Social Media Eats Away at Your Soul

Does someone really exist in today’s world without a social media presence?

When I deleted my facebook a few years ago, it felt like a tiny death. A insignificant, somewhat gleeful death, but a death nonetheless. Connections were severed: all those people I knew–or had known, once–disappeared. And I missed out. On invitations, updates, information. Who knows what else.

Still, I was glad to do it. I have a hard time with social media. It makes me cynical: everyone’s selling something. An image, a lifestyle, whatever. I guess it’s not too much different from “real life,” except its inundating and constant. And my participation in it makes me complicit. On social media, we are all our own ad execs pushing a sanitized version of our lives for public consumption and approval.

I have yet to find a truly authentic way of engaging online. Technology, and therefore social media, is in bed with consumerism and the bottom line is profit. And I am so sick of being sold to.

I don’t mean to be completely negative. Social media absolutely has value–in connection, idea sharing, creative exposure. It’s not all bad. But sometimes, most times, I think it’s not for me.

I just want to exist. Actually exist. Live a life unencumbered by products. A life that’s not predicated on cultivating an image. A life that’s peopled with, well, people instead of their avatars.

Recently, I’ve been asking myself: What if I consumed less? What if I focused less on the image and more on the substance?

2020: Halfway Through

Like many of us, I’ve been thinking about how 2020 turned out much differently than I expected. So much of 2020 has been challenging, disheartening, depressing. There’s so much fear in the world right now, and I spend so much energy trying to keep it at bay. And yet the isolation has also provided time to reflect on my priorities and the space for important truths to emerge. It’s my hope that we can move through 2020 and become better for it.

Every year I do a weekend retreat where I think through my goals and plans for the upcoming year. These were my big goals for 2020, written in the obvliousness of January:

  • Attend a writer’s residency (I applied to 2 and was rejected by both; I’m not even sure many residencies are moving forward right now.)
  • Finish the second draft of my novel (I’ve started this, then abandoned it in disgust, over and over again. I think I will pick this up in the future, but it seems so overwhelming right now! )
  • Write three poems to publish (I’ve written two! Publication pending.)
  • Revise my play script (I have not even looked at it, I doubt I’ll get to it this year)
  • Go on a new hike every month (This is the one thing I’ve pretty much done consistently!)
  • Attend my first yoga retreat (Probably not possible in the current climate anyway)

Some of the plans I made at the beginning of 2020 seem outmoded or impossible. Or maybe even silly and shortsighted in the face of all the suffering happening in the world. But halfway through the year is a great time to take stock and refine these goals. I like my goals to be concrete and tangible, so I know when I’ve accomplished them, but I think I missed the mark in not including a few esoteric goals. These are a little more uncomfortable, because they’re more personal and there’s no fixed endpoint. But I’d like to add:

  • Commit further to anti-racism work, starting with self education and focusing on the local community.
  • Cultivate my own authenticity. This is an ongoing focus of mine, but rarely do I put it into words. For me this means developing radical self acceptance and opening myself up to the world in a way that’s in keeping with my values.

“Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how. The moment you know how, you begin to die a little. The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.”

― Pema Chödrön

Anne Sexton’s Grave

Last summer, I visited Anne Sexton’s grave. I touched the cold stone, traced my fingers along the etching. Bore witness to the offerings others had left behind: coins, ink pens, jewelry. I hadn’t expected to be in New England, hadn’t quite wanted to go to New England in the first place, but, since I was in New England, I went to Forest Hills Cemetery to see Anne Sexton.

The last time I was in New England, life was very different. Supposedly, it was a happier time: It was the first plane trip I took with my family after my daughter was born. She was about 6 months old. It was the first time I had ever been to Rhode Island or Cape Cod. I remember thinking that everything was so outlandishly beautiful–the Breakers, for example–but I couldn’t quite feel the excitement that I usually experienced traveling. Instead, I felt a mix of anxious, worn down, muted. The entire trip felt like a dream, something I only have a vague recollection of.

Of course, I couldn’t put it to words at the time. I was still breastfeeding and was thick in in the midst of postpartum delirium. I don’t think I even knew that I was struggling–with my body, with motherhood, with the changing circumstances of my life. It was only two years later, when I came back to New England, that I was confronted with the memory of how detached I had felt. The bewilderment. The strange sense of loss. I came back two years later, feeling suddenly like I saw my life more clearly. And I began to take some small solace–in this truth and the expression of it, in poetry and those of women who came before me, like Sexton, whose unflinching gaze towards suffering and loss continues to inspire me.

I could not get you back
except for weekends. You came
each time, clutching the picture of a rabbit
that I had sent you. For the last time I unpack
your things. We touch from habit.
The first visit you asked my name.
Now you stay for good. I will forget
how we bumped away from each other like marionettes
on strings. It wasn’t the same
as love, letting weekends contain
us. You scrape your knee. You learn my name,
wobbling up the sidewalk, calling and crying.
You call me mother and I remember my mother again,
somewhere in greater Boston, dying.

I remember we named you Joyce
so we could call you Joy.
You came like an awkward guest
that first time, all wrapped and moist
and strange at my heavy breast.
I needed you. I didn’t want a boy,
only a girl, a small milky mouse
of a girl, already loved, already loud in the house
of herself. We you Joy.
I, who was never quite sure
about being a girl, needed another
life, another image to remind me.
And this was my worst guilt; you could not cure
nor soothe it. I made you to find me.

From “The Double Image”

The Mistresses of Minos: Misplaced Rage in Mythology

This week, I registered for a writing class at the Hugo House in Seattle. Because of Coronavirus, they’ve moved all their classes online, which is great because now they’re more accessible to people like me, who live further away and/or prefer not to leave the house.

The class is “Phantasmagoria: Writing Monsters & Myths.” I’m so excited! I’ve been working on a few poems inspired by Greek mythology, but I’ve been having a hard time pulling them together, so I hope this class will be a good motivator.

One myth I’ve been thinking a lot about recently is Theseus and the Minotaur.

Actually, let’s forget about Theseus: A garden-variety “hero,” who only escapes the labyrinth by lying to Ariadne–promising to marry her in return for her help, only to leave her stranded and brokenhearted on the next remote island as he continues his victorious voyage home. No thanks.

Instead, I want to talk about the Minotaur’s mother, Pasiphaë. She was daughter of Helios, the sun god, worshipped by some as a full-fledged lunar goddess herself. She was also the queen of Crete, married to King Minos. Now, the Minotaur was created because Minos offended Poseidon by keeping a special bull that he was instead suppose to sacrifice. As punishment, Poseidon made Pasiphaë fall in love with that very bull … and the result of that unholy union was the Minotaur.

First off, can we recognize how supremely unfair this curse was for Pasiphaë? How she was forced to bear the brunt of the humiliation, not to mention the considerable physical pain of birthing a bull, because of her husband’s greed?

An example of the larger male drama at stake in Greek mythology.

And greed wasn’t the only vice Minos had. Hence, the curse of Pasiphaë (who in addition to near-divinity was also a master herbalist): She placed a fidelity charm on Minos, which caused him to ejaculate serpents, scorpions, and centipedes whenever he was unfaithful. Unfortunately, the effect of that was to kill the mistress (another spectacular instance of misplaced aggression), but still it’s a pretty badass curse.

Mythology is full of stories like this: Misplaced rage and women who primarily act as receptacles to the larger male drama. Many times, they aren’t even named (e.g., the many stung and snake-bitten mistresses of King Minos). Clearly, these stories reflect a particular male-oriented (and often downright misogynistic) lens. But, luckily, they’re also ripe for refocusing, reinvention, and maybe even a little revenge.

Blessings and Curses

Sometimes the things we cling to don’t serve us. Or, perhaps, it is the act of clinging itself that hurts us. Either way, when we lose those things we cling to (as in when we relinquish them or even when we have no choice) we might reveal a hidden blessing. Of course, every blessing has a downside too. Just as there are two sides to a coin, there is duality in both our blessings and our curses. The true test is to find peace in both.

You ask me how I became a madman. It happened thus: One day, long before many gods were born, I woke from a deep sleep and found all my masks were stolen, — the seven masks I have fashioned and worn in seven lives, — I ran maskless through the crowded streets shouting, “Thieves, thieves, the cursed thieves.”

Men and women laughed at me and some ran to their houses in fear of me.

And when I reached the market place, a youth standing on a house-top cried, “He is a madman.” I looked up to behold him; the sun kissed my own naked face for the first time. For the first time the sun kissed my own naked face and my soul was inflamed with love for the sun, and I wanted my masks no more. And as if in a trance I cried, “Blessed, blessed are the thieves who stole my masks.”

Thus I became a madman.

And I have found both freedom of loneliness and the safety from being understood, for those who understand us enslave something in us.

But let me not be too proud of my safety. Even a Thief in a jail is safe from another thief.

Kahlil Gibran, The Madman

Inspiration during Social Isolation

Everyone is staying inside here in Washington, as in many other places around the world. Whether you like it or not, we’ve all been forced to slow down in one way or another. Perhaps this is an opportunity to go inward and become reflective. I’ve been wanting to write a poem, but for *some reason* I can’t get the words right. I’ve made my peace with this. Now’s not the time to be judgmental or harsh. It’s a good time to step back and let go.

So instead, I’ll leave you with an excerpt from a very beautiful poem by Mary Oliver called “At Loxahatchie” (from her book Dream Work). What can you loosen your grip on today?

the water whispered: And now, like us,
you are a million years old.

But at the same time
the enormous and waxy flowers

of the shrubs around me, whose names
I did not know,
were nodding in the wind and sighing
Be born! And I knew

whatever my place in this garden
it was not to be what I had always been–
the gardener.
Everywhere the reptiles thrashed

while birds exploded into heavenly
hymns of rough song and the vultures
drifted like black angels and clearly nothing
needed to be saved.

I’m a Fraud

Far and away, the most important thing I learned in law school had very little to do with law. In a career-development seminar, my then-professor said:

“You must come to terms with feeling like a fraud. Every lawyer is a fraud.”

He wasn’t casting aspersions on the practice of law; he was talking about how no single person can ever hope to know everything about the law. It’s too voluminous, too complicated. And it’s always changing. Obviously, this advice doesn’t just apply to lawyers. In life, there’s so much you don’t know, and can’t know. This holds true for any given profession or any undertaking you might pursue.

Let me tell you, nothing makes you feel more fraudulent than being a self-employed writer. You might be thinking, “What am I doing? I don’t deserve this! I don’t even have a job description! Where’s my cubicle, anyway. . .?”

Cocktail parties become more difficult. Casual conversations become interrogations. My friends from law school, distant relatives – they all want to know: “how’s business?” It can be hard to stand tall in that environment, to resist the urge to make excuses or minimize what you do. It’s tempting to just crawl under the table with a bowl of pretzels and admit defeat. There’s a lot of pressure to perform, and if you’re self-employed, there’s a lot of pressure (mostly internal) to explain yourself. What makes you so different? Why do you deserve this? What do you know that I don’t?

There’s a cult of secrecy around this: Don’t let anyone in on the fact that you don’t know what you’re doing. They’ll expose you. They will let everyone in on the fact that you don’t deserve your success. They’ll tell everyone the truth: it was just a fluke. You just got lucky. Fortunately, it’s not true.

As with many things, you’ll find that there are less people out to get you than you think. I’m not saying they don’t exist- but usually we’re our own worst enemy. Instead of everyone thinking about what a phony you are, they are inside their own minds hoping that you aren’t noticing how fake they are.

You don’t need to fake it.
Embrace the fraud in you. Own what you don’t know. Take responsibility for it; it’s okay if you don’t know everything. Start being honest with yourself first. Life itself is uncertainty, and there’s no shame in that.

Note that this doesn’t translate to “have low self-esteem.” You can still have self-confidence, even when you don’t know what you’re doing! (And if you’re an existentialist, how does anyone really know anything, anyway?) Instead of focusing on proving to others you aren’t a fraud, practice self-awareness. Embrace what you don’t know, embrace the uncertainty in life, embrace the fact that we all only get one chance at life and one go-round will not make you an expert. Once you start to honestly examine your feelings of insecurity—once you recognize those things about you that are fraudulent—I guarantee you will find something genuine beneath it.

This is your core. This is you. It is the realest, most authentic thing there is.

Poetry of Childhood

I’ve been practicing my poetry lately, and I’ve been having a hard time coming up with anything that sticks. So, I’ve resorted to my old book of poetry exercises, The Practice of Poetry. This particular exercise asks you to write about a memory from childhood–one that is not often thought about but maybe has some recent significance to you. Pay particular attention to how you use tense, how you cope with the passage of time as it effects your understanding of the past event.

Here’s what I came up with:

Lost in the woods

We found ourselves finally
at the side of a road,
the crossroads between
camp and wilderness.

The sun bent towards setting,
reflecting the blues in everything:
blue the mountains, menacing
blue the feral eyes, darting
blue the lone car passing,
then gone. Then silence.
There was no one looking for us but
we came back anyway

sometimes we still hide in trees
hoard our tears like sapphires

Dark Night of the Soul

Sometimes our fears, our grief, our betrayals are a blessing in disguise. They can be transformative. If we are willing, this dark night of the soul can teach us about our true nature. When we find that we don’t know who we are anymore, that we are so lost in the darkness, we can loosen our grip on our small identities, the impermanent and superficial things that we often take as representative of the whole of us. We can finally glimpse ourselves as a part of something greater.

Pushing Through

It’s possible I am pushing through solid rock

in flintlike layers, as the ore lies, alone;

I am such a long way in I see no way through,

and no space: everything is close to my face,

and everything close to my face is stone.

I don’t have much knowledge yet in grief

so this massive darkness makes me small.

You be the master: make yourself fierce, break in:

then your great transforming will happen to me,

and my great grief cry will happen to you.

Rainier Marie Rilke, Translated by Robert Bly

Don’t be afraid, even though you will be afraid. This dark night is a gift.