Ever wonder what taking a break from social media would feel like?
I needed to devote more time to the new book I’m writing, and cutting back on FaceBook and Instagram seemed the easiest way to find an extra hour or two each day. At first, I limited the time I spent online. Then I thought, Maybe I should just log out for a few months.
What happened was a startling discovery in what social media had been doing to my brain. But first, let me tell you some of the places I’ve been since we last talked…
In December, just after Christmas, David and I traveled to Japan. We took a bus to the bottom of a big mountain in Nagano. And for 45 minutes, we rolled this suitcase uphill, through the snow, toward Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park. It’s one of the prettiest walks I’ve ever taken… tall pine trees and sometimes heavy snow fall.
And then we reached our hotel (Yudanaka). It was all traditional… shoes off as soon as you walk in; a room with a sliding door, thin mattress on the floor, little pillows that were like sandbags, and a hot pot of tea waiting for us.
But this is why we chose the hotel…
Imagine it’s 18 degrees, and you’re in the hot springs with this guy. If you click here, you can see more photos.
David is standing outside a restaurant in Shinjuku we loved so much we went two days in a row.
My favorite city in Japan was Kyoto. (I could totally live there!)
Of course, the reason we were in Japan in the first place is because it’s on the way to Vietnam, where my brother-in-law lives. Packing for both snow and 80-degree weather was complicated, but it was also fun to go from one extreme to the other. Check out the view outside my brother-in-law’s place in Ho Chi Minh City.
This woman sets up a noodle truck in the alley six days a week, beginning at 4am. Yes, we had noodles for breakfast.
We did lots of tourist-y things (the War Remnants Museum, antique shopping)…
but also normal things like buying groceries and cat food.
And then we took in two days at a gibbon sanctuary, where they rescue and rehab abused or neglected gibbons, returning some to the wild. Some are forever damaged and so will live out their lives in this place.
If you want to hear what gibbons sound like when they sing each the morning, click here.
Back in New York (and sometimes in Boston), we had some pretty glorious times with our boys. We also have enough downtime to watch The Passage and Samurai Champloo. We’ve seen a number of plays, and I’ve had time to hang out with writers in the flesh.
But mostly, I’m fully immersed in writing the new book… with Douglas usually at my side. Sometime later I’ll talk about the book (set in this building), but for now it feels good to keep it private.
Let me say a little something about unplugging. The hour or two I’ve gained back each day is the least of what’s changed.
It was scrolling through feed, interesting as it was to me, that had created a never-ending ticker tape of clutter in my head. It left no room for my imagination, for the robust brain I once counted on.
After about a month offline, I started to remember what it felt like to have my fully-functioning mind back. I had time again for quiet, for my own thoughts, and for a life free of wondering, How many people will like this thought I just had?
I am deep in the process of creating something from passion and a blank page. Writing a novel is hard, hard work, but infinitely easier when you have head space. And I’m going to keep at it. I will be back, but it will be a while. So thank you for everyone giving me the space to think and write without distraction. And if you’ve ever considered unplugging, I suggest you give it a try.
Let me end with some news and some thank you’s.
I was so honored to receive news that The Flicker of Old Dreams won the Western Writers of America Spur Award in the category of Best Western Contemporary Novel, and was chosen as an Honor Book for the Montana Book Award.
And I’m grateful to these folks for mentioning me or my books: Western Writers of America, Belmont Books, The Philadelphia Tribune, KPVI News, The Missoulian, LitHub, Benzinga, Idaho State Journal, Erie News Now, Cision PR Newswire, America Reads, Syosset Library, The Doubting Writer, Turn the Page Podcast (Turn the Page is also here), Literary Speaking Podcast with Crystal-Lee Quibell, One Mom’s Musings, The Island Now, Bookish Lifestyle, Otter Down, Oh The Books She Will Read, Broken Teepee, Cover to Cover Cafe, The Spoken World Podcast, More 2 Read, The Doubting Writer, and Reading in the Dark.
As always, I’ll end by sharing the books I’ve read since my last post (this list does NOT count books I’m reading for research):
Debra Magpie Earling, Perma Red
Anne Korkeakivi, Shining Sea
Bridgett M. Davis, The World According to Fannie Davis
Jeff Lindsay, Darkly Dreaming Dexter
Annemarie Ní Churreáin, Bloodroot
Kim Chinquee, Wetsuit
Ann Patchett, The Patron Saint of Liars
Kristina McMorris, Sold on a Monday
Donna Baier Stein, Sympathetic People
Robert J. Gordon, The Rise and Fall of American Growth
How are you? Tell me in the comments section before I’m off again.
Raima LarterMarch 11, 2019
I hope to be able to follow your example one of these days and really logoff of social media for a few months. And I’m looking forward to your new book, so am very glad that you’re finding the time and mental space to write!
Also, just wanted to say, that I loved the pictures of Japan. And I totally agree that Kyoto is the best – one of my favorite places in the whole world.
Susan HendersonMarch 11, 2019
You’re right, you can’t do it during your book launch, but you can log off to recover from your book launch.
And let’s make sure everyone knows the title of your book! https://www.indiebound.org/search/book?keys=Belle+o%27+the+Waters+raima+larter
Billie HintonMarch 11, 2019
Oh, I am so wanting to recreate the trip to the pools in Japan. Keep the info so I can get it from you when ready to book! 🙂
I too am taking a hiatus from social media. I logged out. Interestingly and sort of disturbingly, FB makes it very hard to stay logged out. There is one thing I have to check on FB – our hay co-op runs a page there and it’s the only way to order our hay and confirm delivery and pick-up – so I do have to get on once a month. But like you, I needed to find some extra hours in the day and this was the way to do it. I do miss knowing how friends are doing but otoh I feel like I got my brain back. I completely reorganized my writing garret and went “shopping” in our basement storage room for a “new” desk and side table which are making my writing life feel exciting and new again. I purged years of papers and other stuff that was past due living here and it has made writing time 100x better. I feel like I wouldn’t have had the stamina to do such a thing if I were still scrolling feeds. It’s interesting how our brains respond to the pace of FB and Twitter and other sites. I’m happy with the time I got back.
Daughter and I are traveling in March and April to Ohio and Georgia for her to present research at two national conferences, and we’re finally getting organized to plan the trip to Scotland. Probably in May, but it may be later depending on what her summer plans turn into.
So excited you are deep in your book. I had a week-long writing residency in February and had a hugely productive time. Very happy with how it’s going right now. Editing editing editing!
It’s a treat to come post a comment here and know I won’t sink into hours of feed-scrolling. 🙂
Susan HendersonMarch 11, 2019
I’ll share all the information when you’re ready!
And I’m so glad you mentioned how complicated it is to logout. I’ve had to log back in for a number of reasons – forgetting passwords for one thing or another (healthcare related, discount pet food related), and the company asks, Would you like to sign in using FaceBook? Also, it can be how my kids reach me. Luckily, none of these things have required me to actually wander through the site. But it’s bothered me that I haven’t been able to physically sign out and hide the key.
I’d love to see your writing garret, and I’m glad you’ve been protective of your time!
Congratulations to your daughter, and how wonderful that you get to share this time with her! : )
Billie HintonMarch 12, 2019
You can see a few photos in the blog post I wrote about the updated garret:
My son completely killed his FB account awhile ago. I’m not quite ready to do that, but it is annoying that you can’t simply push pause and have it truly go silent. I requested no emails and am getting tons of FB email updates in spite of that. And yes, the log in via FB when I need a password – I’ve just been doing the “forgot my password” thing and resetting them, though it takes extra steps and time. The idea that when we were young there was a telephone attached to the wall and if you weren’t in the house you simply didn’t answer or get any message. Life marched on. Hours and hours of it. 🙂
Susan HendersonMarch 12, 2019
That writing garret is absolutely stunning. I’m so glad to see pictures of it. I might have to steal that paint cover for my walls.
I usually don’t remember my password or user name, which is why I can’t reset. But when you decide to sign in via Facebook, it also signs you INTO Facebook. I have taken the links off my computer and phone, though, so I don’t mindlessly click on them.
Yes, those days when parents left kids with babysitters and people took the dog jogging and were not reachable throughout, and everyone survived.
Ric MarionMarch 12, 2019
Wow, that looks like it was a fun trip.
The kids got us a facebook portal for Christmas so we could video chat with the grandkids. However, that necessitated actually joining facebook. Not really something I was interested in, but I now know Betty White was right – seems like a ridiculous waste of time. Anyway, I try to stay away from it as much as possible.
Paris trip with youngest son has been postponed – he bought a house. My wife’s place of employment suffered a fire – no word on when they will reopen. On the bright side, my middle son who has missed the last ten Father’s Day because of work, called to say he could come home this year OR I could join him at the US Open at Pebble Beach. Duh! Father’s Day on Monterey Bay. With Pro Golfers.
Mom still rolling along – though it seems doubtful at this point she’ll make it to 96. It is what it is. She is more than ready for her next great adventure.
Always glad to hear from you, Susan. Most of my old blogger friends have given it up for something else. Actually, that means I spend less time on social media, which is a good thing.
Waiting for Spring here Along The River. Snow is melting, the sun is warmer, there is hope for new life, new sunrises, and the promise of tomorrow.
Susan HendersonMarch 12, 2019
If you’re not used to FaceBook, or if you’ve been away from it for a while, stepping into that space is like hearing an orchestra tuning their instruments and never stopping. And it starts to warp your priorities pretty rapidly.
I’m always glad to hear about your family and your sense of balance in life. Balance doesn’t come naturally to me, so it always gives me a sense of awe to see how you do it.
Snow is starting to melt here, too, and I saw some crocuses pushing up this week. Ready to be outside more and get my hands in the dirt.
Ric MarionMarch 26, 2019
Interesting writing your own Mother’s obit.
Susan HendersonMarch 26, 2019
Oh, dear Ric, I’m so sorry.
What you wrote here is beautiful. I love how alive your mom is in lines like this: “They both worked at the Bomber Plant in Willow Run. She loved to dance and Gordon had to take dancing lessons so he could keep up with her.” And this: “Teachers and Administrators feared her appearance in the halls of Brown City High School.”
Glad to know heaven has an accordion player.
Thank you for telling us about your mom all these years. xo
Gerard C SmithMarch 12, 2019
Your trip was a great one and I’m sure from what you write thoroughly enjoyable. We put off our plans for Greece and instead will spend three weeks in Paris come September. We have an apartment in the sixth and though my French is rudimentary I can plow my way through a menu. Mimi is a fluent French speaker so I will be able to depend on her when I flounder at other attempts to communicate.
It’s good that you’ve left social media. I quit Facebook some months ago and though I have Twitter and Instagram and Linked-in accounts I rarely use them. I did find with Facebook I was spending too much time on politics and preaching to the choir and avoiding other opinions, which to my way of thinking was and is totally unproductive. I have however reconstituted my Zoetrope office (Smith’s Corral and Poetry Corner) and I am having fun with friends in there.
I put my current novel in a bottom drawer (something I’ve done in the past) where it will stay for a while until I feel more like finishing it. At the moment I’m not pleased with where it’s going but I also don’t yet know why or how to fix my displeasure. Aging allows for ideas to simmer in my noggin and that has worked in the past and hopefully will again.
Meantime, keep working on your new book. Enjoy the process.
Susan HendersonMarch 12, 2019
Ooh, I didn’t know Mimi was fluent. How nice that you’ll have a long stay in France!
I’m a big believer in putting my work in a drawer in between drafts. I wait till I miss it, and then, having not seen it in a while, it’s always clearer how to improve it.
StephenMarch 12, 2019
Hi Susan, I’ve been meaning to write to you, but I wasn’t sure how to get in touch. I found your interview with Brad Listi last year one of his most engaging. Because of it, I looked into your writings, and was surprised to find a parallel between your last novel and a Japanese movie. I wanted to ask you about that, but then I thought, no, I shouldn’t bother you. But now I see that you’ve been to Japan (and Vietnam) and so I’m curious to know if you’ve seen the parallel yourself. My mouth is watering as I write this, because I see that the Shinjuku restaurant you and your husband went to specializes in fresh seafood and crab. I had lived in a Japanese city to the north that is famous for its seafood market. Its crab bowls with fresh wasabi are unbelievably tasty. Did you try one of those? I hope you were treated well there. If you’re interested in discussing your last novel as related to the movie, or if you have any questions about your experience in Japan, please feel free to contact me through my email address. I am particularly interested in your personal story for how you abandoned poetry for prose. I’m sure you’re aware of this, but that’s the one thing all the great novelists from the last century had in common. Japanese writers themselves over the past century have been trying to figure out how to make that same transition. All the best to you, especially with your new novel. Bring the fire! Regards, Stephen.
Susan HendersonMarch 13, 2019
Awww, Stephen, thank you so much for this. I’m such a crazy Brad Listi fan… I love his deep interviews and opening monologues, and I’m glad you listen to his shows.
I’d love to hear more about this Japanese movie! And that trip (minus the Tokyo version of Times Square) was heaven. There were so many times when I thought, I could live here… and I could eat fish for breakfast for the rest of my life. I need to go back and find out what a “crab bowl” is!
Tell me about Japan and Japanese movies and weirdo poets who want to write novels. : )
And for anyone who wants to hear the Brad Listi interview, it’s here…
StephenMarch 13, 2019
Susan, I had a good laugh this morning at a café reading Oscar Wilde. It read like he was giving encouragement to those like yourself who have decided to quit social media:
“If you meet at dinner a man who has spent his life in educating himself – a rare type in our time, I admit, but still one occasionally to be met with – you rise from the table richer, and conscious that a high ideal has for a moment touched and sanctified your days. But oh! My dear Ernest, to sit next a man who has spent his life in trying to educate others! What a dreadful experience that is! How appalling is that ignorance which is the inevitable result of the fatal habit of imparting opinions! How limited in range the creature’s mind proves to be! How it wearies us, and must weary himself, with its endless repetitions and sickly reiterations!”
“sickly reiterations”!!! Is that not Twitter to its core??? Wilde is awesome.
The movie I wanted to ask you about is “Okuribito”, or “Departures,” in English. Maybe it was because I happened to watch it around the same time I read The Flicker of Old Dreams, but it’s amazing how you happened to capture some of the more powerful scenes in the movie, particularly your descriptions of embalming. Have you seen it? If not, I recommend it, but you might not have to, because your intuitions produced perfectly apt descriptions of the process of ennobling the dead. Here’s a scene on YouTube in case you haven’t seen it:
It surprised me that your character says “Secretly I think of myself as an artist.” And, “My mind, my hands have always wanted to create art. Embalming is not completely separate from that impulse.” When seeing a scene like that, is there any question that what is being done is art? But the self-doubt your character expresses is found in the main character of the movie, too. He fell into the job after having to sell off his cello which cost as much as a house. Not unreasonably, his wife wonders what has happened to their lives? Why has her husband lost his place in society? Why continue to degrade himself through the creative impulse? The whole movie, like your novel, I think, is an analogy for artists everywhere. You’ve been eloquent about the sacrifices and frustrations that come with doing things like writing novels. So I think you know all this. But I thought I’d share these impressions with you anyway.
Before I go, I had a colleague in Japan who amused me one day. She was like, Why do you people (Americans) always put sauce on everything? First you marinate the meats in sauce. Then you cook it in sauce. Then if that wasn’t enough, you dip it in sauce once it’s cooked. Do you really need all that sauce?
A crab bowl is designed so that we can actually taste what we’re eating. It’s just crab legs with white rice, fresh wasabi and choice soy sauce. When my friends would rave about it, I was like, Isn’t that a little boring? The answer to that is, No, not at all, not when you eat one at the right market! I hope you and your husband have that chance someday. And make sure it’s at someplace busy so that you can people-watch, too, not just crab-watch 😉
Susan HendersonMarch 14, 2019
Ah, I love The Importance of Being Earnest! But I hadn’t realized how relevant his commentary is on how we’re living today. Thank you for this.
I did see the movie, Departures, and loved it. Someone made a reference to it when I visited their book club, so I watched it the next day. I found that tradition to be particularly beautiful… wrapping the body in front of family. I also loved the storyline about the public baths.
I definitely need to try that crab bowl. When we were in Japan, we learned something about wasabi. I’ve grown up liking all things hot and spicy. (My dad tried to break my thumb sucking habit by putting tabasco sauce on my thumb at bedtime. And I just learned to love tabasco sauce!) But, in Japan, we learned that real wasabi is not at all like the green paste we get here. It’s much more subtle and meant to enhance but not overwhelm the delicate taste of fish.
Guess I’ll have to go back to Japan!
Sarah BainMarch 24, 2019
I can’t wait until June when I take my hiatus for at least the summer. Sophia leaves for college next fall and the process has been brutal for her so no decision yet and options still rolling in. But her leaving has already brought up a well of anxiety in me. Carver starts his final year next year and spends the first semester at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland in their writing program. I’m entirely excited for him and jealous.
I believe if I leave social media I would find two extra hours a day to write. It’s weird how something so freeing also seems so disconnecting and hard.
Kyoto is one of my favorite cities too. But leaving Saturday for Italy and Greece so I might change my mind. ❤️
Susan HendersonMarch 24, 2019
I can’t believe Sophia is standing at the edge of the nest, ready to fly! A good time to unplug, for sure! It’s so much easier for me to hear stories of your kids and feel teary about how great their wingspan is and how good it is that they are finding and following their passions. But I know it’s also so bittersweet to see them go and to feel an emptiness in the house, even when they’re ignoring you or choosing to spend time with friends… just to hear them fills you.
Enjoy these last months before she goes off to college. Mine are both graduating this spring–one with a bachelor’s and one with a master’s. And then they have to make decisions about where to go next. Wiping away tears.
I’m glad you understand my love for Kyoto. I’ve never been to Italy or Greece, so take lots of pictures and store up some good stories!
Robin SlickMarch 25, 2019
So just like when I read your annual holiday letter, I didn’t want this post to end. Every word is so interesting…but especially so today, when I woke up depressed and at odds with this country. I realize I’ve spent the last two years on Twitter being outraged and for what..so that a few people comment on my anti-Trump posts? I’ve let him and his family occupy my head since November 8, 2016. So I woke up today and said, that’s it, I’m done, I’m going back to writing, music and all things foodie…and then I read your post, which is a total God shot, and of course the line that resonated the most: “It was scrolling through feed, interesting as it was to me, that had created a never-ending ticker tape of clutter in my head. It left no room for my imagination, for the robust brain I once counted on.”
So here’s to unplugging and creating. My novel is called Dear Barry, and it’s about a thirty year unrequited love affair which begins in the Nixon seventies.
I love you for this post.
Susan HendersonMarch 26, 2019
Love you, Rob, and I want to be first to read your book. xoxo