I like how the word, “applause” has a pause nestled in it. I’m a word junkie. I like playing with words, turning them backwards and upside down to see what else is there. Sometimes a single word will pop into my head and stay there until I pay it its due attention.

This morning it’s applause and it’s because all of you are doing something great.

The backstory is this: several months ago, maybe actually a year now, I stopped using Facebook. But at the same time I ramped up my usage of Instagram, which is like saying ... I’m done with the cocaine, I’m just gonna drink whiskey every day instead. Is one better or worse? Not really; they’re both addicting, do very little to enhance our lives and are a waste of our most precious commodity: time. I know the counter-argument: they help us connect with people we otherwise wouldn’t connect with. To which I counter-counter argue, why would you want to connect with people you don’t already connect with in your regular, everyday life? To my thinking this is a dis-connect, lacking in the substance that glues humans together.

Every one of us, I think has or had a kind of love/hate relationship with social media platforms. Using them was doing nothing to improve the quality of my life; indeed, at times it made things worse, so I left those spaces. It wasn’t hard, I didn’t develop a mysterious rash or anything like that. I did, however, notice that my readership here dropped off precipitously. I had always posted a link to my latest piece of writing on either FB or I, and when I stopped using them, readers stopped reading.

Still, I was determined not to go back, so I toiled away here, writing in the quiet, sometimes with just a few readers who obviously knew how to bookmark a website and return, without needing a nudge. In those weeks and months I became determined to prove that one could do what one loves, as an artist, and not have to have a social media presence in order to reach people.

I just didn’t want to believe that we have to participate in something awful in order to be read or seen or heard.

I desperately wanted to believe that humankind could participate in the dance of humanity without the giant evils of online social media directing traffic, hijacking everyone’s personal information and using it for immense profit. I clung to the belief that we can support each other’s dreams without outside interference that involves being subject to the “massive psychological experiment” Facebook performs on its users to test how they react to emotional content in their feeds … for immense profit.

It took me a while, but it finally dawned on me one morning when I was out walking Daisy on one of the many quiet dirt roads we have here in quiet Vermont: send messages directly to people you know, whose email addresses you have because you have corresponded with them at some point for one reason or another.

In other words, reach out to actual humans in a gentle and grateful manner. This, I thought, may be the way to grow community around my writing and photography.

I decided, too, to redesign my website; it was time to shake the covers and get the old and stale air out. That was actually a lot of fun. I took my time, sat with things, put all the old writing away and wrote a few new things. I went out into the world with my camera and met new people, captured new images. I fluffed the whole thing up, added a few bits and pieces.

Then I gathered together all of the email addresses and created a list; this took some time. Finally, I sent a group mailing, then another one, then another. I wondered how this would be received; I was a little worried … I didn’t want to feel as if I was invading anyone’s Inbox or taking liberties with addresses. But, heck, I thought, everyone knows where the delete button is …

Two things happened, and here is where we play the background applause tape: almost everyone read the stories I linked in the email I sent. I can see, in the site analytics, the numbers, and they have been astonishingly high: nearly 100% response.

Then there’s this, which supersedes statistics any day of the week: a whole bunch of people have taken the time to send me messages, either telling me that something I wrote resonated with them or that they were grateful for the link, happy to be back in the loop. Some just said hello; a few suggested we get a bite to eat sometime.

That, my friends, is how we build community, how we honor humanity, how we connect with each other. Directly and not through powerful and greedy giants. Person to person, in the privacy of our own spaces. None of you need to know how many people told me they liked my story, I did not include a thumbs-up or tiny heart button with the mailing. People used actual words to express their feelings, in written messages, direct to me and my grateful heart.

The moment in Sweden when I met my pen pal, Lena, with whom I had been corresponding for thirty-five years. Look at my hand; look at her eyes.

The moment in Sweden when I met my pen pal, Lena, with whom I had been corresponding for thirty-five years.
Look at my hand; look at her eyes.

I am proud of all of you for getting this experiment off the ground with me, for taking the time to read and to write. I’m reminded of the slow food movement, and I hear that Apple is going to offer a flip phone. Maybe we’re finally reclaiming some common sense. Play with that a little: the things we have in common; our senses: smell, touch, sight …

I’m going to keep working to find ways to bind us together, as people—people who love words and images. People who are seeking honest connection and maybe are feeling a little weary of the disconnected and often shallow nature of our online lives. People who find comfort in each other’s stories.

Eventually I’d like to hit the road and connect even more directly, share stories around the campfire, have cookies and milk, that sort of thing. We’ll get there. In the meantime, take pride today in knowing you have done something good, something nice, a thing with heart, meaning, depth. We’ve got this, people. We can do this. We shall overcome.