Life in the Fire Swamp: One-Month Update on Living Without Social Media

March 15, 2019



Life is Different Without Social Media, but in a Good Way!


I'd like to share a few updates on living without social media. It's now been a month, and though friends and family have been concerned about my welfare, both in living without social media (read: they thought I'd never be able to do it), and having the desire to live without social media (read: they thought I was nuts), I'm alive and well.


These days, with most of us attached to social media like an umbilical cord, no one seems to talk about what it's like to live without it. Living without social media is practically uncharted territory, like the Fire Swamp in The Princess Bride.  Legendarily dangerous and with a reputation based on rumor, we're not even sure it is survivable. But guess what?


It's easily survivable.


You see, I've been to the fire swamp of social media-free life. I now know the secrets of the fire swamp and it seems I will be able to live there quite happily for some time. A thousand points to Princess Bride aficionados who get the reference.


 The Princess Bride - in the Fire Swamp



But What the Heck Do You Do Without Social Media?


How do I live without social media? What have I been doing without it? Writing, walking, exercising, bird watching, working without interruption, and reading, all with the same kind of sustained attention I enjoyed back in the day before I ever got a cell phone.


I've Read Twelve Books in Four Weeks


Yep, I've read twelve books, including About Face, but Colonel David Hackworth, which is over 800 pages long, and Gates of Fire, by Steven Pressfield, which is 530 pages long. I'm not saying this like, "Wooooooh, look at me, I read big, long books really fast!" I'm saying this to demonstrate that I have the time and attention for big, long books now that I am no longer scrolling through my phone, gawking briefly, yet endlessly at the most mundane of what life has to offer. My brain can easily sustain the attention it takes to devote to an eight-hundred page book. It feels good to think more deeply. As a lover of military history and strategy, I recommend both books mentioned, but the way.


Also, I am less agitated. When I was on social media, I wasn't walking around with serious agitation, as if one wrong move from someone was going to make me blow. It was nothing extreme. No road rage, no paranoia, no discernible agitation in fact, since I never talked about the feelings. I just seemed to constantly feel it on a subtle level, kind of like an anxiety, because I was consuming many other people's ideas and feelings without discretion.


No Political Angst

Especially politics, (though not only politics). I felt agitated about politics, things people said about political theories, or political parties, or political representatives or candidates. I felt a low boil of social agitation, and a fair amount of hopelessness simply from reading other people's political comments, which are everywhere you look on social media. Nowadays you can read a post about somebody's personal choice of hair products and they throw in something political. I couldn't do it anymore.


 Only the best meme ever.


Now, since leaving social medial, I barely think about politics, though I do listen to a political podcast now and then, and honestly, this has been one of the best side effect of cutting the cord.


I think there is a reason why people only have a few good friends at a time. Most of us don't need to be exposed to the deeper emotional, psychic, and psychological insight of hundreds or thousands of people on a given day, which is what happens when we are on social media. I think this emotional injection needs to be tempered, and made special again, where we have access to the thoughts and feelings of fewer people, but in deeper ways.


I don't think my brain can find a meaningful way to process hundreds of daily emotional events  from people I am not close to, or don't know. A girl from high's school's mom dies and we feel bad, but we scroll on, while also feeling bad about not feeling too bad, then we get to a viral post about a toddler with brain cancer, which is horrifying because it is so hopeless, then an angry person ranting over being pulled over by police, then one hundred and fifty more things asking for deep compassion and emotional availability, which no one can ever truly produce, not for stranger after stranger, day after day. I think we risk becoming numb.


Even good emotional experiences take a toll: co-workers get together to buy a car for a dishwasher who walks to work, a dog rescue organization saves their thousandth dog, or whatever. When we digest so much emotional content like we are gobbling popcorn at a scary movie, it becomes demeaning to people on both sides of a given post. It's too much processing to be healthy.


These experiences people post are important, but they don't have to be important to everyone all day long. Truly, I believe we need to guard our hearts more. Maybe this means filtering what we ingest, letting in less emotional content from people we don't know, and leaving room for deeper response to emotional content that has more of an ability to truly affects us, while allow us to truly affect others in our lives. At least this is what I am experimenting with in my own life.


What's Been Hard About Leaving Social Media


I have had to bend my cold-turkey-forever intentions a bit. When doing PR work with a client last week, I had to create a new Gmail account (that I use only for Drive), to do collaborative work with them, and to access their database of photos for their blog posts and press releases. I have since used Docs to do editing in a shared document for a literary magazine. But I don't stay signed in, and I don't use it for anything other than work with others.


Also, I have used the Google search engine five or six times after looking up a subject and not getting anywhere meaningful on Duck Duck Go.


Also, using Signal to keep in touch with a family member who lives in Europe is not as nice as using Messenger, but it works.


Real Life Changes, Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is


Since leaving social media, I have made steps to volunteer with a local literacy program for at-risk children. Starting on Tuesday, I will go in person to a real place and read to real, live kids, and also listen to them read to me.  I easily have the emotional energy to do that even a month out from cutting social media ties. I'll let you know how it goes, but I don't expect it to go badly. Being read aloud to by a child is one of life's greatest gifts, and full literacy, including the confidence to read aloud to others, is an important skill for children to learn. I'm glad to be a part of that for any kid.


I love kid lit, by the way. I've either kept or re-purchased most of my childhood books and I still read them. This one is my favorite books of all time, and I think it shaped who I am:



Miss Suzy book cover.



And inside the book is my favorite illustration of all time:

 I think of this illustration in Miss Suzy most nights before falling asleep.



Free Poem for You and Your Friends!


Since I've left social media, I've also been playing around with ways to connect with people who like to hear from me. I knew I needed to upgrade my email/subscription system,so I decided to have a little fun with it, mostly because having fun makes things....funner.


Incidentally, my husband is so good at making un-fun things fun that he can make an ER visit fun. That's a gift, I'll tell you what, and I love him for it and try to pay fun forward. That's why, from now on, when someone signs up for email updates from me, they will get a copy of a poem I wrote about poop.


A poem about poop is not as gross as it sounds. It's more of a celebration of euphemism than a real examination of anything fecal. So, sign up for my emails, and get a free poem! Win-win, I say. Please share with people you know. Go to any page on my website and sign up! A free poem can be yours!



Putting Some Nutritious Content in My Blog


I also want to make my blog worth consuming. No popcorn or Cheetos here. I'm talking literary magnesium, ideas like grass-fed liver, and lion's mane mushrooms of words.


So, would you mind giving me feedback on what kinds of things you would be interested in reading about?


Maybe how-to posts on writing, the writing process, or getting published in literary journals?


Some craft talk on writing?


General updates on things?


Book reviews?


Reading lists?


How to learn writing without getting an MFA?


Or how to choose an MFA program?


Or a deeper dive into what I am doing these days?


My latest obsessions? There are several at any given time...


Or maybe....political commentary? Just kidding. I'll never talk about politics in public.


Post- Script


A quick word about the bird watching I've been doing. I'm not generally a bird watcher, but there is a community of crows in my neighborhood that I never took the time to notice, and they are fascinating. They visit the trees across the street from my house each morning and evening. They seem to engage in deep discussions about a number of topics while exercising their right to change seating preferences within individual branches every five to ten seconds. I looked up crows and found that they eat babies out of other birds' nests. This crow crew never let on that they do that, but it takes time to get to know someone. Despite the barbarismos, I'm open to getting to know them as long as they don't shed ticks in my yard.


Have a great weekend. Give me some feedback if you have time.






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