I went away to a place that was not the 9th Circle of Hell this past long weekend with my partner. It was just a long-weekend getaway, and – given that my Partner had literally been to Hell the week before – it doesn’t quite imply everything is fine. However, it was enough of a mental reset for me that I don’t want to think or write about that other place if I can avoid it for a week.
I wasn’t sure at first what else to write about. The 9th Circle of Hell and the soon-to-be-introduced-on-my-blog replacement for the Bedbug Motel still occupy entirely too much of my brain space. It was harder at first to not think of the 9th Circle of Hell than even to not think of an elephant. Until suddenly, I realized…
Bloggers can always default to Top Ten lists when out of ideas, and most do so at some point during the final two months of the year. It’s hard to come up with content right before the holidays, especially for those who actually partake in stressful “family togetherness” and “family tradition.” We are not going anywhere for Thanksgiving this year. Paying Thanksgiving airline prices to go to a second Red State after having spent far too long in the one-I’m-not-thinking-about – and not having a salary for three months because of it – seems a bit excessive. However, I’m happy to jump on a cognitive shortcut wherever possible. ADHD All-or-None Speed Go!
Except, erm, for the tiny complication that I actually don’t typically like Top Ten lists, exactly because people treat them in the same lazy way I intend. I want to be lazy, but I also don’t really enjoy that type of laziness? I have ADHD. My brain can outthink even itself when it’s determined to be hyperfocused on an idea. It can shortcut this conundrum by writing the laziest of all lazy posts: Why I Hate Top Ten Posts! Enjoy.
The Top Ten Things Wrong with Most “Top Ten” Posts
- They All Sound the Same: Top-Ten posts are a shortcut to submitting a post to another website for cross-promotion. Content aggregation media like The Mighty require stand-alone posts, so any personal content – even an update on a blogger’s health – renders the post a bit too niche for the widespread market. Bloggers inevitably narrow their Top Ten Topics to fit this restriction, and they all end up cataloging only the most universal/surficial experiences of their particular niche as a result. Write a blog for spoonies? You’ve probably written about the Top Ten Things that Make Self-Care Easier and/or the Ten Most Annoying Comments Made About Your Illness. Your post (and maybe even my version as I’m guilty too!) is probably great when readers are newly diagnosed and thrilled to discover they aren’t alone. The list-type post is great for novice members of a blogging community. Somebody has to be the first to tell new spoonies that Epsom salts are awesome and that there is a meme out there that reads, “My ‘fake’ illness is more real than your ‘fake’ medical degree.” It might as well be me/you, especially on low-spoon blog days. Now that I’ve been diagnosed for over a year, though, I would love to see bloggers up their game with tips for the seasoned spoonie. I would love to see the follow-up list post, the “Ten More Things that are Critical for Self-Care.” I eagerly await the hidden gems of self-care premium list, because, frankly, I have tried all the Tier One options. While they help, my pain is still there! Foodie sites like Michelin have base-level guides for weekend tourists, but they also have pages geared towards those obsessive foodies (*cough*) who can recognize Michelin-star chefs by name and who plan their dining reservations a year in advance. Someone needs to take the top-ten list beyond the baseline and write lists geared Level: Blog Veteran.
- They are Characterless: If someone actually calls me a “character,” the bully-in-my-brain does not interpret it as a compliment. But, I admit that I am a “character,” and I’m trying to become okay with that, in my life and in my blog. Since I can’t hide it, I might as well embrace it. Thus, the blogs that I am most into are ones also let their true character show. The bloggers who have made the most impact on me are ones who have shown me enough of their lives through their words to feel like we’re friends, even though we’ve never met. I’m a lot more touched and happy for someone who writes a “things don’t suck as much post” or “this self-care actually helps” list if I’ve been following their blog through their latest rough patch. It’s hard to empathize with – or cheer on – a Top Ten List. It’s much more satisfying to cheer for the character behind the list.
- They are Sterile: Have my bullets started to sound a little repetitive, or like maybe I’m stretching a concept a little long? Are you not entirely sure where I am emotionally right now? Great! I’m doing it right! Another feature of the list-type post – also probably because it’s a post the author is setting up to cross-post – is that it is usually oddly cheerful about even the most serious topics. It’s a touch surreal to read a list of things to put in my “crisis box” written in the same upbeat tone with the same soft-glowing stock photo of a Martha Stewart gift box that I’d expect to see on a Pinterest tutorial on wrapping a child’s first birthday gift. Admittedly, I do see some benefits to a “soothing” tone. It is important to normalize that crises do happen and that it is safe to reach out. I just happen to already dissociate so sufficiently that, for many years, I could describe some of the worst traumas of my life with a calm smile and a pun to deflect attention from myself from the system I didn’t trust. I don’t need to be reminded to stay calm in a crisis. I need to be reminded to actually “feel my feelings.” I would feel less weirded out reading that same Crisis Box article if it included a picture of the sky falling, a horror movie background soundtrack and a few prime swear words to remind my zombie brain that it is truly okay to “not be okay.” If I’m thinking about making a crisis box, I ideally should be forced out of my “calm facade” right then, before the point at which I need that box and before I crash even harder later because I pretended to be calm for longer than was good for me.
- They are Bad for Brain Fog: Did I mention I have ADHD, Ehlers-Danlos, PTSD and a fun little “dissociative subtype” appendix to that last? Even if a blogger writes the Great American Blog, it will take me several rediscoveries – usually debating “have I ever read this before?” while scrolling through their previous posts to see if I ‘liked’ any – before I will follow. I am easily overwhelmed, and I seriously overcommitted when I first joined WordPress. My feed is intimidating. It takes spoons to remember that even my favorite bloggers exist. If I read too many Top Ten lists in a row, I risk legitimately forgetting about those bloggers – usually the same bloggers before they took a list detour – who have inciteful things to say about politics or poetry. I already forget blogs I love too easily, so an author switching styles to write a list-post just enables bad habits.
- They Are Hard to Search Out: Doctors are taught that when they hear hoofbeats they should think horses. I’m a zebra. My Partner is a unicorn. (I put him through such a series of tests – both intentional and unintentional – before I was willing to marry him that only a mythical creature could have passed!) I have spent four bullet points talking about how list-type posts are all too similar. Yet, at times, I find “unicorn zebra” list posts, aka “exactly what I needed at this particular time for my rare disease.” One post had exercises a zebra could do to strengthen her ankles after her PT had moved on to another body part. It had hand-made Youtube videos showing how to do the exercises correctly and everything. I read it right after my PT had decided to move on from addressing my ankles to addressing my neck. It even qualified for a Spoonie Level: Expert rating. I happily clicked “save post” on WordPress. I have since discovered that my WordPress app has never actually saved any of my posts longer than during the original session. When I went to look for that unicorn again, it was gone. Searching is hard on WordPress: its search feature sucks, I couldn’t remember the name of the blogger, and the post was titled something generic like “Top Ten Ankle Exercises for Zebras.” I was not surprised I failed. When unicorn Top Ten posts do target hardened veterans of the blogosphere, they really need to not shoot themselves in the foot with a same-same title.
- They Require Spoons: It has become an unofficial rule that each bullet in a proper Top Ten List requires an associated image. It takes a lot of mental effort to find an appropriate image to go with multiple bullets, upload them to WordPress, and then source and describe each image. It takes enough spoons, in fact, that I get tired just thinking about it. There will be no images in this post, and it’s not even because I’m being deliberately contrary. Gifs are even worse! They are hard on my mobile data and on my eyes all at the same time.
- They Require Savoir Faire: One of the vanishingly rare positives of Ehlers-Danlos is being told I look almost a decade younger. This was incredibly annoying in my twenties when I was trying to start my career, but it has recently become useful. I am now old enough to want to pass for one of those “with-it” Millenials startups adore, instead of the cranky old barely-a-Millenial-by-birth-year I truly am. It’s hard to maintain my street cred when I still laugh at memes from 2005 or stare confusedly at someone the age people think that I am when they use the word “lit” to mean something other than English literature. I feel it appropriate to displace my general frustration at being unmasked as “old” onto the memes and humor references that out me – and on the top ten lists they like to ride in on.
- They Aren’t Just Top Ten Anymore: Why do we need a list of the top eleven of anything? Was the author originally going for a Top 10 and then just couldn’t let an idea go? Were they aware that 11 is a master number in numerology and secretly lording their storybook fate over the rest of us? Did they intend to write a Top 15 and flame out? I’ll never know what is happening in the author’s psyche, but, in the meantime, I’ll feel compelled to come up with enough bullets to add on to their post in my own head and/or retcon any list to fit into sensible multiples of five. It isn’t even satisfying enough just to complete a list in my head. My brain wants to see that multiple of five on the page. (So, if anyone ever needs a few extra bullet points to nudge a Top Twelve list up to a full Top Fifteen, I guess message me. I’ll be finishing yours anyway. Someone should benefit!)
- They Really Aren’t Just Top Ten Anymore: I see this all the time on media aggregation sites. Got an idea for a list post, but don’t want to have to commit to writing the bullet points yourself? You could call me to write up multiples of five extra bullet points. Or…you could crowdsource your list to the nearest Facebook group. There, you’ll end up with something insane like 73 descriptions of dysautonomia. How do you even choose among that many? Don’t! The media are now entirely too willing to publish lists of “73 Things that Dysautonomia Feels Like.” There’s no money to pay an editor, I guess, and as long as the author doesn’t include the “Top” adjective, a list-type post can go on forever? I’ll admit that my last few blog posts have all been 2,000+ words, so I should be being hypocritical in complaining about 73 bullet points if they only total roughly the same number of words as my posts. I have ADHD and brain fog. I’ve mostly learned to work around my memory limitations, but I can only do so by focusing on the overall shape of the narrative and back-filling details later that I missed from context clues. If a blogger writes with emotion, shows their true character, and is old enough that I understand their meme library, I can usually make it work. I can read and comprehend their 2,000 words. Seventy-three unlinked, unordered bullet points? I’m too intimidated even thinking about trying to remember all of them to actually read any of them.
- They Remind Me I Suck at Self-Promotion: I don’t pay for a domain name. C-PTSD always wins the game of, “Should I at least get a paid WordPress account?” With a free account, there’s no point in even attempting SEO or any other fancy acronyms. I can’t rank my blog’s popularity, because my domain name registers only as part of “wordpress.com.” This is probably for the best, as the bully-in-my-brain should not be allowed to know such metrics. But, if I were self-confident about self-promotion, I might be a little more on board the Top Ten Train. Thus, they remind me that I still have a bully-in-my-brain who runs the show far too often, no matter how confidently I claim I’m okay with being a “character,” and end up with it getting to yammer on another blog post.
- They Never End Satisfyingly: There’s never any clear reason why #1 is better than #11 (or #73!) And, bullet points often seem to contradict themselves. Ending a Top Ten post is like listening to a symphony without any crescendo. Don’t think that that building and release of narrative tension matters on blogs? Did you notice that I just ended my “Top Ten” list? On #11? Does it further bother you that this eleventh bullet appears to entirely contradict my prior claim that my brain hates lists that aren’t at least multiples of five? Does it bother you enough to write four bullet points about what is wrong with my Top Ten list? If so, welcome fellow curmudgeon. I graciously accept your offer. Post your narrative completion in the comments section below. In the meantime, I’ll continue to be inconsistent by investing the spoons I said I wouldn’t to share at least one (ancient) spoonie meme:
Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out the Glossary of Terms.