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Question of the Month: Social Media vs. The Real World

by Susan Henderson on September 1, 2014

How has your life changed with social media?

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I love many things about email, blogging, FaceBook and Twitter. It allows a shy person with not-so-great hearing to engage in the world without awkward pauses, without misunderstanding what’s said if more than one person is talking. It allows me to work when I need to work and play when I have time to play. It allows me to connect with the writers and friends I feel closest to, even if they live far away. I really do love to hear about your regular lives, not just your book releases, but the struggles of writing in between the triumphs, the pushing through when you’re stuck, the setting work aside to tend to ailing parents. I love hearing about your kids and your hobbies and your favorite recipes. I love how I can get the news in real time on Twitter, even if I have to question the sources. I love (sometimes) seeing the world’s reaction to the news. Actually, I often hate that, but it’s instructive, eye-opening. Social media has been enriching in so many ways. But this summer I took a break from it. No blogging, no FaceBook, no streams of news feed.

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With my boys and my parents at The Cloisters.

This summer, my 18-year-old was home after his first year of college. My 17-year-old is about to begin his senior year of high school. I am so very aware of how brief this window of time is, this bridge between boyhood and manhood, this gift of both boys being home for the entire summer. They are changing before my eyes and I want to be here, I want to hear their dreams and frustrations, I want to know their friends and their thoughts, or as much of them as they choose to share.

This summer in a nutshell: Driver’s ed for both boys (yes, we are late getting to some things in our family), summer jobs, guitar lessons, college applications, walks and talks, movies, a basement full of teenagers, too many sleepovers to count, The World Cup, a homemade zombie movie, a trip to Montana for my brother’s wedding, a trip to Hawaii to visit my in-laws, novel editing (with serious help from some genius writers), concerts, wine and coffee on the front porch, barbecues, bonfires, galley reading and blurbing, and face-to-face hanging out with friends. I’m grateful for this time away and that doesn’t mean at all that I didn’t miss you.

I’m going to post some photos and links from the summer and hope you’ll share some of your summer stories in the comments.

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My brother got married to the very awesome Molly, with my cousin officiating.

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My 18-year-old performed the entire Michael Jackson “Off the Wall” album with his band, Mike Rath and the Grapes (my son being a grape). They had their first rehearsal the day before their gig at NYC’s The Bitter End. Was the happiest show I’ve ever been to… and I hear there will be video of it soon! In the meantime, here’s the tiniest clip from my phone.


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I had such a great time in Brooklyn with my friends, Rob Fields and Bridgett Davis (whose new book is EXTRAORDINARY). I’ve known Rob since we were both eighteen!

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This is my 17-year-old filming his zombie movie. He wrote the screenplay, directed and edited the film, and composed the music for it. I’ve known for a long time that he’s talented, but this year I realized he’s an artist.

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Mr. H played lots of gigs with his band, Bad Mary. They’re playing Arlene’s Grocery tomorrow (September 2nd). Go see them if you can!

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I’m not a fan of the sun (or the beach, really), so when we visit Hawaii, I’m always on the lookout for shade. This is me reading David Ulin‘s gorgeous book at Makapu’u.

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We had a two-hour hike in the rain with my boys and their friend, James, who we brought with us to Hawaii.

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I loved receiving the spontaneous invitation and then making the spontaneous decision to drive down to LaTrobe and hang out at Steelers’ training camp with my friend, Angela Small, and her beautiful family.

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Some quick thank you’s to Sincerely StacieWTF Are You Reading?vvb32readsBeckie and JeremyBlackbird Letterpress, Pretty Little Fofinha,  The Washington Post’s Ben Opipari, and The Merrick Library.

And that’s it from me this month. Except to say: Welcome back, everyone! Looking forward to hearing your answers to the Question of the Month, as well as stories about your summer!

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Cathrine September 1, 2014 at 11:11 am

It looks like you had a summer of deep rest and deep connections 🙂 . I am very happy for you. I recently took a year away from facebook and what I found was that I was much more present in my life. I just heard Joe Dispenza say “where you put your attention is where you put Your energy”. I really do bealieve that we waste a lot of energy online.

Myself: we spent 2 weeks in Croatia. I was offline then as I always am when away on family vacations :-). Followed by a week in the woods :-). I was in the Woods this past weekend as well :-).

My favorite reads from this summer:

Between Friends by Amos Oz
The Snow Queen !!!!! by Michael Cunningham (so so so good)
Elisabeth is Missing by Emma Healey
He Wants by Alison Moore

and now How to be Both by Ali Smith 🙂

love to you 🙂

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Susan Henderson September 1, 2014 at 11:17 am

I’m so happy to hear from you!

And, yes, deep rest and deep connections. I realized it wasn’t engaging with others that tired me. It was simply the constant stream of thousands of thoughts. It made my head feel cluttered before the day even started.

Croatia and the woods… sounds so wonderful. Hope to see pictures! I read a lot this summer, but not the books you mentioned. I’ll give them a look. I’m always partial to books with snow in them. <3

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Cathrine September 2, 2014 at 8:32 am

I thought of you with the Cunningham – I think you would like it 🙂 .

I have been trying to manifest an Ali Smith event the weekend I am in London (end of sept). She rarely does events but since she is booker nominated …. . Well looks like I almost managed it 😉 she is having a reading / event at Foylers 3 days before I arrive ;-P . I have a few photos on facebook from the Woods and croatia. Will tag you under – have a peak if you have time 🙂
much love 🙂
C

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Susan Henderson September 2, 2014 at 12:27 pm

The photos are spellbinding. Have a wonderful time in London. Maybe you’ll find a way to be a part of the book event, even if it’s not the one that’s planned.

The Snow Queen is on my list. 🙂

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GC Smith September 1, 2014 at 11:45 am

Looks like you and yours had a full and fun summer.

My initial experience with social media was with FFC’s Zoetrope through which I both cyber and flesh and blood met a bunch of good, writerly folk. I still play on Zoe, particularly with a poem to prompt every Sunday. I use Facebook some and Twitter a little bit. I find Facebook especially good for keeping up with the Grandchildren and their antics.

Summer was good. Mudbug Tales, A Novel In Flashes, wit’ recipies is published and doing pretty well. http://www.amazon.com/Mudbug-Tales-Novel-Flashes-recipes/dp/1499716842/ref=cm_lmf_tit_3 There are a lot of mouth watering-fat inducing recipes in the back section of the book. Now, I’m working on a book of short stories, REDNECKS AND HARDCASES that begins with the founding fathers and moves on up to current times and the dingbats that live today. My golf game improves. I’m going out to play in a few minutes.

It’s good that you are back on social media. I like your questions and hearing about you, your family, and your writing.

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Susan Henderson September 1, 2014 at 1:38 pm

Zoetrope was my first experience with social media, too. It helped me get back to writing in so many ways. Loved so much of it, and then, at some point, my writing needs changed and I had other ways to be in touch with the same people and it began to harm my writing and my family time where it had once been a lifesaver. I couldn’t grow until I moved on, but I will always cherish what I got from it.

I wish my kids used FaceBook so I could spy on them. Maybe when there are grandchildren…

So happy to hear about your book(s!) and that you’re out on the golf course as I write this!

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billie hinton September 1, 2014 at 1:29 pm

Loved seeing all your photos and hearing how much wonderful time you got to spend with your boys this summer. I’m off FB right now but had to look on there today to see if a local restaurant is open and I spied your link – so glad I did!

Our summer has been good. My son came home from college for 2 weeks but then went right back b/c he was hired as a paid research assistant by one of his beloved physics professors (and he took 2 classes). He spent the summer doing very cool stuff and getting $ for it. He came home for two more weeks before fall classes just started and I had that same feeling you described – son home, daughter asking him tons of questions about college applications. It is a window and it’s hard to be standing in front of it – exciting but hard.

Just when I decided I wanted them both to stay here forever it was time to take him back. My daughter and I took him and he arranged meetings so we could meet all his physics professors and a couple of his math professors and seeing their eyes literally light up as they told me how much of a superstar he is made me realize that he has an extended family now, and he’s happy as can be, and the people teaching and mentoring him are all amazing people. The other great thing is that my daughter is likely going to go to the same university, and will probably major in physics and biology – and I could see the physics dept. getting all excited about the possibility of having her there too. 🙂 She also met the biology professor who is doing work she’s interested in and he took an hour and a half with no appt. to show us his research labs and talk about what she might be able to do there. He’s another gem of a teacher/mentor.

Very excited for her – which is going to help when it’s time to drop her off next fall!!

Otherwise, she’s teaching herself piano since June and is blowing me away with her music. It’s so beautiful it inspired me to do what I had hoped to do years ago – relearn the left hand notes so I can play a few things, particularly George Winston’s arrangement of Pachelbel’s Canon. I’ve been working on it and suddenly I am remembering music reading. 🙂

One more summer story: husband and our trusty 260k Honda Element went over the side of a mountain mid-August when a gravel road gave way beneath him. They went 40 feet down but the rolling was cushioned by saplings and a larger tree sort of grabbed the Element and stopped it (upside down, but still!). Thankfully husband was completely unhurt and was able to get out of the seat belt and climb through a broken window. Also thankfully, a car happened by that isolated gravel road and took him for help. When things like that happen it’s hard to fret any of the small stuff, and I think all of us have taken a look at how fortunate we really are this year.

Writing: I’m halfway through the first draft of a novel. This is my third one this year and after I finish this I’ll move on to editing them one by one. It was a new way of writing and I’ve loved doing it this way. Looking forward to the editing process later this month.

So good to read summer stories and get updates – it sort of feels like “back to school” and checking in with everyone about the summer. 🙂

Oh, and you will appreciate this – all over the house on various windows and glass doors – son left various equations in red dry erase marker – Greek to me really but reminders of him and his passion and I am leaving them up until… fall break? 🙂

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Susan Henderson September 1, 2014 at 1:48 pm

I know you probably wanted more time with your son, but what a thrill to see him finding his way in the world! Oh, and I know what you mean about the extended family. It’s like seeing them find their own tribe, people who truly understand them and are passionate about ideas that are beyond us parents. As always, I’m so glad to have your company–not just as a writer, but as a mom with kids leaving the nest at the same time, and with kids who leave equations all over the house.

Love that you’re playing piano again and still putting us all to shame with your writing. No more driving over cliffs, okay?

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billie hinton September 1, 2014 at 1:58 pm

Exactly – tribe – it is what makes it possible to let them go, for me.

I meant to say that the photo of your brother with his new wife reminds me of your older son – you really see his smile there on your brother’s face!

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Susan Henderson September 1, 2014 at 2:05 pm

Yes, they look a lot alike. And my younger son has his laugh. It’s funny seeing all the shades of different relatives in them. And you’re so right, letting go is so much easier when you are letting them go into something greater than you could ever offer them.

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Lucinda Kempe September 1, 2014 at 6:53 pm

So nice to ‘see’ you and your happy smart clan, Susan.

Me. I love social media. I write a lot of memoir; it’s intense going and I use it to decompress and get away from the intensity of culling the past, in part, because I am cursed with an eidetic memory: I see everything in its place in the house that I grew up and lived in for thirty years and each thing carries its own resonance. I also have an overactive emotional memory that reveals itself in the stirring about the dusty past. So I love popping onto FB or Fictionaut and fooling around to decompress. I also love what Hemingway said about reading after you’ve done you own work for the day – he suggested that we do not think about our work at all until we are face to face with it again the next day and to read anything and everything else to as you say, “unclutter.” I, too, have found with Zoetrope that I have moved on and have other writing needs. But I love Zoe – it taught me how to grow as a writer, especially how to write small. Large is composed of small so if you learn how to write a perfect micro or short short story ( I don’t like the term flash fiction] then you can move on to the bigger story.

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Susan Henderson September 1, 2014 at 7:54 pm

I use it to decompress, too. And to find motivation to write. And to keep in touch. And oddly enough, to keep on task. When you see writer after writer posting word counts and progress on their book research and submitting their work, it reminds you to get back to work.

That’s lovely about writing small. The memoir you’re working on sounds fascinating and important. I love getting little glimpses of it. And I like that you’re finding ways to take care of yourself as you dig into the past.

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Maury Feinsilber September 2, 2014 at 7:00 pm

I’m profoundly grateful for the Zoetrope workshop, for it is how you and I met, Sue. That was long ago, but I still have your marvelous edits with the color-coded fonts.

Flash forward a few years, there was a time when I had to quit perusing (a drum roll, please!) the Lit Park website, for I was spending way too much time plumbing its achieves and, as a result, not working on my own writing.

I’ve now have had — are you ready for this — sixty-one “first dates” thanks to social media (in this case OK Cupid) and the main thing I’m both aware of and grateful for is knowing that I never would’ve met such a varied swath of distaff humanity — singers, painters, lawyers, a scientist, a couple of moms who chose to have their a child on their own, even two consecutive journalists for the WSJ — I honestly don’t think I would’ve met one of them were it not for this brave new world of courtship. Sixty-one! (Blah blah blah, fail better).

Finally, as for that realm of quotidian experience known as Facebook, I had an utterly profound and exuberantly joyous cultural experience this summer that, just before it began and even with my camera/phone in my hand, aimed and ready to shoot, I decided not to document and make into a “Facebook moment” and, in so doing, was able to completely immerse myself in the event itself without relegating and sacrificing my consciousness to distilling what hadn’t even happened yet into words that I would later “share.” I have, indeed, subsequently shared this experience with friends and loved ones, but in this instance I’ve been able to do so with words that were spoken and heard and made dimensional through the nuances of conversation.

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Susan Henderson September 2, 2014 at 8:54 pm

You still have my edits?! I guess, if they’re color coded, you probably do.

That’s fabulous–the moment of not documenting your moment on FaceBook. It reminds me of what we often struggle with on vacations–do we take pictures or are we so in the moment we leave our cameras behind? I’m glad for both. Funny how social media, and life in general, teaches us again and again how to negotiate our time, our passions, our privacy, our generosity vs. our selfishness, and so on. And once you’ve figured it out, something in your life changes and you have to negotiate all over again.

How fun to hear about the dates. I actually think it’s sometimes easier to find deep connections online because it’s easier to meet the interior of the person without the distractions and preconceived notions of who we might like best. 61: The Book! 🙂

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Maury Feinsilber September 3, 2014 at 6:19 am

Just reading the content of your words in reply demonstrates again your facility with presenting ideas and then animating them with spirit. Thank you, Sue. Having you “back” in the virtual realm helps remind me of its value. 🙂

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Susan Henderson September 3, 2014 at 12:20 pm

Awww. : )

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Carmelo September 2, 2014 at 8:59 pm

Hi Susan,

I too gave myself a “summer break” from social media in a sense. I quit Facebook for mid June -August 1. I did however use Twitter and Instagram for limited times. Personally I find that Twitter/Instagram is a bit less “toxic” than Fb as I seem to be able to walk away from either feed with less “hesitation.” Fb always has this sense of competition and or bragging rights so to speak. I don’t really find that same sense on other mediums-maybe because with Twitter/Instagram it’s often that one is the part of a “much larger conversation,” in Facebook one can isolate one’s self into a very delicate and often unrealistic ecosystem. Make sense?

During my break I got lots done book wise, and did some traveling. In a big way, I do feel like there’s a new post 2010s “hippie movement” if you will away from social media back into “real life.” I mean they even have “tech/social media-detox,” camps for adults in some parts of Northern Ca (and elsewhere I’m sure).

In other words like you said-being in the now, and or present. The real world still has so much to offer an we often forget that. Nowadays, I more so use anything but FB and more so keep my FB alive for the sake of old friends, writers and or a sense of ‘obligation/open-ness.’

Cheers,

CV

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Susan Henderson September 2, 2014 at 10:09 pm

I think this is such a great discussion, and the answer may be different for each of us, but I like the questions you and others are asking about how and where you spend your time. Do I enjoy this? Do I like the company? Does this fit who I am or who I want to become? Does this bring me down, either in mood or in moral character? Is this taking away from the people I love or the work I need to do?

My kids are pretty much off all social media except for some group chats. I’m definitely seeing a generation that has known nothing but the internet who now want to unplug and be in the moment and in the real world. Not seeing it with my generation, though. And the internet pretty much saved my life when my kids were very young and I wanted to be around adults during their nap and bedtimes.

Good for you for figuring out what works best in your life. And if this means more time for your writing and for what makes you happiest, I’m all for it.

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Robin Slick September 3, 2014 at 5:39 pm

Your essays are so beautiful and tender and powerful…it is worth it for me to stay on line just to read them. I go through periods of love/hate with the internet. Without it, I never would have met any of you. But for a long time, I let it take over my life and sometimes felt like I cared more about people on line than people in my real life. And realizing this, I have become less and less frantic about going a few days without reading my Facebook feed, there are very few blogs I regularly visit, and I try to keep my emails down to a couple of lines (since my kids told me long emails are very, very uncool). I spent the summer reading a lot – two books that really stand out are Grant Jarrett’s Ways of Leaving and Gina Frangello’s A Life in Men. I’m about to start Patry Francis’ new one and I’m excited. For me, the fall holds all the promise this year. Lots of concerts and visits by/with my son and daughter, a vacation in late September beachfront in Long Beach Island, and still plugging away at a not so new book 🙂 Great to see you back, Susan, and thanks for the birthday wishes. I cannot believe your son is starting his sophomore year at MIT and son #2 is about to fly off next year, too. You are right. These are precious times. xo

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Susan Henderson September 3, 2014 at 11:42 pm

Three great books! So happy to think of you reading Patry’s new one.

I’m totally enthralled with your kids’ lives–all the travel and recipes and flinging way out into the world and then coming back and snuggling with the dog. I love who they’ve become.

Sounds like it’s going to be a great autumn for you, and I hope I see later this month! Maybe this year, these books we’ve been plugging away on will click, right? I always admire people who can just sit down and write them and people who can think in a straight line. I always feel like a different species next to them.

xoxo

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Jessica Keener September 4, 2014 at 12:08 am

Welcome back, Sue! What a wonderful, memorable summer you’ve had. I took a lot of long walks this summer and felt grateful for every one.

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Susan Henderson September 4, 2014 at 12:25 am

Long walks are my favorite thing in the world. So my youngest is only looking at colleges in NY and Boston… I’ll have to let you know when I’m up in your neck of the woods. Would be so nice to walk through your streets, especially in sweater weather!

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Mary Akers September 5, 2014 at 8:49 pm

Hey, Sue! I thought the internet had just gotten a little brighter. 🙂

It’s been a very contemplative summer for me, too. Last child (my son) went off to college to make his way in the world. Oh, how I grieved (along with the cat) until he came home for Labor Day because his laptop needed work and I realized, “Oh, yeah. This relationship isn’t over. Just changing.” Though this empty nest is still quite echo-y.

I got an agent! One I have so much confidence in and she loves my work for all the things I love about my work, so that’s pretty wonderful. She’s sending out the novel this week. Pins and needles, but also not. I feel pretty resigned at this point. I mean, I poured my heart and soul into it, but this will be the third time I’ve sent out a “first novel.” If this one doesn’t get picked up I may finally heed the signs and call it quits. (As if it were that easy.)

Also did the hard work of helping my husband (an only child) get his mother situated in an assisted living facility. So much work! She was there for about six months and then she fell and broke her hip and we just got word that she has to stay at the nursing home now. So we cried ourselves silly over that and did more hard work…dismantling a long and healthy life–she’s 92. So, simultaneously grateful that she’s safe and cared for and trying to cherish every moment we have left.

My middle daughter had a great summer internship (paid!) with an architecture firm in Charlotte that she fell in love with. And they said they want her to come work for them when she graduates next May, so that’s pretty great–knowing you have a job before you even graduate.

My older daughter just got cold-offered a new job with a big pay increase. She’s going to be General Manager of Max London’s in Saratoga Springs (at 24!). Really happy about all that. We’re going on a mother-daughter trip in a few weeks to celebrate. This whole adult-kids thing might just work out after all. 🙂

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Susan Henderson September 5, 2014 at 9:00 pm

Mary!! What a lucky agent to get you! I’m so excited to read your novel. Start writing something new during this crazy waiting period, which I find harder to manage emotionally than any other part of the business. Man. I’m smiling so big right now!

So much life happening around you right now. All those passages… the word comes to mind because I just listened to a Diane Rehm/Gail Sheehy interview this week. And you’re right in it. Life with capital letters.

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