Friday, March 28, 2014

Bread and Circuses

Here’s the thing. I want to write. I even intend to write. But it never seems to happen. There’s always something that comes up, or gets in the way. I get distracted, or I forget entirely. I’d love to tell you that I’m so busy reading, researching, and working on homesteading projects that I just don’t have time to write. But if I’m going to be honest (and it’s a hard and fast policy when I write), it’s usually Facebook and Pinterest.

How did this happen? How did I get so wrapped up in things that do not support or further the way I choose to live my life? I don’t suppose that it would be so bad if I was keeping in touch with dear friends, and furthering social causes that I believe in. Well, I am doing those things, but unfortunately I seem to spend most of my time on Facebook irritated with the thoughtless things that even the kindest people say, and my time on Pinterest is spent collecting pictures of other people’s accomplishments. I am too busy doing these things to actually accomplish anything of my own, of course. And when I do work, I flit from project to project, never finishing anything, never working on anything for very long, and taking a Facebook break about every twenty minutes or so. Honestly, it’s like scratching a persistent rash some days. And like all rashes, the more I scratch it, the more over-sensitive it gets. The more it itches. The more I scratch. The more irritated I get.

If you can’t tell, I am irritated. I’m not irritated with Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, or any individual on them, mind you, but I am almost furious with myself. Because the truth is, I know better. This… thing, called social media, it is addictive. We all know it. We all say it, jokingly. It is a constant stream of new and different ideas, in bite-sized pieces. It is neatly and beautifully packaged in memes, quotes, political cartoons, 140 character statuses, and sound bites. How very intoxicating. It speaks directly to our innate thirst for knowledge, for new things. But it comes at a cost. I know I am not the first person to write about this. I know I will not be the last. What we gain in breadth, we lose in depth. What we gain in staying up-to-date, we lose in the thorough understanding of things long-studied, and lived-with. We like to believe that social media has brought us together, that it brings new perspective into our lives, and helps us to understand people who are different than ourselves. But my experience is that it is much easier to unfriend someone, hide their feed, or stop following them than it is to listen with an open heart. The world is now full of people, and it has become so easy to isolate ourselves from the people who disagree with us. Almost effortless.

I am guilty of this. I, too, have instituted the infamous Facebook purge, silencing people whose messages I did not care to hear. I, too, did this while believing that my behavior was healthy, that I was removing negative people from my life. But I never stopped to ask the question. What makes me think I’m so darned positive? Because really, what I was doing was building a little bubble of isolation around myself. I built myself a comfortable place to spend my whole day, quietly reading new content, all generated by people who share my same basic world-view.

Wow. I mean, wow! See what I did there? And unsurprisingly, it wasn’t enough. The truth is, we are all more than one thing. Life and the things that make it up are complex, and there is no such thing as an answer that is right or wrong for everyone. But it is human nature to understand that on the one hand, and on the other, believe that only we have it completely right. The problem is that we live in a world of these moral absolutes, and a world where everything is a moral issue. And the tragedy of it is, that in this world of memes and 140 character statuses, there is just no room for complexity. I have to say, moral arguments, kept artificially simple, are responsible for some of the worst atrocities in human history. There is not one single problem facing humanity today that is simple, or easy, and we all have to stop acting like they are.

Folks, wake up and smell the fair trade coffee (which often results in poorer prices for the farmers, by the way), no one is going to agree with everything you say, think, or do. The bigger part of that is that we don’t have to be either passive-aggressive, or unkind about it. I see at least one meme a day that boils down to, “Don’t agree with me? %#$@ you.” And they are more often than not exactly that unkind. The part that is really amazing to me, is that people send these things out to folks who are supposed to be their FRIENDS. Woah. Can you imagine if someone said that to your face? How many of us would put up with a friend who said that to our face once a day?

The real question I’m trying to get to is this. What on earth am I doing putting up with it? Why am I spending my day this way, when I have so much work that needs doing? I have books to read aloud to my children, boo-boos to kiss, hearts to mend, minds to coach, a dozen or more new books on homesteading to read, notes to make, research to conduct, a studio to clean and organize, mead to make, knitting and weaving projects waiting in Limbo, gardens to plan, seeds to start, and recipes to organize, all before spring finally comes to the Northeast and the REAL work around here begins. That is to say nothing of the dishes, laundry, dusting, and vacuuming. And you know, WRITING. I am months, MONTHS behind in all of it, and all because I am letting my lizard brain run my life. I feel pretty disgusted with myself, truthfully.

I was reading one of my favorite mystery series the other night before bed. The protagonist is a writer, who has two Siamese cats. He moves through his social life physically; going on visits, into shops, out to dinner, having friends over, etc. Then, on given days of the week, he sits down and WRITES. He just writes. I thought wistfully to myself, “Wow, that sounds like such a lovely life. I really wish I could have a life like that.” It took two days for it to sink in. Do you see what I did to myself there? I totally told myself that I couldn’t have the life I want, because I don’t have time for it. Why don’t I have time for it? Because I spend so much time on social media. WOAH. I MEAN, WHAT ON EARTH AM I DOING TO MYSELF??? And see, this is where I get angry. Because, I want something bigger. I want something better. I want something deep, and complex. I want rich, and dirty, and smelly, and messy, and difficult, and lasting. I want something in-person. None of those things are available where I have been spending my effort.

Is social media inherently flawed? The truth is, I don’t know. I think it can be a great tool, and I think for a lot of people it already is. I have contact with folks there that I am able to get nowhere else, and that is completely precious. I love seeing everyone’s babies, and animals. But I’ll tell you, I can’t help but wonder how many people are being kept from the real business of their lives by it. I can’t be the only one.

You know, the Ancient Romans used to put on big entertainments, and give out a ration of bread to every citizen of the city of Rome. It was done in a way that glorified Rome, and the people were told that this was their entitlement, as citizens and part-owners of a great Empire. In truth, the games were a way to keep the citizens’ minds off of the growing economic troubles of their Empire. The games continued right up until Rome fell, despite their vast expense. Rome had huge problems, but instead of explaining these problems in all of their complexity, the leaders of Rome decided to simplify matters for their people, and keep them happy, occupied, and entertained. I AM NOT saying that there is some kind of conspiracy behind social media, but modern America, and indeed much of the rest of the world, has an advantage unparalleled in the whole of human history. We have the ability to educate OURSELVES. We have the ability to dive head first into any issue we like, swim around in all its complexity, until our fingers get all pruned, and work head long, and heart flat-out at finding a solution. The information is vast, almost endless, more than you could learn in an entire lifetime, and entirely free. It is your entitlement as the citizen of a vast Empire. Social media could be a tool of unparalleled power… but not if we spend our time isolating people who disagree with us. Not if we spend our time passing pictures and notes back and forth, like kids ignoring the teacher’s lecture in class. Not if we continue to tell ourselves that we simply cannot have what we want. That we don’t matter.

We have the power to build the future. All we have to do is move beyond the comfortable place we have created for ourselves. We have to stop looking for sympathy and like-minded people, and go out there and learn something new. There is a passion out there for every person on Earth. Food and how it is grown is mine. What’s yours? No, really, I want to know. Don’t know? Wikipedia has a Random Article button on their main page. I suggest you click on it once a day and READ THE WHOLE ARTICLE. I suggest you do it every day until your passion finds you. Trust me, when it does, it is like lightening, like your whole soul catches fire. It is not an experience to be missed, and it will change your whole life.

Me? Well, in the meantime, I am taking a break from social media. I am going to spend some time doing, and some time writing. I am also going to try and spend some time being gentle and loving with myself, as this learning process took a while, and now that I get it, I’m feeling pretty foolish. I’ll tell you what, though, I am going to create the life I want, because I CAN have it. Because I say so. Social media is my tool, not the other way around.

Today? Well, I probably ought to do some laundry. As Buddha says, “Before Enlightenment, you chop wood and carry water. After Enlightenment, you chop wood and carry water.”

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