Digging Out

Unintentionally, I stopped writing. Like the earth under layers of snow, I felt weighted down by the auspices of winter and the world at large. The news of the day is unrelenting, painful, infuriating. To make the choice to ignore it, means choosing to exercise privilege – a momentary state that many of us are in – aware, but untouched as of yet. Indulging ourselves with entertainment and distraction, because we know not exactly what to do. We send money or protest out into the world and then turn inward, safe once again, comforted by the knowledge that we did something.

canstockphoto14933208I’ve been feeling a lot of discomfort about that and my forays into social media are coming to an end. There are always those who go on about its usefulness and of staying “in the know” and the value of connection. I suspect that they have great mental filters, that their skin is thick – that they don’t internalize things. They are able to take away more from it than what is taken. It’s funny how physically tough I can be, but will lay awake at night because some rando on the internet insulted me.

When I was a child, I was frequently told I was too sensitive. It took a long time out in the world to build an armor of sarcasm, a facial expression to scare off men, women, children, and pets. I focused on being physically adept and stronger, because that was another kind of toughness. I developed a dark sense of humor, learned to laugh harshly when I was frightened or despairing. But the tender part is necessary to who I am. It is not going away. And it feels battered.

canstockphoto28476729FOMO (fear of missing out) is an easy disease to catch. I love learning – reading about all kinds of things and people. The information age is a heady, addictive time – to have access to anything I’d like to learn. The learning is a shell game though. What one gains in quantity, one loses in quality. The faster and easier information is acquired, the less permanence it has. My brain is cycling shorter and shorter. In essence, I feel less capable of the nuanced thinking that produces meaningful discourse and art. I’m spending far too much time arguing in my head with bytes of pithiness.

I’ve deactivated Twitter, cancelled Amazon Prime, locked down Facebook (I have to maintain it for a volunteer organization I work for), and am returning to the simple life of a writer/blogger/reader. I miss my brain before Twitter and Facebook. I miss being able to sit with stillness. Some people are able to do it all, but I am not one of them. An introvert in the world is an introvert online. There is only so much time and energy. And I want to reclaim mine.

The Ballad of the Unhappy Tweeter

It sits like lead in the belly – the impotence of social media.

Write a thoughtful response. Delete with frustration.

Write an angry response. Delete with embarrassment.

Witness the stupid, the self-important, the self-righteous.

Performative -isms.

Bragging about their gods and guns and wokeness.

Flippant. Send brightly-colored hearts and smiley faces and special punctuation.

Passive-aggressive positivity.

Faux patriotism.

Pledge your fealty to the troops who suck sand for suited men.

Chuckling on the golf course about loopholes.

Copy, paste, copy, paste.

Meme, meme, meme.

Faux intellectualism.

Self-identifying conspiracy theorists, Christian, libertarian, bro, coward, crypto-fan, cultist, racist, misogynist

who want to be inside the bodies they deride or subjugate them to the state.

Fondling their threats of violence in the shape of guns.

1A is for thee, but not for those others.

2A as self-esteem.canstockphoto10130744

Copy, paste, copy, paste.

Meme, meme, meme.

To leave the platform is heresy.

You will be unfollowed.

You will be untethered, unpublished, unimportant.

As you were before the crowd entered your brain.

Deactivate

The room empties.

You plant your feet on terra firma.

Rendered invisible, but able to see once again.

cropped-canstockphoto9028280.jpg

My Year in Writing

This is the time of year when everything comes under scrutiny. Too much chocolate. Check. Not enough exercise. Check. Too many episodes of The Office. Check. Writing? Another slow year, but some progress all the same. I look at the past writing year as the Year of Scaring Myself or perhaps the Year When It Finally Made Sense to Scare Myself.

As ever, I write this more for me than anyone else. But I put it on the blog, because somebody always has a good idea, some good news about their own writing, or they’re of the misery-loves-company ilk and we can just nod our heads knowingly before we get back to work.

Blogging & Social Media

In a few weeks, I’ll have been blogging for seven years. Normally, I’d do the will-I-or-canstockphoto14933208won’t-I-continue-blogging evaluation, but I’m skipping it this year. Each time an anniversary rolls around, I look at the blog’s stats, think about engagement, and all the other metrics that I’m supposed to care about. Then I willfully ignore it, because it’s highly unlikely I’ll change anything. It’s just an exercise in self-flagellation.

Blogging is an odd little art form. It’s like that middle-aged person who keeps showing up at college parties, head bobbing, trying to look cool and fit in, but everyone else gives side-eyes and smirks. Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, and WhatsApp stand around exchanging witty zingers and astronomical stats while the Blog laughs in the background like it actually gets the jokes.

Twitter and I will never be friends. In the last couple of months, I’ve developed an impressively long block list as a way of curating out people who don’t understand word definitions or whose profiles are either bragging, threatening, or so loaded with hashtags and emoticons as to be eyesores. Nor am I going to look up the pretentious Latin to find out if you’re a complete wanker in more than one language.

I am not well-suited to the medium, but it’s useful for keeping up on the dismantling of democratic norms. Last week I again reported the President of the United States for targeted harassment against news reporters. Happy times.

Facebook is such rubbish aesthetically that I don’t have the patience to read feeds for long. I use it because an organization that I volunteer for needed a page. And I can now answer in the affirmative when people ask if I’m on the damned thing. I keep getting friend requests from people I’ve never heard of and I wonder at the pathology of it all.

I haven’t yet bothered with LinkedIn or Instagram or tumblr (for the lack of capitalization and shitty spelling) and it’s unlikely I’ll ramble any further afield in social media unless I hit it big and can pay someone else to do it.

So I continue to write blog posts, mostly because I don’t fit in with the cool kids. I’m not capable of snappy one-liners and photo editing on the fly. Blogging is just the right speed for me and there are still a lot of people sharing my lane.

Shifting from Playacting to Action

If there were ever a case of How To Be a Writer By Doing Everything But Writing, I’d been that for years. I’ve done workshops, conferences, read how-to books, designed business cards, etc. I was doing more peripheral activities than actually writing. On the plus side, I am a fount of writing knowledge, have great editing skills, and recognize good writing when I see it. On the down side, I’m in ongoing recovery from the imposter syndrome.

canstockphoto35901016The last couple of years have been about putting meat on the bone. Writing more, playacting less. This has also meant getting a painful reality check. Recognizing the gap between my skill set and what kind of writer I envisioned myself being. It meant cutting the daydreaming and fantasies out and looking at what I was actually capable of – my bucket of cold water moment as a writer. Awareness is the first step apparently.

The shivering, stripped-of-delusions writer arrives at the crossroads. Give it all up, contemptuously shoving drafts away and picking up watercolors or stamp collecting. Awareness is giving way to courage or perhaps simply bullheadedness. I don’t know anything else I’d rather do. I don’t know if I’ll ever “make it” as a writer, but I am still breathing, so I will continue.

I am easily discouraged in one moment, but barrelling forward in the next. I’m in my fifties, I don’t have an MFA, I don’t have connections, I don’t have a platform that anyone cares about in particular. I haven’t been published. Every morning I get up and I still write. I wasn’t doing that ten years ago.

I submitted work this year, even though each time I hit the “Submit” button, I wanted to vomit. My work was rejected. It didn’t bother me (I really thought it should). So I have learned what I have control over as a writer and what I don’t. I read work out loud on a weekly basis in front of people, through heart-pounding anxiety. I wasn’t doing any of these things a year ago. It makes me look forward to wherever writing takes me next year.

canstockphoto293181In talking with other writers and doing some mentoring, I’ve discovered a passion beyond just spitting out my own words. I love working to help people improve their writing and I know a lot about how to do that. It’s also forced me to review grammar, sentence structure, and the rhythm of language (why one phrase or paragraph reads better than another). Editing has become a discovery process and it is pushing me to be more experimental with my own writing.

The Year Ahead

I don’t have concrete goals at the moment. Those are in development. I have nebulous intentions: be more brave, work harder at writing. These things go hand in hand. It takes a certain kind of bravery (or obliviousness) each day to wake up and do a thing you love, that may never be anything more than what it is.

How was your year? What do you look forward to in the upcoming year?

I Need a Decon Shower: A Week on Twitter

I set up the account, started poking around, did some following, did some unfollowing, and spent most of my time on Twitter using the Block function. I didn’t Tweet a single thing, because I don’t trust myself. There are a lot of reasons for this, but mostly because I’m having a long run of insomnia. My judgment is impaired and my defenses against bullshit are weakened. If I ended up dealing with some numbnut on Twitter, I would really screw my chances to be President. Hahahaha…cough, cough.

As a member of my own passive-aggressive anger management program, there is something so damned delightful about Blocking people. These are people who would likely never show up on my feed, who don’t follow me, who I’ve never interacted with. My sponsor tells me to take it one Tweet at a time. I’m pretty sure I’m getting a “You Could Be Worse” coin next week.

canstockphoto3368485There isn’t much to learn about human nature on Twitter, except that self-definition ofttimes has a high degree of self-delusion. I respect a person’s right to believe whatever they want, but if you want to be public about it, you may want to check your values alignment. I’ve never seen so many Christians who hate so many people. Or Constitutionalist libertarians who, by their own comments, have never actually read the document they ascribe to. Or patriots who slap a flag on everything and think their guns are more important than the rights of other citizens to, you know, be alive. It is clear that words have no real meaning on this venue.

I’m currently reading Rebecca Solnit’s Call Them by Their True Names: American Crises (and Essays). I think a lot about language and how it is used these days – so often as a weapon and insult and much less to convey true meaning. Words that used to have real, concrete meanings, take on an amorphous cloud of denigration and implied values.

Once we call it by name, we can start having a real conversation about our priorities and values. Because the revolt against brutality begins with a revolt against the language that hides brutality.

Rebecca Solnit, Call Them by Their True Names: American Crises (and Essays)

As a writer, I can spend hours thinking about word choices, seeking the words that best convey an emotion or character’s intent or, as in the case of blogging, my intent. I understand why many writers avoid social media. It dumbs down language. We write as we read, which is why I am constantly forcing myself to read up. Twitter is about reading down. Of making the complex seem simple. Of rendering points moot and words meaningless.

canstockphoto27625102Some would ascribe this to its limitations of characters, but the narrative distance of typing on a computer to strangers adds another facet, as well as the speed of response. Many people feel that they are not accountable for putting bullshit out into the world. For lies. For ignorance. For made-up meanings to words that already have well-established meanings. Thus far, my experience on Twitter has simply reinforced the idea that its usefulness is limited.

There are many things of which a wise man might wish to be ignorant.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

There were people who I followed who were very funny. Levity is good. We need some of it to balance out the doom and gloom. But inevitably, their Tweets had heavy political components, which led to me Blocking a whole slew of commenting knuckleheads – people I hope to never hear from again. By the end of the week, I carefully curated my Follow list down to literary journals and fellow writers, determining that my feed will only be about literature and writing and working as a writer.

canstockphoto11497160This isn’t to say that I didn’t spend the week thinking up quippy bon mots that I could Tweet. But I have a feeling I’ll be managing my social media communications like angry letters to an ex-boyfriend – holding onto them until the morning, by which time they don’t seem as well-reasoned or worth sending. And then I’ll send nothing. I have to work on that and learn not to be terrified that I’ll send something out with a typo. Because you can’t put “Writer” in your profile and then barf out mangled Tweets. Although a curiously large amount of people do that.

I haven’t even tackled the Facebook chaos yet. I’m still trying to understand who sees what and what I’m going to get stuck with seeing. I would like to believe that eventually this aesthetically ugly platform will die out and be replaced with something better. I will have finally gotten through all the Terms of Service by then. My brief forays in Facebook remind me of the days when I would get urban legend emails about needles in theater seats and Budweiser frogs. It all seems just a bit spammy and fictionalized.

canstockphoto10130733This week, I’m committing to sending out my first Tweet, in addition to my blog posts being pushed out. I’m sure it will only take 3 or 4 days to compose and a night to sleep on it. If you choose to follow me on Twitter, you have my apologies in advance. But at least I won’t clutter your feed.

Me & Social Media: I Feel a Bad Moon Rising

I have written many times over the years about eschewing social media, most notably, Twitter and Facebook. But it’s becoming a problem, because everybody and their grandmothers are on it, including businesses and writing groups and offline groups that I’m involved in. It’s become more of a pain in the ass to avoid it, than to throw up some accounts and give in to a zeitgeist I missed by about ten years and still find just a little repulsive.

canstockphoto14835320Maybe it will be like the year my family took an Amtrak vacation shortly after a fatal train crash. We rationalized that we should still go, since the company would be upping their safety checks – perhaps it was even the safest time to go. Now that social media platforms are being raked over the coals and forced to come to terms with the idea that their platforms are shitty human free-for-alls and treasonous manure spreaders, maybe some things will change. Except people don’t. And companies tend to subvert their shittiness, rather than improve their products. I’m pretty sure it’s all going to still be a time-wasting swamp of excrement.

That being said, I’m going to open accounts, connect with the people I need to connect with, and then hope like hell I can navigate it all without tossing my phone, computer, and self from the nearest bridge. Things are getting intense with writing and I’ve got to learn to connect with people and organizations that support my intentions. It sounds just dreadful.

canstockphoto59497944In the past, it seemed important to have a clear delineation between professional and personal selves. These days, every day is casual day, the profane blends with the political, and metaphorically everyone is in sweatpants. I’m not sure how I feel about that. There is the judgmental voice in my head from my prudish, proper, spit-shine-your shoes, stiff-upper-lip background – impacted by my British mother and grandmother and a stint in the military. And then there is the hippie liberal, comfortable means confidence, pay-attention-to-substance-not-surface, throw-no-stones person that I often long to be.

Of course, nothing is binary these days, which loads us down with the paradox of choice and forces those of us from different generations to really examine what standards we’re holding onto and why. Communication is no different. We are in an age where very prominent, powerful people are running our lives from their toilet seats – where people don’t vet anything before they spew it out. Much like self-published literature could use more editors, social media could use a little self-censorship. But I have to decide what that looks like for myself. Where are my lines in the sand?

canstockphoto14835421I sometimes naively mention my blog to people and am horrified when they want to know what the URL is. Then I’ll quickly denigrate it – oh, it’s nothing, just a little something I threw together, you don’t want to waste your time… I’ve written a lot of personal stories here, used some blue language, rattled off a political opinion or twenty. The thought of people I see regularly, reading it, makes me want to throw up just a bit. When someone says they’ve read my blog, I feel a bit like I’ve just woken up in front of a panel of judges. In my underwear. Yet I have no intention of changing the tone of the blog.

One of my writing kicks lately has been to really think about narrative distance and how that impacts what kind of information we relay – both in fiction and on social media. I feel distance from my writing when I type it – as if I’m writing about someone else. I can say the most vulnerable, revealing things and it feels like I’m just telling a story. If I feel that way about my own writing, I have to pay attention about how I interact with others who write online. Do I make the connection between what they write and their humanity?

canstockphoto14835466The problem with this approach are the insincere, attention hogs who view social media as some sort of stage upon which they can play act any role. Provocateurs and narcissists and sociopaths populate these venues, savoring the idea that they are the puppet masters of others’ emotions, while taking no responsibility for the division and spitefulness they sow. Then there are the maternal, smiley emoticon people who tsk, tsk any negative emotions, trying to have everyone make nice, no matter what the issue. And then there are people like me – a little narcissistic in writing publicly, constantly irritated by bad grammar, and so easily baited into anger by blatant ignorance. I am not well-suited to these venues.

But it’s 2018 and staying true to my interest in anything pop culture, I’m a decade behind the curve. I look forward to the next decade when I get into Instagramma and Crapchat.

My Trip to Twitter Land

canstockphoto19233296After deleting my Facebook account, I decided to evaluate Twitter. I’ve tried to look at it over the years, but it never hooked me. A pulled hamstring and twisted knee have made me more stationary these last couple of weeks, so it was a good time to review it again. I followed some people and organizations, read through trending Tweets, and have come to the conclusion that Twitter is not healthy for me. I deactivated my account.

The final straw was reading a Tweet that a woman had posted. Her 4-year-old said she wanted a lady dentist at the dentist’s office. Kids say a lot of strange and funny things. Adults on the other hand, can be complete and utter assholes. Grown humans immediately piled on, railing against feminism, bad parenting, and referring to the 4-year-old in every snide way possible. My child once said she wanted to live in a tree. If I’d said it on Twitter, I’d have been doxxed by arbor lovers and castigated for teaching my child to discriminate against houses – in much creepier and toxic terms.

canstockphoto26171619Part of my experience of Twitter, was the passive-aggressive hobby of muting and blocking people who I found irritating – the MAGAs, the people with full weapon arsenals in their profiles, the religious ranters, the misogynists, the people who had fifteen million emoticons in their user names. Apparently emoticons have evolved to high heel shoes and American flags. And criminy, hashtags render everything into a convoluted mishmash of eye-screwing chaos.

I blocked people who felt the need to advertise that they were patriots or God followers or that they had superior intellect. I find advertisement to be the red flag of self-definition. If you feel the need to advertise your moral high ground, I can only assume you are hiding toxic personality traits and eventually will tell me that I’m a libtard, a feminazi, the grammar police, and a bad parent. Twitter encourages the use of labels and categories and it all seems like the squawking of parrots and derivative categorization. It also encourages judgment.

canstockphoto50409609There is something unhealthy about seeing the worst of humanity’s thoughts on a daily basis and having elaborate, but silent arguments with them. The trick is, I think, to carefully curate who you follow and not to read anything beyond the original comment. I don’t have that kind of self-control or thick skin and if I started to respond to any of the many jerks who populate Twitter, I’d barely manage to feed and clean myself. The grammar corrections alone would render me frozen in front of my computer 24/7.

Perhaps it is my addictive personality. The fact that I have played 3 billion games of Freecell in my lifetime is a tip off. Or that in the six months after I discovered casino poker machines, I never had any money for more than ten minutes. I had to go cold turkey. I’ve spent more time in my life quitting bad things than starting good things. So I know this road and Twitter looks an awful lot like years of my life about to be sucked into the internet.

I assume there are normal people out there, who could take or leave habits, who know when to get offline or put down their phones. I am not one of them. And I can’t really afford to indulge my compulsions. I’m 50 and have a shitload of things I’d still like to do with my life.

canstockphoto52762970I’ve heard that there are positive things about using Twitter. There are writers who seem to handle the whole thing swimmingly – John Scalzi and Chuck Wendig have made it part of their careers. And I admire that particular skill set, but I have to finally admit, I’m not built for it. I move too slowly, think things over until they’re reduced to milquetoast responses. My sense of humor is an acquired taste, I have never been called a “wit” in any social setting, and sometimes I’m fiercely, fiercely angry.

I have to agree with Ta-Nehisi Coates who said something to the effect that having an immediate public platform for his thoughts was not good for him. It’s not good for me, either. I could do it, but at what cost to my organic thought processes? There are other writers I enjoy reading who are also not on Twitter, which seems like a career-damning thing to do, although most of them are established writers with high level platforms in the form of big name publishers or national magazines and papers.

canstockphoto10130744Still, I can’t change who I am in response to what may or may not be an eventual writing success. And it will be a success I never have, if I spend my time doing things that are not productive and that extract hours out of my day. Social media is, in capable hands, a useful tool. In my hands, it becomes an unwieldy addiction. That’s a hard-won admission that surely cements me into the category of codger, but I think I’m #okaywiththat.

Lions, Lambs, and Fools

March was a wonderful, terrible kind of month, which means more writing material than I could put in one post. While I’m glad to be back, taking the month of March off from blogging was a good plan. I’ve refilled my mental reservoir, wrangled with some writing demons, and have reoriented to continue my mission.

On the Domestic Front

I am celebrating 18 years of wedded bliss today. We’ve survived each other’s foibles and families and now we’re just watching each other deteriorate. But we’re still laughing and that’s not nothing. In a few years, when our daughter sets off on her own, we’ll be shuttling each other to doctor’s appointments and not speaking for hours on end because we’ve already said it fifty times before. We just need to wait a little longer until we’re more forgetful and it will all seem new again. Ah, the ties that bind.

canstockphoto1577266We’ve had another busy month with our in-house band. In addition to playing viola, violin, and piano, my daughter has decided to pick up saxophone. We should get a bulk discount for rental instruments and I should get some parenting points for letting sax happen. When I was 14, I was listening to Rick Springfield and playing Baroque music on my flute. My kid is playing Ellington and Dvorák and songs from Hamilton. I love how the internet has enabled us to experience a wider slice of the world.

Winter returned with a vengeance after a couple of false springs. We’re in for sub-freezing temps for the next week with a chance of middling depression.

Disconnects

In this episode of “free isn’t free”, I closed my Facebook account. I wasn’t using it, didn’t find it interesting, and finally stopped lying to myself about what professional tools I needed. I wasn’t much help to Cambridge Analytica. To make up for it, I just mailed all my critical data to the RNC and the Kremlin. Привет, Господин Путин.

canstockphoto12227677.jpgWhen The Atlantic hired Kevin Williamson last month, I cancelled my subscription. I’ve finally hit a wall with media entities that give platforms to every wingnut on the spectrum lest someone accuse them of being biased or they lose a market share. The defense for the hire is that his writing is great – if great means deliberately provocative. There are a lot of great writers and most of them don’t advocate that women who have abortions be hanged. Skill does not excuse malevolence.

I started digging into Twitter, trying to decide if I need that account out there, collecting dust. What I learned is that people feel very strongly about Roseanne Barr and like to pick on high school kids. I’m not sure that this is useful for me to know. I don’t watch evening television, nor do I care for celebrity fealty, a concept that baffles me on many levels. I’m still not sure if Twitter is particularly useful as anything but a distraction. I dusted it off, took a look, and put it back on the shelf until the next time.

Writing

I wrote more in the last month than I have in the last year. I also forced myself to submit an essay for a contest, only to be overtaken by the worst panic attack I’ve had in years. It led to a lot of soul-searching and I’ve gotten fierce about how I approach writing and my work process.

I finally finished Hillary Rettig’s The 7 Secrets of the Prolific: The Definitive Guide to canstockphoto5169727Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Writer’s Block, spurred on by my disastrous attempt to submit work. There were moments in the book where I was gut-punched, as she accurately described my experiences as a writer. She also gave a lecture worth looking at, if any of these issues are yours. I don’t get writer’s block, but I do drive myself crazy with perfectionism and procrastination (which are blocks of my own design). She provided some very helpful insight.

While I’ve learned that every writer and their process is different, the key word is “process”. What is really happening with the writing? What are the habits and thought patterns that serve as obstacles? And holy shit, lady, can you please just write without editing for once? These are the tough questions I’ve been wrangling with in the quest to be more productive, creative, and successful.

Coming to a Blog Near You

canstockphoto7243840After my futile search for a book club aimed at writers, I’ve decided to set up one of my own online. I’ve been doing a lot of research on what might work and have put together a website, so look for a blog post announcement in the next week or so for the TGS Writers’ Book Club.

Happy April!