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.
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:
- I was on social media way more often than I realized.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.