Social Media Sabbatical

Since the start of the year, I’ve been consciously opting out of social media on a regular basis. For the first few months of the year, I was taking a week every month. It’s been a while since I’ve taken a break from it.

I don’t normally plan it in advance, but I’ve noted several things:

  • it normally happens around the dark moon — an innate sense of wanting to withdraw from the world and spend time in my cave.
  • it occurs at times of fragility — a conscious decision to protect myself from the outside world.

Social media is so seductive. And pervasive. And intrusive if we let it. In 2011 when I had my breakdowns I would have done well to have taken myself offline rather than stay on.

I know now that the times when I feel alone, depressed and generally disconnected, social media looks to offer a genuine connection, an umbilicus to a world I feel separated from. But in reality social media when I’m vulnerable is an avalanche of information, opinion, news, photographs that compound rather than ameliorate my feelings. It sets up greater  dissonance in my head and despair in my heart.

When I find myself resenting, hating, people on my newsfeed — people with kids who go happily to school, excel at sport and anything else that pings off my own struggles, I know it’s time to take break. To stop comparing apples and oranges, to stop feeding my anxieties and negative self talk.

In the quiet there is a chance to recalibrate. Find equilibrium. To appreciate what you have.

Other times its a matter of just being miserable in private or taking the potential of all the bile and vitriol I want to spit out into the world and contain it, work with it, try and find a way to make peace with it… while I wait for the swing of hormones or thoughts or circumstances to come back in my direction, along with a little sanity, a little comfort.

It’s not until I remove all my social media apps (I spend most of my time on social media via my phone) and disable the websites, do I remember how compulsive my use of them is. It’s beyond habit, it’s an ‘automation of use’. It’s like a fucked up version of breathing. You don’t think to breath. You do it regardless. I don’t think when I’m reaching for Facebook or Twitter. But unlike breathing, I don’t need it.

The first day (like today) is always the hardest, the process of weaning off. It feels lonely and empty — reaching for something that’s no longer there — at a time when I’m feeling lonely and empty.

Broken.

In time I’ll feel cohesive again. There will be an opportunity to relish the space, the quiet, the room to move in my head again. When I return there will be a frantic type of energy (there always is) that scares me. Like when I first moved to the city and driving in three lanes of traffic was overwhelming. It takes a few days to adjust to being part of the social amoeba again, to want to be part of it (even if I’ve been dying to get back into the thick of it).

Until then there is reading, housework, journalling, planning, prep work for teaching, time for introspection, movies and the other things from which time is regularly sucked from. And waiting, I know, are conversations that come about because the convenience of social media has gone.

Image via Photoree

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#FridayFlash: Olives

The symbolism was as mashed as my nerve: the table set with a chipped and stained antipasto bowl filled with pimento olives drowning in oily marinade. It looked like you were making an effort. This time I didn’t care.The sweat leached from my back and armpits, sucked at my t-shirt even though it was a cool March afternoon, a pretend taste of sub-tropical autumn before the city melted in a final hurrah to summer.

‘You know Ally Lewis’s son went to a kinesiologist,’ you said, settling yourself opposite me, the olives between us. ‘Had his body temperature tweaked half a degree. You should do that. You’d be more comfortable.’

I knew you meant you would be more comfortable. I’d never worked out why you found sweat so offensive.

I’m fine most of the time, I wanted to say. It’s only you who does this to me.

But my tongue languished unresponsive in my mouth. I swore I felt it swell to fill the emptiness left by the unsaid words.

You read my t-shirt with brows sewn together. Anything you didn’t understand you automatically labelled rubbish and I’d got the feeling in the last few years you’d slipped me into that category too. And somehow I minded.

Your quizzical expression gave way to mild exasperation and in turn became mild disgust. You were infinite layers of wilting dissatisfaction. Being with you was like choking on insulation fibers.

I took an olive to occupy my nervous hands before you launched a monologue on the psychology of restless fingers. Rolled it between my fingers for a moment, an unintentional mimicry of you with grapes, before popping it into my mouth and chewing carefully.

‘You eat olives. That’s new.’

I hated olives but kept an impassive face. It gave tangible form to the sourness in my mouth and I wish I’d just left without saying good-bye.

‘Why not go to Sydney?’ you asked. ‘You love Sydney.’

Loved. When I was ten and the highlight was an Opera House snow dome and a Harbour Bridge ruler. Exotic souvenirs from travelling grandparents. Something shiny for show and tell on the first day of term.

‘We have friends and family there,’ you said.

We? Aunty Sue and Uncle Vic were hardly family. My friends who moved to Sydney had moved again. You didn’t know anyone else there. Ever. Besides, I wasn’t travelling for us. For you.

‘You’re going so far away!’

You said it as though I’d got hold of an atlas and ruler, worked out the furthest place from here and decided on that as my destination. Maybe you were right to think that.

This time I didn’t care what you thought. Or if you were right.

‘I just don’t understand. Why Morocco?’

Food. History. Architecture. Culture. Adventure.

Things you would never understand. Though you would’ve hit Google if I’d let you know yesterday what I was planning. I’d have spent this afternoon listening to you, the armchair expert on Morocco, tell me all about my destination. That’s how you worked. You who have never ventured beyond the state you were born in.

‘You can’t stomach chilli. It gives you the trots. Remember the time…’

And I tuned out. I imagined being there: the veiled women, the bearded men, the dusty marketplace, the smell of spiced meat cooking, the call to prayer, the bray of goats and camels, the hand of Fatima on the doors. I imagined myself in a dozen other places too. I imagined being so far away from you I could breathe. I saw the umbilical cord still lashed around my neck snap as the plane rose above the tarmac.

You see, I’m not like you, I wanted so badly to say. I’m not afraid to be alone.

‘Are you going to just sit there and say nothing? Tear your old Mum’s heart out and not even say sorry?’

What’s the point of talking? You haven’t listened to me once in twenty-five years and I don’t expect you to start now. The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour, you used to say, parroting Dr Phil.

I relish this moment, to be your anomaly.

‘I raised you better than this.’

You raised me to believe actions speak louder than words, though you always just talked louder, at me. Like now.

So I stood and pushed the bowl of olives toward you. The squeal of the wire door behind me ignited the pyre of your disappointments.

Image: Neeta Linda, Flickr, Creative Commons, some rights reserved (via the Frugal Cafe)

Six In Six

Weedy TypewriterI momentarily crawled out of my sick bed Friday to chase up what I hoped was not a rejection. Alas – another one. And with that it occurred to me I haven’t had a single short story accepted for publication all year. If I’m honest, I haven’t written anything that’s seen the light of day since 2012, given the year I had last year, my focus on longer forms and then this year my unexpected turn back toward shorter forms of the short and realism. It’s enough to sink you down into the deepest mire of despair.

And it did – for about an hour.

I decided to spend the next six weeks writing six new stories, because nothing blows away the cobwebs of submission doom better than new stories for submission (yes, there is a definite hint of masochism to it all that I am well aware of).

Making myself accountable, I went onto Facebook and declared my intention. This is when the surprising thing happened. Someone said they’d join me, then another and another. At the moment there are 11 of us hiding out in a closed group on Facebook ready to put pen to paper.

If you’d like to leak new blood onto the page, feel free to join us. It doesn’t have to be short stories – perhaps you have six chapters that you need to write or edit, six poems that have been aching to be released. I think we’ll be trading war stories on Twitter under #6in6 and on Facebook. If you are not inclined to join us, please feel free to bring your pom poms.