In Praise of Quietness

One week ago, I cancelled my Facebook account and blocked my access to Twitter. (Did you know that Facebook guilts the heck out of you when you try to quit? They show picture after picture of the people who will, apparently, miss you when you’re gone and try to convince you to stay for just ten more minutes. They’re worse than a gaggle Irish Catholic aunties.) I did this at the behest of my children who are frankly sick and tired of how distracted I am by social media. And for good reason.

(Mom, they said. Will you cancel your Facebook? And your stupid Twitter?

Why? I said.

We hate it, they said.

We’ll see, I said.

Please.

Well…

Please.

Fine, I said. I’ll give you the summer.

And I did.)

I was going to cancel my Twitter account as well, but my brother-in-law explained to me that I can’t because my handle will instantly be co-opted by a bot and @kellybarnhill will suddenly become a purveyor of male-enhancers or some other foolishness. Instead, I had my daughter change my password, and we employed the Nuclear Option on Chrome, which prevents me from accessing either site until September 1.

It’s only been a week, but this is what I have learned so far:

  1. I was on social media way more often than I realized.
  2. I was using social media as a way of deflecting stress and distracting myself from the real emotional work needed for my actual work. This was a problem.
  3. I was going on both Facebook and Twitter without intending to do so. Indeed, I find myself engaging in the same behaviors even now. Just yesterday, I sat down to type in weather.com. Except I didn’t. I typed “Facebook”. Thanks to the nuclear option, I did not land on the Facebook page, but instead saw a very judgey screen that said SHOULDN’T YOU BE WORKING? Which, I admit, was a fair point.
  4. Writing is hard. And lonely. And farting around on Facebook with my fellow procrastinating writer friends? Well, it’s fun. Which is good. Except when it isn’t.
  5. Writers have to learn to work until their fingers ache and their wrists throb and their brains feel like mush. They must do this knowing that the fruit of their labor will not be seen for years. They must do this knowing that their manuscripts will languish with their writers groups and their agents and their editors forever. They must do this knowing that their work will be in the world and the world will not care. They must do this knowing that it is exhausting, heartbreaking, merciless work. And they must love it anyway. Do you have writer friends? Do me a favor and give them a hug and tell them they are doing a good job. Seriously. It helps more than you know.
  6. I’m pretty good at writing facebook status updates and tweets. I mean, I don’t want to brag or anything, but whatever. I’m a words girl. And I like fashioning and honing and making things funny and balanced and thoughtful and bawdy and true. And there is something…wonderful about the instant feedback of social media. The likes. The retweets. The conversation. The knowledge that we are reaching out with our intellects and our humor and our care for the world around us and our boundless love and growing closer to people in the process. That feels very very good. And it is addictive.
  7. While blogging can be considered the crack cocaine of the writing life, social media is like meth to writers. I have gone on Facebook and Twitter intending to just respond to comments, and looking at the clock and realizing that an hour has gone by. Or two. Or even more. On one hand it feels like writing. So it accesses that very real and very important region of the writerly brain. But it is not getting the book done. Or the short story written. Or the research accomplished. It is not furthering the work of writing. It is a wonderful tool for connecting with other writers and connecting with librarians and teachers and readers. And that is important. But it is not as important as writing – not at all.

And I’ll admit – I’ve been an emotional wreck. I don’t regret the decision for a second – clearly it had to happen. But all the feelings stewing around inside me that I’ve deflected in favor of cat videos or cute kids or political analysis or goofy writer jokes – well, they’re still there, aren’t they? And I have been feeling fragile as of late.

And so I spend more time in the garden. And I go on long walks at Fort Snelling State Park with my kids. And my morning runs have gotten a little bit longer, and a little bit earlier, with more pauses along the way to get a better look at the great blue heron carefully treading through the wetland in search of a frog. Or the yellow eyes of the fox denning at the base of a cottonwood tree. Or trying to catch sight of the seven foot muskie that supposedly lives in Lake Nokomis. And I am making my way more quickly through my to-read stack. And I am making a comic book with my son. And having long talks with my daughters as we lounge on a blanket in the back yard.

And it is good.

I am assuming that I’ll be back in the thick of things come September. But who knows? Maybe I’ll become addicted to quiet instead. Maybe I will unhook from all internet distraction whatsoever. Maybe I will just snail mail my manuscripts to my editor every nine months and will only communicate by passenger pigeon with the rest of the world. Maybe I will become leaf and wood and muck. Maybe I will become claw and fur and feather and wing. Maybe I will fly away.

We’ll see.

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12 thoughts on “In Praise of Quietness

  1. Thank you – I needed this exact post today, at this very moment, more than you can possibly realize. I deleted my FB account over a year ago and have been considering leaving Twitter. I find that I use Twitter to distract myself from my work, distract myself from my inner thoughts, and from my family. You put it so eloquently. Thank you.

    • I’m happy to help. And I think it is possible to re-assess one’s relationship with social media and to put it in its rightful place. I mean, I turn off the phone when it’s dinner time, right? And I don’t bring a book when I’m watching my kid play a tooth in the school play. I think social media’s newness makes it difficult to assess its ranking in the brain’s order of importance, which is why periodic breaks are incredibly useful – a week, a month, a year, whatever.

      Because, in the end, our primary relationships take precedence. And our relationship with our work. And our place in our communities. And whatever.

  2. You are so right about the addictiveness of Facebook and other social media. I love it, and hate it, or at least hate the procrastinating part. Many nights I find myself at midnight stuck in a weird loop, going over and over the same websites, as if they have changed in the past 5 minutes.

    But there is something else to Facebook as well. On Facebook I can be an author, and people will read my work. There is no editor that has to like my story, and there is no feelings of inadequacy that comes from the 4th rejection letter in a row for the same story. Sure the audience is small, but they like me there. At times this is important to me. Perhaps far too important, but I’ll take it because today its is all I have to show for x number of years writing.

    But yeah, its a habit that needs to be tamed, and if necessary, put in the corner for a time out.

  3. I did this a few months ago and have not regretted it in the least. I still have my author page up and I update very occasionally but mostly other people write things for me. Power on, Kelly!

  4. So…. I really, really, want to post this to FB and say “SHE HAS COURAGE!” But I won’t. But I want to. Because it is good. VERY good. I quit FB for almost 3 years. YES. count them. 3 years. I rejoined last fall. and I am on it a lot. does that mean I love it? No. I don’t really like it any more than I did three years ago when I quit. but do I find it helpful to procrastinate? absolutely. and I shouldn’t. and I should use capital letters at the beginning of sentences.

    I really am proud of you. I know it’s hard – but you can do it. And it DOES get easier. WAY easier. After all the guilt has subsided (from FB friends, families and whoever else), you will find a freedom that you didn’t know was missing!

    So now, I am at least going to take FB off of my phone.

  5. I love this post so very, very much. Every thing you say is spot on and brilliant and encourages me to rethink the way I get sucked into spending my time. Thank you! And hope you and your family have a lovely summer!

  6. I swore off Pinterest last week and suddenly I have more time for lots of other things. FB and Twitter don’t distract me all that much though. It sounds like you will be having a lovely summer.

  7. Wonderful post, fellow Kelly. (Hail good fellow Kelly, well met!) Thank you for it for so very many reasons. I wish you contentment and lots of good work.

  8. Just discovered this post–lovely and inspiring, Kelly. I hope you’re having a great summer. I’m rarely on FB but feel I can’t leave because “everyone”is there and I hope to have a book out some day, etc etc. so interested to here more about whether you missed it or feel its made any sort of professional or personal difference not being there. As for twitter, I love it. Meth is the perfect analogy. You’ve made me stop and think. Thank you!

  9. I saw this linked on FB by one of my fabulous writer friends. (Mmm, might be Kelly, might not…) I want so badly to go back and LIKE this post on FB!!! But somehow…. that seems counter-intuitive KWIM? And no, you don’t need to go check it there. Really. ;) OK, getting back to work now.

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