"It may be that when we no longer know which way to go that we have come to our real journey...
And we pray, not for new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart, and in eye clear. What we need is here." ~ Wendell Berry

January 11, 2012

Connected

Image of a woman writing at her desk from www.louisamayalcott.org
I have been going through some cathartic times in the past few months. Call them midlife gurglings, spoutings, truths or triumphs. Call them growing pains or upheavals. Call them the grumblings of a cranky, perimenopausal middle aged woman who, like Howard Beale in the movie Network, is "mad as hell and isn't going to take it any more!" A few weeks ago this was originally going to be a blog about giving up blogging (or at least shelving it for a while). Lately I've been questioning why I blog. You see, my first blog, In the Pantry, was started after I got my first book deal–a bit backwards, yes? And I haven't really written much, aside from many blog posts or the occasional paid article, since the publication of The Pantry in 2007. Throw in a major move and other stuff, and, well, here I am: on a ridge in Kentucky. Writing, farming, adjusting.

My early writing mentor and friend, children's author
Elizabeth Yates McGreal at her home in New Hampshire.
The book, and the blogs, have brought me many new friends and acquaintances (and all but one have been wonderful and true). I have always been real with my readers but I'm tiring of the false pretense put forward by so many bloggers: I'll call it PWS (Pioneer Woman Syndrome). Real bloggers don't do it all, and can't possibly. We blogging women––farm bloggers, Mommy bloggers, Christian bloggers, homeschool bloggers, style bloggers, book bloggers, writing bloggers, food bloggers, craft bloggers––are putting our wares on the table and hoping you'll notice. I believe that true authenticity shines through the best blogs and sometimes it is hidden by glimmers that one wants us to see. But I was getting weary of the show circuit and just wanted to go back to my desk and my chickens (and my family, of course, when they are home), without its more immediate connections to the world. To write and communicate the old-fashioned way.

A Lady Writing a Letter, Jan Vermeer Van Delft, 1665-66,
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
I've learned that true friendships must be cultivated in real time–not on the Internet or on Facebook, but with letters, cards, phone calls and actual visits. Social media is just a support system to real friendship while, in the worst of times, it can encourage snarky, mean, and childish behaviors (yes, I've been there). Perhaps the greatest irony of our times is that the more we connect "on line," the less connected we are to each other in real time, or the less inclination we might have to doing so. I'm more isolated here in Kentucky, by geography and circumstance (farmwife on the farm on our own lane with neighbors close enough but not within eye or ear shot…and we like it this way!), but I can't let that be an excuse for my reliance upon internet behaviors and connections: for good and for bad. I used to be a regular and passionate letter writer–it's time to return to that, at least with little notes and nibbles. After all, the U.S. Postal Service needs us! What a retro, patriotic act: to just write a letter or send a card to an old friend or someone whom has meant so much to you!

Jane Austen at her desk, early 1800s.
Blogging has been wonderfully fun. On my two personal blogs it has been like a virtual scrapbook of my life for the past (almost) seven years–or at least, aspects of it: the things that I wanted to show or to share, usually the icing. While glimpses, they have been real: my stuff, my food, my homes, my family, my world. Real 100% Catherine Grade A Authenticity. No bullshit. No pretense.

At the same time, there is just too much noise from the Internet. It's a magnet for me. I don't need to run to it when I want to "Google" more useless information to further clutter my mind. I don't need to post something fun, snarky, and sometimes negative, on someone's Facebook wall (even if they upset me) or on my own. I don't even need to be blogging! [And Lord knows I don't need more recipes...or to be spending any money right now, "free shipping" or not!]

Print by Charles Dana Gibson, early 20th Century


I'm not surprised that the Internet now has its own addiction discussion in the psychological field or that Facebook is having its own kind of quiet backlash. I grapple with this daily, or should I say have. Is there a 12-Step Program yet for recovering social media addicts? This about says it all: "The Photographs of Your Junk (will be publicized!)". We all want validation but do we need it from the entire world? All of the blogs, tweets and Facebook posts out there are really about wanting to be heard. "I'm here!" It's kind of like that Dr. Seuss story, Horton Hears a Who! ["even though you can't see or hear them at all, a person's a person, no matter how small."] Meanwhile, I blog: therefore I am should really be I live and sometimes I blog about it.

Writer Susan Sontag by Annie Leibovitz
The world that you see on my blogs, and arguably most other lifestyle blogs, is neat and tidy: it is my own free-content lifestyle magazine, so naturally I usually put my best face forward. What I photograph is real, but like any magazine shoot of someone's home it is styled and you don't necessarily see what's hidden in the dusty corners of the room. [I've been on many shoots as a writer and sometimes as a stylist: they can take a day or days to make something camera ready--just remember that! It's not worth comparing yourself, or your home, to what you see in a magazine because it is not the day-to-day reality.] And let's be brutally honest: everyone who blogs regularly knows how time consuming it is. There are the photos and the formatting, the writing, the information gathering, the fact-checking, the good design (which, to me, is just as important in blog land as what is said). Even though I just usually write off the cuff, as it is, it still takes time and then time again to format the blog and tweak it (I am, as ever, a perfectionist when I want to do something right). And this is time away from doing all of the great stuff that we tell you about! Time away from our houses, our families, our gardens, our quiet time, our reading time, our hobbies. And I don't even Tweet! Or have a cell phone! (I hardly even use the phone, however, except when necessary. Perhaps this, too, will change.)

Painting by Frans Van Mieris, the Elder, 1680
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
So because I seem to have my priorities mixed up, I'm going back to basics. My farmer husband recently attempted, and gave up, on learning about computers at our local library (and note, I have not volunteered to teach him, either: that would be like teaching your own child to drive a car). He is as aware, as I am, that the Internet has been on for most of our nearly sixteen year marriage. It is the other "man" in my life. I told him that his timing was perfect, that he doesn't need to give up his card-carrying Luddite status just yet. Meanwhile, our 14 year old son will still not be getting a Facebook account, despite his pleadings–and his mother will try to set the example by being on it less–probably until he is 18. Yet we will continue to have computers as word processors and archival repositories (a major photo project, any one?) in our home.

But really, after almost seven years, I was tired of feeling I have to be "on" or "on-line"––what, really, is the urgency? A few months ago I was close to sending in the paperwork to be a part of the "BlogHer" network, which would have involved allowing advertising (and possible revenues, and certainly more blog hits), but in December, when I decided to take the month off from blogging, more or less, I changed my mind. Why do I care if more, or less, people even read my blog? As wonderful as these friendships are, and having readers like you who come here, I shouldn't feel I have to be here. This isn't a job: it's a hobby. If people make revenue from their blogging, I applaud them, but it doesn't necessarily make them a writer, it makes them a paid blogger or provides reward for providing an excellent delivery system of interactive content.

It is time for a reread of one of my favorite books on
writing, and being: 
A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf.
I will be 50 in October 2012 and there is still much that I want to do in my life. If you don't know about so much of what goes on in it, that's alright, too. I have children and a husband who share me with the World Wide Web and want me back. Since moving to Kentucky my virtual world has been, at times, more captivating to me than the real world around me: it's been my friend, my place to go for succor and validation, or to vent. It has been the water cooler that I don't have in my daily life. That's not really a good place to be in: a virtual water cooler? Especially one where you are not paid for your working moments? So how about a real one, instead: where I connect with the real world more often. "Only connect," wrote E.M. Forster in Howard's End. If only he could know how those words would resonate within me these past ten years where real connection has been largely lacking, where family connections have fallen away, and where virtual ones have filled their spaces.

Ultimately, and this is the plan, if I focus hard and eliminate other things I can write again for the printed page: the occasional published magazine article, and hopefully more books. I have to harness that energy into a workable body of my writing without benefit of the world watching. I have much to share and publication involves a high degree of discipline, marketing, and a willingness to tolerate rejection (or editors--even the ones you know--not always responding). The freelance life is not a friend to non-routine and laziness, or even complacency. So it's time for a drop-kick boot camp in that realm in my life. Last month, during the holidays, I gave myself permission not to blog. It felt wonderful. I felt liberated! I did post two more small posts, after saying I wouldn't, but that was because I wanted to and didn't feel obligated.

My favorite American novelist, Willa Cather, who 
had no benefit of Internet, blogs, Facebook or Twitter.
A friend of mine recently conducted a Facebook study by friending several famous authors and following them over the course of a year (living writers, of course!). She concluded that, try as they might, their (extremely active) Facebook and Twitter presence did not seem to be affecting sales of their new books. Many established and newer writers are being lured in by the false promise of social media. And where is it getting them, if not away from their real writing or craft? Probably to a pleasantly diverting virtual water cooler.

And yet...I was fully prepared to give up our Internet via expensive satellite at the end of 2011. We could use our fine county library or a cozy café with WiFi, I told myself. But the reality is much different. I have realized that I still want this kind connection with the world, right from my own cozy home. The trick is to manage it better. So now, when I don't want to be on the computer or need to be doing other things, I just turn it off.

The other day all of my thoughts about to give up the Internet, or not, were answered. Our local phone company, Windstream, contacted us about wanting two easements on our farm for DSL terminals (as I've always suspected, our farm is about half-way down our 8-mile ridge). Many of our neighbors have wanted DSL and have been asking for it, repeatedly, before we even moved here. I had it back in New Hampshire in our village home: it was fast, immediate, I could download things and upload photos without any problem. And, best of all, it was affordable (about one quarter the price for maximum bandwidth satellite internet). We are now negotiating with them to get this party started. It was almost like a strange kind of answer to something with which I'd been struggling: and isn't life often that way?

If you have gotten this far in this most unbloggy musing, I applaud you! But most of all, I thank you for your readership over these past seven years. It is so wonderful to connect here and wherever else the fates may allow. And if I don't blog for a stretch, you'll know I've just turned it off and am connecting in the real world.

You come back when you're ready!

Catherine

7 comments:

  1. Kudos to you! Take your time and come back when you wish. The internet has indeed been a blessing and a hindrance. Real life communication is ebbing because of it. I'm with you. I blog less than I used to simply because it's not an obligation. It's something I should be enjoying. Anyhow I shall raise my glass to you and toast:"To real life connections and old fashioned simplicity!"
    Blissful Tidings,
    Sandra

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  2. Blogging when you feel like it and have time for it is the way it's supposed to be. It's no fun if it feels like a job. If I wanted to feel like I was working I'd go back to work and collect a pay cheque. So I say...good for you reclaiming your life. Cheers.

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  3. To thine own self be true! 'Nuff said.

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  4. I read this when you first posted but then mulled it over. One of your better posts! Calling social media "the water cooler" was spot-on. Why must we turn to the web for validation? Is it so lacking in our real lives? Is it b/c we don't seek it in real life or b/c it is no longer freely given since the age of electronics in all it's forms? I need validation and connection. I turn to the internet for much of what I thrive on. My hubby and daughter are better than most with praise and appreciation, yet I long for even more interaction. The internet opens windows of beauty and inspiration to me that used to be only available via a monthly visit from the bookmobile. Yet it's sometimes too much, too quickly, to have it all open to me like Pandora's Box and I can not shut it. Some days the hurricane of ideas blast me so that I seek shelter. Other days, I spread my arms out and enjoy the whipping of the winds in my hair! I love it and hate it. It's a blessing. And a curse.

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  5. Beautifully said, LadyfromtheWoods! I do believe that it is now an official addiciton in the lexicon: brain scans prove this. I imagine it taps into our addiction/I want it now impulsive selves! And yes, so much right at our finger tips. My new thing is that I just turn it off for most of the day and then allow myself one hour on the computer/internet. In my other office, that is not "dialed-in" I will do my writing, archiving, photo stuff. Or take my unwired laptop to the kitchen table for that kind of thing, too. [That's how I wrote THE PANTRY, in fact...]

    It's all about moderation. Our daughter has a small computer that she doesn't use much but she has Internet on her Blackberry. If I had a portable device like that I would never get anything else done! I find it so rude to be out in public and see people on those things in every setting, even when dining with friends! And I know myself too well: if I had one it would be a constant temptation to tune in...

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  6. Catherine: I found this to be one of your best posts, and something tells me that if we shared a ridge, we would be very good friends; friends in real life. PWS - cracked me up! Destiny

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  7. Destiny, I completely agree that we would be great neighbors and friends! As it was, I think we almost, or barely, crossed paths at Tower, Bean & Crocker back in the day. [I was there frequently to deliver historic district commission-related stuff.]

    I so appreciate your reading my blogs and commenting, too. It warms my heart to know that we both were once residents of a wonderful part of the country, that we have the same longings and heartaches, and now here we are sharing them.

    Blessings, Catherine

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Welcome to the farm! I hope you feel free to comment and share here. I will respond as often as I can.