The Street Where I Live

British by birth, New Yorker by nature.


Thought Pharmacy- I'm an Overgrammer

Thought PharmacyAlexandra king1 Comment

Dear Thought Pharmacy,

I have a confession to make- I'm an overgrammer.  We all have things we tell ourselves we won't do, or will at least attempt to do less of (like breaking the habit of getting a croissant EVERY morning with coffee or trying to drink less during the week etc) but lately I've been finding that the vice that's hardest for me to control is my need to post and share, DAILY on Instagram. 

Maybe a daily post (or two or three) wouldn't be such a big deal, but the real problem is that, more and more, my moods are altered by the reception to the images I'm posting. The right number of hits, my day is made.  Too low of a reaction, I feel like a failure.  I'm in a creative field and most of what I'm sharing are images of my work,  so there's an added vulnerability. 

I love posting. I love communicating in a language of visuals, I love the invitation for flattery, and I love the opportunities that sharing my images sometimes brings.  But how do I know when I'm overdoing it? And is it really a true barometer of whether or not what I'm doing is any good? There seems to be a lot of danger in trusting the crowds vote over my own, and I'm feeling too driven for validation of images that are smaller than the size of my hand.

Please Help (and Like)


Dear Overgrammer,

Like the last Thought Pharmacy patient, I know your problem will resonate with so many. We're all trying to figure this stuff out, aren't we? In the weird and fabulous and endlessly connected and instantaneous like-athon that is our world (Facebook's recent announcement that they're going to roll out a 'dislike' button is surely only going to add to our collective malaise of Instagram-xiety). Like you, I'm so often struck by the double edged sword that is social media and smart phones. I like to tell my husband sometimes that I think our future children, driving purposefully through the sky in their carbon free space cars, will regard our culture of oversharing in the same way that we look back at outdoor toilets and legal spousal battery- as outdated and disgusting and dangerous. But increasingly I think that's just a fantasy and I'm probably wrong (remind me of this when I watch my first grandchild being born via Periscope). As it stands, we're negotiating these magically connected times and figuring out a code of ethics and propriety and engagement that can feel like the new norm. Will future generations regard internet trolls like we do highway men? Viners as Hitchcocks and Tarantinos? The mind boggles. Anyway, as you so rightly point out, we are increasingly trapped in these toxic relationships with our phones where we become, in turn, as addicted as we are stressed out, desperate to turn off but also duty bound by the very modern (and actually not ok) expectation of instant contact, and the very tangible and intoxicating ability that is communicating en masse. That sense of "did i miss something?" not allowing us to do the conscious uncoupling that we, in our actually rather quiet hearts, want and need. I know Gwynny was talking about Chris Martin but I feel about my phone like I do about Coldplay- I don't understand why they are such a big deal but they just are. I digress.

There is, of course, the option to simply chuck your phone off the Brooklyn Bridge. Perhaps we could organize a mass unloading of Iphones, a veritable Boston Tea Party of slowly sinking electronics that not even that guy in Chinatown could resurrect. We can all get house phones again and rely on serendipity to get us dates and chant "DEATH TO SIRI" and always get lost on the way home because we're no longer a blue dot traversing the grid but simply hapless human beings in a world that sells no maps. Only time will tell. In the meantime though darling, all joking aside, we gotta figure this one out. And I need to pretend I never read 1984 or anything by Margaret Atwood.

The good news is, I think we got this. I'm sending you much love. Your prescription is below.

YOUR SONG: Picture In A Frame by Tom Waits

This was the first thing I thought of when I got your letter, and though Monsieur Waits (ever brilliant and dark) is talking about Ye Olde Instagrame of the past times here, i.e, putting a photo in a picture frame, I feel like this song should be both a comfort and wake up call to you. Tom's your soul-brother here, Overgrammer- an artist, feeling the weight, as your bright heart does, of placing in an image on display for all to see. He thinks it's as important and vital as you- "I love you baby and I always will/Ever since I put your picture in a frame". Like you, he feels the change, profoundly, from personal to public. The crucial difference though, is that the framing, the publicizing of the picture, is, for him a solo and defiant act of love. It's not for anyone else. It's for him. I want you to start seeing your Instagrams that way, Overgrammer. Feel the subtle change that is you, looking at your work and going "gosh I love this, it's wonderful, it means something, and yes, for commercial reasons in part, but also because I'm a little rapturous about this, I'm going to push it out to the world with love and confidence, because I can". Enjoy that your work, thanks to the miracle of modern technology, can currently hit the eyeballs of thousands of people within a hot millisecond. Use it. Enjoy it. But sharing it, seemingly counter intuitively, should be an act of open self love (raunchy) not a coy unveiling. And certainly not a shuffle onto the stage to a questioning crowd. It's the difference between Diana Ross walking out to Madison Square Garden versus a Roman slave wench standing naked in the forum. I know which one you are. 


YOUR ARTWORK: The Rokeby Venus, by Diego Velazguez

Five points regarding this exquisite work, that I love so much I slept with a poster of it above my bed for years.

1) This is the first time in the history of art that Venus was painted as a brunette (holler)

2) When it was first painted, everybody hated it. It was considered vulgar and shocking during Velazguez's days and, later, once it had finally been given the eminent wall it deserved, at The National Gallery in London, it was almost irrevocably destroyed by an angry suffragette with a hammer. 

3) Though it initially looks and seems as if Venus is looking admiringly at a reflection of herself, it's impossible that she's doing so because we can see her eyes in the mirror: she's actually looking at the artist, who can then truly said to be the ultimate subject of the painting, the invisible spectre on which her gaze rests. This has spawned a pyschologly of perception that was termed "The Venus Effect". 

4)  The "Venus Effect" is something you can learn from, my love. You can be like Velazguez and his Venus. You are the artist of your work, but like him, you should also see yourself as your primary audience. Your best critic. Your best judge. Though work can be beheld by others, never forget that at the end of the day the fruit of your creativity, whatever that might be, is always, ultimately, looking directly, rather lovingly, certainly inquiringly at you. 

5) Side note. Other marvellous things that reference the Rokeby Venus? This beautiful film written by Hanif Kureishi. This episode of Desert Island Discs where composer Harry Rabinowitz says his life was altered when The Rokeby Venus SPOKE to him (ahem). Whatever, I can believe it. If your prescription came with an unlimited budget I'd pack you off to London myself, right this instant.

YOUR READING/INSTAGRAM POST: How Actors Cope With A Critical Mauling, as told to Laura Barnett

There's no doubt, and this is something that you recognize in your letter, that the most dangerous element of your relationship with Instagram is that you are straight up interpreting the number of likes and comments that you get as a barometer of how good your work is. Wake up call babe- right now, several notable nerds worldwide are being paid far too much money to analyse just what it is that makes the perfect social media post, and should we ask them to dinner (nahhh) they would tell you that it's less the content, and more a combination of timing, luck, data, weather, broadband connection, complicated search engine optimization thingamijigs etc. So theres's that. Sometimes when certain posts perform better than others, it's not because one is less good than the other. In short, it's not you, it's them.

Also, darling, though over time you've convinced yourself that analyzing your likes and attention is a helpful tool for you to figure out what's good for you creatively, I think you and I both know that's bull shit. Being a creative person, whether you're a writer or a painter or a potter is so much a naked slamming of original thought and/or emotion onto object. There's so much ego there. And that's why it's so easy to sucuumb to flattery and praise and to seek it out when your daily schedule involves and indeed depends on such a huge emotional release as work. If you must behave badly, strive to be too bold rather than too servile, less Narcissus, more Icarus. It's warmer for the latter.

Anyway, I loved this article for you because it talks all about the myriad ways that brilliant actors cope with bad reviews. What particularly struck me was this quote by actress Una Stubbs.

"It's better not to read reviews, even when they're good. They may mention how you say a particular line, and then the next time you come to that part, you'll think: "Ooh, this is the bit they like." It makes you think about it too much."

You'd think in an article like this actors would talk about how negative reviews had upset them rather than the other way round, huh? Flattery is truly a false idol. Such a lesson here.


kim kardashian's lovely bottom

Though you note, rightly, that Instagram definitely does work really well for a creative person who perhaps thinks more visually than others, and I know that you can and will harness this fantastic tool to best effect, here is a fundamental fact that I want you to store as your clarion call in the face of overgramming anxiety. It goes like this- even if you posted a photo of an absolute masterpiece it would not get as many likes than if you had posted a photo of your naked bottom. HA! I'm stressing this absurd example because I want you to see how ridiculous it is, in the most base way possible, to in any way regard the insta-mob as your target audience. I want you to remind yourself of this fundamental fact when you feel yourself getting anxious. The bottom metaphor also works beautifully here, because, and this is a fact, two of the world's most followed people on Instagram (exhibit A and B) became famous because of their bottoms (George Orwell, are you there? Dude, even you couldn't even make this up). FYI I think both bottoms are lovely and I very much like them. I just doubt they'll be in The Whitney anytime soon.

The Shipping Forecast, The Street Where I Live

YOUR ACTIVITY: Listen To The Shipping Forecast

If everything I've written above addressed the symptoms of your problem, this is the antidote. Maybe you already know what the shipping forecast is, all Brits do, but just in case, here's some background. Twice a day, every day, on FM Radio, the Met Office broadcasts a weather report for those at sea. It is almost completely unintelligible, a strange mix of unrelated words (Rockall, Malin, Hebrides, Bailey) intermixed with familiar talk of snow, storms and gales. I still don't know what this mystical language means in practical terms, nor do I care to find out, because though to those salty sailors it's life saving in its information, to me it is life-affirming in its mystery. At the end of the midnight edition, usually read by a bell-clear voice issuing a soft "Goodnight", they play the national anthem. Very British this, a culture not used to displays of patriotism and a population far too cynical for too-outward notions of national pride, but there's God Save The Queen anyway, on the daily, tucked away into a little corner of night, solely for sea captains veering from storms in impossibly large and uncaring oceans. For dark trawlers drawing thick maritime-straight lines across midnight foam. For fishing boats filled with the victims of dime-shiny shoals, charting their course back to familiar harbours. I guess I find TSF so romantic because it's this intensely universal yet personal form of communication. When I feel I've lost my oars in life, I often turn it on, only to find myself (usually) lulled to gentle sleep and (mostly) comforted back on course. If Instagram is chatter, this is a lullaby. I hope that its equal measures of impossible charm and utter simplicity can help to carry you through when you simply need to turn of your phone and commune with something vast and important and uncritical. I know, with absolute faith and certainty, that though the waters can get choppy out there, you have the tools to steer your psyche safely home. Others will follow (and like).

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