy for that purpose. Plus more people follow me on Instagram than ever visited my blog! I agree about limiting yourself to the social media platform that speaks to you. Ain’t nobody got time to be cross-hashtagging and -posting across numerous accounts! Too much living and sewing to do! And Facebook – spot on. People think I’m an alien when I say I’m not on it, but I also feel like I have kept my soul intact by doing so. It’s a willing trade-off!

  19. Sue Roork
    | Reply

    Hi Mary, I too am looking forward to all you want to share about London! I’m also looking forward to your Instagram posts.
    Thanks Mary, love your writings.

  20. Cara
    | Reply

    Oh, social media… I withdrew from Facebook the day I had to literally fight the urge to throw my computer out of the window and then snapped at my Kindergartner for having the audacity to ask for help with her remote school work while my adrenaline was still high. Not good. I will probably eventually return, because it is the forum I use to stay in touch with geographically distant family and friends. But, my month away has already turned into two and I’m still not ready. Now I’m thinking after the election and with a dramatically reduced friends list. Maybe.

  21. Carol Woodworth
    | Reply

    Hi, Mary,
    So good to hear from you again. I was reminded of the early days at the Green Mill where I first heard you! And my friends will always remember the wonderful performances you did for Women’s Herstory Month at my house which seem like a long time ago now. Be well and I will follow you……sounds like a song from the ’50s!!
    Best to you and be well..Carol

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