Taking Back Social Media

For a while, I was not liking social media. I didn’t like Facebook, I didn’t like Twitter, I didn’t even like Instagram.

I was burnt out. I had gotten tired of ‘social media’ seeming synonymous with ‘I am going to show you all the worst things about myself.’ There was a tiny percentage of people whose thoughts and opinions I actually cared about, and they were like those tiny clams you see at the beach when the waves are receding. You catch just the quickest glimpse and by the time you leaned down for a closer look, there’s another wave, and they’re gone.

For a while, it was easy to just say ‘no thanks’ and spend my time online on websites that I enjoyed. But then I realized that I missed the feeling of connection and community I had in those spaces online. I missed seeing stuff from writers I liked. I missed getting to keep up with friends who lived far away.

And then I had a bit of a duh-piphany (that’s an epiphany that, at second look, you realize that it’s kind of dumb you didn’t realize it before).

I get to choose the type of experience I have online.

When I started “building my platform” as a writer, I found myself feeling like I had to be consistently following everyone. As if I was going to regret it someday if I didn’t follow them and they were suddenly looking for me. Or, in the case of my more familiar crowd like on Facebook, I thought that somehow I would be compromising my integrity unfollowing people just because I didn’t agree with them.

Now, I’m unfollowing with reckless abandon! I’m kicking people out of my feeds like it’s going out of style! I’m finding artists and writers and creative people and I’m filling in the gaps with stuff that makes me smile.

I’ve heard it said at writer’s conferences that when you deal with social media, you should focus on the ones that work for you. But the other part of that is also focusing on what works for you within the ones you choose. You don’t owe it to anyone to be miserable when you’re online. Keep joy close and the people who are watching will feel that warmth come from you.

And limit how many news sources you follow. Damn, the news is depressing.


5 Ways to Keep in Touch

I’m going to preface this post by saying that I am so not good at keeping up with my friends and loved ones.

I still get texts and voicemails from my parents asking me if I’m alive (they live in Virginia, I live in Pennsylvania). When I stop and go, “Wow, I wonder how that person is, how long has it been?” and I realize that years have passed without us saying a word to each other, I get queasy.

Because it makes you feel like a bad friend, right? You go, “I must not care about that person or I would call them every day. I wouldn’t let so much time go by.” That’s really not true though, and I think we could all stand to cut ourselves some slack.

But here are a few ways that I have been trying to get better about staying in contact with folks:

  1. Schedule it: I’m a big fan of using my Google Calendar to remind me to call people. I’ve especially started doing this when I find that it’s someone’s birthday or a special occasion.
  2. Facebook: wait, wait, hear me out on this one. If I’m really strapped on time and I can’t pick up my phone and call someone, I rely on Facebook to help me so I can just send a quick, fun message to let someone know I’m thinking of them. I also like that I have a list of the people in my life so I can refer to it when I’m feeling isolated.
  3. Find something to do: another challenge for me has been, “Okay, so I call or message them and we’re both like, ‘hey, how’s it going, fine, how are you … well, nice talking to you.’ What’s even better is to go out and do something. Find a restaurant you want to try. Go do some sort of activity. Preferably not one that needs to be done in silence.
  4. Don’t waste time: it’s easy to get into all the reasons why you haven’t kept in touch. Do they ever really matter? I tend to think they don’t (unless you’re making amends for something, which is a whole other situation). Just jump straight to telling them how cool it is to be hanging out.
  5. It’s not you, it’s you: there was a time when I used to be concerned about the fact that I didn’t keep up with people regularly. And not just in a passing way, but in a debilitating guilty fashion, like I would die alone because I had abandoned my friends. And it’s just not true, y’all. People fall out of touch. Enjoy your paths crossing when they do, and let people know they can always talk to you, no matter how long it’s been.

On Walking Away

I used to love drama.

Not the awesome spoken word kind, or plays about people kind, or even the crazy Greek ones that had weirder sex than Game of Thrones. No, I used to love hearing all the scoop, all the kerfuffle, all the flibbertigibbet. I was the undercover scandalmonger, who would just happen to be around when the most chaotic people would appear, obviously full of angst about someone else. “You can talk to me about it,” I’d say, “you can get it out.” And I wouldn’t just drink it all up. I would gulp it. I would gorge myself on it.

This only got bigger and stronger with my increasing online presence after college. The Internet is a lot like an adorable card and gift shop. You can walk around forever and ever and keep finding things to pick up and marvel at. Comments sections of news articles about things I already didn’t agree with were the best. Lists of all the things guys find wrong with women? Sign me up. Articles about how awful things I love are? Yes, please!

And I always found these things through my best friends, the people who think like me, the people who go, “This is so messed up” and “Am I crazy to think that this person doing this is not okay?” so that I could join the loud, cheerful choir of “Yes! That is the worst! It’s all awful and we are such better people for not agreeing with that garbage!” Because who doesn’t want to have that with their friends?

At some point, though, I realized that I wasn’t actually enjoying this feeling. I would start getting angrier, and I would seethe and look for any place to release all the fire I thought was building up in my stomach. I got into angry fights with people I had never met, and I would rip them apart. And despite the fact that, sure, most of the causes were pretty justified, I found that a few truths were becoming clear:

  • Many of these things were either outside my control or distant to my circle of experience.
  • A lot of it was pointless anger and frustration.
  • There wasn’t anything I was doing about whatever I was feeling not good about.
  • Most importantly, when I came back to the screeds later, I really didn’t like the person I was seeing online.

This step back also brought a lot of other things on the Internet into focus. I saw how often I just complained and griped. I saw how I would rant about these things that seemed like nothing a few days later. Mountains, molehills, anthills. It became very clear to me how negative I was, and I really didn’t like that. I also realized it wasn’t just on the Internet, that this was affecting the Real Life Me. I had started hiding away when I was angry instead of confronting people close to me. I would seethe and snarl in private, backstab, hurt under a cover of darkness. I had been for a while but now I knew that I was not being a good person. That is something that still haunts me.

So the first thing I did was decide that I was going to stop being utterly negative, both online in social media and in life. I started to recognize when I was repeatedly complaining without taking action. On Facebook and Twitter, instead of posting about how bad my day was, I’d share a cute video that made me smile. Instead of talking about how much something sucked, I would bring up something that I really enjoyed. I used the Internet as a force of good – literally, good things, good news, good times. I felt a lot better.

Recently, it’s become much more apparent that there is a part of the web that is what I call a Hateful Shame Machine. A lot of people use it as not a vehicle for their anger but more like a remote-controlled car they can run into people’s lives. They capitalize on the safety of distance and anonymity to respond in a way that doesn’t directly impact them and hurts the subject of their disdain. But, like with a remote-controlled car, they think what they are doing is only annoying at most and couldn’t actually do any lasting damage.

Have you ever imagined what could happen to a single person being struck by a hundred remote-controlled cars? A thousand? A million?

I’m not saying that it isn’t okay to be mad or to react to something unjust. But once you realize that what you’re doing is not only making you feel toxic but is raising a red flag in your subconscious that says, “This really isn’t good, is it?” it’s time to take a step back. Are you making a difference, or are you just adding to the screaming? Are you being the person online that you are in your heart, or are you wearing a mask? Are you treating everyone the way you would to their face, or are you exploiting the fact that you can attack them without attaching yourself to it?

Most importantly, though, you can stop. You can change. Get some distance. Unplug. Go do something by yourself and clear your head. Forgive yourself. Say you’re sorry, if it isn’t too late. Understand that you deserve love and comfort and every human is cracked and flawed. And if you are the victim, these things all apply to you, tenfold.

I dare you to walk away. It’s never too late.

Positivity Challenge

Over the last seven days, I have been posting three things every day that are positive or have made me grateful. I am archiving them here for posterity

Day 1: 9/10/14
1. I have amazing wildlife around my house, including Hobo Von Whistlepig, the groundhog that has taken residence in the woodpile. Every day I feel like I get to see something happening around here, and it makes living here fun.
2. I really have my shit together. Sorry for the vulgarity there, but last night, I was sitting with Josh for dinner and discussing my timeline for writing projects I’m doing and real things that I’m making happen. I am thoughtfully, intentionally making my life better. It’s all starting to fit into place and that feels good.
3. I have a super clean tub. I am really proud of it.

Day 2: 9/11/14
1. I have gotten a lot better at dealing with my anxiety issues. I am much more capable and able to handle bad situations than I was even a few years ago.
2. My mouse, Sylvia, brings me a little joy every day. She is old and shaky but she is still happy to see me when I go over to see her.
3. Today, I got to sneak into my office building’s presentation center during my break. I did my morning stretches and walking circuits for ten minutes while the wind and rain blew outside and David Sedaris talked about French dentists on my phone. It was a very nice break.

Day 3: 9/12/14
1. It was blessedly cool today. I wore my big, black, comfy sweatshirt all day. It was marvelous.
2. My husband. He is a handsome devil, and we went clothes shopping together. It was much fun.
3. It feels good to have a local restaurant at which we are regulars. We aren’t strangers to the people at Empire Palace, and they always go out of their way to make us feel welcome (and missed, when it’s been a while).

Day 4: 9/13/14
1. Awesome friends I can hang out with for hours, talking shop and just enjoying everyone’s company.
2. My family. I feel like I could end this with ’nuff said’ but I don’t want to. Despite every way I’ve evolved as a person and everything I’ve done over the past seven years and everywhere I’ve *been*…my family has been supportive and enthusiastic about what I’m up to. That feels great.
3. Saturday evenings — the lull between the insane Friday feels and the Sunday angst — always feel perfect. Even when there are plans, or stuff to get done the next day, or whatever. There will still be that moment when you’re lying in bed going, “I still have another day.”

Day 5: 9/14/14
1. I got to read at an event today and it went awesomely. I had friends and husband there to support me, and it was a great experience.
2. The feeling of deep gratitude when you realize that your car has not been stolen but rather you went out the wrong exit of Macy’s at the mall.
3. Puppies. Big and small, furry and less so, cute and derpy. I heart them all.

Day 6: 9/15/14
1. Getting to teach someone something. I really enjoy training, and I know that’s rare. I just really, really enjoy a person being like, “I didn’t get it before and now I do!”
2. Performing several katas and realizing I remember all the steps. Like, driving around your hometown, or hearing a song from when you were younger. It’s just there.
3. Clean laundry. It’s a little thing, but when you have a mess going on in your head, it helps to go, “I have options for what I’m going to put on my body tomorrow.”

Day 7: 9/16/14
1. My health — I went to the doctor today and everything came up good. A few things to work on, but my doctor was so pleased he agreed that we could just start meeting once every 6 months. That is a big step for me, and I feel like that marks the item on my bucket list: “Have a clean bill of health.” Check.
2. Josh and I scored tickets to see The Book of Mormon on Sept 25. Yay!
3. Ice cream. Life is better – sweeter, tastier, more joyful – with the presence of ice cream. We made Bailey’s ice cream tonight, which is my most favorite ice cream of all. Because sometimes, when other people stop giving you the things you love, you just need to make it yourself.

What was positive about your day today?