The internet, man… I’m on it all the time, but I don’t really get it. Especially the internet writing community. For years I’ve mainly invested in old-fashioned methods like local open mics, face-to-face communities, and handmade, hand-sold zines and chapbooks. In addition to a glut of instagram bird photography, occasionally, when moved, I’ll post an essay on my website aimed mainly for an audience of a few people I probably personally know, but otherwise I prefer to be under-the-radar observer on the internet, and rarely engage with others outside of a like here and there.
I’m afraid of the internet. Not only are Me-Notzies encouraged and abundant, but with the success of a post so measurable, it’s also tempting for me to get caught up in comparison and ego-games within my own head. Bullshit thoughts like: Why did my significant life event post get 3 likes, but your off-handed remark get hundreds? I must be a less valuable person than you.
I see so many people embracing this new paradigm tho, honing an online brand, cultivating likes and followers, networking with virtual strangers, and relentlessly marketing themselves. Fair or not, I can’t help but often privately condemn them as vain, overly ambitious, and phony. And I’m worried the system only elevates a certain type of socially motivated person, while talented but shy writers more easily slip thru the cracks.
I realize this trend will likely only continue, and my aversion to it holds me back from establishing a ‘platform’ and advancing a modern writing ‘career.’ And I understand, spiritually speaking, this doesn’t matter. But I also believe, for spiritual reasons, in challenging your habits and assumptions. And I’m curious at the moment: who am I if I actually engage differently with the internet? So recently I experimented by reaching out to a random from the online writing community…
I first discovered M. Stone on bird Twitter. @theindeptbirder, an account which posts hilarious and relatable bad birding photography, had retweeted her photo of a Chimney Swift, a vague, usually distant and flying, dark bird, which I frustratingly failed to check off my Boulder year list before I left for the summer.
I was intrigued by M. Stone’s mysterious name and Twitter profile pic, in which she was peering over a book with only eyes and bangs exposed. Her description indicated she was a birder and a poet. She had over 3600 total followers (significant for a poet I think). Some of her tweets had hundreds of likes and several positive comments from fans. And her website included links to scores of poems published in a variety of online magazines. She clearly believed in herself, her work, and the idea of using the internet to deliver it to the world.
She also had a pinned post announcing her latest chapbook, In Wildness, was available in exchange for a $7 donation to an environmental conservation group. (I believe the chapbook has already sold out now). I loved the idea. It almost sounded like something I’d think up to subvert the self-indulgent impulses of releasing new work, but I’d fear I’d never have the following or clout to pull off.
At other moments I might’ve felt bitter and jealous, but this time I decided to lean into it and made a donation to Friends of The Verde River, a local Arizona conservation organization who aims to protect riparian habitats so essential to the birds down here. Then I DM’d (only third time ever for anyone) M. Stone with a screen-shot receipt and requested the chapbook. A few days later the self-published, thread-bound chapbook came in the mail with a handwritten note, thanking me. What a considerate and on-top-of-their-shit person, I thought.
In Wildness, is about various endangered species in the Virginia Appalachia region where the author lives. The tone is warm and accessible, often personally guiding us with first person pov, such as in “Candy Darter”…
The male reminds me/of old-fashioned Christmas candy
The species, whether mammal, arthropod, or wildflower, are often, almost anthropomorphically, referred to as ‘you,’ which endears the reader further to them… Like the “Carolina Northern Flying Squirrel”…
We have no idea why/your fur gleams Easter egg pink/under ultraviolet light
While Stone is clearly studied up on the natural world, she avoids overwhelming us with too much science-y jargon. She also, tho deeply concerned with the environmental crisis, resists the urge to indulge in intangible ideas and overt activism, instead grounding her work in the concrete sensory details of the nature imagery itself. From “Piratebush”…
In these woods/one won’t encounter/the musty/cellar smell/of the familiar/but will/imbibe blue mountain/vistas, hear/a stream lollygag/over stones/and perhaps/spy a pale slender flower
Each poem is about one species whose existence is threatened, and considering there are 16 total, it gives you an unsettling feeling about the extent human interference has really put nature’s back against the wall. In “Virginia Meadowsweet”…
It could not ready you/for all humans had in store/the damns and rights-of-way/the continual trampling feet
You could read each piece individually, educationally, almost like exhibit plaques at some kind of poetic zoo, but taken as a whole the poems start to feel like one cohesive nature walk thru the Mid-Atlantic woods, giving you a sense of the interconnectedness of the whole unique ecosystem.
It reminds me of the work of local Boulder legend and Eco-Poet Jack Collom, and much like with him, I’m inspired to expand my expertise beyond just birds, and do even more to protect the environment. Also like any good book, it kinda makes me wanna hang out with the author, who, considering her knowledge, respect, and delight for the natural world, would seem to be a great outdoors companion.
Certainly every internet poet does not have the skill and heart of M. Stone, and I may’ve just stumbled upon a diamond-in-the-rough who actually uses the platform with integrity and is deserving of any resulting attention. But overall it has helped me to look at the internet in a new less cynical way. It felt good to engage, and I’ve been encouraged to continue and at least more openly compliment writers, works, and posts I genuinely admire…
So thanks, M. Stone, for being you, and indirectly giving me this opportunity for my own self-growth!