Monday, December 22, 2014

Facebook Fights, or a Few of My Least Favorite Things

I love Facebook.  You will never see a post from me on the evils of social media and the joys of "unplugging."  I use my newsfeed to get my daily dose of world events, political commentary, pop culture and literary reading, and updates on my friends' cute kids.  I don't understand everyone's obsession with Facebook not being the "real world."  I see more of my friends in the real world now that I have Facebook to make plans and keep in touch than I ever did before.  I'm just never going to be that person who picks up the phone and checks in.  I don't like to talk on the phone, but for some reason, Facebook, Google+, and even texting are far less intimidating to me.  (**Note: I am not on Twitter.  I'm not against it.  I don't know why I've never gotten on board.  Maybe one day.)

My favorite part of social media, however, isn't really the social part.  It's the media.  I love reading about people's thoughts on politics and social issues, author's writing about their process, a mother's spiritual journey, an outsider's path to acceptance.  Through social media, I have learned so much about others and myself and the WORLD around me.  New music, obscure writers, information regarding my chronic health issues, indie films -- all of these are things I have discovered via social media.  I have read and encountered people and ideas that have changed the way I thought, or at least broadened my perspective on some things I thought I already understood.  Maybe it's because I'm a writer, but I'd like to think there are other people out there with open minds hoping to make discoveries, not just go on a never-ending search for self-affirmation.

Back to my love for Facebook.  Since opening an account back in 2008, I've been extremely careful what I shared on my homepage.  Too politically divisive?  Not going up.  Too much profanity?  No dice.  Daring to have an opinion on the prevalence of racism in our culture or the legality of gay marriage? Not in a million years.  I saved those gems for my Google+ account.  For some reason, Facebook lends itself to incendiary comment wars.  I like to post articles or links without comment or commentary.  Just food for thought.  You cannot do that on Facebook.  Everything rapidly becomes personal.  You disagree with me so you are evil, and I am the paragon of righteousness and intelligence.  Yes, it seems like almost everyone on Facebook has very strong opinions on nearly every topic imaginable and spends all of their time online scanning for article titles that seem to contradict their fragile worldview.  (Don't even get me started on their inability to actually read the entire article.)

This constant carefulness that I have maintained over the past six years has started to wear thin.  Why when there is so much wrong in this world do I need to worry about being offensive in my desire to see it change?  When did being "nice" become more important than being challenging, innovative, or heaven forbid, provocative?  I'm not talking about being mean or disrespectful.  But is it so much to ask of people to simply look at or listen to another viewpoint?  We each have such a limited perspective.  How can we not benefit from hearing from others?

So twice in the past week I did it.  It wasn't easy.  I've seen the shit storms other friends have endured when they posted something that went against their friends' beliefs or views.  I took a deep breath and posted a video and brief article about one of the beatings of a young African American man in New York by a police officer.  I know, maybe you're thinking what I was: How could my belief that all lives matter and deserve justice and fair treatment be considered controversial or offensive?  But deep down I also knew I was going to get the righty-rants about respecting the police and not resisting arrest.  Because my belief that no one should be beaten by the police apparently puts me one step above an anarchist.  And yeah, it happened.  My hope that humanity would surprise me this time did not pan out.  So I tried it again today.  Different topic, similar result.  Apparently, I am intolerant and ignorant and just plain wrong.  Here's the thing, I have never posted opposing rants on any of their links.  I don't even argue with them when they make absurd comments on my posts.  I'm not out to change minds here.  This is SOCIAL media, you know, like, sharing and stuff?  You share stuff that's important to you, and I do the same, and we all have a good time.  Or not.

What makes me saddest about all this (or really, sad at all, because otherwise I'm not sure I would care) is that so much of the arguing and downright hate gets blamed on Christianity.  Speaking as a Christian, this makes me unspeakably sad.  I am so tired of reading about people who call themselves Christians blaming Scripture for their intolerance and lack of caring.  Some days, I'd just like to sit all of these people I'm "friends" with (many of whom I know from religious circles) and explain to them that Jesus was not a Republican.  And the Constitution was not a God-inspired document on par with the Bible.  And our founding-fathers (at this point even that term gives me the willies) were not additional apostles.  When did loving Jesus become about being right (in either sense of the word)?  When did it come to equal financial prosperity and an inability to imagine the lives of others who are different or less fortunate?  Why do we damn everyone who interprets Scripture differently?  Why are we so worried about what everyone else is doing?  Why are Christians so obsessed with sex in all its permutations and controlling/policing women's bodies?  When did we become so fixated on policing the thoughts and behavior of others? 

I, for one, am so very tired of the whole thing.  It's so disheartening and discouraging to only see Christians portrayed in the media as preachy, judgy pharisees, but I certainly understand why it's all the media shows. Because in America, it has become S.O.P for evangelicals to think and act in this way.  We've forgotten the message of the New Testament, of Jesus, to love one another.  That's it.  If we screw up everything else, that's what Jesus wanted us to do.  So, how is being adamantly against our government providing food for hungry families or health care for people too sick and poor to afford it showing love for others?  Showing love to others means all others -- regardless of race, class, or sexual orientation.  And by love, Jesus means not some theoretical goodwill toward our fellow man, but real, actual compassion.  We can do nothing less and still call ourselves followers of Christ.

So, I guess I said all of that to say this: Today, I hate Facebook just a little bit.  There won't be a status/post declaring this to my friends or a veiled or oblique reference to "some people" in a post.  Here's what I will do: If you like what I post, great.  Say it or don't.  I'm not necessarily looking for affirmation.  If you disagree with what I post, great.  Say it or don't.  I'll even discuss it with you if you like.  But if you slip in to a self-righteous rant that invalidates others' viewpoints, I'm going to put you on the restricted list.  Because life is short, and I don't have time for hate and ignorance.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

"Let me explain. No, that will take too long. Let me sum up."

I am so tired.  Like running-away-from-home-fantasy tired.  Like thank-God-for-preschool-and-can-they-have-class-on-Fridays-too tired.  Sickness has once again hit our family.  Kiddo came down with a nasty cold (a rare occurrence, I'm happy to say), and of course, I succumbed as well.  We're pretty much past all the coughing and mass tissue consumption, but the exhaustion remains.  So does the I-didn't-get-any-writing-done-for-over-a-week guilt.  Sometimes (actually most of the time), it feels like I can't keep a regular writing schedule for more than a week or two before I'm sick and confined to bed or busy with a school holiday (meaning an energetic and chatty four-year old full-time.)  Fatigue and frustration are gnarly bedfellows.  Needless to say, my state of mind isn't stellar today -- or this week, for that matter.

But there are small wins.  Like today, I'm up and writing while Kiddo is at preschool instead of collapsing back into bed like I did yesterday.  Also, I got a superbly helpful critique back from a friend/former professor on my story.  I'm excited about the prospect of working on the revisions she suggests (which are spot-on), though not excited enough to face yet another complete rewrite TODAY.  Did I mention that I'm so bloody tired?

Another good piece of news is that I checked online, and my class for Spring term is already at fifteen students! (That's a lot for a small southern women's college.)  I am mostly thrilled and only a little terrified.  Should be fun.  After Christmas, the planning begins.  I've already ordered the latest Best American Essays, and it's sitting on my nightstand awaiting my perusal.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to fit one more woman writer into my year of #readwomen2014, and so I started Autobiography of a Face, by Lucy Grealy, last night.  I've been wanting to read it ever since I devoured Ann Patchett's Truth and Beauty a couple of years ago.  Found a copy of Grealy's book at my local used bookstore the other day for three dollars, so I snagged it.  It's pretty short, so who knows?  Maybe I'll be able to squeeze in one more woman before 2015 dawns (sounds a bit illicit, doesn't it?).  I did put Station Eleven at the top of my Amazon and BN Christmas wish lists.  It will be difficult, though, to top my Christmas present last year, Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings, which has become one of my favorite books I read all year.

Now, while you the reader were unaware of any break, I just returned to my desk after fetching a steaming cup of British Breakfast (shout out to Republic of Tea!) to warm me and my icy fingers.  Seriously, I was holding my trembling hands over the teakettle and burner like a freezing camper over a roaring fire.  The caffeine probably won't got amiss either.  A few sips, and I'm feeling more human already.  Too bad most of this blog entry is already written and won't benefit from my sudden burst of warmth and energy and general goodwill toward men (okay, maybe that's a stretch.)

So as the year draws to a close (how's that for a sleep-deprived cliche?), I am thinking about the final writing topics I want to wedge into my blog before midnight on December 31st.  There will be a big 2014 reading log wrap-up (try to contain your excitement.)  Probably a Christmas/holiday post (don't worry, I won't overdo it.)  Maybe a post on my reading/writing plans for the new year?  (No, I'm not talking about New Year's Resolutions.  I HATE those.)  Nothing terribly earth-shattering (we have enough of that in real life) or innovative (we probably have enough of that, too.)  Just me.  And my steaming cuppa. And hopefully those fingerless gloves I asked Santa for.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Grinch-Begone, or How I Banned my Bah-Humbug

One short week ago, I was listening to Kiddo squeal with delight over the Macy's parade while my husband and I worked on Thanksgiving dinner.  I didn't feel well, I hadn't slept, and my four year old was jacked up on holiday spirit, and looming on the far side of all the festivities was the dreaded Christmas decorations.

Allow me first to explain my dread.  I love Christmas decorations.  I've always loved Christmas decorations.  Maybe not so much on November 1st, but in their place, yeah, I'm all about them.  But here's the thing: we (meaning me, my husband, Kiddo, our giant dog, and our geriatric cat) live in a 1700 square foot house, and you know what Christmas decorations do?  They eat up prime real estate in my living room and dining room and kitchen, so there's that.  Also, as my lung damage has progressed, my distaste for anything that increases the dust level in my house has also grown.  So yes,  Virginia (or whatever your name is), there is a Scrooge.  It's me.

Nevertheless, my husband hauled everything down from the attic, and Saturday evening we went to work.  Kiddo was ecstatic (and occasionally helpful.)  Alas, I am a control/neat freak, and I had to leave most the actual tree decorating to Steve since he is better equipped temperament-wise to deal with a four-year-old decorator whose definition of "that spot on the tree is full" translates to "move that ornament one centimeter to the right."  Last night I finished up the final decorating project and can now relax a least until the shopping and gift wrapping mania begins.

Days later, Kiddo is still in love with the tree and lights and nativity scenes.  It's all so magical for her in a way I don't really remember it being in my childhood.  Her confidence that Santa will bring her requested "Sofia headquarters" is almost intimating.  I'd like to be that sure of one thing in my life, you know?  One Christmas quirk that I can remember from being a kid, though, is my near-obsession with turning on the lights.  I could not be inside that house without the Christmas lights being plugged in and glowing.  Kiddo has inherited this trait from me, and I have to say, it is adorable.  How do I forget every year how excited she gets in December, how ornament crafts light up her face, her eternal pursuit of another cup of hot chocolate and can she have a spoon to scoop out the marshmallows?

So, after a brief interlude into Grinchdom, I am back in Christmas elf mode.  No, not that Christmas Elf.  Here are some pictures of my happy little holiday house (including Kiddo's mini-tree that belonged to me when I was a kid.)

Note the little tree skirt.  My mom made that when I was little.  It's reversible.  She's fancy like that.

I'm loving the happy Advent lights this year.  It's a new addition to the decor. 

Yeah, she made that ornament.  By herself.  Just in case you were wondering.

And last but not least, a quick pic of the decorating madness that was Saturday night...

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Just Ask

There's nice and considerate, and then there's me.  Not only am I nearly incapable of saying no, I generally prefer to gnaw off an appendage sans anesthetic than ask for a crowbar to pry open the trap.  On the rare occasion that I do make a request of others, I obsess over the language and presentation of said request to the brink of madness.  Maybe it's partly my upbringing.  I can't recall ever seeing my parents ask anyone for anything.  Maybe it's my independent/competitive spirit.  I like to be right.  I like to win.  On my own.  End of story.

But here's the thing: Asking for help isn't always a bad thing.  Sure, being the leech who perpetually feeds off the talents and generosity of others is never where you want to be.  But sometimes, people are just waiting for someone to ask them for assistance.  They want to serve others.  They find it fulfilling and edifying.  And sometimes, you just need help.  There are some things that you simply cannot do on your own.

Here's one: Writing/publishing.  I don't care if you're a Pulitzer prize-winning author; somebody read your shitty first drafts.  Even if they didn't have dedicated draft readers or workshops or writing groups, they had editors and agents.  Lots of people had to read their writing before the public at large got even a first glance.

I'm lucky.  I have a dear friend who also happens to be an amazingly gifted writer.  We swap manuscripts and critiques.  It's one of my most treasured relationships.  But there's still a gap.  My friend sees my work in multiple stages of draft and revision, and I have a short story that is (I hope) reaching the end stages of revision, and I need somebody to read it who hasn't seen it in all its previous permutations.  And this is a recurring problem for me.  Ever since completing my MFA, I've battled a paralysis resulting from the loss of paid faculty mentors.  Who reads your work when you're no longer in school?  I need someone I can really trust, whose writing I admire, and who won't feel the need to be kind or precious about my feelings when reading my work.  I've been left with one option, but for the past three years, I've avoided it.

Back to my very best friend.  Her literary talents are not the only thing that makes her wonderful.  There are so many other ways in which she is nothing like me, my near opposite in countless ways.  One area in which we differ is her complete willingness to talk to/write to/ask questions or favors of anyone.  She is fearless.  There are areas of my life where I might be considered fearless (if you squint really hard and completely ignore the definition of that word), but this is not one of them.  I operate on the assumption that I am always bothering someone.

So fast-forward to yesterday.  I was tapping away at my revisions while sipping hot chocolate at B&N. It was a lovely, peaceful morning.  (We won't get into my hellacious afternoon and evening.  Ah, parenthood.)  But I couldn't stop thinking about the next step for my current story-in-progress.  I want to start sending it out, but I'm at the point now where I can't tell what, if anything, it is missing.  I'm just too close to it.  Is everything working, or am I just deluding myself?  It's a common thought pattern for me.  But yesterday was different.  When concerns began to plague me, I pulled up the email app on my Mac and started typing a message to one of my professors from undergrad, a woman who is a talented writer and who I consider a friend, and -- get this -- asked if she would be read my story once her semester is over.  And of course, being the gracious person she is, she said yes.

Was this really so hard?  The short answer is, "Yes.  Yes, it was."  But I did it.  Did I analyze and obsess over the content and wording of the email the second I clicked "send"?  Absolutely.  Was it worth is?  I think so.  I need this help, and I need to ask for it.  I may not yet be up to my friend's level of intrepidity, but I am a work in progress.  Just like my story.

Monday, December 1, 2014


Here I sit in my other favorite place to write -- the local B&N cafe.  I'm such a cliche.  Between my location, my MacBook, and my black nail polish, my husband would be making lots of hipster jokes at this point (he's got a million of them.)  I think he's in denial, though.  If anybody in this family has hipster tendencies, it's him.  I love him anyway.

So, my other favorite place to write is my little nook in the guest room.  I have a sprawling desk upstairs, but it's a room I share with my husband and every piece of junk that doesn't have a home elsewhere.  I simply can't work in that kind of chaos.  It's really kind of crazy because B&N isn't exactly the quietest or most visually soothing place these days, but it's different somehow.  It's somebody else's chaos.  In my strange little mind, that makes a huge difference.  I can block it all out (with the assistance of my earbuds) and crank out work like a machine.  And sometimes the change of venue makes a real difference in how I write.

Of course, when you write in public -- especially as a woman -- you risk inviting the attention of others (a benefit of the home workspace -- it has a door.)  This is where my spectacular case of Resting Bitch Face comes in handy.  I can repel others subconsciously just by looking like myself.  Actually, this particular affliction has served me well over the years.  For the most part when I'm out in public, I want to be left alone.  I don't want to chat. I don't want to hear about your grandchildren or complain about the long wait at the doctor's office, and I especially don't want to explain what I'm reading or writing.  Enter the snarling bitterness that is my natural expression.

You know what cancels out Resting Bitch Face, though?  Having a four year old.  A gregarious four year old.  A cute one.  And just like that,  her inability to pass a stranger without speaking becomes my problem.  If I have an adorably friendly child, I must be a charming extrovert regardless of my facial expression, right?

Ummm, no.

Kiddo has killed my anonymity, my invisibility.  So it's been a learning process, a season of growth, as the touchy-feelys would say.  I'm learning not to stare blankly at people who speak to me in grocery store lines.  I paint that smile on my face that I fear mostly looks like a grimace of excruciating pain, but oh well.  Turns out I'm not a hipster so much as I am just a misanthrope. Or maybe I just don't like idle conversation.  I suck at it, and I have no desire to master that particular skill.  You know those people who only speak when they have something meaningful to say?  I love those people.  I aspire to be those people.  In the meantime, you can talk to my child...she has enough to say for both of us.