On September 10, 2017, a Sunday, I deleted my Facebook account. I did not do this impulsively. I did it consciously. I even “gave notice”, as if I were leaving a job and wanted to make sure I received a good recommendation.
On the post in which I announced my pending exit, I received over 100 comments in the thread. All were kind and I felt loved. It’s not the first time I’ve felt loved on Facebook. In fact, I’ve felt loved there often and much.
On Facebook I also found content that was difficult to navigate, content I couldn’t digest, stories and pictures that froze my heart, and made me hurt.
But content, good or bad, was never the problem I had with Facebook. I figured that the content on Facebook pretty much reflected the content in life. Some good, some bad, some tough to process, some cotton candy, lots of opinions. Just like life, only more so, because it was hard to close the door on Facebook, for me anyway.
Something was going on in my brain and I knew it. I knew I was in trouble because I could not focus on the book I was trying to write. There’s always self doubt with writing, but this was different. This was more than the question of whether or not I’d be up to the task. I couldn’t concentrate long enough to even enter the flow. My mind was fractured and splintered, my spirit in constant agitation. I felt like I was failing at everything.
I googled “effects of social media.” I found an article that said social media can make you spend too much money. Another that said social media can make you overeat. A third that said social media made a person unable to think for herself. None of these described at all what I was feeling. Then I found a TED talk by Cal Newport, author of Deep Work. He said, using the same words I was using to describe to myself what I was feeling, that social media fractures the mind. He said that in order to work deeply, we need to reclaim our minds. I wrote a quote in my journal. “Respect your attention.”
I wanted to work deeply again; I wanted the feeling I’d had when I first began seriously writing, a feeling of sacredness, a feeling that I was working with the spirits of my characters and them with me, a feeling that something larger than my own little self was present.
In those days, when I was writing Life Without Water there was no email and no Facebook. There was not even the web. My computer’s reason for existing in my life was to aid me in writing. That was all it did, and because that was all it did and because it did it well, it took on the energy of a beloved tool. After the internet entered our lives and became the thing we do everything on, after social media, after I became not just a writer but also a “brand” (although I don’t think I ever actually achieved becoming a brand, probably because the idea was so abhorrent to me) my computer no longer felt sacred. It felt jumbled and trafficked, like a highway dotted with road kill. I wanted that sacredness back.
I’m not saying my art is so great that it’s holy. I am saying the relationship I have to my art is holy, and that relationship was being eroded. I found myself incapable of ignoring Facebook (social media sites are designed to be addictive) and I felt that the only thing I could do was delete my account.
Well-meaning people told me I was making a huge mistake. I may not have built a brand, but I had built a following. A lot of people knew me because of Facebook. A lot of those people are here, reading this blog now. As a writer, I’m supposed to do a hogshead of self promotion every day. I’m also supposed to write books. I couldn’t do both. Perhaps some can, I can’t. Perhaps it’s a personal failing on my part. Perhaps I’m just weird and unable to perform in the ways expected of me. But this is who I am. I write books exactly because I am weird and unable to perform in the ways expected of me. That’s how I became a writer.