As someone who works from home, I often long for a distraction. And my go-to source is Facebook. I strive to employ discipline by not allowing myself a peek of my social media feed unless I’ve put in a certain amount of hours or written the top of a complicated story or finished several interviews. Since I have limited in person interaction with other humans during the day, it’s my social reward for getting through a particularly challenging stint of assignments. I don’t post frequently (though my family members would beg to differ.) Instead, I enjoy peering into the lives of my friends and family. As a journalist, I’m most comfortable in the role of observer. Now that it’s summer, I find myself scrolling through endless streams of vacation pics. As I sit at my desk, I mentally photo shop myself into the many beach scenes, wishing I was there. This got me thinking about what I call the “vacation poster,” those who are only heard from on Facebook while on vacation. Whether it’s a beach in Northern Michigan, a nature hike in the mountains or a more exotic trip to Europe, there’s no end to these photos. Silent the rest of the year, the vacation posters are eager to share their happy memories while those memories are being made. Some post daily as if to say repeatedly, “look at the wonderful vacation I’m having!” With much time and thought given to the daily postings, I wonder how much they’re able to experience that vacation in the moment. I have found myself guilty of this as well, especially with my children. I have been so preoccupied with capturing the scene in a photo and envisioning the wonderful Facebook post that will ensue that I missed the chance to embrace the experience as it was unfolding. To be sure, many of those who post are truly eager to share their vacation photos and their enthusiasm for their summer getaway with dear friends and family and Facebook is the most convenient venue to do so widely. But I also wonder if there’s a deeper psychological reason: an interest in conveying to the public, in typical social media style, that life is good, even if it always isn’t. The positive comments that invariably follow: “The family adventure looks amazing!” “What a terrific trip!” “You look beautiful!” are validating. A vacation isn’t truly great unless those who see the photos say it is. I’m sure there are plenty of people who head on vacation and don’t give Facebook a second thought. They may be more interested in enjoying the time in a fresh destination than having others reflect on it. Do they ultimately enjoy their vacation more than those consumed with posting about it? Of course, it’s impossible to know. My husband and I are heading to Paris in the fall to visit my daughter who will be studying there. It’s the first time we’ve been to Europe since before our children were born and I’m very excited. But I’m going to try very hard not to envision each photo as an opportunity for a Facebook post — even thought that’s tempting. I’ll find out if my travel abroad is more positive when it’s not viewed through the lens of social media. A future blog will reveal the impact of this social media restraint! Happy travels to all of you this summer.
Our former minivan, above, jam packed for its last college venture.
After donating my 14-year-old minivan last month, I found myself becoming overwhelmed with emotion. The depth of my reaction surprised me and I decided to explore my feelings and the reason for them in an essay. I don’t often have the time amidst my many freelancing assignments to write personal essays. And I’ve had limited success with the few I’ve tried to sell. So after writing it, I showed it to my husband. He’s become my go-to person to bounce ideas off of over the many years we’ve been married. He always has good instincts about how a piece might be received and he’s been incredibly supportive of my writing. He often weighs in with valuable advice on how to improve my articles. But this time, his response and candor surprised me. “It’s so cheesy and cliche,” he said. “I don’t think you should try to sell it.” I shed tears while writing this piece and the subject moved me. I thought other moms my age would be able to identify with it. I wasn’t yet ready to accept his answer, so I had a close friend read it. “I’m sitting here in tears,” she said after reading it. Not comfortable accepting just her answer, I sent it to my sister, who is brutally honest. “I loved it,” she said. Buoyed by their remarks, I sent it to a few publications. I bet my husband that others would feel the same and that I would get it published. Within a few days, Real Simple accepted the article. After I posted it on Facebook, comments began streaming in, with numerous people sharing their stories of their attachment to their very old cars. It seemed I was not the only person who grew to love their vehicle and was reluctant to let it go. Jubilant that I had won the bet (unfortunately we never solidified any terms, so satisfaction was my only reward,) I told my husband that it didn’t matter so much to me that he didn’t like the piece, since he was not my target audience. This would resonate mostly with women, especially those with older children. And, indeed, almost all of those who responded favorably to my Facebook post were female. Other women were the ones who grew sentimental over the vehicle as I did. I find this division along gender lines interesting. Is it because more women tend to drive their kids around in the family vehicle, therefore cementing more memories behind the wheel? Why would men not feel the same? Or would they just be more ashamed to admit getting weepy at the prospect of parting with the family van? I don’t know the answers. But as I pitch stories, I always consider the audience of the publication I’m targeting to run my piece. As a freelancer, you want to make sure your stories — especially personal essays — land in the hands of those who can most identify with the subject of your article. It’s a key way to market your pieces and increase your chances of selling them. I knew a magazine with mostly female readers would be the right target for this essay. I’m glad my instincts were right.