money, personal growth

Radical Financial Transparency

Confession: I’ve been in debt nearly 20 years. I went into debt the week of my 18th birthday, and next year I turn 38.

I have spent more of my life in debt than not in debt.

My net worth has never been positive.

Yikes. I’m not going to get into why or how this happened now (essay coming soon, I hope). Instead, I want to focus on how I’m going to deal with it. I’m motivated to pay it off quickly. But first, why am I posting about this, making personal information that I feel ashamed of public?

  1. To get rid of shame and change our culture of silence around money. For years, I’ve used credit instead of saying, “I can’t afford to go out to eat with you this month,” “I can’t afford to exchange Christmas gifts this year,” “I can’t afford to make a donation,” etc. because I didn’t want to feel the shame that would’ve come with saying those things. Also, looking back over my career, I can clearly see specific instances in which I was underpaid. If I and others had talked openly about salary, I would’ve recognized a need to negotiate a higher salary or move to a job that paid better. Moving forward, I want to be as open about money as possible, for the benefit of me and the people around me.
  2. To hold myself accountable. I plan on posting a “debt update” every three months, on January 1st, April 1st, July 1st, and October 1st. I am extremely internally motivated to pay down my debt, but I’ve also been motivated in the past, and failed. My hope is that regularly posting about my debt will add another layer of motivation. I will likely also post about various financial and savings strategies I come across and try out. Please feel welcome to comment about your own experiences.

Okay, so, what am I going to do about this debt? Essentially, follow the Dave Ramsey snowball technique. I made the above table with his debt payoff method in mind, which is why my debts are listed from smallest to largest. Basically, the technique is to pay the minimum payment on all debts except for the smallest debt, then pay as much as possible each month toward that debt until it’s gone. Once it’s gone, you then add the amount you were paying that creditor toward the new smallest debt, and the snowball of debt payoff grows.

The Ramsey technique is simple and straight-forward. I heard of it at least ten years ago, and used it for a short while in my 20s. I remember it being helpful, and I don’t know why I stopped using it. This time, I’m going to stick with it. I’ve already started–the debt to my parents used to be $1,800.

I will make one modification, however–I won’t pay in the exact order of smallest to largest debt amounts. Once I pay off my Spirit credit card, I will jump to my Citi credit card. The interest is so high, and the shame I feel over credit debt is so high that it’s worth it for me to pay off my credit cards before moving on to loans or the IRS. Plus, the IRS figure will jump down each year when my tax refund is applied, so I don’t feel concerned about being trapped with that debt in perpetuity. The Citi loan will be paid off mid-2020 if I pay the minimum payment only, so I don’t feel too concerned about that one, either. It’s the credit debt that doesn’t have accountability and a payoff system built in.

In the meantime, I plan on calling my credit cards and trying to negotiate lower interest rates. Creating this table was an eye-opening exercise! Those credit cards must’ve had promotional interest rates when I opened them because these interest rate numbers were a shock. I might not be a money whiz, but I know not to open a card with 24.99% interest.

Dave Ramsey strongly recommends bringing in extra income during this process and taking drastic measures to cut costs. Much of my money has gone to medical bills, and there are more medical tests awaiting me. I know that is one area where I could easily cut costs. I feel like the results of these upcoming tests will likely be negative, but I don’t know that I should skip the tests to save money, just in case they do find something.

Also, I’d love to bring in extra income, but I wouldn’t want to take on a “regular” part-time job because of the fluctuations in my current workload (grading changes from week to week) and fluctuations in my health and energy levels. Also, I’m trying to build a career and don’t want to sacrifice my writing and submitting time in pursuit of money. I will have to think creatively about how to cut costs and bring in additional income without sacrificing my health or career.

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fear, lit mags, personal growth, weirderary, writing

Goodbye, weirderary

Yesterday, I wrote a goodbye post for weirderary, the online literary magazine I began with friends and classmates back in 2015. (I’ve blogged about it a few times before.)

Creating weirderary was fun, and I’m glad we did it. First-hand experience is an excellent teacher, and I learned so much reading the thousands (yes, thousands!) of submissions we received, editing those we selected, conducting interviews, and writing book reviews. I’m grateful I gained that experience and also proud of myself for pushing forward and starting a lit mag in the first place–something I’d wanted to do since high school but hadn’t, for various reasons, but mostly fear.

After us three weirderary editors graduated from the MFA program we were in and began seeing each other much less often, I could feel the energy and excitement around weirderary fizzling. Instead of the thrilling endeavor it felt like before, it became, to me at least, unpaid labor. A pile of tasks. And they weren’t horrible tasks, sometimes they felt rewarding, but when I looked at my overarching career, I knew they weren’t the best tasks I could do with my limited free time in order to move the direction I want to move.

When I was trying to decide if I should let weirderary go or not, I tried to envision the future best case scenario. It involved a lot of work on my end, with a disproportionately small reward. It also involved missed opportunities.

Being an independent lit mag editor is a labor of love, and I now understand why so many small lit mags don’t have staying power. I’m writing about all of this openly here because I think the burnout and at times even resentment editors can feel are things people don’t often talk about with transparency. (Hmm, should I write an essay about that?) I loved weirderary when we began it, and I love it still, now, but I think if I’d stuck with it another year or two, that love would’ve soured.

Thanks to anyone who read it. Stay tuned…I’ll soon announce my newest endeavors.

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fibromyalgia, health, personal growth, society

On conscious consumption

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about conscious consumption. Health issues have forced me to become more aware of and selective about the foods I eat (goodbye, dairy) and drinks I drink (goodbye, beer). While researching ingredients, I started thinking more about where my food comes from, how it’s made, and who grows or makes it. I’ve done this to varying degrees several times over the years, but I guess being preoccupied with grad school more recently made me forget. This year, I’ve (re)realized how similar the food industry is to the clothing industry in many respects: the final product often contains ingredients that hurt consumers, the manufacturing/harvesting process harms the environment, and workers throughout the chain are widely mistreated and underpaid.

Chronic illness has forced me to become more conscious not only of what I consume physically, but how I spend my time. Fibromyalgia often limits how long I can look at a computer screen, engage in physical activity, be “on” in social situations, etc. By necessity, I’ve learned to become more aware of and discerning about what information, entertainment, and social events I “consume.”

“Conscious consumption” doesn’t have a single, agreed-upon definition. For me, engaging in conscious consumption means trying my best to first become aware of what I am consuming, and then, to purposely choose to consume things that are healthy for me and the planet, and are in line with my values.

Reflecting on consumption has also made me realize how much of my time I spend consuming. Consumption is one of my primary modes of being. I wouldn’t be surprised if it is the primary mode of being in the United States. Think about how much time you spend not just eating or shopping—the things most commonly referred to as “consumption”—but drinking, reading, watching TV, listening, looking, or in some way taking in something (physical or virtual) created by someone else. I’m also trying to become more aware of how much time I spend consuming. Consuming is a natural part of life and isn’t bad, but it is inherently passive, and I don’t want it to take up the majority of my time. I am working on spending more time operating in different modes, spending my time in nature, writing, creating art, conversing with close friends, exercising, etc.

I’m recognizing that conscious consumption is closely tied to the narrative I tell myself about my experiences with fibromyalgia. I received a fibromyalgia diagnosis in 2008, at age twenty-seven, but probably had it for a couple years prior to that. In 2016, I am still grappling with the illness, still processing the fact that it’s chronic and will possibly last my entire lifetime, and still accepting that unlike acute illnesses, which require a search for a cure, fibromyalgia requires I learn how to manage and live with it rather than try to get rid of it altogether.

Learning to live successfully with fibromyalgia requires heightened awareness. When my body goes into a sensitive mode, one wrong move—staying out too late, eating the wrong meal—can have dire consequences that will affect my ability to function for hours, days, or even weeks ahead. Paying close attention to what I consume is vital if I want to feel consistently healthy and balanced.

For years, I hated this situation, this sensitivity, the effort managing it all requires. I rallied against it emotionally. When feeling bad, I mentally whined about the unfairness. When feeling well, I denied that I had an illness at all. Now, I’m rewriting my story. I’m softening, I’m accepting. I’m searching for the silver lining, the benefits I receive from this difficult challenge. I’ve stopped angrily focusing on my limitations. The biggest benefit I can identify is increased awareness and, by extension, more conscious consumption. The biggest benefit I can identify is an increased motivation to seek out information about all I consume, an increased commitment to make changes in my lifestyle that not only benefit me, but benefit others and the earth.

I’ve agreed with the principle of conscious consumption for years, but my most recent health flare-ups have pushed me to really reflect on and examine my lifestyle and habits, and to commit to living a life that promotes health and is in line with my values. I have a long way to go, but am becoming more aware daily. I wrote this blog post as a preface—I plan on exploring the many facets of conscious consumption and writing more about these ideas in the future.

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personal growth, writing

My blog got 50,000 visitors this week!

Remember that blog post I wrote about manipulation a year and a half ago? Well, someone posted it to reddit this week and 50,000 people clicked through. I didn’t notice until today. I’m geeking out about it. I received 2,000-something visitors in the entire month of August so 25 times that in a few days feels insane.

If you use reddit, I’d love if you added to the discussion over there. I’ll be grateful even if you disagree with my article and want to join the people dissing it. I’m just pumped that so many people are reading and discussing something I wrote. This is definitely the most-discussed article I’ve written. The second most discussed thing I’ve written is probably “It Happened To Me: I Witnessed An Exorcism” (published at xojane) and the third is probably “The Friend Zone Doesn’t Exist,” published here, and that got some traffic because Tony Pierce shared it.

I’ve learned two main things from this. One, I am finally comfortable with a larger audience reading and responding to my work. Ten years ago, heck, even five years ago, I would delete any blog (the entire website, not just a single blog post) that became “popular,” i.e. began receiving over 100 visitors per day. I just wasn’t comfortable dealing with criticism, real or imagined. I felt too vulnerable and worried too much about the possibility of my family disowning me or me getting fired from my job. It seems like I’m over that. Woo hoo! Finally. I’d like to become a successful writer someday so being comfortable with having large numbers of people read and criticize my work is an important step.

The second thing I learned is that it is really important to clarify my points when I write essays. The vast majority of the people who commented negatively about my blog post on reddit did so because they seemed to think I was judging them as manipulative. They felt defensive and in response, called me an idiot or whatever. (“Whatever” being a slut a couple times because, well, this is reddit after all.) Calling people out wasn’t my intention with the blog post at all. I was intending to be kind and helpful to readers, not judgmental or insulting. I now realize I could’ve chosen better wording in a few spots that would’ve clarified my intention and set a tone more like the one in my mind.

I have a lot of work to do so I’m going to peace out, but thank you to all of my loyal blog readers. You probably think I’m being a little dorky right now by being so pumped about this, but hey, writing and having that writing read is my life’s dream. Today felt like a little taste of it coming true, or a little more evidence that it could come true, corny as that sounds.

PS, if you’re on reddit, feel free to post any of my other stuff there…

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labor, learning, personal growth

On going sweatshop-free

 

I’ve written and rewritten this post for months. Time to stop being a perfectionist. Here I go, starting with a blank page and writing it once and for all, being okay with publishing it even if it’s raw and unpolished.

I first found out about sweatshops in high school and was appropriately horrified. First, I boycotted the Disney store. Over the next few years, I boycotted the GAP and Old Navy and Banana Republic. Then Nike. Then Victoria’s Secret. Then Wal-Mart and Kohls and JCPenney. Then the Express and Limited. The more research I did, the more “bad” clothing labels I found and the more I boycotted.

As the internet fleshed itself out with information in the early 2000s, I finally realized that “uses sweatshop labor” was the default for clothing manufacturers, not an exception to the rule. I realized it made little sense to approach this by opting out of confirmed sweatshop-using brands. If one wants to avoid sweatshop-made clothing, one must consider all brands guilty until proven innocent. One must boycott everything and only opt in to brands that declare themselves Fair Trade, ethical, or sweatshop-free.

For years, I tried to do this. I tried to avoid supporting sweatshops by buying used clothes from vintage and thrift stores and supplementing them with Made in the USA clothing from American Apparel. It wasn’t enough, though, and at least a couple times per year I still ended up going to regular stores and buying the same old stuff that was probably made by children or slaves (or both). I justified this by telling myself there weren’t enough sweatshop-free options out there, and that I didn’t make enough money to be able to afford them anyway. I rationalized my guilt by telling myself I was helpless to do anything about the situation so I should stop wasting time thinking about it.

This past summer, I became more mindful. I was dealing with a lot of anxiety and I turned to long meditations to deal with it. This led to me becoming more aware of my emotions. I noticed that my sweatshop guilt had not left me. I noticed that every time I got dressed in the morning, I had a slightly unsettled feeling of doing something wrong, of contributing to something bad. Although I wanted to keep pushing those feelings aside, in the spirit of mindfulness and acceptance, I looked straight at them.

It was rough. At first I found myself defensive and argumentative, wanting to push back against this nagging voice telling me to pay attention to the unsettled feeling I had. “You’ll do this later. You care. You’re a good person. That’s enough for now. You’re a broke graduate student. You can’t afford to make any change this minute. Wait until you graduate and have a real job and more time and then you’ll only buy sweatshop-free for the rest of your life.”

It didn’t take much reflection to recognize the absurdity of that. First, the sweatshop issue isn’t about me or my identity as a good or bad person, or at least it shouldn’t be. It is about the workers who are suffering. Second, how ridiculous is postponing action until after grad school? “Slavery is bad and should end, but right now is inconvenient for me. Let’s end slavery later, when I have completed my luxurious graduate degree in creative writing.” I mean, really.

So I told myself I’d listen to the nagging voice and begin paying attention to the issue I had tried to push out of my mind in recent years. I started doing research. True Cost, a documentary about the fashion industry, was immensely helpful and I encourage everyone to watch it (it is available to stream on Netflix). I plan on watching it every few months just as a reminder, as something to motivate me to continue living in line with my values on this issue. I learned about Fashion Revolution and the “Who made my clothes?” movement. I read countless articles about various specific sweatshops and began compiling lists of ethical clothing brands and organizations.

Most importantly, I vowed to start buying sweatshop-free clothes only. I recognize that this is an imperfect action, and probably not enough, but it is a start. Ideally, the US should ban the import of sweatshop-made clothing. That would make sense in a country that is anti-slavery, right? For our country to boast about ending slavery then voraciously consume slave-made goods is disingenuous.

We didn’t end slavery–we moved it outside of US borders. I’m not discounting the significance of the end of US slavery. That was a good, important thing that needed to happen. But to pat ourselves on the back and talk as if that was the end of that, to teach our K-12 students as if that was the end of that, is disingenuous. We did not end slavery; we pushed it onto other people that we don’t have see in person.

I’d like to do what I can to help people realize that slavery has not ended and that we as Americans continue to benefit from it and perpetuate it. I’m not sure of the best way to approach this. People don’t want to feel guilty or bad, especially for something that seems out of their control. Also, I don’t think the responsibility should fall on the individual. Our corporations and government are failing us. They are creating and perpetuating this situation, and then obfuscating it so individual consumers have trouble figuring out what’s what. To make an individual buying a shirt feel guilty when these systems are to blame seems misguided and will probably backfire. Most people will probably feel defensive or make excuses, just like I did for years.

I debated writing a journalistic style article detailing the atrocities and widespread nature of sweatshops. Right now, I just don’t have the time. Also, my purpose isn’t journalism. My purpose is to identify what I personally can do to help end this injustice. (If you are wanting information on sweatshops and modern slavery though, look here, here, and here.)

Moving forward, I will only buy sweatshop-free clothing and accessories. I will probably write about the items I buy here and post photos of some of them on instagram. I recognize that this is an imperfect, consumerism-centric start, but I believe an imperfect start is better than no start. I recognize that, as True Cost points out, the whole “fast” fashion industry is a problem. That we cannot just slightly improve working conditions yet keep the whole larger system in place. But this is the start I see available to me now.

I have faith that, with time, I will learn more, gain knowledge and wisdom, and gain clarity on what action to take. I have faith that, with time, I will be able to do more than “conscious consumption” and a piddly blog post. I have faith that I will think of ways to join a larger movement, to put pressure on corporations to change, to put pressure on government to properly regulate. I know that this issue does not only extend to clothing and accessories. That is where I am beginning because that appears to be the most accessible “in” to ethical manufacturing and consumption. I have faith that, with time, I will find ways to promote modern slavery-free food, furniture, technology, etc.

If you have any knowledge on this issue that I do not yet seem to have, please leave a comment. Share your resources. Share your thoughts. This isn’t something that can be tackled individually.

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death, fear, Florida, health, personal growth, places, writing

When Tony Pierce tells you to blog, you do it.

florida foliageIf you don’t know who Tony Pierce is, click this link, look around, and come back. I’ll wait.

The other day Tony, or as I like to call him, “The Blogfather,” pointed out that entering an MFA program has slowed down my blogging. Where do I start?

Tony, you remember my old blog posts from 10 years ago? Five years ago? You were there, you read them. You know I used to (figuratively) cut myself open, reveal everything. It was cathartic. It was terrifying. It probably helped some readers, and it definitely helped me. Writing as therapy.

It was also the reason I deleted my old blogs–I didn’t want to be indefinitely raw and exposed like that. I didn’t like finding out friends, family, and acquaintances read about the most personal parts of my life and gossipped. I didn’t like suspecting that guys who were super into me then suddenly not might’ve changed their minds after realizing how much I put online.

To me, personal blogging has always been similar to when a close friend pulls you aside and says, “C’mon, it’s me. Tell me what’s really going on.” When I open up a draft post on my personal blog, I want to let it all out. So yeah Tony, school has kept me busy, but it hasn’t slowed down my blogging. The reason I haven’t blogged is because I know what I’d want to tell you if I started writing.

mushrooms

I’d want to tell you that, while I don’t regret moving from Illinois to Florida or entering an MFA program, it has been very difficult. First, one of my parents needed treatment for a brain tumor and I felt awful being away during that. So awful. Then my grandfather got sick. I missed my opportunity to see him before he died because I was here, in Florida, writing and studying. I don’t know that it was worth it. Right now, my other parent is dealing with a rare and dangerous blood and spine infection. It is improving, but again it’s hard for me to be across the country, unable to help.

Sometimes being in Florida to study and practice writing feels really dumb and selfish of me, and if I were going to give it to you straight, I’d end up telling you that.

I’d also want to tell you that eight people I know in Illinois (not including my grandfather) have died of various causes since I left and that it weighs on me. The deaths are unconnected, but it feels so strange–why so many, in such a short amount of time? Is that just part of getting older–each month someone else you knew dies? These are eight people I wasn’t terribly close with–old friends I lost touch with after moving, acquaintances I used to see around at shows, former classmates, close friends’ family members I’d met a few times.

bougainvilleaI’d want to tell you I feel sad about these deaths and think of them often. I’d want to tell you I also feel guilty about feeling sad, as if I didn’t know the deceased well enough to deserve to grieve. I’d want to tell you I feel shitty for blogging about them right now, that I don’t want to make other people’s tragedies about me.

I’d want to tell you that I’m dealing with health issues. That the symptoms feel like a moving target. That I’m doing my best to stay calm and optimistic while I try to yet again figure out what the fuck my body is doing. I’d want to tell you that I’m suffering and afraid. I’d want to tell you that I feel very alone in my pain and fear.

I’d want to tell you that I found out I can’t take out any more student loans because I already have a masters degree–it turns out the federal government will only help pay for the first one. I’d want to tell you that this means I have no clue how I’m going to get through the next two years. Despite being thirty-four years old, I do not have significant savings. I’d want to explain that a “funded” graduate program isn’t really, not unless you can live off of about $1,000/month. My expenses exceed that and I do not yet know what is going to make up the difference.

palm trees

I’d want to tell you that I’m becoming disillusioned with academia. That while I’m grateful for all I’m learning, I’m realizing the system is deeply unfair. I’d want to tell you about the day I saw a flyer at Aldi and realized that grocery store assistant managers make more money than many full-time college instructors.

I’d want to tell you that promoting beer pays me twice as much as teaching undergraduate writing courses pays me. I’d want to point out that college sports coaches are the highest paid public officials in many states. I’d want to write potentially melodramatic things such as, “What is wrong with America?”

I’d want to assure you that, despite all of my woes and worries, life isn’t all bad. I’d want to show you photos of Florida foliage and tell you even a short walk resets my mood, leaves me marvelling at nature.

I’d want to tell you that I love instagram, and even though that sounds cheesy or basic or whatever, it has become a bright part of my day. I’d want to tell you that I’ve decided to, for real this time, buy a nice DSLR camera whenever I can afford it. That even though I can’t afford it now, my iphone is a substitute and I enjoy taking photos and thinking about photos I will take in the future.

I’d want to tell you that I go to the gym every day now and it’s become a surprising source of strength and calm for me. I’d want to admit that for the first thirty minutes or so after walking in the door I feel anxious, want to leave, and think some variation of “I don’t belong here and everyone can tell.”

pink puff ball flower

I’d want to tell you that I notice those thoughts and feelings, keep exercising anyway, and feel amazing by the time I’m done. I’d want to try and make that into some sort of metaphor for life. I’d want to express hope that if I just keep on moving through difficult times and do not waver in my commitments that I will ultimately be rewarded with feelings of security and peace.

I’d want to tell you that I’ve made two really great friends down here, and that we’ve started a lit mag and a live lit event. I’d want to tell you that I have crazy, incredible daydreams in which I can eschew an academic career by growing one or both of these two things into a business.

I’d want to tell you that I’m still working on my novel, and that it’s horrible, but that’s okay. I’m plugging away and still telling myself I’ll finish it this summer. I’d want to tell you that I’m equal parts proud and embarrassed of it. I’d want to tell you that writing it might be the most challenging and exciting thing I’ve done in my life.

I’d want to tell you that I have over fifteen finished pieces of shorter writing and that I am submitting like crazy. I’d want to tell you that even though I’ve only received rejections so far, I don’t plan on stopping. After years of not believing in my writing ability, I finally have faith in myself.

brussels griffon

I’d want to tell you that my dog is awesome and that I’m not embarrassed to say he’s my best friend.

I’d want to tell you that music is a beautiful panacea. I might try to get you to listen to Surf, if you haven’t already. I’d want to remind you that the right Apocalypse Hoboken song can help when dealing with unpleasant emotions.

I’d want to talk about TV and say I get it now, I’m sorry I was an “I-don’t-watch-TV” type of snob a few years ago. That Bojack Horseman and Broad City and Inside Amy Schumer and Orange Is The New Black make my life feel richer.

I’d want to tell you that while things don’t always feel okay, I know that they will be, or that they already are, even when they aren’t. I’d want you to know that I’d know I was mostly writing that for myself.

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death, fear, media, personal growth

People die every day.

People die every day. Every single day. People are dying right now. Lots of them.

Some of them are 85 and older but some aren’t. Some are in the United States–your state or city even–but some aren’t. Some maybe played a part in their death, like they got drunk before they drove, or they joined a gang, or they smoked cigarettes for 20 years, or they dragged a razor against their wrist. Some didn’t play a part in it, like they were a baby who drowned in the bathtub because they didn’t even know what a bathtub was and their parents walked away for too long, or they were painting a building and the faulty ladder collapsed, or they were celebrating at a wedding in Yemen and the United States government murdered them with a robot.

How’s that song go? Six million ways to die: choose one.

If you do the math, which I did, about 33,000 people die per day throughout the world and 6,700 people die per day in the United States.

I’ve gotten better at watching and accepting the news without becoming worked up. I’m getting better, maybe I should say. I’m still working on it. Life includes horrible, terrible things, like constant death, more deaths than we can comprehend. About 23 deaths happen per minute. After I opened this browser window, I spaced out for 10 minutes thinking about what I wanted to write. Over 200 people probably died during that time. Death is upsetting. I will probably never not be upset by it, but I can at least accept that it happens and that it upsets me.

I no longer feel confused about the fact of death. Sure, I’ll never truly “get” it, but that’s because I’m not God. I accept that deaths happen. I accept that they won’t stop happening. I accept that I’ll never fully comprehend it. In my teenage years, I didn’t have this acceptance. I was obsessed with the concept. I desperately wanted to understand why. Not any more. I accept that I cannot know.

What I don’t “get,” what I’m stuck on now, what I hope I can start to see more clearly, is, with so many deaths, how do we pick? Which deaths matter? How do we decide? Which deaths are the most sad? Which are unfair? Which are tragedies? Which should make national or international news? Which ones deserve our attention, and which do not? Which should we rally around and have conversations about? Which type of death should we work the hardest to prevent from recurring? At a societal level and at an individual level, when to respond and when to ignore death?

I read Elliot Rodger’s autobiography. I felt sad for him. Maybe it’s because he was a decent writer and I relate to writers. Maybe it’s because I generally empathize with loners and outcasts. Maybe it’s because he was clearly an unreliable narrator, clearly delusional, and I could see his mistakes happening in slow motion throughout his story, but I knew it was too late for me or anyone to try and intervene. I didn’t pick these emotions; they just popped up. I noticed them, though. I accept them.

Rodger killed and died because of almost entirely imaginary rejection. He was convinced women were repulsed by him, but he had never so much as said “hi” to one that he liked. I felt sad that he dealt with that anger and loneliness. I felt sad that his anger and delusion drove him to such an extreme. I felt sad that his life ended so early. I felt a sad, deep sense of loss while reading that he toyed with the idea of becoming a writer. When I read that his mom had encouraged it as a career path, I saw a glimmer of hope, a salvation he had nearly grabbed, but let slip through his fingers. Writing is transcendent. I felt sad he got stuck in his own obsessions, and wasn’t able to use writing to overcome them, to gain clarity, to see them for what they were.

Which deaths matter? I’ve seen many people write that they’re glad Elliot died. I’m not. I don’t agree with what he did, of course. You might think it’s foolish, but I don’t know I can honestly say I’m glad about anyone having died, ever. I’m sure some deaths throughout history have been for a greater good, but even typing the beginning of that sentence puts a bad taste in my mouth. I mourn for the friends and families of Elliot’s victims. Still, I don’t think his death is any less sad than the deaths he caused. Yes, even though he chose his death. Even though, according to many, he “deserved” it. It’s still sad. It’s all sad. Death, itself, is sad.

Were the seven deaths that occurred in Isla Vista more sad than the ~33,000 other deaths that happened across the planet that same day?  More sad than the ~6,700 deaths that happened in the US? They certainly garnered more air time. Who chooses? Who gets to pick? We seem to agree that when the elderly die, it isn’t as sad or important because it’s more expected. Plus it seems more fair–they were given a chance to have their way with life. But even excluding the elderly, there are still thousands of deaths per day. How many deaths can we hold in our attention at once? How many should we hold? How do we pick which ones matter?

Like I wrote earlier, I’m getting better at watching, at accepting. I see waves of outrage and despair. I see raw, expanding, uncontrolled emotion. Sometimes I feel it in myself, but then I stop and look at it. I try to figure out how it got there. Why am I outraged about this death, and not the thousands of others? Generally, the answer is that it’s because I know about this death. I’ve heard details. I can fairly easily imagine either the life of the victim or of the mourning loved ones.

I don’t want to call the outrage and despair “manufactured.” These are emotions that feel awful and real, in response to events that are terrible. Who am I to trivialize them? Still, when there are 33,000 deaths a day and large groups of people are all blinded by anger over the same six, I’m suspicious. Who picked which deaths people were supposed to feel sad about that day? Could it have just as easily been different deaths?

How does the media choose which deaths to emphasize and run detail after detail about? Am I a cynic to think they choose the deaths that involve the largest spectacle, or are the most novel? Am I a cynic to think they choose the deaths with the story attached that is most easy for their audience to understand? Am I a cynic to think they choose the deaths that are most likely to rile people up and get them angry, ensuring they’ll watch, click, comment, and share?

Am I insensitive to say that, in the whole scheme of things, if we’re sorting deaths by importance, which we are by necessity because of the sheer number of them, that I think the Elliot Rodger mass shooting-related deaths were probably some of the least important that occurred that week, and least worthy of our mass amounts of attention? I fell into it, too. I watched his videos. I read 138 pages of his writing. I got caught up in it. Only later did I realize it wasn’t a good use of my time or attention.

About 100 people die per day in car crashes in the US. That’s much more important to me than mass shootings because it’s more likely to negatively impact me or someone I love. Even if I view it unselfishly and objectively, car crashes are still more important because they’re more likely to affect anyone. It seems logical to focus most on the deaths that are frequent and most preventable. Car crashes get my vote. Connect them as a trend. Market them as an overwhelming tragedy deserving of our attention. Talk about them in connection to one another on the news in grave voices night after night until something is done.

Car crashes don’t have a simple story line, however. They’re not very sensational. The American public watches psychological thrillers and murder mystery shows, not shows about how to build safer cars, write policy that reduces drunk driving, or create more widely used transit systems. The mass shooting deaths follow a story line that we’ve seen before, feel familiar with, and, in some perverse sense, have fun trying to solve. In the past week I’ve read literally dozens of articles, blog posts, and tweets of people who believe they’ve figured out the six Elliot Rodger murders and know how they could’ve been prevented. I’ve even shared my two cents in conversations with friends. I haven’t seen anyone in the past week, however, comment on how we as a society should handle the probable 1,200 car crash deaths that have happened since the day of the shooting.

Or maybe it isn’t the lack of a catchy story. Maybe it’s big oil. Maybe it’s the car manufacturers. Who owns the media? What stake do they have in an auto-centric society? How involved are they with government, and in what way? I’m not sure. Thinking about it makes me feel sadder, and tired. Who chooses which deaths are important? Not us, I don’t think. Not the ones feeling the outrage and despair. Not usually. People with more power.

Several mass shootings have occurred in Chicago recently. Why aren’t those stories sweeping the nation? Murders happen in Chicago neighborhoods way more than they do on college campuses. Wouldn’t it be most beneficial to use our time and effort trying to solve that problem? Maybe there’s silence because of the unspoken social agreement that deaths are less important when they happen to people who “deserve” them. Maybe the American public can’t find clear cut “good guys” and “bad guys” in the Chicago murders. Does a gang banger deserve to die? Does a drug dealer? Because of racism, is the American public fuzzy on which of these Black deaths are “innocent” and which aren’t? Everyone knows the blonde, teenage sorority sister was innocent, and that the narcissistic sociopath who daydreamed about forcing all women to starve in concentration camps was not. That mass shooting was clearer cut, easier to understand.

Confession: I don’t have a conclusion. I don’t know where I’m going with this. I’m not building up to “the answer.” I’m muddling along. I’m thinking about all of the people our federal government is killing with drones and I’m feeling sad, then I’m looking around and not seeing many others feeling sad for that reason and as a result I’m feeling isolated. Which lives matter? Which deaths are important? Who gets to pick? What constitutes “news?”

Maybe the slightly sick feeling I have is because I’m so averse to manipulation. Maybe I can’t stand knowing that these corporate media outlets play such a big role in dictating what we talk about and think about on a day-to-day basis. Maybe part of my sadness lies in looking around and realizing that so many others, even intelligent others, don’t seem to notice this regular cycle of manipulation of thoughts and emotions. Maybe part of my anger and frustration is with myself for not having cracked the code yet, for not having figured it out. Who chooses which deaths are important? How do they pick? What are their motives? Could more deaths be prevented if different stories were run? Could our wars end? What are we sacrificing as a society by giving away our attention, by trusting that the stories we see on TV and the internet most often are the most important?

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facebook, fear, friendship, internet, personal growth, relationships

The top ten reasons I quit Facebook

About a year ago I permanently deleted my Facebook account. I have no regrets and am very glad I did it. Still, a full year later, I regularly have people acting like it’s strange I’m not on Facebook and asking why I quit. Here are my top ten reasons:

1. I felt addicted.
I checked Facebook every day, multiple times per day. As I began bringing more mindfulness into my day, I realized I was checking the phone app instinctively, without even realizing it, whenever I had the least bit of down time. I’d look at Facebook while sitting on the toilet or waiting in line at a store, for example. Of course this avoidance of the present moment can be achieved through other smart phone activities such as playing games, text messaging, or browsing online stores, but for whatever reason those do not hold the same pull for me.

Although I don’t think my frequent checking of Facebook qualified as a true “addiction” (it didn’t interfere with my work or social life), it bothered me to know I was engaging in an unconscious behavior so frequently. It bothered me even more to think that Facebook had probably spent several years and millions of dollars intentionally making their site more addictive and I had fallen right into their trap. It made me feel dumb, as if I lacked self-control, and as if I was being fooled.

2. It was a waste of my time.
As I became more aware of how often I checked Facebook, I realized what a waste that was. At first I tried to justify it since I usually wasn’t on Facebook for more than a few minutes at a time, but I realized even those short bursts had an attached opportunity cost. Minutes add up. Even if I spent only 10 minutes per day on Facebook (much less than I was spending), that is equivalent to 60 hours or 2.5 days over the course of a year. Thirty minutes a day is equivalent to 182.5 hours or 7.6 days per year. I wondered how different my life would be if I spent those minutes doing something of value, such as reading a book, silently meditating, or writing down short story ideas.

3. It negatively impacted my mood.
As I became more mindful, I noticed that my mood soured a bit any time I went on Facebook. I’m not sure why. Maybe it had to do with FOMO (fear of missing out) after seeing snippets of other people’s lives, or maybe my feelings were hurt because I didn’t get enough “likes.” Maybe I was just disappointed in myself for checking something I no longer wanted to check. Either way, I felt worse after looking at it and did not enjoy time spent on the site.

4. I didn’t gain anything from it.
People have asked why I quit Facebook but not LinkedIn or twitter, as if that implies some inconsistency. I have recommendations and endorsements on LinkedIn, and the service has helped me get jobs in the past. Some day I’d like to delete my LinkedIn account, but right now I’m still obtaining value from it. Twitter hasn’t provided me any tangible value like that, but I enjoy it, and enjoyment is valuable. People I follow on twitter regularly make me laugh or share articles that make me think. With Facebook, I couldn’t identify any positive value.

Full disclosure: Six months ago, I had to create a dummy Facebook account to manage my work’s company page. It isn’t a “real” account–it has no photos, information, or friends. I did use it a few months ago to join an MFA Creative Writing group, however. I wondered if Facebook groups like that would provide value, and if I’d deleted my old account too hastily. In the end, I left the group and reaffirmed that I am not missing anything valuable by being off of Facebook. For a couple of weeks the group became a thing to obsessively check as I waited to hear back from schools (with many others in the group saying they did the same), and I probably would’ve been better off without joining it.

5. It seemed boring and out of touch.
When I first joined Facebook I was in my early/mid-twenties. It was new(ish) and cool (or at least interesting in its novelty) and exclusive in the sense that you couldn’t join without a university email address. By the time I quit, my grandma was on there. So was my mom. So were a bunch of my aunts and uncles and cousins. So were people from work. Their updates bored me, and knowing they read mine made me paranoid that I was being judged for showing them parts of my personality I wouldn’t normally show to them.

The whole thing began to feel stupid and pointless, the same way myspace felt right before I stopped using that. I reached a point where I’d sign on and think, “Why do we all do this?” Once I’d hit my 30s, my Facebook feed became overrun with photos of weddings and babies. I have nothing against either–I love meeting my friends’ babies and cry at every wedding I attend–but if I’m not close enough with someone for them to personally tell me about their major life events, I don’t really care to know about them.

6. I resented the way it changed my relationships.
A close friend got engaged and I didn’t know about it because I was taking a Facebook break at the time. (If you doubt our closeness, know that I later stood in her wedding.) Same with another close friend who had her baby. When I expressed hurt at not being notified of these major events, the people who had them said they didn’t contact friends individually because they figured everyone would see the news on Facebook. I didn’t like that.

On my birthday, I received over 100 “Happy Birthday!” wall posts from people who I doubt would’ve showed up if I had thrown a party, and a few from people I consider close friends. The mix made me realize that Facebook was blurring the lines between close friend and casual acquaintance. I didn’t like that, either.

I decided if our society is moving toward more relationship exchanges happening via (quasi-) public broadcast rather than true interpersonal communication, I don’t want to be a part of it. Instead of the widespread broadcasting and reading of others’ broadcasts, I want my real relationships to be obviously maintained through actual personal intimacy. I decided I was okay with allowing any acquaintanceships that were purely Facebook-maintained to fade away.

7. I resented the way it changed words.
A friend said to me, “I think I’m friends with him, but I’m not sure.” When I asked if she was unsure if she liked him or not, she clarified no, she just couldn’t remember if she’d “sent him a request.” I’ve heard many people say they “like” something, when they mean they went on Facebook and clicked a button that says “like” in conjunction with that thing. Maybe it’s because I’m a reader and a writer and a respecter of language, but this irritates me and I don’t want to propagate it.

8. I resented its attempt to become a necessity.
There are many things I dislike about Google, but I’m not going to quit gmail because I want to be a member of the present day. Email is a necessity. A wireless phone (maybe even a smart phone, at this point) is also a necessity for the lifestyle I live. Facebook is optional. Of course the company would love people to believe otherwise–the more “normal” and ubiquitous it is to have a Facebook account, the more money Facebook shareholders make. I actively reject and resent this idea. I identify it as something strategically pushed on the general public so certain people can increase their profits. I don’t want to help them. (In August, when I quit my present job and start school, I will permanently delete my dummy Facebook account and be 100% Facebook-free.)

9. All of the reasons I could think of for staying on it were negative and fear-based.
I wanted to quit Facebook much earlier than I did, but I held on out of fear. The number one reason I could think of for staying active on Facebook was that something bad might happen if I didn’t. What bad thing, you ask? I don’t know. That’s the thing–I didn’t have anything specific I thought would happen, just a general feeling that Facebook wasn’t something I could live without. The few times I mentioned to others that I wanted to quit, they reacted as if I were talking about doing something insane, like choosing to live on the street. I don’t want to live a fear-based life.

10. I hated giving up that much personal information.
Privacy is one of the main reasons I quit Facebook. I list it last, however, because when I’ve named privacy as a reason for quitting Facebook, people have either acted like I’m a crazy conspiracy theorist or rushed to remind me that Apple, Google, Verizon, and every store that has a loyalty program is working hard to erode my privacy as well. The latter is true, but still a logical fallacy (called the nirvana fallacy) when used as a reason for me to stay on Facebook. Sure, my privacy isn’t being kept perfectly by everyone. That is no reason to go and voluntarily share even more private information with a company that I know will immediately give it to the government and sell it to advertisers and marketers.

Facebook’s invasion of privacy bothers me more than most others. They don’t just want your name, they want it all–birth date, phone number, current location, birth town, company, schools attended and degrees attained, sex, romantic relationship status. Years ago, I remember reading conspiracy theories about government plans to steal and stockpile citizens’ personal information. It turns out they didn’t have to steal it–we willingly typed it into Facebook ourselves.

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To sum it up: I used to unconsciously check Facebook multiple times per day even though it was collecting and sharing my private information, wasting my time, providing me no value, negatively impacting the nature of my relationships, and putting me in a bad mood. I’ve never once regretted quitting Facebook, and the short time I joined a group using a dummy account just reaffirmed my decision to permanently delete my account. Although I won’t overstate it and try to pretend that quitting Facebook has completely changed my life, I will say I generally feel happier, healthier, and smarter without it.

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