Tag: social media

The Weekend That Wasn’t

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This past summer, I invited some good friends up. They have been regular visitors for the last six years and I looked forward to seeing them. Since we live far from the coast, fresh seafood is a luxury and they usually bring a big hunk of salmon that we cook on the grill. They also bring four or so bottles of good red wine. It is an agreeable confluence of good food, good friends, good conversation and fierce croquet—a not untypical summer get-together. But there was one thing about this weekend that was as rare as a sighting of a snow leopard.

The weekend went completely undocumented.

There were no photos taken and posted on Facebook to underscore to “friends” that we are having such a good, good time; no tweets to same. Nothing survived of this weekend but our personal memories, and alas, I realize now, this blog post. Which is a darn shame, but I am trying to make a point.

After my friends left, when I realized that there was no residue of the weekend except what I remembered, I felt a rush of joy. An undocumented weekend! No one else knew about it! It felt like discovering Machu Picchu and then just letting it be.

It okay, nay, it is most excellent to keep things to yourself. To hold a memory close, like the jewel that it is. To take it out and look at it every now and then and remember those golden days that belong to only you and the people you experienced them with.

Yes, sharing experiences on the World Wide Web is fine—just understand that you don’t have to. A memory solely in your heart is just as valid as the affirmation of it on social media.

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Looking for Likes in all the Wrong Places

            I like it when lots of people read my posts, something I know by looking at my stats thingies. But I am not comfortable with it. It’s not that I don’t like that lots of people are reading what I’ve written—after all, writing needs readers. It’s that I don’t like liking that lots of people are reading what I’ve written.

            Recently I found an archive with all the writer interviews The Paris Review published through its decades. William Styron, before he was WILLIAM STYRON and just a young author with a first novel, found the writing life wrought with self-doubt and therefore very hard work and so he usually wrote in the afternoons with a hangover, because what he really liked was to stay up late and get drunk. But Styron, despite insecurity and self-doubt, despite hangovers, despite the not knowing whether his writing was any good or not, wrote.

            Because if you’re a writer, you write. And you do this on trust, and especially without validation. Your insecurity is the knife-edge that pierces the self-complacent ego and allows the honesty to emerge.

            These days with social media, we have the opportunity to post clever drivel that panders to a culture of “likes” and get instant validation for it. Human nature being what it is, why put yourself through the agony of writing and reaching for your non-validated best when you can be “liked” for a quick and clever effort? That’s the problem for writers, and there’s no solution except to be aware of it.

If you want to create the good stuff, you have to suffer in a vacuum of non-validation. I’m sorry, but that’s just the way it is.

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Do You Know Who You Are If No One Knows Who You Are?

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I am in New Mexico right now and went hiking at Ghost Ranch yesterday. I got to talking with a lovely young woman who works and lives there and she told me how the solitude at the ranch–so longed for in her life–was almost overwhelming in the winter months. Having no distractions forces you to face yourself.  Our conversation reminded me of this earlier post I wrote and so I’m re-posting it here (with a new image–a watercolor I did en plein air at Ghost Ranch.) Hope you like it.

What is your role at this time in your life? Can you state it, in one sentence? When an editor looks at a manuscript and can’t quite make up her mind about it, she asks the author: “what is at the core of the story?” If the author doesn’t know or can’t relate it succinctly, then that is the basic problem with the story. It’s the same with our lives. If we can’t tell ourselves, in one sentence, what our role is, how do we know what our story is?

Knowing our role is the center of our actions. If we know our role, our actions naturally and easily extend outward from that knowledge. If we don’t know, our actions seem erratic and confusing, to us and to everyone else.

You find your role by self-reflection.  It’s an activity that involves no one but you. It’s just you and you—non-twittered, non-face booked, non-social media-ed.  The only way to get to know yourself is to meet yourself and you can’t do that if you are constantly reacting to someone else’s idea of who you are.

Do you exist if no one tags you? Do you count if you don’t post? Who are you, essentially? Take away all your labels: friend, parent, lover, child. Take away your media: face book, twitter, tumblr, etc. Drop all these like a cheap suit. Now stand there naked. Who are you? When you can answer that, it’s time to get dressed again.

Not knowing is scary; I’ve been there. It’s a dark place with no stable ground. But if you can do the hard work of facing yourself, answering your own questions, not letting others tell you who you are, you will find your stable ground and it will be always stable, since you have found it for yourself.

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Respect Your Elders

This past week, I heard a talk by Terry Farish, author of the YA novel, The Good Braider. I had read an early draft of the book in my Editing class, and I was eager to hear Terry speak. Her book is a delicate story about a harsh subject—that of Sudanese refugees. In the talk, someone raised the topic of the relationship between parents and children in different cultures and Terry replied by quoting one of the Sudanese she had interviewed for her book:

“In this country [United States], parents respect the children; but in my country, the children respect the parents.”

This observation goes to the heart of what is worth respecting and also to the heart of the two cultures. In a culture of tradition, like that of Sudan, it is the parents who have the knowledge and the children respect them for that. In the United States, the culture is one of rapidly changing technology and the children have the knowledge to use this technology––more than the adults since the children are growing up with it.

But there’s something missing in a culture that respects its children over its adults for their fluency in technology. Since we, in the United States place such value on the new, we have been misled as a culture into thinking that youth is better than age.

While it’s nice to admire our children’s proficiency at mastering technological change, it’s important to remember that it is simply, as my husband Richard Sachs says “the ability to process information that someone else has put out there”.

Deeper than fluency in technology and by and large missing from our culture is the role of the elders (and by elders, I mean adults). The elders’ value lies in their life knowledge. If we take away the bells and whistles of society, we have what we have always had: people looking for a community and people looking to express themselves in a satisfying way. These are the urges that are part of our human legacy and the elders have lived these urges over and over. They know that life is a cycle; that it will be good, it will be bad, it will be interesting, it will be boring. And most importantly, they know that all that is just fine. 

As a dear elderly friend often said to me as I poured out my teenage heart to her: You are so young. That always comforted me. I didn’t have to figure it all out. I was young. I was finding my way. This is what the elders offer. The wisdom of perspective.

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The Unexamined Life

“We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.” So begins M.T. Anderson’s FEED, a sci/fi story set in a future where almost everyone has an implanted device in their brains that feeds them all the information we currently get from our iphone/ facebook/ ipad/ computer/ tablet devices.

Including, of course, the advertisements. While this may seem to be a form of freedom—no need to carry those pesky devices around—it is actually a form of enslavement. For who owns us, when we don’t own our thoughts.

In our current world, I am reminded of our devotion to and reliance upon our devices when I am in public places, where a get together looks more like people sitting at a table, staring intently at their palms. Is this a good life, I wonder? For sure it is an easier and more convenient life. But is life supposed to be easy, or convenient? Aren’t we supposed to struggle just a little bit? This life of being fed constant information feels like eating dessert all day. The sweetness is addictive and pretty soon all other food loses its appeal.

With no other taste to break up the endless sweetness, don’t we lose our power of discernment? Our ability to judge well what lies between the gaps in the information we are fed?  Recently, I was at one of those trendy coffee/tea places—the ones with the one-syllable name, like ‘Gulp’­­––and my friend ordered iced tea. “We don’t have that,” said the hipster server. “But,” said my friend, “you have tea, and you have ice…?” The server shook his head. Iced tea was not on the menu. And he couldn’t fill in the gaps between the information to make it so.

But perhaps this is the way it needs to be. We are seven billion now. A hundred years ago, we were one billion. Now must come the time of cooperation and communication if we are to continue living on a viable planet. It doesn’t sound like a bad thing. It’s just that I have this nagging thought; something remembered from high school science. Isn’t an ant colony all about cooperation and communication? And I wonder, are we raising a generation of ants who are happy just to be ants?

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