in defense of distraction…or…social media cures writer’s block

Much has been said lately about the destructive properties of sites like Facebook. It comes as no surprise to me that the information circulating now is that social media raises our insecurity factors and increases bouts of envy, that it might shorten our attention span, that it might help to erode our “in person” encounters. In a way, for social media addicts like me it is like telling someone who lives on Diet Coke about all the bad effects of diet drinks. They already know. Of course, they know but the draw of the thing they have come to love is stronger, in the long run, than the potential down sides.

This is where my diet drink comparison ends though because aspartame gives me a headache.

As I sat and stared at the blank page today for the balance of my writing time I found my anxiety level rising fast. I only have this small window of opportunity to write every day and that window will dwindle when two of my kids start going to “real school” in the Fall and homeschool ramps up for the other two kids at home. I’ll have to get up earlier, I’ll have to make sure there are clean clothes for people, I’ll have to pack lunches, I’ll have to herd everyone in and out of the car more often in a day, I’ll have to endure  long choruses of “I’m bored!” and “I don’t want to get up!”

The Fall is bearing down on me pretty hard these days and the blank page doesn’t help.

Writing will never be easy for me. I already knew that. Writing is something I have to do every day; like working out, like taking vitamins, like drinking water, like washing my face. If I don’t do it every day I lose little bits of myself all over the house. I think interesting things and then find they’ve dropped out of my pocket somewhere along the line. I get depressed, I get overwhelmed, I lose sight of myself. I have to write every day, in little “dribs and drabs” as Anne Lamott says.

But when even the dribs and drabs won’t come I begin to think in those moments that what I need to do is to shut myself off from the world. I need to leave Twitter, leave Facebook, stop reading things online, stop blogging, just develop a kind of tunnel vision and power through it all. I have this weird fantasy in those moments that I will finish a novel with all that extra focus, finish a series of books about the power of the mind, about the counter cultural wonder drug of “being present” and the publishing houses will be hot on my heels at last.

The big old evil online looms before me and I call it the enemy of all things creative, I crow about how stupid I’ve been, how many hours I’ve wasted commenting and “liking” and responding. I ponder whether I’ll go quietly or make a show of it, bringing together all the other online addicts and calling for a general boycott. When writers block strikes I get desperate, you see, and blaming just about anything else feels like movement. It’s the social media, it’s the lack of a good chair, it’s the phone ringing, it’s the aspartame.

And here then out of the blue it hits me as I travel one last time to my social media stash, mind a blank where words are concerned. I see a simple post from a friend. Her status update is one of gratitude, along the lines of “Thanks Facebook, for reminding me about the beautiful things in my life.” That stopped me short.

One criticism of Facebook is that it’s distracting and that much is true. I admit when I’m writing if I don’t close the Twitter or Facebook windows I find myself meandering there when I ought to be filling the blank page. And yet, there are moments, a great number of moments, when I wander off the blank page and find myself again. There are responses to a picture I’ve posted and I remember who I am again. Sometimes I troll my own page, my own Twitter feed to find things I’ve thought or photos I’ve taken or articles I’ve highlighted and I find that I actually have something to say there. I find small moments I documented, uploaded and shared, not out of bragging but out of gratitude. I find quotes that lead me to deeper thoughts. I find friends I have not seen in decades and would not have seen again if not for social media. I find theological and political insights I did not expect.

And sometimes too, I find inspiration that leads to words on a page…like these…

and an end to writers block.

So, you know…there’s that.

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you can do anything…

When people ask me what I “do” I usually hem and haw a little then I say I’m homeschooling my kids, I’m a domestic goddess, I’m certified as a personal trainer and that I’m a writer and poet. It has taken me many years to get to that last tag. It’s the one tag I expect I’ll always be a little embarrassed to say out loud. I remember being at a writer’s conference a number of years ago, my friend (who makes a living as a writer) and I were talking with someone I’d just met.  “Are you a writer too?” the woman asked. I stammered and Karen interjected, “Yes. She is.”

I don’t know why it is that every time I identify myself as a writer I expect someone to shoot back with, “Prove it” but I do expect that. It’s that unasked question hanging in the air. Even so, with the rise of the internet and personal blogs the field of writers has expanded.  Being a writer who specializes in “short form personal essay” myself, this makes things interesting.  Everyone has a story and now there are a lot of people out there who tell it beautifully, with authenticity and spark. It’s intimidating at times and humbling, always.  Still, it makes for pursuing “conventional publishing” a confusing path forward. Some people say to not publish on a blog, some say to self publish everything, some say to try journals as a way “in,” some say there is no “in” anymore. Nonetheless I do pursue it from time to time and I do label myself as “writer” whether I am doing that on a blog or not.

Just as I have begun to feel some solid sense of identity as a writer, some of which I admit is fueled by lovely comments from my readers here on Mrs Metaphor I run across this clip from Saturday Night Live and it’s been sticking to me for a few days now so I thought I’d post it:

One thing I fear most is that I’ll be sucky and no one will tell me and then the other thing I fear is that I’ll be sucky and someone WILL tell me. That’s what we call a lose/lose and it is what keeps some writers in the closet where showing work around is concerned. As long as I am the only arbiter of my work I am free to love or loathe it as much as I’d like.  But the “youtube” generation and the internet in general has offered up new avenues for critique and exploration which can be a force for good. It can help increase creative pursuits in a large group of people. It can create place for someone who feels they have no voice. It can foster community. It can provide information where it’s needed. And yet,  as this skit shows, I think fairly accurately, it is dangerous as well.

Does this ability to have an open “forum” for showing our work create a false sense of ability? Does it “level” the playing field or just start up new fields of varying degrees, a field where anyone can find a niche? And if so, is this a good thing? We craft these online personas, we choose carefully which parts of our selves we’ll show. We create the very best versions of who we are and post them on Facebook and dole out clever Tweets but in the end are we building something lasting, something real? I like to hope so.

Still, I have no idea, I know that for my fragile ego it’s a slippery slope at best. Just in case, I’m keeping my juggling aspirations to myself.

clever angles…

A few weeks ago I was talking with someone about Twitter (no big surprise there.) I suggested that he ought to Tweet more and I suggested this not because I was trying to help him grow his followers or his business or his online persona but honestly because I don’t get to see him enough and because I love the thoughts that come through Twitter when he does Tweet. It’s that simple. Throughout the conversation about Twitter and social media in general one comment he made struck me. It was along the lines that social media has become a way for all of us to show off how clever we are. I bristled a little at first but having given it some thought I realized how true that is for me.

I used to blog, tweet, fb pretty much whatever crossed my mind and believe me when I say everything. I was the person who joined Facebook and updated her status every hour. “I’m going to the store now.” “This custard is awesome!” And I was the person who poked you.

All.The.Time.

And I threw sheep and ramen noodle icons with Superpoke, which I think is now gone forever into the shadows of Facebook. I don’t really know because I stopped doing that about a year into Facebook. Yes, I confess it took me a year to get into a real groove and figure out what I was doing there apart from while away the day.

One might argue that I still give the play by-play in my Twitter feed but I would beg to differ. I do try at least to Tweet things that are interesting to someone other than myself. At least I hope I do.

Or do I hope that? Should I hope that?

I hit 900 followers on Twitter this week which to some of you is no big beans because you are heavy hitters and all manner of awesome. I can appreciate that. To me, it is kind of big beans because for the most part I’m a “sit on the couch and write stuff all day” lady. I’m not a celebrity. I’m not a “go getter” and if you ask @Klout I’m not influential in donuts but I’d like to be.

When I hit this number, a milestone of some fake importance to me, sitting on my couch, I felt some trepidation. Who are these people? What do they want from me? Do I have it to give? I suddenly felt some need to be clever, entertaining, witty. It was an odd feeling for ordinary me although I feel it on some level here at home every morning when I wake up. Being a parent of 4 rather unconventional and energetic (read: chaotic) children I’ll admit to waking up most mornings at the hand, or more specifically the fingers, of a kid poking me. “Hey! Mom! Wake up! Can I eat this candy I found accidentally in that high cabinet? Hey! Mom!”

“Who are these children? What do they want from me? Do I have it to give?”

After a couple of seconds of poking I realize I know the short answer to all three of those questions which makes them no less unsettling, let me tell you. And so I get out of bed and wander through the day trying to be the very best version of myself because I have rehearsed the conversations they may want to have with me when they are adults and seeing a therapist and it could potentially get ugly if I don’t work on this “improve parenting skills” thing.

This brings me back to Social Media and the clever angles because I’ve been trying to write a post for three days. I have seven drafts in the draft folder, all different subjects, all different tones. SEVEN. Looking at them this morning and deciding which one to beat into a pulp gave me some angst because the first felt preachy and the second was goofy and the third was too hot and the fourth was too cold and I sat on the fifth one and it broke, ack. It’s been a long and weird morning.

Ultimately what stabbed me in the hands as I typed was this idea that perhaps none of it was clever enough. None of it was interesting enough. It wasn’t enough.

Oh, “lie of enough” we meet again! I hate that it creeps in still, every day, in every aspect of my life. The lie of enough. It’s an old struggle. I suspect it’s a life long struggle. At least it’s familiar. I can recognize it coming down the road. When we come face to face on that scorching black top more often than not I’m likely to embrace that lie like an old friend and take its advice. Now it has a new jacket it wears when I’m stressing about social media apparently. I clothe that old tired lie in the flimsy but fabulous threads of “be more clever” and it’s convincing even as it’s debilitating.

And it’s sobering. As a writer I want to engage and entertain my readers. I want to provoke a response in you. I guess I do want to poke you and throw sheep at you, truth be told. There is a place for putting it out there in a way which is interesting, readable and perhaps even have it’s moments of “clever” but for me the “lie of clever” can’t be the reason for the writing when all is said and done. I promise, Facebook friends or Twitter followers,  I don’t intend to go back to posting the full spectrum of minutia, don’t worry. I hope, though, that I’ll find me a happy medium in this social media going forward.

discourse…

When I’m stressed out or keyed up I vacuum. It’s relaxing, it’s my happy place. I don’t know if it’s the whirring hum of the vacuum cleaner or the idea that I am restoring some order to the chaos but I can tell you I come up with most of my best word choices when I’m vacuuming. So I wrote this poem, for our poetry tuesday, while under the influence of the vacuum cleaner. It has nothing to do with vacuuming.

It’s a departure from my other poems and honestly, I think it comes from all the social media political arguments I’ve witnessed lately – this idea that we can hurt each other so easily now, over the interwebs, without ever seeing each other’s faces. It’s disturbing that we can be hateful so easily, so long distance. It bothers me.

Anyway, that’s the backstory…if there’s a backstory.

Hope it conjures something good, true and beautiful in you today-

 

discourse

I should be afraid of you
because you can hurt me
concealed weapon
open carry
doesn’t matter
knife, gun
brick, hammer
truth, lie
doesn’t matter
I should be afraid-
my own
limited arsenal
not enough 
to counter 
your attack,
your retreat
doesn’t matter
both bring injury
near fatal wounding
close,
closeted,
commonplace
pain
perhaps
we should both 
be a little
afraid.

©ADC 2011