“B” is for Burnt and for Breaks

Screen Shot 2016-04-02 at 6.17.58 PMWelcome to my 2016 A to Z series on how to establish a meaningful minimum for social media as part of a balanced life. Over the next 26 days, I’ll take a quick look at  some of the pluses and minuses of social media and how to adapt it to your own needs and plans.

Yesterday’s post was a near perfect example of the blahs which follow burnout. Yes, I was burnt. It wasn’t just social media that had me in this crisped, ashen state, but factors in my regular life—a surprise birthday visit to a friend, a husband recovering from a broken leg, college acceptances for Kid #3 balanced by testing and promotion to sergeant for Kid #2. Everybody had something going on, and there I sat in the middle of the swirling vortex of family life, happy, stressed out, tired, overwhelmed, and in need of quality hours of solitude, and so I escaped to social media.

Or so I thought…

I am not sure how it works for everyone else, but social media has a unique relationship to burnout. At times, it can be the perfect escape from whatever ails us in the real world and a chance to catch up and laugh with friends. At other times, it can exacerbate the negative feelings we had hoped to eliminate. Checking quickly from one place to another, I flared and burnt out just as fast, got off the computer, and tried to sort through a morass of papers scatterformed on my desk, a cloud gathering around me as I started to write my “blah” post of yesterday, feeling defeated before the start. Grinding to a slow and passionless conclusion, I realized I needed a break, not just from social media, but from everything.

A problem with social media is that—like email—it contributes to the feeling that the job is never done and is a factor in creating overwhelm and depression. A place we turn for entertainment and comfort, it can snare us unwittingly, forestalling awareness for hours on end. Furthermore, social media programs such as Facebook trigger searching behaviors, flooding the brain with dopamine and hooking us still deeper.

I saw a microcosm of this just this morning in a biweekly writer’s group where one member reported a crisis on his corporate Facebook page which required tending, communication, and tamping down and resulted in lost sleep and extra work. A second member had fallen down a YouTube rabbit hole, emerging at 5 a.m. this morning from a nighttime of unexpected video watching, a surprising and rare indulgence which she couldn’t quite explain. A third friend was too busy at the AWP Writers Conference to spend much time on social media yesterday. She reports she had great day, that the sessions were really awesome, that she only used social media when she was alone. “When you and I are together, I hardly use social media,” she said, “I’m just much less conscious of a need to go out there when I’m in the company of friends.”

Stories such as this are commonplace. Social media usage has increased tenfold among adults in the past decade, with 65% experiencing new ways of social interaction (SOURCE: Pew Research Center). And yet, in the same time period, approximately 61% of those joiners have expressed concerns about their social media use to the point where they have opted for one form or another of a Facebook vacation.

Social media use and depression among college freshmen is rising. In a panic, I call Kid#3 who’s heading off to college next year to ask what he is doing, suppressing the urge to warn him to get off of social media NOW before it’s too late, but when he answers, I discover he’s taking a break from it all.  Out on his paddleboard in the quiet backwaters of the San Francisco Bay estuary, he’s soaking up nature and sunshine. What could be more wholesome?  I applaud myself for my excellent parenting as he tells me, “I was just texting a friend about going on an adventure.”

I stop to imagine the scene as my fantasy image evaporates: teenage guy on paddleboard in the bay using social media…the results are NOT good. I suppress an urge to ask why, as I think about the 98% of people who really can’t multi-task.

“Do you have on your life vest?” I ask, avoiding the sunscreen question and the inevitable complaints that he couldn’t find any (despite my efforts to litter his path with it).

“I couldn’t find it,” he answers. He’s unconcerned. I can hear the smile in his voice, his joy at being out on the water. I swear I hear a bluebird of happiness singing in the background.

But, I’m twisted into a paradoxical pretzel:

On the one hand…he’s outdoors. Great!

On the other, he’s on a paddleboard without a life vest, has no sunscreen, and social media—aka the Sword of Damocles—sways gently in the breeze over head. Does he know the water temperature? How fast would he succumb to hypothermia anyway? Could he text someone his location should a giant wave swamp his board?

I am a divided heart as I say goodbye, hoping the bay is a puddle of calm this morning.

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Ya, I’ve started to downspiral. The YouTube rabbit hole my friend escaped from this morning is searching for fresh victims, and cat videos meow their siren song. For some reason, the song “The Wild Rover” is going through my head, specifically, the words “no, nay, never, no, nay, never, no more…” I’d been reading about it and its connection to the Temperance Movement and wondered what Carrie Nation would think if she could see us now, a society addicted to devices where more than 59% of children below the age of ten use social media.

Horrified, I shut down my computer and I go outside to hot tub bare: I’ve shed my electronics. No computer. No music. No audiobook. No Facebook.

The wind is picking up here a little bit and at the end of the meadow, a turkey vulture and a hawk rise from the top of a redwood tree, the latter with the panicky flight of young winged things, hard flapping, legs disarrayed in the air, a beak full of cries as it careens in flight like a kid tipping his tricycle on two wheels as he screeches around a corner, a brightness of voice, a sheen of plumage beaconing high above me.

And I wish it would be quiet. It broadcasts its tender years and I wonder was the turkey vulture a murderer? Have I witnessed a greater tragedy than Kim Kardashian’s latest antic? I wish I had a drone to fly up to meet the hawk where it cries out, but its calls fade as it resolves to something and to silence.

I want to reach for my phone, but I don’t.

Doesn’t this beauty deserve a selfie? I think.

I look out into the meadow at the dog rolling in horse manure amidst the verdure and the buttercups and reassure myself “I am here now, now how much more here can I be?”

To visit other blogs in the A to Z Challenge, click here:

 

 

 

Ready, Set, Go

A2Z-BADGE [2016]Well, tomorrow is the start of the A to Z Blog Challenge.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been blogging topics about nutrition on Tuesdays, birds on Fridays, and science on Saturdays and will suspend those topics over the next few weeks to focus on balancing social media for writers.

I thought I’d give you some insight into how I chose this topic.

I had been complaining to a friend that the recommendations from writers seemed to rely on testimonials instead of study evidence. Everywhere I turned, the good opinions seemed to be mostly based on hearsay. As I used social media myself, I couldn’t help but wonder why it felt like something illicit. Later, I learned how social media impacts dopamine in much the same way as food, drugs or gambling, making it as something to which we could become addicted.

The final thing which pushed me to choose this topic happened two days ago. While researching the study data on the impact of social media and internet use, I found this piece. When I first read it, I thought it was a joke, but as I continued I realized that it was meant to be serious. The first panel left me a little confused…

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The second panel was the one that caught my attention and made me wonder where exactly this piece was going:

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The final segment made me wonder had the person who shared this data become completely inured to compassion? Did he/she care so little about the impact others that they would sell anything just to make money? Was this type of marketing typical of how businesses were being taught to approach social media? I read on…

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I have no idea how prevalent than attitudes expressed above really are, though I found the same data shared in several different places. So, when you think about why it is hard to get off of Facebook or how glued you are to your Twitter feed, just remember that there are companies out there whose objective is to pander to your every desire. This is just one of the interesting things I’ve learned in preparing for the upcoming month of blogging.

My hope is to uncover more about social media–the pluses and the minuses–and share that in my blog over the course of the next thirty days. I hope you’ll find this interesting.

From Here to Zternity: The A to Z Blog Challenge

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I’d thought about posting this tomorrow, but consider this a last call for the A to Z blog challenge.

For those who don’t know what that is, the A to Z Blog Challenge is a 30-day event  in which bloggers share blog posts following the letters of the alphabet. A list of the rules etc. is here.

As challenges go, this one is devilishly simple: blog Monday through Saturday through April following each letter in order.

Blogs posts have no limit on the number of words, though posts that are on the shorter side seem to have the advantage of finding more readers–though there are always exceptions. Organizers recommend that posts be at least one hundred words long and participants can blog about any subject, though blogs with adult content must be identified at the time of registration.

This is my third year completing the challenge, generally with two different blogs, but this year, with just one blog and just one theme–The Meaningful Minimum: how writers can manage social media as part of a balanced life. I’m on the A to Z list holding down place #1084.

Here are the 7 reasons why I have grown from grousing supporter to enthusiastic appreciator for this well-conceived blogging challenge:

#1 It Puts Your Feet to the Fire

There is nothing like knowing a few thousand friends and would-be friends are blogging daily to make one jump up and join such a robust community spirit, and you will find it in this blog challenge. For me, just knowing that there are people all over the world struggling to improve at the process of daily content creation is enough to remind me that my struggles are hardly unique, and that little bit of a comparative nudge jars me loose from my “can’ts” and into my “cans” moving quickly to the region of how. Since I love a challenge and can’t fail myself without questioning my tenacity, inventiveness, and growth, the extra structure raises my concentration and shows me myself in a new ways.

Blogger Roslynn Pryor at Pushing the Bruise, a blog of what I call “poe-lit-spit” (poetry, literature, spirituality) says of her A to Z experience, “I blend A to Z with NaPoWriMo, combining the daily prompts with the letter of the day. Forcing myself to do these quick draft poems sometimes reveals little treasure bits. It keeps the poetry muscles limber.”

#2 You Learn New Things

Learning happens for A to Z bloggers all through the month of the experience as they find new ways to present their topic, refine their message, or gain an outside look at how someone else faces the challenge. With or without a chosen theme, with nothing more than a willingness to try, writers create an incentive to look deeper at their craft, or a specific subject, or some nuance of the local or wider world. For writers and creatives seeking cross-pollination of ideas, this is a great place from which to draw fresh inspiration.

#3 You Read New Blogs

One of my favorite things about this challenge is the recommendation that you read 6 to 7 other blogs each day you post. I can’t emphasize enough how much fun it is to randomly select other blogs and read them–whatever they may be. Most of the time, I end up finding new blogs to follow and a few have become prized places to look for content. While many blogs are tagged by subject matter, some aren’t classified in any way

ъъъъъ.jpg I love the lottery-like nature of this daily gamble and the later exchange with friends about great blogs to check out in the future. While no one forces you to read for others, I’ve learned that this is where the real joy can be found and the more other blogs you read, the more you connect to this vibrant community which leads me to…

#4 Comments, Comments, and More Comments

There is nothing like writing into the void and feeling the vast array of insignificance which happens when you write alone. Comments from other writers can be heady things which quell the wolves of isolation. It’s great to receive comments from other people and, I would argue, even more fun to write something you believe for someone you’ve never even met. I’m a big sucker for the feeling that I read hard, wrote a worthy comment, made a difference or provided encouragement to someone who needed it that day.

On the flip side, the A to Z blog challenge has a group of bloggers who stop by to check if you are on track with the challenge as evidenced by daily writing, and its fascinating to feel the effect of these random visits which double as intermittent reinforcement.  Like disembodied guardian spirits, they contribute to the magic of the month and the feeling that kind beings are close at hand ready to lend necessary aid.

#5 Follow Me, Follow You

The greatest increases in blog followers have always happened for me during the A to Z blog challenge, but not surprisingly, it’s a two way street. Like most forms of social media, this community relies on fair exchange, unless, of, course your content just happens to hit the societal sweet spot, like one of these short examples from Mashable.

#6 Purposeful Planning

There are people who engage in the challenge, writing on a daily basis, but many more plan their posts far in advance. Whichever style you choose to employ, thinking ahead can make lighter work and more fun during the challenge, and I’ve watched at least one friend cruise in style with all 26 posts scheduled before Day 1 begins. In other ways, too, your blog benefits when you plan ahead. Here is a list of smart ideas from blogger Solveig Warner about how you can ready your blog for the upcoming challenge.

# 7 Have It Your Way

djfdklj.jpgOne year, I wrote an A to Z of events from the 1915 Panama Pacific Exhibition; another time, I was so desperate, I took any topic which fit my letter for that day. One friend wrote marvelous erotic haikus and other poems in a coded blog which was itself a puzzle to discover. The point is, you have enormous control over the manner and style of your expression. I’ve have posts of a few words and a couple of choice images, and longer posts that happened to match my emotion of the day.  One thing I have found is that each year, I’ve come away from this experience proud having mastered a few new skills. One of those skills, how to blog daily, has been transformed into my own year-long blogging challenge , a task I would have never undertaken had it not been for the months of experience I garnered each year in A to Z.

So, if you are feeling the call of the wild, it’s not too late to join the fun. Even if you fail to finish, there’s no A to Z police to come and impound your blog or take away your firstborn post. Perhaps you’ll find, as many have done, that the A to Z can set you free–free from uncertainty, writing paralysis, and doubt as it throws open a creative floodgate.

If you’d like to register to join the challenge, here’s a direct link to that page.

A Meaningful Minimum

Well, as I promised yesterday, today is the day I said I would discuss how to balance social media in an otherwise active life.

As I researched today, looking at the topics I wanted to cover for a single blogpost, I found that there is so much more to this issue than I ever could have imagined. It turns out that social media, like sugar, is actually at the head of a multi-faceted public health crisis whose implications go beyond what many could even imagine.

I hate to do a bait-and-switch on anyone, and if you know me, you know that’s not my style, but in order to cover this topic adequately, offering things for you to consider so that you can reach your own conclusions, I need more time. I’ve decided to change my theme for the A to Z blog challenge from topics related to my novel to a discussion of how writers (in particular) can balance social media with the rest of their workload, fitting it into a healthy lifestyle.

The A to Z blog challenge starts on April 1st and runs through April 30th. If you, too, are doing the challenge, please leave your blog in a comment and I will make sure to follow you during the challenge.

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The Straight Poop on the Endless Loop

“More more more
How do you like it how do you like it
More more more
How do you like it how do you like it
More more more
How do you like it how do you like it

Oooh how do you like your love
Oooh how do you like your love”

When former porn star and disco singer Andrea True recorded the song, More, More, More by Gregg Diamond, one could argue she was in a prime position to express a few home truths about the culture of satisfaction. In a way, her song is as timely today as it was in the 1970s and speaks with knowing awareness that the fans of want can be flamed with repetitive speech. I wrote more about this in an earlier post if you are interested.

If I had a problem, just one problem, it would be that I wonder too much as I fail to follow orders. I’m just a butthead when it comes to conformity, which is why I struggle with the endless loop and the so-called truths of a writer’s existence. You would think the endless loop would be something like think-write-edit-repeat, but somewhere along the line there came the idea that everyone had to platform, too, had to be something more than just a quietly obsessed creative introvert and instead had to find, burnish, and display an interesting personality.

The problem is, the biggest endless loop of them all is social media. Pushed by that indomitable force, Dopamine, which embarks on endless searches for content, chanting “if I just post here,” “if I just paste there,” like a hog searching for truffles among oak roots, we are victims of our anticipation of good things which almost always exceed reality.

This all reminds me of the time I went to a Tony Robbins event and did the Firewalk before I  was deemed a positive thinking washout.

Don’t get me wrong, I chanted myself into oblivion to the heady drum music while stamping on the wet grass, feet freezing, before toddling across the hot coals, attendants pushing from behind like I was in line to see the pope. Truth was, we all knew if I slowed down, I would burn my feet, and some contrary tendency made me pause for just a second to see if I would feel the heat–and I did–right before the attendants hastened me along just ahead of my third degree burns, thus ending my query as to the “magic” of the Firewalk, a “miracle” readily explained by physics.

That night I went home exhausted, dehydrated, hoarse, and unsure. Part of me said I should feel great and admittedly I was caught up in some of the fervor for a time, even gathering a bunch of the ashes from the firewalk as a keepsake in a big cup from Jack-in-the-Box. Years later, I would look at it in wonder at the weird stuff people do when bored in a robust economy.

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Midway through Saturday of the event, I’d had enough attempts to bully me into believing in the power of my mind. Trust me, I was already convinced that my mind had power–power enough to decide I never wanted to be self-actualized again. I simply didn’t care anymore, had stopped  jumping up and down in my chair, had lost all interest in NLP techniques to “anchor” to sex as my power motivator as if nothing else in the world mattered.

One young woman got so mad at me because I wasn’t rocking out as hard as the rest of our row and they were trying to get Tony to notice them. I pointed out that logically, he was much more likely to notice us with me standing there in skeptical contrast than he would be had I been shaking my wares with the best of ’em. I was simply to exhausted with the whole thing, and like the hamster on the wheel, stopped moving and was flung from the experience.

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Years later, something even worse happened: SOCIAL MEDIA. Love it? Hate it? Love it! Hate it! The stuff gets in the way of production yet attracts us over and over again as if things will be different, and we start again, we think we’ve learned something, and we hop on the wheel and go for another spin. It’s that dopamine again, making us want more, more, more, and we can’t stop ourselves. This is the problem with the endless loop.

This all sounds dismal, really dismal, and the more I consider how social media has changed my own life and the lives of my kids, the less I like what I see. Instead of more, more, more, I’m seeking less, less, less in hope of achieving a meaningful minimum.

Tomorrow’s Topic: What is a meaningful minimum and how do you define it for yourself?