Life Without Facebook

It’s been several weeks since I quit Facebook and I wanted to share a little of what it’s been like for me, both as a person and as a writer trying to make my way through the traditional publishing gauntlet.

Pro: I’ve been much more emotionally stable since quitting FB which has led to deeper and more frequent work sessions on my current novel. When I’m mentally churning about something, it’s hard to get into a place where I’m really focused. No junky FB input=clearer brain=better work.

Con: I do not wish friends a Happy Birthday until I accidentally remember several days after the fact. I did not know when a friend’s grandmother passed away recently. I found out days later and felt sad that I hadn’t been able to reach out when it happened.

Pro: I do not write statuses that are either superfluous OR controversial. I do not spend one second wondering if what I write will be misconstrued or ignored. I do not fear the rage police.

Con: I kind of don’t know what’s going on.

Pro: I like people more now that I don’t know what they’re saying online. I pray more for them instead of judging them. I’m helped to do this because I’m not in a constant state of outrage or disagreement. I’m a kinder person in my thought life.

Con: I can’t see my literary agent’s FB posts. These are an easy way to get the latest industry/agency updates or anything else she thinks we should know. It makes me uncomfortable that I have to email her with questions she might already have addressed.

Pro: I have less anxiety now that I’m not bombarded with endless hot takes on sensationalized news stories by people who may not know what they’re talking about. I’m sleeping better than I was.

Con: I’m a writer, and I’m not building a platform on the largest social media site on the planet. I don’t seem socially conscious or concerned because I’m not publicly commenting on issues. I’m basically invisible.

Here’s something interesting, though: a few weeks after quitting FB, I got a personal email from the editor of a major print and online publication (to be revealed later) asking me to write a column for their Jan/Feb edition. When I asked how he found me–after picking my jaw off the floor–he said, “I was on your website, though, honestly, I’m not sure how I ended up on there!”

To be clear, I did not query this publication. I did not go looking for an opportunity to platform build. This came to me, and I was shocked. As a Christian, I immediately knew it was a little sign, a gift from God reminding me that I don’t have to go insane in pursuit of publication or praise or platform. That he has my life in his hands and that, no matter what happens, I can trust him.

So, am I glad I got off Facebook, all things considered? Yes. I’m infinitely better off without it, and I have no intention of going back. But more importantly, I’m reminded that I do not have to do what everyone else is doing if it isn’t good for me. You don’t, either.

Bringing Sexy Back (or Possibly Something Much Better)

Our semester is dying. We are not finished with the teacher/student things of this world, but we can feel our minds letting go, anyway.

In times like these, I find myself 1). staring out the window at the ivy we planted to cover our chainlink fence, and 2). looking for shows on Netflix. I’m okay with staring at the ivy. I’m not proud of the Netflix shopping. I realize I may be the last person in the U.S. to feel shame of any kind–especially shame over Netflix, but here we are.

Anyway, I found an Australian show awkwardly titled Bringing Sexy Back. It’s like Biggest Loser only with one or two contestants whose main goal it is to become “healthier” (which everyone knows really means to get thin and look hot). I have binge watched this show for the last two nights, and I hate myself for it.

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It’s supposed to be heartwarming and fun, but it’s actually profoundly depressing. To begin with, the hosts make people who hate their bodies stand in spandex on a stage before a live audience. The contestants are forced to see how fat they are in numbers and percentages, and most of them cry. Then, to address the problem, a trainer makes them work out so hard broken capillaries crop up under their eyes. Since no one can sustain that level of exercise for the rest of her life, this seems like a cruel and non-permanent solution to being fat. Plus, it’s humiliating.

The rest of the show is pretty predictable. When they’ve lost enough weight to be considered okay, the thinner-than-before contestants get their hair and makeup done and wear fashionable clothes (that, honestly, still look ill-fitting half the time). Their loved ones watch them process down a catwalk, and it’s their turn to sob. They gasp and praise, and it feels like our contestants have finally won the right to be accepted.

In the end, though, even after chair squats and chicken cutlets, the contestants stand on the stage, uneven, wobbly human beings with wrinkles and the occasional jacked-up tooth. The “shocking” transformations they’ve undergone are–am I allowed to say it?–sort-of meh. So many burpees for meh.

It makes me sad. Because, also? After the show, these people are going to battle loose skin, swallow endless, well-chewed bites of salad, work out until their knees are shot, and, eventually, get old and die. That’s their future–and mine. And while I’m not saying people shouldn’t care about their health and take charge of it, I am saying our bodies don’t stay the way we want them to.

They get old and fat or too thin or wracked with cancer. We can’t put our hope there.

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Give me conversion stories or aha moments or just about anything that deals with the inner person, the soul that endures. Turns out, I’d take those over watching someone hate-lose 50 lbs and wear bronzer on TV.

This is my life at 41. Even when I’m bored, I want to think about things that will last.

On Choosing the Blue Cord

My family and I just got back from a short vacation in the mountains where we celebrated my in-laws’ fiftieth wedding anniversary. Fifty years is longer than I’ve been alive. It’s more than twice as long as my husband and I have been married. My in-laws make marriage look easy, though I know from 19 years’ experience it’s anything but.

I’m lucky. I have a deep friendship with my husband. We met in college and became inseparable in fairly short order, partly because we shared a major and partly because we just “clicked.” According to statistics, we have an advantage in seeing our marriage through to the end. After all, we married without a ton of debt. Our parents have stayed married to their spouses. We share household and childrearing responsibilities. We bend and flex for each other’s careers. Most importantly, we share a common religious faith.

Still, it’s hard to stay married, sometimes. Even for us.

As I stood on the back porch of our mountain cabin, I noticed two saplings tied together by a blue cord. They pressed against it in opposite directions, clearly wanting to grow apart, but someone had made sure they couldn’t. The blue cord holds them together no matter how hard the wind blows or how their own intertwined roots might cramp them.

Me, too, little trees. Me, too.

We choose our own cords, I thought. My in-laws chose theirs, and fifty years later, we are all better for their dogged determination not to untie themselves when things (inevitably) got hard.

I hope my children will say the same about my husband and me someday.

On Living This Moment Well (And the One After That)

My agent just sent my manuscript to three big publishers. Now there’s nothing for me to do but to continue my daily life, to not allow my thoughts to burn in a fire of what-if’s since I’m not promised tomorrow–or even 2:30 this afternoon. I want to wait well, though, so far, I am not successful.

My sister brought this beautiful Wendell Berry poem to my attention. For me, it sums up the struggle of being a human ruled by time.

“From the Crest”

I am trying to teach my mind
to bear the long, slow growth
of the fields, and to sing
of its passing while it waits.

The farm must be made a form,
endlessly bringing together
heaven and earth, light
and rain building back again
the shapes and actions of the ground.

Wendell Berry, Collected Poems (San Francisco: North Point, 1985), 190-91.

I would like to cool my mind, to accept the good gifts God gives me in the time He chooses to give them, or, maybe, to accept the withholding of them. I would like to teach my mind to bear long, slow growth, both today and tomorrow (if I’m still here).

Love > Art

My sister blew in to town this week. She’s one of my best friends, and I’m always happy when I get to see her. At the same time, I got my manuscript back from my agent. She had some ideas about things I should tweak to make my story stronger. Also, she wants me to up my mileage on social media (not something that comes naturally to me).

In other words, I have work to do.

But my sister lives hours away, and I don’t get to see her and my nieces and nephew very often. I don’t want to miss a minute with them.

This is how it always is: God gives me little opportunities to choose the most important thing in any given moment. Sometimes I choose the wrong thing. Sometimes I’m selfish or short-sighted. But this week I chose my sister, and I’m not sorry. It doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about my manuscript the whole time she’s been here because I sure as heck have. It just means I’ve been able to see things more clearly this time. I’ve been able to focus on what’s most valuable right now.

Writing is important, but people are more important. No amount of writing about people can make up for not actually loving them. So I chose the real characters in my life. And I chose to live a story instead of write one. This week, anyway.

The End.

On Curated Truth and Fake Vulnerability

Still over here thinking about vulnerability that helps connect us with others.

And now, after reading this article, I’m wondering about fake vulnerability–the kind that looks brave but is actually crafted and careful like those ridiculous #nofilter Instagram pics people love to post (No, really, she woke up like this).

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The first step to creating genuine connection with others is to be honest about where you’re coming from. Story: I just joined Twitter, and I wrestled with what to put in my bio. I didn’t want to say too much (or, Lord help me, use emojis), but I knew I needed to let people know a few true things. That way, if they aren’t interested in what I’m writing/thinking about, they can move on. No harm, no foul.

So I said I’m a Christian because that’s the realest thing about me. I’m aware putting that out there may cause some people to turn away immediately. I’m aware they might assume I’m writing “Christian fiction” when I’m actually trying to do something different.

I imagine most people want you to be upfront with them, though. They don’t want to feel like you’ve Trojan horse-d your viewpoint into their consciousness. If they don’t agree with what you’re saying, fine and good. At least you’ve been honest.

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The difference between real and fake vulnerability is…the truth. If someone sticks around after they know what you’re really about, guess what? You’re in a better position to say the things you really mean–and, in the end, maybe even help someone.

Art in the Second Half of Life

Some of the pros of pursuing a creative field in my forties are that

  • I feel calmer, braver, and less neurotic than I did when I was younger.
  • I’ve mostly raised my kids, so I don’t have Mom Guilt when I take time away from them to get better at my craft.
  • I’m more disciplined with my time because, honestly, there are fewer things in my life that feel like interesting distractions (with the possible exception of podcasts on unsolved murders).

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But there are cons, too.

  • I feel rushed, like I’m always on the verge of running out of time. It’s hard not to compare myself to twenty or thirty-somethings who are doing all the things I’m doing, but sooner, so the odds of success seem ever in their favor.
  • I get mentally exhausted sooner than I did in my twenties, and I wonder if my ideas are “safer” because of this mellow(er) decade.
  • I’m physically tired.

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In order to keep going, I have to remind myself that

  • I was meant to find this path at this time (I believe God directs our lives more than we realize).
  • My ideas are probably less wild but truer than if I’d written them down earlier. This is because I’ve lived more. I’ve sat in the shadows with people. I’ve traveled the world. This has to count for something.
  • My life is going to pass whether I pursue writing or not. Since there’s no slowing down the passage of time, I might as well spend some of it doing what I love.

Are you thinking of creating art in the second half of your life? If you need a little encouragement, check out these women who got published after the age of 40. 

Facing Silence

Last night I turned the last page of a book I’d been putting off finishing. I told myself I wasn’t making progress on it because I’m too busy, but the truth is that I was nervous it was going to wreck me. I’d heard a lot about Shusaku Endo’s Silence. My sister had read it. So had two of my kids.

Everyone I talked to said, “Just be in a good place when you read it.”

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I’m not in a particularly good place right now, but I felt this urge (sense of duty?) to finish it, for some reason. Maybe because my motto for my 40’s is: Don’t wait until you feel like doing [insert difficult, worthwhile thing] because you might not ever feel like it, and then what have you got?

I could edit this, but I won’t.

Now I’m on the other side of Silence, and I can’t stop thinking about it. Was it painful to read? Yes. Do I have a lump in my throat that I cannot currently swallow, even after three cups of coffee? Yes. Am I glad I pressed into the discomfort and questions and scenes of torture to get to the beauty? Emphatically, yes.

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I feel like this is a lesson–that it means something on a grander scale–but it’s too soon to tell. For now, I suspect it’s just one more example of how it’s better to face things than to avoid them. Even if what you’re avoiding is a heavy book.

Writing While Furious

There’s a lot to be angry about these days, and I find myself as susceptible as the next person to the slow burn of muted rage. And that’s just the stuff that has nothing to do with me. Factor in the mundane irritations, the occasional sleepless nights due to I-still-don’t-actually-know-what, the To-Do list that will not resolve itself, and I could stay ticked if I let myself.

Anger is an emotion I hate. I don’t feel energized by it the way some people do. To me, it’s nothing but pure body and soul malaise. It yanks my inner life into slow motion while morphing my external life into a pathetic series of jerkily completed tasks.

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One of the differences between writing for fun and turning pro is that you’ve decided you’ll do it when you feel inspired and calm–and when you feel awful. If I want to turn pro (and I do) it means I need a way to harness my occasional anger into creative energy until it burns away. Otherwise, it will become one more invitation not to move forward in my career.

This blog post isn’t how about to do that, because I haven’t figured it out yet (unless you count typing with ferocity). This is more of a personal memo, an item that needs to move to the top of my To-Do list for the foreseeable future. I have longterm ways of putting my anger into perspective, of giving my Big Scary Feels to God. I just need a short-term way to move forward creatively when the rage is still fresh and hot.