Preface: I’ll be getting off this technology kick soon (promise!), but I wanted to share just a few more thoughts on the topic before I get back to writing about more interesting stuff – you know, like my kids’ bowel movements. I bet you can’t wait.
For nearly a year now, I’ve been asking the question – to blog or not to blog? – and wondering if blogging was the ball to drop since I have so many to juggle right now.
More than a month ago, in fact, I wrote this to a friend (who ironically is someone I “met” in the world of cyberspace):
“Recently, I have been considering reverting back to the ‘hidden’ life I led before I ventured into the blogosphere and online forums. I’m discerning this for various reasons. I’ve thought about it before and have always decided that the positive outweighs the negative – that we can give the Internet a soul as the Pope has urged new media users to do and that our words can encourage. Plus, I’m a writer. I will always write. It is my medicine. It is where I find hope. It’s often how I pray in my private journals and sometimes in a public space as well. The online world yields goodness many times, but it also can evoke anger, guilt, and pull us away from our need for real human connection. I hate how impersonal using new media can become, how we can act like we’re not talking to humans with a soul and we forget that just because we can’t see someone, she is still a real person who can be easily wounded with our liberal, unfiltered use of a careless tone or hurtful words. I’ve unfortunately been exposed to some of the ugliness, including hateful comments after people’s posts or online columns, an occasional personal attack, and broken relationships that have fallen apart for some of people I know all within the realm of a social network. Sometimes I can’t help but wonder if my life was better before I had a bigger presence online and before I was exposed to all of this ugliness.”
I also wrote this:
“Should I be simplifying my life and move away from ‘talking’ to women online? Should I be focusing all of my time and energies, which are both in scarce supply at this season in my life, to ministering only to my real-life friends while working on living a life of holiness without participating in online forums, Twittering, etc.? Yet, some friends I first encountered on a blog or some other social network have become my real friends. I may not know their physical embrace (though I’ve been lucky to meet some of them in-person), but I wonder about them and pray about them, too.
Although I’ve inadvertently made some enemies online, too. It often seems that no matter how hard I try to edify and encourage with my words, someone gets hurt or is offended or takes something completely out of context. This is never, ever my intention, but my failings perhaps as a writer and as a fallible human lead it to keep happening. Usually, I’m able to take a deep breath, say a prayer, and ask God to help me to do what He wants, but I’ve been having some trouble with detachment. Maybe it’s my vanity, my desire for affirmation that allows others’ words to have too much power over me. Maybe I just need to talk to God more and ask for His graces and the strength to do His will with my words and my life and to not take everything personally. I’m not 16 anymore for goodness’ sake. Or maybe I do need to click away from it all, although the thought of that makes me sad, too.”
And lastly, this:
“Then again, perhaps I need to focus more on the positive. I can see one negative blog post somewhere or one pessimistic opinion and globalize it and forget about the dozens of encouraging words and kind emails that find their way to me or to others. One snappy email can land in my inbox and it’s as if I forget all the hopeful words, the goodness, and the encouragement I have gleaned from this beautiful, albeit human, online community. So many of us are doing things that are counter cultural. It’s comforting to find a group of women – even if we’ll never meet them face-to-face – who share our values and are just trying to get to heaven by recognizing and doing God’s will. During the times I’m tempted to go off the Internet grid I’ll think of someone I’ve ‘met’ online who has offered me encouragement just when I needed it the most.
I’m clearly just dumping thoughts out here, but I’m curious what your thoughts are on finding balance in using the Internet to facilitate good relationships and spread the Good News with living a holy, hands-on life where you spend lots of time unplugged because I think that’s what I truly seek: balance and more simplicity, not a complete absence from an online community that can, with a good dose of prudence, have a soul.”
After pondering things further, this is what I believe I still seek – balance and simplicity in the Blogosphere and with all technology. Going completely cold turkey on digital connectivity is just not an option even though that might be the easiest solution. My mom and older brother reminded me of this recently after I sought their advice on whether I should specifically keep blogging or not
“What do you think? Should I keep blogging?” I asked my mom.
Without any hesitation, my mom answered, “Yes.”
Then she added, “But ultimately it is your decision.”
She reminded me about the need for a marketing platform for my upcoming book. Writers are notoriously bad at promoting themselves or their work. But like it or not, it’s a part of the game. I know this. When I decided to launch a freelance career nearly a decade ago, I sought the advice of a successful, veteran freelancer I knew. She told me getting published required an ounce of talent but tons of marketing. We artsy types don’t like to think about the business side of writing. Fortunately, I’ve always had a marketing streak in me. I’ve worked as an event planner and did my share of PR work and found it thrilling to sell a charity, an idea, a service, or a product.
When I first started picking up freelance work, I was somewhat disillusioned because I didn’t always get to write what I wanted (or what I felt was worth reading), but the paychecks were coming in and I eventually was able to quit my day job and support my husband through his last year of medical school. It’s tempting now to believe there’s no more need for marketing, especially since I’m no longer our family’s sole bread winner and have shifted from a freelancer to an at-home mom who writes on the side and is pursuing her dream of writing a book. This would be a mistake. Either write or be written off.
So that was one very good reason to keep blogging, but I don’t want it to be the only reason. I’m still too idealistic for that.
Mom came to the rescue again. “Plus, you enjoy it,” she said. And I do, for the most part. What I don’t enjoy is the temptation to compare myself to other mom bloggers/writers or to be exposed to some of the meanness and judgmental remarks that cut their way through online communities and social networks.
But I’ve thought about this a lot, too, and wonder why I expect to find “heaven on earth” in the online world? We can strive to give the Internet a soul, but we still are fallen people. Just as I am slowly learning to let go of the idea of perfect children with a perfect mother married to a perfect man all living in a picture-perfect home, perhaps I need to let go of the belief that I can find a utopia online where there are never any hurt feelings. I need to accept our brokenness and do my best to use my own words to patch myself and others up, but I can’t expect to find perfect peace here. As a Catholic, the closest I’ll ever come to finding that is in the Eucharist.
As I continued to talk to my mom about my struggles – how it was tough for me to decide if blogging was a legitimate form of self-care, for example – I said something like, “I have so much trouble with temperance. I either want to pour my heart and soul into something or not do it at all.”
This is when my older brother piped in. “Anyone with an addictive personality is going to have a hard time with that.”
My brother knows a lot about “all or nothing.” He knows a lot about addiction, too. Jason has made it through his first round of interviews with the Archdiocese of Atlanta to become a priest (keep your prayers coming, please), but several years ago he was fighting a drug addiction. He hit rock bottom at one point because he’d decided he never could be all and that he would always be nothing, but God’s grace is stubborn. It finds you even when you don’t want to be saved. And so my brother, desperately alone and scared, entered a Christian-based drug rehab program. Slowly he rebuilt his heart, his life, and his faith. He’s been sober for almost seven years. Thanks be to God.
During his recovery and hours and hours spent in conversation with God, he’s gained perspective on an “all or nothing” approach. It turns out you finally meet God when you come to the point that you accept that you will never do it all or be all. You need God for that; He blesses what is human. He fills your gaps with His abundant grace. And, yet, you are so much more than “nothing” even at your lowest points. The gravest sin is the sin of Judas – complete and utter despair.
Embracing this big picture idea, he explained, helps you to apply temperance in other aspects of life – like using technology, eating, exercising, etc. As I’m pondering all of this, I keep returning to food analogies because this is one area I have grown in virtue since my eating disorder days. When I was recovering, I had to “get right” with food. Let’s say I wanted a brownie. I might have a small slab of ooey-gooey goodness, enjoy its taste, and be temporarily satisfied. But moments after I swallowed its deliciousness, the feelings of guilt would begin. Why did I eat that stupid brownie?
I’d take a deep breath, maybe pray, remind myself that
This line of thinking makes no sense, but years of deprivation had distorted my relationship with food. I was unable to eat mindfully. It took a lot of prayer and grace to make peace with food and my body, to eat that one brownie without guilt and without convincing myself to eat three more brownies because I’d already screwed up royally and was “nothing” but a weak, lousy person.
My former distorted view of eating and self-worth is unfortunately not all that uncommon. Many people struggle with food, allowing it to become the main event in life instead of just a delicious dessert.
A friend of mine in high school once confessed that it was easier to starve herself than to eat at all. This might sound crazy to you if you’ve never had a body image problem or eating disorder, but I understood what she meant completely.
All or nothing.
In the past, Jason has gently pointed out that my eating disorder past is related to addiction and that we have more in common than I’d like to admit. I’ve never used drugs. I’ve never thought of myself as an addict; yet, I sought the “high” of thinness and control of the scale. The challenge for me, my brother said, is that unlike a drug addict or an alcoholic, I can’t give up food just because in the past it had the power to control me. Instead I have to learn to not allow food or my weight to have any power over me or to consume every waking thought in my life. While I still have occasional tough days when I struggle with my body image (and, in fact, I’ve struggled with it more during my depressive episode), for the most part I’ve found a happy place where I’m healthy without falling prey to vanity or becoming obsessed with the scale or being at a certain (and often unrealistic) weight. It’s not all or nothing for me anymore. Eating, my body, each of these are something, though. Something good, something satisfying, something to glorify God with.
The good news is I don’t have nearly as warped of a relationship with technology (thank God) as I did with food and my body. I really am just trying to be a better steward of my time and to not let technology distract me from my vocation as well as stress me out rather than make my life easier and richer. This is where prudence comes in.
Most of us can’t approach technology with an “all or nothing” mindset. As moms, we rarely, if ever, can give our all to any one task – even those that are a part of our duty to manage a household like laundry – without expecting to never be interrupted. I need to work on embracing these interruptions with grace and patience not just most of the time, but all of the time.
One of my frustrations lately is the fact that I have very little time without my children because of my husband’s work hours (which are getting much better now!) and because my children wake up early if I wake up early. I get irked that I’m unable to wake up before my kids and savor the silence. Not only because it’s terribly difficult – even as a morning person – to drag yourself out of bed before sunrise when you’ve been up with a baby twice and a preschooler having night terrors once and have had to resist the urge to smother your snoring husband with a pillow during the night – but also the Night-of-the-Living-Dead-preschooler has an amazingly accurate “Momdar” and gives you about eight minutes before she pops out of bed and finds you – no matter where you are hidden. So mornings, for right now, are out, and I’m trying to be in bed by 10 p.m., but that leaves very little time for me to do much of anything else since it’s lights out for my oldest by 8 p.m. Argh. (This is really why I need a blog. For therapeutic rants.)
As I’ve been discerning this blog’s future, my husband reminded me to consider why I started this blog to begin with, which was simply because I love to write and I love my family. Three years ago when I started, I had virtually no audience; yet, I showed up and wrote into a black hole a few times a week just for the satisfaction of it. I did not read other blogs much at all. Despite my hidden life as a blogger, I got a lot of enjoyment out of it. It was cathartic to write about tough days, and it was important to write about the good days, too, the ordinary moments where my children and I found joy just being together.
As I thought about this, I considered that maybe I should just stick to my personal journals.
Maybe (after the book is said and done and sold a handful of copies). But my personal journals can easily turn into a whine fest whereas when I write here, I look for the glimpses of goodness even in the most difficult day. Blogging keeps me focused on portraying a life of happiness, Godliness, a life that may come off as too Pollyanna-ish or Chicken Soup for the Soulish to some readers. But it’s a life worth living – and worth loving.
So what does all of this rambling mess mean for my blog, for me, and for you, my faithful readers? My brother, my husband, my mom as well as some of you guys (thank you for your support and for putting up with these stream of consciousness posts!) have all helped me to see that “To blog or not to blog?” isn’t the right question at all. It’s not an “all or nothing” kind of thing. As I concluded in my first post, detachment may be the best solution. How I blog (using prudence) and when I blog (using temperance) are far more important than whether I blog or not. I have to continue to ask tough questions like: How do I learn to detach myself from it all – to not allow the words of others, the comments on my blog or others’ blogs (good or bad), the hurt that sometimes happens in online forums, etc. to have power over me or to rob me of my happiness? How do I know when I’m following God’s will and not allowing my own pride or vanity to call the shots in the online world? These are not easy questions to answer, but I’m willing to keep asking them as I plod along here.
My husband recently said, “You won’t be blogging forever.” Probably not. But, for now, I’m here. Pray with me, won’t you? Pray we can all learn to use technology prudently, moderately, and to bring goodness into others’ lives.
So, in-a-should-have-been-cracked-with-far-less-words-than-above-nutshell, I’m here to stay for the time being, although posts may be more sporadic and I ask you in advance to forgive the typos that snake their way into my writing. I’m not going to get too obsessive-compulsive about them.