Everybody has been asking why I’m not on Instagram this past month.
NO one has asked.
Literally no one.
Not even my husband.
Not even the next-door neighbors, who happen to be some of our best friends, have noticed I haven’t been on Instagram. And why should they? Why should anyone? We’re all too busy worrying about our own stories, images, lives to notice someone we love isn’t posting on social media, right? Right.
I’m one of those rare birds who remembers adult life without social media, before social media. So I’m constantly trying to riddle my way around it and what it has done to my psyche, my creativity, my relationships, and name the pull it has on me.
In an effort to continue the exploration, as well as write to the five of you who still show up here to read my posts (hi mom, and four friends), I thought I’d share the reasons I haven’t been on “the gram” lately, in no particular order:
- I’m trying to write a book.
Not just any book. I’m trying to write a good book, the best book I can, a memoir. Scrolling mindlessly on Instagram was bad for business. Turns out, it’s hard as all get out to write a book, even harder than if all of the all did get out. I didn’t understand it until I tried it. It’s like marriage or parenting or roller skating; you can watch others do it and think you might be pretty good at it. Then you lace up your skates and head out on the rink to the vintage beats of Boys to Men’s, “I’ll make love to you” and fall flat on your ass, most likely hairline fracturing something.
Want to know what it’s like to write a book? Take the most difficult writing task you’ve ever been given in any course or class, the one that you just knew would suck all the marrow out of your bones and take more time and brain power than you thought you could afford to give any one project. Got it? Now imagine that Project in a small room with you. The room has one door and one way, mirrored glass. You sit across from each other, you and The Project, at a metal table in metal chairs in that small room. Between you both sits a vial of green liquid, upright on the table, that appears to be bubbling. The Project grabs the vial before you can, guzzles and gulps it down in one swift motion. Before you know it, The Project begins to grow and grow and grow. It elongates and strengthens as it fills out its new form of muscle and masses of fat. It goes from wall to wall, crushing the furniture and slowly pinning your body down underneath it; turns out the project has some horrific body odor, you lucky girl you. You will stay pinned in this odor-sniffing posture, unable to draw a full breath or find your way out until you either 1) quit or 2) muster courage you didn’t know you had and wrestle this Project Monster into submission. Number one is easy. Number two takes cunning and the willingness to befriend your darkness and the things that scare you the most.
- I spend a lot of time in bed.
It started with chronic migraines a year and a half ago, lasting hours and evenings, coming back with stubborn regularity like my period, but way more persistent. Then I got diagnosed with a heart condition that wears my heart out so damn much sometimes I feel like an eighty year old woman. Blah Blah Blah, somebody call the WAAHHHMBULANCE. All these silly health issues lead me to spend more time in bed than most people I know. Rest is the magic potion my body needs to heal itself, so I do my best to not push too hard or too far, and to respond to distress calls from my brain or heart when they ask me to lie the fuck down, already!
Know what’s not great? Laying in bed feeling geriatric and sad and alone and in pain, then scrolling through the highlight reels of other humans who are mostly out doing healthy people things. These people are showered, they travel, they smile a lot, they play with their kids in the sunset. Watching them live while I lie here? Well, that’s not fun at all. Or maybe it’s fun for three minutes. For three minutes, I can get so wrapped up in someone else’s best version of their reality that it’s sweet on my tongue, pretty, glinty, and maybe even hopeful. Then I snap back to my reality of needing to take more pain meds or heart meds or a nap, my reality of not being able to make it to the dinner table in the next room to eat with my family, my reality of losing muscle and gaining blubber as I lay here and atrophy just a tiny bit more each day, and then those three minutes don’t seem all that worth it. Which brings me to the next point:
- I was starting to feel bad for myself.
I think I might be an envious person, a jealous person, a person who wants to be most special. Maybe I just want to share in the good others have. But I was getting creative at torturing myself on Instagram finding people who have what I desire – a published NYT bestseller, a remodeled bathroom, passive income from mentioning a product I wouldn’t mind owning, the ability to travel anytime, a good body or excess of followers – and I was starting to feel bad for myself.
Here’s a huge gift writing a book has given me so far: I have discovered I am a pretty incredible person who has lived a rich and meaningful life. I’ve revisited enough and put enough down on paper to know that my life is remarkable, it’s special, it’s interesting and sparkly, it’s dark and cave-like, it’s filled with contrast. Not just that, I’ve lived it through and through. I haven’t run from my pain and I’ve allowed myself to enjoy the ecstasy of being here when it hits. Unfortunately, none of this means I will ever look attractive or svelte in a hipster jumpsuit.
When I started to feel like my little life over here wasn’t as special as so-and-so’s big, shiny, important life with perfect eyebrows and a spray tan, that’s when I knew it was probably time to take a step back.
- I don’t like being out of control.
Something about social media apps, and carrying a world of possible connection and envy and dopamine right inside my back pocket is scary and delicious. It’s a powerful force I know I can’t fully control as long as it’s on my person. Something about the knowledge that it’s there, beckoning me, always changing and repopulating, that I could miss out or be forgotten if I don’t jump on the fast-moving train, is so bewitching to me. It turns me into this guy.. remember? from Robin Hood?
I wish I wasn’t this way, truly. I have friends who have incredible self-control and – at least according to them – never feel that pull that I regularly do, to check, to scroll, to evaluate, to fret over social media. I fret, check, scroll, evaluate myself into a frenzy, then I know the only way to tame the beast is to kill it, or at least put it down for awhile (my record is 2 years), so I hold my thumb over the place where the app hovers, I watch all of my apps start to wobble and dance, a small X revealed in the top left corner, and I hit it, clicking the red “Delete” button that follows, granting myself my own liberation.
- There’s a big world out here.
A couple weeks ago, one of my teenage boys brought up the idea of Snapchat. He has a smartphone but is not allowed to download or use social media apps. He told me that “everyone” in his school uses social media – mainly Instagram and Snapchat – and that he would like to get those apps as soon as we let him, so he can be in on it, because that is how “everyone” communicates.
We were driving down the road and it was a sunny summer day. I pointed out at the people in cars around us, at the nature we all inhabit, and I said, “You see all of this? This is the world. And it’s real. It’s really real; every person you see and every tree and living thing are real. They are there for you to experience and explore, and what happens in those apps can’t come close to touching what happens out here in the world. I want you to figure out the real world first before you dive into a virtual one. I want you to figure out how to talk to girls and ask them out, and how to have a fight with your brother. I want you to figure out how to do real life in the real world with real people, because there’s a lot going on out here you don’t want to miss, and there’s a lot going on in those apps that just isn’t human.” He said he understood. He said “that’s true.”
Then he told me he still was excited to get the apps… someday. I couldn’t blame him. I know the feeling.
- I don’t like being bored.
When I have those digital virtual worlds within worlds in my pocket or at my side, I don’t have to be bored. I can numb or entertain the bored away at the exact millisecond it creeps up. I can ignore the lessons that slowness and silence and spiritual rhythms would teach and, instead, I can see a picture of someone’s dog or vacation or favorite brunch spot. Sometimes the trade is almost worth it. Sometimes I come across someone’s story or words they’ve spent good time crafting, sharing from the depths of their real souls to sit vulnerably on a digital platform. But even then, there’s always an almost-ness about the interaction. It was almost human, almost life-changing, almost rememberable. I sit here weeks later and can’t tell you more than two interactions that ended up sticking with me.
You know what has stuck with me this month? The wrens that worked overtime to build a nest in our garage so they could lay eggs and have a family. They were diligent and flew faster than any bird I’d ever seen besides a hummingbird. They had to work double fast because we didn’t always leave the garage door open, so each time it would open, they knew this was their chance to fly in with twigs, to fly out for food, to return home for the night. We ended up as accidental caretakers of the wren family. One of them would wake us up in the morning, standing atop a lawn chair or shelving unit inside the closed garage, peeping insistently until we opened the garage door. “I can’t believe we’re actually ‘wren sitting’ at this point,” Jeremy said after responding to and gatekeeping for the small birds, and I laughed and agreed. We grew so attached to those two parent wrens and their eggs. The eggs hatched, but only one of the baby birds survived. The last time I ever saw the wrens, they had flown out of the garage into a bramble of bushes next to our driveway, and were calling out for their baby bird – the only one who survived – and I watched as it fluttered for the first time and hop, hop, hopped out of the garage and into the big wide world.
That’s what I’ve learned this month, this fleeting season of time, in this room with the monster while I write this book: There really is a big wide world out there.
There’s also a big wide world right here, in me, in my home, in the sacred hearts of those I love and live with. If I’m bored enough, I just might notice them.