condition of being impervious to light
I took a month-long break from social media; I wanted so badly to disappear. My break came after the publication of my chapbook You’re The Only Friend I Need in the summer of 2021. Promoting it exhausted me. These days, writers are expected to publicize their work heavily online. Marketing has nothing to do with writing, really, but here we are, expected to function as one-person marketing machines.
I was tired of pushing my work, of reducing myself to soundbites, of being available all of the time. But why should I want quiet and privacy when I had the privilege of sharing my work? Was I being ungrateful? And anyway, isn’t this the new normal? Shouldn’t we be visible always?
During the worst parts of the pandemic I read Edouard Glissant’s Poetics of Relation. Glissant, a Caribbean artist and intellectual, argues that Black people across the diaspora can and should reserve the right to be opaque, that one need not be legible to others in order to be deemed a human being. I began to obsess over this phenomenon, what Glissant calls the “right to opacity.” I wondered how I might reappropriate the idea to fit my life.
Do I have a right to be opaque? I wondered.
How can I be a writer who values privacy and my mental health in the age of oversharing and hypervisibility?
During this time, I was also listening to Lorde’s third album Solar Power. The titular track is an ode to the sun and the pleasures of being more attuned to the natural world. The reluctant pop star asks, “Can you reach me? No, you can’t,” and I swoon at the delicious thought. To have the luxury of throwing your phone in the ocean, to be unreachable!
During my first social media break I did all the things I promised I’d do. I read. I wrote. I picked up a habit or two. I called my family with some consistency.
But I also spent a lot of time looking to satiate that obsession elsewhere. To validate my choice, I watched endless youtube videos about social media breaks. I got back on tumblr to feel the rush of my fingers resharing something. I learned what everyone learns when you take a social media break. No matter how good it feels to sit in the silence of your life, or how morally superior one might feel about having the willpower to escape online life, no one cares. The algorithm continues. You are forgotten or remembered by a few, that’s it.
Since my break, I’ve developed a more restrained relationship with social media. I’ve gotten in the habit of taking month-long breaks when I need to write. If I find myself doubting my choice to disconnect, I go back to Michaela Coel. She wisely advised, “In a world that entices us to browse through the lives of others to help us better determine how we feel about ourselves, and to in turn feel the need to be constantly visible, for visibility these days seems to somehow equate to success—do not be afraid to disappear. From it. From us. For a while. And see what comes to you in the silence.”
When I’m actively on, I share good news and memes, show love to my friends. I let people who are interested in my work support me, because that’s a part of being alive, letting people care for you. I curb my desire to isolate by reminding myself that it’s a privilege to have community, that a few people care about what I have to say. I also continue to use social media in moderation because I’m not an international pop star; I don’t have the privilege of disappearing with the promise that institutions, outlets, and millions of people will welcome me back when I’m ready. I’m a little writer, and I have to use all the tools available to me to carve out my own little space within (though I prefer against) the noise.
I wanted so badly to disappear, to be islanded, but opacity, as with all things, requires restraint.
I need privacy so that I can focus on my intimate relationships. I need to be able to focus on a task without compulsively checking my phone every 7 minutes. I need to move at the speed of my life, not in the neverending stream of algorithms.
But I also like being in the world, sharing ideas, learning from others. So here I am, starting a column as my way of carving out a space. A little antiquated (a column in 2022? C’mon). Not fast enough to be relevant, to be shareable, but a space of my own to connect with you, just quiet enough to think.
Alejandro Heredia is a queer Afro-Dominican writer and community organizer born in Santo Domingo and raised in The Bronx. He is a 2018 VONA/Voices fellow and 2019 Dreamyard Rad(ical) Poetry Consortium Fellow. Myriam Gurba selected Alejandro’ s chapbook, You’re the Only Friend I Need, as the winner of the 2019 Gold Line Press Fiction Chapbook Contest. The book was published in summer 2021. Alejandro’ s work has been featured in Auburn Avenue Magazine, La Galeria Magazine, No Dear Magazine, and elsewhere. He is an MFA candidate at Hunter College.