Very Social(able) Media
In 1988, I was one of a handful of copy editors making southern New Jersey safe for grammar via The Press of Atlantic City. Just a few days into my AC Press career, I edited a story by a reporter I hadn’t met yet because he had been covering the space shuttle landing in Florida since before I joined the staff. Two sentences in, I was head-over-heels in love with this guy because, well, his writing was just that good. Two days later, Rob Laymon was back in the office. I stifled my starstruck idiocy long enough to introduce myself, and we’ve been close friends ever since. It’s an honor and a pleasure that I don’t take lightly.
Rob has since devoted himself to the sea, living and working on tall ships and dividing his time between coasts. He’s still a quirky, eccentric kind of adorable. It’s that enigmatic nature and the writer in his soul that keep him trying new things and draw people to him — so much so that last year, one of his brothers began a Facebook page called “Rob Laymon Lifestyle” to both mock and celebrate the special strain of strange that is Rob Laymon. It was a fairly dormant page, with a few dozen sailors, writers and other unsavories checking in for the occasional laugh and to leave (in)appropriately snarky comments.
In July, my friend came under sneak attack by a diseased mosquito and contracted West Nile virus. Then encephalitis set in. His brain swelled. He was in and out of consciousness, and the doctors kept him going with aggressive antibiotics and tubes to help him eat and breathe. He was on a ventilator, then off, then back on again. It was far too precarious for far too long.
Given the death grip that Rob has on his privacy, it was surprising that the Brothers Laymon took to the RLL page to alert his closest friends to the situation. But I personally was glad for it. And what started as an APB on Rob’s predicament turned into a near-daily journal of his battle and, thankfully, his recovery. The brothers’ updates were upbeat and funny, and worthy of the man himself. They laid bare discussions about Rob’s hygiene, incoherent attempts at escape, his first solid foods in a month, and how he managed to convey indignation with nothing more than his eyebrows. But currents of anxiety and fear rippled at the edges of those posts, and a rock-steady commitment to their brother buoyed the whole thing to a positively inspirational level.
And something else fascinating happened. Our small band of Laymonites on the RLL page started sharing the status updates with our own Facebook connections, asking for prayers and positive energies. The vibe on the RLL page was so vibrant and entertaining that many of those strangers “liked” the page, and its numbers swelled to more than 200 — many of whom had never even heard of Rob before. They not only liked the page, but they commented and cheered on Rob and his brothers, and even the doctors and nurses.
No one was asking for any money. The page was a conduit of information for friends and an outlet for family. The only asks were for positive thoughts. But watching this all unfold, I believe Rob’s family could actually have raised some money with that page. Lesson: If you want to engage people, you must be engaging. And you must be genuine. If you speak from the heart about a cause that resonates with you, people will respond.