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What I've gained from stepping away from social media
It has now been over two months since I took social media apps off my phone and changed my passwords into something long and unrememberable, which I then purposely did not save to my password manager. It really did take this drastic step to get me to stop opening Twitter and Instagram, to stop staring at them.
I will say, as always, that you may have a different take. Maybe you can handle it. But as someone who laps up praise and attention like the star banana in the fruit circus, it was really hard for me to disengage. I had the dueling desires of wanting to be paid attention to, and also wanting to get my writing done, and at a certain point I realized that I had to give up one of them. And since the writing is my actual job, that's the one I picked.
I've been thinking a lot about attention. In Attention: A Love Story by Casey Schwartz, she talks about how the -tention root of attention and intention means "to stretch." When you pay attention to something, you are stretching yourself towards it, and when you act with intention, you're stretching yourself inward. Both are important.
Let me tell you this: the longer I'm off social media, the easier it is to stay off. When I dip back in, now, it has much less of a hold on me. Again, if you are able to be on social media and get writing done, go for it! I don't want to sound at all like I'm shaming anyone who's on there. I looked at it daily for a long, long time. I'm saying that if you keep trying to stop using it, and you keep finding yourself staring at it again, you can do like I did (which was the advice of Cal Newport) and throw some obstacles in your way for logging on.
Mostly I'm surprised by the amount of time I got back in my day. I didn't realize how much time scrolling on social media ends up taking. Hours. Hours a day, sometimes. Now I'm reading and writing, and standing casually in the kitchen when my kids come home from school, being a potted plant parent in case they want to talk in my direction.
I set up a budget app for the first time in my life. I never had time for it before. (I chose Tiller, if you're interested, but YNAB was a close second.)
I have so much extra time in each day that I started going to a spin class. Yes, I realize I'm decades late to this trend. But not being on social media gave me the time to think, "You know what sounds like fun?" and then pretty much show up at a spin studio on a complete whim, and now I go every morning at 6 am. I'm not saying this to brag. Wait, yes, I'm absolutely saying this to brag. But mostly I'm saying that now I'm doing things for me, with intention, instead of for other people, strangers on the internet.
There is great relaxation in doing things and not trying to figure out what aspect of the thing would make a good post. Just this morning, there was a beautiful peachy pink sunrise, and I stood in front of my house enjoying it without trying to figure out how to take a good photo, without posting it with the time stamp to prove I got up early. There is a relief to baking a loaf of bread and then not taking a photo of it, but just, you know, eating it. There is clarity in having my kid say something hilarious, and keeping it to myself. And there is for sure something empowering to going to a spin class in a dark room first thing in the morning so I can sweat profusely and have someone yell a curse-laden pep talk at me.
And then there's the writing. Writing takes so long. It always has. It's supposed to take a long time. I need to come at a story so many different ways, over a period of months, or years, in order to figure it out. Having more time, not thinking so much about the feed, is making it easier to get in the flow, and easier to get the stories down. In the last two months, I've finished a middle grade revision, written a zero draft of a new middle grade, finished a picture book, and started a few more.
I find I don't care at all anymore about missing out on things. I was thinking recently about a time in 2001 when I was a freelance judge for a kid's story contest, and I came upon a story about SpongeBob SquarePants. At the time, I had never heard of SpongeBob, and I was so delighted by this kid who came up with such a clever name. But then I found two more stories about SpongeBob, and I realized it must be some bit of culture I didn't know, and laughed about it. I felt no shame for not knowing it. Why would I? And I'm ok getting back to that place. I'm ok being in a place of not knowing what everyone is talking about all the time.
I keep thinking about the Jennifer Egan interview I saw on PBS News Hour, about her new book, The Candy House, which is written from multiple points of view, and in multiple styles, and is about a world in which you can upload your memories to a giant cube, and anyone can view them (she had a great short story in the New Yorker called "What the Forest Remembers" which has a similar intriguing premise). In the interview, she is asked whether fiction is still relevant in our tech-focused, fragmented world, and she says that it's still relevant, because people are still curious about wanting to see into other people's minds, BUT: "there is one slight problem, which is that we are so image-fixated as a culture now, and the screens reinforce that every moment, and we are so used to skidding around and not focusing that long on any one thing, that the muscles that are required to actually read a book can feel a little flabby. I just want to keep people's imaginations strong and nimble enough to have those experiences." I want my brain to be strong and nimble. I want to think deeply. I want to read deep books. I want to write deep books. My favorite picture books are deep and layered. I want to write like that. And being on the internet too much was stopping me from doing that.
I'm still learning. I'm still distractible. I have a piece of paper taped to my computer monitor that just says "MYELIN!" to remind me that I want to keep building myelin, keep strengthening my ability to think nimbly, so I can write from a place of joyful openness, curiosity, and inspiration, not from being fragmented and angry.
I want to take my time, to go slowly if that's what's needed. I accept the fact that I'll never get everything done. There's never enough time. And if that's true, I'd rather spend that time writing than logging on to a place that feels like asking to have hot sauce repeatedly thrown in my face. I'll write instead, stand in the kitchen near my teenagers instead, look at the pink morning sky all by myself, instead.
Kirkus Reviews says Rick the Rock of Room 214 is a "sweet, gentle tale" that "rocks," and that Ruth's illustrations are "delightfully expressive and deeply appealing" (which they definitely are). I was not prepared for a review being full of rock puns! Have you preordered yet? (Remember, you can always get signed, personalized copies from Print: A Bookstore.)
Thoughts and Links
I'm still doing the exercise where I read a short story and then play around writing a picture book in response to it. This list of short stories from Book Riot was fun to play with, and many of them are available for free online.
I love that Jessie Sima's career began by sketching horses as a middle schooler.
I liked the first season of The Outlaws, most of all for when Christopher Walken calls Stephen Merchant "High Pockets" (because he's so tall!).
You all know how much I love the JetPens pen samplers, and I have just learned they have color samplers, where you might get a notebook or pen pouch along with your pens. Dreaming about the brown or maybe the green.
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