It used to be that I only knew what had been written about myself or my work when an envelope would arrive from my publisher. By regular mail. You know–with stamps, and everything. This envelope would contain a series of xeroxed reviews, profiles, little mentions here and there, often–I suspect–edited to keep out the negative stuff. My publicist would underline the nice things critics said with a yellow highlighter, along with cheery little exclamation points in the margins. Look over here! The envelope seemed to say. Don’t look over there! No good will come of it.
These envelopes stopped arriving at around the same time it became possible to know absolutely everything about oneself from typing one’s name into Google. Good, bad, indifferent–increasingly, it’s all available. Reviews from a decade ago exist alongside blog mentions from yesterday. There are ratings of my books by readers who assign them five stars–or one. Comments see-saw from “Dani Shapiro is my favorite writer” to “What a waste of time.”
When it comes to adhering to good writing habits, not googling myself is very near the top of my list–though sometimes I do fall off the wagon. Okay…OFTEN I fall off the wagon. What do I hope to learn when I type my name into a search engine? What am I really looking for? For writers who spend our days alone, who rarely have the opportunity to actually see someone else reading our books or stories, sometimes it’s hard to know that we exist. That our work exists, out there in the world. The internet provides us with a mirror, of sorts. See? There you are! And there…and there…and…whoops that stung…and there, and…oh, ouch, that was mean… And so it goes. But that mirror is not a clear reflection–it’s more of a fun house mirror: wavy, distorted, showing us our virtual likeness at any given moment, through random debris tossed about by an algorithmic wave. What does any of it mean? And more importantly–much more importantly–why does it matter?
As the years have gone by, I’ve learned a few things about myself, and paramount among them is that it requires a great deal to keep myself in good emotional, psychological, creative, and spiritual alignment. I need space, time, quiet, coffee. I need my yoga and meditation practice. But perhaps most of all, I need to be able to sit down at my desk in the morning and enter my internal world. How am I doing? Do I exist? Is my work worthwhile? The answers aren’t out there. They never are.