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From Phyllida's Desk

Performance Anxiety

I'm lighter by a couple of Facebook friends recently and, what's worse, I'm down one "Like" of my Author page.

As anybody who uses Facebook knows, we live or die by how many "Like"s we get—for each and every post, for our links and photos, and even for our comments in response to someone else's posts and links and photos. If you're a crusty old-timer like me, you may remember "promotional pages," like my Ann Herendeen | Author page, a separate entity from my regular old Ann Herendeen personal page. According to the original idea behind FB (OMG, just how old am I?) we should not self-promote. Instead, if we want to let our "fans" know about our creative endeavors, our books and music and art, our acting and composing, we should set up a "fan page" for that purpose.

I may be the only surviving Facebook-er who still has a fan page, but I put a lot of work into it, and I'm damned if I'm abandoning it after all that trouble. Plus, I like it (if not actually allowed to "Like" myself officially). It has (or used to, before Timeline) pictures of my gorgeous book covers and a couple of pictures of me looking not half bad, in my incarnation of ready-for-my-close-up celebrity. But here's the thing about these pages: until you get 25 Likes, your fan page doesn't have a discrete address (URL), and you can't direct people to it my giving them something easy to follow:


and until you get those 25 likes, you, as the owner of the page, can't see any "insights"—how many people saw each post, how many are "talking about it," and so on.

Even though I have well over 300 friends on FB, It took me a hell of a long time to get those 25 "Likes." Probably even having a fan page is considered self-promoting, and actually telling people about the page and asking them to "Like" it is beyond the pale. FB gives you the option of "inviting" your friends to "Like" your fan page, but I don't seem to have much luck with that, and I'm terrified that if I overuse it, all I'll accomplish is losing more friends (and "Like"s). I've tried including a link to the fan page when I accept new friend requests, but the last time I did that the person "Like"d the link on his own wall, the kind of thing I would do, like taking a photo of your thumb. Still, I was slowly climbing, until I reached my high point of 54, now reduced to 53. So every little up and down gives me performance anxiety, if not flop sweat.

I can't help going over my recent posts, wondering what it was that led to this defection. Was it something in particular, or just my slowness, the long dry spells while I rack my brain and search the paper for interesting news items? To hell with this, people may think. It's like watching paint dry—in CGI (computer-generated imagery). Or perhaps it was that post about the Eat, Fuck, Howl T-shirt, my saying that I bought it to have a daytime outfit for the Jane Austen Society's (JASNA) annual general meeting. Maybe a couple of FB friends from JASNA took offense. But surely they knew I was joking. Fashion-challenged I may be, but even I know that an Eat, Fuck, Howl T-shirt is evening wear.

As we all know, dying is easy, comedy is hard, and trying to be consistently funny in a not-really-interactive medium is extraordinarily grueling. It's like acting in front of the camera instead of a live audience. There's no instant reaction to let you know what works, what bombs, what people don't get. Only after seeing the dailies (or counting the "Likes") do we find out if our performance was adequate. Many helpful people have explained, patiently and repeatedly, that I shouldn't talk about myself or my writing all the time—especially not the writing—in order to keep people interested in me. Just post some offhand remark, a picture of a friend or family member, something that happened on the way to work…

And, oh dear, that's the problem. For someone of my age, it's not the self-promotion that's difficult: it's all that "casual" stuff. Ever since I wrote my books and was lucky enough to get them published, I'm happy to talk about them, and the process of writing that led to them. It's the one thing in my life I'm proud of. Whatever it is that keeps other people from self-promoting—shame, decency, modesty—I didn't inherit that gene.

Instead, I have a version of the "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything" impediment, although for me it's not about "nice" but about "interest." And we all know how subjective that is. When I see something that, if I were at a bar and deep into my third drink, I would launch into a full-blown discussion about, something like the origin of the Indo-European languages, or the obituary of a woman artist who painted pictures of male nudes as a way of balancing out the gazillions of male artists' pictures of female nudes—that's interesting. So I post it on my Ann Herendeen | Author page, because that's the part of me I want to share: the creative person, the comedian, the writer of witty, sexy romantic comedies. A dying genre, I suppose, as I'm one of a dying breed, the writer who doesn't want to have to talk about herself, only her work.

Which is not to inhibit you, my friends. Please don't think that I dislike reading all of your posts, whether universal or personal in significance. I'm sorry that I can't always reciprocate, but I love hearing from you and seeing your pictures. I may be inhibited when it comes to personal sharing, but I appreciate your willingness to share yourself with me and get so little in return. Please keep on posting.

And if you get a chance, please Like my fan page. Sorry, it's a reflex.

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