Self, Social Media, and What’s Real

Dear Friends,

This week, I suddenly became terribly sick of myself.  Let me explain—I’m not sick of the self who hikes, writes stories, reads with my kids.  I am sick of my facsimile-self, the one I trot out on social media platforms and in letters to editors and bookstore owners.  In the midst of promoting my first picture book, I am making myself literally nauseous.

This practice of being real with myself and others—I thought I had it figured out after the tumultuous, navel-gazing teen and early-twenties years.  And I’m thrilled that I’ll soon hold my first picture book.  But as a person who hates yammering on about her own work, the endless self-promotion required of writers these days makes my stomach churn.  It’s like gazing into a mirror too long, like snapping too many selfies (like the endless shots I find of my tween on my phone). In a culture where we’re trained to post carefully selective snapshots of our lives, I’ve been wrestling with this question:  How do I remain authentic in a society where, to get things done, to promote, you must adopt a certain measure of—well, if not deception, then slant?

In the Atlantic article “How to Hire Fake Friends and Family,” Roc Morin interviews Ishii Yuichi, the founder of “Family Romance,” a Japanese company that hires out actors to anyone who is willing to pay enough.  Say Thanksgiving rolls around and your prospective in-laws are looking forward to meeting your mother.  But she’s embarrassing: chews tobacco, swears audibly, shouts about politics.  Worry no longer!  Simply hire an actor who will play the perfect mom.  Yuichi has played the parts of loving fathers, acceptable husbands, perfect boyfriends.  His company has provided supportive colleagues, fall-guys, even healthy partners (complete with cheat-sheets of memories) to lonely people whose spouses are suffering dementia.

While Yuichi admits to occasionally feeling badly about long-term gigs (he’s been playing father to a girl who fully considers him her real father for years now), he defends his company by explaining that providing short-term comfort for people in an unjust world is legitimate.  As for being deceptive, he points out that culture is already on that bandwagon:  “I believe the term “real” is misguided. Take Facebook, for example. Is that real? Even if the people in the pictures haven’t been paid, everything is curated to such an extent that it hardly matters.”

But today, wearied from too much time on social media, I know that it does matter.  It matters deeply to me that I am known and know others in a real way.  As I walked down a sodden path in the park with my dog, I finally articulated exactly how I felt: lonely.

Of course though social media is new, the tension between appearance and authenticity has always been an issue.  Van Gogh spent much of his life wrestling between the poles of who he was (many dismissed him as a ne’er do well) and the pressure to appear successful.  In this letter to his brother, Theo, he vacillates between begging his brother to understand him and defending his authentic, searching self:  “What shall I say; our inward thoughts, do they ever show outwardly? There may be a great fire in our soul, but no one ever comes to warm himself at it, and the passers-by see only a little bit of smoke coming through the chimney, and pass on their way.”

I love to think of the fact that many years later, I, with countless others, come to warm myself at Van Gogh’s soul as I read his letters.  In his words, often wrenching, often beautiful, I find a friend.

Sometimes our feelings of isolation go deep, beyond the reach of friends, and today at the park I felt that. So I told God: “I am lonely today.  Sit with me, please.”

And as I write to you today as honestly as I can, without tipping the camera to block out the pile of laundry on the floor or turning my face to show you my ‘best side’ or trying to convince you to buy something, I invite you.  Today, slow down; be present to yourself and to others.  Pursue genuine, authentic, communal soul-building.  Step up to the hearth, take a deep breath, and warm yourself.

Peace,

Kim

P.S. As always, we love your comments and interaction!  Please leave a message–and thank you!

Consider: Reclaiming Our Attention

Dear Friends,

Yesterday, my husband and I took a walk through a beautiful fall afternoon. Our dog nosed at animal trails and loped through a stand of golden aspens. The afternoon, in all respects, was gorgeous, the sort of full-color fall afternoon you know will soon be memory. My husband looked up. “Do you know what the weather is going to be tomorrow?”aspens

I stopped in the middle of the trail and automatically reached toward my phone. Some part of my mind halted. “Don’t do it!” I said to myself. I pulled an empty hand back and picked a spear of grass instead, twirling it between my fingers. “No idea,” I answered my husband, “we can look when we get back.”    

Sustained attention, we all know, is under assault. I recently listened to an interview about “the arms race for human attention” with former Google design ethicist, Tristan Harris. This interview was darkly illuminating about the persuasive psychology upon which internet content and smartphone applications are built. Far from neutral, the technology which frames our lives is engineered to maximize habit-formation and addiction. I feel moderately aware that my attention is being hijacked, and yet I still tune in to the ever-ready supply of constantly refreshed newsfeed, headlines, and emails.

We each have an inner garden to cultivate. Our hearts and minds, our brain space, our attention, are ours to tend. This work is our birthright. And everyday, I sell some portion of this birthright for meager return. Today I sold it for one trip to Facebook, nine or ten worthless checks on my email, and several swipes on national headlines.

I want my attention back. I want my inner garden to be rich with rare and exotic flowers cultivated over years of patience, effort, and considered attention. In this era where statistics show the average attention span has dropped below that of the common goldfish, I can’t assume that reclaiming my attention will come easily. Literally billions of dollars are arrayed against it.

Recently I came across this quote from Marcus Aurelius: “Men seek retreats for themselves, houses in the country, sea-shores, and mountains… But this is altogether a mark of the most common sort of men, for it is in thy power whenever thou shalt choose to retire into thyself. For nowhere either with more quiet or more freedom from trouble does a man retire than into his own soul…Constantly then give to thyself this retreat, and renew thyself.”

As I read this quote, something stirred inside. My modern mind feels abuzz with lists and worries, with reminders and to-dos. It couldn’t feel further from Aurelius’ trouble-free retreat. Yet it is within my power to retire into my own soul, to journey deep into that wilderness. Though billions of dollars clamor otherwise, each and every moment, the choice to make such a journey is mine.

Peace,

Lindsay

P.S.  What is your answer for leaving the constant buzz and “retiring into your soul?”  We really want to know!  Leave a comment here or (ironically) on EHH’s Facebook page, or send us a message.

Travel Log

This morning I said goodbye to the girls and my husband, Martin, and I drove through rare and welcome midmorning sunshine to the ferry dock.  After a peaceful hour’s ride, we exited the mouth of the ferry, whisked through the bustle of Seattle, wound up the still-snowy mountain pass, and rocketed out into the vast, desolate rolling hills.  No kids in the back seat, a podcast murmuring quiet wisdom, and a hot cup of coffee: bliss.  A chance at last to cultivate what Lindsay talked about so well in her Consider this week: the art of inwardness.

Now I sit alone in the hotel room with the hum of the air-conditioning and congestive rattle of the mini fridge.  As soon as Martin left to see colleagues (this is work trip), I fought the urge to flip on the T.V.  Instead, I sat down with a glass of wine to mull over what Martin said after I got off the phone with Lindsay this afternoon.  “You’re so busy,” he said, “I wonder if you’ve taken time to slow down and reflect on the process of launching Each Holy Hour?”  You mean like metacognition, I answered, using a word educators love.  He smiled.

Metacognition is about thinking and talking honestly about your own learning process.  So as I begin to narrate the process of building Each Holy Hour, a project for wonder, I admit to myself that my recent preoccupation with the many “ticks on the to-do list” that Lindsay described in her meditation has had nothing to do with encountering wonder.  It’s not that I haven’t enjoyed moments of loveliness as I’ve waded through a thick morass of details of building a new website and content.  Even in the thicket of logistics, even as I clawed my way up the steep learning-curve of technology, I’ve found time to hug my kids, take in our blooming cherry tree, stand hushed and awed over a nest of newly hatched chickadees.

But I’ve reflected very little.  I’ve been glued to my phone and my computer so much that my eyes have become achy and bloodshot.  I’ve been myopic and obsessed, not inward–there’s a big difference:  “Inwardness is a summons that resists stress and hustle, an orientation to the world, not something that can be gained by doing.”

I struggle with the tension of keeping my life balanced.  When you parent three kids, work a part-time job, and write to boot, getting things done is hard-won.  On launch day, all my daughters were home sick.  As I face-timed Lindsay about the first Consider, her daughter (home sick!), jostled her elbow and asked questions.

But now after two weeks of doing, I feel unmoored from the very things that Each Holy Hour is all about:  solitude, reflection, face-to-face, unhurried communion with people.

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Flashback two months ago to a walk on the beach by grey Puget Sound.  Lindsay had made the drive from Montana to visit us.  Our kids picked their way through shallow pools, collecting crabs and eels. We tiptoed through thousands of sand dollars stacked in the sand–like shingles, Lindsay observed.  We dragged sticks in the sand, bent down to pocket smooth, ancient stones, lingered over driftwood.  And we discussed our passion for contemplation and our need for silence.  We talked about Each Holy Hour.

Life is about dwelling in that tension between doing and being.  Some hours are as spacious and silent as the hilly farmland we drove through this afternoon; others are as hectic and noisy as downtown Seattle.  Sometimes we hold our breath, lower our gaze, and plow through the crowd, and other days we wander blissfully under a wide, open sky.

But finding balance demands more from me than just silencing my phone for a few moments to snap up some convenient inwardness.  Inwardness is an “orientation to the world.”  It’s a way of being, a way of breathing, if you will.  And in a culture that measures me by my productivity, I need to  exhale and open my hands.

–KLC