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

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.

**

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