the Just World Hypothesis

I’m here to offer yet another plug for aging. Getting older can be so marvelous, because you start to see with clarity. (Not everyone; I’ve known some bitter, small, mean old people who became concentrated nuggets of ignorance.) But if you’re lucky — or whatever, however this works — you understand more and more. And the funniest thing is that your understanding gets simpler and simpler:

 

  • It’s all one thing.
  • You are who you are.
  • Life happens to everyone, and we all die.

I think it all boils down to that. Just because it’s so simple, however, doesn’t mean it’s simple to talk about. And just because it’s so simple, that doesn’t mean you can just tell other people, younger people, what you have learned and suddenly they have the same complexity of understanding. For me, anyway, it has taken living my years to be able finally to see this.

Simple complexity, impossible to say clearly, but I’ll try, and I’ll start with a social psych principle called the Just World Hypothesis. It’s a more elaborated idea than this thumbnail, but basically it’s a deep belief that we get what we deserve. That if we’re good, good things will come to us. Bad people get what they deserve. Etc. It unfolds into a whole ethical landscape of implications, but at the center that’s what it is. Like me, I’m sure you’ve frequently heard people wail, “Why me???” And then they provide the list of explanations for why X shouldn’t have happened to them. If it’s a health thing, the list includes their health-related behaviors. If it’s an accident, the list includes the ways they are always so careful. If it’s about their child, the list includes the ways their child was innocent and they were watchful parents.

Undoubtedly because of my childhood, the fact that I was born to a couple who wanted to destroy everyone and everything, I was disabused of the belief in the just world. And one freezing night, in an alley on the wrong side of town in Wichita Falls, I thought through it very carefully and solidified my understanding: shit just happens. Life happens to everyone. In a larger way, it’s all random.

And it’s all one thing: Life happens to everyone. Why would we ever think, even for a second, that only “good” things will happen to us? (And yet we do: Shelley Taylor’s work showed that people don’t believe things like house fires, bad car wrecks, serious illness, etc., will happen to them in their futures; that we all believe we’re above average (leading another psychologist to dub this ‘the Lake Wobegone effect,’ when the law of averages alone proves that we cannot ALL be above average.)) We must believe that because of some deep, unexamined reliance on this just world hypothesis.

And so once again I have to leave space for the possibility that I was luckier than most people to have the childhood I had. That’s not Monday morning quarterbacking, or brave, chin-quivering denial, it’s an understanding of the way it’s all one thing. My life is a whole, the experiences I’ve had all along the way are so woven into the cloth of who I am that it’s impossible to pull out a warp thread, a weft thread. It’s impossible to sit here, in my chair at Heaventree, and even begin to entertain some fantasy of what it would’ve been like to have had a loving mother, a father who didn’t try to kill me. A safe home. Security. It’s impossible to do that, the entire cloth of me disintegrates and there could be no “me” sitting here to ponder that question.

Whenever I hear someone ask, “Why me?” my only thought is, “Why not you?” Of course I never ever say that, because at that moment the person asking the question needs compassion and help, and this fact of “why not you” is completely irrelevant. There may come a time in their process when it makes sense to gently talk about it, if it helps them realize that they aren’t being punished, or whatever they are thinking, but never at that first wailing.

But really. Why not you? Why not me? Life is just happening, and often we are just in the wrong place. A knot forms in an umbilical cord. A car veers into the oncoming lane. Cells take a left turn and start dividing wildly. Myelin disappears, plaques form, bones honeycomb. Unexamined parts of ourselves commit an act of sabotage or treason and we won’t recognize it for years. And as impossible as it is to grasp in the thick of it, it’s all of a piece and the landscape of your life, and yourself, are bigger and more vast and complex, and this is one warp or weft thread in your tapestry. When I was a child, of course I had no perspective to understand this, and I mean that literally: those experiences did not have the context of life that followed them, they were my endpoints at that time, and they represented the bulk of my life. Assuming we survive the terrible thing that happens, and have the good luck of living to put it in perspective, there are good things to be drawn from it; we are changed by it, and to some degree it’s up to us how we are changed by it (emotionally and psychologically, at least) (and I mean to some degree it’s up to us).

When my life fell apart at the end of 2012, I was coincidentally reading a book about trauma survivors (one of my favorite topics) called When You’re Falling, DiveI really recommend the book to everyone, because if you are a magical unicorn and nothing bad ever happens to you, then at least you are going to know all the rest of us to whom bad things will happen because we are not magical unicorns — so you can learn a few things to be present with us. I highlighted dozens of passages in the book, but I share these two with this post, and encourage you to click that link and get the book:

“Survival doesn’t really mean anything without acceptance,” John explains. “That’s the paradoxical part. You have to take the thing that’s wrong and own it. Make it into something that has meaning for you. If you try to hide or negate it, it will just eat you up,” he says. “If you’re hoping for things to be other than they are—constantly wondering how or why something happened, or how to fix it—you’re lost. You’ll completely miss out on the graceful time you have.

“When people are in need, you must be present. When people suffer, you must let them know you’re suffering with them.” “The good side of bad acts?” I say. “I would not say that from horror comes goodness. That would be giving horror too much credit. But goodness prevails in spite of horror.

I’m not in the midst of trials in my own life, at the moment, so I acknowledge that it can feel like “easy for her to say.” But if you’ve known me long, you know that I say this even when trials do come my way, and this is part of the clarity of understanding I’ve gained as I’ve gotten older. It’s all one thing — the “good” and the “bad,” who we are, how we live, and that we are who we are with that entire context in place. We came into the world exactly who we are and we live the life we live and it’s all one thing.

It’s fascinating to me how utterly complex simplicity is, but that it can still be simple. Something to ponder on a beautiful Friday, the first day of autumn. xoxoxoxo

We just ARE who we ARE

When I was younger, I thought we made ourselves into who we are, but the older I’ve gotten, the more I realize that we come into the world exactly who we are, and the world does what it will do to us — but who we are was there from the beginning. And so I peer intently into my grandchildrens’ eyes…..Oliver, there from the start, exactly who he is. Ilan, there he is, I will know him always. Lucy, our delight and laughing glory, present from the get-go. And funny little mannerisms, I notice those too — physical examples of the same inner self that’s present. (And for that matter, my own children are who they’ve always been. It’s the most remarkable thing to realize. They were always there, right from the beginning, and I didn’t quite realize this yet.)

And I have always been who I am. Of course. I could be nothing else. I didn’t choose these things, we don’t choose these things, they just are. We just are. I’ve been reading Anne Carson every morning (Plainwater, at the moment, lingering with my morning coffee), and as she is trained as a classicist, there are references to Sokrates [her spelling], and Sappho, and in other works, Autobiography of Red, Herakles and Geryon. I have to regularly read The Odyssey, and I cannot wait to read An Odyssey. If you want to talk about Dante, I have a fondness for the John Ciardi translation, since it was the first one I read when Katie was a baby, but the newer translation by the Hollanders is so remarkable it’s my favorite.

When I was eight years old (-ish), I saw a commercial on television for a set of records that I wanted SO BADLY. I wanted to claw out my thigh muscles, I wanted them so badly. So I begged my dad to order them for me, with a promise to pay him back out of my allowance — which I did, and it took me a couple of years. When they arrived in the mail I was beside myself with excitement. I ran downstairs to my bedroom and played them on my junkie little record player (not a Fisher Price, but not much more than that) and 51 years later I still remember how that music made me feel. How huge. How outside-of-language. I didn’t know why, I didn’t know what it was, I didn’t know anything about it except how it made me feel.

Somehow, I have NO idea how, I still have the set.

Looks pretty good for 51 years old!
the selections

When I look at the records themselves, I see that I had clear favorites: Beethoven’s Symphony in C; Swan Lake; Peer Gynt (which I would go on to introduce my children to, with a fun game); Die Fledermaus (which I would go on to play in orchestra, on my flute, such a fun little part to play). Those tracks are worn down, and I can close my eyes and remember exactly how they made me feel. I was eight, I didn’t have any understanding of them AT ALL, didn’t know what they were, didn’t know the composers (or that there were “composers”), but they made me feel something big that I couldn’t put in words, and I needed them. I needed them badly enough to endure the cost.

My mother hated me for it, and told me over and over that I was just pretending to like it. That I was just “being that way,” which was so confusing to me because I had no idea what way I was “being” except for myself . . . but it was clearly shameful, and showing off, and acting as if I was something I wasn’t. My love of books was also a shameful thing, and among other reasons she shamed me for it, one terrible thing was that I chose reading over being with her and what pathetic priorities I had. So I became as tiny as I could. I hid my books and crawled underneath my bed with them, pulling myself as far back into the corner as I could, tucking pillows along the edge so I’d have warning if she came into my room so I could hide the book before she found me. Every year I won the school award for having read the most books, and I burned with the shame of that, and was grateful that she never came to the school for those ceremonies. I waited until she left the house to listen to my records, and I felt so much shame. Why did I need such shameful things?

She did her job very well, because it’s something I still, to this day, have to resist. The tug is very small at this point, but it’s always there. When I want to share my love of the kind of books I love, for example, I flinch a little bit at her shaming of me. And then, since I’m fifty-fucking-eight years old and have done a lot of work, of course I talk about them anyway. I don’t care, or judge you, if you don’t like Sophocles and Antigone and Homer. I don’t care if you’ve never read Dante, or Melville. I don’t care if you don’t have favorite passages of poetry, if you don’t have an impulse to name your home after a little phrase from a book by James Joyce. I don’t care! YOU BE YOU!! I just have to be me, too.

I was mindful of this when my kids were little, and tried to encourage whatever they were interested in, but this is a privilege of being a grandmother: I’m that much further down the road with it and now I stare into them and HAVE to encourage them to be exactly who they are, whoever that will be. I want to help them more than anything else in this world. They will be who they are, and that’s the most important thing in this whole world to me. I need them to be exactly who they are. They need to be exactly who they are. It’s not like I’ll be fighting their moms and dads — my kids are absolutely wonderful parents, encouraging their children — and whoo boy do they have an ally in their Pete. The kids are very little right now, all under the age of four, but when they start needing to be themselves more loudly, they’re going to find me grinning at them, begging them to come out and play.

Lucky me. Lucky, lucky, lucky me.

Shame and Mocking

For some of us, it can be so hard to be a human being. (I actually think it’s hard for all of us to be a human being, even those with shiny hard coverings who insist that It’s All Good! all the time…..) But I can say that for me, specifically, it can be so hard to be a human being. There’s the ‘human’ part, where my baser desires are always pressing against my civilized self, urging me to lash out and be as cruel to Republicans as they are to the world (why, Lori, that serves nothing, be kind), for example, but there’s also the ‘being’ part, that life-long experience of accepting and understanding who you are, why you’re here, what your gifts are, how you’re meant to put them into the world. Both are hard for me.

I think we all really know who we are, once we reach a certain age. I believe I do. I believe I know who I really am (although I’ve been so great at deluding myself over the course of my life, so perhaps I’m the least trustworthy person to ask!). And there are so many armaments in place to keep that true self hidden. Are you like this? Maybe we all are, and it’s just a question of degree, a question of our strength in being ourselves anyway.

One layer of my armament is shame and mocking myself. I did grow up at the knee of the master, on that front, but I’m soon 59. This is on me, now, and it has been for a long time. I’m grateful that a few years ago I got the actually brilliant idea to replace the voice in my head — previously held by my cruel mother — with Dixie’s voice, a voice that loves me unconditionally and thinks I am the great thing (and happy birthday, beloved Dixie, how I love you). So I lean very heavily on that voice now, and I draw on my own courage, to wade into my life here at Heaventree and let myself be myself, to wit:

# I want to take art classes. Maybe (ooh, I could start some serious mean mocking here) especially art classes that relate to myth and deep meaning. (Mocking: classes for older women wearing handpainted scarves, their glasses hanging on clunky glass-beaded necklaces….why do I do this?)

# I want to explore, with a completely open mind and heart, the big, deep stuff I turned away from. Jung, archetypes, myth, power, wisdom. (Mocking: what a stereotype you’ll be, old woman!)

# I want to sit around fires, in the dark, and watch sparks fly up to the stars, and not language that experience.

# I want to let myself loose, finally, and write poetry and not give a shit if it’s awful at first.

# I want to hurl paint around and find my very own deep vocabulary.

# I want to create a stone labyrinth on my property based on the shape that has hypnotized me as long as I can remember, and let that be a sacred place for me (Mocking: SACRED what an idiot, what a stereotype).

SO much of my mocking and shame relates to being a stereotype, and that’s always been a thing I’ve done. I almost didn’t go to college when I was 36 because I didn’t want to be that stereotype: divorced, single mother goes to college! (Luckily — and I didn’t even yet have Dixie’s voice to guide me — I snapped out of that stupidity and went ahead on, as my country people would say.) When I moved to Austin in the wake of Gracie’s death and assuming Marc and I would divorce, I feared being that stereotype: plucky older woman wraps flamboyant scarves around her neck and has a new life! (I realized that the danger built into that stereotype was that the plucky older woman comes home one night and can’t do it anymore….)

Maybe it’s just a deep sense of pride that makes me not want to be a stereotype — I’m better than that, I’m original!! — and I feel embarrassed to write that out loud. (And on the other hand, who in the world thinks, Oh boy, please let me be a stereotype!)

So I’m going to start trying this. I’m hopeful. I’m excited. I’m scared. I want to encourage myself. I want to believe Dixie. I want to live up to the me that Dixie believes she sees. I want to be generous to myself, open to myself, and ready to flower. Several of my friends have told me that they believe there is something big here for me, and I believe that, too. So come on, let’s do this thing.

an intense attack of sorrow

getting set up. Paper taped on the hardwood floors, cardboard wedged in corners and under windows, and lots of plastic still to be draped over doors and windows. UGH.

Yesterday we spent the entire day painting the downstairs, and it was not at all fun. Zero fun. Poor Marc had spent the day before painting the ceiling, after taping and covering everything; we have pine trim around the doors and windows and we didn’t want to paint it, so not only did we have to tape around it, we then needed to drape plastic over all the window frames so paint wouldn’t drip on them. UGH. Not fun. And he did all the harder work, including doing all the ceilings by himself — all I was doing was rolling paint on the walls! Not one bit of fun. Not even a tiny moment, never. I felt nauseated and I just kept wanting to stop, but of course there was nothing to do but to keep painting. (I’m spending today painting the second coat. All by myself. Boo. Also, boring.)

We had music playing in the background, one of my various playlists (one that was short on disco, since Marc, a teenager in the 1960s, hates it) — that was somehow heavily slanted toward Van Morrison. I don’t even know much of his music, beyond Brown-Eyed Girl (I mean, who doesn’t know that song, right?) and one album called Back On Top. That album was released in March 1999, and that was a very hard time for me. The album has a melancholy tone, lots of songs about sorrow and loss, and it just slipped right into my groove, then. I think (and knowing me, this is right) I listened to it over and over and over. Probably nothing but this (again, knowing me).

So there we were, painting, and there I was, feeling blech, wishing the painting were over, but nothing more than that. If I had to label the general tone of my feelings it’d be irritated or something like that, but definitely not sorrowful. As the eclipse approached its fullest here in the Catskills, and the sky darkened a bit, this Van Morrison song came on: Everything I Do Reminds Me of You (not an exciting video, but you can hear the song).

I don’t know why but I became completely overwhelmed and had to lean over and just sob. Ugly crying, face uncontrollably contorted, no sound because the sobs were just too intense.

I miss you so much, I can’t stand it
Seems like my heart, is breaking in two
My head says no but my soul demands it
Everything I do, reminds me of you

I miss you so much, in this house full of shadows
While the rain keeps pouring down, my window too
When will the pain, recede to the darkness
From whence it has come, and I’m feeling so blue

Ain’t goin’ down, no more to the well
Sometimes it feels like, I’m going to hell
Sometimes I’m knocking, on your front door
But I don’t have nothing, to sell no more

I don’t even know who I was crying for/about. At times it felt like I was crying about Jerry, my first husband, the father of my three kids; ever since he apologized to me (such a rare event in my life that someone apologizes) I’ve felt tender towards him again, and he’s in poor health, and I just cried and wished with all my heart that we could be real friends again while there is time. And at times it felt like I was crying about Marc, who has a tendency to say things like, “Honey, after I’m dead maybe you’ll think about me when you walk on the stone path.” A few days ago I found myself feeling how impossible it would feel to go on without him if/when that time comes, how embedded he is in every single thing. I also feel so many other things as well, but those things are true, too.

And at times I felt like I was just sobbing about everyone lost, about all the suffering, about all the sorrow. It was completely overwhelming. Even though the playlist was on shuffle, it played three Van Morrison songs in a row and I just bawled through all three of them. Even writing this post has made me bawl.

Because, you know, loss and life, synonymous in that terrible way.

I have no doubt it was just a convergence of accidental coincidence, the darkened sky from the eclipse and that song coming on and in a time I’ve been thinking about so many things, including Jerry and Marc, but wow it was powerful. I was completely caught off guard by it, and hid myself because I couldn’t possibly have explained it to Marc. I can’t even really explain it to myself.

I’m glad I get swamped by things like that. I get swamped by joy, I get swamped by delight, I get swamped by wistfulness (my favorite feeling), I get swamped by sorrow. Lucky, lucky, lucky me — even when it’s sorrow. I’m very grateful for my complex inner life.

The forecast today: swamped by paint and irritation. Probability: 100%. 🙂

OK, I’m going in.

“The feeling that she had never really lived in this world caught her by surprise. It was a fact. She had never lived. Even as a child, as far back as she could remember, she had done nothing but endure. She had believed in her own inherent goodness, her humanity, and lived accordingly, never causing anyone harm. Her devotion to doing things the right way had been unflagging, all her successes had depended on it, and she would have gone on like that indefinitely. She didn’t understand why, but faced with those decaying buildings and straggling grasses, she was nothing but a child who had never lived.” —Han Kang, The Vegetarian

Wednesday and Thursday are supposed to be beautiful days — no rain, partly sky, and 76 degrees.  We have the new carpet upstairs and the world seems beautiful and full of possibilities; it’s funny how getting rid of something that’s just so gross and smelly makes everything else feel better. (I mean, we knew it was gross and that it stank, but when they dragged the old carpet out, Marc went outside to get something and saw that flies were swarming it.)

not my yard, but my neighborhood — I’ll probably walk here

So I’m going to do what I’ve been thinking of doing. I’m going to step into the world and just live, just be present to myself, with myself, to the world, just for those two days. Today I will run errands, finish a manuscript evaluation and get it off to my client, do some housework, and make myself a good dinner and do some deep yoga. Prep work, of a sort. And then Wednesday and Thursday I’m just me. I’m silent. I’m here and not anywhere else, and alone. Not online. No sharing a beautiful photo, no sharing a passage from a favorite book, or a poem.

That’s a lot of ‘not’s. Here’s a list of the ‘yes please’s:

  • yoga
  • sitting by the creek, maybe drawing maybe not
  • walking in the woods — mine, and nearby
  • reading, with a notepad by my side (my new book of poetry will arrive Wednesday, Hard Child by Natalie Shapero, reviewed here in The Rumpus) (I’ll also probably read some Anne Carson)
  • lots of sitting and staring, and spending as much of the day outside as possible
  • pushing myself outside after dark, even just in a chair in my front yard, staring at the sky
  • writing by hand, off my computer — not just to keep myself away from online, but also to connect to slow me
  • knitting
autumn is in the air

No Netflix (/Amazon/Acorn). No music, except maybe meditation music, chanting, or nature sounds. So nothing with lyrics, really. I want to be in quiet, in silence, so I can hear myself. Quakers sit in “gathered silence” together because they say you can’t hear God amid the noise. I am not imagining I’ll hear God — wouldn’t know what that would be like anyway — but I am imagining I’ll hear myself a little more clearly without all the distractions I hurl in my way.

I won’t post here during the next two days, and I won’t be on Facebook or Instagram. I’m a little anxious, to be honest, because I’ll have to face whatever anxiety I come up against by just being present with it. I won’t have the agita inflamed by being online and seeing/engaging with everything that our government is doing (and not doing) in the world, but I also won’t have the distraction of “just hopping on.” No pretty pictures, no smiling faces of friends around the world, just me. I wonder how it’ll be. I imagine it will be everything at some point.

But at least it will be happening on lovely new carpeting. Ciao, friends. Back on Friday. xoxox

Thoreau

WHY is it so hard to be me. I wonder this all the time. I halfway (quarter-way) long to be a light, easygoing person, what you see is what you get, only walking on the sunny side (ugh, no, I actually detest that, it would be my worst personal nightmare) — but I do wish on occasion to be an easier person. Most of the time I like the complexity of being who I am, but sometimes I wish I were easier.

this was NOT my poster, but the spirit is the same

In the spirit of my last two posts, I’m remembering that old poster I had on my bedroom wall as a near-teen — the image was so green, a deep forest with a shaft of light piercing through, and superimposed (these were the pre-meme days of the 1970s) was a quote, either Thoreau or the Desiderata, I don’t remember for sure, but I do also remember reading Walden and thinking how swell that would be to go into the wild and confront myself, to confront the bareness of life, to learn whatever that might teach me.

And here comes the complexity, the wish that I were a simpler person. I’m feeling that longing quite intensely, thinking about stepping off the earth, off the public presentation of self, and just being here. Just being here in the wild, lonely solitude of Heaventree… and yet I have to wonder and worry about that, because I know me and my history. Is this impulse a sign? Is this a withdrawing impulse that connects to something darker? I don’t think so, I don’t feel that at all, but I have to ask myself that question. I have to answer that question for people who love me. Are you OK, Lori? (How is mom? Have you talked to her? How are you, mama?) How is it inside you? Are you OK? Really?

That’s my post office. I live 1.5 miles up the road to the left, up the mountain. The white car is Brandon’s. Tammy delivers the mail, but not to me.

Marnie and I talked the other day, and I was telling her about the adjustment, about how inconvenient rural life can be. How Brandon is at the post office between 8 and 10, and then between 3 and 5, and that’s it. How I’d gone to the post office at 2 expecting no mail but just wanting to get out, and found a notice that I had a package, so I had to go home and then return at 3, and when I did, there was a handscrawled note: “In the bathroom, back in 5 minutes.” And so I waited in silence for Brandon, and when I saw him it was notable to be having a conversation with a person. (And I talk to Marc every day on the phone, and text my daughters throughout the days, but a real in-person conversation has become extremely rare.) I went to the Pine Hill library the other day to pick up my library card, and their website said they were open at 2 on that day of the week, but when I got there, a sign said, “Hey! We’ve changed our hours, now we open at 3. Join us for knitting the 1st and 3rd Thursday of the month, Tina will be here!” True rural life is solitary and inconvenient and dependent on how other people happen to be feeling, whether they’ll be there as advertised . . . or not. And so my one chance to talk to a living person is set aside for the next day. Maybe.

So I gradually become more accustomed to my own company, for days at a time — and I like my own company, thank heavens I learned that in Austin — and I begin to wonder what I might learn, left alone with my thoughts and with the forest. I wonder. I wonder the shape of my heart. I wonder the shape of my mind, my want, my need. When I am fully alone, in silence, whether walking or driving, I begin again to recognize my own mind. I have my own thoughts, my own imagery, my own landscape that’s just nearly unrecognizable, because it’s unlanguaged. And I am so very, very languaged.

Social psychology, my own subdiscipline, takes as its starting point that our very SELVES are social even if the ‘other’ is only implied and not present. That without others, there simply is no self. And so I think about that, not just from an academic perspective but from within my own solitary self, here on the side of a mountain, deep in a valley in the lonesome old Catskills. Who am I without others? Am I, without others? What is that, who is that? I spent my second summer of graduate school reading philosophy of self, and while I began that summer with an almost irrationally angry defense (“Of course there is a self, who do you think is even asking the question?!” I’d say, usually suddenly and mysteriously on my feet and with a red-flushed throat), by the end of that summer academic philosophy had done its thing, and I no longer even understood the terms of the question. Self? What is that, really? Me? Who am I, really?

To summon but shift Prufrock, I wonder: Do I dare?

Performing a Life

I read a great article about Aziz Ansari and his recent abandoning of all things social media. The main reason I read the article is that I am thinking about something similar, about stepping off of that platform, that host of platforms, because I’ve begun to think about how we perform our lives instead of living our lives.

Well, instead of saying we, let me say I. And instead of just throwing out the phrase “performing my life” let me speak with a little more complexity about it, because I do think with complexity about this, all the time. I’m always bewildered by people who apparently think that the lives they see on social media represent real life — that other people always have it together, always have Pinterest-ready food, and magazine-worthy interiors, and happy-memory-prepped experiences. Really? And yet people do seem to think that, despite how mysterious that is to me. And I try hard to be as honest in my representation as I can be, without (a) being gross, (b) betraying the lives and privacy of others, and (c) committing unnecessary self-flagellation. Still, even with those cautions in mind all the time, I recognize the way later presentation has infiltrated my in-the-moment experience of things. When we were hiking around Belleayre Mountain last weekend, scouting a place to watch the Perseid shower in a few days, as I looked at the flowers I wasn’t really seeing the flowers. I was seeing whether they would make a good picture. To share.

These plants become more than yellow flowers and white fluff, they become evidence of the summer coming to an end.

And the complexity is this: by taking photographs, I have become a keener observer. I see more things than I did before I started taking pictures. By writing so often, I observe more closely. I take in material through a storytelling lens — that hike isn’t just walking over rocks and crossing creeks, it’s an adventure, the shape of which will be determined by how it ends, which will become a part of the story’s beginning lines in some way. By observing as a storyteller, the experience gets a kind of form it might not otherwise have. I love the way taking pictures and writing has made me a better observer, a better watcher, a better listener.

But it’s that add-on that makes a difference — not just “would that make a good picture” but “would that make a good picture to share.” And that shift takes me to performing a life in some different way. I do love to share things I see, and especially since I am alone so much at Heaventree, having a place to say, “Look! Look at this, isn’t it beautiful?” is a nice counter to my solitude, while still allowing me the solitude. And frankly, it’s a different experience now that I am in an entirely new place, in an entirely rural, lonely place, and without real people [yet] to spend time with. Withdrawing from social media in my Austin life would’ve been very different than doing it now, where it might be filling an important need in my transition away from such a social life.

Needing to withdraw from the political discourse has also shifted my experience of social platforms, moving me a little more towards Instagram than Facebook. I notice a shift in my state when I have to read more than a couple posts about the Republican nightmare we are trapped in, but by the time I feel that and close FB or IG, I already feel terrible. It’s too late by the time I feel that first punch. So I’ve pulled away from the same kind of participation in Facebook that I used to have, already. This month I’m participating in Susannah Conway’s August Break 2017 Instagram project, which is dedicated to paying close visual attention to the world via a daily prompt — yesterday it was “my eyes” — and that’s fun but not deeply meaningful to me.

And so I am thinking hard about how to do this so I still get the parts I need, which are (a) local news and events, and (b) the maintenance of connection with friends all over the world. I don’t know how I’ll do that; perhaps with a FB list of local news pages and the people I really count as friends, and a quick once-a-day jump on and jump off? Or maybe I simply need to pull the bandage off with a quick, hard rip. Another possibility is to take a hiatus, maybe start with one week and then take a month. Whatever I do, I will continue to write here, I know that. That presents a lopsided dilemma: I share myself with you, but don’t have the same opportunity to learn how you are doing, and that’s very important to me too. I always invite a conversation on my posts, and welcome whatever you have to say, to share, but it’s not your platform and you don’t know the other readers, the way I do.

Hmmm. Seeking.