Discipline: Reflect on Improvement

Discipline requires me to reflect on my own need for improvement while maintaining my part in community.

Once in a great while, I think it might be nice to live in a vacuum. A space entirely void of matter. No sound. Nothing. Almost like being timeless. It seems so peaceful. Being in a vacuum seems like the ultimate in rest therapy. Especially this year.

The problem with vacuum living is that it is entirely void of matter. And everything that matters. It’s a suffocating, airless existence that wouldn’t be as restful as I would want it to be unless I get a whole lot better at stasis and lack of oxygen.

I joined Twitter back in 2011 and it was oxygen. Suddenly, I had access to people all over creation with all kinds of perspectives. I followed publishers and editors, agents and book bloggers. I followed writers and artists. The flow of information washed over me in welcome waves. People linked to all sorts of resources, most of which I’d never have happened upon myself. For lots of folks, finding community online probably happened way before 2011.

I was late to pretty much every aspect of computing and ye olde internets. I grew up in small town, rural Oklahoma. My family had no game system or PC before I left for college. School computers were only used for keyboarding class. As a college freshman in 1995, I had to learn how to use a floppy disk. Very often, I demagnetized them…simply by being myself. I had a cell phone and a laptop in 2001, used pretty much exclusively for phone calls and word processing. Fast forward to 2010, when my nephew fell ill. He turned 18, ran a five-minute-mile, and then had a blast crisis (leukemia) – all while at basic combat training away from home. That summer, I sent my first text message. Because I needed connection. And I wished I had sent them earlier and often. I also joined Facebook. But then, THEN I found Twitter.

Twitter felt like being expelled from the vacuum of my life and into a wider, brighter world. I learned so much by listening.

This year, much has been made of so-called toxic book Twitter. It’s not book Twitter or YA Twitter that is toxic but specific uses and users within all communities. I’ve been known to call social media antisocial a time or two. There, too, it’s a matter of use.

Recently, when I announced my 2018 theme, I took a vacation from Facebook and Twitter through the end of next year. Not because it’s toxic but because of my ambitious theme. The choice felt like both versions of the vacuum: quiet rest and cold void.

Thing is, regardless of the toxic people or uses of Twitter, I continued to learn through the day I left for vacation.

I need to improve. As a human, as an artist, as a writer. I need to learn more about differing perspectives. I need more and better tools to grow into the artist I want to become. I need to learn the business of writing. I need to improve as a conveyor of ideas. My voice, my message, my future livelihood – all depend on my improvement.

Living in Oklahoma with no resources for attending conferences, and now choosing to be away from social media, I wonder how best to maintain a sense of community. I can involve myself with local art and writing events, SCBWI meetings, and volunteer opportunities. I can seek out blogs and all that great information Twitter brought my way, and maybe even find things when I need them rather than in the out-of-sync stream of social media. I can entrench myself in the resources I know about, like SCBWI, SVS, and Manuscript Academy.

Unsurprisingly, my artistic life isn’t my only area rife with opportunities to improve. The discipline is essentially the same. Step 1: Reflect on areas for self-improvement. Step 2: Maintain a part in the community (including subcommunities).

If we all keep noticing our need to improve and reaching into our communities, the world will keep getting bigger and brighter and better. And maybe the pull of the vacuum will calm down and leave us to our breath.

The Most Important People You Won’t See on My Facebook Page

A while ago, I read an article entitled, There’s Someone Missing From My Facebook Photos. When I first clicked the link, I thought, maybe somebody has put into words how I feel about Facebook pictures! It’s a great article about bringing your children’s nanny into your online life. Really, go read it. I’ll wait.

Though starting a terrific and needed dialogue, that article didn’t address my situation. I’ve had a nanny. Now I don’t. But my Facebook policy has remained the same. And it has nothing to do with caregivers.

The someones missing from my Facebook photos are my children. I tell stories on Facebook and Twitter and here, using the boys’ ages or their online names. Currently we have 9/10yo Eldest, 8yo Middling, and 6yo Third. I post the stories because they’re funny or sweet. Some could quite possibly be deemed embarrassing for the boys as they age. Their day to day victories and achievements and losses, those are less commonly found online.

It would be rare indeed to see a photo of any of their sweet, ornery faces on social media. Here are a few photos of their backs.

Christmas Overalls with Cousins
Mine are the boys. Two are cousins. Not even our house.
Choosing a tree with the grandparents
Go! Go! Gryffindor!

My baseline rationale: My kids have the right to create their own online identities in due time. I’m the mom who believes that kids will always find a way to be mad if they want to, so I choose the path that I find most defensible. My kids can have their hair cut any way they like. When they’re older and can pay for extras like coloring, it’s their decision and their money. They need to make their own decisions. Hair seems like a fairly low risk exercise in decision making. So, if they color it fifteen colors and weave it into a basket and later ask, ‘why would you let me do that?!?’, I will calmly remind them that it was their choice. And if they wear the same exact style for 18 years and later ask, ‘why didn’t you let me do ____ with my hair?’, I will calmly remind them that it was their choice.

Likewise, when they eventually begin to build their online identities, their choices will be their own. They may (most likely will) make some terrible decisions as to content, but they will learn from it. I don’t post pictures now because their identities don’t belong to me. I don’t use their names now because their identities don’t belong to me. The things I want to remember and share are things I treasure in my heart and sometimes post to social media. But who they are – that’s just beginning. I don’t feel I have the right or the privilege to make it my own.

It’s easy enough to figure out who my children are. It’s easier than my comfort level desires. If you want the dirt, you can find silly stories on my social media. You can look up birth certificates. You can scour my family’s and friends’ pages. You can find names. You can probably find photographs. But, as far as I’m concerned, their names and their likenesses are pending their own distribution.

Sometimes the desire to post a great picture is so strong! I still my electronic hands and refrain.

Kids will always find a reason to be mad if they want to. Will one or all of my kids eventually say, ‘why didn’t you post pictures of us’ or ‘were you embarrassed of us’ or ‘you cared more about your life than ours’? Maybe. And I’ll say this: You were/are in my analog world every single day, and now you have the whole digital world in which to create yourself. And I may remind them that: Your online persona is not everything you are but a tiny fraction of your life and work and love. And if they’re still mad, well, kids will always find a reason to be mad if they want to.

As parents, we make the decisions we do for so many reasons. I’m not an advocate for this way of online living. You live your way, and I’ll live my way. The point is, we both live.

Just don’t confuse online presence or absence as a reflection of importance. So little of who we are is reflected in zeroes and ones. This analog world, where my kids are saying the things kids say and doing the things kids do, where our family dreams and celebrates the small victories, where we mourn our losses, where we make decisions and learn how the world works, this is where we live.