1106: Life In The Gush Of Boasts by Elijah Burrell

20240429 Slowdown

1106: Life In The Gush Of Boasts by Elijah Burrell


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

Last month, my friend Wadud gave me a t-shirt which simply reads “0 likes.” I have not worn it yet. As someone active on social media, I fear being viewed as hypocritical. Recently at a writer’s conference, a colleague proclaimed, “If I did not need to promote my books, I’d not even have an Instagram account.” Everyone around the table agreed. Another admitted she’s just not that interested in people’s pets. We laughed.

Someone else said she hired a graduate student to manage her social media presence. To drum up readers, last week, she asked her followers about their favorite dessert recipes. Another of my fellow diners swore her book contract was owed to her number of “followers” on X, which itself was the result of a post about her cat that went viral. She hasn’t written anything close to its reach. She said it was like hitting the lottery.

We all lamented out-of-date platforms and wondered if we should all start Substacks. We ended the evening with a pact to shut down our “feeds” tomorrow and drop off the digital face of the earth. But first, we took a group selfie full of smiles then tagged everyone at the table.

Most writers are not “All eyes on me,” but the psychology of the social media “like” and “follower” becomes validation, it seems, between books. I am the first to admit my addiction to the hot-take or provocative or witty post that generates a flurry of comments. The rush of activity around one’s thoughts is its own ephemeral high. But sometimes, what generates a bunch of “likes” can be confused for the real work of noticing our world and seeing into it.

Today’s poem calls attention to our ubiquitous urge to document the entirety of our lives with our devices — and that, maybe, such a compulsion unwittingly invites us to pay closer attention to our sharing than to the moment we’re living.

Life in the Gush of Boasts
by Elijah Burrell

The bus’s accordion door opens wide
and we stumble out into the actual world.
You wait as I take a shot of the gutted church—

burnt out, busted windows, half-open door—
and a handful of gravestones fading off beside it. 
My caption: What people mean by down and out.

The first reply: This is like a poem.
We make our way down the sidewalk to the café,
my hand in the hollow of your hand, a little buzz

with each incoming response—red digital hearts,
blue thumbs-ups, crying yellow faces.
At the corner table, I set the phone between us.

Later, behind the menu, I look up “crudo” on my phone
so I’ll appear to know it means “raw.” I check 
the new mountain of likes and replies and smile

at them, and you. It’s good for a person to feel loved.
We walk back toward the stop, and pause by an empty lot
lit by the random, frenzied flashes of lightning 

bugs. There must be ten thousand, you say, eyes wide.
Some slow song drifts through the air from a nearby shop’s 
outdoor speakers. The lot becomes a post-dusk,

bioluminescent floor demanding
dance with its flash patterns and warnings. We embrace 
and spin. You stop me, raise your phone, and aim.

“Life in the Gush of Boasts” by Elijah Burrell from SKIES OF BLUR © 2024 Elijah Burrell, published by Eastover Press. Used by permission of the poet.