COVID-19: Finally, an excuse to relax

The coronavirus situation burst upon our region just before a weekend that promised to be a scheduling nightmare. Between us, my family had first three and then four conflicting events, two that were approximately 12 hours long and two overnight, out-of-town trips for work. I tackled the problem – set up rides and a sleepover, relegated the dog to the pet hotel, bowed ungracefully out of my work trip, and stared wearily at the solution for a few shining hours.

And then, LIFE happened. Not life in the sense of “a series of events Melinda has organized” but actual life – the chain of events over which we have far less control than we’d like to believe.

It’s Thursday now, the inaugural day of that wild jig-saw-scheduled weekend. Of the four events, only one remains, a board meeting my husband is attending solo.

All that coordination I did? Unnecessary.

All those conflicts? Cancelled, with prudent nods at COVID-19.

The construction and deconstruction of this weekend resembled the experience of falling backwards down stairs – bumping every step, pretending some effort of will can steer your skull away from what might fracture it.

And now?

Eventless, coordinating nothing but the order in which I’ll read my library books on Saturday, I draw a swift, sweet, breath of relief.

I call someone, and we share our relief. We count over the chores we’ll have time for now. We plan full nights of sleep for our families. We gaze at the top-heavy pile our lives have become, revealed more plainly now that it has toppled.

Our relief is complex, almost guilty. These thoughts float uneasily behind the careful calm, the prayers, the wincing curiosity for knowledge we’ll probably regret. We grieve for the suffering and the dead, and for their loved ones. If only everyone could close this virus out. If only we all could release ourselves to an afternoon of completed tasks, good books, cushions, and tea without the dark forces that make this respite possible.

COVID-19 will change us. When we return from our cloistered waiting, who will we be? Will we return, forgetful, to the habits of a lifetime? Will we never be the same again?

This afternoon in a parking lot, I overheard two students talking with a teacher about an upcoming performance. “I hope it won’t be cancelled,” the girls said. “I hope so, too,” said the teacher. “Everyone put so much effort into it.” It sounded odd, suddenly. Could the effort weigh against the risk?

Decision-making is brutal now – very hard and very simple. We’re trying to leap into our future and look back at ourselves, to make the choice now we will wish then we had made. When we arrive in that future, what will we think?

Quarantine doesn’t look much like it did in, for example, 1918. “Social distancing” might better be termed “physical distancing” when our virtual society continues unabated. We already talk to our friends more online than we do in person. Is it our social distance that is changing? Or will our last finger-hold on real life slip closer to the edge as we lose the opportunity to interact in any way but virtually?

I don’t like social media, although I see its usefulness during a contagious outbreak. But I can’t forget that sense of relief, felt and observed, as the daily grind evaporated. Sometimes, when you begin to let go, you wish to continue.

Why did it take a pandemic to stop us? What good might come out of this great evil?

Still True: Lent for Creatives

Two years ago, a half-decade of observation boiled over the rim of my mind into a list of 5 hard lessons I’ve learned about creativity, publishing, and success in the Orthodox media field. I wrote out my list for the company blog in Lent 2018, and because all 5 are still very true, I’d like to share them with you here also.

Lent for Creatives: 5 hard lessons

At Ancient Faith, we believe that the spiritual life and the creative life are woven together. The fact that we are an Orthodox Christian media company is proof of this conviction. We exist to promulgate the Gospel through the work of people who use their creative gifts to affirm and explore the life of faith, in the persistent hope of edifying and encouraging our fellow human beings on their journeys.

During this Lenten season, we are all engaged in spiritual struggle of one kind or another, and it seems a good moment to share what I’ve learned in the last five years about the intersection of creativity, struggle, and media publishing. With this goal, I’ve created a list of five hard lessons we all seem to encounter on our way to producing high-quality books and podcasts. If you have already been published, this list will be familiar. If you are still trying to be published, it may be even more familiar! I pray it will be helpful, no matter which side of that fence you occupy.

don’t be an “idea person.”

Almost nothing will shut you out faster than those fatal words – “I’m an idea person.” Many people describe themselves this way, and in our experience, an “idea person” is one who can come up with an endless list of inspiring suggestions but is not able to follow through on them. An idea is like a flame without a lamp. It burns brightly and then vanishes, unless you provide a wick, some oil, and a vessel to hold the oil. Your idea needs a plan. It needs background research. It needs the ability to make and meet deadlines, foresee and overcome obstacles. You and your idea both need a significant amount of staying power, so that your publisher knows you will put in the effort to bring your idea to life – real life, enduring life, the kind of life that will justify the expenditure of staff time, resources, and just plain stamina required to publish a book or produce a podcast. If you were telling yourself that you could hand your idea to a publisher and staff members would provide the wick, the oil, and the lamp, please stop. No publisher can or will be a replacement for the diligent effort you should have dedicated to your idea before we ever heard of it.

KEEP READING HERE FOR LESSONS 2-5.

Facebook is a stalker boyfriend.

Don’t laugh!

OK, laugh a little. I love laughing!

But this metaphor actually works. Read on. I’ll show you!

The metaphor popped into my head in the car, as I was moseying along between the grocery store and the mall. It sprouted from a conversation with a fellow blogger this week about what kind of reach you get for different kinds of Facebook posts. Reach is strongly effected by post type. You can read about it in many places – here’s Buffer’s take.

To summarize, value on Facebook, as in all social media, is determined by reach, and the type of post you create will directly impact its reach. Live video is the sparkly platinum, top-tier post type on Facebook. Video uploaded directly to Facebook, but not created live on Facebook, is a close second. Posts with images come next, significantly below video, and the lowest form of post, with reach often not discernible to the naked eye, is a post sharing a link to content on another site.

What about text-only posts? (Text only? Is that even a thing anymore?) If I were guessing, they’d fall just above posts sharing a link. Nothing is below a post sharing a link.

Having read the above, you will now easily follow my metaphor. Facebook is a stalker boyfriend.

Stalker boyfriends, also known as the possessive type, creepers, and abusers, love one thing more than any other. They love control. They don’t want you talking to anyone else. They don’t want you spending time with anyone else. They don’t want you thinking or feeling anything outside their control.

Yikes. Yikes!

So what does stalker Facebook like best? Facebook live! That’s right! It’s created on Facebook, by Facebook, for Facebook. It’s you devoting your whole attention to Facebook. Stalker algorithm will reward that behavior all. day. long.

Video posts that aren’t live, and picture posts, are the next best thing. Not really best….I mean, if you can’t do live video, an image post will do. True, it wasn’t created BY Facebook, but it is posted on Facebook, and nobody can see it without Facebook. You neeeeed Facebook for these posts. Facebook will half-heartedly ensure those posts get a response, so you’ll keep making more of them. On Facebook. For Facebook. So that maybe you’ll get excited. And make a video.

What about that lowest form of post? A post sharing a link? You can probably guess what’s wrong with that. A link post is designed to take the reader AWAY FROM FACEBOOK!

No.

We obviously can’t have that.

So, stalker Facebook will prove to you that you should have stayed with stalker Facebook. Go ahead and post your link post. No one will see it. Facebook will make sure of that. You’ll have to stay with Facebook. You should make a meme, or post a video. Your reach will go back up. Seriously. It will be better this time. Just come back. Maybe you’d like to make a live video?

Yikes.

#bloginstead Day 1: What is interesting so far?

I was up early (child, dog, job), and that first groggy waking moment had a crisp edge of curiousity on it because TODAY is Day 1 of our #bloginstead challenge. I have the WordPress app, so I peeked at the notifications after breakfast. Sure enough – there you were! I saw posts from friends, and friends commenting on posts from friends. I love this!

Relief

Leaping off a social norm is always interesting, and I expect many moments of insight during #bloginstead. The first? It’s striking that the primary expressed emotion among the group is RELIEF. Blogging is slower than Facebook/Instagram/Twitter, and it’s deeper. And at least for now, it’s beautifully free of the death spiral of insanity we see daily online. I know not every blogger is sane, but the group intentionally communing for #bloginstead? All quite sane. Lovely. Articulate. Interesting.

Mechanics

The second thing that struck me was my own awkwardness at getting around to see all of the participating blogs. It’s been a while since I did this, and the participants are on several different platforms. Makes me realize how I’ve adapted to the one-finger scroll on social. That awkward feeling is just the brain stretch of releasing one habit and looking to build another. No problem.

Food for Thoughts

Yes, that was a typo at first – “thoughts” – but then I left it because it fits. Already, just a few hours into #bloginstead, the experience itself and the posts and comments have spurred a host of ideas, questions, introspections, speculations. Perhaps that’s the natural result of any step outside routine. Or it could be that this platform – which was intended to help you WRITE – is naturally more conducive to THOUGHT than the frenetic anxiety scroll in which we usually indulge. It’s too soon to draw conclusions, so I’m planning to enjoy the wondering.

Sympathy Shaming

Black and white photo of white hands with black sand on them

Warning: I am getting up on my tree stump for a minute to voice an opinion.

People – you aren’t actually helping anyone when you try to shame others on the internet for not showing enough concern over a death or disaster. Any death or disaster. “You prayed for X but not for Y” is not helpful. Do you know why? Perhaps you haven’t seen the articles that are starting to appear about how that kind of behavior punishes expressions of sympathy and is beginning to foster corporate numbness among us. If you try to show kindness on the internet, someone will tell you that it isn’t enough. You should have shown kindness in dozens of other instances too. Burn out happens quickly – with the disaster and with the criticizers who want to control your response to it. Continue reading

“But Nothing I Can Post!”

A friend wrote on Facebook recently, “There is so much going on in my life, but nothing I can post about!”

Too true. Every moment, something is happening. Someone is speaking, thinking, fighting, playing, singing, crying, praying. All the someones in each someone’s life. My life is a crowd of people, and my mind is a crowd of ideas, and my figurative desk is a crowd of projects and plans. But how many of these things get “posted”?

Social media has made our world SO much more public than it once was. In common with no other generation in human history, it is now possible for us to know exactly when someone on the other side of the planet painted a bookcase or took a shower. We’ve seen the home movies of people we don’t know and will never meet. We’ve commented on conversations it would be physically impossible for us to hear.

Privacy used to happen by default. It wasn’t possible to “tell the world” unless you chanced to be famous and powerful. But it is possible now, and that means that every event becomes a choice – do I share this? Because sharing isn’t something you do with a friend over teacups. It’s something you lose control of instantly, something you can’t ever take back.

We all know how many internet users have no “filters”. People worldwide say things online every second (every millisecond, every nanosecond) that many could never manage to say out loud in front of even a house plant.

There are still people who DO think twice about spreading the intimacy of daily existence all over the social front page. That’s a good thing. But in the face of the implacable deluge going on around us, the choice not to share can feel stressful, burdensome.

Sharing can be a release, but when sharing is, perforce, an international event, it’s often inappropriate, or plain embarrassing. It may violate a confidence, spread a rumor, destroy a career…so much power hanging on such a tiny compulsive action. Tap, tap, tap, click. POW. Busted.

It’s like being the only sober person at a dinner party. The more intoxicated your fellow guests become, the more exhausting it is to remain sober.

But it’s worth the effort. What’s more, it’s worth the effort to remember that the absence of sharing does not connote any real absence. A lack of Facebook posts, a blog that hasn’t been updated, a Twitter silence…all these can and do mask real-life human activity. All of them. No matter how much we know, there will always be more that we don’t know. Always.

-Photo by Rami Al-zayat on Unsplash

Tree Change Dolls – Why We Care

Four days ago, I discovered Tree Change Dolls. When I discovered them, the Facebook page had 23,000+ likes. I checked again at intervals, during the day, and every time, there were about 10,000 more likes. Today, four days later, there are 87,193.

Tree Change Dolls are abandoned in thrift stores, or “tip shops,” in Tasmania, until Sonia Singh finds them and recreates them. They are old Bratz dolls, or Barbie dolls – the kind of toy that make you clutch your head and mourn because all the little girls you know are walking around in a world that does not welcome or cherish womanly beauty.

But then, there is Sonia.

She washes off their terrible makeup, paints natural faces on them, and dresses them in tiny homemade clothes, provided by her mother. The result is enough to bring tears to your eyes. Their little dolly faces are full of joy – even relief? – and they look just like ordinary little girls, ready to play in the garden.

Nearly 100,000 people have watched the news video about Sonia and her dolls (see above). The response to these dolls is fascinating — perhaps especially to an Orthodox observer. The comments on Sonia’s Facebook page are my favorite part – the dolls look happy, the dolls look like my children’s friends, and (the best) “The dolls look like you gave them back their childhood.”

The rapid, overwhelmingly positive (even emotional!) response to these dolls, world-wide, says a LOT.

A lot about toys – who’s selling them, and to whom? How could a Bratz doll possibly be a good idea? Who is the person who thought it was? Why did so many people believe this person and buy the dolls?

A lot about women – women are buying the Bratz dolls, women are hating the Bratz dolls, women are LONGING for Tree Change Dolls for their daughters and even for themselves. Women are still, after centuries, struggling against the disintegrating apathy of that losing fight to be equally human, equally valued in their natural state.

A lot about problems – what Sonia is doing seems simple and obvious, now that she’s thought of it and showed us how she did it. How can the weight of a cultural trend become so heavy? If we are so relieved to see it shattered, why did we allow it in the first place? Why didn’t we all think of this, on the very first day the very first Bratz doll came out?

But perhaps the most thought-provoking response came to me from someone I know, who said, when he heard about the dolls, that it’s not so easy when it’s a person — not a doll — that you’re trying to rescue. We all want the darkness washed away, don’t we? You’d think so, until you actually tried to help someone who needed the help.

I don’t argue that. Not at all. I don’t ever forget that if solving the problem were simple, the problem would already be solved.

I think that explains the powerful response to Sonia, rescuing one little doll at a time.

We wish it could happen for us that way. We wish we could heal our loved ones so simply, so gently, and so completely. We wish that we ourselves could be so well healed.

So we click on Sonia’s video and watch her do it again – watch her wash the make-up off the tiny face, paint the eyes, and the smile, and the freckles, watch her mom knit the tiny sweater and sew the tiny skirt, and we see the recreated doll sitting in the grass in Sonia’s garden. Sitting there for all of us who wish we could make it to that place ourselves. Clothed and in our right mind. In the garden.

Never confuse the person formed in the image of God, with the evil that is in him; because evil is but a chance misfortune, an illness, a devilish reverie. But the very essence of the person is the image of God, and this remains in him despite every disfigurement.

— St. John of Kronstadt