Tag: Blogging

21Mar

‘Cause There’s Beauty in the Breakdown

[Photo of the first sunset of spring over the walls of Assisi]

In nearly thirteen years of marriage, Dan and I have moved five times and have lived out of suitcases three different summers. Each time we gear up for a new transition, I read a book about decluttering to try to offset my frugal “But we might need that someday!” impulse with the pure glee of tossing items I will no longer need to dust, iron, or trip over in the storage closet. This time, I picked Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up because I like being approximately a year late to online parties and also because I wanted to start using the phrase “This does not spark joy” every time my alarm goes off in the morning.

Yes, we’re headed for change once again. In an attempt to out-epic all previous summers, we will be living from suitcases for a few months while we catch up with loved ones and eat our weight in fresh salsa in the States, and then we’ll be moving from our little Umbrian city to the sprawling metropolis of Milan.

More of our heartstrings are caught up in this move than in others before it. Perugia has been our home for the last nine years. It’s the city we know best in the world, and it’s almost impossible to imagine no longer getting coffee at the bar up the street or going for runs at the park down the hill. When Natalie and I attended junior high orientation last month, I hovered Mission Impossible-style above the surface of grief, trying to modulate my emotions so I wouldn’t make a scene in front of all the friends and neighbors we are about to leave. The girls are taking it even harder.

We have a host of compelling reasons for the move though, and our sadness at leaving our current home is woven inextricably with happiness about our new one. Work and church and family await us in Milan, and the fact that we’ll be able to see the Alps on a clear day doesn’t hurt either. We know with certainty that it’s time for us to move on.

This brings me back to decluttering. I’m going through our clothes and books and knickknacks trying to determine what will bring value and joy to our life in Milan and what would only be a weight. I’m no natural at this, mind you. I fretted earnestly this morning over throwing out threadbare socks that I haven’t worn in years. (We won’t discuss the shoe situation at all, thank you kindly.) The biggest item I’ve had to evaluate, however, took only a quarter hour of soul-searching before I admitted that it has been dousing me in self-reproach rather than sparking my joy like it used to do. As Marie Kondo would say, this blog has served its purpose for me and deserves to be let go with respect.

I can’t tell you how reluctant I am to put an official stop to this writing that I’ve kept up off and on since 2002. Blogging has given me a voice when I’ve felt most alone and has connected me to priceless communities of people. This is where I’ve chronicled the early years of parenthood and the complicated shifts in my faith. So much of who I am is poured into this online space where so many of you have invested as well.

Our self-employment contracts have increased dramatically over the last year though, and my busyness is only going to ramp up over the coming months. I’ve caught myself many times wanting to spend a precious free hour working on a writing project with deep significance to me and then remembering that I haven’t blogged in ages, reasoning that I should get this up to date before tackling any other project, and ultimately giving up on the idea of writing at all that day. It’s become a lead-plated cycle of dispassion and guilt, a far cry from the creative outlet that blogging used to be.

I want to say goodbye to Perugia well, and I want to start our new life in Milan well. Holding onto this blog for old times’ sake will help me do neither. Therefore, with an almost exact blend of the excitement and heartache I feel about our upcoming move, I’m publishing this as my final post here.

Thank you all for the time you’ve invested in my blog. I can’t thank you enough for your friendship, and I’d love it if you continued to keep in touch on Instagram (@bethany_bassett) where I will be documenting every funny misadventure of the coming months. Here’s to spring and to hard-good changes and to bestseller buzz phrases that nevertheless lead to joy.

With much love,
Bethany

7Oct

Confessions of a Terrible Texter

This past Saturday evening, I found myself standing in the middle of the kitchen with a stick of butter in my hand and absolutely no idea what I’d intended to do with it. This was concerning to me, given that not thirty seconds before, I had opened the fridge with no clue what I was trying to retrieve from it. Apparently, I had remembered—butter!—and then forgotten again in the time it would take a competent adult human to spell a-m-n-e-s-i-a. “What am I trying to do?” I wailed to Dan, who was busy preparing dinner. He looked at me the way one might regard a self-cannibalizing pet*, equal parts concern and WTF?!

*We once had a hamster named Pickle who gnawed his own leg to smithereens. Better, I suppose, than our mouse Minnie who, despite her chummy name, ate her two little terrarium-mates one weekend when we were out of town. We don’t have the best track record with rodents.

Brownies. I was making brownies. I couldn’t seem to hold that thought still in my focus for longer than twenty seconds though. After re-finding my place in the recipe, I deposited the butter in a double boiler and then looked around the kitchen feeling lost and fragmented. All I really wanted to do in that moment was pull my smartphone out of my pocket and retreat into the lull of social media streams. The impulse was so strong, so insistent and sudden and reactive, that it startled me more than my memory lapses had done. Was I really about to soothe my disengaged mind by disengaging further?

I finished baking in a kind of unsatisfied stupor.

/ / /

On Sunday afternoon, a friend texted me saying she’d noticed we weren’t at church that morning, and was everyone well? I read her text and then mentally added it to the long list of messages awaiting my reply. Of course I should have written back immediately. It would have taken a single minute of my time and then been off my mind, plus it would have communicated my very real gratitude for her concern. Texting for me, however, has always taken on a form of Gestalt psychology in which my reply is weightier than the sum of its parts—the minute of time it takes, the choice of wording, the motion of my finger on the touchscreen. Entering a conversation requires my presence.

[Cue the overwhelm.]

Text messaging. WhatsApp. Voxer. Twitter. Facebook. Pinterest. Instagram. Each one a little universe full of people I care about, people to whom I want to give my full energy, attention, and emotional engagement. It’s not possible though, at least not considering my personality** and the creaking slowness with which my brain changes direction. I want to be present for all, but I can’t, and my extremely unhelpful coping strategy is to check out. Use social media to escape rather than engage. Let the faint interactive buzz of clicking “Like” substitute for the warmth of hard-won connection.

** ISTJ for you Myers-Briggs folks, Type 4 for you Enneagrammers. Basically, I’m an introvert who overthinks everything, including which personality test highlights this the best.

Tucking all these potential conversations away into spare pockets of my brain for later retrieval only serves to make me more fragmented, but the more fragmented I become, the more compulsively I scroll through social media in search of distraction. It’s the worst kind of loop, the kind that leaves me guilty and tired and replaces a section of my brain with Swiss cheese every time I pass “Go.”

I still haven’t replied to that text.

/ / /

Everyone and his Great Aunt Ruth knows that to make it in the online world these days, one needs to be both proficient and prolific in social media. This has a way of freezing my fingers cold on the keys.

If I can’t generate frequent snack packs of content throughout each day in addition to these slow-cooked posts, then am I in the wrong field? How are other writers able to be “on” for so long and in so many places each day without flying into a billion brittle bits?

I know the answer, of course, or at least some of its nuances. I know that personality and temperament have more of an impact on us than we often realize (more on this in an upcoming post) and that some good folks derive energy from the very things that sap mine. I know that a tremendous amount of work is often tucked into the archives of success, that diligence has its reward and its cost. I know that the sacrifices behind the scenes of others’ art might put my small concessions to shame. I also know that one size was never meant to fit all, no matter what the business experts claim.

Still, opening Twitter feels like smacking myself repeatedly in the face with a flunk card.

/ / /

I confess that while part of me feels snubbed every time a friend announces that he or she is sick of social media and wishes to get rid of it forever, another part of me completely understands. It’s not from the social media itself that I want freedom but from my own responses to it, the stress and disconnect and addiction and guilt, the impulse to self-soothe by scrolling through contacts’ photo streams, the wild-eyed withdrawal from conversation. I’d like to think that this is what my friends have meant as well—that we’re sick of the versions of ourselves we encounter when we reach for our smartphones.

This confession doesn’t come with a moral or with a list of tidy solutions. I will still be a terrible texter and a flaky Facebooker when the sun comes up tomorrow. (If you’re one of the ones waiting on a reply from me, I am sorry and can offer you contrition brownies if you come over.) Rather, this is my way of looking the beast in the eye and owning the reflection of myself I find there. It’s a truth-telling exercise. It’s a return to engagement, slow-cooker style.

23Sep

Prayer is Not My Prayer Language

When I began this blog back in 2007, I in no way intended to write about my spiritual life. In fact, I intended not to. Marching into the depths of my topsy-turvy faith with a notepad was a prospect so scary that I rarely even attempted it in the privacy of my own company. I planned to blog about parenthood and living overseas and maybe, occasionally, the quirks in my personality, but not spirituality. Never spirituality.

As you might have noticed, that resolution has held up about as well as a toilet paper kite in a thunderstorm.

It hasn’t gotten any less scary for me to write about my evolving relationship with God, just so you know. Blogging requires significantly more pep talking and espresso than I originally conceived, and I go into full-blown vulnerability hangover mode at least once a month. The freedom to share what’s going on behind the scenes of my heart, though, is worth every bit of discombobulation (as is the opportunity to use words like “discombobulation”), and I’m honored to the depths of my quirky soul that you’re here to read this.

Today I’m confessing to a new bit of unorthodoxy over at A Deeper Story, where I’ll join you once I’ve issued myself another pep talk or two. You bring the coffee?

[Ed: Now that Deeper Story has closed its doors, the post is here in its entirety:] 

~~~

 “Sometimes, when people ask me about my prayer life, I describe hanging laundry on the line… This is good work, this prayer. This is good prayer, this work.”
– Barbara Brown Taylor

Rarely do I call on God’s intervening powers more fervently than when someone looks around the circle and asks, “Whose turn is it to pray?”

Mine. It’s almost certainly mine. In fact, I’ve been shirking my pray-aloud duties for so many years that I probably owe the Christian community about 3,708,000 consecutive blessings at this point.

The Bible study leader or head of the holiday table knows this and looks straight at me, but I have retreated into my one and only evasive maneuver: the Preemptive Head Bow. I close my eyes and fix my face in a half-smile as if I’m already agreeing in spirit with whoever is chosen to pray. NOT ME. God, for all the love you bear me and my remaining scraps of soul dignity, make them choose NOT ME.

It usually works. Most people are reluctant to call on someone who looks to be already busy communing with God. Every now and then though… “Bethany, we haven’t heard from you in a while!” I then whisper to God the most honest expression of my soul in that moment, which is Dammit.

It’s not that I don’t know what to do in this setting. I grew up a worship leader’s kid in a Southern Baptist church. I know how to pray aloud, from the first “Father God” to the final “in your name we pray,” and I can still whip out a passable blessing under social duress. The problem is that every word of a proper prayer feels like a stumbling block in my throat. The corners rasp against my lips even as I will myself to sound ardent, bad acting made all the worse by my complicity in it.

No one has ever pointed out that my prayers tend to come out like strangulated haikus—Dear God thank you please / something on togetherness / in your name amen—but I still project my unease onto those listening. I imagine them getting together later to compare notes and plan some kind of spiritual intervention for She-Who-Tries-To-Avoid-Praying. I wouldn’t blame them either. After all, what kind of Christian doesn’t want to talk to God? That’s like being the kind of chef who refuses to touch food, or the kind of Red Sox fan who just shrugs when the Yankees win.

Something fundamental is clearly missing. At least, that’s what I used to think.

I kept an uneasy truce with prayer—accepting it as a necessary discomfort, a kind of religious underwire—until my college years. Like many students, I found the gift of unknowing in lecture halls. My professors challenged me to question and research, to unclench my perspective so I could learn. And I determined I would. I marched myself into Mardel Christian Books one Texas-bright morning and left with a stack of prayer guides as deep as my desperation. This collection of expert theology, surely, would activate my latent prayer gene.

If you’ve ever read more than two Christian how-to books in your life, you already know how the next part of this story goes. Prayer is an exercise in blind persistence, the first book told me. No, no, no–prayer is a magic spell, said the second. If you have enough faith, God will give you your own prayer language, insisted the third. Yo knuckleheads, stop bothering God with all this talking business and just listen, countered the fourth.

I’m simplifying, of course, but the whole thing felt far from simple as I abandoned book after book in frustration. Prayer was supposed to be the baseline of any Christian’s relationship with God, but I couldn’t even do it in the privacy of my own mind. I couldn’t come up with words that rang true for me, much less ones that would transport me to the park bench where God was waiting to chat. And forget about a personal prayer language. I knew five-year-olds who could speak in tongues, but God was obviously not wasting that gift on me. It was just my voice, stammering in plain old Christianese, and the answering silence.

I never felt further from God than when I tried talking to him.

So finally, several years and several hundred arid please-and-thank-yous later, I just stopped. I stopped trying to untangle the telephone cord between God and me. I stopped forcing words into the blank space between us. I stopped pretending, at least to myself, that I was the kind of person who could start a meaningful conversation with “Dear Father in heaven.” I wasn’t. I didn’t know how to be, though God knows I’d tried. For whatever the reason (was I not sincere enough? did my soul come with a manufacturer’s defect? did God just straight-up not care?), prayer had never worked for me, and I was done trying to act like it did.

And there, in the dusty aftermath of doctrine, is where we had our first heart-to-heart.

I was in the kitchen reaching for something in my baking cabinet when an impulse swept down into my arms, a sweet, warm rush that brought my fingers to life before my brain quite realized what was happening. I knew, without knowing, that I was making brownies to take to my neighbor suffering from homesickness. More than that, I knew that I wasn’t alone.

For the next fifteen minutes, I sifted cocoa and flour, whirled sugar into butter, and greased baking pans, and every motion was a prayer. I could feel my neighbor’s struggle like a heavy and precious weight against my ribs and God as the lifeblood pulsing between it and the whisk in my hands. Not a single conscious word interrupted our rhythm. Our care, mine and God’s, went into every stir of that brownie batter, and I sensed the full truth of Jesus’s words: “At the moment of being ‘care-full’, you find yourselves cared for.”

My body was the spiritual conduit that my mind had long failed to find.

These days, I still pray best through baking. Mixing up carb-loaded comfort is my liturgy and taste-testing my sacrament. Hold your eye rolls for one second while I tell you that the secret ingredient is love. (And butter. But mostly love.) This isn’t the only way I’ve found to interact with God though. We communicate when I photograph mountain wildflowers, when I lie back to watch the stars, when I cuddle my sleepy daughters, and even when I go running—each physically emotive act expressing my soul better than words ever did. I’ve come to realize that this kind of physical-emotional intentionality is my personal prayer language, the completely unconventional way that God has chosen to connect with me.

I still haven’t figured out how to explain to Bible study leaders that I only pray with my body, sorry. People tend to think I should be more orthodox as it is. One of the most wonderful surprises of my adult life, however, is that God always meets me in my unorthodoxy. When my wounded heart can’t bear a certain interpretation of the Bible any longer, God meets me outside denominational lines with a new perspective. When who-I-am fails, once again, to fit religiously sanctioned roles, God affirms my identity, the unique image of [her]self that I have to offer the world. When I admit that I can’t talk to God, he gives me a prayer language that doesn’t require words. That he would meet me in the wilds of my baking cabinet, far from the park benches of conventionality and the rhetoric of experts, says more to me about his love than a by-the-book spirituality ever could.

image credit

6Aug

Book Stories: The Jumper Cable

Let’s have a moment of undignified honesty here: This week has been hard. In the perspective-maintaining, keeping-emotional-shit-together department, I mean. I have blogger friends who duck away from the internet the moment one of their pieces goes live, and I understand why. There are few things more unnerving than to realize your heart and soul are being taken in by thousands of pairs of eyes, filtered through thousands of sets of experiences, and setting off thousands of personal reactions. Even though that’s exactly what we writers want—for an audience to engage with our words—the reality of it can knock us off balance.

Brené Brown calls it a “vulnerability hangover.” In this foggy and fatigued state, we can’t quite pull anything into clear focus… least of all WHY we’d thought it was a good idea to share our tender-skinned selves with the world. Noise is too noisy, cheer is too cheery, and our own self-protective instincts lock us out of ourselves. I woke up yesterday without two words to rub together, and I concluded in true Bethany fashion that this meant I was done. All of my writer-ness had been used up. I no longer had anything worth saying, and the internet police would be along shortly to repossess my blog under the Imposter Act.

If one could buy tomato juice in this country, I would have been chugging the stuff.

Yesterday afternoon, I finally gave up trying to write anything for the day; I was getting nowhere at the speed of a runaway train. My backup plan, going to the park for a mind-clearing run, was then precluded by the crackle of incoming thunderclouds. Ah, screw productivity, I thought and reached for the brand new book on my nightstand. (Reading in the afternoon is up there on the luxury scale with chocolate in the morning and shaved legs just before bed. Partyin’ hard, mom-style.)

About two chapters in, I had my computer back out. I wanted to keep reading, but the things I was reading were giving me the rare gift of compulsion to write. The next couple of hours yo-yoed happily between book and Word document, other people’s stories charging up the storyteller in me. Turns out, when you crack open a book called Speak, you’d better get ready to do just that.

“When you’re the one on the fringes, one of the most powerful things someone can say to you is, ‘Me too.’ And really, it’s one of the most powerful things someone can say to anyone, regardless of status or social placement. The intrinsic value of mutual understanding and experience is immeasurable and priceless.” – Nish Weiseth

This isn’t a book review. Rather, it’s the story of how engaging with my friend Nish’s words gave me back my own. The more I read yesterday about how storytelling matters, deeply, to the world (and especially for those of us trying to model our ways of life on Jesus), the easier it was for me to remember why I’m here, why I write, why I subject myself to the odd vulnerability hangover. Because stories matter. Mine. Nish’s. Yours. The controversial stories. The painful ones. The ones we think no one will understand (which, in my experience, are the stories that lead to the deepest connections). The ones we are afraid to tell and the ones we can’t help telling. The ones that open us up to potential judgment and criticism… and to the almost-certain bond of “Me too.”

I wouldn’t say that I’m completely recovered from this week’s sense of displacement, but I’m not stuck in the fog anymore either. Besides, if I find myself at a loss for words tomorrow or the day after or the day after that, I have this handy paperback jumper cable right here on my nightstand.

This is the first in a series I’m excited to be starting here. Instead of writing traditional book reviews, I’d like to share why certain books have impacted me, how they’ve entwined themselves through my daily life, and what the long-term effects are. After all, what better way to talk about stories than through the medium of story? I’d like to open Book Stories up for guest posts as well. If you have your own close encounter of the literary kind to share, just send it on over to hello{at}bethanybassett{dot}com. I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes!

25Jun

The Real World: Italy

I know we’re no longer partying like it’s 1999 here, but I still cringe every time I catch myself saying the words “We met online.”

Others try to assure me that there’s no stigma to this anymore, that everybody and his uncle these days have a tribe of friends they’ve never seen in person. Even the fact that we now say “in person” instead of “in real life” should be a comfort. But whether it’s because I’ve never been to a bloggers conference or because I have truly cringe-worthy memories of defending my chat room “ministry” 15 years ago, I feel the need to hem and haw and issue disclaimers in triplicate before I admit that any of my friends started out as a URL to me.

The fact is that I have connected with some dear, dear people online, soul-siblings whose words and photos have integrated themselves into my own story. I count every one of these connections as a treasure, and I wouldn’t take it well if anyone implied that they were less valid for having been forged over screens instead of tabletops. (I owe it to humanity to admit here that no one has ever implied such a thing since… well, 1999. Clearly my defense tactics are aimed at the wrong decade.)

The most wonderful outcome, of course, is when screen-friendship becomes table-friendship. I live on the wrong continent to take advantage of that very often, but this last weekend came with a triple dose of magic, beginning with the arrival of this pair:

Erika and Austin on the gondola 1

Erika is one of my favorite people on God’s green interwebs, and now I can confirm that she really is that rad in person too. She and Austin made an otherwise ordinary day in Venice (said with tongue firmly in cheek) a feast, a party, and a pilgrimage all at once. Dan dusted off his tour guide badge, and the four of us wandered some of the most mesmerizing architecture on earth with no agenda except to be there—reverently, giddily, exuberantly there. If you’ll forgive my deviating into photoblog format for a while, I’d love to show you some of the trillion (give or take a few) pictures we snapped on Saturday. Because, Venice:

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22May

The Rainbow and the Snugglebug

If you’ve been reading my blog for long, you might have noticed that I don’t share much personal info about my girls anymore. I never made a conscious decision to “retire” them from the blog, but as they’ve grown out of toddlerhood into bona fide kids, I’ve tried to respect their privacy as I would anyone else’s. This is a learning process for me, as it is for many bloggers I think: how to write about our real lives without violating the real people in them. It’s been a challenge trying to find my place on the continuum between Anne Lamott’s permission to write about anything that’s ever happened to us and Darren Prince’s conviction that we shouldn’t publish encounters with other people without their consent, and I don’t always get it right. Sometimes I regret having used someone else—even anonymously—as an example. Other times, I regret that I didn’t share a story out of fear that it might offend someone. And what about the times when I’m aching to dedicate a blog post to my girls but don’t want to trespass on their privacy?

Well, that’s not actually a hard one, in the end…

Natalie and Sophie have read this post and given me permission to proceed, though Sophie contends that it’s too short. I guess this just means we’ll have to do it again soon! </disclaimer>

I used to write monthly letters to the girls but stopped being able to keep up with them when I got a job a few years back. Once I found time to restart the habit, so many months had passed that the whole thing overwhelmed me, like an overflowing bin of photos waiting to be scrapbooked. I tried a couple of times to write backdated letters—how cool would it be if the girls could go into adulthood with a keepsake letter for every month of their childhood?—but the project had gotten too big, and I was too busy, and it is with no small amount of disappointment now that I admit that ship has sailed.

My longing to remember and preserve the infinite editions of these two rapidly growing girls has not abated, but I’m trying to allow myself the grace to be just their mom, not their biographer. “Pics or it didn’t happen” does not apply to mamalove, no matter how many moments we forget to Instagram. Still though, I don’t want this stage of life to slip by without a memorial, without my taking the time to acknowledge and marvel and really see this nine-year-old and this six-year-old that somehow, inexplicably, are mine.

So without further disclaimers or ado, here are my favorite things about these ages:

What I love about 9-years-old

What I love about 9

  • 9 always has something to say. ALWAYS. Even while she is brushing her teeth, her mind is so full of exciting bits of information that she can’t help it if a few burst out. She’s always ready to offer helpful advice or fill in knowledge gaps in a conversation (Seriously, how does the girl know so much?? I would be afraid to go up against her in Jeopardy), and when she talks about her plans for the future—currently, to be an artist/scientist—you’re liable to find yourself lifted right off your feet by her enthusiasm.
  • 9 is an emotional rainbow, covering a wide and dazzling range of moods in any given day. This can be… exhausting. But it can also be beautiful and mesmerizing, like watching a newly hatched butterfly unfold in increments. Plus, I find new admiration for my daughter every time she identifies her own emotions and tries to work with them (as opposed to my lifelong strategy of bingeing on sugar and waiting for it all to go away).
  • 9 is an infinite loop of curiosity and creativity. She devours books and films, absorbing details that I never would have noticed, and then sprinkles elements of them into her own fantastic stories and drawings. (If you ever come to visit, I’ll show you her “Car Wars” poster above my writing desk. It’s every bit as awesome as you’d imagine.)
  • 9 is officially a Big Kid, something my mama-brain struggles to keep up with. I’m still getting used to the aura of capability around her, the responsibility she takes both for herself and for any younger kids she might be with. I watched from the balcony today as she walked her little sister home from school, hand in hand, and it made my heart feel tender to the touch… both because she’s growing up so quickly and because she’s doing it so well.

What I love about 6-years-old

What I love about 6

  • 6 is hilarious—uninhibited, mischievous, and endlessly entertaining. This child makes us laugh more than any comedian, ever. She’s a genius at inappropriate humor, a master of comic timing, and the author and perfecter of the gratuitous shimmy. I cannot imagine life without her gap-toothed giggle, so I guess this means she’ll need to stay six forever. That would be just fine with me.
  • 6 approaches every single area of life with earnest. The way this kid runs—pell-mell forward, full-speed-ahead—reflects the way she goes about learning and loving too. She puts her whole weight into creative pursuits and her whole heart into relationships. She feels everything full-strength… and this is a strength for her, because a sensitive and open soul has the capacity to love the whole world. And she does.
  • 6 has the energy of about 37 healthy adults. Where it comes from, I can’t imagine, unless she took most of mine in-utero and is now cloning it in some secret lab accessible only by hula-hoop. She never walks when she could be running or stands still when she could be dancing. Even her eyes are boisterous (see photo above). Simply writing this paragraph makes me want a nap, but I have to admit, it can be fun to have people around who keep you on your toes. Especially ones you can put to bed at 8:30.
  • 6 is a snugglebug. She’s as affectionate as a puppy, and cuddling with her before bed helps me forget my sadness that we’re done with the baby stage. There is something deeply healing about having a child melt against you, comforted by your closeness; is it any wonder that 6-years-old leaves me melting in response?
2May

On Self-Promotion and Measured Decisions

I have been on the fence about social media for a long time… and by on the fence, I mean impaled by uncertainty, stuck beyond all powers of unsticking between the forward-moving concourse of platform promotion and the chambers of my own backwards heart.

If you would, please read this post in a whisper because that is all I can bring to the discussion. I have already done my share of ranting, judged and envied until the two became indistinguishable, and questioned myself hoarse. This feels ridiculous to admit because we’re talking about Facebook here. But it’s not just Facebook, is it? For me, the question of how to promote myself online is ultimately a question of how I define validation, and un-impaling myself from that particular fence is not easily done.

Like a first-timer at IKEA, I wander the aisles of the Internet accumulating fistfuls of free measuring tape—one strip to measure Twitter followers, another to tally Facebook fans, one for comments and another for acceptance into certain circles, and every one of them labeled How Legitimate Are You Today? The thing about free measuring tape, however, is that it’s always too short. You can’t measure the stature of a human being any more than you can a Svärta bedroom set with that strip of pre-printed paper. I know this.

The temptation to measure is always there though, close on the heels of the good and life-giving impulse to share my words with you. It’s a scarily small step between loving feedback and needing it, and that’s where my dilemma lies. The question I’ve found myself circling back to time and time again is this: Can I actively promote myself online without losing myself in the process? And the answer is… no. Deeply, and with a certainty born of many restless nights, no.

I’m not saying that the social media experience is like this for everyone, but trying to clamor for the world’s already-fragmented attention feels about as natural to me as taking a job in the stock exchange would. I was not made to wave my hands and shout. Nor—and I say this with great affection toward those of you who have this gifting—was I made to narrate my day in 140-character zingers. Instead, I was made to sit down and chat over beverages some place where we can hear each other think and forget about the passing hours. I was made to write slowly and to do it as an extension of holistic living, not as a response to (or worse, a bid for) other’s opinions.

I’ve discovered that my soul has nothing of the marketer about her. This can make me crazy, especially knowing that marketing savvy can be the sole difference between a writing career and a writing hobby. This is also why I’ve dangled on the social media fence for so long. Do I try to jump into the game even though the pace overwhelms me and I can’t keep the rules straight and I am sure to be wheezing and disoriented within minutes? Or do I walk out of the stadium into the quiet evening air I so love, knowing that I may have just turned my back on the opportunity of my life?

I hope you’re still reading this in a whisper because all I have left of this debate is its still, small core: How do I define validation for myself? And friends, as much as I love you and welcome your company here, the answer to that is located behind the secret panel of identity, the place God and I go alone to sort out the whos and whys of me. No other person or group has a say in it. They shouldn’t have a say in it, at any rate, which is why I’m making a pledge to myself, a decision at last: to enjoy social media as an outlet and a meeting point… and to close my browser the second it begins to mean more.

In other words, I’m keeping Facebook but dropping the measuring tape.

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