Thursday, April 26, 2018

Check-in - April

The month of April has been a non-stop collection of days—good and meaningful activity—but non-stop. It’s been a month of elementary school lasts: last Read, Right, and Run race in Forest Park, last choir performance at the Cardinals game. We celebrated her 11th birthday and collected items for our favorite non-profit organization. We drove west for a youth lock-in one weekend, and then a week later I drove further west to participate in a young authors conference. I visited with friends, met a new baby, and am listening to a laugh out loud funny novel on my commutes to and from work.

I haven’t been sleeping well, and have the sneaking suspicion that I am now of the age where I must temper my caffeine intake. I won’t be able to test that theory completely until I get past this irritating case of mouth breathing I have as I fight congestion in my sinuses. I feel miserable and yet…

I also feel an odd and unexpected sense of peace.

I believe this sense of ease is in part a by-product of my Lenten practice. I did not listen to any music, podcast, or audiobook on the drives to and from work. I hated almost every minute of it, but I knew it was good for me so I kept at it. In the quiet I had time and space to face some things I really didn’t want to contemplate. In the quiet I saw with clarity how much these things I was fasting from helped elevate my moods and cope with the difficulties of my everyday life. But with a break from these coping mechanisms, the Lenten season also gave me an opportunity to heal some things that needed to be brought into the light.

Part of what made this practice bearable was my honesty about how much I didn’t like it. Saying the words freed me. I knew I didn’t have to like the activity for it to have positive effects on me.

On some days when the quiet didn’t feel so daunting, it actually served as space for creative brainstorming. Many of the ideas that I ended up using during my 45-minute writing workshop came from those minutes in the quiet.

I contemplated the shifts I was feeling in some relationships. I reflected on my feelings and actions, and by the time I faced these people in person, I had my emotions and intentions sorted out and the interactions helped me know what the next right thing was. I am convinced that without this quiet I would not have been able to navigate the chaotic days of the past month with as much calm and confidence as I have.

As the third anniversary of my divorce approaches, I sense I’m going through another passage—a new set of endings and beginnings. I no longer feel so raw and vulnerable. I have found new rhythms to my solitude and my active mothering. I am firmly planted on my two feet. I don’t fear the unknown. I feel a sturdy sense of, “I’ve got this,” no matter what life my throws my way next.

I am struck by how unbothered by my solitude I am. I have learned to love my own company. I sit alone in restaurants and don’t feel self-conscious. A weekend without my daughter no longer threatens to take me under as it did in the past. I am free of the crutch that social media in all its faux-closeness was for me. For a while I was text-dependent on friends who lived out of town. I had tricked myself into thinking that those texts could evaporate the distance. The truth is I had to come to terms with the fact that I live HERE. Not there. I had to surrender to the idea that my life was best lived on the soil I am planted in. Once I made that mental shift, I felt the peace wiggle into place. Like the tulips in my backyard, I am blooming where I am planted.
I am much more comfortable with the rhythms of my writing now. I understand that when I’m not physically writing, I am doing the mental work that will become something later. When I write, I end a session with Page Done. I don’t have to text a friend as accountability anymore. I am my own accountability.

I feel so much more settled now. I’ve never felt like this before. I also prize silences now. I do not fill awkward silences with chatter. I sit in the space and wait for meaningful words to come. If they don’t, I don’t fight that either.
“All will be well and all will be well and every kind of thing shall be well.” -Julian of Norwich

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Why I left Facebook

In the early days, Facebook closed geographical distances. I could watch the children of family and friends grow up photo by photo. In the case of my international roommate from college, I could see her in her daily life in a way that three or four letters a year could not illustrate. When I dig deeper, I see that Facebook in those early days was a lifeline. It created a connection in other places that was not secure in my home. It served as an analgesic. It numbed the pain of not being seen by the one who was “supposed” to see me.

Then came the days when I was writing more and Facebook served as a distribution service. My blog was far from being a household name, but if I posted a link to my posts, a small band of faithful readers would click on the links. Some would even comment. In this space, my confidence grew as did my voice and writing chops.

Over time though, I noted that I spent a lot of time checking Facebook. Had anyone “liked” my latest post or commented on a piece of writing? I didn’t like the trend I felt stirring in me. I considered posting my blog links on Facebook as practice runs for when my writing had a broader audience. I didn’t want to lose sight of the reason I was writing in the first place: for the love of crafting words into sentences, into paragraphs, into pages. Writing is the closest I’ll ever come to being an artist. I depend on my words to paint pictures, to sculpt something out of the lump of clay that is the blank page.

Really successful artists comment time again about how they don’t read the reviews or listen to the adulation. The good and bad comments are different sides of the same coin. I appreciated that my band of fans were so encouraging, but I didn’t want to become dependent on them. I also wanted to be prepared for when the reviews weren’t so great.  

While I was logged on looking for reader reactions, I also stumbled onto an insight that changed everything for me and my future with Facebook: the collective we were being overpowered and divided up by the belief that we needed to express every single opinion we had, and we behaved like it was our job to convince others how wrong they were.

In the months leading up to this realization, I had chosen not to unfriend people whose beliefs were so different than mine. I was determined to find a way to find unity in spite of difference. Cutting people out didn’t seem like the peacemakers way. And then I remembered something else. Facebook hadn’t changed who we were, it had simply made these opinions we held more public. For the most part, we’d all been voting the way we’d voted for years, but Facebook created a platform for discussion that turned into impasses.

I’d been contemplating leaving Facebook for a while. I wanted to be reminded of what life felt like before I spent so much time thinking about how to document my life in words and pictures to post. I had tried not logging on, but that hadn’t been very successful. I found the draw was too strong, and that truth worried me. I didn’t like to think that I was one of the many Facebook users “addicted” to it.

Lent approached and I considered deactivating my account. I removed the app from my phone and it helped ease my distraction, especially since I was also now without a laptop. But the morning after the Parkland school shooting, I logged in and that’s when I knew it was time. I was unsettled by the fact that in the marketplace of opinions and assertions, I was seeing so little upset over the latest shooting. No matter where one stands on guns, I was disturbed that we seemed complacent about this latest tragedy.

That morning I went through the steps to deactivate my account. Facebook gave me opportunities to change my notification settings and to take a short break, but I wanted to sever ties for the time being, to take a stronger stand for life offline.

What I was not prepared for was how little I missed it. I knew in my gut (remember her, Calliope?)that the connections I wanted I could access in real life. It was a relief to not pick up my phone and scroll mindlessly. I returned to writing in my journal. I remembered that I didn’t need to tell anyone else what I was thinking for it to be valid. I validated my own experience and it was enough. Far more than enough. I was finishing books at a much quicker rate. It’s amazing how much reading I could accomplish undistracted.
I also have a child who now has a cell phone. She'd been remarking about how much time I spent on my phone. I wanted to be a good influence. I wanted her to see that I could walk away from the draw of my phone.

I also wanted to lose my sense of activism that was really only expressed by sharing an article or posting a comment here and there. I want to be an activist in real time, and I needed to remove the temptation of keyboard activism to figure out how that would look in my real life.

Being away also gave me space to contemplate my writing and how I would continue to build a readership without the benefit of Facebook. I don’t have my answers yet, but I know better how much I want to write for the sake of writing and less for the comment section. That has been an important inner conversation to have with myself and one that might have been less likely to take place if I didn’t break my Facebook habit.

I didn’t leave social media completely. I continued posting photos and telling stories on Instagram. (You can find me @journalingjulie)But that online space feels different. I enjoy scrolling through friends’ posts, but I don’t get sucked in. I don’t feel my anxiety spike. I am inspired by the photos and words in a way I lost on Facebook.

Lent has been over for more than a week. I’m technically “allowed” to return to Facebook, but I have very little motivation to do so. I don’t have answers to all the questions my leaving Facebook has posed, but I know that I am living life with far more intention and attention than I had been under the influence of Facebook. As Rainer Maria Rilke advised, I am living in the questions hopeful that one day I’ll discover I am living the answers.