Why I'm deleting my Instagram account for good.

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When I begin this post, I’m sitting by the window in a little cabin that Mark and I have rented to celebrate our anniversary. We’re on the west side of the Oregon Coast Range tucked against the edge of the woods. Down the road and over the highway, the Pacific Ocean rides its tides back and forth across the shoreline leaving a tumble of broken shells and Barnacle-encrusted Mussels in its wake. Here in the cabin, I look over a meadow, a fringe of Spruce and Hemlock. Everything has softened into the deep green glow of dusk.

Whenever we go away together, we try to leave the electronics behind as much as possible and though I confess to an occasional email check, this day has stretched itself out deliciously slow. We’ve hiked, read, ate, talked, napped, poured over field guides, until I feel the kind of deep satiety that comes from having stretched my faculties to the furthest reaches of the given hours. Now, while evening settles in, I’m here at this window, head full of words, spiral notebook and pen, the soft tick of the wind, the crack of fire in the woodstove.

Sometime after I get back from this trip I will delete my Instagram account once and for all. I deleted Facebook a couple of years ago, right after the election, horrified by the roaring train of anger it unleashed in me, the fracturing of relationships, the things I can’t unsay, and the things I can’t unknow about others. When the time came, I had no doubts about deleting Facebook; it was obviously not good for me. But Instagram is a little different. My experience there has been gentler, more encouraging. I like taking pictures, I like sharing quick thoughts (which feels more like chatting with friends through the day) and I like the people I have made relationships with. Still, it is time to go, and as promised, I will share my reasons why here.

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Instagram (and social media) requires my discontent:

Creating need in the user is an important part of social media’s success. Need for stimulation, novelty, ideas, approval, connection, and products is what keeps us going back again and again. The problem is there is no satisfaction point. The more I see, the more I want, the more I see that others have, the more I want, the more I share what I have and receive approval, the more I want. One of the first things that happens when I unplug from Instagram is a shift in my perception about my life: I’m happier with my home, my relationships, my work, and my appearance. Real contentment is the antidote to corporate manipulation and consumerist culture, but I can’t expect to have it while I’m using corporate/consumerist tools.


Instagram is distracting me all the time:

I won’t spend a lot of time on this because although it is a major factor in my decision-making, everyone knows this for themselves. It is time for me to just quit pretending I will ever be able to stick with the “moderation” route. No matter how I try to control it, eventually I will be picking up my device throughout the entire day “just checking.” There is no middle ground for me. (Since I quit looking at Instagram, I still unconsciously pick up my phone randomly and check the weather app. Still working on that addiction to novelty.)


Instagram is changing the way I work:

Nicholas Carr, in his 2010 book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, talks about the ways tools shape our brains. When the typewriter was invented, writers quickly adopted it for its speed and efficiency, but it wasn’t long before people noticed the structure of their sentences was changing too.

“One of Neitzche’s closest friends…noticed a change in the style of his writing…[his] prose had become tighter, more telegraphic. There was a new forcefulness to it, too, as though the machine’s power was, through some mysterious metaphysical mechanism, being transferred into the words it pressed into the page.”

Fr. John Culkin said, “We become what we behold. We shape our tools, and then they shape us.”

It’s possible that the typewriter made Neitzsche into a better writer, but I have not found that true for the social media tools I am using. Instagram was designed for images with short captions. Even though I used it for micro-blogging and put up longish posts regularly, I still found that the nature of the space - requiring frequent postings and tailored for quick engagement - was encouraging me to write too fast, too often, and too brief. A good skill set if I want to master social media or possibly online journalism, but not a good skill set for a novelist. (And not a good skill set for being a modern human, if we’re honest.) Over time I realized I was losing my inability to sit with an idea and think deeply about it, let alone write slowly and subtly about it. I am being inevitably shaped by the tool I am using the most often.


Instagram is not productive:

To be successful, an author needs a committed base of readers. I originally believed that in order to publish, I needed to gain a good number of followers on multiple platforms. (This may be important for a certain kind of writer, artist, or business owner, I don’t know.) But the truth is, at this point, even when my follower number grows on social media, I still only engage with about 200-300 people. Instagram’s numbers look promising, but they are fairly insignificant. Most of those followers will not care if I publish a book and most will not buy it, so from a career-perspective, spending an inordinate amount of time (between creating content, commenting, and the addiction factor, it’s a ridiculous amount of time) building a following on Instagram is not efficient or productive for me.

I am not published yet, so I could be wrong about this, but I think the negatives outweigh the positives when it comes to my professional engagement on Instagram. Writers build relationships with readers by writing and sharing their work and that’s what I’m focused on now.


Instagram is not actually that fun (sorry!):

An experience I’ve had multiple times: I take a social media break. A week later, I come back, open the Instagram app and scroll through, excited to see what I missed… and nothing is going on. I’m forever astonished at how boring it all is. Even the posts I am usually excited about are not that interesting viewed with my dopamine-cleared brain. This phase usually lasts for a half a day or so before I succumb and return to being so fascinated by what is in my feed I can’t stop looking at it every hour. This is called addictive behavior, my friends. Instagram only gets fun when my brain releases the chemical to make me think it’s fun Ugh.


Instagram (owned by Facebook) is not a company I want to support:

Integrity matters to me. Corporate responsibility matters to me. Facebook/Instagram spies on us, co-opts our expertise and uses it for profit, sells our information to advertisers and political machines and manipulates our behaviors. It does not represent the kind of company that I would normally support and it’s time I quit doing it

Jaron Lanier has lots to say about this if you want to read more.


I like who I am without Instagram:

I like that I’m not taking pictures of everything I do. I like that I can just have a thought and not share it right away. I like that I am not distracted from personal relationships. I like that I don’t know everything my friends are doing already so I want to go out more, have dinner, real conversations. I like how focused I am. I like how I can sit and be quiet without a device nearby. I like that there is space in my thoughts for more than, “I wonder if anyone posted/commented/messaged…” I like the freedom I feel. I like the way my brain and body feel. I like that my experiences are my own. I like that I’m not feeling inadequate or left out. I like that I’m not part of the crisis/reaction cycle that happens on social media. I like that I have all day to think about an event and not know anyone’s opinion about it until I have a real face to face conversation. I like that I can make an adult decision about what tools are right for me and which are not. I like how content and peaceful I feel. I like how my mind creates its own novelty and comes up with new solutions, new questions, new projects all the time.

Turns out, I’m interested, connected, focused, happy, and content, all on my own.

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These are my reasons for leaving Instagram. We’re all in different places and different seasons, so don’t feel you need to justify your choices to me. I don’t judge anyone for using social media. This is just where I’m at now after many years of social media use. If you find something in this post that rings true for you, I hope you’ll feel empowered to really consider it and make the choice that’s right for you!

Peace keep you, friends!

work, in progress

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They've torn down the old apple trees and the thicket of blackberries along the trail.  In their place are sections of chain link fence held together with orange construction tape.  Our town is growing.  The airport needs a new access road.  Warehouses will go up, businesses will move in; more houses will need to be built.

So much of life feels like it is going the way of the fields and the apple trees right now.   The planet is at the mercy of unchecked prosperity; culture is trying desperately to keep up with technology and rapid change; our bodies are reeling under the weight of industrial pollutants and foods.  Personally, we are facing the reality of a truly empty nest, trying to imagine what marriage, what life itself, will look like in a pared down environment.  Some days I feel like my hands are clutching sand.

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"My work is loving the world," Mary Oliver wrote. When we first moved here we made ourselves promise to notice the landscape.  To really see it before progress changed it.  We set out to appreciate the open fields and hedgerows, the stands of trees along the rambling creek, the stillness of all that open space.  I know the curves and hollows of our trail by foot because we've walked it nearly every day for years - in the freezing cold, the rain, the fog, the heat.  We've even walked it in the dark with only the light of the full moon.  Day by day it has become our own.  Not in the sense of physical ownership, but through familiarity, and understanding.

The changes are hard to take.  I was angry after the loss of the thicket and the trees, the wide fields. And there's a part of me that's angry that I can't keep my children near me forever.  It is natural in us to feel jealous, possessive, of what is beautiful and good.

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There's a book I've been reading slowly, about the first Oregonians.  The ones who walked this land before my ancestors arrived to cut down the trees and make farms, dam the rivers, cut in roads, build power plants and fast food restaurants, kill the wolves and over fish the salmon.  The piece of land that our little town inhabits used to be an annual meeting place for the Northwest Tribes.  I think of them lately, how it was to watch others encroach and change, to watch the things they loved being stolen and - to their minds, at least - ruined.  How do you find the grace to live in the middle of such a painful dismantling and not give up hope?  I don't think they knew; there is no answer in the book I'm reading.  There is no sure answer in my heart.

I keep going back to Mary Oliver:"Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work, which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished."

This is important, I think, this matching of work with standing still, with astonishment (and in her first line, with love.)  Lack of these things seems to be at the root of so many of our problems today.  How can you preserve what you are too busy to see?  What you do not value, let alone love?  To train ourselves to focused wonder, to unembarrassed cherishing, to standing still and seeing, and to consider such things our life's work.  Maybe that's a way forward, even if it's not a solution to the loss.

Before the bulldozers came this fall I watched a red-tailed hawk pirouette over these now broken fields.  She wasn't hunting, she was playing.  I stood and watched her for a long time.  She dove and swooped, bolted upwards and then floated down with her wings wide-spread to skim across the surface of the tall grass. Over and over again she danced, drinking in the goodness of the sun, the air, those shimmering fields.  I came home and recorded it in my journal, the abandonment, the sheer joy of it.  The words are still there now, and as soon as I read them they conjure for me again the beauty of that morning.   The bulldozers have taken the field, but the hawk and her dance, the joy, are my own.  Today when I passed by the same spot, I searched the sky for her but she wasn't there.  The field was full of tire tracks and churned mud, the footprints of progress.  But along the edge, where the fences wobbled, was a bright stand of tansy and the red-brown tendrils of the blackberry vines that are never deterred for long.  I smiled to welcome them back, to encourage them to find the gaps, to stake a foothold in our changed and changing world.

advent, the tender season

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Gertrud Mueller Nelson says that Advent comes to us when "Nature seems asleep. The season is dark, and all that is becoming is hidden from our sight."  Much of the church year has a martial, triumphant feel, but Advent, I think,  is a woman's season - deeply quiet, patient, and tender - and that is probably why it draws me so.  It is a time of waiting, nurturing, and anticipating, more than celebrating and doing; the antithesis, almost, of the cultural Christmas season.

In order to enter into this contemplative time (which for us begins on December 2nd) it helps me to work backward mentally from Christmas and imagine how I want the arc of the season to go.  Like many people, I grew up celebrating Christmas as a stressful, exhausting month of spending that culminates in one bloated and excessive day.  When I began to understand the cycle of the church year and how it was designed to focus the heart and mind, that pattern became very dissatisfying.  But because the pattern is so culturally ingrained and difficult to change, we found we had to opt almost completely out of parts of it in order to regain our perspective.  (We are still in the process of shedding old expectations and habits, so what I share here is just a snapshot of our process, not an answer for everyone.)

Except for the young children, we do not give many gifts at Christmas.  Each year is a little different, but for the most part, we have found this area to be the hardest to change and to maintain any kind of balance.  Buying a gift for one person inevitably leads to buying for a second, then the worry about whether the gifts are equally valuable, and will someone else's feelings be hurt or will that person feel slighted and if we're buying this for one person shouldn't we also buy it for that other one and oh no! I forgot your Aunt Martha!  It's relentless.  So we began to opt out from all of it.  Some years, we pool our money and rent a beach house as a family.  Some years we just spend the day together.  But until we feel free of the consumer pressure and hysteria of it all, we will not add gifts back into our Christmas celebrations.

As you can probably imagine, once you remove most of the pressure of gift-shopping/buying/wrapping/presenting you have released a lot of time, money, and energy and it's easier to consider a month of simple, contemplative practices.

Our Advent was a little different when we had children at home.  We lit candles each night and read prayers and scriptures; we also unwrapped and read a different Christmas book each night; we kept a Jesse Tree and hung ornaments on it; we moved Mary and her donkey around a wooden wreath.  (Kortney outlines a really similar practice in her beautiful (free!) e-book. It has many more resources. I highly recommend it!)  Our children LOVED this time and it has been a little sad to move on from it, but that is the reality of life.  These days our Advent-keeping is much simpler.  I purchased four candle holders from Goodwill and some plain beeswax candles and I will make a little wreath with greens and succulents.  We'll light the week's candles and pray from The Divine Hours each night, maybe read from  Child In Winter.  Our church is holding weekly contemplative services on Wednesdays, so we'll go to some of those as well.  For me, Advent is a time when I reconnect with the idea of goodness and hope waiting to be born into the world, of the sacrificial love that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus all represent.  What am I bearing into this aching world?  In what ways am I loving outside myself?  Am I sharing God's love with others?  Are we as a family reflecting light and hope?   In what ways do I need God to heal and rebirth me?

In the still of Advent, the questions of the soul can begin to be answered.

*

It's not all contemplation though, we do celebrate a few days during the Advent season:  mainly St. Nicholas' Day, St. Lucy's Day and the Solstice.

St. Nicholas Day is December 6th and he is, of course, the inspiration for most of the Christmas mythology we have now.  He's a joyful, pure-hearted saint and we love taking time to remember him.  For years now, I have used this day to give books to my family.  I love, love, love to give books and I spend a lot of time thinking through the year what I'd like to share with each family member.  This is a tradition unique to our family, but one I hold very dear.  In addition, we are having a little party for friends this year.  In keeping with the St Nicholas traditions, we'll collect socks for the homeless and do a fun sock exchange and I ordered fair trade chocolate coins to hand out.

St. Lucy's Day (Santa Lucia) is December 13th.  This was an especially fun day to celebrate when our daughter was young.  Traditionally, the oldest daughter gets up early and makes saffron buns and coffee for the family and serves them while wearing a candle wreath on her head.  We never managed a candle wreath, but we will still do the saffron buns and coffee, of course!

Solstice is the longest night of the year and the beginning of winter and we typically observe it very simply by keeping the lights off and only using candles, accepting the darkness of the winter and the gradual return of the light.

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Christmas itself is a full twelve days and there is plenty to celebrate there too,  (St John's day gets mulled wine!  Yay!) so I'll write more about Christmas as it nears.  It can be difficult with everyone else around decorating their hearts out, but we do wait until as close to Christmas Eve as possible to get our tree and decorate it.  I can't tell you how much I love waiting.  It makes the anticipation of Christmas day so much more exciting when all these little events slowly unfold each in their own time.  We'll bring out the creche around the same time as the tree, and start to slowly fill it with the various figures.  First Mary and Joseph, a few animals, then on Christmas Eve the angels and the star, the shepherds and their flock.  The wise men have to wait for January 6th - Epiphany! - but they are on their way too and sometimes they show up on a bookshelf or in another room, making their way to God in their own time and on their own path.

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There are so many resources online to help you understand Advent and Christmas, but I hope this gives you an idea of what it can be like.  My main encouragement is to slow everything down and strip it back to something that feels life-giving and hopeful for your family - that's the whole point of this season anyway.  Please feel free to ask any questions!

Much love to you,

tonia

rabbit and bone

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Night closes gently over the desert sky in a curtain of pink and amber.  The dark, when it comes, spreads slowly down, as if from the center of a dome, pushing at the last of the pale light, driving it into the horizon. Then the stars come out, hundreds of them, a sequined carpet unfurled against the blackness overhead.  In the middle of it all, the Milky Way, shimmering faintly, hinting at color - purple, blue, a thin shaft of gold.  There is almost no sound.  Somewhere out in the miles of open land around us there are creatures stirring, moths that flutter toward any hint of artificial light, coyotes after their rodent prey, cattle sighing and squirming, adjusting themselves to their prickly beds, but we hear none of it.  It is only the two of us, wrapped in blankets, puzzling out constellations in a whisper, watching for stars to fall.

It was my daughter’s idea to come.  A birthday gift, to write, to connect.  Out here we have no internet to call upon, no cell phones to hunch over.  There is each day, there is each other.

We write.  We read each other’s stories and talk through possible plot lines.  We agonize over edits and the stubbornness of characters. When the words begin to blur together, we go for walks. Together. Alone.

The cabin is perched on the high point of a rolling hill, from there, you can see the jackrabbit trails winding through the sagebrush. Down on the ground though, the trails are invisible.  I head out for a walk alone.  There is no destination to aim for, no obvious route to follow.  I keep the cabin in my sights and begin to wander.  After a half hour or so, I find an old dirt road.  It is criss-crossed with the tracks of dogs (or coyotes), the occasional set of elk prints.  No one has driven or walked it for a long time.  I follow it uphill to a barbed wire fence, then turn around and follow it downhill till I find another.  A mile away I can see the roof of the cabin shining in the sun.  I wave to it, wondering if my daughter is sitting on the porch, watching me amble around on roads that lead nowhere.  If I were doing this in the city, the French would have a word for me: flaneur - the stroller, the passionate wanderer.  Out here, I look more like a simpleton, coated in dust and sweat, stumbling into rabbit holes and over rocks, snagging my ankles on the prehistoric flora, walking uphill, then down.  But there is no one here but my daughter to see and she understands.  While I walk my mind unknots.  I can feel the muscles in my legs contracting and expanding, hear my breath pulling in and pushing out.  I am here.  I am alive.

Just off the highway on the way to the cabin, we’d seen a hand-lettered sign on the side of the road.  “Beetle-Cleaned Skulls For Sale,” it read.  We were fresh from the city, sealed into our speeding car, dust-free, oblivious.  We looked at each other and laughed.  Who would want a beetle-cleaned skull?  That was ages ago, when I was young.  The sun is just descending into the western half of the sky, the landscape stretching unvaried before me, sage and grey and yellow-brown.  I search the ground, confident that in this liminal space I will find some bleached white testimony of a former life - a tibia, a jawbone, a knot of vertebrae.  Memento mori.  What is life without the awareness of death?  I find  the brittle grey bones of the sagebrush, and they crumble beneath my feet.

When it is time to leave the cabin and return home, we stand in the doorway, reluctance making us heavy and slow.  We are unshowered, grit in every crevice; we’ve eaten endless bowls of beans and rice; we have no idea of what is going on in the world outside the desert. At home we will be warm and clean and well fed.  There will be stories to tell and hugs to give, but we do not want to go.

“Supposing you only saw the stars once every year. Think what you would think,” said Tasha Tudor.  I do not have to think very hard.  How long since I saw the stars as I did in the desert?  A year?  A decade?   How long since I felt silence deep as water, slipped bodily into the stream of slow time?  Long, so long.  We clean the cabin, load up the car, stand in the dust and look out over the hills one last time, then once more.  "The wonder of it!"  I am here.  I am alive.  I make no resolve save to place myself here again and again.

rosehip ceremony

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The idea of ceremony and ritual as a vital practice came to me in my thirties when I traveled across country to visit an online friend.  Her home was a masterpiece of dedicated observation and ritual.  There were candles to light for different times of day, music to set moods, books to be read at dinner, an altar in the dining room that mirrored the seasons of the church year complete with tactile symbols for the children to handle.  When I left my friend's home after a few days, I was changed.  Ritual and ceremony, I realized, make the world of the soul tangible, touchable, real.  And oh, how we need to be able to grab hold of that soul-world in our materialist, cynical age.  We have left so little room for acknowledging mystery and wonder, or the forces that work inside and through us.  These are not things we can speak of easily, even among friends and family.  But ritual and ceremony can provide a framework for it, giving solidity to things we are at a loss to describe, binding us together by experience, lending us a shared understanding.

Last week, I was invited to join in a very special ceremony for my sweet friend Lesley as she marked her passage into the Rosehip season of her life (the time after menopause).  This is such an overlooked time in a woman's life and I was thrilled to be part of creating a tangible doorway for Lesley, a point that she can look back on, knowing she has entered into a new and vital territory.  I believe it is so crucial we honor this landscape ourselves since our culture insists on treating our elder years as a time to delay and avoid, as if we stop being vibrant, living, powerful women because our bodies have moved beyond youth.

Having said that, this was my first time joining other women in such a ceremony (though you can be sure I took notes, because I will definitely be doing this in a few years) and it was such a moving time.  Everything was planned with Lesley's characteristic simplicity and beauty, honoring the earth and her own spirit, as well as ours. We shared food and drink, moving around our host's home and yard just as if we were traveling through the stages of our lives.  At each station we had a special drink (sangria, tea, Greek coffee, wine) that represented the time of life we were remembering, and we sat for hours telling our stories and sharing our experiences.  When all the stories had been told and we had completed our circuit through each life stage, we wrapped our friend in hugs and a lovely shawl that represents her new status as a Rosehip, an Elderwoman.  (Afterwards we wore our floral crowns out on the town and celebrated with dinner.  And here, too, I had something to receive:  I was self-conscious about wearing the crown in public, but all the attention we received was joyful smiles and happy questions about what we were celebrating.  The whole thing was a lovely, transformative experience.)

There's something so powerful about women coming together to bear witness for each other, to accept each other's wisdom, isn't there?  I am full up this week, thinking about how I can honor the femininity and vitality of the women in my own life, how I can stand with them and allow them to stand with me in ways that bring our hidden experiences into the light and lend them solidity.

Just as I was getting ready to post this, a friend sent me a post on Instagram that fit so perfectly with this, I had to include part of it here:

"While talking to my therapist about why I feel such a need to complete so much so fast I realized that my vision board & 99% of images I see in media are of young successful women. No wonder I felt rushed. In media, if you aren’t successful by 30, it doesn’t count..Where are the women who have nurtured their craft for years, the women who have stepped into their success with grace and depth and time. Where are the women who have built families and homes and businesses and learned happiness and self love in a different capacity than you could ever have at 30? They are missing. And that is a disservice to all of us..I will not disappear as I age. I will only shine brighter, love deeper, become wiser, have more to give and be more free. I will be here to show young women you have a lifetime to unfold. Slow down, breathe deep, live fully."

(Just a note: I don't believe older women are "missing" because they have hidden themselves, but because we are conditioned not to value and see the women who are before us.)

Tell me, how do you mark your own passages?  Have you ever participated in a ceremony like this?

And also, who shines bright for you? Are there elderwomen in your life that are pointing the way?

I'd love to hear about them.