Tag: Purpose

6Oct

A Field Guide to Unfurling

“No one ever influenced Tolkien—
you might as well try to influence a Bandersnatch.”
– C.S. Lewis

/ / /

Like most people who have grappled with their childhood faith, I’ve learned that I can’t base my understanding of God on what other Christians are like. Even the most pious of pulpit-pounders are still human, and the ones who claim the most loudly to speak for God are the ones who raise my highest defenses. My best strategy for avoiding spiritual disillusionment is to keep firm mental boundaries between who God is and how people portray him. However, I’ve also learned this: that when you see Jesus in someone, you don’t easily forget it.

Erika Morrison is one such person. To her, everyone from the homeschool mom to the homeless cross-dresser reflects one facet of an infinite God, and she lives like it. When I started getting to know her four years ago, her words somersaulted my perspective of Christianity onto its head. The way she defined freedom and art and identity and community made me want to exhale three decades of pent-up weariness and then invite everyone I knew to a dance party. This is a lady who believes down to her toenails that God wove our quirks and creative impulses into us not so we could spend our lives trying to overcome them in the interest of uniformity but so that we could fill the us-shaped voids in this world. You just try not busting a move as that realization sets in.

I wanted to introduce you all to Erika not just because she’s rad—though she absolutely is—but because her book Bandersnatch was released into the wild today, and this makes me glad for humanity. It’s her gift of sacred unconventionality put to paper (or, uh, Paperwhite), and I don’t imagine that many of us who pick it up are going to be the same when we put it back down. At the very least, we’ll be several pounds lighter in exhaled cynicism.

Now, without further ado, I’ll turn it over to Erika:

/ / /


Bandersnatch (Full Length Trailer) on Vimeo.

The cardinals make it look so easy. The honeybees make it look so easy. The catfish and the black crow, the dairy cow and the cactus plant, all make being created appear effortless. They arise from the earth, do their beautiful, exclusive thing and die having fulfilled their fate. None of nature seems to struggle to know who they are or what to do with themselves.

But humanity is the exception to nature’s rule because we’re individualized within our breed. We’re told by our mamas and mentors that—like snowflakes—no two of us are the same and that we each have a special purpose and part to play within the great Body of God. (If your mama never told you this, consider yourself informed: YOU—your original cells and skin-print, guts and ingenuity—will never ever incarnate again. Do you believe it?) So we struggle and seek and bald our knees asking variations of discovery-type questions (Who am I? Why am I here?), and if we’re semi-smart and moderately equipped, we pay attention just enough to wake up piecemeal over years to the knowledge of our vital, indigenous selves.

And yet… even for all our wrestling and wondering, there are certain, abundant factors stacked against our waking up. We feel and fight the low ceiling of man-made definitions, systems and institutions; we fight status quo, culture conformity, herd mentalities, and more often than not,

“The original shimmering self gets buried so deep that most of us end up hardly living out of it at all. Instead we live out of all our other selves, which we are constantly putting on and taking off like coats and hats against the world’s weather.” ~Frederick Buechner

So, let me ask you. Do you know something—anything—of your true, original, shimmering self?

Read More »

9Jan

Move It (Metaphorically Speaking)

Last weekend, we drove to an outlet mall a little ways out of town. I’d intended to use the opportunity for a nap, still feeling every bit a shadow wraith after our 4 a.m. New Year’s Eve, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the scenery. Winter in Umbria is an unconventional beauty. They call this the Green Heart of Italy because of its evergreens—spruces nodding their tufted heads in time with junipers, cypresses straight-backed and regal—but I’m captivated by the deciduous trees as well, their line-drawn latticework against the blue, each birds’ nest the silhouette of a secret. White-tipped mountains smudge the horizon. In the foreground, tilled fields and olive groves follow the eccentric lilt of the landscape. Each town has a way of looking like it was grown here, stone towers and archways hugging the hilltops and the low winter sun fanning through. The general effect is that of a Van Gogh painting.

“Why don’t we go out exploring more often?” Dan asked me.

“Because we never have it on our schedule.”

As I answered, I thought about how easily a schedule can function as blinders, the parameters of my day confined to whatever I’ve planned out beforehand. I appreciate having a schedule, just as I appreciate lists and goal outlines and brainstorming diagrams and all manner of ISTJ-happy organizational strategies. I actually put “Apply makeup” on my to-do list for this morning, if that gives you an idea of how much satisfaction I find in mapping out every last moment. (Yes, I have problems.)

It’s easy to get stuck in a perpetual state of planning though. My focus can be so narrow and unaccepting of deviation that waking up in the morning can feel like staring down a ski chute. Did you see the “Best Ski Line of 2014” video going around a few weeks ago? Like that. The precision of it all has a way of paralyzing me, and it’s easier to keep refining my plan, adding more items to the list, and maybe going back to my brainstorming pages than it is to kick off.

Not getting things done, of course, leads to profound dissatisfaction at the end of a day, and not having space to maneuver beyond my schedule—going out with my family to explore the winter landscape, for instance—crushes. As I’ve been thinking this week about how to beat both the paralysis and the inflexibility in this new year, two words have come to mind: “Move it.” It’s a mantra, a motto, a ridiculously catchy children’s song, and a reminder. “Move it” means taking action, doing the things that I’m liable to keep putting off forever. It also means shaking a little, shimmying a lot, cultivating the art of wiggle room in my life.

I hadn’t really planned on coming up with a word (or, uh, a phrase) for 2015, but it seems like one found me all the same, my direction for the year now pirouetting like Van Gogh hills toward the horizon.

Winter in Umbria 4

P.S. – Have you picked a word or a phrase for the new year? I’d love to hear it!

22Aug

Book Stories: The Escape Artist

If you’ve been following my blog for any time, then you know 1) that I identify as Christian, and 2) that “Christian” means something very different to me today than it did when I was growing up fundamentalist. The Christianity I experienced as a kid was a members-only club with lifestyle requirements and political loyalties, whereas the kind that I’m discovering and embracing in adulthood is more of an open-air party in which the only common denominator is Jesus. I am more grateful than I can say for the freedom to see God differently. Disengaging myself from the mindsets that formed me, though, has been about as easy as performing a total skeletal transplant on myself.

Take gender roles. The Christian subculture in which I grew up basically assigned one of two identities to everyone at birth. The first identity was “Leader” and came with secondary characteristics such as strength, outspokenness, superior reasoning skills, and money-making prowess. The second identity was “Follower” and brought with it expectations of docility, fertility, weakmindedness, and a knack for the domestic arts. The one and only basis for choosing which identity to bestow on a baby was which set of body parts he or she had.

I can’t speak much to the experience of growing up male in that system, but I do know what it was like to grow up under the “Follower” heading. Because I had been born female, my calling in life was to act as support staff to the males put in authority over me. Our family wasn’t nearly as rigid in this as many other patriarchal families; I was encouraged to get summer jobs and to go to university, experiences that many girls, seen only as homemakers-in-training, are denied. (In fact, one of my favorite posts to write this year was What Our Parents Did Right.)

Still though, I grew up under a list of gender-specific shoulds, some of them directly taught and some of them just implied:

A woman should defer to her father’s or husband’s judgment in all things as her own way of thinking is flawed.

A woman should always seek to diminish herself; her body, her voice, and her actions should never draw attention.

A woman should work tirelessly and selflessly in her home sphere, managing household tasks and child-raising so expertly that her husband never needs to be burdened with them.

A woman should understand that her purpose in life is to help her man fulfill his.

…for the Bible tells me so.

Actually, the Bible’s part in these gender prescriptions was always a little confusing to me. We didn’t follow Bible verses saying women needed to avoid jewelry or wear head coverings to pray, but we agreed most adamantly with verses saying women shouldn’t teach men (at least not from a pulpit), that they should obey their husbands, and that they should busy themselves at home. Despite the pick-and-choose nature of our theology, the message was the same: Men were God’s white-collar workers, and women were his field hands. And this message stuck with me, deeply.

Even after I had moved halfway across the world with a husband who considers me equal and the beginnings of a fulfilling profession, I felt my fundamentalist identity like a choke chain. In my mind, being a woman was so linked to inadequacy that I couldn’t look at a single aspect of my life without guilt. I wasn’t organized enough, diligent enough, submissive enough, successful enough, conventional enough, reproductive enough, energetic enough, religious enough. Plus, I could only manage something like .003% of what that damn Proverbs 31 woman did on any given day.

And then I read this:

Book Stories - A Year of Biblical Womanhood

“As I saw how powerful and affirming this ancient blessing could be, I decided it was time for Christian women to take back Proverbs 31. Somewhere along the way… we abandoned the meaning of the poem by focusing on the specifics, and it became just another impossible standard by which to measure our failures. We turned an anthem into an assignment, a poem into a job description.” – Rachel Held Evans

I had at least one friend (hi, A!) think that A Year of Biblical Womanhood was about how to be more fundamentalist based on its title and, you know, the whole woman-in-a-head-covering-banished-to-her-roof thing. What isn’t quite so obvious from the cover is the author’s tongue firmly in cheek and heart firmly for women like me caught in the chokehold of “Biblical Womanhood.” Really, those two words should always be in ironic quotes because, as Rachel shows in alternately hilarious and touching experiments, there is no such thing.

I read the book about a year and a half ago, and it was like an escape artist had personally come to spring me from the cramped confines of “Follower.” I do still struggle with feelings of guilt and not-enoughness; if Dan and I are in such a busy work period that we’re having trouble keeping up with household tasks, my first instinct is to berate myself for neglecting my responsibilities, for prioritizing my work over righteously clean floors. Or if I say something at a dinner party and everyone turns to listen, my inclination is to shrink back and turn the conversation over to someone with more a more valid viewpoint. The difference is that I can now recognize these wilting instincts as byproducts of an identity that was never meant to be mine. I can see cultural preference where once I only saw divine prejudice, and I can choose not to be ruled by it.

Rachel even got me to like Proverbs 31, which I consider a feat of staggering proportions. Or should I say… biblical?

“Could an ancient collection of sacred texts, spanning multiple genres and assembled over thousands of years in cultures very different from our own, really offer a single cohesive formula for how to be a woman?” she asks in her introduction. “Do all the women of Scripture fit into this same mold? Must I?” And in her answer, I found a way to keep both the Bible and myself. Pure gift.

In this series, I’m foregoing traditional book reviews and instead sharing Book Stories—why certain books have impacted me, how they’ve entwined themselves through my life, and what the long-term effects are. After all, what better way to talk about stories than through the medium of story?

(If you have your own close encounter of the literary kind you’d like to share here, just send it on over to hello{at}bethanybassett{dot}com.) 

4Feb

When a Head Cold Leads to Paralysis

The cold virus I’ve been dodging for weeks closes with a snap around my brain one evening, and I know I’m in it for the long haul. It drags me to bed like a wolf with fresh prey, preferring to gnaw at me under the protective dark of blankets. Noise hurts. Light hurts. My head feels like it’s being digested. I force myself up far too soon (the children need me! and if not them, the laundry certainly does!) and regret it almost immediately. Gravity pulls the cold from my sinuses down to my lungs, and I’m down for the count.

This is why I haven’t been writing lately—because sickness has a way of wrapping itself like fog around the landscape of my mind until it’s all I can see, and because no one wants to read about somebody else’s head cold. That’s a fact.

With so little of color or substance penetrating this head-fog, I’ve stayed quiet, and in some ways, it’s been nice. I don’t tend to give myself slack unless I’m forced to by extenuating circumstances, so sickness can be its own form of grace. I’ve been devouring books in long, thirsty gulps, sleeping without an alarm, and letting Dan bring me hot drinks without repurposing his kindness as guilt. Rest is such a gift.

To be honest though, I’ve let the gift turn into an excuse. Quiet is a little too easy a condition for me to accept, and it doesn’t take anything more significant than a head cold to validate the lie woven into the threads of my life that says I have nothing of value to say. See? my mind asserts, No one wants to read about what’s going on in your head. This is faulty logic, of course—swollen sinuses and theological reconstruction are hardly the same kind of head issues—but it’s pretty damn hard to refute all the same.

It’s staring me in the face each time I open Facebook. Link upon link upon link to other people’s words… some beautifully penned, some slapped into a template for maximum page counts, all competing for the attention of a public simultaneously addicted to and numbed by viral posts. The Internet has gotten so loud. How could my voice possibly matter in this sea of words, in this roar of marketing machines and big opinions? Why work to put my heart into sentences when someone out there has surely already said the same thing, only better or with more impressive graphics?

Please don’t take this as a hankering to be louder or to build a competitive platform. Fame isn’t why I’m here, and God knows the world doesn’t need any more noise-for-noise’s-sake. I do want to matter though. All my life, I’ve hungered for significance, rooting through theologies and grasping at circumstances for extra legs on which to stabilize my position in this world. I’m not saying this is a healthy habit, but it’s the truth. In fact, I’ve poured far too much time, energy, and money over the years into activities that no longer worked for me simply because I couldn’t acknowledge that their significance was over. (See: classical ballet, psychology courses, and every craft in which I’ve ever dabbled. Disgruntled cross stitch samplers, anyone?)

I know that I tend to pour more of myself into time-wasters in a [misguided and ultimately doomed] attempt to make them matter, but I also know that I tend to give up on good things prematurely for fear of starting this time-wasting cycle… and it all becomes a jumble, my perspective darting around wide-eyed and disoriented in the muddy in-between. How do I prioritize without clearly glimpsing the thumbprint of significance? How do I distinguish my creative calling from the cacophony of my expectations, much less from the noise of the world around me?

In times like this, Dan often reminds me that I think too much, which, YES, CLEARLY. I’m a lifelong pro at thinking a good idea to death, at second-guessing my second guesses until the whole thing goes belly-up. I’m a serial doubter, which is different from a cynic in that cynic has pre-packaged negativity ready to slap on an issue whereas I can’t decide on which brand of negativity to use. This isn’t likely to change. (Sorry, dear.)

All this leaves me in a rather paralyzed place regarding the new year, especially in regards to writing and blogging and social media and the ever-changing face of the creative community. WHY is a pretty big question to be bringing to the table, and I’m having a hard time proceeding without knowing the answer.

However, inviting you into the discussion in my mind is why this blog exists, so here we are—on the downswing of an epic but still categorically boring head cold, searching for personal meaning on a global scale, and actively refuting the lie that there is nothing of value left in this world to say.

Join the discussion, would you? I’d love to hear what your thoughts are on navigating the noise and content overload we encounter online. What motivates you to keep showing up? What helps you keep standing on your own two feet in the fire-hose stream of input? 

18Sep

The New Here

Next to my desk, a window opens onto the landscape of community. Puppies take on sidewalks with the zeal of cartographers while their owners shuffle behind in contrails of cigarette smoke. Utility trucks linger in the road to socialize with light posts and the odd pothole. A street sweeper dodges double-parked cars, painting cleanliness in drunken zigzags down the pavement. Women in house dresses putter on their balconies, shake tablecloths into the wind, rest their elbows on the ledge and survey the neighborhood with unabashed attentiveness. I wonder if they notice the masking tape still labeling our windows. On second thought, of course they do. They’re not afflicted with polite indifference like we the Americans.

We’ve been in this house less than two months, and I’m still walking through it with the curiosity and hesitancy of new acquaintanceship. I’m not used to its voice as it settles in for the night or the design of morning sunlight on its floors. I still drive toward our old house on automatic pilot, forgetting every. single. time. that we live on the other side of the neighborhood now. It’s only half a mile, but my perspective is still struggling to make the jump, to detach itself from one sense of home and apply itself to another. It’s okay. I’ll get there. And sitting at my desk pretending not to watch our new neighbors from behind a not-yet-cleaned window is as much a part of the process as unpacking has been.

~~~

I’ve been gone for a few months, not just from my blog but from myself as well. I don’t know how to put it any more truthfully than that.

Here in the spaciousness of retrospect, it’s not difficult to see how it happened, how life started amping up at a time when my heart was already dangerously threadbare, how I chose what looked the most likely path to surviving this summer. I shut down my inner life. We were scheduled to start moving the day after returning from a long and draining business trip, and the rest of the summer was already strung up in deadlines and impossible hopes like prayer flags on a spider web. There was simply no time to feel anything. No space for rumination, no margins in which to transcribe my heartbeat. The jaws of busyness were digging into me as effectively as a bear trap, and I had no energy for MacGyvering my way out. The next best option was to stop caring and, via that clumsy mental trickery, to stop feeling trapped.

I don’t recommend it, for the record. Self-smothering works to an extent, but at some point, your oxygen-deprived muscles will lose their grip on the pillow and air will rush into your lungs, driving like a spearhead against their atrophy. It usually happened in the wee hours of the night for me—the slipping resolve, the rush of thoughtsfeelingsdesireshurts, and the gasping pain of trying to breathe and trying not to all at the same time.

It was a hard summer, but one stippled throughout with moments of sheer beauty: toasting under the Barcelona stars to a full and hard-won decade of marriage with my Dan… standing awed and brimful next to my little sister and brother-in-law as they pledged their own marriage into being… sifting an inaugural rain of flour and cocoa over my new kitchen… reading adventure stories with the girls nestled like puppies beside me… dancing… kissing… tasting…

…until my need to engage in this messy, gorgeous, multifaceted human experience outweighed my urge to retreat from it.

It has been is a hard road back to life. The night still tugs at the sleeves of my mind instigating restlessness. I have to ration my energy, which only refills these days at the drip-slow pace of a morning in bed or an afternoon without responsibility. Joy and motivation and clearheadedness have been slow to return, and words slower still, but this return to blogging—a prospect that tinged my summertime periphery with anxiety—is proof of the more comprehensive return to myself.

~~~

Sunlight traces my desk with long September arms. The air outside rustles like notebook paper, and the compulsive energy rifling through it brightens my mind as effectively as caffeine.

This isn’t going to be the same kind of autumn as the last few have been for me. Rather than the usual heel-clacking charge into work and projects and PTA mode, I’m approaching the next month or so as a recovery period. The biggest change is that I’m no longer teaching. I stumble over my own tongue when trying to explain this to the kindly curious in my life. My reasons for stopping are valid, necessary even, but balancing my sanity on them for all to see makes me feel like nothing so much as an unsuspecting audience member called into the ring to perform a tightrope act.

There is such expectation hidden in the fine print of adulthood, especially here in Italy where nineteen mothers out of twenty work outside the home. Granted, most of them have nonne to cook their dinners and watch their littles, but it would be unfair of me to pin my career on the availability of relatives. For one thing, teaching has never felt like a career to me but rather an interim activity, a source of revenue and C.V. references during years when more authentic professional paths seem closed to me. Throughout this last decade of marriage and new motherhood, I’ve chosen jobs based solely on my ability to do them, and while I will always be grateful for each opportunity and experience, I can’t continue in this temporary holding pattern. It’s time to slip out of the parade of exhausting and unfulfilling jobs and directed my one wild and precious life’s energies toward finding My Work.

And then there are my girls, something like three feet taller and twenty years older here on the other side of summer. They’re loping ahead of me, more independent and articulate every time we sit down for bedtime stories (“You look tired, Mom; would you like me to read tonight?”), and I’m suddenly, fiercely, desperate to harness this fleet-footed stage of childhood, to slow time down with the full force of my attentiveness and appreciation. Time. Time off, time out, down time. Time to notice. Time to be with.

I don’t know how I can explain this urgency without jabbing barbs of discontent or regret into my fellow mammas. Neither do I feel capable of telling them that the trajectory of my career and the trajectory of my soul-identity have never matched and that I need this time, as fundamentally as I need oxygen, to find the right track. I’m plagued by the suspicion that I’m asking more than my share out of life. I worry that my explanations will either imply judgment or invite it, and the last thing I want my personal soul choices to do is to propagate unhappiness. Second-guessing is my first nature, here as in every growing process.

One surprising benefit of this summer’s withdrawal from life, however, is that I’ve returned without my former addiction to respectability. I still prefer others’ approval, of course, and I can’t entirely stop wondering how I line up in the estimations of the other parents at school, the customer service agent, the dressing room attendant, the gray-haired woman whose balcony perch allows her a perfect view of our bedroom. I don’t want to be viewed as flighty or incapable any more than I want to show up to a social event wearing the wrong clothes, but if I am to be the subject of others’ whispered conversations (which is already assuming myself far more important than I probably am to my acquaintances’ thought lives), so be it. The desire to fit in no longer holds the reins of my mind.

The view from here is welcome but unfamiliar, ever so slightly off-kilter with newness. This neighborhood and this season, both experienced before through younger versions of myself, tug equally at my imagination and insecurities. There is so much potential here for life to slump back into its old ruts, for me to grow disillusioned with forging a new path and return to the parade. I’m ever aware of the delicate effort it takes to remain present and accounted for. There is also potential for change, though—the new house a tangible excuse for cultivating new habits and the September wind as worthy a conduit as any for fresh starts. And delicate effort or not, I am here.

19Mar

Calling It Art

A blogger’s job description, as I see it, is to curate life. We each set up a space reflecting our own personality and artistic or professional interests, and then we cull from our lives what we consider worthy of display. We frame moments and arrange lines of thinking just so, highlighting unique shades of relevance in the world around us and hoping to strike particular chords—humor, empathy, outrage, optimism. We notice and present and then stand in the wings surreptitiously analyzing visitors’ facial expressions (or traffic stats) for clues as to how our art is being interpreted.

I imagine that the vast majority of us blog for the same reason that every artist creates art: we are fundamentally drawn to it. Curating our own little life exhibit relaxes us or engages us or keeps us intentional or gives us community, and we glow a bit brighter as we put up each new post. Or perhaps it’s all in my imagining, this great pure-hearted blogosphere conjured from the same daydreamscape as true love in seventh grade. It wouldn’t be the first time.

I tend to romanticize things I know little about, and I prefer it that way. I don’t want to know that Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe got divorced or that The White Stripes disbanded or that Van Gogh shot himself in a haze of despair less than a year after completing The Starry Night. I want to believe in the longevity of beauty, no matter what common sense says to the contrary, and the same goes for blogging. I don’t want to notice the joy and originality slipping out of career bloggers’ writing or to read the disclaimers at the bottom of sponsored posts. I don’t want to think that the glow I feel in showing up here could be doused at any time in the soapy residue of burst illusions.

I suppose I’m most afraid of what happens when art turns into obligation. I’m feeling hints of it here today, at my kitchen table, worlds away from any true constraint to the craft. We’ve had an intense year so far with few exhibit-worthy moments, but I’m driven to write anyway, to create something relevant and aesthetic and new, so I turn up the pressure on myself to notice beauty! notice a positive insight! notice something, dammit!

I sit at my kitchen table sweeping my eyes over the calcium stains on our sink, the uneven row of spices on our mantle, and the alphabet magnets wedged like unfortunate mechanics under the fridge, trying to prod my surroundings into resonating with me even as I know that this is how it happens, how a curator turns into a busker. There is only the thinnest of lines between taking inspiration from everyday life and trying to force meaning where there is none, and I am most likely to trip over that line when writing turns into a burden.

Keeping art art—that’s the challenge, isn’t it? When all our Western Civilization instincts are demanding that we justify output with results? When our work ethic isn’t accustomed to waiting around for a flighty muse? Every day that I sit down to write, I find myself face to face with a web of conflicting motivations interspersed with the usual doubts. Should I write even if I have nothing pressing to say? On the other hand, should I let a lack of immediate inspiration keep me from writing? Should my guide be a schedule or my own fickle mind? Does everything I publish have to be profound? What would make this time and effort worth it (whatever it is)?

It’s no wonder the original joy of creating tends to slink out the door while I’m busy untangling. This isn’t the first time I write about my internal struggles with writing, and I’m positive it won’t be the last. I am well endowed in doubts and guilts and worries (and lions and tigers and bears! oh my!), and working through them again and again is a crucial part of the process for me. It allows me to create the glowing displays, the beauty. However, sometimes an honest exhibit of my life also entails showing you behind the scenes, framing the unpolished shadow side of what ends up on your screen. Sometimes curating life means opening the doors to an unfinished mess and calling it art.

~~~

What helps you to keep art art in your life? 

30Jan

Why I Swore Off Social Networking… and Came Right Back Again

Last week, the words wouldn’t come. I tried, planting myself in my computer chair and waging blinking contests with the cursor while time ticked away. I tucked a notepad and pen into my gym bag. I took inspiring books along on errands, just in case the orbits of opportunity and creativity finally decided to align while I was out.

They didn’t.

It wasn’t that daily life wasn’t providing enough material. On the contrary, my brain was wound so tightly with big decisions, big goals, big feelings, and the big events in loved ones’ lives that I felt like the first scattered trembles of a supernova. Writing is usually how I ward off eminent explosion, but the words wouldn’t come… and to be honest, my break from blogging felt a lot less like spelunking my way to clear-mindedness and a lot more like somersaulting through space.

~~~

One of the Big Thoughts I’ve been working through this month has to do with online community. I’ve always hated reading Facebook statuses like “I’m sick of Facebook” or tweets proclaiming “So long, Twitterverse.” Besides the obvious irony of swearing off social media ON SOCIAL MEDIA, those kinds of statuses make me feel personally rebuffed, as if those friends had grown disgusted with the idea of staying in touch.

You can understand then why I cringed so violently a couple of weeks ago when I caught myself telling Dan, “I’m thinking of quitting social networks.” I could not have felt more hypocritical in that moment, but I had just spent twenty minutes reading up on the newest controversy everyone was talking about, and the end result was the same gritty black aura of criticism and outrage that so often descends on me when I click the Facebook logo. Wait, he said WHAT? How can she possibly think that? Oh no you didn’t just go there. Why would they think anyone wants to know THAT? What the hell…? I can’t believe…! Don’t get me started… etc. etc. forever and ever amen.

The truth was, I no longer liked myself on Facebook. I hated my immediate impulse to form judgments about my friends based on a parade of links, likes, and one-sentence status updates, and it stung to realize how much time I could lose in a day chasing down controversy. Beyond that, I realized how much of my self-worth I was hanging on that same haphazard system—tallying up likes, strategizing the best times of day to post links, and even brainstorming blog topics based on how much buzz they might be able to generate. I was basing my online interactions around seeking and withholding approval, and it was poisoning my creativity at its relational heart.

So I told Dan I was considering giving it all up—deleting my accounts, turning off blog comments, disabling social media plug-ins, and just creating in happy isolation. No more crowding my mind with others’ opinions. No more reliance on instant validation. If I were no longer networking, I would be free to publish my writing and then just walk away; the idea sounded glorious and not at all like previous friends’ decisions to swear off social media. After all, I wasn’t going to post about it.

~~~

Last week, I quietly stayed offline, alone with my Big Thoughts and the space to write about them without agenda… but the words wouldn’t come. What I’d thought would feel like freedom ended up feeling more like alienation, and it wasn’t validation I was missing; it was interconnectedness. It was Hey, I saw you’re having a hard week; can we bring over dinner? and Don’t worry; my babies went through that stage too, and I promise you’ll survive, and Wow, I never would have thought of things like that. I didn’t miss the controversy, but I keenly felt the lack of others’ worlds, your worlds, broadening and inspiring my own. Say what they will about how friendships conducted online are pale shadows of those lived face-to-face, social media protestors can’t explain away the very real and lasting value it has brought to my life.

In my disillusionment over the negative aspects of social networking, I had lost sight of the positive, and my week of distance sent me sailing straight into this: Encouragement matters, whether it is offered across a coffee table or across a series of IP addresses. If “encouragement” is too churchy a word (is it?), swap it out with “positive connectedness” or “affirming relationships” or simply “friendship.” The point is that what we have here counts, and while stats and retweets need to take on a much less important role in my life, that doesn’t mean the people behind them need to as well.

Author Emily Wieranga’s blogging resolutions ring especially relevant on this side of the to-leave-or-not-to-leave debate, where I know so clearly what I don’t want but so little of what I do:

“never write just for the sake of writing…
never not write out of fear of not having anything to say…
never comment on another person’s blog simply in the hopes of having them read mine…
continue to keep the comments section open, as a way to spark conversation”
(You can read the rest over on her blog.)

I suspect I’m signing myself up for a year-long, if not life-long struggle to find the balance between caring about the people in my community and not letting their opinions—even the validating ones—define me. I want to find that slim ribbon of perspective that lets me value your thoughts and learn from them and even catch ablaze on them without being consumed in the process. On the other end of it, I need to root my purpose for writing in something far deeper and more fundamental to my identity than what kind of reaction it will generate while still being sensitive to all of you who read it. Basically, my mindset needs to work on its fine motor skills.

~~~

Back in the early days of blogging (I started eleven years ago, which now seems positively prehistoric), I don’t remember any debate over authenticity vs. boundaries, apart from Dooce losing her job and advising the rest of us to “BE YE NOT SO STUPID.” In fact, I don’t remember any drama at all over post content; my blogging friends and I wrote 1) to flex our creative muscles, and 2) to be a community. We would get together at coffee shops and read our favorite entries out loud, then go back to our dorm rooms and blog about it. Some of us sported Blogger t-shirts. It was pretty awesome.

Today, blogging has the potential to be so much more—income, book-fodder, recognition—and it’s easy to absorb the idea that those outcomes are the reason we’re here. The pressure is on to come up with exceptionally written, SEO-friendly posts in our signature styles for our chosen niches with enough punch to go viral and enough relatability to attract loyal followers (ideally those in the publishing industry). Blog traffic isn’t just a perk, it’s the point, and though all our efforts are focused on readership, we miss out on community.

That’s both why I decided to quit social networking and why I came right back again. Here, as in my face-to-face world, relationships mean nothing without authenticity, and authenticity has no strength apart from relationships. Blogging simply doesn’t work for me without both factors. As appealing and praiseworthy as the life of a technological hermit may seem at times, it isn’t the route I’m meant to go, and now that I’m acknowledging that, now, finally, the words are coming back.

~~~

How do you feel about social networking? Do you think it’s necessary for a successful creative life? 

© Copyright 2015, all rights reserved.
Site powered by Training Lot.
Password Reset
Please enter your e-mail address. You will receive a new password via e-mail.