The Grand Narrative is Evolving

I’m about to lose 1000s of followers. Yet I couldn’t feel any more relieved or enthusiastic.

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes. Photo by Christian Diokno from Pexels.

No, not ending—evolving. Radically changing form, in order to survive and thrive.

Sorry if I alarmed you. So too, for my unexpected recent hiatus from writing. Real life just kept intruding, whether it was through moving apartments, chronic insomnia, teaching face-to-face again, noise complaints from my new neighbors, going though a bottle of whiskey every few days, one of my few close friends ghosting me, or so on.

But suffice to say we’ve all had our demons to face after over a year of Covid, and most people’s have presented far more of a challenge than mine. To let you get back to dealing with yours then, here’s the TL;DR:

Starting in July, I’m going to be dramatically cutting back on what I post to social media, in favor of longer twitter threads and Facebook posts designed to spark conversations instead. And, sometimes extending those conversations to Zoom and Clubhouse.

If you’ve primarily been relying on me as a news source, then I completely understand unfollowing me after hearing this. Sail thee well.

If you’d like an entirely too frank explanation for the change though, to understand why I’m so excited, and why only the smartest and most interesting among you are going to want to stick around? Then read on.

Photo by Marga Santoso on Unsplash.

Basically, the process began when Hootsuite announced it was altering its pricing plans.

If you haven’t heard of it, Hootsuite is a social media service I’ve been freely using for posting and scheduling links simultaneously across the blog’s Facebook, Twitter, and so on. It’s saved a lot of time compared to posting each link into each social media network manually.

From July however, its free service is going to be rendered effectively useless, and its next tier will cost $19 a month.

I’m not complaining. For what it provides, it’s definitely worth the money. If I could have paid monthly or 3-monthly, I probably would have.

Yet it can only be done in an annual lump sum of $228, which is very unwise on Hootsuite’s part. Because that feels like so much more money, it prompts hard questions in users’ minds about the real value they place on social media, which I think Hootsuite would rather they didn’t ask.

You see, with me, I was forced to admit I’ve been using social media as a crutch.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Way back when social media was first taking off, all the blogging gurus advised getting on board. Create an audience there they said, and more people will see your blog posts than if you just relied on email sign-ups and google searches alone. It made sense, and still does.

The issue is creating and maintaining that audience, which I’ve naturally been doing by regularly posting links to (mostly) East-Asian feminism, sexuality, and pop-culture stories. Which may sound like the easiest thing in the world, but consider the full process.

First, those stories have to be found. So, by now I have hundreds of google keyword alerts, email subscriptions, twitter search feeds, and RSS feeds set up to deliver them to me which you don’t, and have lost track of all the related groups and forums I’m in. All those have to be continuously updated too, as old sites die and new ones emerge.

Then, from all the ensuing links, a shortlist of articles, videos, artworks, and podcasts has to be blitzed through to make sure they’re interesting and suitable. Which again doesn’t sound like a grind at all for a geek, but in reality there just isn’t the time to absorb their content in any great depth.

Next, their links, headlines, and ledes need copying, pasting, and posting, before finally, with a huge sigh of relief, I can schedule them, trying to ensure a variety of content throughout the day and the maximum possible audiences.

Put that all together, and it can easily add up to an hour’s work every day—more actually, if I wasn’t so good at it by now. As I’ve been doing it for ten years.

It’s become very much a ritual, mostly performed over breakfast and my morning coffees, then again as soon as I return home from work. Both increasingly precious windows of free time which, you know, most real and aspiring writers would use to actually write.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels.

Yeah, all that time and effort does sound nuts in hindsight. But it’s also how I came to gain over 10,000 followers. I’ve seen how people really do sit up and take notice when they see numbers like that next to your name. And, when that happens, that feeling that the world is a happy place and that you are a notable person in it, is every bit as addictive and sublime as all that whiskey I’ve been drinking.

It’s still all a crutch though, because ultimately it’s just been an avoidance mechanism.

However much hard work is involved in pursuing likes, and however much it feels like I’m “advancing my brand” when I put a link up to do so, doing my own work presents far more of a challenge.

As a cishet white male specializing in the subjects that I do, it can be a struggle finding topics about which I feel I actually have something valuable and worthwhile to say. So, to gain the knowledge and confidence to do so, I rely heavily on Korean-language sources. But locating and translating those is hard. Interviews, difficult to arrange—nay, find the time and energy for—when you’re middle-aged and have a full time-job and a family. Putting what you do obtain all together and writing something cohesive, sometimes a herculean task. Trying to learn from established writers how to make the end result at least vaguely enjoyable and readable, thoroughly depressing—as if I’m a permanently stunted child, who will never, ever rise to their level. And, after all that, don’t even get me started on persuading people to actually read what you do finally come up with.

To continue a theme, if you don’t do any of that yourself, you really no have idea of the work involved. No, really you don’t.

Just a small taste of what’s on my desk and screen while working on my next post. Photo (edited) by cottonbro from Pexels.

It’s so much easier to just post links instead. So what if that ends up taking the place of my own work that day? There’s always mañana. Besides which, a story about the latest K-pop controversy will almost always get me far more likes and new followers than my writing will.

Yet if people responded more in the comments, then the social media schmoozing would feel much more worthwhile. But honestly? Most of the time, it’s as if I’m just screaming into the void, whether we’re talking about my own writing or the stories I link to.

Or indeed, not talking.

Only getting comments once in a blue moon on my blog, I understand—for those, I would need to go through the rigmarole of self-hosting, necessary to install the much more user-friendly Disqus commenting system. But on Facebook especially, with 4300 followers? Or on Twitter, with 3600? I don’t mean to exaggerate that I don’t get any comments at all, and I’m very grateful to all of you who have ever taken the time to leave any. Yet somehow, even when I respond to a long, thoughtful comment in kind, there’s rarely the sparks there that flare into the longer conversations I encounter on other people’s pages, groups, and tweets, despite them having much smaller numbers.

Put all that together, and I’d be hard pressed to name more than a dozen of you I’ve regularly interacted with.

I’m not gonna lie—it’s been lonely.

“You’ll talk about about my writing with me, won’t you? Please?” Photo (cropped) by cottonbro from Pexels.

It’s not you, it’s me. I know there’s much more I could do to increase engagement, and I’d appreciate your help in learning how. Indeed, jumping ahead, having real conversations with you from now on is precisely what this change is all about.

Another elephant in the room is that without that interaction, it’s exacerbated my feelings of being taken for granted. I don’t mean to make anyone feel guilty by mentioning that (okay, maybe just a little), and I readily admit I myself only donate to the tiniest fraction of the people and sites I follow. But if, likewise, even if only just the tiniest fraction of 1% of my followers had made occasional, minimal donations, I could easily have afforded to keep using Hootsuite. Instead, despite my stats showing me that people sometimes spend hours poring over my long posts that took me months of work, and despite 1000s of people a day clicking on the stories I find and post for them, I haven’t received so much as a dollar for providing either in over four years.

Source: Fanpop.

For sure, I don’t mean to imply anybody should feel under any obligation whatsoever. It’s always been entirely my choice to do what I do, and for the most part I’ve enjoyed it.

But I am, after all, just one person. My feelings have weighed heavily in my decision to make this change, so it would be disingenuous of me not to include them in my explanation. That, you know, just a note of thanks here and there would have been nice in the last few years, let alone an occasional $5 donation.

Without those, I just can’t keep running what has essentially become a free newswire service. Let alone if it’s going to start costing me $228 a year to do so.

So I won’t.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels.

What I will be doing on social media from now on is: choosing only the most interesting, relevant, and awesome news stories, music videos, advertisements, interviews, artworks, podcasts, and books; writing some brief commentary and adding translations as per necessary; and then posting those, with the deliberate intention of getting conversations going.

Honestly, I’ve no idea how long or how often those will be yet. It’s a work in progress, which I wouldn’t want to lose all my newfound extra writing time to. I’m certain though, that it will mean losing the vast majority of my followers.

But even if as few as 100 remain?

Who I can have real conversations with, that we learn from each other in?

That we mutually look forward to hearing each other’s commentary and insights from?

And who sometimes have their own cool stuff they’d like to share with everyone?

Then it will all be worth it.

And I do mean conversations. It’s 2021. It’s finally occurred to this grizzled old blogger that there’s no reason to just type at people anymore. So, by genuine coincidence, the KOTESOL Women and Gender Equality Special Interest Group has already arranged a Zoom session with me for a ruthlessly moderated/completely chill chat about life, the universe, and East-Asian feminism, sexuality, pop-culture, and the blog in 2 weeks (I’ll make a separate announcement soon), and I would love for Zoom chats to become a regular thing if enough people join them. I’d like to set up a regular room on Clubhouse too, now that the semester break has begun and I can familiarize myself with how to use it.

I know, right? Me feeling excited and optimistic about the blog, for the first time in years? This is going to take some getting used to!

From Pictures for Sad Children by John Campbell. Source: unknown.

Meanwhile, the blog itself will change a lot behind the scenes, but little on the surface. As revealing how and why would require an explanation just as long again however (but you’re still free to ask!), suffice to say I’ll be returning to longform writing only, will refuse to be distracted by the 100s of folders of potential post topics I’ve had bookmarked for years, and will exclusively work on actually continuing and—heaven forbid—even completing my “Asian” vs. “Western” Women’s Bodies and then Queer Female Gaze series, which will take a few months at least. Finally, before the year is out, I’ll also be aiming to complete a journal article on Erving Goffman and Korean advertisements I’ve been putting off for, oh, only about 10 years. Then in the next 6 months after that, another on the gender politics of Korean school uniforms.

I may look as relaxed as this guy, but in reality I’m sweating buckets about finding a ringlight suitable for countering a shiny bald head in the next two weeks. Any suggestions? Image by Pexels from Pixabay.

Here’s to hearing many of your thoughts and comments from now on then, wherever or however I receive them! 😊 And please don’t worry about the drinking—I’m already over a month sober, and 5 kg lighter!

If you reside in South Korea, you can donate via wire transfer: Turnbull James Edward (Kookmin Bank/국민은행, 563401-01-214324)

12 thoughts on “The Grand Narrative is Evolving

    1. Thanks, and yes, I hope so!

      To cut that promised long explanation extremely short, I frequently get very distracted by Korean-language sources I find, translating them and wanting to post them onto the blog. But that’s almost always never a good idea, for a wide variety of obvious reasons, and yet still I keep dropping everything to translate anyway, especially this year as I’ve really gotten on a Korean-language binge. It’s like finding more sources for an essay when you’re a student instead of actually writing the damn thing (No surprises that this was a huge problem for me!), or buying new books instead of reading the ones you already have (which of course I still do a lot), and again is ultimately really just a way of avoiding the hard task of writing for myself.

      From now on then, I’ll strictly only work on my own projects, on subjects about which I feel semi-knowledgeable, that I already have a good idea of what I’m going to say, and which I think it’s worthwhile and valuable for me to do so. Of course, where appropriate I’ll still extensively use Korean-language sources, and as per usual what I learn from them will likely completely upend all my carefully planned arguments. But a simple translation as the be-all and end-all? Never again!

      (Update: Have edited the post a little to include some of this information, in case anyone is wondering about the duplication sorry!)

      Like

  1. Please don’t feel unappreciated, James. I think you do an amazing job – something I think after every post you put up that I read. Am really sorry to hear that a friend ghosted you. It’s happened to me too and I think it’s particularly revolting behaviour on the part of the one who disappears. As the Maori in New Zealand say, Kia kaha, which means stay strong, or, be staunch.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, and it’s okay about my friend—when people suddenly drop your friendship for no apparent reason, then it’s definitely their loss, not yours!

      And oh wow—”Kia kaha”? That takes me back! Did you know I lived in New Zealand for 10 years? Are you a Kiwi yourself? :)

      Like

      1. Wow, I didn’t realise. Yes, I am but I live in Sydney in Australia. Went to Korea for work a few years ago (Seoul, Daejeon, Busan and Ulsan) and can’t wait to get back to see friends.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Whereabouts in New Zealand are you from? I lived in Auckland from 1987 to 1989 myself, then again from 1992 to 2000, graduating high school and going to Auckland Uni. Then I came here!

          I’ve never been to Sydney unfortunately, but lived in Melbourne from 1989-1990, then something like 6 months in Kununurra, a tiny town in the Kimberleys.

          It’s a long shot, but continuing the small world theme, ;) do you happen to know a financier called Edward Swayne, or a graphic designer called Robert Goris? They were both friends of mine 25+ years ago, but who likewise both buggered off to Sydney. Sigh~

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          1. I’m from Christchurch, and only got to Auckland when I was about 45 – had no relatives there and as a young man it was almost cheaper to fly to Sydney than Auckland plus it had duty-free benefits. Have friends in Auckland now so have visited them a few times. Hoping, post-covid, to visit Wellington as I haven’t been there properly since I was about 14 and I gather it’s like a bigger version of Dunedin, a city I loved living in when I did my post-grad degree. Alas, the world isn’t quite so small for me to know either Edward or Robert. I’d like to live in Melbourne in principle – lovely city – but the weather is too ghastly. So I visit there occasionally and think of what might have been. If I could be anywhere in the world right now it’d be sitting in the Anglican Cathedral in Seoul keeping cool, and then going out to have a coffee at the coffee shop in the cathedral grounds, Grace Cafe, which has been set up to help women who have escaped from the North gain an income and customer service skills and then find themselves a job out in Seoul somewhere.

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          2. I appreciate you passing that on, but honestly it’s just too US-focused for me unfortunately. If the channel ever features East Asia-related topics, speakers, or interviewees then I’ll definitely check out those specific videos, but otherwise I’ve just got too much that’s closer to home to watch or listen to sorry. This episode of this podcast I’ve just discovered for instance, which I pass on to you to return the favor! :) https://againstjapanism.buzzsprout.com/1738110/8854367-women-in-the-japanese-new-left-w-chelsea-szendi-schieder

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  2. Some of us just like to read your posts … very … quietly! I ‘abandoned’ another poetry WordPress blog, 5+ years ago, to start this haiku one. Did I lose anyone? Maybe, a half dozen, but over 1100 still there. And VERY few know I switched styles. And approaching that total with this blog. Weird and ironic. Writing is acceptably selfish! Always has been, always will be. Just keep writing and just keep surprising yourself! Don’t worry about Followers …. even the quiet ones! :)

    Liked by 1 person

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