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.

Down Under

Man alive, it’s a weird weird world. My very lucky life is blessed with lots of loved ones I get to see in person, touch, laugh with, eat with, commiserate with, smile and cry with. In person. In my 55 years of living, I’ve never had so many people like that, never. Every single one of you that I can see in person — even if it’s kind of rare because of my bipolar life, even if it’s very rare because we’re so alike that our timid natures mean we don’t make something happen [but it could! it totally could!] — you are extraordinarily precious to me. Individually by name or in groups (like  ‘family,’ ‘book club,’ or ‘Austin friends’), you are often represented in my daily gratitude email.

friendsBut what’s super bizarre about living these days is that I have people I count as dear friends, and we have never met and ‘only’ have an electronic relationship. This isn’t really all that new; people used to have letter correspondences with people they never met, and those correspondences were every bit as deep and meaningful as in-person relationships, and in some cases I’d bet they were more important because that level of remove can facilitate a different kind of honesty. Marnie recommended a book I have been carrying around with me (and to Greece and back) called The Delicacy and Strength of Lace, which are the letters between Leslie Marmon Silko and James Wright—a poet and a writer who only met in person twice, but whose long correspondence carried them across the years and through the death of one of them. Their letters started formally but became deeper and more personal, and moved to the most profound subjects. So no one should be dismissing electronic relationships out of hand. They might be trivial, but they are not necessarily so just because the people haven’t met.

Some of you have become very dear friends to me and we have never met, but we write back and forth and I count you in my heart. It’s incredible when I think about you, about how real you are to me as friends, when I recall how I feel when you pop into my inbox, how I think of you when I see something relevant to you. How I worry when you’re sick or struggling in some way, how overjoyed I am when something great happens for you, how I trust you when I am not doing well and share that with you. One of you has even met my daughter — but not me yet! And quite surprisingly, I have a very important group of women in Australia and New Zealand. It started with one woman in NZ named Megan, whose blog I first found a few years ago and just fell in love with the things she thought about, the books she read, the worries and joys she wrote about. Perhaps through her, I can’t remember now, I found my way into a Facebook group she belongs to called Recent Reads. That group is intended for book talk—what’ve you read, did you like this, here’s how I felt about that—obviously. When Gracie died I went to that group and posted a brief note saying what had happened, and asking for recommendations of something I might be able to read that could be helpful, big enough, meaningful enough.

Hundreds of responses were posted, many offering book suggestions and more offering sorrow and comfort and support, and then one woman in the group called me on the phone from Perth to check on me. I may never find that anything less than astonishing, no matter how many times I recall it. She and I will meet in person one of these days, absolutely. Another woman, Kathy, turned out to live just outside Austin, even though the group tilts heavily towards Aussies as far as I can tell. Mary, the lovely woman who started that group, went on to start other groups and always included me.

the banner of our group page
the banner of our group page

She recently started a new private group. It’s very small, and set up so everything shared in the group is private in every regard. You won’t see anything in the little irritating feed on the right that reports on what your friends like and say to others — nope. It’s all private. And it’s all women. I may be one of the oldest, don’t know that either, but most who have kids still seem to have them at home, even if they’re getting close to college. And of the 36 members, only 5 or so (hard to be certain) are not in Australia or NZ. But something deeply magical has happened in that group and we are all in awe of it. We started off just complaining about the stuff we complain about—mostly husbands and children, occasionally bosses. About the way we have to do all the thinking for everyone . . . why doesn’t he ever do that? Why does no one replace the toilet paper? Could anyone else possibly think about dinner for a change? It’s wickedly funny because it’s private, and we all get it. And it’s wickedly hilarious because there is no such thing as too much information. Mature women bitching about skid marks and accidental peeing and blood and farting during yoga and anything that comes up. In a comment I referenced something my husband did and a woman I’ve known a long time responded that she still hasn’t forgiven him for it on my behalf—but then, neither have I or anyone else who knows about it. Solidarity. Grudge-holding on my behalf. Those things are bonds, you know?

And then one woman turned it around a bit and said why she loved her husband so much and everyone followed, and the stories were extraordinary. So many of us cried as we read the very long thread of responses. (We’d get back to bitching soon enough.) And then one woman had something absolutely terrible happen in her family and the way these women have rallied around her, extraordinary quadrupled. We all watch the group in awe, and I feel as they do, that it’s a very special place.

It’s so unexpected to me, having all these connections to women down under. There’s even a woman in my ‘real’ life in Austin from Sydney, and she is very dear to me. I never dreamed I’d care so much about so many people there, since I’ve never been there. Although I know it’s crazy because Australia is huge, and even though it’s nearby New Zealand is a whole other deal, but still somehow I feel like they all know each other and hang out together and aren’t I lucky that they let me into the club. But then I feel that way about all of my women friends. So very lucky that you let me into the club with you.

xoxox

this maybe might just work

Day two sans Facebook report:

nofacebookSo far so good! The craving I anticipated didn’t really materialize. I guess I am an all-or-nothing woman, at least in terms of breaking a habit. That’s good, because I was worried that I’d be just as distracted by not-going-to-Facebook as I was by going to Facebook. That didn’t happen once, all day long. Winning!

There are sites I deeply enjoyed in my feed, though, and it’s how I kept up with some of my favorite bloggers. I was puzzling over how I’d manage that, because my goal is not to completely disconnect myself from an online world, but rather to contain it. So here’s what I did, if you’re considering a similar disconnect and have a similar worry:

lists

  1. Make a list of the probably short list of folks you really want to keep up with. I already had a bunch of lists that allowed me to focus a quick Facebook visit — that’s the old list there, to the right. Just above that list is the ‘family’ list. Make a new friends/family list of just the most essential folks. For the rest, Sunday night I culled through the various lists and decided which sites were the most important and opened the web pages for them (turned out there was nothing in the politics list worth keeping, surprise). Not the Facebook page, the websites themselves. (Turned out there were 11, and they were all book and reading sites.) Then I found the blogs I’d miss too much and opened them. (Turned out there were three.) So eleven websites, three blogs, and one friends/family list = 15.
  2. Make a bookmark folder on your toolbar called DAILY READ (whatever you like, obviously). Bookmark each of the essential sites into that folder, as well as the Facebook page for the essential friends/family list. (You’ll still see Facebook, and that seductive red number up top that shows all the stuff you’ve been missing, but for some reason I find it easy to ignore it because I’m just looking at my essential people, and for information only, not to comment.)
  3. In Chrome, I can right-click that folder on my toolbar and select ‘Open all bookmarks.’ It asks me worriedly, “Are you sure you want to open 15 tabs?” Yes, darling, I’m sure. Pling! Pling! Pling! Pling! Pling! Pling! There they are, the full extent of my online reading for the morning, with my coffee. I start at the far right and scan, close / scan, close / scan, close all the way across the set of tabs.

(Another note: the thing about Facebook is interacting, and I don’t plan to pause to click ‘like’ or leave comments, that’s one of my entry ports to getting sucked in. BUT I see what’s happening, and if something good or bad happens, I can contact my friend separately, one-on-one, which is what I’d rather do anyway. And to that point, since the Facebook Messenger application is a separate app on my phone, you can still contact me through that IM if you want, easy as pie.)

I’ve only done it for two days now, but it’s great. While I drink my coffee in the deep quiet, I have my defined set of pages to look at, and when they’re closed they’re closed. I haven’t felt tempted to peek into that bookmark folder and “just see” anything. I’ll open the whole folder again tomorrow morning and check in.

When Marc was here, he traded in his Droid for an iPhone and we spent a lot of time getting him set up. The way he had his Droid set up seemed to notify him the moment an email came in — instantaneously. He wanted his iPhone to do the same thing, which we were unable to achieve. The most frequent push option for email seems to be 15 minutes. He was so aggravated by that, even though I told him all he had to do was open his email and pull down, and it would check email for him on the spot. (This is so funny, because he doesn’t get much email at all.) I asked him why he’d need instant notification at every moment, why 15 minutes wasn’t enough? He said he’d want to know the moment I emailed him because it might be important, and when I told him I’d text or call him under those circumstances he still wasn’t satisfied. He wanted to be notified immediately for everything. It’s easy to feel that way, and Facebook exaggerates that feeling with its endless loop of new post! New post! New post! New post! ad infinitum. Checking my little folder of 15 things once a day is enough. Whatever new stuff comes in after I check it will be there waiting for me the next day.

Progress! And I worked a lot more yesterday, and felt really good about that. It’s kind of fun to keep feeling the pulse but then at night there’s that corresponding feeling of having wasted a precious day. This is it, and while working isn’t the way I’d most want to pass the hours of my life, working gives me money and money lets me live and do the things that do matter. Reading the Internet doesn’t.

Brrrr, y’all, super cold, but at least we here in Austin aren’t in the polar vertex that put Chicago in the deep freeze. Stay warm if you’re in this hemisphere, and enjoy your summer in the other hemisphere! Poetry group in the palace tonight, good times. Wouldn’t hurt you to read a poem today…. xoxoxo

exodus

One of the most handsome Jewish men I've ever seen. I'd have followed him into Israel, no problem.
One of the most handsome Jewish men I’ve ever seen. I’d have followed him into Israel, no problem.

Over the last few days I’ve received notes from a number of friends saying the same thing: “I won’t be on Facebook for a while/anymore.” The timing was funny in each case because I’ve been preparing to say the same thing. In thinking about the coming year, and my intent to focus more on writing, I’ve been a little overwhelmed trying to figure out where I will find the time. If only I didn’t have to work (if only I had some work, yikes!!) it would all be a piece of cake, but alas. And being in NYC 11 days/month introduces some difficulties in terms of having full control of my time, and then being back home in Austin gets busy because I need to see all my people here, too. With my beautiful little grandson Oliver arriving in March, I need to make his quilt and baby stuff, I’ll be giving Katie a baby shower, and I’ll knit his Christmas stocking. And then spend as much time holding him as Katie will let me. 🙂 Lots of stuff to do, and only 24 hours in a day.

I’ve been looking hard at where I spend my time, and sadly I waste way too much of it. Way too much. And how do I waste it? Like most people, I think — online. And what that means is Facebook. And so I will be taking a leave of absence, even just those “short little check-ins.” I know me — just checking means a huge deep time suck.

For the most part, I enjoy Facebook — especially since I learned how to block certain things from my feed. Life became much more pleasant for me when I no longer had to read gun-totin’ rants. I unfriended (oops, first typed ‘unfiended’) ex-family members who were frankly nuts, and ex-acquaintances who were disgusting. My feed was lovely, really, filled with great stuff about books and movies and film, and funny or poignant updates from people I love. What’s not to enjoy? Except with that endless constant loop, there’s just always one more thing to see and then I’ve lost a day.

What do you want to do with your life? Look at how you spend a day, an afternoon, an hour — THAT is what you are doing with your life. I don’t want to spend my life watching a Facebook loop. I need to work, I want to spend real time with my real people, I want to write, I want to walk and eat well and be mindful. And so I will be bidding Facebook adieu. I’m sure I’ll miss it terribly at first, but we’re parting as friends and I will be busy.

Of course I will still be writing here, most days, just as usual. When I travel, I’ll be leaving the travel blog link here too. I just plan to be doing a lot of other writing too, and I hope to have news of it to share here. So the Queen is still in the palace, she’s just not on Facebook that’s all. I’ll still be putting photos on Instagram (http://instagram.com/lori_pillbugs) and I’m collecting some stuff on Pinterest, finally (http://www.pinterest.com/pillbugqueen/), so it’s not as if I’m abandoning everything. Just Facebook, really. I will, though, keep feeding the posts to my Facebook page for this blog (friend me here if you like:  https://www.facebook.com/Queen.Pillbug) because that’s automatic and doesn’t require me to venture onto Facebook.

Are you planning a similar exodus? Do you have social media-related plans of some kind? I think it’s in the wind.