2015: Living Primal In The 21st Century

This is my last post for 2014. I made some bold decisions in the past year regarding my writing, and I expect to see the benefits in 2015. Not because I can kick back and cherish the fruits of my labor; it’s because I have laid the foundation to really begin doing the hard work (which I love) for many years to come.

And so, with this entry I remind my readers: often, I write to discover an understanding of what I am feeling, of what is — or is not — establishing balance in my life. This post is no different; it is not a judgment on you (or you, or even you). Rather, it is a general conclusion I have made about my own use of social media, of how I, as a highly introverted writer, need to get on in this world to refine my focus and establish a more stable balance of existence. Simply put, I recognize that each of us has a unique path. If my epiphanies work for your journey, then I am grateful. If, on the other hand, we have little or nothing in common, and my words affirm your own place in the world (be it far different than my own), then I am equally grateful.

All good? Wonderful. Let’s move along, then.

Ulysses and the Sirens

Artist: Marie-Francois Firmin-Girard: “Ulysses and the Sirens” (1868)

We have sacrificed a great deal of ourselves in the early years of this 21st century, and as I get older, I am becoming more aware of the pull, the siren-type lull as famed in Homer’s The Odyssey, to resign to passivity and mediocrity.

Bluntly put, that doesn’t lead us to anywhere good.

Nineteenth Century British author Walter Copland Perry called the Sirens in our mythology the muses of the underworld. He wrote, “Their song, though irresistibly sweet, was no less sad than sweet, and lapped both body and soul in a fatal lethargy, the forerunner of death and corruption.”

For much of 2014, I grappled with the tease of social media, the reasoning behind my dangerous attraction to it, and the manipulation of data by the media and money-hungry conglomerates that have thrown the net far and wide to catch as many consumers as possible. All of this has sucked me in, but out of disgust. It’s like that inevitable accident that you can’t stop watching. You flinch, you grimace, you might even bring your arms up to protect your face.

But you still leave a crack of light open for your eyes to capture it all. That’s where I have been with social media and the battle to live life simply.

And– when I step back, I mean really far back, the bigger picture is even more horrifying.

I am reminded of the scene in the movie Contact, directed by Robert Zemeckis in 1997 and starring Jodie Foster, when the masses gather to celebrate the “message of Vega.” They were drawn to experience something that they had never seen before. Immediately, they were lulled in to so much more. This short clip from the movie, to me, captures what Social Media is doing to me and so many of us in the first handful of years of the 21st Century.

This is what I see, at least. We are jumping on a bandwagon that’s been rigged from the start to placate us, to make us doubt ourselves as we pretend to build ourselves up. We buy and sell things, feelings, emotions, lies, deceit, hope, promises, love, and even hate. We persuade, distract, overwhelm, satiate, and lull — yes, lull like the Sirens — each other into false senses of security, comfort, and rescue from chaos. It is the machine of all machines, and we are all cogs in its greater mission. It is the largest force of artificial intelligence, and we are all contributing to the hum of its finely tuned operation.

I want out.

Friends and writers alike tell me it is social suicide to delete social media accounts and make the move to the woods. They tell me that I will never get my writing to “take off” and build on the momentum that I have created over the years. Social media is the number one way to stay in touch, informed, and intrigued. To sever that cord is like walking out of the Superdome in life’s greatest ongoing Super Bowl event that has ever occurred.

I know that, to a large extent, they are right about my career. But more important than any writing dreams I might have, there’s this: I don’t want to lose touch with everyone I care about.

So what to do?

I have to return to one of my old stand-by lines of great wisdom. To quote Emerson (for, perhaps, the 12th time on this blog):

“It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”

That’s it. Right there. I want out, but I want to stay in, too. I just don’t want all the ugly stuff that comes with staying “in.”

Is it any different, though, than watching television? We are given the opportunity to tune in to nearly 1,000 channels at any given moment. We choose the frequency, my friends. We make the choice.

What I have learned in 2014 is that those choices require a lot of hard work, focus, dedication, and commitment. Getting older doesn’t make any of those things easier; in some ways, we have to try even harder to avoid the sirens’ alluring calls. They tempt us to resign to the complacency that social media offers us.

Tempting, yes. All the time. That’s why 2015 is about returning to the Hunter-Gatherer within me.

It’s not going to be easy to focus my energies into the things that matter the most to me. I have to employ a will to seek out my greatest needs and achieve them; I need to do away with everything “processed and refined” in my life and retain the primal goods and meaningful relationships that exist. I need to let them flourish, become the most powerful things in my life, and live genuinely with and among them.

There it is. My focus for 2015: Living Primal in the 21st Century.

I leave you (and 2014) with a great clip from a movie called Facing The Giants (2006). It captures the essence of how I need to prepare for the long haul in 2015. Maybe you feel the same. Maybe you need to realize that you can do some pretty once-believed impossible things. For me, I need to remember that it’s a long year, and I can’t lose sight of my focus and my goals, no matter how heavy or burdensome the pursuit might seem.

Just keep going, never give up, never quit, and never stop believing in the greatness within you.

 Happy New Year to all of you, near and far. May these be the greatest of days, regardless of the challenges we will most certainly face along the way.

Back in the Bliss

photo: rus vanwestervelt, 23 october 2011, river chase farm, aldie, va

Well, I did it again, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

Not only did I leave Facebook and Twitter, I stopped my usual rounds of catching up on the latest football news, rankings, and predictions on the local news sites, not to mention ESPN, SI, Foxsports, and other national sports sites.

Finally, I feel like I can breathe again.

Not that I don’t miss chatting with my closer friends on Facebook, I do. But I imagine that, in the coming days and weeks (and it’s already started to happen with some friends), I will be finding other ways to catch up with them.

You know. In person. Face to face. Real time.

I don’t knock the social networks. They serve a purpose that can be both fun and meaningful for all kinds of relationships. But I know that, for me to be fully present for my family and still focus on my writing and photography, something had to give.

Already, I am writing more (I am here as well, which says a lot), my focus is better when spending time with others, and I am not glued to my phone or my computer.

None of these are any surprise to me. This is my third or fourth separation from Facebook, and each time I experience the same bliss.

Why even go back, then? Why return to the social-media time suckers that compromise the very things that bring me the greatest joy and allow me to live a most-balanced life?

I have no idea.

Maybe this time I won’t. I know that my book sales might suffer, and I might not have as many people see some of the photos that I have taken. As well, I know such a move goes against every marketing strategy that’s been devised in the last three years for artists who are trying to launch some kind of name for him or herself.

But my time with my family is too valuable to sacrifice for social networking and trying to “make it” as a writer and artist. I write and I take photos because it is in me; it is a part of who I am, and I cannot stop it any faster than I can stop breathing (thanks, Lacey, for that so many years ago). What is NOT a part of me is the whole selling of my work and playing some kind of game that gets me running with the creative consultants and gurus of the craft. Not when it comes at the cost of sacrificing time with my wife and children.

God bless the social gurus and network marketers. We need them, and they help so many undo the myriad blocks that have kept thousands and thousands from living a more creative, inspired life. I have family members and friends who are burning incredible new virtual paths in the connections they are making. These people are changing lives, and we are better off for their tireless energy and spirit.

Me, though? I need to do that networking at a distance. I will let my words and my images speak for me, and I will never turn down an invitation to converse about the things we love. But I cannot sell you me using social media as a device to further my passions. I just can’t.

So, you’ll see me around here more frequently. I’m still writing for Write Anything, I’m still working hard with my creative partner Cara Moulds at Cool Blue Souls on our daily Smash365 prompts and book reading club, and I’m wrapping up my book Cold Rock for release before the end of the year. I am looking for new venues for my photography, and I have a full line of competitions and deadlines for shorter writing submissions that I’m sending out on a biweekly basis. All of this is possible with the focus that is returning, thanks to my break-up with social media.

I’ll see you here and other places online and in print as well, but most importantly, I’d like to see you in person. Let’s hold on to the very things we should never stop cherishing: the embracing of life’s fragility, hand in hand, as we go along our way.