Invisible

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I finished Akiko Busch’s “How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency” while I was in San Francisco. It was good fodder for contemplation, walking around in a city where I was almost entirely anonymous. According to Busch, I am also close to invisible, who includes “women over 50” in her category of people we naturally don’t see (the list also includes service workers, people of color, and migrants and refugees, among others.)

“And then not expecting it, you become middle-aged and anonymous. No one notices you.” ~ novelist Doris Lessing

We’re in an age that values Visibility, so finding yourself on the other side of that can be a depressing prospect. But traveling around San Francisco with this in mind, I was surprised to discover something else entirely. Lessing goes on to say:

“You achieve a wonderful freedom. It is a positive thing. You can move about, unnoticed and invisible.”

With the idea in mind that no one else cares about what I look like or what I do, I found myself expanding into someone freer, more generous, more aware of other people. I smiled more, talked with strangers, looked for small ways to help or encourage. I stopped other women to compliment their clothes or shoes or smiles. In short, I was friendlier and happier.

“A reduced sense of visibility does not necessarily constrain experience. Associated with greater empathy and compassion, invisibility directs us toward a more humanitarian view of the larger world. This diminished status can, in fact, sustain and inform - rather than limit - our lives. Going unrecognized, paradoxically, can help us recognize our place in the larger scheme of things.” ~ Akiko Busch

We can also make invisibility something of a discipline for ourselves. I hear my friends who are stepping away from social media talking about the same kinds of things, the power to BE without anyone’s gaze on you, to experience and love and enjoy without anyone’s approval or notice. It can be liberating!

To embrace it, Busch offers this advice from her friend, James Burns, an Episcopal minister:

“First learn to love yourself. Then forget about it and learn to love the world.”

It makes me think of Steinbeck: “And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”

Freedom.

You can read the chapter on women and aging in the Atlantic.

And I am opening the comments. By request. :) We’ll see how it goes.

Peace keep you all.

one month later...

Judith. Probably on her way to dig up and destroy something I planted.

Judith. Probably on her way to dig up and destroy something I planted.

The first fear I had about leaving social media was that if I went off-line, I would disappear. Fourteen years ago, I was homeschooling, raising four children, deep into the years when it is easy to feel you exist only to make other people’s lives run smoothly. On top of that we had a child with intense behavioral needs. We couldn’t leave him home, we couldn’t take him to other people’s homes. We were stuck. I often felt trapped and lonely. I desperately wanted to be seen and understood. I’d married young, skipped college, had children early; I was in a slow fall-out with church and religion which had previously been a constant in my life. I didn’t know anyone doing what I was doing every day, no one who thought the way I did.

Then I found blogging.

I discovered that writing helped me order my life, helped me process the hardships and joys. And eventually, it helped me find other people. The relationships I made became a lifeline for me for over a decade, seeing us through the hardest times of our lives. I found my voice, I found my calling, I found friendships - all because of the online world. I can honestly say my time online changed my whole life for the better. At some point, however, the balance tilted, and the online world (social media in particular) began to feel like less of a lifeline and more of an anchor. I told a friend recently, Instagram et al, began to feel like I’d moved into the dorms and was never going to be able to move out again. I thought about this for several years, going back and forth. On the one hand, instant connection, beauty, friendships. On the other, this deep knowledge that I was cheating myself from something more. That I was frittering away time and energy that I didn’t have to waste. It took a long, long time before I was brave enough to hit that delete button and face what it meant.

After that decision in June, it took a couple of weeks before the emails slowed down and the conversations began to die out. Every day, things are a little more quiet. It was disconcerting at first. By the third week, I lost all motivation to work. What was the point? No one was reading. No one knew if I was writing or not. I moved around my house in a fog for several days, feeling forgotten, useless, questioning my whole life. It finally hit me that this was what withdrawal feels like, my brain searching eagerly for some instant affirmation, a little hit of dopamine to assure myself I exist, people like me. Once I realized what was happening, I could begin facing those feelings and dealing with them.

“We must do our work for its own sake,” says Stephen Pressfield, and I’m just beginning to understand what that means. My inner self knew all along…if I want to go deeper, to discover what I am capable of, I need to move on. I need to do it alone, just me and the page, me and the work, me and the fear. But I also needed that beginning place, that safe space in which to find myself, to try out words, ideas, to make connections and understand possibilities. A month later, I’ve quit thinking of social media as a waste of my time. I feel grateful, and more gracious toward all of it, but I also feel more confident that its usefulness in my life has passed. I’m visible. I exist. I’m writing.(Even slow-blogging again!) I’m connecting with good people. I’m happy. And I can’t wait to see what comes next.

My advice now? Do what’s right for you. You’re the only one who knows what you really need. (And don’t be afraid to move on when the time comes. It’s all good!)

Love to you, friends.

tonia

When staying means going

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Maybe it was my religious upbringing, but I’ve always been alive to the idea of voices speaking to us behind the curtain of the ordinary world. Not audible voices, but stirrings, like strings being plucked deep inside the self, themes that emerge from the common stuff of life and repeat until our conscious minds can grab hold of them. Lately I’ve felt like the small universe I inhabit has decided to bring me in on a conversation it’s been holding for a long time - about presence and communion and love and beauty and trust. Everywhere I go these days I feel this invitation to enter in. It comes in dreams, books, music, conversation, news articles, daydreams, even in the moments I steal to sit on the front porch and watch the birds. There’s a melody to it, (something like Norah Jones’ Come Away With Me, maybe?) smoke and tenderness, a hint that something good lies ahead if I want to join in.

I was lying on the grass on a recent Sunday afternoon, watching the brand new leaves of the maple tree filter out the sun, soaking in the first real warmth of the year. The cedars along the driveway were rubbing their needles together in the breeze, shush-shush-shush, and I could feel the invitation come again, rolling deep through me, like it was coming up from the earth itself. If there had been any real words, they would have been something like this:

Stay. Stay in the quiet. Stay right here.

Lying there, listening, I thought about what it means to stay present to what the world is saying, the knowledge of the ground under our feet, the trees, the creatures. What it means to be present to people and relationships, to our own selves. What it means to be present to Spirit and Love, to really hear and understand and follow. And I understood that it would take an expansion of my thinking and a whole lot of yes to things that other people would perceive as a no, but it was going to be worth it.

There’s a line in Fellowship of the Ring, where Bilbo describes his life (which is deeply tangled in the pull of the Ring) to Gandalf:

Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. That can't be right. I need a change, or something.

I know I feel this away. Pulled in so many directions, I can only just stretch myself to cover the surface, so inundated with noise that I can’t hear the whispering of Spirit and earth even if I long for it. It’s not in my power to quiet the whole world - but I can quiet myself, and my part in it. I want to live deep, attentive to the community and work I’ve been given. For that reason, I’m slowly eliminating my social media accounts. (I’ll share more about deleting Facebook and Instagram soon.) I’ll focus on my fiction work, maintain this blog, and offer a monthly newsletter to those who wish for a little more. One location, slow writing, space in which I can engage in the real truths and work of my life. A going that is really a staying put, a no that is actually a YES.

Note: I hope you like the new space. I’ve tried to keep it a restful place, easy to navigate and simple in design. You might notice that I’ve disabled the comments. After 13 years of blogging, I know that the comment box can be a busy, distracting place for both me and the reader. If you have something to share or a question to ask, please always feel free to email me directly. I’ll be glad to hear from you. Thank you for coming here. Thank you for subscribing.

much love,

tonia

prayer for the first week of Lent

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Dear...God,
I told a friend about praying and she said, "To Who? The Universe?" and laughed (though not unkindly) because she knows about my latest trouble with names and I know she would feel so much better if I could just use the Name we're used to because something like "The Universe" feels too big, too uncontainable, I think, which is kind of the point for me, but I understand that it might be scary when what you really need is a friend on the other end of prayer and not some un-nameable Being or Force or Love-Who-Always-Reaches, which is the shape you have taken in my mind lately.  There are those pictures of the Milky Way - you know the ones? with the velvet sky and the scatter of stars across that rumpled skein of color? - which always make my heart stutter a little because I think that is where you are but also above it and around it for billions of miles, maybe an eternity of miles, and also below it and close, close as the space between one heartbeat and the next, close as the threads between my thoughts, plucking them every so softly, till they tremble, till they resonate with the goodness that is you and is always recognizable, always knowable,  even though I cannot, maybe don't want to, name you.