In 2006, I returned home after spending a month in England. While there, I had been driving, English-style, meaning on the lefthand side of the road. Well, mostly on the left. The point is that when I returned to the U.S,. tired from twenty-four hours without sleep, my reactions weren't great. Fortunately, I didn't have to drive home from the airport that day because I would have still been driving on the English side. The following day, I still veered to the left. After a few terrifying blocks, my confidence was shaken enough to hand over the wheel to anyone big enough to see over the wheel. I seem to remember a stack of pillows piled on the driver's seat...but why incriminate myself? Eventually driving on the right came back to me, but my confidence took much longer to heal.
Returning to writing after a long break is much like returning from England and trying to drive in the U.S. This comes from personal experience and life forms are usually not harmed in the process. This time, however, one of them - me - was seriously wounded.
Friday marked my return to writing after a much longer absence than I had had from American driving. My absence was personal and deeply rooted in helping a family member going through a major life transition. Helping another is what gives life meaning. I know. I have done this many times and I believe that it was the right thing for me to do. However, putting my life on hold sets everything back, eroding progress, and destroying confidence, just like driving too soon on the opposite side of the road can shake you up. I wanted to be prepared before I started writing again.
Being a writer takes more than talent. It also means that you need a command of the language, knowledge of mechanics, and a dozen other typically logical things. It takes time and practice, but most of all, it takes confidence. I had planned to plan my return to writing, but I was mostly throwing fuel on a big fire of anxiety by writing nothing more extensive that a text message.
That's when The Fates, life or my evil twin dropped in to bait me, using England as the bait. They were clever, working through the Red Room's e-mail, inviting me to post under the week's topic, England. My England! The home that my grandfather reluctantly had to leave! The place that my mother longed to see but her forty-four years were too short to allow. England, my daughter's new home! I felt The Fates so near that they were in a Greek choir at the back of my mind. So, I did what we and Nike tell us to do: "Just Do It! "
Ready, confident, or not, I did Do It, by clicking on the link in the Red Room's e-mail. "Access Denied."
I hit a wall. Well, not a real wall but a web wall.... Another time full of confidence from regular writing, I may have felt like the true Bond Girl that I am and taken it as a challenge, but as a writer, this was not happening. I reconsidered three times, clicking each time and each came with the feelings of rising panic that you get when flashing lights are pulling you over....stupid Rules of the Road. Still, I thought, even the DMV explains what stuff and what to do about it, which is waaaay better than the stupid web that just uses stupid stuff like "Access Denied....." This, of course led me to visions of The Web Police and other scary, confidence-mangling thoughts - and I hadn't even written a word, yet!
My Sense of Reason dropped by, perching just behind my ear, whispering that, by virtue of the e-mail I had received, I had been invited, and that possibly, just possibly, this was a glitch. I considered this.
So, while my Sense of Reason hung out, I nosed around the Red Room site until I located the proper form to fill with my pent up angst, which I edited down to something like "I think the link you sent me is broken." Report filed and it duly acknowledged by an auto-response assuring me that they get to it. All I had to do was wait, or so I thought so I used the time jotting down a few notes. Finally, I gave up and went to bed. The next day, out of frustration, I decided to try the e-mail link again.
Success! (Insert sound of joy and generalized happiness here.) Time was fleeting so I tossed my blog together and posted it just under the deadline. It was the best but it was out there, I told myself.
Shouting to the world, I said, "I'm back in the writing game!"
Not literally, of course, merely figuratively. But, I did decide to do exactly what I had promised my friends and family that I would do when I returned to writing. I let them know about my new blog post. I posted a link on Facebook and watched it swirl away into Facebook Soup, disappearing as others added ingredients like Farmville, YouTube clips, and their own bits.
Would anyone see the link to my blog if they waited even a day? Probably not, I decided. They had asked me and I had agreed. Honor was at stake - right? So, I took some precious time and sent messages with my blog link to my friends and family - and only my friends and family - on Facebook.
That is how I pissed Facebook off.
Apparently, or perhaps, allegedly, I have since learned that my messaging alerted Facebook's auto-minions to my "posting behavior." I was completely clueless in the ways of Facebook Corporate communication, which was, in fact, no actual communication at all, since all I was receiving on my end was a series of fleeting, flashing, red, rectangular boxes, empty of any message, warning, or communication of any kind. I was so innocent, so naive, back then, so I ignored it, and kept on messaging.
In the back of my mind, I was also hoping to catch a glimpse of more red boxes so could finally figure out what they were.
The back of my mind is a dangerous sort of laboratory where things grow and multiply like bacteria in a bordello.
Did I mention that my old buddy, Sense of Reason, knew this and had already fled, looking for safer venues?
After a couple of additional flashes of red on my screen, my pent-up, in-bred paranoia went off like an aging beagle in heat.
What did I do? Wait! What just happened? Thinking, as always, made it worse. Is this a virus? Maybe a malfunction? How about hacking? How do I know that this came from Facebook? Could it be some other program? An evil program...? A red alert? After all, the box was red... Could my computer be trying to save itself from some rogue bot program? Terrorists? Aliens? Rush Limbaugh?
While this cyber-soap opera was streaming through my frontal cortex, I sat frozen in terror waiting to see what was going to happen next. Then, from across the room, something shiny caught my eye. I brightened up and resumed my messaging.
Unfortunately, it was not over; far from it. A new box appeared, albeit briefly, informing me that I was blocked from Facebook due to my "posting" pattern, or something similar. My mind was flickering like a scene from The Matrix. I was in cyber-shock, which was rapidly led me down the techno-path to a nano-freak-out moment where I clearly recall shrieking at the screen in my own defense. Nothing that I posted was offensive! I only sent messages to friends and family! Pattern? What pattern? Is this a critique of my sentence structure - or is this about meeeee? Was my writing sooooooo bad that the gods of Facebook had to halt me? Ohhhhmiiiigod! Wait! Was it the Red Room ousting my blog? Nooooo!
Scrambling, I tried to back out of my situation as quickly as possible. Each unfortunate keystroke sent that box flashing at me. I was able to somehow process that it said something like this (I don't exactly know as it kept flashing on and off): "Facebook has determined that your pattern of activity is likely to be abusive. Please note that these blocks can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Unfortunately, we cannot lift the block for you, so do not attempt to contact us. Further abuse or attempts to use this will result in additional penalty time and the potential for your account to be permanently disabled."
Me, abusive? (Insert the sounds of confidence trickling away.) How do I find out how long I'm in the penalty box? What about my friends? At best, I felt like a loser from "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?" Then, a bright thought hit me. Maybe Facebook e-mailed me a message to explain all of this?
I checked my inbox and sure enough, there was a message from Facebook. In my haste (read: total psychotic freaked out panic), I didn't notice that it was a message from a friend who had received my message, read the blog and loved it. Too late! Facebook was on me with another warning, telling me that I had just incurred more penalty time for my abuses! Now I realized that I couldn't even say, "Thank you," for those kind words. I was a rude lout and everyone was going to think this. My mind shot forward in time, spinning with visions picketers holding placards at my future book signings. I had been tried and sentenced without a judge jury or even skeezy legal representation! I had no recourse. I was a baaaad girl.
Meanwhile, out there in the three dimensional world, my real life spun along. I had to go places, interact with others who had Facebook pages in good standing. They had it on their phones! Corporations, stuff, even in at the movies, Facebook was there, taunting me! Facebook is everywhere! Thieves, murderers, and politicians have it easier than a Facebook Felon. Do real felons get shunned by everyone? Do they have to be reminded of their crimes everywhere they go? Doubtful when compared to a Facebook felon.
Friends and real family shied away from me when hearing the story. The best of them just laughed softly, not heartily as if it was an achievement. Real felons get that prison cred, I'm certain. A slap on the back, at the very least. Then, after telling my story of woe, I asked someone - someone I'd known from the moment of her conception - to post an explanation under my post that linked to my blog- and was refused for fear of what Facebook might do to her! Betrayal!
The following morning, I was at a board meeting - the kind where we drink tea and discuss by-laws and legalities of non-profits. Facebook came up over and over. I tried to express my feelings, even warn them of the dangers of over-messaging, but it was met with discomfort instead of comforting. I inwardly shouted, This is real pain, people! Delicately, I noticed, a few, likely fearing Facebook Felony themselve, were inching their chairs away from me.
Reality set in. I had become a Facebook pariah, isolated in solitary confinement somewhere in Facebook's cyberprison.
My stomach was churning. I had to go home. This was too much. What would happen next?
Then, from somewhere in the storeroom of my soul, the writer in me emerged, dusted herself off, and I wrote this blog.
Now, without messaging any of my Facebook Friends and Family, I'm going to post it for all who care to see. Maybe even on Facebook...especially since the Red Room has that neat little "share" link posting directly to my Facebook page... Well, they practically encourage it! We'll see... especially since ndications are coming through that I might have served my sentence on Facebook, though there's no real way to tell until I try. I checked; they let me bring up my page without any warnings, now. So maybe...?
After spending time in the writer's penalty box, I may have cut my teeth as well as lost a few, but experiences - both good and bad - just fortify the spirit. Now that I've written this, my second blog of 2011, I feel like I've conquered something. Maybe I'll just return to England next week, rent a car, and drive on the lefthand side of the road for a bit. When I return, I'll be the one driving myself home from the airport. After being a Facebook Felon, I feel that I can conquer anything!