Since leaving Facebook

It’s been awhile since I did a blog post, but I would say it’s safe to say I’m officially back, and before I launch into other more interesting topics I thought I would start with a little update on where I’m at in life, and how I’ve been feeling since leaving Facebook.

I am not sure how many of you know but I teach at a university where we are literally under a 9 month contract and so I do have the summer’s off.  Now that I am department chair it is not quite true, but summer is still a time where I tend to shut down from communication in general.  This summer it is a confluence of factors that have led me to disappear for awhile.  The respite, I feel, has overall been a benefit.

I guess I’ll start with my leaving Facebook.  I said a lot of things about how I thought it would benefit me.  An important piece of wisdom that I’ve gained later in life is that it is important to change things up, to get out of habits as best as possible.  Habitual behavior tends to be what makes time go by more quickly and also I think has diminishing returns for things that even initially made you feel good.  So I’ll start by saying that I certainly don’t regret leaving Facebook one bit if not simply for the sake of just seeing how life would change.  And there is no question in my mind that it was in fact a habit, and that there were some signs of addiction.

When I left Facebook I deleted the app from my phone, and I was shocked to find out how many times I would pick up my phone to get on Facebook, only to stare blankly at my phone at an app that wasn’t there, and it took me a couple of seconds to remember that I wasn’t on Facebook anymore.  Despite consciously knowing that I left, my unconscious movements to reach for my phone and look really gave me some insight as to how much time I spent checking Facebook.  This made me happier that I left, but there was still this feeling of frustration that I assume to be akin to withdrawal symptoms.  Fortunately, after a month or so this diminished.  I’m in a place now where I spend very little time on my phone.  Sometimes now I forget to look at it for entire half days.  I also find that I spend much more time looking for my phone (which is annoying) but I think this is because I am not always looking at it.  It’s hard to lose something you are checking frequently and always have near you.  I don’t like wasting time looking for my phone, but overall I’d say it’s not a bad thing that I am away from it enough to misplace it.

One thing I expected, that didn’t happen, was having extra time.  I think this can largely explained by having another child.  We’ve had a lot of family visiting as well, so things have been a little hectic at times over the summer.  I guess I do feel like I have had more time, but that time has been filled and so I woudn’t say that I have had more time to relax.  I will say that overall, I feel a better sense of fulfillment with what I spend my time doing, even if it isn’t always fun.  There is a solidity to life now that I have a hard time explaining clearly, but overall I like it.

I think it was pretty clear that when I left Facebook that I was experiencing some depression.  I didn’t think that Facebook was necessarily the cause of it, but I didn’t feel like it was helping me overcome it either, and if anything exacerbating it.  Having left Facebook I have to say there are still times that I feel depressed about where our society, particularly in America, is going and I’m not sure how to make that go away.  I mean I could simply choose to be more optimistic and focus on that, but I somehow worry that this will make me less vigilant.  I feel this is a time for vigilance.  You can of course be so depressed to the point of apathy, but I think you can also be to cheerful and optimistic to the point of ignorance.  Neither of those are where I want to be.  Trying to find a state of mind that makes me feel strong without depression but without some sort of drug-like optimism is challenging.  Overall though I would say that leaving Facebook has helped me compartmentalize better, has allowed me to say, “Alright right now I have to focus on this…” and I am able to do so. There are times that I spend worrying as well, but I don’t think I do it as much, and sometimes I feel like I am able to filter out the noise much better and really think about, even some of the bad things, in a meaningful and deeper way.  This is something that I hoped for leaving Facebook.  The biggest thing for me is how noisy life felt and that I really couldn’t think deeply about things very well.  So maybe I’m not free completely from the state of mind I was in before, but I feel like I am progressing, and that is something.  Facebook seemed like a fairly endless stream of bad news, and people fighting, and being free from that, as often as I was on it, has been restful…peaceful…and given me more moments of contentedness.

There were many people who felt like was bashing Facebook when I left (there are reasons to be concerned of course about Facebook’s ethics) but my leaving was more a reflection of my personal relationship to it.  It wasn’t healthy for me, and I still maintain that can be used beneficially.  I know many people who aren’t on Facebook who are still as confused about facts from the media they consume, and so I certainly don’t see it as a soul source of how we can be misled in our society.  There is a larger problem with all sorts of media which has been discussed by ethicists like Tristan Harris on the “attention economy“.  This is something we all have to be mindful of, and getting off Facebook is no solution there.  The important thing to recognize also is that we are all being unconsciously influenced by the media we consume, and it’s important to be aware of that and be aware of how that’s affecting your life.  Think seriously about it all, weigh the pros and cons, and ask yourself are you as happy, courageous, and effective as you can be being plugged in all the time.  In a podcast I listened to recently a doctor was saying how boring the message of moderation is, and yet it’s probably the one we should be hearing the most.

My world has certainly gotten smaller, but I think there is just as much value at making the 10 mile radius around you a better place as trying to make the world a better place.  Moving the world requires a much greater force, and as an individual I constantly feel like I am inadequate to the task, and Facebook was a constant reminder of that fact, just as it was also a constant reminder of all the things that we need to make better in this world.  It’s important to know all of that, but it’s also important to recognize your limits.

There is much that I miss too, I knew this would be the case.  I wonder how a lot of the good people I got to know on Facebook, and think of them often.  But I have gotten to interact with more friends and people in my community than before.  There are a lot of people in my city who probably have quite different political views from me, but I haven’t talked politics with them, but I am getting to know them, and I haven’t met a bad person yet.  Maybe they voted for Trump, or maybe they are very religious, or maybe they have no problem with guns…I don’t know, but I think it’s important that we really get to know people first before judge the entirety of their being based on who they voted for, or what they believe.  There’s much more humanity there that I think we miss on social media.  There’s value in understanding where people are really coming from and recognizing their common humanity.  There may come a day when the truth of our political views comes out, but maybe then it will be a better conversation, maybe then there own beliefs will be as challenged as mine our and maybe even if we can’t be friends we walk away being better people than we were.  I don’t think this is possible on Facebook as we just tend to get to know the people who agree with us, and fight with the ones we don’t.

Well this is already a bit long, but I just want to say that, at best I can say that I am spending more time with my children and more time just enjoying a breath of fresh air.  I think that I will one day be able to return to Facebook and use it in a better way, but I don’t think I’m there yet.  I am thankful for all the good people I know and have known in this world even if there isn’t enough time to stay in touch as frequently as I’d like.  I wish all the best.

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Discussion: Is your life a story?

The importance of stories to humans cannot be overstated.  Well perhaps it can, but I’ve yet to see anybody succeed yet. 🙂  I’ve written about the importance of stories before.  My interest in the subject began when reading the novels Name of the Wind and A Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss.  It is clear that we learn from stories.  In fact it is often suggested that as a method of pedagogy that we try to create narratives, try to use storytelling to teach.  I’ve yet to find a way to do this with fluid dynamics, but when I think about how I retain knowledge best, it is certainly the ability to think in terms of stories, rather than a lose collection of facts.  When teaching, even if you don’t have a story to tell, trying to create a common thread through your lessons does help.

A former student, and now friend, would often start a conversation with people she was just meeting and getting to know with the question “Tell me the story of your life.”  I think it’s pretty easy to see our lives as a story.  I am not sure though that this is something we do when we are adolescents.  Perhaps we haven’t lived long enough, and it is unclear when this process begins, but at some point you will look at the past and forecast into the future and there will seem to be this story you are playing out.

But is this a good way of thinking about our lives?  Sometimes I think we do this because it seems more interesting, and even though I still think there is a lot of values to stories, perhaps we shouldn’t be seeing our own life as a story.

Some philosophical meat to think about here is are you the same person in the past as you are in the future?  Stories tend to follow a particular character who may change, but rarely as much as actual humans do.  Is your 20 year old self the same as your 60 year old self?  Maybe at best we are a series of shorter stories instead of one long story.  Our desire for continuity and cause and effect perhaps extends the narrative for longer than it perhaps should.

More importantly when we think our life in terms of a story do we then sometimes predict the ending?  Do we limit ourselves by having expectations based on this narrative we have about our lives?  In a recent podcast I listened too, they profiled a family who had a story of their life.  They were beekeepers, and when tragedy struck and it all came to an end, they could see themselves any other way.  What they had been doing for 40 years was who they were.  Their house decorated with bees.  How do you change the story when life takes an unexpected turn?  It can be very difficult to find happiness or contentedness when expectations do not match the reality of your situation.  This podcast also did another episode where they talked about changing your story and how doing that can help us move on.  We might find inspiration in others who have changed the story of their lives, we may also become limited by others who assume that we can’t change our story.  Perhaps we have no choice but to see our lives as a story, and if we are going to do that, perhaps we just need to learn how to better hijack that process to write those new chapters that can take the story into a different direction.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject?  Do you think of your life as a story?  Do you think it’s good or bad that you do?  Have you had to change your story unexpectedly?  Was it difficult?

There is a nice discussion on the topic on another podcast I listen to if you are interested in thinking about this subject more.

The Same and Not Quite the Same

Wake up, time to get up,
Make some tea,
Flossing, flossing,
The sun is out, that’s nice.
Brushing my teeth
Should I shave today?
Yes, no avoiding it.
A bite to eat
Go to the gym for a bit
The dew is gone, better mow that lawn
Lunch
Take my son for a walk
Nap time for him now
Fold some laundry with Maggie
He’s up, dinner.
Bed and bath for the little one
Some TV, some computer time
Off to bed

Repeat the next day

Wake up, time to get up,
Make some tea,
Flossing, flossing,
The clouds are pretty, that’s nice.
Brushing my teeth,
Don’t need to shave today
A bite to eat
Off to work, same route
Lunch
Driving home, same route
Hit the gym
Take my son for a walk
Empty the dishwasher
Cook some dinner
Bed and bath for the little one
Sneak in a bowl of ice cream
Read and fall asleep

Repeat the next day

Wake up, time to get up,
Make some tea,
Flossing, flossing,
Looks like rain today.
Brushing my teeth,
Shave again?
Yep, beard is pretty grey
A bite to eat
Off to work, same route
Lunch
Driving home, same route

Hit the gym
Lot’s of rain, staying in
Grass is going to grow faster
Wash some dishes
Start the grill for dinner
Skyping with family
Bed and bath for the little one
Read and fall asleep

That Which Survives

I was thrust into a conversation recently where I debated a Christian fundamentalist on morality.  Particular why would we care about well-being, that only an existing divine moral authority would give us that imperative.

It seems obvious to me that morality is born out of need to learn how to survive best.   And this of course would be different for different species.  An intelligent life that evolved from frogs might simply have large litters and leave them all to fend for themselves and have completely different morals that made sense for their particular mode of survival.  For us as social primates we have our own set of behaviors that make us most successful.  I was then asked over and over again, “Why survive?”  As if the answer could only be some supernatural force at worked.  And yet it seems to me that survival is just the nature of life.  I would go so far as to say if the nature of life was not to survive, there wouldn’t be life.  It’s sort of the very definition of life.  I would imagine that this is part of the definition of life we can most agree on.

Thus it also seems obvious to me that as a species of primates who have evolved to survive rather well through cooperation, we survive best when we are compassionate and kind to others.  Building bonds of trust and empathy are not only some of the most long lasting relationships, but also the most gratifying to our own well being.  But clearly it can’t be so obvious, because there is a lot of the opposite going around.

I started to think that maybe there are two extremes of the type of person you can be.  You can be one who thinks the least of us slow us down and prevent us from living in that wonderful future utopia, or you can one who thinks that it difficult to know who the least of us is.  And that everybody, to a certain extent, has something to teach.  Hopefully, that thing they have to teach isn’t what not to do.  But even those are lessons well learned.  Of course most of us are not those extremes.  But we’re all hoping to be more like one than the other.  I think the former can be measurable shown to be illusion, but if you think the latter is easy to achieve you’d be fooling yourself just as much.    I can personally say that there are moments when the illusion seems simpler, and you find the appeal of the black and white view, even if you know that could never be you.  The latter is the path of humility, a path that asks you to accept uncertainty as property of nature.  Not only must you tolerate it, you must actually welcome it and embrace it.  Such a path can be a painful journey, but the well-being you gain from prostrating yourself under the endless sky of uncertainty, baring your soul to the universe, is immense.  Because it really is the best way to see the stars.   It’s always just seemed apparent to me that humans were naturally kind creatures, because it always seemed to me the reason why we’ve survived until now.  I hope I’m not wrong.

Vicious Truths and Sweet Nothings

Fell into a perfect ending,
But the last page was missing,
I looked for right angles and straight lines,
And all I found was mostly irrational.

I’ve prepared a speech for just such an occasion,
You’d swoon and be moved to tears,
But when it came time to speak,
My throat closed and I choked on every word,
I let it drop to the floor and fall to pieces,
A dissection of imperfection,
A bloody vulnerable mess to be sure,
But I wanted there to be no doubt,
You’d capitulate and even smile,
I’ve got questions that wait for answers,
But as long as your voice answers,
It doesn’t matter what you say with it,
Or if you just sit in silence,
Thinking mirrored thoughts,
Moving in mirrored movements,
Taking a little walk around the room,
Staring at doors down the hall of the mind,
As beautiful as the memories behind them,
The knob is right in front of me somehow
Is it locked or was I afraid to open it?

Leaning back, I slump on the floor,
The wood is warm, just close your eyes.

It’s life and there’s nothing tidy about it,
Your heart stops without warning and starts again,
And you go on like nothing ever happened,
It’s a cold glass of lemonade on a hot day,
It’s a long heavy sigh that aches but doesn’t hurt,
And I can’t stop myself from another deep breath.

Do you know her?

I’d like to tell you about somebody.  Maybe you know her.  She’s not uncommon.  It is perhaps why we don’t talk about her that much.  Maybe she’s your mother, your aunt, a sister, or friend of the family.  She calls on Christmas.  On the rare times you visit, she’s always good to you.  She’s getting older now and she’s tired much more than she should be for age.  Still she keeps going even if she herself isn’t always sure why.

She was raised in a pretty traditional household.  Raised on Christian values, but not too overtly as there was too much work to do during the day to worry too much about it.  She learned good morals in her upbringing, she learned to work hard, and she learned what love is.  But she never knew herself really.  Normal was that a woman didn’t get that many choices in life.  Women, as far as she could tell was for others.  She wasn’t the oldest of her siblings either, so never got to do anything first.  She flew below the radar most of the time, but never really made any special attempts to get attention.  She just accepted her place in this world.  As a result of remaining in the background and assuming she belonged there, she never really got to know herself.  She was probably a bit smarter than her other siblings, or at least had her talents.  Maybe it was cooking, decorating, or sewing.  She would learn to use them, but never really thought they were anything special.  Never really let them be a source of pride for her, even though you could tell that it made her happy to do them.  Her true talent was probably much further than what she showed.  Cooking could have easily turned into a career in nutrition and diet, decorating could have turned into interior design, sewing could have turned into fashion.  Those jobs were for people with big dreams.  She was in no kind of position in life to have big dreams.  And for the most part she was just happy to be close to family and love the people in her world.

She was good at loving others, but never really good at finding someone to love her.  Even at the best of times she never felt as pretty as she was.  Love was something you’d probably just grow into.  She got married when she was young, because that’s what you did.  Someone was paying attention to her and it felt nice.  His drinking problem?  Well…everybody drank.  But eventually it did get too bad, and her family who always loved her helped her to get out before it got worse.  She did, with child in hand.  She kept looking for love, but hadn’t really learned what she did wrong the first time.  She knew that life was hard being a single mom, and a fear of being alone kept creeping up on her.  So she found someone else.  Someone who paid attention to her that could help her financially and lighten the load.  She believed once again that if she just loved, good things would come of it.  This time there were bruises, and the family helped her get away again, a second child in hand.  It was best to go it alone for a while she figured, it was even harder now.  If she wanted to get to know herself, she’d have to find the time.  With two children and a full time job to support them who has the time to find themselves?

She still had her family, and she loved them a lot.  Siblings and nephews and nieces, she always gave love without question.  She was never the cool aunt, she was never the funny sibling, but she knew how to listen and she knew how to laugh.  Her children were the world to her, even if they didn’t quite understand why she couldn’t always be there for her.  The mystery that all children whose parents are always working live with.  She’d do anything for them, except perhaps be tough with them.  When they hit their teenage rebelliousness she couldn’t follow through with the discipline.  What if they hated her?  What if they abandoned her?  How alone would she be then?  She loved them and never wanted to push hard.  She traded their respect for their company, but she never stopped loving them.  And even if they had a bit of a tough road, her kids turned out to be good people, but perhaps still feeling a little lost, without really knowing why.

With children grown and gone she was once again alone.  She was older now…certainly not as attractive.  Years of hard work, with only food as an indulgence had taken its toll on her body.  But she put on her hope cap, and the young girl inside her went looking for love again.  Still not really knowing who she was, she couldn’t find anybody who really appreciated her.  Just another man who was once again happy to have a quiet, compliant partner.  For just a little attention she didn’t need to be respected.  She seemed content to just have another living human being in the house so she didn’t have to be alone.  And maybe she would have walked away again, but that body who worked hard and was still trying to work hard didn’t have much energy for walking once the day was done.  And who had the energy for trying love once more?  So she resigned herself to just the emotional bruises every now and then, to have somebody else’s voice to talk to every once in a while.  She wouldn’t die alone.  She still believes in God, but mostly out of habit.  She’s really not sure if any other options make any more sense.
She still loves others well, whether they deserve it or not, and it is still uncertain how much she loves herself.

I love this woman.  She’s not uncommon.  Perhaps you know her. Perhaps you remember her.  Maybe she has always loved you.  Don’t be afraid to love her back.  It can only make her happy.

In Parallel

There’s a type of love I found,
It’s the love that shouldn’t have been,
But was
Is

And there springs an alternate timeline
Another universe side by side with your own
Fabric
Torn

And so like the ghost that only you see
Hidden to others, nobody believes you
Haunted
There

A companion always in your periphery
Nothing wrong with dependable
Silent
Grave

Reality split, worlds in restless conflict
To go back to one, loss is too great
Courage
Fear

And so I resign myself to gratitude
For love that shouldn’t have been
Struggle
Life