Does It Even Matter? My Thoughts Re: Grace Bonney at CreativeMornings
Last Friday I attended CreativeMornings at the School of Visual Arts theater in New York City. I arrived late because I was hung over after a relatively calm night sketching with my boyfriend at the Society of Illustrators. Getting older makes a few cocktails much more potent than I remember.
Anyway, I got to the theater just in time to grab a cup of coffee and a pastry and snuck into the back row. Grace Bonney of Design Sponge was the speaker, which is why I dragged myself out of bed and across Manhattan. I thought she would say something profound, or at least helpful. I thought she’d rub a little of her internet magic onto me.
And she did, kind of. If you follow Design Sponge, you know that Grace is closing down Design Sponge. I honestly can’t say I’m a huge fan, because I’m not a particularly huge fan of any blog, but I do appreciate the posts I’ve stumbled upon and I love her book, In the Company of Women, and Good Company magazine.
I first became conscious of Grace Bonney a few years ago when a friend, Amina of Handmade Habitat, invited me to her book launch for In the Company of Women. Amina referred to Grace as if she was someone I should know and I half-pretended that I did know her, because I felt like I’d heard of her blog. I went to the book launch with Amina and ran into a bunch of other amazing ladies I knew. I don’t remember who was on the panel or what they said, but I do remember running into a lot of other creative ladies doing awesome things and that made me happy. I haven’t seen Grace — on or offline — since.
Fast forward, I’m in the SVA theater and there’s Grace onstage. She talked about her decision to end Design Sponge and shared a story of how she started volunteering with her wife, presumably at a senior center. Long story short: they met an older woman, visited her often, and eventually the woman died. Grace shared how meaningful and moving that experience was. It seemed to help inform her slides that “real life matters…the internet matters a whole lot less” and “people matter…work matters a whole lot less”.
Grace also shared a few other vulnerable experiences and said that while she’s written thousands of words and has had tons of engagements online, it’s her in person conversations that she remembers — and values — most. Her thesis seemed to be: spend more time in person, less time online (or obsessing about all the online things). She said she’s over the internet. She said she wants to spend more time with people.
I clapped during her talk and I shared stories on my Instagram account showing that I agree, because I do, but I was also very confused.
When did we all collectively decide that people did not matter, or that they mattered less than work or the internet? When did we think we would get the same joy from interacting with strangers online as we would from spending time with our grandparents?
I’ve never, ever thought the internet or work was more important than spending time with people, and I don’t think Grace really has either. She was making a point. But, still, it’s very strange that she needs to make these points. And it’s even stranger that everyone applauded her for it as if it was novel or even not obvious.
I’ve fought against every milestone of the internet and I have been consistently ambivalent about the social media that we all now use. I was one of the first users of Facebook and since 2004 I’ve deleted my Facebook account somewhere between 3 and 5 times. Entirely deleted it. That’s why you can’t find many photos of me in college or at other points in life. I gave talks about ‘Loving and Hating Facebook’ when I lived abroad in Spain and all my adult English students, many of them seniors, were anxiously asking me about this thing called Facebook. I used to Couchsurf, which means I met strangers on the internet and then stayed with them in foreign countries by myself. Sometimes for weeks. The internet and I are like frenemies. We hate each other, but we would probably stop being ourselves if the other did not exist.
I have spent many hours blogging and I’ve spent many hours posting photos on Instagram, but I’ve never, ever, thought it was a replacement for spending time with people. I’ve been most motivated to use the internet as a tool to communicate with people I can’t meet with, or haven’t yet met, in real life.
Which is another thing Grace said, that the internet is a tool and we should use it as such to get closer to meeting in person.
Again, I agree wholeheartedly and I have basically created a business around these beliefs, but I did not really understand to what degree I was not on the same page as everyone else for my entire internet life.
I realize Grace has a very specific point of view and maybe it is precisely her fame and influence that has created such a disconnect for her: when you have a massive following it must feel strange to not have a proportionate amount of meaningful in-person interactions. I feel kind of sorry for her, and for every other major blogger or instagram influencer, for not feeling the fulfillment to the degree that they pronounce everyday on their own platforms. And then I feel sorry for myself and for everyone, for aspiring to the kind of success we see in influencers and bloggers and letting it make ourselves feel even an ounce less worthwhile. Because for that I am definitely guilty.
My sister was in town this past weekend and I told her about the Grace Bonney CreativeMornings talk and my sister said ‘Oh, so-and-so was just featured on her blog for her tiny apartment in DC!’ And I instantly got upset and probably said something smug and then moped for a few minutes. Because even though I value in person time and I think the internet is just a tool, I still get jealous because of it!
I still want the fame and the attention and I want my tiny apartment to be profiled in a popular design blog just because. I got annoyed because it wasn’t me, then I got annoyed that I haven’t finished designing my apartment, then I got annoyed that I don’t have time or money to decorate my apartment because I’m trying to run my own business and make art, then I felt stupid for trying to run my own business and make art because what a presumptuous thing to do, then I got mad that yet another white woman was featured for something relatively unimportant, then I got mad at myself for being jealous when I am perfectly happy — ecstatic even — about my life and my apartment and my non-whiteness. Then I got sad again because the world is falling apart (I had another frantic dream about global warming last night) and still, we’re blogging and reading about interior design.
My sister was just sharing something relevant to what I was sharing in our in-person conversation and I went down a rabbit hole.
We all do it. We all obsess over the internet in ways that make us unhappy and, probably, make us a little crazy. But I also think, if we listen closely to what is making us unhappy or uncomfortable or mad, then we can learn more about ourselves and be a little bit more compassionate towards other people because they are probably experiencing a similar version to what we are experiencing, even if it is literally the opposite.
There’s a session at the upcoming Alt Oasis conference called ‘How To Make Your Life Feel As Good As It Looks On Instagram’. I need the opposite session ‘How To Make Your Life Look As Good On Instagram As It Feels’.
Here’s another takeaway from Grace’s talk: I am not Grace Bonney. I do not have a large following and I have not cracked the code of making money through the internet in the way that she has and while she is able to stop because she was successful, I can’t.
I can’t stop using the internet. I can’t be like — hey everyone I just don’t feel like using the internet anymore so I’m going to go hid out in Mexico and make things with my friends — buh bye. I have to make money. I have to pay my bills. I have to support my friends who also have to pay their bills so we can all collectively get to the point where we can have the option to turn it off (or, better yet, get beyond capitalism).
And more so, I think I have a responsibility to keep going precisely because I am not a popular (white) blogger. Which is annoying and unfair.
Because we don’t see a lot of brown women making money doing their own things, I feel like I have to share my own story even though I hate documenting my life for strangers. I am a very private person. I don’t want to take a photo of my coffee date with my best friend or the walk to the river with my sister or a night out with my boyfriend. Every moment of my life is special and I work very hard to keep it interesting and meaningful and the very act of sharing makes it feel commercial and cheap. I want to keep everything to myself and tell my nana and maybe print out a photo to some day put in a photo album. I don’t want to spend my time thinking about how to promote this blog post via my Instagram story and think about what image would go best with these thoughts.
But I can’t. Because hopefully, and I say this very humbly, by sharing my story maybe I can inspire more brown women to keep doing their own thing, whatever that is.
And this is unfair. It’s unfair that because the internet has underrepresented us, we now have to make more of an effort to represent ourselves while Grace Bonney and friends can turn off the internet and spend more time with people and less time documenting their lives.
Am I right?
But, let’s end on a hopeful note.
I have a great relationship with my grandparents and they are still alive. I have spent a lot of time with them and I wish I could spend all my time with them. My grandparents took care of me a lot as a child, which I think is probably common among other Mexican/Mexican-American families. My grandparents are actively, sometimes too actively, involved in my life. I called my nana last night just to say hi. I feel the realness of their age every day and I think about the fragility of life often.
I also just got a residency to spend time with seniors in my neighborhood and share my art practice.
I run a company that encourages and facilitates a lot of in-person time. I get to experience what it’s like for someone to create in community after a long day of staring at a computer. And it is magical.
I don’t have a million online followers, but I do have a healthy, small number of really amazing friends and family members who support me, who spend time in real life with me, who go out of their way to see me, to send me letters and packages, and who sometimes even make me things. And I hope that I am doing a good job supporting them and making an effort for them.
Grace Bonney also said ‘Think globally, act locally’. I think this really important and I’ve also been sharing this for a while, especially to anyone who complains about where they live or what their life is currently like.
Do something in your own neighborhood.
Do something for your own friends.
Spend time with your grandparents or elderly relatives.
Stop complaining about what you don’t have and focus on what you do have.
Stop scrolling on Instagram watching other people’s lives and spend more time living your own — in your own way, with your own people.
And listen to them.
Listen to your friends and family and strangers and maybe they will help you feel more connected. Maybe they will give you an idea.
Maybe they will make you feel like you matter.
Because you do. And you don’t have to share it on Instagram for it to be true.