...in the Instagram sense, and otherwise.
Hey, friends. Just a warning: the piece below is about my Instagram getting hacked, but it also touches on all the bad things in the news right now, including COVID, the Supreme Court, TERFs, guns, and an infamous sexual assault case. If you don’t want to engage with these subjects today, I’d skip this newslessay. If you’re looking for a way to think/feel about what the hell is going on, read on.
1 | ON HACKS
Yes, my Instagram got hacked. It’s the sort of thing I probably would have been all “aww, bummer, so sorry” about if it happened to a friend before it happened to me, assuming it to be an inconvenience more than anything else. But instead it feels like…a tiny but true trauma? One with a lower-case t, but still a trauma.
Etymologically, to “hack” is to cut in pieces. Its synonyms include “chop” and “slash.” And yes, I feel like a chunk of my personhood has been severed by a sharp knife, so swift I couldn’t see it coming. Like I have lost control of an actual limb that’s now flipping off my friends in public, slapping strangers, tossing piles of Monopoly cash like confetti against my will while all I can do is watch, aghast.
This is all a strange way to remember (to re-member) how integral a role social media plays in my life — in our lives — these days. My Instagram self is not just some photographic representation of my embodied self so much as it is an actual portion of my self, already living in the virtual reality that the platform’s parent company is aiming to manifest. Creepy. If it wasn’t true, it wouldn’t feel so disorienting, so violating, so…yeah, a little bit traumatizing.
Listen, if it sounds like I’m being dramatic, you have to know that a couple of months ago, an unmasked pharmacist at CVS denied me a COVID booster shot because type 1 diabetes “doesn’t count, no, that doesn’t count” as immunocompromised enough to warrant one. But first, the pharmacist eyed me up and down with a sort of dismissive disdain, and then extended a gun-shaped thermometer over the counter, their unmasked mouth in a wordless frown. I mumbled, “Um, am I supposed to…” and hesitantly bent my face towards it, placing the center of my forehead at the end of the barrel while they scrolled on their iPhone, not even looking at me now. After they pulled the thermometer gun away, they held the phone screen up to me, displaying a list of rules on the CVS website — “You don’t have cancer, do you? Doesn’t count.”
You don’t have cancer, said the unmasked pharmacist with the thermometer gun in their hand, who would presumably have been the one to slice the syringe into my arm if I did. “Sorry,” I said. “I thought,” I said. “It’s just, all the research,” I said. “Sorry,” I said. I went home and I yelled and I yelled and I yelled and I yelled, my voice vanishing like steam in the closed apartment air.
I’d mostly forgotten about the vaccine booster moment since then, because — well, because of the parade of crises that have all commanded attention in a constant cascade. The Instagram hack happened just 10 or so days after the Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, to silence the clear majority of Americans who see abortion as an essential right. It happened 10 days after those wicked puppets called justices (who do not know what justice means) chose to squelch our voices, weaponizing our anger and frustration against us so that we barely noticed what they did next, which was to rule against the EPA’s authority to regulate power plants’ greenhouse gas emissions. They are, if I may, “hacking” our futures to preserve their present. They’re burning the whole road ahead of us to bits.
Meanwhile, some TERFs in the New York Times and on Twitter are spewing some bullshit about how gender-inclusive language is the real problem in this abortion fight, how trans rights are the real threat, which is preposterous mythology. It’s the stupidest story I have ever heard, because of this and this and — wow, yes, Lynda Carter! — this. Those other people get platforms and microphones? Are you kidding?
Speaking of myths, the hack happened in the final sliver of hours before “Independence Day.” I woke up on July 4th to text after text after email after text that poured towards me all day long, all saying something like, “Hey, have you been hacked? You’re not really posting about crypto and bitcoin on your Instagram Stories, are you?” Yes, I explained repeatedly, a hacker had taken over my account and kicked me out of it, on a day intended to celebrate the colonization of stolen land, on a day that a two-year-old was orphaned by a mass shooting at the holiday parade in Highland Park where seven people died.
A “hack” is what you call someone who’s mediocre at their work. Like a bad writer. Like the systems and people in power who are writing these American stories, steering these American narratives. They are hacks.
We have to tell better stories. We have to keep reminding each other, reminding ourselves: this is what’s real, this is what’s true, this is what’s true, this is truth. A good story always sounds like truth. A really, really good one is a seed from which might sprout a whole field of wildflowers, a multitude of truths blooming and bobbing in the breeze from one brave start.
In the midst of…well, *gestures broadly at everything*, I’ve been reading Chanel Miller’s Know My Name, which is one of these sorts of stories. Miller is the writer and artist once known as Emily Doe, the victim (“I have no qualms with this word,” she says, “only with the idea that it is all that I am”) in 2016’s infamous “Stanford rape case” against Brock Turner. Her memoir is about the violation of sexual assault, compounded by the violation of an extended trial process in which nearly every aspect of her identity and experience was twisted, belittled, and trampled. Ultimately, Turner served a pitiful three months in county jail.
Miller’s book is an exquisite reclaiming of her voice and her narrative, and of reality. It is a testament to what writing can do in the face of violation, which is not everything, but it is most certainly something. Detailing the emotional aftermath of the verdict, Miller writes:
“I opened up my notebook. I stared at the empty page. Then I wrote, You are worth more than three months. Again. You are worth more than three months. My face crumpled, twisted, my hand trying to outrun my mind. Listen to what your body is trying to tell you. You are worth more than three months. A voice in my head said, What do you like? I said, I like drawing. What are you going to do? I will draw, I will speak. You are worth more than three months. I am not a burden. I am not limited, I am ever expanding. Your suffering means something. You are worth more than three months. They could never truly have rejected me since they had never fully known me. You are worth more than three months. The assault was never all of me. I could feel myself fighting, driving the pen into the page. You are worth more than three months. My hand tensed, struggling, then softening. The light in my room was gray, I parted my blinds to peek through, outlines of trees and cars emerging. I put down my pen.”
What came nex: her official Victim Impact Statement went viral on Buzzfeed. Then came her published memoir, which is…just read it. But first, scroll to the prompt at the bottom here, and pick up your pen now — yours.
2 | A QUOTE TO KEEP CLOSE
One more from the same memoir:
“I did not come into existence when he harmed me. ‘She found her voice!’ I had a voice, he stripped it, left me groping around blind for a bit, but I always had it. I just used it like I never had to use it before.”
― Chanel Miller, Know My Name
3 | A PROMPT YOU CAN USE
What’s a cultural narrative — or even one that orients your smaller community or family — that doesn’t ring true and beautiful to you? What’s the actual truth, the one like Miller’s “You are worth more than three months,” that you need to write and read and hear, over and over?
Write your own “You are worth more than three months” sentence, whether it’s about what you’re worth, about what’s right, about what actually happened that one time last spring…And then write the rest of the story around it, continuing to weave that true line through it, never dropping that thread. You can write that sentence as many times as you need.