ROW80 Sunday Check-In: Stepping Back for a Wider View

(My ROW80 Check-in is at the bottom of this post.)

Once a young man—a contemporary of mine and aspiring screenwriter who had moved to Southern California for the purpose of furthering that ambition—delivered to me a sort of writer’s curse.

“CJ, no one cares what you have to say.”

I recognized even at the time, even when I was twenty, that this comment was more about him than it was about me. Even so, it has echoed in my mind since then. It won’t go away because it accurately reflects a real fear—the fear that no one really cares what I have to say.

“We need to be known,” writes Alan Jones. “This knowledge of being known we call love.”

One of the ways that we know we are known is through being listened to. If no one cares what I have to say, how can I be loved?

Now, I can employ reason and see all of the evidence that I’m loved and that others want to hear what I have to say (not everyone, I’m sure, but I don’t need to be loved by everyone anyway). But reason doesn’t magically make the fear disappear.

I’m comfortable, at least somewhat, with that fear attending my writing practice because my primary reason for writing isn’t to be listened to. That’s a major reason, but the primary reason is just that I gain understanding by writing through experiences and issues. I’ve spent years journaling and writing stories that I’ve never submitted for publication, writing letters I had no intention of sending; I’m going to write whether I have an audience or not.

Facebook and Twitter are another matter.

In his chapter about “Technology and Media,” from Doris Janzen Longacre’s Living More with Less, Isaac Villegas writes:

“We are lonely people. So with the click of a mouse we try to convince ourselves that we are not alone…with my computer and smart phone I can constantly update my status on Twitter and Facebook just to convince myself that someone wants to know the minutiae of my life. I want to know that someone cares about my life and wants my companionship—or at least a status update.”

I recognize that my primary reason for being on Twitter and Facebook is a desire for connection. As someone who is fairly shy and socially awkward to begin with and busy at home with my children most of every day and living as a relative newcomer to a geographic area that lacks a central community, I find the draw of online community very strong. It promises me connection without the discomfort of in-person interactions. The trouble is that the (virtual) reality doesn’t live up to the promise. The virtual connection just doesn’t fill the void for me like being face-to-face with someone, or even just hearing their voice on the telephone.

Villegas suggests we ask three questions about our technology use:

1) “How can we make sure technology serves our relationships rather than the other way around?”

2) “What do our media habits reveal about our deepest desires?”

3) “What are we not doing when we are in front of a screen?”

Technology can serve my relationships by facilitating in-person connections and keeping strong those connections I have with friends and family who are geographically distant in between the times we can see each other in person. My media habits reveal that I deeply desire a compassionate community with whom I can explore my values and how best to live them. When I’m in front of a screen, I’m not looking my children in the eye. I’m not discussing my values, hopes, and desires with my husband. I’m not having coffee with my neighbors or taking my children to play with their friends across town. I’m not sleeping or exercising or hiking or reading or calling my mom (actually, I’m embarrassed to admit it but sometimes I am browsing the Internet while I’m on the phone with my mom).

This week, when I found myself disappointed that we only lost electricity for three hours because I was so looking forward to the break from technology, I decided that something had to give.

For the next two weeks, I’m going to try making sleep and in-person connections my priority. I’m going to go to bed at the same time my son does (around 7:00 pm) on the nights I can and no later than 10:00 pm on those nights that I have extra-domiciliary activities. This will eventually be more sleep than I need, but I hope that starting with more-than-enough sleep will help me recover from so many years of not-enough sleep and that I’ll gradually work into some sort of schedule. I’m hoping that with ample sleep, some of these other anxieties and disappointments and unacceptable behaviors (the yelling) will disappear on their own or that I’ll feel more equipped to address them.

I am going to keep writing because I sleep better when I’m writing (provided I’m not writing when I would otherwise be sleeping). I don’t know what I’ll do with blogging. I plan to do my Wednesday and Sunday check-ins for ROW80, but I don’t know if I’ll blog outside of those check-ins. Blogging is a weird limbo for me between writing and social media. It’s writing, but with the commenting and stats, it also includes that anxiety-provoking edge that social media has (especially when the trolls show up). I’ll have to observe myself in the next two weeks and go from there.

I’m not going to avoid online connections entirely, but I’m going to try to be mindful of whether they’re supporting my relationships or not. If they’re not, I hope I can step away and do something that does.

Oh, and the original purpose of this blog post, my ROW80 Sunday Check-In: I’ve written four nights out of seven, meeting my minimum goal for ROW80 for this week.

4 comments

  1. Ellery Davies · November 8, 2012

    CJ, if I may make a few observations and then a bold conclusion… The conclusion is not at all demeaning, but I fear that you may take it that way.

    Observations:

    1. You write often. You write well. That is, your content is relevant, and your style is expressive, captivating and informative.

    2. You have a Blog and you have followers. “Love” can mean many things. After all, unlike family and close friends, some of your followers know only your writing. But… (continue to #3)

    3. Your followers clearly like what you write. That’s why we keep returning. A liking, shared values and continued contact inevitably lead to a deeper appreciation of the writer.

    Conclusion:

    You often share your inner fears. The sharing is good. It shows that you are humble (certainly, a lot more humble than me), and that you are comfortable with a potentially anonymous audience. But it also shows that you are insecure about your status in the eyes of others, at least as it relates to your stature as a budding writer.

    I don’t think that my observations & conclusion will change anything. Your persona is what it is. And I am not sure that insecurity is a bad thing. For many people, it leads to initiative. But FWIW, your logical brain should occasionally step back–and take comfort in the fact that you are good writer. A growing body of folks are reading your output. Like me, they relate to you. Translation: Relax! We like you.

    Like

    • CJ · November 8, 2012

      I appreciate the compliment, Ellery.

      Feeling like people care about what I have to say isn’t really about being liked, although that is part of it. My point was mainly just that I have the fear that no one cares what I have to say, that I think that fear is common among writers (and probably among others as well), and that I’m reconciled to its continued existence and so I’m making an effort to do things that minimize the influence of that fear on my life rather than increasing it. Twitter increases it. Facebook increases it. Dwelling on blog stats increases it. Responding to blog comments and commenting on other people’s blogs increases it. For some reason the blogging itself doesn’t, so I keep on doing that, and I keep on responding to comments because it’s part of that relationship. But going on Twitter started to leave me feeling much like I feel when trying to merge onto or off of 495 or the Mass Pike—not very happy to be a member of my species and like I wanted to yell swear words. Quitting Twitter was much the same for me as the decision to take backroads whenever feasible.

      Like

  2. Cate Russell-Cole · November 6, 2012

    I used to thank in terms of your curse and decided to ignore it. Somehow, I have a steady following and 6 books published with another 2 in progress. Curses only have as much power over them as you’ll let them. Good for you for overcoming it!

    Keep powering on!

    Like

    • CJ · November 6, 2012

      Thanks, Cate. I’m not sure if I’ve overcome it, but I’m certainly aware of it and actively trying to recognize when I’m acting out of fear.

      Like

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