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Rabbitholed #66: I'm Trying to Go Viral
Paying for it, even. Tonight I'm going to go live on TikTok. I bought promotion in order to reach the 1,000 followers necessary to do so.
Free post: Because, why not?
I’m mad at myself.
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If I had played things correctly, when my life was really falling apart in 2020, I could have splayed all of my dirtiest, ugliest-cry-heave laundry out there on TikTok for the entire world to see, and based on all the algorithmic boosts that trauma and drama receive—man, would it have ever done well.
Hell, there still exists, I believe, a video of me sobbing in a bathtub on Facebook somewhere. Several Facebook bathroom sobbing videos? I don’t know. I don’t care. Something I’ve learned especially these past few years: Don’t lean into or obsess about what makes you weaker. You don’t need to fix everything. You don’t need an answer. You don’t need closure. You don’t need anyone to like you or be okay with you or choose you or approve of you or tell you that you’re a good person. Just survive and be the person you wished you had in your life when you were younger. Be that guy. Be that guy right now. And do whatever you need to do to make yourself stronger, to thrill at the prospect of living again.
Now I’m in a fairly stable place in life. I have a wonderful partner. I have a house. I have a newsletter that only continues to grow.
And I’ve managed to do something miraculous that I hope you too can do if you are ever in a similar place in your own life—where your mindset betrays you and you forget who you are, what you’re made of, what you’re capable of.
See, I’m building myself back up again.
I went to Northwestern from 1993-1997. If I had been smart then I would have registered my own website, recognized I didn’t need the accolades of others choosing me and just made myself a mogul, warts and youthful idiocy and all. But I didn’t know anyone could do that. I thought you always had to be chosen and approved of by others to show people that you were good, that you were smart, that you were worth anything.
There’s nothing like these profound missed opportunities to realize that it’s never too late to create new ones, right now, this very moment.
To be the person that you’ve always wanted to be.
I am a creator. And I’ve always created things out of nothing. My book. I did that. This current newsletter. I’m doing that, too.
So I’ve realized these past few weeks as I turn increasingly to TikTok to find trends and to write mini-sociological encapsulations of people’s worlds and micro-cultures, why not me? What, because I might get a cruel message or even a hate-swarm or I will be mercilessly mocked for trying?
I like to try.
So I’m going to go live on my TikTok at 9:30 p.m. EST tonight (that’s in about a half hour) to either (A) do a Q&A or (B) read aloud the book 1984 (scratch that, I can’t find it, so what I can do is read the book my mom gave my boyfriend for Christmas last year called The Bitcoin Shortcut) or (C) tell people how I seduced my boyfriend in an airport bar and you can meet someone, anyone, anywhere, always, too or (D) give people free writing, branding, networking and media advice. You can choose. There might also be no one who shows up, and it will be a big failure. I might cry. It might be really bad. I don’t know. But I will do it. It’s a date. Here’s my TikTok link, and in today’s rabbithole, I’m going to tell you what I’ve done to be able to do this at all.
9:30 p.m. EST. Shh. Nuff said. That’s a promise.
Why You Should Care:
One of the most miserable parts nowadays about wanting to learn anything is that you have to wade through 7,000 funnel courses by contrapreneurs to find some simple answers. So I’ll tell you exactly and for free what I’m doing to take advantage of TikTok as a still relatively new platform with plenty of opportunity for monetizing your brand, what I’ve learned and what I’m doing.
That’s real money.
TikTok is Its Very Own Ecosystem
My first video I ever did was to promote Andrew Yang. I went into Hack Manhattan, knowing that anyone watching on the space-cam could see me as I propped my phone up on top of the ladder and danced around. It was so hard for me to do. All the people who might think I was dumb, let along the voice in my own head saying: Don’t look dumb and fat and dumb and fat and dumb. And I wanted to do it so bad! Heart beating out of my chest. Just the doing was an accomplishment. It always is.
It’s not just regular nerves either if you are a veteran creative.
Every time you go on a new platform, if you’ve ever had to sell yourself and your reach, let me tell you that there’s something profoundly transformative about the mindfuck-job that comes from having to sell yourself up in a certain way—in order to, say, secure a big book deal—that makes you extremely paranoid about ever being told that you “can’t draw.” “Not enough interest.” “Sorry.” It’s the most extreme form of humiliation conceivable. Reading about Meghan McCain only selling 200 books or whatever it was, that shit is my worst nightmare. From a metric standpoint, that can be lobbed out to destroy you at any time.
But…really…who fucking cares?
You always have to start somewhere. Maybe I’ll get less than 0 views. That will be okay, too. Trying, that is the victory.
Here’s a story about toxic shame. A quick one. Toxic shame is different than regular shame, see. Regular shame keeps you from, say, running through the neighborhood naked because it would be embarrassing. Toxic shame is employed by abusive people to cripple you and demoralize you and make you afraid the entire world is pointing and laughing about how much you suck, about what a failure you are.
It is pure evil. Never believe it.
In 2015, I’ll still never forget doing my podcast and finally deciding that I would sell merch. It was a time when Teespring required a certain level of buy-in’s for an order to even execute. Here’s what happened: Someone who didn’t like me specifically ordered a large amount of the merch—just enough so that I met my threshold, and then minutes before the deadline ended, they purposefully canceled the entire order in order for it all to be canceled, and for the failure to hit me like a ton of bricks.
It did. Good job, anonymous person!
I’ve created thousands of T-shirt designs since but that deep and extremely toxic shame of that specific failure still fucks me up from stopping me from taking each of the necessary forward right actions required in order to just come out with a store. And then I hear in my head: It’s so small, what the fuck is wrong with you, let it go, no one else would have so much problem letting it go, you idiot, you idiot. Catastrophizing. It’s just pure and simple self-harm.
Let me say again and with emphasis: That’s toxic shame. It’s childhood stuff: voices in your head that mock you and tell you how stupid you are. There’s an easy way to kill it, though: You talk about it, just like I’m doing right now. Because who cares? Really—who cares. You only achieve anything with tons and tons of failures. Just the act of trying is a gigantic success in and of itself.
I have put out little TikToks like whispers ever since that very first one a few years back, but always haunted with the voices in my head of people saying “I don’t understand what you’re trying to do,” “What is the point,” “What are you trying to accomplish here,” “Why would anyone watch this,” “This is bad,” “Please do literally anything else,” whatever it might be that people who are seasoned bullies and professional demoralizers strategically search for—guessing at your pain points like a sleazy salesman—in order to vanquish your human spirit of resilience and self-belief.
Talking about it helps, though. A lot.
Talking about it makes you realize that whatever demons have plagued you are the demons we all share, and that this is a universal fight we have as humans to get past them. Whatever you are doing to not let your demons win: that. That is the victory.
In April or May, I have no idea because my life has felt like an acid trip for the past several years of suddenly waking up and realizing that nothing that I thought was real actually was, I moved to South Carolina with my wonderfully wonderful boyfriend who let me pick him up in a Las Vegas airport bar a little over a year ago where I sat newly divorced, newly fired, new homeless. “Visit me sometime,” he said, never expecting to see me again. I canceled my flight back home to San Diego where no one wanted me anyway, and I flew up to Everett, Washington and have now traveled the country with him ever since. He’s the opposite of me in every way. I’m tall. He’s short. I’m Gen X. He’s Millennial. I’m high-strung. He’s unflappable. I’m very public. He doesn’t exist online. I think of the sweet girlfriend in Everything Everywhere All At Once who the mother-main-character loves deeply upon, telling her how lucky her daughter is to have such a well-suited partner for her, someone who can calm her down when she needs calming (and, let’s be real, who she can in turn rile up when the calm seeks riling).
Please: Lean into the people who are good to you, consistently. Don’t try to heal the stuff that you can’t heal because life is not like a Disney movie. Just survive.
I’ve felt more emboldened in recent weeks, seeing the subscriptions on here go up and up, to exercise my smarts instead of fearing everything: what might happen if I’m wrong, what might happen if I look dumb, what might happen if everyone can see just how stupid I am underneath it all and why every bad thing that has ever happened to me and more I have righteously deserved…
I’ve seen all of those voices for the spectre of trauma that they are.
It’s paid off. It’s paid off in my brain. I’m trying again. I’m acting more quickly. I act upon things in the moment rather than sluggishly, sleep-walking through life hoping no one will notice me and offer up some criticism that might send me reeling back down under into the land where I forget who I am.
I feel strong now. Now when I read cruel things, when I read falsehoods, when I read rejections, when I read something that has been specifically and particularly crafted with the intention to hit like a bullet of toxic shame, I feel the strong core holding me all together. I’m not determined by other people. Only I decide that. That feels good.
And I truly hope, I truly pray, I really truly pray, that in this time of extreme social alienation you can find that strong core in your body and brain as well.
I tweeted yesterday about the utter sands through the hourglass uselessness in living for your career or the media or even for your reputation.
Here we have one of the most feared and loathsome figures ever to rock Hollywood’s peon and striving class to their core, Nikki Finke, and there we have some 20something reporter at HuffPost pasting a picture of Tina Brown in the obit. I only learned about this at all via Richard Rushfield’s incredible piece on her passing in The Ankler.
So just say fuck it with me, won’t you?
Why fear anything, really? Why fear the mockery that currently shapes so much of public perception? It’s largely being manufactured in droves by the brilliant social engineering teenagers who—just for fun—run hundreds of various social media accounts to easily troll and hivemind-wind shift the conventional wisdom that corporations watch like a hawk to determine what opinions they should be having about anything at all.
Part of me likes it. The ruthlessness. It’s a refreshing respite from the weaponization of victim privilege competitions to determine who has been aggrieved the most and so wins the argument of the day—who gets the conch on the island to speak as it were. And I like the innovation, too. And mostly, I like how it ultimately tells on itself. Seven hundred people immediately liking a tweet designated to crush someone’s will to live is just…not reality. And so the monster never really even existed at all.
So I’ve kept going and kept going and written myself morning pages again and again to please just keep going, don’t give up on it all even when it feels like you most definitely don’t matter any more whatsoever, and somewhere in there I have pulled the ultimate trick that we all have to pull in these times of ours right now:
I’ve brainwashed myself into believing in myself again.
In my life. In all the tries. I’ve become a try guy again, and I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the privilege.
I decided this weekend I wanted to really give it all my best shot on TikTok. Do it up. See if I could take all my observable insights that I have in my reporting on the culture there and do it myself. And be okay with failing if and when I do. Be okay with people laughing at me and how miserably I’m doing with it all. Be just proud of myself for the extension of the effort, for taking my own advice.
I had less than 100 followers to start, and I discovered that to even unlock their Creator Portal—what I believed initially enabled monetization—you had to have 1,000 followers. So instead of being coy (I tried for a while going to major accounts like Chelsea Handler’s, looking at her newest followers and then going to their pages and writing in comments “follow for follow?” because I most certainly couldn’t bear to go through my contact book), but then I decided I would purchase my promotion. I knew that others did this but how desperate would this look—paying for views?
Probably about as desperate as every major corporation that has ever paid for advertising dollars ever.
And I decided I would just say exactly what my message was.
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I looked like ass, with a huge zit on my face and a cat that kept running away and so I used the most cloaking filter I could find—She-Hulk—and I whispered into the camera what I had just hard-won learned: You need 1,000 followers to monetize (wrong!) so please follow and I’d follow back and cool, cool.
I paid $50 to TikTok and selected my target to be to “gain new followers.”
Before too long people in the comments said no, no, actually it’s 10,000 you need for monetization. But the Creator Portal? I asked. That requires 1,000 to even unlock!
And then I learned that the Creator Portal and the features that unlocks is the only way for anyone to go live on the platform at all.
At 10,000 followers is when you can monetize.
I started making promises that I would go live as soon as I set 1,000. Accountability. An inability to go back. And here I am. I saw myself hit it a few hours ago. I washed my hair. I shaved my legs. I’m about to go put on makeup. I set up my office. I rushed around with the nervousness that comes with going out on a date.
Knowing what I know about marketing, I want you to know what I know about marketing: Everyone is paying for it in the beginning. Anyone who is a name who came out of nowhere, they paid for promotion. There is no shame in it. I mean, sure, shame can be found in anything for those seeking to use it like a cudgel to humiliate, intimidate and silence—but once you stop responding to the cudgel, that’s when no one controls you but you.
Now you know everything I know. I might fail at TikTok. I might fail at this newsletter, too. Everything I’ve ever done in my life might be a failure.
But trying all of it, trying so hard, that has been my greatest victory.
Top 3 Rabbitholed Takeaways:
#1 Don’t be afraid to look like a fool.
I’m feeling very MySpace 2006 up in this piece writing “follow for follow” on my TikTok. I’m getting hellos and invitations to Snap “for a little surprise” from strange men which in the past would have given me massive anxiety not because I couldn’t handle the rando but because I didn’t want to deal with the fallout from the guy in my life which has been every guy I’ve ever had in my life but I think now my partner finally feels safe with me as I do with him.
But yeah. It’s not cool or hip at all, my TikTok. It’s thirsty, not even for sexual desire, but just for desire at all—for anyone to care, to think my voice matters still. And I’m okay with that. I’m okay with looking like a fool. That’s the key to freedom right there.
#2 It’s okay to flop.
It’s okay to choke. It’s okay to embarrass yourself. It’s okay to have people look at you like they have right then and there died on the spot from second-hand mortification.
Courage is a muscle. You have to exert it to ever grow strength.
#3 I’ll be going live on TikTok at 9:30 p.m. EST tonight.
Less than a half an hour! I’ll let you guys determine how I spend the time. But if it’s hard for me to talk or be chill or I freak, expect to hear me reading aloud from one of my books on GPT-3 likely in a whispery AMSR cringe voice.
Because, really, why not?
Rabbitholed is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.