I stood on line for a Greyhound bus at Port Authority for an hour and thirty minutes before boarding and squeezed myself into a window seat in utter frustration. I should’ve been happy that I was en route to Washington D.C. for my second blogger’s conference – the first where I would be speaking and presenting a workshop – but I wasn’t. The wait, the commute, the congestion of those journeying along I-95 with me drained any and all excitement I had left. I dug in my duffel bag for Bed Feminist and turned to the last page I had neatly folded to remind me of my spot. I was on the chapter titled, Not Here To Make Friends. The line that birthed this blog post:
“Some might suggest that this likability question is a by-product of an online culture in which we reflexively click “Like” or “Favorite” on every status update and bit of personal trivia shared on social networks…As a writer and a person who has struggled with likability–being likable, wanting to be liked, wanting to belong–I have spent a great deal of time thinking about likability in the stories I read and those I write. I am often drawn to unlikable characters, to those who behave in socially unacceptable ways, say whatever is on their mind, and do what they want with varying levels of regard for their consequences.“
Roxane Gay wrote about me. God made sure I stopped and picked back up at this page on the road to one of the biggest moments of my life. Heh.
And I took those words personal and to heart as if we had some sort of beef. I recited it like a morning mantra as I sat in my seat, sweat seeping out of my pores, around my neck and under my arms.
At 11:30am, it’s showtime. In a matter of seconds, I turn into a somebody once again for GG Renee Hill’s How to Build A Loyal and Connected Following panel, and I sit in my seat with about 50 pair of eyes on me, thinking about how I was the replacement girl for Alex Elle. You’re not supposed to be here, I told myself. I heard little voices telling me that people were probably wondering what did happen to her and who the hell was I.
I thought about how many men and women in the audience read my blog, much less, heard about it. You’re probably the least known person on the panel, I said loud enough inside for me to squirm uncomfortably (and noticeably) in my seat. Looking to the left and right of me, I notice Shefon and Tyece with notes and talking points in their laps and there my mind went wandering off again. You didn’t even come prepared and how well can you wing it?
I thought about how I would be received and perceived as a writer amongst my peers at the Blogger Week UnConference. I throw out facts for brownie points – I won an award six months ago, was mentioned in Cosmo, three, became a co-author a few weeks back. This “liking” thing really got to me and in the middle of sharing my journey, it sickened me. I sweat more. In that moment of talking about remembering your why in blogging, it struck me that I didn’t do this to be liked.
My following came about by being real, by being me – a regular kind of girl who once thought there wasn’t interesting or fascinating about my life. I still hear my mentor’s voice about using profanity on your space and in the same sentence, hear her telling me that I do what many others aren’t. Seconds later, I hear my friend Tassika whisper in my right ear that I had the audacity to openly write about an abortion and did it so heartbreakingly well. I love to write, I love the connections that are born from it, but I didn’t do this to be liked.
I fit the mold of those unlikable characters Gay referred to, the perfect prototype of the ones that, “think ugly thoughts and make ugly decisions…make mistakes and put themselves first without apologizing for it.” At 28, I’m unmerciful about my experiences, unapologetically Black, an unrepentant Black woman that curses and fucks up, and writes shit that makes you sick and full at the same time. I didn’t do this to be liked. And somehow, people respect me for that. It still bugs me out.
My words to the women that approached me with questions and advice afterwards, I share with you: the aim isn’t to be loved or unlikable, but the point of all of this is to do it for yourself. The minute you start to do it for the accolades and the applause, for back pats and for other people, you’ll lose yourself.
Lose your vision.
Lose your why.
In the words of Roxane, “I want characters to be the most honest of all things – human.”
Be you. The rest shall follow…