going off social

This is me, halfway through the first draft of a new novel. It’s time to focus and get to work on building word count, so I need to minimize distractions. Meaning social media.

cards

Quitting social media is a lot like quitting coffee. First, a few days of headaches: How do I remember where that book launch is if I can’t check Twitter? How do I buy tickets for that festival if I’m not in the FB group? What if someone wants me to do a reading and I’m not answering their DM? Then a week or two (or three) of figuring out what else to do for that little pick-me-up between meetings, on transit, during that late-afternoon slump. Then calm.

At first, I shifted my cheap-thrills thirst to other online pleasures, like hunting for a wardrobe on Kijiji or “researching” way too many recipes for kimchi. Luckily, the internet gets boring really fast without the (illusion of) social connection. Then I started to remember some things I liked doing before social media, like writing letters and DIY projects. I picked up a couple of pen-pal relationships I’d let drop in the last few years, and started a new one. I got out my sewing machine and, over several evenings, made a Roman blind for my front window from a beautiful piece of batik I’d had waiting in my basement forever. These activities feel may seem dauntingly Martha Stewart-ish, but it’s amazing how much time there is when you’re not getting sucked into your phone for 45-min periods at a time.

Going off social has also confirmed a strong hunch I had all along (the reason I quit in the first place): solitude is simply not solitude when there’s social media in the room. As a typical introvert, I need solo time to bounce back from the day-to-day human interactions in my life, and I simply wasn’t getting it when “solo time” meant “scrolling Instagram.” In a low-grade way I was feeling chronically depleted and ill-at-ease.

And reading! Oh, my, what a transformation in the experience of reading. When was the last time you read a novel without imagining, somewhere in the back of your brain, how you’ll review it on Goodreads, or where you’ll snap a pic of the cover for IG, or what your shout-out to the author should say on Twitter? Well, I’m here to tell you that reading a novel just for you, in true privacy, is way, way more pleasurable. And you don’t have to not share it: When you’re finished the novel, you can pass it on and sing its virtues to a friend, in person, the next time you see her.

fool

Fool

For a couple of months now I’ve noticed this same card popping up over and over in my tarot readings. It’s not a bad way to begin a new year: a youngling leaving the nest, setting out on a journey into the unknown, trusting to luck. But the Fool can be unsettling card, too. I mean, just look at that cliff.

FoolJournal

I looked up the Fool in Sallie Nichols’ book Jung and the Tarot and really liked what I found.

The Fool, archetypally speaking, is something of a shit disturber. He’s a truth-teller, but he doesn’t usually make much rational sense. In fact, disrupting reason is one of his primary functions in literature, especially where reason is being abused by those who seek power (e.g., in King Lear). Nichols points to the flower children of the 60s and the deadheads of the 70s as exemplars of the Fool’s playful-yet-serious anti-establishment impulse.

According to Nichols, literary tradition teaches us three ways to deal properly with the Fool: 1. Admit him at court and seat him at the royal table. In other words, be tolerant but keep a close eye on him. 2. Set aside periods of universal permissiveness and revelry: Saturnalia, Fastnacht, Mardi Gras, Feast of Fools. 3. Freely admit to and laugh at our own foolishness whenever it’s pointed out to us.

What am I supposed to do with this trickster? How do I embrace his playful, deregulating force for myself without letting it devolve me into shambles? Well, music seems to have something to do with it. Dancing, maybe. Certainly laughter.

My friend Rahul informs me that in the Baghavad Gita, Krishna (God) is a player, in several senses of the word. He fools around, he flirts, he flouts conventional morality. He knows that life is ‘leela’ (a play), and we mustn’t become too attached to our roles. It’s all fun and games. This is why Krishna plays the flute.

Hey, I thought, reflecting on all this, it might be fun to make a Fool puppet sometime. Then I remembered that I’d already done that 20 years ago. I dug him out of his box:

WanderinFool

my heart on my sleeve (well, my back)

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flowers of adrenaline

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Mad Miss Mimic‘s book launch party is less than 36 hours away (deets here)! So what am I doing with my time? I’m crocheting flowers, of course.

I’m not particularly fond of crocheted flowers. Nor do I know how to crochet, really–I’m just following YouTube tutorials (like this one, in which the Crochet Master has a particularly soothing-yet-upbeat voice).

I’ve given handfuls of these to friends already (saying “no, I don’t know what they’re for either, just … Hello Spring?”). I suspect that all flower-crocheting activity will cease abruptly after tomorrow night.

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fastcrafting

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Who has time these days? The knitting project languishes in its basket. That gorgeous fabric I bought last spring never got sewed into cushion covers. Some evenings I’m too tired to read yet too restless for TV. I want to make something but can’t bear the thought of a pattern or a YouTube tutorial or anything at all involving logistics.

Luckily there exists a category of craft for times like this. Elementary school teachers already know about it (and I was raised by one!). Remember the paper-bag puppet? The paper-plate Thanksgiving turkey? It’s the fast craft: two or three materials, a single tool (or none), no instructions.

Pompons are nice; I’ve posted before about making yarn pompons. Paper snowflakes Snowflakework well (if you use Japanese paper you can stick them to the window with just a damp cloth).

Last weekend I found out a lovely self-striping mohair in my yarn stash. The softest shades of cream, robin’s-egg blue and spring-leaf green. I crossed two sticks and wound the wool round and round. The activity produced the same meditative state of absorption I look for in knitting–hands busy, thoughts rambling–and resulted in a lovely, cobwebby, handmade object to hang and enjoy.  In the days that followed, whenever I got too tired for lecture-prep or grading or answering emails, I made a few more to give to friends. (God’s eyes, they’re called, and they actually have quite the spiritual legacy. See an older post about gods’ eyes here.)

DeskNext I took out that forlorn bolt of fabric, laid it across the dining table, hacked a square off, and draped it over my desk. A temporary measure, but who cares? Springtime has arrived in my office!

Next I might cover my bulletin board with similarly pretty fabric, securing it on the back with duct tape.

 

poppies, posies, favors!

PoesiesUpon completing my substantive edits for Mad Miss Mimic I was overcome by a fit of exuberant craftiness. I bought a digital download of vintage opium-poppy illustrations on Etsy, printed the images on card stock, and tied them with ribbons to specialty single-serve teas.

Both opium and tea get fairly heavy play in my story, which takes place in 1870s London. And the Victorians were big on sending posies and favors of all kinds. So I am packaging up these little pretties and sending them as thank-yous to those who’ve helped whip the manuscript into shape.

good old-fashioned correspondence

Stationary

 

 

A few years ago I posted a list of ways we can encourage our kids to practice reading and writing at home. One strategy I suggested (I believe it was #7) was having your kid write a letter to an adult relative or friend, and making sure that adult (i.e., coordinating with him/her ahead of time!) immediately sends a letter back–preferably with a treat enclosed.

My boys are older now (14 and 10), and I’m still as determined as ever to have them practice expressing themselves in words, by hand, on paper, on a regular basis.  The incentives have changed, though. The ten-year-old received the stationary pictured above for his birthday, along with the weekly task of writing a one-page letter to his Uncle Steve (who was down with the idea and agreed to write back now and then).

Cutesie stationary wouldn’t have done the trick anymore, here–he needed something a) personalized, so his older brother can’t horn in b) dignified- thus the gold-leaf envelope liners, the gold foil seals, the “from the desk of..” letterhead, and c) gadget-cool- in the form of a self-inking return address stamp (again, personalized with his name). I purchased it all at Staples, and ran a stack of the paper through the printer with the help of the free letterhead template that came with the kit.

It’s quite a process for him, each week, from the choosing of the pen to the folding, sealing, sticker-applying, addressing and stamping, strolling to the mailbox. It’s a ritual. And four months in, he seems to be enjoying the ritual a lot.

[This fancy-pants stationary set would fail to impress a fourteen-year-old, of course. Mine writes a letter each week to his Grandpa. The rule for him is one page of regular foolscap, single spaced, margin to margin. I don’t read either of the kids’ letters, but he has to hold it up so I can see he’s filled the page before I log him onto the computer for Minecraft. Different kid/age, different incentive!]