My Little No Social Media Experiment (LNSME): Week 4

Part of my writing process in December is supposed to be reflective on the process of not using any social media. I haven’t done a very good job of that in the past week or so, but that's mostly due to holiday celebrations. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been noticing the continual changes since this little experiment began, however.

And there have been changes. Good things that have made my life happier, easier, and even a little more whole. Here's my attempt at capturing the best of the best:

1. Purposeful living — one of my main goals in the past couple of months has been to be much more intentional about the way I spend my time. I think the phrase, “I just don’t have the time to…” may be the biggest cop-out in our fast-paced society. I know I am guilty of filling up far too many minutes in a day with mindless FaceBook scrolling, pointless Google searches, and ye grande old Time Suck otherwise known as Pinterest. And let's not even mention craptastic TV shows. Yikes. 

But with less than a week to go before my self-imposed social media hiatus ends, I’m finding so much enjoyment out of the things I do have time for, and am possibly just a little amazed at all the things I’ve accomplished this month. I’m choosing how I spend my time, not simply letting time slip by in a haze of digital noise.

2. One of the major benefits I’ve noticed from chucking my social media habit is how my relationships with people have changed. To me, this is far more significant than all the writing I’ve made time for this month. Because I’m not tweeting quick thoughts about what’s happening in my classroom or updating FaceBook to let the world know what I’m having for dinner, I have to actually reach out and talk to individual humans if I want any interaction. Instead of sharing a video or article via FaceBook, I’ll text or tell the person I know would be interested about it when we're face to face. I’ve talked more on the phone and even managed to see more people in person this month. 

This slant toward a more personal style of communication has been even more evident in my own home. I’m more apt to work on a project with my husband or sit down and help one of the Littles with a craft now that I don’t feel so tied to my phone, iPad, or laptop. It’s embarrassing to admit how stuck to these devices I had been, but I’m thankful that I chose to put them aside for awhile. I’m a better wife, mom, and friend because of it. And interestingly, my typical angsty-anxious restless feeling I get when I'm at home has mostly gone away.

3. The writing. Oh, the writing! Ideas come easier, words flow onto the page faster, and I’ve spent nearly every day writing. In fact, I think I’ve only missed three days so far. Not bad, considering my writing life before December was incredibly hit and miss, other than things I had to write for grad school. I still find it difficult to sink into one project and work through the hard parts; I’m more likely to flit between two or three projects depending on how much time I have to write and what mood I’m in.

I’m also noticing a new writing style popping up, and although it’s completely surprised me, I’m enjoying what it’s doing for my revision skills. Revision has always been my biggest struggle as a writer. I actually have two complete novel drafts that I have never reopened to revise. Sad, sad, sad. But I’m hoping this new process will help with that. I’m no longer forcing myself to write from beginning to end — instead, I write whatever scene is in my head, skipping around in the story to write the parts that help me keep writing daily. This has done wonders for my ability to stick with a manuscript longer. I also write first by hand and then on the same day type what I’ve written into my Day One app, revising as I go. Eventually I’ll transfer what I have in the app to Pages, revising a third time. Because I’m revising such small pieces at a time, it doesn’t feel so overwhelming, and I feel like I’m getting a lot more accomplished as a draft and in revisions. All good things!

4. I notice more. I’m more mindful of how I’m feeling — whether I’m bored, tired, frustrated, content — I seem to pick up on my downward spirals before I find myself wholly in a funk, and make changes before I’m sitting around angry at nothing in particular. And I notice the things around me more. My house is cleaner than it has been in a long time because I’m noticing little things that need to be tended to and actually doing something about it. Not only is the house more spic and span, I’m finally getting around to some of the projects that should have been done months ago … little by little, our house is becoming more like a home. I feel plugged into my life now that I’ve unplugged from the Internet.

5. My reading life is alive and well again. I’ve had a rough time getting interested in a book for a while now. I read a ton of books for grad school, and thankfully they aren’t textbooks. And of course, I’m always reading something professionally to keep growing as a teacher. But in the past few weeks I’ve read several books just for fun. I try to keep at least one book on my Kindle app for when I’m out and about, and have several books at home that I’ve torn through this month. I know I need to be reading every day just as much as I’m writing, and finally I feel like I’m actually headed in the right direction in my reading life.

There are far more benefits to letting go of the constant online feed of information and prattle than I’ve listed here, but these are the most rewarding for me. Perhaps as the days continue to tick by, more benefits will rise to the top, but for now I’m happy just to notice these few changes that are bringing so much more joy and creativity to my life. Only four days left in December, and I'm strongly considering continuing my social media hiatus. Turns out, it's not so lonely after all.


My Little No Social Media Experiment (LNSME): Week 1

Day 6. Approximately 143 hours with little contact from the outside world. Okay, fine, if I take out sleeping hours I suppose that's about 30 hours less this week. 113 hours. to be fair, I'll round it down to 110. Happy now?

The thing is, I expected this to be one of those excruciatingly painful experiments. The kind where I'm rattling my tin cup against the metaphorical metal bars of my self-imposed prison, screaming into the emptiness of my own existence in hopes of salvation.

Or perhaps something a bit less dramatic. Regardless, I prepared myself for much wailing and gnashing of teeth. My Little No Social Media Experiment (LNSME = Lonesome??)

But after 110 hours (or 113, or 143, or for Pete's sake, who even cares at this point...) hanging out mostly with my own thoughts, the truth has revealed itself to be a much happier place than my nightmare anxieties would have led me to believe were possible.


Here's what I've learned this week:

Day 1: It seriously bums me out to not tweet the happenings in my classroom. So many amazing things happened this week that I wasn't able to share. And it's not so much about the sharing, even. It felt as if these precious moments between my young learners and myself were just disappearing, unrecorded.

Day 2: My Day One app became my salvation. It's as easily accessible during class as Twitter, has the capability to tag posts, and lets me record photos and text to capture the many spectacular learning moments happening in class each day. Huzzah!

Day 3: Instead of simply tweeting tiny fragments of the day, I began true reflections in Day One. Long rambling recordings of my teaching with reflections and plans for the future. So much more thoughtful than the tweets could ever be. Hm. Am I on to something?

Day 4: Pathetic shameful reveal -- I miss using FaceBook and Twitter to quell my boredom at stoplights, while The Hubs is driving, and in any 1-2 minute transitional time. I don't think I realized how often I sated my need to be constantly entertained through social media. I've started listening to Podcasts while driving. Highly recommend This Creative Life and The Moth.

Day 5: I've dreamt every night this week. My old dreams are back; the long epic movies filled with vivid detail, interesting characters, and enough story to fill my journal when I wake in the morning. If this is the only benefit from cutting out social media, it is worth it.

Day 6: I've written every day this week. Anywhere from 30 minutes to over an hour. A very old nonfiction picture book idea resurfaced, and I'm fleshing it out while trying to determine if I want to stay true to nonfiction or use the original event that spawned the desire to write this book and create something more of a story from it. I'm enjoying the process, and writing it simply for myself. I've written some goals and will make a few phone calls this week in hopes of setting up interviews to gather some of the research I need to keep working on it.

Besides the extra time writing this week, I've accomplished more around the house, tackled some projects at work, and picked up a new book which I'm almost finished reading. It's called An Unnecessary Woman, by Rabih Alameddine, and I absolutely adore it.

I miss the friends I only ever have contact with through FaceBook. I do not miss the visual noise and mental junkyard of constantly scrolling through miles upon miles of nonsense. For the first time in more years than I care to admit, time feels purposefully enjoyed. Not lonesome, but mindfully lovely.

And that, my friends, makes all the difference.


Reflecting on #NaNoWriMo

December will be here in less than an hour, and my NaNoWriMo project has been a tremendous flop this year. A piece of me is gnashing and wailing and grumbling about, unsettled that I missed the mark for the first time in three years. 

A larger piece of me, the part always (always always) searching for silver linings and happy ending and the good in all things -- is perhaps a smidge happy. I did not write 50,000 words of novel this month. I did not even write half of that novel. Almost, but not quite.

I did, however, meet daily with over twenty young writers. I encouraged, cheered, and consoled. Together, we wrote and shared and became this fantastic thing -- this extraordinary community of humans working together -- and I am so much better for having experienced their enthusiasm and sheer joy in falling into a story. They reminded me of the brilliance in writing what you love, just for the sake of writing.

I spent time with friends and family. I played table top games, traveled, and shared important conversations. I read. Oh, how I read. So much more in one month than I have in quite a while.

And I wrote. Almost daily. I struggled through words and pages and chapters of muddled story. Two different stories, in fact. After the first idea went sideways, I kicked it aside and jumped into the next shiny idea and rode it until it sputtered and faltered, and then pushed it along wearily, counting down the days until December would release me from the pitiful wreckage it had become.

Somewhere along the way, I realized I was utterly bored with the story. Writing had become a competitive obligation and not something I addictively turned to each day with my normal full heart. This feeling is new to me; every year I've participated in NaNoWriMo in the past, I've been in love with the writing, typing away until the screen went blurry and my eyes refused to remain open even one second longer.

Am I sad that I didn't finish a NaNoWriMo novel this year? Of course. It's in my nature to beat myself up over failed obligations, even self-imposed ones. Especially when I feel it will disappoint my students, who cheered me on just as much as I celebrated with them. But more than that, I'm glad for what I've learned about myself as a writer. I'm immeasurably thankful for the group of young writers that gave so much of their time throughout November, and I'm eager to work with them in December to help them revise and publish their stories.

Photo Credit

And I'm excited about tomorrow, as I tuck away my time-sucking social media habit and pick up a fresh journal full of possibilities and begin writing each day just for me, exploring poems and vignettes that my soul is aching to put down on paper.

For the next thirty-one days, I'm working on building my daily writing muscle by participating in Linda Urban's Write 30 Daily invitation. I won't be following the hashtag or tweeting about my progress. I won't be interacting with anyone through FaceBook or Twitter to share my writing successes or lack thereof. It's a hiatus, of sorts -- inspired by Linda's challenge, but modified to meet my own need as an artist to sit inside myself and have a think or two on my own.

I may blog occasionally to reflect on my process, but other than that, I plan to enjoy my own little respite from the loud and busy world, and fall into some stories of my own.


Ten Things About Short Fiction

I'm headed out on a fourteen hour drive from Texas to Illinois today, with Uno and Dos as my roadtrip buddies, so we can offer support to my mom as she goes in for surgery tomorrow.

Time for a post is scarce, so here is my slim 10 Things for Tuesday post of the week -- all about my most recent writing experience.

  1. Writing short fiction is hard, you guys. I'm not sure I'm very good at it. This week's story had a goal of 2000 words, which I skipped right over, ending at 2,002. Not what I had intended.

  2. Also, the story is not what I had intended. With a pretty tragic news article as my inspiration, and some specific thoughts about growing up in constant turmoil, I sought to tell the story of one character but ended telling the story of another.

  3. Where did I stumble? I became so caught up in researching the culture of the girl I wanted to write about, that I panicked and felt my story would not be authentic enough since I don't actually know what it is like to grow up bi-racial.

  4. I wrote five different versions of this story.

  5. In the end, I began with a new perspective on a similar character that would still end in the same way. Because I could draw somewhat from my own past, I found this story much easier to envision. 

  6. I'm still not completely happy with the way this story is organized. I needed to build reader compassion for my main character, and found it incredibly difficult to do in only 2,000 words. While I think I avoided the dread info dump, I'm not certain it's a completely balanced story.

  7. Dialogue -- still not my thing. Not surprising, since I have sub-zero social skills, however I must find a way to work on this.

  8. The Husband, as always, sat and listened and gave awesome feedback. I don't know how I would accomplish anything without him as my first and most trusted reader.

  9. I also struggle in the little details -- how people move, what is happening around two people while they're immersed in conversation -- all those little things. While I've been told quite often that I paint a vivid story life that people can sink into, I notice so many holes that need filling.

  10. Next week our 5,000 word story is due. I have my idea ready, and am hoping a little of what I learned in the last story will help guide me through this one with less struggles.


#IMWAYR - Stop! It's #BookADay Time!

Be sure to hop on over to TeachMentorTexts.com for more great reads!

Summertime means extra time for reading, and joining in on Donalyn Miller's #bookaday challenge, in which I attempt to read a book a day throughout the summer. I know, you never would have gathered that from the hashtag title. I've been doing this since 2010, when I first read Miller's transformational book, The Book Whisperer. The best part is inviting my students to join in; we would make reading goals and book lists for each holiday break and then at the end of the year -- and there was something magical in the community we built around a common love of reading.

This year I didn't have my own class, and the multi-faced responsibilities of my job made it difficult to build a reading community. Next year, I aspire to be better about this. I have plans, my friends, solid plans. I'm hoping that next year at this time I'll be able to share what both my campus reading communities are eager to read over the summer.

For now, here's what I've read so far this summer:

All photos snagged from
 The Boy on the Porch, Sharon Creech
This magical story is told from the perspectives of John and Marta, a couple that find a small boy curled up on their porch one morning. Their entire lives are transformed by his appearance, even though he never says a word. It's a touching portrayal of how life changes once you find yourself responsible for a child. Best as a read aloud, I think, as young readers may struggle to connect with the story through the eyes of two adults, but a wondrous read for both the subject and Creech's as-always gorgeous writing style. So many of these sentences I wish I could claim as my own!
 The Miniature World of Marvin & James, Elise Broach, illustrated by Kelly Murphy
A fast, fun read for young readers ready for chapter books. I haven't read their original book, Masterpiece, but am adding it to my to-read list. In this book, James leaves for a vacation at the beach and Marvin is left behind and must find a way to pass the time. He ends up in a wacky little misadventure, worries that James may not miss him very much while he's gone, and learns a thing or two about friendship along the way.
Salt, Helen Frost
In Salt, Frost has created a story of friendship and the struggle that happens when cultural shifts threaten to tear those friendships apart. But more than that, she gives us a secret door into the world of pre-war 1812 in Indiana Territory, letting us glimpse a little of what life might have been like between Native Americans and the settlers that arrived there as traders and soldiers. An important book to add to any school or classroom library.

The Real Boy, Anne Ursu (currently reading)
This book was able to draw me in on the first few pages, something I've struggled with lately when reading fantasy. In The Real Boy, we find a world that is shifting, an orphan that seems destined for adventure, and magic running like a river through it all.
I'm eager to see where this story takes me.


The #SundayCurrently - Volume 3

Hosted at siddathornton.blogspot.com


Reading The Real Boy by Anne Ursu, after finishing Creech's The Boy on the Porch and Frost's Salt. All amazing reads.

Writing First short story is due Tuesday, so I'm knee deep in the world of my main character. It's a sad, misunderstood teenage sort of world, where things don't end quite well. This story is so important to me, and terribly difficult to write because I feel I owe this character a chance at having a voice.  So much I want to do in this story, and so few words in which to accomplish it.

Photo Credit

Listening The weekend has been spent with much Lost and random video game tomfoolery by The Husband going on in the background. Decent white noise for my current frame of mind.

Thinking Earlier this week I told Seestah I felt bad that I couldn't just up and skip class or miss work and North Star related obligations because mom was coming into town. Today Mom called and changed all that. Now she isn't coming here, though I think it is best that I do skip class and risk tarnishing my work reputation by being with my mom. I'd regret it beyond my ability to recover if anything happened and I had chosen anything else.

Smelling Fresh cut grass, soft rain, and dandelions. Summer, you've finally chosen to blow in.

Wishing that this too-small world didn't feel all too big right now, that parenting got less confusing as children grow, and that I wasn't so neurotic about finding answers.

Hoping Mom has her procedure this Wednesday. I'm hoping it goes well, news is good, and she's back home in her own bed safe and comfy by nightfall.

Wearing It's summer time, the work clothes are hung in my closet with care (aka lying on the closet floor), and I will be chillin' in shorts, yoga pants, and tank tops for the next few months.

Loving Seestah and I have had weird ups and downs throughout the years. We have different perspectives on many big things. But when it comes down to it, we have each other's backs. No matter what. I love that about us.

Wanting Too many sadnesses have stacked themselves up in front of me like a great tower of balancing rocks. I'd like to blow them over and see them hurtle away to make room for some space to spread out and just breathe.

Needing A plan. I very seriously need to sit down and map out my summer schedule so that all these crazy goals I have can be accomplished. I'm giving myself another day to pout about life, and then it's schedule time!

Feeling Disappointed. My frame sags heavily under the weight of it.

Clicking I was in the throes of an exiestential music crisis the other day and happened about Gnoosic. You provide a few of your favorite bands or musicians, it provides recommendations. Kind of digging it. I would dig it more if there was a way to listen to samples of the suggestions right there. Either way, a pretty nifty little site.


#SelfieFreeSummer - My Unfiltered Life

So perhaps you remember way back in May when I posted my diatribe about selfies and the downfall of humanity. The rest of this post may seem particularly ironic, since it will be filled with selfies. But they are selfies with a purpose, y'all. They are, in truth, the end of my selfies.

In that post I also referenced this lovely selfie from Instagram, in which I pranced about au natural:

Said selfie was taken the morning of my backpacking trip (you know, the one were I almost died in the middle of the night), where I was fresh out the shower and headed out to the woods, so I had a makeup free face and hair full of ponytail frizz. 

This was a statement selfie, even though I didn't make a big deal about it at the time it was posted on Instagram. Okay, I may have hashtagged #nomakeup #nofilter, but I promise it was more to prove a point to myself than to declare any sort of pride over what I look like here.

Posting a pic of myself, of my real self, isn't something I typically ever do.

Because, let's be honest. In my selfie posting prime, this is what you could expect to see:

What is even going on in the lefthand pic? Am I an Anime cartoon? A Star Trek action figure?

Uh. I'm sorry. What? Let's do a little side by side comparison here:

Wow. Notice any striking differences? Is the girl on the left even the same person as those pics on the right? It sort of kills me that in my selfies (which, honestly, I took multiples of before posting the perfect pose), each pic was staged to highlight whatever my current idea of beauty happened to be. Skinny? Fit? Blonde? Heavily mascara'd? (it's a word, hush) Snarky? Sure. If it showed the most pleasing image of myself to the world, I posted it.

I'm not saying this is true for all selfie snapping girls and boys in the world. But it was true for me. I could blame it on many things. The thick purple scar that drew a heavy line across my right cheek as I was growing up. The endless bullying. Living through my twenties as "the fat one," and countless other things.

But the truth is, regardless of my past, my present need to be seen as somebody other than who I felt like I was on the inside is what dictated my selfie habit.

I can't really pinpoint when I decided to stop snapping and posting so many pics. At some point, it just felt silly. In part, a piece of what was broken on the inside healed after I spent six weeks in an intense round of almost daily group therapy after Dos moved out. But that's another story.

So why am I telling you all of this? It feels radically different than those filtered, make-up laden pics above. This is the real me, filter free. I'm starting my #selfiefreesummer this weekend, which includes as much time away from the mirror as possible also. I'll cover my bathroom mirror, and avoid obvious gazes into any other reflective surfaces as possible. Obviously, as my Seestah pointed out, I have to use mirrors when driving and I'll be in front of mirrors in public restrooms, and probably some other places I haven't really thought about yet. But perfection isn't what I'm looking for.

I think that's what my goal was in my selfie phase. Some perfect image of myself, some idolized idea of what I was supposed to look like.

This challenge is about being free of my outer self-image and focusing on inner-beauty and strength. It's about ignoring what I see with my eyes and listening to who I am on the inside. Along the way, I'll post pictures on Instagram of things that matter more than how much eyeliner I'm wearing, or what angle I have to hold my arms in to get the best shot of my face. Each photo will be tagged with #selfiefreesummer.

I'll be posting every Saturday through the summer with updates on how it's going and what I'm noticing. 90 days of being selfie and mirror free carries me right to my 40th birthday. A serendipitous realization made when looking at the calendar to decide when this little challenge should end. Maybe you'll join me, and post your own #selfiefreesummer pics on Instagram. I'd love to see what you're looking at that tells the story of your own unfiltered life. Feel free to grab the graphic in the sidebar and use it when posting on your own blog about your #selfiefreesummer challenge, or toss it in your sidebar. And leave me a comment, so I know to come check out your posts!

So. Let's begin, shall we?