News flash: I’ve stopped following Oprah on Twitter

crying girlsI know it’s crazy, but I did it for my kids.  This was a tough decision for me, as I admire Oprah and think she embodies the current archetype of the Great Mother in our culture.  Yet I have to put the well-being of my children, and all our children, ahead of pathetic, and misguided, fantasies about following Oprah in the hopes that then she will follow me back and then I’ll have a “profile” and then my book will be published and then I’ll finally be somehow “more than” I was before.

In my quest for a more radical authenticity, I must walk my own talk; and this means honestly examining where I put my efforts, my attention and even my hopes and dreams.

Back in my artsy, New York in the 80’s days, I would see Andy Warhol at every hipster event and art opening that I could get my starving student self into; I can still picture him carefully spreading out Interview Magazines in the Green Room at Lincoln Center, a super-star working hard at being Andy Warhol.  And I’ve had enough famous friends to learn that this stuff does not happen by accident.

By twists of fate and friendship I’ve been inside enough sought after places to learn how boring they are (at least to me); I’ve learned that the things that seem out of our reach glow with magic, but rarely retain their luster once we possess them.

It was Warhol who predicted that in the future everyone would be famous for fifteen minutes; he had the concept right, only he overstated the time frame.  Perhaps everyone will be famous, but for a fifteenth of a second—and that’s the good news; the bad news is that absolutely no one will be watching.  

If I am right to identify this as an age of narcissism (i.e. an age where we do not know who we are, not as individuals nor as a world), then our chronic need to “follow” celebrities, gurus and icons represents a squandering of our most precious asset, our time and attention—and our misplaced wishes to be seen, accepted and validated by the famous—the megawatt potential affirmers of not only our worth, but of our realness.

On Twitter I started out by “following” people at random, and found that then they typically opted to follow me back (that is unless they were famous).  I added more people, figuring the more the merrier, until soon I was following, and being followed by, over two thousand people.  I moved to follow some more but suddenly, the uber-Twit (or whoever monitors tweets, follows and followers, big brother style) shut me down because following lots of people without an equal or greater number of followers of your own was somehow inconsistent with the authenticity of social networking.  In other words, you could follow several thousand people so long as several thousand people followed you; this seems to clearly ignore the fact that no one can really make any sense, or use, of a stream of information from several thousand people (at least not while also having a life).

So, I went through my follow list and deleted those who had nothing to do with parenting, keeping all parenting-related “relationships.”  No sooner did I do this than virtually all the “followers” who I stopped following turned right around and stopped following me, it was quid pro quo all the way. 

Then I started to look at some of the icons of twitter, such as Oprah, and was particularly intrigued, not by how many followers they had (Oprah has over two million), but by who they chose to follow.  Oprah follows a scant seventeen people, planets of celebrity orbiting the mother of all fame.  And their tweets?  Virtually all of them were simple name-dropping, such as “I met Alec Trebec” or “The King and Queen of Spain were nice and warm.”  This weird and empty hybrid of “I’m a super glamorous person, but you just caught me in an informal moment of hanging with the queen” is good for a passing smile, but it’s a drug with bad potential side effects, such as sudden onset phoniness. 

Twitter turns out, in my view anyway, to pretty much be high school distilled down to its very essence:  a raw metric of popularity.  Just as I don’t want to stand near the captain of the football team and pretend that we’re friends, I don’t think it seemly to follow Oprah on Twitter.  In an unsung (until this tongue in cheek post, anyway) Jerry Maguire moment, I clicked “unfollow” Oprah.  I felt free.

Now don’t get me wrong, I truly admire Oprah, I just don’t think that following her on Twitter is an authentic thing for me to do for one simple reason:  I don’t want to read her tweets.  I don’t watch her show (I’m working), I don’t turn to her for book recommendations or life-advice, and I know that she’s not going to get a tweet about my latest post and come visit privilege of parenting. 

One time a media person called me and offered me a radio show, pitching the opportunity by saying he would make me into the next Dr. Phil.  It seemed hard for this person to really believe me when I told them that I did not want to become the next Dr. Phil (I left it at that, trying to stay positive).  Another time a reality show wanted me to be the psychologist for warring couples.  Again, I turned it down.  It was flattering that someone had recommended me, but those kinds of roles just aren’t true to the way I’m hinged together.  More power to the extroverts, but for those readers who can relate to what I’m saying here, I think that radical authenticity will serve us better in the coming years than the so-called successes (or perhaps excesses) of the past.  Whether it’s houses, lifestyles or one’s Twitter following, maybe small is going to be the new big.

Okay, how does this relate to parenting?  If we want our kids to be true to themselves (and this, more than a driven need to succeed, will help them find happiness), we need to think through what we truly value, and what we want to spend our time on, and then live true to our hearts.

I imagine that Twitter is here to stay—like parking lots and garbage dumps, I’m just not inclined to hang out there.  Joseph Campbell liked to say, “Follow your bliss.”  So if for you that’s Oprah, go for it, but if not, consider quieting your mind and attempting to find and follow your own heart; consider the radical embrace of your current situation—of what the universe and your conscious mind have conspired to have you “follow.”

I vote to dedicate today to paying sincere and authentic attention to whatever we are sincerely interested in (and to unfollowing whatever looks, smells, tastes and sounds like inauthentic time-wasting pap; we’re better off to study the backs of our closed eye lids).  So, keep it real—in honor of all our collective children.

Namaste, Bruce

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