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Living in the Real World

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How has your relationship with social media changed since the pandemic?

I’m not sure exactly why I’d reached my limit this year, but I didn’t like having one foot in the real world and one foot online. I felt like I was never fully in my body or in the moment. I felt like my head was cluttered with so many of other people’s thoughts and moods that I couldn’t find my own. I spent so much time scrolling that, when I sat down to work on my book, my brain stayed in scrolling mode—skimming through images but never having complete, sustained thoughts. So I jumped ship.

At first, the idea was only to stay off social media for a few months. Except I felt better and better the longer I stayed away. I realized how much I loved time with friends and family in the real world.

I slowly shed the instinct to document these moments and just lived them. Game nights, dancing, NYCFC matches, crazy giggling in restaurants, long walks, long arguments, writing old fashioned letters, visiting loved ones in hospitals. It feels good not to have my heart half here and half there.

I worked my book in Mexico, where I saw newly-hatched sea turtles make their long and dangerous trek to the ocean.

I wrote my book in snowy Vermont. And if you’ve never visited the whacky Bread and Puppet Theater, I can’t recommend it more. These are some puppets on a piece of the ceiling.

I taught fiction at the Community of Writers in Olympic Valley, California. In-person teaching! And what a difference it’s made to both my teaching and my writing to start each day with my own thoughts, rather than letting social media steer my mood and where I turn my attention! (By the way, I did an interview with a writer I met there, and I hope you’ll head over to her Aspiring Author site to read it and leave her a comment.)

So I guess that’s all I wanted to pop in to say: Hello from the real world. And in the spirit of not stressing about the things I don’t need to stress about, I’m not even going to proofread this post. It just is what it is.

As always, I’ll end by sharing the books I’ve read since my last post:

Ocean Vuong, Time is a Mother
Lauren Groff, Fates and Furies 
Paul Tran, All the Flowers Kneeling 
Walter Lord, A Night to Remember
Heidi W. Durrow, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky
Stefano Massini (translation by Richard Dixon), The Lehman Trilogy
Melissa Febos, Body Work
Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath 
Jenny Zhang, Sour Heart
Shonda Rhimes, Year of Yes 
Kim Chinquee, Pipette
Myriam Gurba, Mean
J. A. Baker, The Peregrine
Sequoia Nagamatsu, How High We Go in the Dark
Pauli Murray, Song in a Weary Throat
Ellen Raskin, The Westing Game 
Jacqueline Rose, Mothers: An Essay on Love and Cruelty
Min Jin Lee, Pachinko
Claire Messud, The Emperor’s Children 
Brandon Hobson, The Removed 
Ray Bradbury, The Illustrated Man
Maggie Nelson, Bluets
Amanda Jetté Knox, Love Lives Here
Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois 
Katherine Dunn, Geek Love
David Baldacci, Memory Man
Walter Johnson, The Broken Heart of America
Hilma Wolitzer, Today a Woman Went Mad in the Supermarket 
Yona Harvey, You Don’t Have to Go to Mars for Love
Alexander Chee (editor), The Best American Essays 2022
Ted Chiang, Exhalation
Willy Vlautin, Don’t Skip Out On Me 
Elizabeth Strout, Anything Is Possible
Yiyun Li, The Book of Goose
Charlie Jane Anders, Never Say You Can’t Survive 
Anthony Doerr, The Shell Collector 
Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao 
Sally Koslow, The Real Mrs. Tobias
Philip Schultz, Failure: Poems
Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Spellbook of the Lost and Found
Zadie Smith, White Teeth 
bell hooks, All About Love
Diana Goetsch, This Body I Wore
Natasha Rao, Latitude
Ling Ma, Severance
Maggie Ginsberg, Still True
Laura Dave, The Last Thing He Told Me
Sharon Olds, Odes
Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Mexican Gothic
Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up 
Jodi Picoult, Jennifer Finney Boylan, Mad Honey
Elizabeth McCracken, The Hero of This Book
Jamie Ford, The Many Daughters of Afong Moy 
Ruth Ware, In a Dark, Dark Wood 
Felicia Rose Chavez, The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop
Karen Russell, Vampires in the Lemon Grove
Ellen Meister, Take My Husband
Megan Miranda, All the Missing Girls
Fatimah Asghar, If They Come For Us
Jennifer Haupt, Come As You Are
The Moth, How to Tell a Story
Lee Kravetz, The Last Confessions of Sylvia P.
Antoine Wilson, Mouth to Mouth 
Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves
Tobias Wolff, “Bullet in the Brain”

And a few re-reads (usually this means I’m studying something—POV, pace, transitions):
John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men
William Golding, Lord of the Flies
Jeffrey Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides
Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist

I’d love to hear from you. Drop a note in the comments section and tell me what you’re up to, what your relationship with social media is these days, or anything else that’s on your mind.

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8 Comments
  • Maggie G
    December 24, 2022

    Ohhhhhh I love this.
    Feel so drawn to this. Imagine, witnessing sea turtles, but not posting? I can’t.
    But I want to.

    And your reading list alone is compelling enough reason.

    Okay. I’m going to sit with this for a while.

    Still, it was so good to see your name pop up in my scrolling, to read your words again. 🙂

    Wishing you continued warmth and joy this holiday season and beyond!

    • Susan Henderson
      December 25, 2022

      Oh, I missed your beautiful way with words.

  • Billie Hinton
    December 24, 2022

    Hi, Susan! Just saw your Instagram post and came over to check in. Your approach to social media makes so much sense. I dance around the top of the fence on this, and sometimes feel I should just cut ties with it altogether, but so much of my writing community is there it gets hard to make that decision. I’m so blown away by how much reading you get done! I hope you and your family are all well and happy this holiday season. We’re all hanging in there after a rough second half of the year financially, but in so many ways that has brought us all back to our centers. Right now I paused to watch the flock of sparrows flying up from the cold earth in the front pasture, and the sun on their wings made their flight that much more lovely. I’m focusing a fair amount of time noticing and writing about these simple joys. And I’m seeing clients again via teleheath sessions, which has been in some ways odd and other ways pretty amazing. There are a lot of people in NC who do not have access to face-to-face therapy, but they can connect online, and it’s been wonderful to make real connections through the computer screen. I cannot do sandplay therapy this way, but I can listen and share many strategies and techniques for anxiety and depression, which almost everyone I see is struggling with right now. Writing – have been mostly focused on flash nonfiction and getting pieces published. I received my first Pushcart nomination this month. I have long-form work in progress, but these little pieces are the main thing for me right now and I’m loving the work. I’m eager to read your novel when it comes out! Big hugs!

    • Susan Henderson
      December 25, 2022

      I’m sorry about the rough patch but do understand how it all clarifies what’s important. Congratulations on your Pushcart nomination!! I so love the world we only know from your words, and I’m glad you’re sending out your work!

  • Amy Wallen
    December 24, 2022

    I just very well may join you inside the real world. Social media has just about done me in. I try to stay at an arm’s length, but my emotions are not good at it. During NaNoPIEMo I fell into a deep well of crying and sadness when I was already at my most vulnerable and I couldn’t sleep. I thought I would scroll through mindless Facebook to just drift off. Instead, I was enveloped in at least a dozen stories about people’s dogs dying. I lost it. I started crying and didn’t stop for two days. I love that people share on social, and we have learned to be vulnerable among others, strangers most of the time, and yet, I also find that if I try to just make social just publicity task and not a personal one, I feel I am a cold and heartless person. I love the idea of a trend of finding our place and our people and finding my way back home buried in the sand, to use your photo metaphor. Thanks for the encouragement. And thanks for your support on many things in this crazy publishing world. it’s hard. Let’s all learn to just check in on each other, not to have to see what we’ve posted lately.

    • Susan Henderson
      December 25, 2022

      Yes, all of this, I get it more than you know. You know you can call when you’re crying and don’t have to do it alone. xx

  • Mary Akers
    December 25, 2022

    SO wonderful to hear from you and happy to hear you are living life fully. Like many, I’ve also been struggling with how much to “engage” with social media (if that’s even the correct word, when it’s mostly just scrolling). But I surely do love me some Susan Henderson. Just knowing you are writing and reading and living brings a spot of joy today. 🙂

    • Susan Henderson
      December 25, 2022

      It’s such a struggle finding the right balance, isn’t it? So glad you’re here. Tell me a story about your hermit crabs!