I'm a fiber artist, among other things (mom, financial report proofreader by day, writer, procrastinator extraordinaire, weirdo). I make art using a technique called freeform crochet, where I crochet bits together and make these amorphous blob things. Some of them are hats, or sculptures or are meant to hang on a wall. In November 2011, I had a sort-of heinous experience with a customer at a craft fair. This woman had tried on every one of my hats, complained about the price of one of them, and called it ugly to my face. And I did what any other person would do: I went home and blogged about it, on my little fiber arts and personal blog had about two readers per month.
One morning that month, I opened my email to find a comment from a complete stranger.
Within the next few hours, comment notifications flooded my inbox, and it didn't let up. Within a two-week span, I had almost 100,000 unique visitors to my website. As of this writing, one of my blog posts has generated 720 comments.
Sounds great, right? No, not great. Terrifying. I realized that many bloggers and writers would jump at the opportunity to have that much traffic, but in my experience, it was overwhelming. To put it in simpler terms: I got stage fright.
I had no idea that my blog post (on breaking down all the costs that go into a handmade item) would explode the Internet. I had no idea that what I had written would strike such a chord with so many people. My little unread-except-by-family-and-friends blog was suddenly being linked to on Facebook, Twitter, craft blogs, mom blogs, art blogs and one math blog. Sales in my online store doubled. A couple of my friends even had conversations with complete strangers who had read my blog post, which was, you know. Weird. I was Internet-famous, at least in the crafting community, in spite of myself.
See, while some people may have a fear of failure, I have what I like to call a fear of success. Failing I can do. I'm a pro. Failed to finish college. Failed to finish the last five books I started. Failed to seize opportunities. Failed to use all the fresh vegetables in the fridge before they went bad. You get the point. I'm good at letting things run their course, fizzle out and eventually die. And after the initial burst of activity on my blog, I was fully prepared to let that happen with my writing, and maybe even my art.
Those of you who are really, spectacularly good at failing, but are terrified of succeeding, will understand what I did next, after I became Internet-famous. Instead of leveraging the momentum of my newfound audience by posting about topics relevant to fiber arts, I mostly stopped blogging, except for some random posts about shoes and food. I made myself busy with a million other creative projects. I took up painting. I focused on fulfilling the rewards I had promised the backers of my Kickstarter project. I started a separate food and health blog. I essentially let that tiny spark of a blog post die its own natural death, instead of fanning it into flame.
What the hell is wrong with me?
Here's the thing about becoming Internet-famous: in my experience, it sort of makes you want to quit the Internet entirely. The emotional ugliness that humans are capable of unleashing on other humans has found its perfect forum, and that forum is the comments section of blog posts. It's why I've always avoided message boards and the like -- I hate it that people hide behind the veil of Internet anonymity and use that to attack each other in ways they would never dare to if they were face-to-face in real life. Add to that the tendency of some people to favor reality-TV-style oh-know-you-didn't smackdowns over thoughtful discourse, and well...ugh. It's depressing and vile. And it was happening on my website.
I had random strangers commenting on how much they hate my art, and what a terrible person I am. I even found a discussion thread on a popular crafting site (thanks, Google Analytics!) that was dedicated entirely to how ugly my work is and what a cunt I am. And the anger, sweet jeebus. I still can't figure out why so many people were so angry (really, truly angry) about what I wrote. And then there were the people fighting with the other people in the comments, some people defending my honor, defending each other's positions, name-calling, threatening, you name it. Internet dramz at its best and its worst, right there on my blog, which I never thought anyone, other than my mom, would actually read.
I also had a few people message me or comment on my blog post about how great they thought I was. I had at least two people say, "You are an amazing woman!" (That point is debatable -- though I'm sure my kid thinks I'm pretty swell.) But my point is that even some of the positive comments were a little frightening, in a "WTF did I create here?" kind of a way. These people don't know me. They may have a loose impression of my Internet-self, but they don't really know me. Until we get to a point where we are uploading our unfiltered consciousnesses directly to the hive-mind, these people have no way of knowing my true character.
So I had to ask myself: 1) what was it I said in that now-infamous post that struck such a chord with so many people and 2) is that really something I want to do again and again?
And my first reaction was HELL TO THE NO. Which is in direct opposition to my own best interests as a business owner and artist. I should want my stuff to be seen and noticed, right? Even if it's being noticed for the wrong reasons and openly mocked.
It took me a while to come full circle on this. If people are rude or mean or I unintentionally start some sort of debate, so what? The only opinions I care about are the opinions of the people I love. Why do I care what the fracking Internet peanut gallery thinks? The answer is, I don't. Not when it comes to my writing and certainly not when it comes to the art I make -- those things are for my own enjoyment and I do them because I have to in order to remain a sane, functioning human being. Some people will get it and like it, and those who don't will eventually bug off.I know my post is still circulating out there in the ether, because I occasionally get comments on it. A few weeks ago I got this comment:
"I too am an artist of many crafts, I knit, crochet, clay, wood, spin… etc.. whatever fulfills my fancy at the moment.
If this letter was to change/startle anyone… even one person… you have busted me so big-time!!
I am one of those people that walk through the craft shows, while displaying my wears and my prices.. looking at yours and thinking.. “I CAN DO THAT” while walking away grumbling about your prices.. Talk about busted… not once have I ever thought my supporting you would in turn support me… duh.. even though I know in my heart your prices are fair..
Something about this posting has hit me square between the eyes. My new goal is… If I see something that I admire.. I wish I had it.. I have a purpose for it.. I want it… I can afford it (even if I feel I can make it) I WILL buy it!!
From this day forth, I will not go looking for that all out bargain.. I can do that by going to my dollar store… I will now shop with a new eye.. I promise.
Thank you for the awakening.
You see, for every person who gets mean and nasty, there is at least one person whose opinions might begin to change because of what I write or the things I make with my hands, or who, at the very least, I can connect to on some level. At its best, the Internet should draw us all closer, not drive us apart, right? It's all about human connection and trying to understand each other a little better. So thanks, Fran, and all the other commenters (both nice and not-so-nice). Thanks for the awakening.
(I won't link to the Post That Shall Not Be Named here, but if you Google "The True Cost of Handmade" you can see the fairly innocuous post that inspired so much...response.)