Forty Seven

A little more than a year ago I deleted my Facebook account, as an early birthday gift to myself. Today on my 47th birthday, after a good solid year cashing in on that gift, I’m finally getting around to the item I put on my to-do list shortly after taking the action – “blog post about leaving FB.”

I have a whole page of notes I started to help me write this post, which I might get to later. But here, in no particular order, are some things I love about this choice, as I reflect:

My life feels less like a spectator sport. I am no longer a little avatar inside my skull peering out through my eyes thinking about if and how to post about moment after moment of my day.

Time flows differently. Most obviously, I gained back minutes, and let’s be honest – sometimes hours – of my days, by no longer scrolling the newsfeed. But also, I feel like I experience time differently. I actually choose to just sit still in my back yard with nothing else to occupy my attention besides what’s already there – the birds and squirrels, the trees and sky, maybe a loved one nearby. I read more long-form things – books, actual paper magazine articles – and just consider them, maybe talk about them with the people I encounter in real life. Rarely do I feel the need to “share” by clicking on a device. As I consider the latest news event, I give myself time and space to process it. Which leads me to my next thought.

The world does not need to hear my opinion or reaction about every current event. Oh I could go on about this one (but does the world need to hear it all? I don’t think so). I do pay attention to the news, maybe not as close as I have at other times, because learning what’s going on in the world – and contemplating my place in it all – is important to me. But after forty-seven years of living, I’ve changed my opinions and overhauled my values and priorities enough to forecast that it’s just going to go on like this, so maybe it’s not all that helpful to instantly share with the world what I think about what just happened on a regular basis. If I’m honest, which I’m working to be, at least some of my virtual sharing and posting about the news had been more about building a desirable image for myself than actually caring about the world and the people in it.

Joy and gratitude live more deeply in me. I still experience depression, boredom, envy, frustration – but those feelings were amplified by my Facebook habit. I feel more truly a sense of enough and steadfast goodness in my life every day.

My actual, real-life friends and family mean more to me. Leaving Facebook, for me, meant I lost touch with many people, because I’m not outgoing, not the type of friend who will call or text at random just to talk. Or I hadn’t been for most of my life, and Facebook just further encouraged a habit of passive engagement with people. Getting off of Facebook meant I had to be more active in maintaining the relationships I cared about, and I’ve gotten in better shape doing just that – routine texting, an occasional postcard or note to long-distance friends, and more intentional physical gatherings with loved ones who live closer. As an introvert, I have more energy for social interactions because I haven’t been passively depleting myself through social media.

Full disclosure, I did start a new Facebook profile that I connected to the pages I run for my bands, and I also use that profile to occasionally (as in maybe for two minutes every couple weeks?) check in on two groups that are important to me – my church and my songwriter group. I send and accept no friend requests and don’t do any scrolling – just click through my notifications and respond as needed.

After a year, I’m happy with my choice and have no desire to go back. Nothing I’ve written here is meant to cast judgment on anyone else. You, wonderfully, are you, gifted and freighted with your very own life to live, and I hope you feel empowered to make your own decisions. My experience may or may not resonate with you. But if you, like 45-year-old me, have been wanting to try getting off Facebook or a different social media platform, I hope you feel encouraged to go ahead. You can try to calculate the pros and cons and worry it all out before you jump – it took me a long gradual time to finally shut the thing down – but looking back now, it feels like it never needed to be such a long drawn-out decision. I didn’t really have as much to lose as I thought.

Now it’s time to turn off the laptop and get ready for a celebratory dinner out with my family!

**Below, I’ve just copied and pasted from the notes I mentioned above. Very random thoughts and links to other people’s thoughts that impacted my decision:

The article that pushed me to pull the trigger –

Stress of always needing to have an opinion and express it – dumbing down our thinking and our conversation to likes and sound bytes.

Wanting to be “friends” with everyone, feeling “like butter spread on too much bread,” to be hobbity about it. 

The endless news feed.

Feeling like I’m always standing and yelling in a crowd, everything I say blaring out to everyone around, and I don’t even know who all is there listening.

The increasing feeling of giving up, giving in to a system I increasingly hated. “I don’t like it but . . .” This isn’t about trying to make a perfect life (I’m still a consumer of Amazon, Apple and Google – will probably be more invested in Youtube now) – but feeling like staying on FB just pushed me too far into that territory of compromising values and joining the evil empire.

I can remember FB before the like button, before comments (really?) and feel a little wistful for that. We used to go look at each other’s walls and not just endlessly scroll the news feed. Then communication happened through more long-form and/or human means (email, phone calls, in-person gatherings). It’s harder to be troll-like in person or one-on-one.

You can stay. There are good reasons to. I did for a long time because I wanted to be a positive presence. 

Ideas for improving your experience – turn off all notifications except inside FB itself. Make it so you have to open up FB to see what’s happening there. (No pings on your phone when somebody likes or comments or posts). Remove FB from all but one device. I liked it best when I only used FB through my laptop. I used the Messenger app on my phone.

Choose times when you open FB and stick to them. Limit your time spent there. Write down what you plan to do on FB before you open it so you don’t fall down the rabbit hole and forget.

Take longer breaks from it.

Summer ’22

Here’s a song exploring the balance of individual freedom with community responsibility. The first lines came to me soon after I heard the news that Roe v. Wade had been overturned. They might just as easily have come from the mouth of an anti-masker a couple years ago. The next lines are a reminder that I have changed my opinion multiple times in my life and I’m likely to do it again – so I’m learning to hold less militantly to any position, and trying to pay closer attention and care to the people around me.

The prompt for this week 31 of #songaweek2022 was “armed and dangerous,” which brought to my mind the awful number of gun fatalities we’ve had right here in my city just this summer, not to mention the wider world.

The first lines of the little bridge at the end (“the rains come down and the floods go up”) came from a song I learned in Sunday School many years ago – about the wise man who built his house on a rock and the foolish one who built his house on the sand (thus the “sands of time” line for my further allusionary pleasure). I’m thinking here about actual flooding and wildfires, resulting from our foolish refusal to build sustainable systems that acknowledge our limits and our need to care for ourselves and our planet.

More than ever, I’m convinced that the way forward is the way of love – not blind sentiment but thoughtful, engaging, respectful and compassionate care for whoever I find myself facing, physically or virtually or however else, at the present moment.

Here’s something I read this week that I immediately cut and pasted in my notes, said by Valarie Kaur – “Listening does not grant the other side legitimacy. It grants them humanity—and preserves our own.”

I would probably do what they want me to
But since they took away my right to choose
I feel uneasy

So many things I used to rail against
Now they kind of make some sense
I take it easy

Think for yourself but please don’t stop there
Think about everybody else

I’ve been trying hard to hear the truth
But with all these voices shouting the news
It isn’t easy

And the heat sets in and the tempers rise
And the guns come out and somebody dies
It’s far too easy

Think for yourself but please don’t stop there
Think about everybody else

And the rains come down and the floods go up
As we race against the sands of time
And the fires burn and the tanks roll in
And the wide world weeps and the hearts of humans break

Think for yourself but please don’t stop there
Think about everybody else

Hold On Let Go

Last week, after the mass shooting in Buffalo and before the one in Uvalde, my (Lutheran) church confirmed three teenagers including my daughter. A foundational part of Lutheran theology, our pastor said that day, is that we are all “simultaneously saint and sinner.” At the end of the liturgy, we stood and responded together:

Do you renounce the devil and all forces that defy God? We renounce them.
Do you renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God? We renounce them.
Do you renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God? We renounce them.

Our pastor reminded us of these words again after Uvalde. I had a different song started this week but in the dreadful light of these events and with this faith to guide me, this is the one I needed to write.

When you can’t pretend that all is well
but you can’t believe that it’s all wrong
Hold on
Hold on

When you can’t believe humanity
But you can’t pretend you’re innocent
Let go
Let go

We renounce the evil in the heart of us
We believe the healing comes from all of us
Hold on
Let go

When we have no words for what we’ve done
But we understand intimately
Let go
Let go

When we feel the night is all there is
But we know the dawn always comes
Hold on
Hold on

We renounce the evil in the heart of us
We believe the healing comes from all of us
Hold on
Let go

When I Was Generous

That’s the title of this song because that was the line it was built around. I liked the inner rhyme of it, which I used as a form factor for the three lyrically different choruses.

I’ve been chipping away at writing this one for several weeks, and this week, Week 17 of #songaweek2022, the prompt of “couldn’t if I tried” actually helped me to finish the song.

Must give credit to H.G. Wells for the last verse. I’m pretty sure I’ve quoted this same passage of his novel Mr. Britling Sees It Through previously in this blog, and I know I included similar lines in another song I wrote. It’s just good! And feels especially timely right now. Wells was writing about World War I (“the war to end all wars”), and here we are a century later hearing “World War Three” tossed around on the news.

“War is a curtain of dense black fabric across all the hopes and kindliness of mankind. Yet always it has let through some gleams of light, and now—I am not dreaming—it grows threadbare, and here and there and at a thousand points the light is breaking through. . . “

H.G. Wells, Mr. Britling Sees It Through

The whole world’s gone mad like it always was
Like it means to be forever
It’s the way we roll
Through the cosmic night
Oh we spin and we spin all day

When I was generous
I could believe we could help each other out of disgrace
Since I got cynical
I can’t even see your hand in front of my face

Let’s lay off the news for a little while
I don’t need to know the latest
Leave me in the dark
Underneath this rock
Let me just catch my breath today

When I was envious
I couldn’t see all the beauty right in front of my eyes
Now that I’m out of time
I find I believe we all can shine in the same sky

Come stand with me under the canopy
Of a thousand points of light
Breaking through the dark
Of the threadbare night
Till it’s bright with the newborn day

It wouldn’t be good for me
And I couldn’t if I tried to keep my life all to myself
So spill it out willingly
Flowers will grow up from the dirt where it fell

Nothing’s Wrong

I got through COVID and then was back on the couch this week with a stomach bug. So even thinking about songwriting had to wait until about last night (Thursday). I turned to a song idea from a previous week that I hadn’t finished.

This song had been insisting on its lyrical hook being “nothing’s wrong,” and I wasn’t convinced, which is why I didn’t use it the week I came up with it. Now this week I felt that continued insistence, and with enough other scrappy ideas worked in, it felt like it wanted to be called good.

One of those ideas was inspired by this quote:

But like you say, sticks and stones will break your bones, but words aren’t going to hurt. But they do stick to your head,” [Frank] Cruz said.

It was from an article where Cruz was talking about growing up Mexican in St. Paul’s west side neighborhood. I loved the concept that words don’t hurt but they stick to your head. I tried to work it in lyrically to this song – either “stick to” or “stick in” or “stick inside” your/my head. But I didn’t end up using this variation on the cliche at all. Still, it was reading that article – and copying down the quote – that led me to use the “sticks and stones” cliche in the song.

Overall, I know there’s something here about passive-agressiveness. And/or Minnesota niceness. Not necessarily based on personal experience, although I’ve experienced it – and given it out.

And there’s that wall we sometimes put up when we don’t want to talk about it, whatever it is – “nothing’s wrong,” we say. And also there’s gaslighting. And “don’t be so sensitive.”

And then the complete disconnect I often feel these days, in my comfortable, not-bombed-out, not-running-for-my-life existence, as the news is filled with the latest horrors in Ukraine. I feel like I’m living like nothing’s wrong.

I don’t want to sing this song
Hey nothing’s wrong
You don’t have to sing along
Hey hey hey nothing’s wrong

Sticks and stones
May break my bones

Stop me if you’ve heard this one
Hey nothing’s wrong
We were just having fun
Hey hey hey nothing’s wrong

Words will never
Hurt me

Nothing’s wrong
Nothing’s wrong
Nothing’s wrong

Everybody step in line
Hey nothing’s wrong
Everything is just so fine
Hey hey hey nothing’s wrong