Real life vs. Social Media

For awhile now, I’ve been contemplating giving up Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, or at least curtailing the time I spend on it. I started participating in these platforms because I wanted to stay in touch with friends, and I’ve done that. I’ve reconnected with childhood friends, my friends from college and my time as a military wife. I’ve also remained connected to others I’ve met more recently, especially my writer friends. I’ve joined quite a few online groups to connect with other writers through Facebook and on Twitter, too. Writing is such a solitary occupation (especially when you practice it in a rural setting) that connecting through the internet is invaluable and validating. There really are others out in the world who write!

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A secondary reason I became involved in social media was to build an audience for my book(s) when I am published one day. I don’t really know if I’ve managed to build an audience, (perhaps a small one) and my books aren’t on the market yet. Though I still like being on social media, I spend far too much time following my interests down the rabbit home of information and curiosity. I will intend to spend only a moment checking updates but find that an hour and a half has passed before I realize it. I no  longer have much time to do other things!

Also, I’ve noticed something about myself and the time I spend on social media. I feel scattered. I struggle to concentrate. I am disconnected from life rather than connected to it. I don’t engage with my writing as readily as I once did.  I have trouble concentrating on long passages of reading or writing for extended periods of time; whereas, I used to read and write for hours. I also used to draw, sew, garden, watch birds and myriad other pursuits. Ironically, my world and my interests have narrowed even as the internet has brought the world to my fingertips.

Once I wrote from a place of deep introspection. When I sat down to write, the words bubbled up from deep within. Not at first, but it didn’t take long to enter the mindset necessary for the magic to happen. Sometimes hours would pass, but it only felt like minutes. Characters appeared seemingly from the ether. Experiences, voices, descriptions, scenes, dialogue, all these passed through me. I was the conduit for the story. I didn’t think it up. I simply waited for it to come to me, and I wrote it down. It was glorious, like a runner’s high, endorphins exploding inside me and filling me with deep satisfaction. When I found that I could disappear into the words and rhythms of the story I was writing, I knew I had found my release, my meditation, my art. I want that back.

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Now I struggle to write because I inhabit a place of frenetic activity, sound bites, and frequent interruptions. I think my characters into being rather than being open to the muse and letting the action and the characters appear as they once did.

If the creative act of writing is a meditative, relaxed, art-minded state of being, taking part in social media is the farthest thing from it. When I have written, I usually discover something about myself or gain some insight into the writing process or human nature. But on social media those moments of insight are rare. When I hop on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, I tell myself I will only scroll down my feed (disgusting term, that) for a few minutes, but I so easily succumb to the seduction of reading articles, looking at pictures of cute puppies, watching videos–you name it–that I often spend far too long there and come away feeling less happy, less settled, less satisfied with life than when I began. I should have more will power, but I know that social media sites do a lot of research to keep me clicking.

I have decided to conduct an experiment. Starting today, I am going to limit my time on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Oh, and definitely Pinterest, that black hole of a time suck where I tend to dawdle! From now until further notice–at least a month or longer–I plan to be on social media only AFTER I have worked, written, read, cooked, gardened, walked Stella, visited with friends, and generally enjoyed my life.

I am going to live my life, rather than share an edited-for-media version of it. I want face-to-face conversations with my friends at dinner parties over good food and wine. I want to float down the river with my husband and walk with him in the forest to pick berries or see the leaves change. I want to visit with my children and really hear what is going on in their lives. I want live music, art, and travel. No more distractions, no more staring at a phone or a computer screen.

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I’m making a change today to save my brain from the constant barrage of ads and negativity I find on social media. I will continue to write this blog, and I hope you’ll follow me here, but I am limiting myself to an hour each day of activity on all media. I know it will take a lot of willpower to make this happen. All habits are hard to break, but I hope to be a happier, more productive person, a better writer, a more attentive wife, and a more loving mother, sister, daughter, and friend. I’ll check in and let you know how it’s going. You’ll still find me on my social media platforms, but not as often as before. If you feel compelled join me in sharply curtailing your involvement in social media or have done so already, leave me a note and tell me how your life was changed (or not). I’d love to hear your story!

Practice Art to Be Forever Young

A fellow blogger and wonderful writer, Paula Reed Nancarrow, has been taking a break from writing posts for the month of August and has instead complied a number of quotes from writers about different topics. She has used the using the hashtag #AUTHORity to  highlight authors’ views.  If you haven’t yet, you should follow her on Twitter here. The first week she posted about family, but the second week she posted about aging, a topic I readily identify with both at this time in my life and because my mother is currently struggling with some issues related to aging. This particular quote below fell at number 33, particularly auspicious number I thought for a particularly auspicious quote and one which rings true for me.

On the whole, age comes more gently to those who have some doorway into an abstract world-art, or philosophy, or learning-regions where the years are scarcely noticed and the young and old can meet in a pale truthful light.

―Freya Stark

To have age arrive more gently is a wonderful reason to practice some sort of art, especially if it allows us to scarcely notice our advancing years. I think I know why this is the case. Art gives us access to a collective consciousness. Those who don’t practice writing, music, art, or some other discipline that requires intense concentration and intense thought can neither know nor understand the attraction to it. Once you’ve been there, it is impossible not to experience again that place where creativity and inspiration live. It is the place we meet our muses.

Practicing art–in my case writing–allows me to enter into the doorway of the abstract, to spend time outside my body and outside time. I experience the world anew and from a perspective other than my own. It renews my spirit and somehow keeps me young and passionate about life and its mysteries. Writing also allows me to discuss with my students, or  anyone who cares about the written word, something which defies time, an abstract at once mysterious but accessible.

I’ve thought so much about Freya Stark‘s words since I read them in Paula’s post, especially since I’ve begun another year of school. I’m of an age that I am beginning to see some of my former students join the faculty of the school where I teach. That happened last year and this year. One of my colleagues who was hired with me and whom I enjoy immensely, could be my daughter.  Juxtaposing those two parts of myself–my aging body and my still agile mind–at times poses problems. You see, even though I realize I’m aging, I still think of myself as a young person. That can be awkward at times. However, my art, my writing, is what keeps me young, keeps me dreaming, keeps me thinking of when I’ll achieve my dreams.

That’s one of the things I love most about writing. Writing makes me feel limitless, something I try to communicate to my students. When I’m writing, I can be anyone, do anything, live anywhere. In fiction, nothing is impossible. That is the place where I hope to meet my students, the young people with whom I try to forge a connection, a place where they see me not as I am but as I want to be. That’s what I try to see in them also. And it can happen through writing.

If we practice our art, whatever that might be, we remain forever young and free in that “pale, truthful light.”

Reclaiming the Artist Within

I’ve been sidetracked this summer, really for most of last year. I was teaching at a school where I wasn’t happy and was overworked, so much so that I developed a cyst on my vocal chords from talking for seven hours straight, five days a week. I resigned from that position earlier this year before we found out that my husband was losing his job. Yikes! To say we had a stressful spring and early summer is putting it mildly. During the year I wanted to keep the promise I had made to myself to finish my novel before Christmas. My Christmas deadline turned into an April deadline which became an end of the summer deadline. Will I meet that deadline this time? Hmmm…too early to tell. It’s possible, especially if I have days like I had yesterday for the rest of August. Just as I sense a change in the seasons with our lovely warm days cooling to chilly nights worthy of the down comforter again, I sense a change in my writing life.

Yesterday I sat down to edit a blog post I had written because I can’t stand to put something out in the world and leave the mistakes in. The English teacher in me cringes at the thought! I edited that post and published it after my English-major-college-literary-magazine-editor-son edited it for me as well. Then, lo and behold, I opened my file for my novel and began writing a scene that had stymied me for the entire summer. I wrote until it was time for supper, had supper, then wrote some more until I had written 1,277 words! That hasn’t happened in the longest time. I’m not sure if I tricked myself into being able to write by opening my file without preamble, no thinking about that scene, or if it was just time. The well had finally filled with enough words that it wouldn’t hold anymore until I spilled those hoarded ones onto the page.

Whatever happened, I feel like my writer self again, and I can’t tell you how happy that makes me. My year of rarely writing and being miserable in my work life had taken its toll on my creative process. The creative side of my personality was shriveling, fading away, and I had no idea how to get it back. Last weekend, however, I attended Arts on the Square, an art festival here in Waupaca that stresses interacting with the arts, and that is what I did. I bought a lovely print that inspired me by an even lovelier young artist, Ashley Megal; made a clay tile for the clay quilt that will be glazed by local artists and displayed somewhere in Waupaca for all to see; and watched a Shakespearean troupe perform. There was much more I didn’t mention, but doing those small things seemed to give me a boost, like a vitamin B injection for my creative side. In the words of George Costanza, “I’m back, Baby. I’m back!” I played around with art and did things I hadn’t done in a very long time. Opening up to creativity helped me see possibilities within myself and interests I had set aside.

That is what happens to us as writers sometimes. Life gets in the way. We can’t ignore it, but as soon as we can, we must reclaim the artist within and forge ahead. Lately I’ve been struggling to find a good time to write now that I will not be teaching this year, but I haven’t found when my muse shows up willingly. Perhaps there is no perfect time, only time itself whenever it can be carved out of life. All I know is that right now I feel good about where my writing life is going. I also am excited about where Faith and Josiah, my hero and heroine, are headed. They have almost reached the end of their journey together, and when they do, I will have reached the end of the first draft of my first novel! Now that is an accomplishment worth celebrating! For now I will continue to show up at the page whenever I can and let my characters take me on the wild ride that is writing.