Brew a cup of tea kids, this may be a long one. But I hope my thoughts below get you thinking and shifting as I have recently……
Things have looked a lot like this in recent weeks.
As stated in my last post, I was blindsided by a virus which left me breathless and hacking for what has turned out to be weeks on end. It hasn’t been pretty to say the least. I’ve missed out on many if not most of the earlier festivities of the season, but I just couldn’t muster the energy to ready myself, let alone be social. And of course, I didn’t want anyone else to capture the same condition. It’s been miserable.
Getting sick is never a picnic, but when it lingers like in my situation, or worse, becomes a long-term or is some form of chronic condition, it can really mess with one’s psyche. I am personally prone to delving down into darkness at times and I have at my disposal all sorts of tricks and tools which help me to stay where there is light.
Sadly, in recent months, due to a variety of unrelated reasons, these tools found themselves unavailable to me. And the tricks, haven’t been able to keep up. This past summer I broke a toe over the course of my kayaking adventure up north. While it was painful, I figured it would heal in time, which it has (sort of), but not without a months-long break from my go to meditative behavior, running. Add to this the stress of the election season, both the leading up to it all and the drastic and dreaded results. And finally, this chest cold, which has kept me away from music and my art work for weeks as well. Running and music and the arts. Quietude and peace. These are my go to, stay sane approaches to life in this crazy world in which we live.
With these tools falling away, combined with hours alone and prone, I’ll admit to the last few weeks having been a dark season of sorts. That said, through this darkness, some deep thinking has been happening. A seismic shifting in a sense. With the allowance for rest in order to welcome and conjure wellness has come a stillness and quietude I haven’t experienced in months, if not, if I am to be quite honest, perhaps years. I’ve been thinking about everything and my small place in it.
With all of this thinking and pondering, the Universe seems to be responding with little tidbits to follow toward a new way of operating. Breadcrumbs for my consideration, if you will. I share a few of them here because I sense a change in things to come, at least here in my world. And if you follow this world of mine, and the work that I do and share via various platforms, you may sense the change as well.
The message above is the most lovely auto-response to an email I have ever received and it came from photographer Morgan Wade whose words so inspired me in a recent blog post. Something about it spoke to my very soul. I forwarded it to my husband, who is a sounding board for for me in all things business and asked how I could get to this point in my own work. He replied, ‘well, you just set up an auto-response for your own email.’ Simple. Except, it’s not simple, because I think what I was really asking was, ‘how do I get to a place in my life where I am so seldom checking in online that I might require such a lovely auto-response?’.
This was the crux of the matter. I am desiring, nay desperate for, a break from the online world. As I lay ill, I didn’t have the inclination nor the desire to get online. At. All. With my interweb activity falling away, my overall generalized anxiety seemed to let up a bit as well. (since about october or so, it had been through the roof!!) This easing of anxiety can be a danger zone sign as often it can signal the onset of a depression, at least for me. All of this is a cycle I am aware of and look out for. But honestly I think it has been a bit of both things. I am depressed, I’ll admit it. And I will look to medical treatment if the usual tools do not work as I gain my health and energy back. I promise. But I am also less anxious due to not being online. So here come the next few breadcrumbs….
I was on route to a proper doctor a couple of weeks ago and heard Diane Rehm talking about the digital world vs. the analog world. It was a great show and got me further thinking about how pervasive the digital world has become, in spite of the fact that we are still physical beings living in an analog world.
Shortly after hearing that show, I came across this article in the New York Times about the somewhat rebellious notion of quitting social media. I found this to be such a tempting and interesting idea that I went to the library and got the book by the author of the article and promptly devoured it.
The book itself is geared to business professionals, more specifically those in the realm of ‘knowledge worker’. But I found much of what the author, Cal Newport, has to say applicable to anyone looking to dig a bit deeper into their own work. (ps, my word for 2017 just happens to be “clarity”. Like I said, I feel like the Universe has been sending me signs.)
Frankly, there is a part of me that is tempted to do as he suggests and quit social media completely even beyond the break I have been on since being sick. I was discussing with my dear friend in Vermont about how our lives have changed in the years since these sites and technology have seemingly taken over. We were rehashing how fake news essentially put Donald Trump into the White House. She made a wonderful point; ‘if someone had said, 5-7 years ago, “Would you sign up for a technology that would fragment your attention, cause you mass amounts of generalized anxiety and use the notion of ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ to help you decide whether your current work is valid or worthy?”‘ Of course, the answer would be no! Yet, this is essentially what we have signed up for, it has just happened glacially, without our awareness of it and we are now in the quagmire of the fallout of it all.
Both my friend and I have backgrounds in behavior modification, myself in the field of special education, and she in Applied Behavior Analysis. We know for a fact that intermittent positive rewards are the crux of cementing behavior in most people. This is psych 101!! The rules governing this idea are what drive the pointed, personal logarithmic systems presented to us on sites like facebook, twitter, instagram and the like.
Yet, we, like millions, find ourselves here. We are in this world where so much of our communication with others happens online. We are sold the idea that these communications are a necessary way to work and live in the modern world. Perhaps there is some small truth to that in many styles of work. But perhaps now that we have become familiar with the tricks of the online companies who vie for our attention, we can become more mindful about how and why we use these online platforms.
This is my intention.
At about the same time as Newport’s book found its way to me, another arrived in the mail. This one, a gift from a dear friend who has championed my work in many ways for years now and with whom I’ve shared many of the struggles of being a gentle-minded artist in an often cruel world.
Even at my healthiest, it is difficult to face the realities of this world without being sad. Images in the news, in spite of my respite from social media, have haunted me recently, as I am sure they have everyone. But many answers can be found in this delightful little tome from two modern spiritual masters…..
“Despair can come from deep grief, but it can also be a defense against the risks of bitter disappointment and shattering heartbreak. Resignation and cynicism are easier, more self-soothing postures that do not require the raw vulnerability and tragic risk of hope. To choose hope is to step firmly forward into the howling wind, baring one’s chest to the elements, knowing that, in time, the storm will pass.”
The fact that this book has reached my heart and I can hear what it has to say, means I am possibly not as deep into the darkness as I may have feared. Which is a welcome thought. But I do continue to ponder things. To wonder what is holding me back in my work. What keeps me from doing the Deep Work that Cal Newport speaks of?
I feel like there has been a somewhat of an upshot to recent events, both universally and personally. Perhaps this is me grasping at a silver lining, but I like to think I have hope. I like to think that people are, for the most part good. In spite of the fact that the news reports only the bad.
We have a man coming to power in this great country who has encouraged and emboldened bigotry and misogyny in his followers. The upshot here is that Saturday Night Live is practically writing itself and in spite of how terrifying a world our president elect presents to us, we have a weekly opportunity to laugh. Another upshot is that we have uncovered a lot of hatred and ignorance in our fellow countrymen. Perhaps we can heal a bit of that somehow. I don’t know.
Again with regard to the election, I’ve heard my thoughts above about our collective relationship with the online world echoed by many people I know. I think we are all recalibrating our idea of what it means to connect with others, professionally and personally, especially via the internet. This has to be a good thing. I have also seen a rise in activism in folks who used to stay more quiet about politics in order to keep the peace (myself included). We are not staying silent any longer. I believe this to be a good thing as well. Even if it means getting into an occasional heated discussion.
The arrival of this dreaded chest cold virus, it’s timing in coming along with the holidays has given me pause; caused me to somehow hit an inner reset button. I truly feel a sea change has been set in motion and I have the inkling of a plan in place to follow as I feel better each day.
We’ve had some new electric lines installed in the bedroom I now use as a studio. This means I can safely plug in a space heater for these single digit temperature days (we live in a drafty old place) and multiple lighting sources, and perhaps a printer! The space is a tangled mess just now due to the construction and to my own fragmented state leading up to all of this recent upheaval in general. I see this all as a good thing as well. A shaking up of the status quo. I now realize I have been running on a sort of auto-pilot. Playing a whack-a-mole game with my work that had me running after every little idea in toddler fashion. No wonder I fell ill. No wonder, that along with the wildly fascinating election cycle, I found myself unable to tear away from the online candy/junk-food in my day to day. It seemed the only quiet place I had was my day job where I would dig into a book on tape or a podcast. I am ready to find depth in my studio work once again. Diving into my sketch journal work and illustration with renewed vigor. With kids home for the holidays, there will be some reorganization of what little storage space we have so that I can streamline my workspace by removing what isn’t currently in use. And with this renewed, more spare set of goals and supplies, perhaps some deeper work will get done.
Clarity. It is, indeed, my chosen word for 2017. I am grateful that some of this much needed clarity is befalling me already, before the arrival of the New Year even. I have many times felt the need to back away from life online as the noise became too much. But I have never felt such a deep desire to really come to some balance of power with it all in such a way as these recent weeks and months have caused. As I read Deep Work especially, I came to realize that in the grand scheme of things, I am not too badly ingrained in life online and I am capable of balance, in spite of how badly I needed a break. I do allow for boredom on a routine basis, I do forget where I put my phone. I write real letters and go out weekly to play music with real friends. My dear friend Penny and I come together about quarterly for a meal out somewhere to catch up and sample fine food together. If the phones come out, it is merely to share a photograph. We don’t “check in” online when we do this.
All of this being said, I do need the online world in the work I do. And I have gotten a LOT of good from the majority of my efforts there. I love crafting these blog posts and disseminating them on the various platforms. I love sharing my work and ideas and snapshots into my working life, which is, after all quite personal. I have made true friends via my online presence. (I’m looking at you, Lee, Angie, CC!!) But there needs to be a shift. I still plan to check in now and again online and post here and there. Likely more so on instagram vs. Twitter or Facebook. (If you are on Instagram, you can find me at ‘abeefrnd’.) If these platforms are how you catch the odd post, then consider signing up to subscribe to my blog posts here so you can be sure to see them. And if you have comments, bring them here as well! I’d like to consolidate a bit. That’s all. My plan is to spend less time jumping around looking for connections and responses. I cannot chase an audience through online tools which may or may not be sharing my posts with ‘friends’ and ‘followers’ depending upon the logarithm du jour.
As you can probably tell with how wordy this particular post has become, these things have been floating around in my mind for a while now. And they provide a rather complicated flotsam and jetsam of approaches and opinions dependent upon each person and how they want to live their lives. I just know myself. I am distractible to begin with and have allowed myself to fall prey to the tantalizing online distractibility many of us have over the last few years, and especially in recent months due to the election. But now my eyes are open. I have renewed commitment to a mindfulness in the place these distractions hold in my life. I value my own work and sense of peace enough to direct what comes into my internal sphere and when. I’ll read news when I choose to, not when I see ‘click-bait’. I will reach out to friends when I think of them. (I do this already, but don’t be surprised if instead now it’s via a postcard or a phone call to go for a walk.)
I’d love your thoughts on all of this. How do you mitigate the effects of the online world to you personally? I’d love to know. What tools and tricks do you use?
Many blessings to you my dear readers, wherever this missive may find you this holiday season. I wish you light and joy and togetherness and peace into the New Year.