Tag: Facebook

Mental Health and Family: New Essay at Narratively

Last week I had my essay, “How to Get Your Paranoid Mother into the Poisonous Ambulance,” published at Narratively — considered a top 50 website by Time Magazine. Besides having the capability to tell my story on such an incredible platform, I was lucky enough to have the piece accompanied by illustrations from Danielle Chenette, an animator, illustrator, and printmaker originally from Millbury, Massachusetts, living and working in Chicago. I love her illustrations, and it really helped capture the theme of Mommy Dearest, which was the editorial focus of Narratively for the week leading up to Mother’s Day.

This publication was special for many reasons, but it ultimately marked a completion of a difficult journey within my writing. If you haven’t read the piece, then let me fill you in a bit. It’s the story of when I hard to return home when my mother was off her medicine and missing in Massachusetts. She has bipolar, and for most of my life, our family has had to handle the ups and downs of the disorder. It was November, 2013, and I flew home to try to convince my mother (with the of my brother) to voluntarily head into a hospital with a higher level of care to help her find equilibrium.

Illustration by Danielle Chenette
Illustration by Danielle Chenette

Well, writing this essay — and even that above paragraph — is truly monumental for me, because it marks a major transition artistically and personally. For most of my life, I’ve kept my mother’s illness a secret, but I have often felt the need to write about it. In fact, it’s almost been a compulsion, and I’ve told versions of this story before, but I’ve never told it in the memoir form and put the stamp of truth upon the pages…until now. The story of dealing with mental illness is so important because most people keep it a secret. But why is it such a secret? Why are we so embarrassed with the imbalance of the mind? How do we tell the stories we so desperately need to tell?

But even a harder question: How do we tell those stories without hurting the people we love? That question has always stopped me from truly writing the way I needed to write. I always felt that I was going to hurt someone when I told these stories, but in the piece, I didn’t hold back. I had a wonderful editor during this process who pushed me to tell the truth in a way that was authentic and real.

In the end, I wasn’t just afraid of what my mother would think about the stories — or other members of my family — and I wasn’t afraid that people would judge my mother and think of her in a negative way. To provide a bit more insight, here is what I wrote on Facebook when I shared the story:

I almost didn’t share my essay that was published on Narratively yesterday to my personal Facebook page, because it’s a personal story and ultimately people will recognize the individuals involved…potentially judging them negatively. So I asked my brother what he thought (since he is in the story), and he pointed out that hopefully more good will come from sharing it than bad. Well, I hope that’s the case. Mental health shouldn’t be something we hide and ignore. I hope it’s something we can embrace while learning to empathize with the individuals who are suffering.

Illustration by Danielle Chenette
Illustration by Danielle Chenette

Only one person (at least that I’m aware of) criticized me for sharing this story, and this person was actual a member of my family. I don’t really talk to her anymore because of her attitude toward mental health, but she wrote on the Facebook post with the intention of shaming me for sharing a story about my family that she deemed personal. But there were so many other people who wrote to me either on the Facebook post or through a private message expressing how much they valued my courage in sharing the story. In fact, someone I greatly respect wrote: “Silence killed my mom. Thanks for sharing, Joseph Lapin.” So I just wanted to say thank you to all the people who read the piece without judgement and with compassion. It means the world.

Why is mental illness still such a stigma? Why are we scared to share that our minds can become just as sick as our lungs or our cells? I’m not entirely sure yet, but I’m suddenly more confident than ever to tell my stories. Hopefully I’ll find a way to answer some of the above questions along the way.

Wedding Blog Continued — How social media expands the mental frame

Last week I posted “The Marriage Blog: I put a ring on it,” and to date it’s my most successful blog post. I credit my beautiful wife for being such a great model. And today, I was going to write a post on my first trip to Las Vegas — which I’m still planning on for later this week — but my friend, fellow writer, and former colleague, Tania Cepero Lopez, helped me realize that I wasn’t finished with “The Marriage Blog.” I still had ideas I was leaving on the table, so I decided to push myself further.


Tania is a professor at Florida International University, and she teaches writing. If I dare, then I might also call her a rhetorician — a scholar. She is interested in the way we communicate, and she was particularly drawn to my post because of my questions posed on the way social media will help us remember. Check out her piece here: The Rhetorical Writer. In her post, Tania writes:

[Joe] identifies a problem: the way we remember is changing because our memory artifacts are changing. He’s concerned by this change and feels like it needs further attention, further exploration. Whether this change is good or bad is another story, a question he has not explored yet.

In a sense, Tania did me a huge favor; she analyzed my thoughts, broke down my writing, and, in a very admirable way, showed me where I stopped, where I could keep going, where my mind was wandering. If it wasn’t for her post, then I would have just moved on.



Oh yeah!!!

So now I must confront the question: Are these new ways of recording our lives — Facebook, Twitter, Vine, Google+, etc — good or bad? How are these social platforms changing the way we remember, and is it changing the way we, then, perceive our world? Woah, I just got wicked nerdy…lol.

Let me put it this way: On my wedding day, I knew I was going to have a gigantic challenge — staying in the moment. One of the hardest aspects of my life is staying in the present, not future tripping. On that day I knew I had to be aware of my world, be aware of the first time I kissed Heron as my wife, be able to smell the flowers as my cousin tossed them onto the floor, be able to feel how cold Heron’s skin was as we stood outside taking pictures in the freezing cold, be able to hear the guitar player strumming the melody of “Here Comes the Sun” as I walk back down the aisle. And I tried my hardest to capture those small details, those incredible small features of our world, and ingrain them into my memory so deeply that my vision of the past would be fuller.

That’s what I really want, and maybe what most of us want, is a full vision of who we were, once were, where we once were, in order to understand who we are now and in the future.

Now back to the original question: Are these social-media platforms good or bad? Well, the answer is obvious; it’s good. Tania points out that a result of being so connected is a faster exchange of ideas — in turn a growth in innovation. That’s an awesome point. Our blog posts are a microcosm of that effect.

So now I’m going to branch off from her idea a bit. All these social-media platforms are incredible for, yes, the freaking human being, because it expands our vision of the world; it expands the angles from which we can remember; it grows the perspective from which we can see.

Let me explain, dear reader. (Have I told you how much I love that you’re reading my blog?) Take a look at some of the pictures below. When I was dancing with Heron during our first dance, I was telling her, “Don’t look at anyone else. Look at me. No one else is here. This is our moment. Let’s be in the moment together.” Unfortunately, what I told Heron was a lie; we couldn’t be fully in the moment. No matter how hard we tried.

First Dance

Waiting to Come Inside


First Dance 2

And anyway our moment, staring at each other, was only a small part of the larger one — our family, the music, the sun setting over the marsh in the background, the position of the DJ, the crowd watching from behind. Because all our friends were there with their phones, recording the whole event, Heron and I now have a much fuller vision of our day. I can almost pop into different perspectives to see how the world, our world, looked for someone else. Then I blend it all together.

But wait, then what the hell happens to my memory? Does it become a collection of all of our memories? A collective memory? Social media as a collective memory?

Well, that’s a nice thought, but even with social media, we can’t capture all the stories — though it’s nice to think we can try. And at the most fundamental level, social media is giving us a fuller vision of our lives, a more advanced engine to remember our loved ones in ways previous generations never thought possible.

What A Writer Can Do With Social Media

So I’ve been working at my new job in Westwood for about a week, and I’ve already started some awesome projects with social media. But the way I’ve been thinking about social media over the last couple of days is how it can affect a business’ bottom line. And don’t worry, I’m not here to talk about that. I want to begin to talk about how social media is one of the most important tools for a writer.

Earlier today, Joe Clifford — the writer of Choice Cuts — posted a transcript of his interview at Digital Book Today. Well, it’s a cool interview, and it’s a bad-ass piece, where I even get a shout out. We were in his kitchen talking about writing and how the worst thing about being a writer is that you lose the magic as you learn the craft. You start to learn all the tricks.

Choice Cuts

Well, this is true about social media, too. There are a ton of tricks writers can use — not only to build an audience and share work but work on your craft.

In that same conversation Joe and I had in his kitchen in San Francisco, he said something on the lines of this: “It’s impossible to be a writer today and not use social media.” And he’s absolutely right, and Joe might just use Facebook better than any other writer I know out there.

For example, how did I find out about his interview: he shared it on his wall, and people started commenting, and eventually when I came home, I read it. But then I shared it; and someone else shared it; and now, here I am talking about it on my blog and hopefully you clicked on his link and started reading it. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this is how you build an audience: a piece gets shared. Plus, he shares great content and witty observations, and it functions as an extension of his narrative voice…in my opinion.

But the trick is how do you build that audience and how do you make it work for you?

Create a Community


What I admire the most about the way Clifford uses social media is that he’s social. It’s not always about him, and he always finds a way to help another writer out. For instance, when he shared the link to his interview, he posted it on my wall and another, highlighting the fact that we were referenced in the interview. Well, that community building must happen in order to create effective social media and identify oneself to others as a writer.

But this isn’t something new to the digital age. God, that would be a ridiculous statement. From talking to Joe, I know that he values the Beats — maybe not Kerouac’s craft completely — because they supported each other, promoted each other, and championed the work. That was what made the Beats’ so great; they were there to take on the world together. And they were obviously not the only literary community that used the tools of their time to help each other out. There are countless.

So use this in your posts, your tweets, your tidily winks. Give shout out to friends. Like other people posts. Comment on other people’s stories. And support. Unless you’re an asshole and don’t need anybody’s help.

Don’t Be Scared to Fail


I can’t tell you how many times I have posted something on Facebook, trying to illicit a response, and not a single person responded. Yes, that might look pathetic, because now I’m sitting there in silence, but in reality, people are probably busy or just not interested. Don’t let that hold you back! Go out there and post again. If you stay persistent and confident, then people will begin to write back, and there you are again, building your audience.

But this is a larger issue with being a writer; you’re going to fail so many freaking times and fall flat on your face. So what? You’re going to write a shitty story, a clunker, and what are you going to do? Stop writing? Please, move on. Take lumps. Work on the craft.

I’ll never forgot one day I was testing out some social-media marketing tips I found online. It said that the best time to share a post was on Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. So I posted at exactly that time, telling people this is the time everyone responds on social media — let me know if you’re out there.

Well, guess what? Yep, no one responded.

Until Joe Clifford saved me, and he made it into a joke by pretending I had thrown this big party and no one showed up but him. We were standing around the virtual chips, talking awkwardly and avoiding the obvious — no one showed up.

Fuck failing. You’re a writer. Get used to it.

Learn the Mediums

Two dogs

For some reason, I think that writers forget all of the lessons they’ve learned over the years and just start posting on social media as if they never thought about their audience or genre. Well, there are three things I used to tell my students to think about when they sat down to write a paper: audience, purpose, and genre. Think about those things and you will be golden.

So I started applying those lessons to Facebook and Twitter. They both have different make-ups, and the craft is different. The way I think about Twitter is that it’s kind of like flirting, where Facebook is kind of like a full-on relationship. Twitter, you have favorites, retweets, and follows. You’ve got to play coy and not seem desperate. Use these tools to attract complete strangers. Facebook is harder; you’re mostly speaking to people you know or met. Learn how to craft genre appropriate writing by looking at some of the best twitter writers out there. Two people I recommend are Bomani Jones and Roxane Gay.

Don’t Forget the Story

essay draft

Remember, most readers care about story; they care about struggle; they care about a narrative. Start thinking about your larger narrative — are you going to school to become a firefighter? are you trying to land a literary agent? are you trying to bike to work through traffic in the city? — and craft pieces off of that story. Let us fall into a larger thread, know your voice, and what you’re trying to accomplish. This way, we’ll stay with you beyond your wit.

Well, in the end, this is really only the beginning of my thoughts on social media. It can improve your career, your brand, or your audience, but there are tricks, just like there are in writing. And be forewarned, if you like just casually browsing through social media, then don’t try to learn the tricks behind the magic. It’s all a bunch of disguised bullshit — but so are stories in general.