kindness · mental health · slow academy · you're awesome

To Connect or to Disconnect

I came to Facebook rather late, and it was as much a reluctant step as it was a strategic one. I joined once I had handed in my dissertation, and people who knew I was on the job market started sending me postdoc opportunities and such that were posted on Facebook. If that’s the way the cookie crumbles, I thought, then I’m not making a stand here, really, by opting out, but merely depriving myself of opportunities. That was in 2010.

It turns out, my then line of thought finds itself in good company, and it is no coincidence. Apparently, famous business women like Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer. I haven’t read Lean In, but it would be highly surprising if a Facebook executive would be advocating anything other than staying connected. Marissa Mayer–of the no-Yahoo-employees-shall-work-from-home-and-I-only-take-three-weeks-mat-leave-cause-I-can-build-a-nursery-in-my-office-bitcheeez fame–also advises us to stay permanently connected if we wish to succeed. The “we” here comprises the usual audience of such dicta, I assume, and I’m not sure I would count myself included. However, it’s no coincidence that social media corporate executives urge connectivity for the ideal neoliberal subject. But I digress. Anyhoo, I’ve decided to opt out most of the time, and to stay disconnected as much as possible, especially when compared to my previous presence and usage.

You see, between Facebook, Twitter, email, Pinterest, and the like, and enabled by my smart phone, I have developed an addiction. I’m not using this term lightly: if I had a moment free, e.g., on my way to the bathroom, or waiting for my coffee to brew, or walking towards my office, I would check any and all of the above. And if I didn’t have a free moment, I would make one. I was enough aware of the extent of the problem that I abstained from getting a data plan. Honestly, I knew I’d check email/social media anywhere, and there would really be no stopping. Plus, I told myself, there’s wifi everywhere these days. Even Safeway. Which means, every time I’d get into a store/coffee shop, first thing I would do is check email/social media. Stuck on the right word during a pomodoro? Check FB. Feeling low? Check Twitter. Yeah, like that’s gonna get my spirits up.

gratuitous picture of the Columbia Icefield

And that was exactly my tipping point: the realization that I was looking outward instead of inward. No wonder I felt like I lacked direction. I was expecting other people’s status updates, tweets, emails, to bring me calm, serenity, and happiness. And you know how often that happens. I was putting stumbling blocks in front of my already-wobbly legs. Whenever I was writing, I would mentally check in with myself, thus breaking my own advice, not to mention my flow. “Hey, I’m doing pretty well here, and I’m sure I’ll be able to pick it up after a brief FB break. I deserve it: I wrote a whole 100 words.” You probably know as well as I do that a “brief FB break” turns into an epic read-athon of updates and interesting articles that my wonderful friends post, and that I simply have to read the moment I encounter.

It’s not productivity or its lack that I’m worried about here. No. It’s mental health. Breaks, true breaks, are good for me. In fact, my brain needs down time in order to process stuff. I used to feel really bad when I was writing my dissertation, because I spent a lot of time doing nothing with a palpable result (read: words in a document). But then I’d sit down to write, and words would flow, because, you see, while I thought I had been doing nothing, my brain was actually working, mulling ideas, finding its way in a maze, synthesizing research, compiling evidence, putting ideas together and articulating them to the overarching concerns, etc.

gratuitous picture of a pine cone

You will notice I used the past tense and its variations a lot in the previous paragraphs. It’s been about a week–I’m not a big fan of milestones, so I didn’t write down the day that I actually started–and things are going well. I’m much calmer, and I’ve been managing the withdrawal with more exercise, more actual down time, and more reading of books that are printed on paper. And other stuff, which I’ll list here. Things like

Read a poem
Read a book (or part of it)
Do a quick savasana (I won’t tell anyone if you take a nap)
Take a nap
Get a coffee/tea/water while looking into the distance
Walk your dog
Pet your cat
Sit/stand while looking in the distance
Pull weeds
Do other gardening
Listen to your favourite music with your eyes closed (I won’t tell anyone if you take a nap)
Go for a walk/run
Play an instrument

I can’t think of any more, but please do add your own suggestions for alternatives to social media procrastination.

balance · emotional labour · kindness · paying it forward

The uses of kindness

I’m walking around feeling very stylin’ this week, on account of my new purse. It’s not actually my purse, though. It’s my sister’s. As we just spent a whole weekend together up north at our parents’ house where I could not stop telling her how lovely I thought that Fossil cross-body buff leather purse was, she just dumped all her stuff out of it, and told me I could borrow it for a month or two.

How kind!

In fact, our whole weekend was awash in kindness. Our husbands took on sole-charge child and home care so that we could have this getaway, and our parents had as their objective to spoil us with sleep-ins, and home cooking, and fancy cocktails, and a dinner out. My mom said nice things about my hair and complimented my photography. My dad uploaded a bunch of his jazz CDs into my iTunes, and made me a little post-it note so I would know what was new.

When I got home on Sunday, I was touched by my husband’s kindness, driving out to my sister’s house down the highway to pick me up, and then taking the dog out for a walk when we got back to our tidy! house. I was so touched, that I sent him out for supper and did the groceries with our girl, and then did a bunch of cooking.

The next morning, I discovered, he washed all the cooking dishes after I went to bed, because he was so happy I had done so much prep work for all our lunches. Then I was so touched by THAT kindness that I went in the backyard to retrieve all the bags of dog poop that had scattered everywhere when a big wind blew our garbage can off the back porch.

And on it goes, this week, kindness begetting kindness, multiplying kindness.

This time of year, my own kindness tends to go out the window: I get stressed, and when that happens, my fuse gets shorter, I perceive more slights and wrongs and start tabulating who’s done what chore or eaten the last muffin or not refilled the milk or someone got unfairly treated better than me. And you know where that gets me? Having fights.

It’s so easy to forget that sometimes, we just need to invite a little kindness into our day. I’ll tell you, sometimes, it’s really hard for me to offer to take the dog out on his last “poop walk” of the day when I’ve already scooped up three and it’s cold and I want to go to bed. But when I do make that offer, my little kindness multiplies unexpectedly, in hugs, or flowers, or an offer to take the dog out for his *first* poop walk the next morning. And I always feel so good.

I’m going to try to remember that, that even in the busy time, the awful time … maybe especially in this time, I need to take a deep breath, and offer myself in kindness. And it will come back to me.

Here’s a digital hug for you, dear reader: I sincerely hope your day is going well, and if there was a more tangible kindness I could offer you, other than me just wishing you a nice day, I would.