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!

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

getting out of my own way

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These are the things that have kept me from writing as much as I should so far this week:

  1. hormone headache/fog
  2. obsessive reading of Don Quixote so I can finish it (!)
  3. sudden worry that I am not educated enough to write anything
  4. googling writing programs/workshops/classes
  5. reading the comments and testimonials of above and worrying even more that I don't know what I'm doing
  6. staring at rain
  7. making four hundred cups of tea
  8. making lists of things I should write and submit to journals/magazines when I get better at self-discipline and writing
  9. worrying about how much I should be posting online and how to find time to create interesting content
  10. googling "how important is an author's social media presence or should you just lock yourself in an internet-free room and write the whole novel?"

It didn't occur to me until yesterday that most of what I am doing is self-sabotaging. Most of that stuff felt really important when I was doing it. But no amount of classes and credentials, social media posts, or cups of tea is going to write this novel. I'm fascinated by how often I get in my own way without realizing it. Novels get written by people who sit down and write. So as hard as it is, I'm packing up the worry and settling down. I can worry about all these things again after "The End."

I'll leave you with this gem from the marvelous Seamus Heaney.

"Getting started, keeping going, getting started again – in art and in life, it seems to me this is the essential rhythm...the guarantee of credibility in your lives, credibility to yourselves as well as to others.” ”

Seamus Heaney

xo
tonia

you just need something to eat

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Last night I had a dream. I was driving down the country highway that leads to tiny town.  Suddenly I realized the windows were toofogged to see out of, and on top of that, I wasn’t wearing my glasses.  I couldn’t see the road, the signs, the intersections,or anything at all.  I began topanic.  Then, in that strange way ofdreams, I woke up on the side of the road, parked at a red light in the city.  Somehow, despite my blindness, I had drivenmyself 30 miles and arrived in a traffic jam. And I still didn’t have my glasses. Terrified, I found my phone and dialed my husband, explained where I wasand what had happened.   Cars werehonking, I had to drive, but I was nearly blind.  What was I supposed to do??

“Don’t worry,” he said in a calm voice.  “You just need something to eat.”

I got out of my car (dream-world, remember), went into a store and got some food and ate it.  And he was right.  Suddenly, I was not scared.  I could think.  I could see!  And I drove myself home

We laughed when I told him about the dream later that day,but I’m always astounded at the psyche’s ability to reveal its own truth.  Even though I wasn’t recognizing it yet, I’min a time of change, pushing into new personal territory. Of course I’m alittle anxious, stressed, and scared.  Leaveit to my practical husband to know what will help.

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Recently, Anna Lovind wrote about the myth of the “fearless” artist.  The (masculine-dominant) idea that we should harness fear and ride it like a bull into our own creative genius.  What if, she suggests, instead of shaming ourselves into action, we recognize the message in the fear and tend to the need beneath it?  I love this insight.  What if we mothered our selves, recognized that sometimes all we need is an apple and a nap to give us the strength we need to face the next task?  

Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world that values nurturing except in lip service and product advertisement (“You deserve a break today!").   Taking the time to nurture the self (or anyone) almost always registers to us as weakness and time-wasting because our world demands visible productivity, clock-watching, schedule-keeping, busyness, and monetary reward.  We have to decide to do this on our own and recognize it as an integral part of our creative and intellectual process.

People who succeed at their goals are the people who find the way through.  But that doesn’t mean we have to push and shove and wreck ourselves.   We can still get there with intention and gentleness and maybe, at the end, we'll have kept both our dreams and our wholeness. 

I know I’ve got a long drive ahead through unknown territory, so I’m going to put my effort where my mouth is and sleep an extra half hour. Eat something from the earth.  Show up on the yoga mat. Stretch. Get outside. Back off the wine and drink more water. Turn off the internet. Wear thick socks. Stay warm. Breathe. You?

it might help to be simple

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The last couple of days I've given myself the outrageous pleasure of skipping the "usual order of things" and spending the first hour or two of the morning wrapped in a blanket, feet up, little electric fire going, tea in hand, reading. The rest of the house occupants are off to work or university so the house is deliciously quiet and still. This morning I was skimming through William Stafford's books on writing. I like his lack of pretentiousness. Ditch the need to seem intellectual, he says (in not so many words.) Just write out of your own place, out of your own expertise. I long ago decided that was the only way forward for me, I haven't any pedigree or experience that would enable me to write otherwise. My stories are mainly set in the Northwest, about the kind of people I grew up with, working class people. Some of them are curious and complicated, some of them stubborn, vicious, or unreasonably good. They're just ordinary people with ordinary encounters. You don't need to be an academic, or a diplomat, a scientist, or an artist to encounter betrayal, desire, failure, limits, freedom or forgiveness. All of these are readily mined from ordinary lives. But the world is a kind of grasping, upward thrusting place, and so I sometimes need to remind myself that I have stories worth sharing, that just because my place and my expertise lack a certain amount of cachet, it is still my own, and worth speaking from.

One of my Franciscan directives this year is "simplicity," and I've been thinking how much that word should really be tied to "humility." After all, it's often pride that drives us to own more, achieve more, do more. There's a certain lack of hubris required to be content with the old shoes, the good-enough house, the job title that sparks no one's interest. Saying no - to purchases/commitments/experiences/titles - requires a deep contentment and assurance that you are right where you need to be.

"It might help to be simple, and to listen," says Stafford in his marvelously spare way.

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Today I have come to the coffee shop to write. Sometimes I need to shake myself awake, watch the people come in and out, hear snippets of real life conversations. Beside me a group of men are discussing tools - power saw, screwdriver, wrench - in absorbed detail. Behind me, a women's group is discovering self-comforting revelations in their well-used bibles. Strohl's Great Dramatic Sonata is playing in my headphones, but I am not interested in drowning everything out. I am training myself to be hardier, to write in a multitude of environments, under different kinds of pressure. More than that, I have come to watch and learn, for it is people who teach me to write, who teach me the tricks of conversation and mood, the gestures and tics that give characters life.

Novelist Elena Ferrante tells us that a writer's talent

...acts like a fishing net that captures daily experiences, holds them together imaginatively, and connects them to fundamental questions about the human condition.

Elena Ferrante

I love this image, for in my mind I see a morning river, a single boat, the casting of a glistening net over the rocking waves, the grateful gathering in of whatever has come along.

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"You must revise your life," Stafford told aspiring poets (a take on Rilke's line), and I can feel this with some urgency. It's been a couple of years since I finished my first novel. It hasn't found a publisher yet, but I am not discouraged about that. The longer I write, the more I realize how many novels I will need to write before I come anywhere near to mastery. I want to strip my days down to only what is necessary for this growing, this maturing; take off the layers so I can get right down to the art. Lately, that urgency has been accompanied by the shimmer of fear. There are walled off places within myself, there are things to know about myself that I have yet to uncover.

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The mood in the coffee shop has shifted with the noon light. The crowd has turned over, leaving a quieter mood, a flurry of tapping fingers as people settle into work. I am hungry for more than coffee, so soon I'll go home to the quiet and make my lunch, start working on the next part of my novel while the laundry spins in the washing machine tub. In this section of the story, I am trying to understand how a good person might make peace with someone who does not know how to love. It is a common problem. Sometimes I sit by the window and think of the people I know, the ways they have chosen to face that kind of thing, the ways they didn't. Just before I wrote this out, one of the women behind me said loudly, but with great tenderness,

"After all these years I am just trying to listen to him..."

I've collected this in my net, her words, her tone, and I will add it to all the other things I am just now learning to know.