4 min read

Keep in Touch, For Real

Life feels mystical when I notice the Universe reinforcing its lessons. I've been on a two week social media hiatus while I finish up the draft for my essay collection. In the first few days, I'd have thoughts, then rework them as tweets and reach for my phone before remembering the hiatus. I'd briefly consider texting a friend, but I didn't want to "bother" anyone. I tried to follow this logic through. I didn't want to bother the people who love and care about me but imagined my Twitter timeline eager for every missive? Well, no. I'm not an ego maniac (not for real). Sending out a tweet is like putting out a bowl of milk for the alley cats. Either they wander over or they don't, its low commitment on their end and low stakes on yours.

Had social media made me timid about connecting with my own friends? When I was in high school, my friends and I wrote pages of notes back and forth all-day filled with every wandering thought. No one ever questioned the interest of the audience, by definition friends wanted to know everything. Obvs, this changes as we get older because we have more responsibilities, but aren't we still curious about each other's lives, thoughts and emotions?

Cal Newport touches on this in Digital Minimalism. What a coinkydink that this has been on my mind and this just so happens to be the book I'm listening to... He finds research that describes social media engagement as "connections." A quick like, a passing comment. Which isn't nearly as rich and fulfilling as a conversation you have over the phone or in-person with a friend. These connections are diluting our relationships and consequently making us feel more lonely because they aren't very social satisfying.

I thought my social media hiatus would make me feel lonelier, but I wasn't that pressed about it since my focus needed to be writing anyhow. But I didn't actually feel lonelier. Maybe because the interactions I was having were all of the richer variety.

I still can't be as negative about social media pals as Newport is, there are folks online who have been super supportive of my writing career, which is the only way it's been possible to do what I've done outside of a major city. There are also friends whose lives I passively keep up with on social but have never texted, that I have thought about over the past couple weeks – Chris! Meg! And I'm sure I missed like 20 genius tweets by Kaitlyn Greenidge.

So, instead of shitting on my social media connections, I will try to be more mindful about not shying away from higher stakes connecting with friends.

Okay, so this woman wrote about having an affair with JFK at 22. Aside from the juiciness of the content, what I really appreciated about this essay from a craft standpoint is that Diana De Vegh captures the breathlessness of her experience as a young woman, but her wispy, kinetic writing is also incredibly self-aware. For example,

“Hmm, so did we pick up any votes?” And that would be my cue to make a megaphone with my hands and announce: “By overwhelming majority, John Kennedy sails to victory!”
And he’d say, “I can tell that you are special. You have a spark. I can see it.” A spark, a gift … for what? I may not have been a dust ball in the corner, but what “spark” exactly had I demonstrated? The gift of rapt attention?
Then one evening when he got in the car, he said, “I’m hungry. Let’s go to the apartment. We’ll find something to eat.”
Ah, yes, the apartment. The place he kept in Boston. There, I would find out how to be special. It was much simpler than I thought and had little to do with what I did or did not have to say for myself.

In memoir and personal essay writing you often have to convey the past with some sense of present-day perspective. This is, of course, mostly done through reflection. But here, we also see how they writer is using her voice to put the reader within the experience, but she never allows us to get totally swept away without questioning what this all means. She's not lecturing or judging her younger self, she's just needling at what she sees now that there was no way for her to have seen then.

A strong voice gives the writer range. If you find that your writing is one note, focus on strengthening your voice, then trusting that voice to carry your writing through the full range of human emotions.

Ted Lasso does something similar. The show is overwhelmingly described as feel good, yet the main character is shown experiencing marital problems and when he gives a toy soldier to a Nigerian soccer player as a thoughtful gesture, the player thanks him but gives the soldier back because he doesn't have the same affinity for American militarism Ted does. Ted immediately takes in his gaff. So, he's not put in a world tailored exclusively to him, he's a deviation from the norm, and his persona must shift and grow as it takes in new experiences and understanding.

Your writing voice is like your persona on the page. Instead, of letting your persona dictate what happens, it needs to be able to react and respond to the narrative you're writing. It's much more interesting (and feels more authentic) to see what happens when a funny person must contend with sadness than it is to pretend that funny people are impervious to being down.

I dunno why some folks are trying to engineer a backlash against alt-milk and a return to whole milk, but it's not cute (even if these pieces are written like fluff for a women's mag)(And actually I do know why: It's the usual suspects – capitalism and white supremacy). It's actually propaganda and Alicia Kennedy wrote brilliantly about it in her newsletter this morning.

I'm lactose intolerant, Lactaid mostly works for me, but I still go with an alt-milk where I can. Oat milk has been such a blessing. From those Jonny Oats popsicles I fell in love with that are, sadly, not sold in my state and Oatly's strawberry ice cream. Oat milk gives that full-bodied, luxurious mouth feel of an actual dairy product. I've been getting really into mixing up my own matcha lattes at home and oat milk is my go-to. Whole Foods even has an oat milk whip cream and it doesn't have those gritty sugar particles like its almond milk kin. And alt-dairy yogurt isn't as easy to pull off as alt-milk, but Oatly gets it much closer than others (I've put a little of their yogurt in my matcha lattes to give it added richness without turning it into a smoothie).

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