Self-Improvement in the Neighborhood
You know, I didn't set out to be the woman on Twitter who affectionately calls her audience babies.
It wasn't planned.
It just sort of happened.
It mostly spun out of a Vonnegut quote I invoked on the evening of November 8th, 2016, and then I kind of ran with it. It fit the way I felt towards a large amount of my audience: protective, maternal, fond. It also fit my somewhat Socratic, somewhat Discordian view of us, all of us: if not actually a load of innocents who know nothing about the world, then people who still and always have a lot to learn about it.
I started using it while very heavily inebriated and I mostly kept the habit up while at least lightly very inebriated. It felt forced and fake when I tried to say it sober, as did a lot of my threading habits generally.
Not everybody loved it. Not everybody got it. I saw that as a feature, mostly, and not a bug. As I was wont to freak out a bit over how quickly my audience and my own personal visibility grew, I welcomed anything that would help me tap the brakes on that... not stop or reverse the growth, but keep it to a manageable level.
I figured the sort of people who couldn't at least write it off as a quirk were probably going to be annoyed by some of my other habits, and better if they would voluntarily filter themselves out early and often.
Some of my longstanding mutuals really liked it, as they found it warm and reassuring, I think especially given how I can be distant even from people I care about. A few of my other close friends, though, told me in private they found it disquieting, as addressing my whole audience in that way created the sense that I was categorizing all of my audience, including people I had known for years and looked up to, as though they were children compared to me.
I didn't necessarily agree or disagree -- I don't think that's what other people's perspectives are for, to be honest. But I took it on board, and I sat with it, and I found that my use of the word started declining over time. I didn't decide to drop it. I haven't decided to stop using it now, even as I'm discussing it here. It's still part of my branding, and probably would be associated with me for a few years if I did drop it completely.
In the meantime, I've been trying out a few replacements.
One of them that I like is "neighbors". Sometimes "friends and neighbors", but that's a phrase I've mostly seen used sarcastically by the worst people in Stephen King books. But "neighbor" is a word I hit on when I was trying to think up a gender-neutral alternative for a cleric character in a fantasy story to say in place of "brother(s)" or "sister(s)" when addressing people, and it made the character a million times better.
One advantage "neighbors" has over "babies" is that I can use it collectively or individually with less trepidation. I mean, I would never call a particular stranger "baby" and mean it the same way I do when I address my audience that way. The word has multiple connotations, and none of them are great for slapping indiscriminately on someone who doesn't know you, which is maybe an argument against using it at all, though I feel like a collective address shouted into the void is something people can opt in or out of as they choose.
But "neighbor" is a relationship of equality, not a hierarchy. It's not sexual. It's not overly familiar. It doesn't have the same problems.
And as a Christian, referring to the whole world as my neighbors reminds me of the obligations of my faith, without being overtly religious. Or at least not any more religious than a Quaker calling people friends.
If you've failed to notice me busting this one out all over... well, it's because it does remind me of my obligations. It's a word that has weight. For a couple of days I tried a thing where I didn't reply to anybody I disagreed with, without addressing them as neighbor. It cut down on the number of snarky replies I made, because I couldn't pull that off and feel good about using what is essentially a scared name.
I couldn't do it without imagining how Mr. Rogers would feel.
I've been trying to cut down the amount of time and energy I spend leaving negative replies on Twitter, a practice I deem not a good use of my time and energy. But while this method worked, I found... well, I found that I didn't want to stop myself. Not enough to keep doing it. Not yet.
Which is something I have to work on within myself.
In the meantime... well, it's not that I haven't tried working the word into my day-to-day vocabulary. And it's not that I haven't noticed changes when I do. When I manage to do so, I find myself a bit less prickly on Twitter, a bit slower to block or mute for responses I know would have annoyed me to distraction. It's not to say that this one word gives me an impervious skin or acquired the patience of a saint, or that I will any time.
It just leaves me... more comfortable in my neighborhood.
And that's something, isn't it?
The fact that I haven't used it as much as I had planned, I think, has a lot to do with the fact that I just haven't been as active on Twitter, which gives me less of a chance to form new habits, and less of a chance to reinforce them. But i think it also has something to do with what I referenced above, about not really fully wanting within myself to embrace these changes, and also feeling like I'm not ready for them. It's one thing to retweet something cute about "be the person Mr. Rogers thinks you are" and another thing to try to do it...
But then, didn't he also say that he likes me just the way I am?
Which isn't to say that I shouldn't try. The way I am includes the capability to learn and change and grow, and the desire to do those things. #BeBest? I'm not sure that's possible. #BeBetter, though? That's the work of a lifetime.
So I think I'm going to go forward with this. Twee... er, blo... newslettering about it is a sort of accountability thing, because if I don't tell anyone that I'm doing this I can not do it and no one knows I gave up. I'll probably have a pretty uneven beginning, and an uneven middle, and an uneven continuation on to the grave, but I'm still going to try.
And you know what, neighbors? It's a little bit scary to say, publicly, that I'm going to try to do better, to be better, but that's not all it is.
It's such a good feeling.
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