An update on (gestures broadly)
Where I've been, and what I've been (not) doing.
Before we get back to it, I wanted to break the fourth wall as it were, and talk about a few things. First off: Thank you for all of your kind words a while back for our family, and for Lucy. Right after I posted her story last month, I put my phone in my car and went for a long run at the park. I came back to find a lot of outpouring of love and support, but then I put my phone away again. I went back and forth on this, being immersed in comments and replies and care emoji and trying to reply to all of that personally, as well as trying and failing to unplug completely and deal with the hurt that was right in front of me.
That’s hard. My day jobs, both in journalism and now in communications, have always required me to be plugged into the public conversation, wherever that may be. But the degree to which I need to be plugged in has changed. In my local TV news days, my job as a producer meant I had to know a little bit about everything happening everywhere, because I had to pitch ideas at a morning meeting and then fill up a half-hour newscast with a diverse mix of local, national, and international news that was both important and salacious, memorable, and teaseable. Getting into magazine and online writing then led me to a constant search for ideas and stories that other people had missed. My current position at Wake Forest requires less of the up-to-the-second knowledge of Internet culture and news, and a deep understanding of ideas that can only come from observation, conversation, white papers, and books. Every step in my career has required less of my fast-twitch reflexes being used to refresh a feed, and yet I still do it, using those moments between moments just to see if I can get in on the ground floor of breaking news or a new meme.
All of which is to say that I know I need to be on social media less in my personal life, and yet there I am, just tweetin’ and scrollin’ at all hours. Every once in a while, I think of a sobering fact: I’ve been on Facebook for 15 years, and Twitter for 12. And then I think, How long do I have to keep doing this? Why am I doing this?
At first, Twitter and Facebook felt like necessary, even productive outlets. I’ve always thought tiny little thoughts that had nowhere to go. Snappy bits of text blurted out online felt like a way to clear them all out. Those tiny thoughts keep coming, except now, my brain has been conditioned to yell out “Hey, tweet that” after I have them. Then I weigh their value by the amount of retweets or likes that they get. The rational, What’s Good For You side of me knows that I shouldn’t do this as often, and yet the Ah, This Couldn’t Hurt side just keeps on posting. I’ve tried to break myself of this by deleting apps from my phone or setting time limits, both of which slow me down instead of getting me to stop.
For three weeks after Lucy died, I stopped posting. I tried to be more present in real life and less present online. Then I got a tip on a story and couldn’t help myself and I was right back in it. It’s helped that my job has been both fulfilling and busy, although that job is in communications, which, again, means I can’t unplug completely. I do realize that social media is a necessary tool in a modern writer’s toolbox. Hence, one of the things that’s prevented me from taking a social media break in the past is the fact that I’ve always had a story waiting in the wings. If I didn’t tell people about it, I thought, all of that hard work might be for not. So, in one way, I’ve taken that out of the equation. I’ve gone ahead and set up separate North Carolina Rabbit Hole Facebook and Twitter accounts. I connected them with this site’s RSS feed, so whenever a new newsletter goes out, it’ll post automatically in those places.
Overall, I’m trying to go back to thinking in complete paragraphs instead of short sentences. I feel like it’s more productive, even healthier, to recondition myself to focus on the longer, more thoughtful things (NOTE: my definition of thoughtful is very broad) instead of firing off random bits of stuff at all hours. We’ll see how that goes.
Which brings me to whatever it is that I’m doing here.
I started this newsletter in earnest ten months ago, and over that time, a little more than 1,300 of you have signed up and allowed a little bit of my brain to infect yours. That’s not something I take lightly. I usually write these newsletters in very fast bursts when inspiration strikes sometime during the week. When I’m finished, I put those words aside, and during breaks, I do a lot of self-editing and rewriting before sending them out. I love it, but it can be exhausting, and it sometimes takes up time I don’t have. I’ve had a pretty extensive list of stuff that’s been on my mind, but during the last six weeks I’ve tried to shut that part of me down for a bit. It’s been a good thing in at least one way: It’s made me reflect a bit on why I write.
In the past, I felt as if I’d had a bit of a chip on my shoulder. When I was told that my idea just wouldn’t work for the organization I was working for, I’d just go see if I could take that idea somewhere else or do it on my own. It’s how I got my break at Charlotte magazine in 2009 (I pitched this story on a blind hiker at the TV station and got nowhere). It’s why I started a podcast. It’s why I started this newsletter. In those cases, I felt like I had something to say, but not necessarily the proper channel in which to say it.
But, of course, I don’t always have something to say, and over the last month and a half, I’ll be honest, I just haven’t been up for it. In addition to Lucy, our extended family has been grieving the sudden loss of loved ones. We continue to be extremely fortunate in this pandemic world, but navigating it is still stressful for all of us. And, honestly, there have been a lot of moments of joy over the last month and a half. We’ve celebrated birthdays. Gone camping. Watched a high school football game. In short, life has been life, both hard and fulfilling, and it’s rightfully kept me from sitting down in front of my computer after hours.
Also, I’ve been making stuff for 20 straight years. I’ve taken vacations, changed cities, switched jobs, but my mind is always working, trying to see if my thoughts can be arranged into a narrative. An article. A story. For the first time in my working life, my day job is not in journalism. So for the first time, I’m trying to clearly define the line between my work and myself.
I say all of that to say this: This newsletter/site/bloggy thingy is not ending. I love writing it. I miss writing it. But I’ve just been taking a little bit of a break to reflect for a moment about what I’m doing here, and where this is all going. This newsletter takes work, but it’s never felt like a chore, and I want to make sure it stays that way.
I’ve always tried to post something at least once a week, and I’ll try to get back to that. But for now, I just figured I’d get you all caught up on what’s rattlin’ around in my head. I’m not lying when I say I have at least five or six things that I’m working on, and you’ll see them soon, I swear. Until then, thanks for sticking with me.
Lepus esse quam videri lepus,