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heather fowler

Guest Posts

The Importance of Unplugging.

June 23, 2014


Hello from Paris! Jen Pastiloff here. I just met up with my friend Heather Fowler here in Paris (funny enough, she also lives in California) so I thought I should share a post by her. Au revoir! And…unplug!

By Heather Fowler.

I have been addicted to many things—reading, writing, loving, green olives with jalapenos, dreaming, nicotine, routine denial of poverty, spiritual or otherwise—but forsaking all this, overwhelming all this, is the most damaging addiction I’ve ever sustained—social networking to a fault—and I am still not ready to go cold turkey. This is complicated by the fact that I couldn’t kick this habit entirely in this modern landscape even if I wanted to–because there is an insidious expectation that I will use web tools for what good things they provide, or fall sadly behind the times and become an asocial pariah in a world where e-communications have become the norm as the currency of our exchange.  The web has infiltrated our lives to such an extent that no one can deny the power of its correct and necessary uses, its good uses, but the problem is that people are expected to regulate themselves in the presence of an enormous and seductive allotment of confusing and half-necessary distractions, unsorted yet ever-present solicitations for our attention.

When I had more control over what came into my mailbox, I used to like email.  Now, most days, I hate it.  I used to like new people in my online spaces.  Now, I don’t trust them.  There is the possibility that the unlimited resources we now possess for contacting others have made us overextended to the point where we no longer can tell which commitments are meant to be binding and which are solely decorative wastes of our time.

We must analyze the way relationships are forged now, the way they used to be forged–and how they can be detrimental as well as advantageous. There are both sharp and glittering edges to this sword.  People can be their most charming online—but they also can be their most passive-aggressive, their most snarky, their most abusive and relentless and unforgiving.  What kind of world are we living in when a cyber friend request becomes a sudden source of dread?  I ask myself this routinely because this is now my world, I recognize–one that has been tarnished by the false intentions of the untrustworthy.  There are also a lot of lovely strangers, with whom wonderful interactions can be had, longterm friendships can be had, but even the best people online must be vetted, understood, and engaged–if such relationships are desired–and though the demand for our time grows, no man’s resources for availability have genuinely expanded.  Now, with regularity, each person must decide how important it is to create or maintain conversations with other entities met online, some of whom have great musical taste or increasingly interesting posts, but, with most of whom, we must admit, we may never really get to know them in the real world. A few bad exposures can cause a willingness to retreat.

Now, many people have likely not experienced as much of the seedy underbelly of the net as I have, but welcome to my reality: I know some people who treat their online worlds as a place not for true representation but for the blameless creation of alter-egos to have situationist dialogues.  I have been stalked.  I have been lied to.  I have been spoken to by men posing as women, women posing as men, men posing as animals.  I have been monitored, I have been seduced, and I have been deceived.  And, all this, by people who purported, at one time or another, to care about me.  I have also created many meaningful relationships, without which my life would feel stunningly bereft.  But it is sometimes hard to navigate which uses of time are good and which are unproductive.

I think it is easier for people who aren’t artists or performers to avoid the pitfalls of such problems, but for many these days who are “building a platform” or routinely have their posts in the public’s eye, perhaps it is harder to keep their online presence manageable.  This is why the truly famous have those who manage their pages, to add a filter. Aside from refusing to join yet more social networking sites, I’ve had to make some difficult but necessary decisions about who and what I will let into my life.  If I had to make a brief expository remark regarding the situation, coupled with an accurate mission statement, probably these few lines would do the trick:

Hello, my name is Heather, and I am a social network addict.  I am ready to unplug.  I am in the process of unplugging more and more.  People fight me every step of the way.  It is a process.

I will need help.  To expedite this change, I will now offer to pay good money for someone to come and destroy every computing accessory I own and bind me to a chair so that I cannot go and get another with any haste. Please speak calmly to me, sweetly, as if you have been hired by the Mental Health Board to reduce the bad effects of my cyber-addiction brainwashing.  Touch my cheek.  Talk to me, too, about how it is okay to live in the real world, how I don’t need to be online twenty-four-seven in order to launch my writing career, how I owe strangers nothing but what I want to give them, and how self-promoting is sometimes a wasteland where eventually everyone will realize it is a maximum of effort ventured for a minimum of gain—and just not worthwhile unless done in the appropriate venues.  Remind me that art for art’s sake is what needs my time and attention.  That the productive relationships to make online are those that either inspire more creativity or create dialogues with real people who are longing for connections with others of like minds.  Remind me, too, that my children should not be interrupted in conversing with me for the beeping of my phone—ever. No one who I don’t know is, or will ever be, as important to me as my children, nor should they be—especially not an unexpected advertisement for Viagra.  (Did I really check that email message while my daughter sang me a song?  I should be drawn and quartered. I would welcome that relief.)

I will try again to be a decent human being. Don’t scoff.  Here are some goals I’ve mapped out for the next five years. Baby steps (Are your goals similar?):

1.     I will not let my children have Facebook until absolutely necessary.  I will monitor them closely if they ever get it via under the radar—like at school, where my stepdaughter covertly made her account that may have begun her past half-life of illicit teen and pre-teen behavior.  I will break every spinning wheel in the kingdom.  I will hide all the needles. I will put the younger, growing princess in some kind of tower and lock my prince in the wheat storage vault where–wait.  Wrong century, wrong story. But I’ve seen enough of kids’ desire for cell phones these days, and for all the wrong reasons, that I feel a little paranoid.  The nine-year-old has already requested one.  My “No,” was emphatic and accepted now, but it will be challenged.

2.     I will use my paper phonebook. I will somehow, like a Jedi or Spock with a mind meld, force the phone company to let me use my old phone that plugged in and worked in power outages.

3.     I will continue to enjoy and embrace anachronisms like wind-up watches and candles and books you can use and put down.  A candle is so pleasantly boring and back-to-basics limited in continuous interactivity.  Hint:  There are no ads here—no ads scrolling across any of these things. Just the ticking of a mechanism, just fire and wax and wick– or ink and paper.  Isn’t that amazing?

4.  I will use useful sites, those with specific, craft based purposes, that inspire more output and less time-wasting.

5.     I will not succumb to the lure of the photo albums of strangers.

6.     I will not be influenced by the others jumping off the bridges around me such that I suddenly again think that bridge jumping is okay, not dangerous, normal in fact—this means people walking around with cell phones constantly attached to their faces, driving that way, dining that way–and I will studiously attempt to pretend I don’t see everyone around me, almost everywhere, using the slightest distraction to justify a perpetual faceplant to their personal dynamic device of choice.  Their phones are not my business.  I can only work on my own issues.  However, to upset or unbalance their growing addictions, as a helpful life guide, perhaps I will occasionally force them to make real-time conversation with me.  F2F, baby.  I’ll do this with raucous laughter juxtaposed with loud harrumphing, like a peeved and indignant old lady.  I’ll clang together drum cymbals–anything for a persistant and jarring enough distraction.  I’ll do this for several moments and then verbally remind them of when kisses were most often done with lips, eXes signifying former romantic attachments (or marking treasured spots).

7.     Scratch that.   I won’t speak of kissing. This might confuse their casually delayed urge for multi-tasking.  Perhaps, I’ll instead just beep loudly and suddenly as I leave their presence, as if I myself am an electronic accessory, heralding the new organic dawn.  I’ll consider this performance art.  As I run off, I may shout, “This is what you’re doing! Beep-beep, Ping-pinging all the time!  You don’t know what’s important.  Disconnect!  Disconnect! Also, there IS a problem when you think an ellipses suddenly requires just two dots for your overuse (and feigned brevity), or that a smile is expanded by using more parenthesis, or that love could possibly, ever, be <3 less than three <3!”  With exception to the ellipses issue (oh, evil lazy practice!), I have done all of these things–and genuinely felt the emotions for people that my online slang attempted to convey.  But I often felt powerless to provide the real joy or support that I wanted to provide, due to the distance and the wires.

Regardless whether you have had a fine, easy indoctrination to life online–or one more troubled, I note more and more that hardly anyone is immune to the sort of constant cyber-attention I now see paid to relentless streams of data (with varying import) where annoyances like junkmail come part and parcel with the rest of the cyber experience.  Now everyone has to announce what they do and where they go–not just to friends, but to everyone–add pictures to validate. We are becoming our own advertisements for living the good life, staged and presented for media consumption by our colleagues and friends–and, read the fine print, dissected by advertisers and marketing professionals. We are doing this and putting off necessary things, sometimes, like cleaning our houses and taking care of life’s less insistent obligations. We are forgetting the necessity of listening to our quiet inner-voices and our needs for private contemplations, conversations–the lovely spaces in life where our voices are sent not to a person’s public wall but instead directly to another person’s ear.

Well, guess what?  I believe my grandfather: Any time a new resource is presented for free, it’s not for free.  The lack of upfront cost for the use of such programming is usually mitigated by the potential for advertising (or the purchased exchange of personal data that can be repurposed into an even headier and more personalized seduction of the participant).  Consider how Facebook ads are often populated by none other than your own stated views or preferences.  The Jew will receive ads catered to Jewish people.  The shopper, more shops at which to shop.  Consider the danger that a mixture of self-expression and capitalism can create to the sense of what’s wanted or needed in an individual’s life.  Consider, too, how the vehicle feeds itself into a gluttony:  In my experience, addiction creates a reality where many real world people provide so much cherished information that, after it is tailored to them like a suit, nothing can match their online escape vehicles for proximity to their desired identity because there is no space in the real world as uniquely marketed to please them and their assorted visual needs.

Welcome to the land of narcissism spawned by the internet and perpetuated by people who no longer know their own neighbors since they hardly leave their houses. I want to take a vacation with a lover and leave our phones and computers at home.  I want to touch that individual’s skin, not feel obligated to track his or her details on the web.  In one moment online, I can read about a famous literary author, in another someone’s child’s grades, and in yet another someone’s grocery store trip that lacked dairy products.   Is it any wonder I’ve begun to have trouble focusing in even the most wonderful and friendliest of online networking environments?

I feel I would be remiss here not to mention some of the astoundingly precious things that online networking and email have provided me.  For example, I have met and gotten to know the amazing publisher of my first book Suspended Heart, Cynthia Reeser at Aqueous Books, who will also be publishing my third book This Time While We’re Awake (forthcoming Spring 2013).  I have created real world relationships, after online correspondence, with both of the  fine artists providing artwork for my books, Siolo Thompson and Gindy Elizabeth Houston.  Too, I have enjoyed interacting with the risk-taking and delightful Rose Mambert and Josie Brown  of Pink Narcissus Press, who will be putting out my second book People with Holes, now scheduled to be due out this summer.   I cannot even begin to name all the authors and friends with whom I have created valuable exchanges to enrich my life and outlook on humanity, all via the transport of cyber communications.

Thus, I acknowledge that not all online exchanges have wasted my time, and I truly don’t blame people for wanting a space of their own on Facebook or anywhere else–they put what they care about wherever they frequent.  But I am overwhelmed, honestly, by how much of the population I can now see in too much detail–and by the sheer quantity of exchanges I have no power to filter out.  I am a little less overwhelmed than when I received friend requests and hostile messages inspiring fight-or-flight from false profiles (while being stalked), oh, several times a day–but I am still stopped from acheiving my most advantageous creatively productive space by daily inundation with unnecessary solicitations for things I don’t want, can’t afford, or can’t feasibly fit into my schedule. Not to mention, and I am not alone in this, I feel it is depressing to watch so many announcements of awards and accomplishments by others that undermine my already lacking sense of personal worth when I realize I can’t possibly keep up.

In short, I am ready to leave this planet—planet online all the time–while attempting to preserve the best of what it offers.  I tell you, I have seen the light, and I am currently in concentrated recovery. As such, while I have created some relationships that I dearly cherish, I am now at my limit for expanding what a single human being can feasibly maintain or appreciate with sincerity, so I now resolve to do more with less.  I resolve to make my life smaller again, on purpose. Let me show you how I am recovering.  I like bulleted lists, so, in that format, here are my notes on my progress with personal awareness:

*I have realized that excessive social networking is damaging to forging real world relationships with others.  If someone from Tibet keeps me from talking to someone at Left Couch– Houston, we have a problem.  If I don’t want to talk to someone at Left Couch and am using an online relationship to invisibly fill a void, we have a bigger problem.

*I have recognized my right and need to delete, at will, any presence that creates a negative impact on my time management.

*I have recognized that people who add art to my life and compel a rewarding intellectual exchange are the ones I need to hold onto.

*I am perfectly fine with those who delete me.  If you don’t want to be on my pages–get off them.  Live your life.

*I have noted, while traveling, that I have lost out on many human experiences since I did not totally immerse myself in the location, but continued to mindlessly check the web for updates I could have easily read later.

*I have looked with venom at my phone and wanted to do terrible things to its deceptive and changing face.  I have been happy when it died or turned up lost.

*I have sustained two lengthy online flirtations, one at a time, that have damaged my feelings about love, transparency, courage, and honesty to such an extent that I no longer want to meet anyone romantically online, ever again, heart forbid, and I don’t trust long distance dating inquiries or online dating services as anything but a launchpad for imminent real world encounters.

*I have realized that there are enough people suffering the same thing around me that I am not alone—that video feeds don’t make up for real world exchange and that nothing should be kept in my virtual or real world spaces that upsets me or spins me into unproductive jealousy or fear.  I have realized a lot spins me into unproductive jealousy and fear–and that these things inhibit my work.  We’ll call this fetal-ball syndrome.

*I have a new requirement for anyone who wants to use my time or build a relationship with me: There must be the intent that we will meet in the real world and enjoy each other at our earliest convenient opportunity.

*Since being stalked and put under surveillance, I have become more guarded in what I post.  I have been less interested in posting.

*Subsequent to these realizations of overexposure, I have killed a booming Facebook profile with 5000 friends by converting it to an author’s page with far less traffic.

*With the sort of hate one usually saves for super villains, I often hate my computer.  I often hate my smartphone.  I often hate Facebook and Twitter and YouTube and anything that creates the setting for my engagement to a life of enslavement to a feed.

*I fantasize about the TRS 80, really consider buying a word processer that has a zip drive to avoid all temptations of the net.  I fantasize about having a full-sized computer in my house that does not and cannot attach me to the net.

*I write about nostalgia for the past from a computerized dystopic future, which is actually how I often see the present.

*More than five hundred people once wished me Happy Birthday on my Facebook page, and I realized that same day that I would rather have had one good friend drop by with one real cupcake, smashed or otherwise, but extending that wish in person.  Luckily, one friend did.  And he brought me a whole red velvet layer cake and confetti.  But so much Facebook “Happy Birthday!”—loaded with gif and good wishes—made me feel quite a bit lonelier than I felt before, and inexplicably deeply saddened by my real-life state of affairs, which was glum and exhausted.

*I have realized that if a profile is a person I don’t know, who is not either trying to get to know me or providing information that enriches my intellectual pursuits, I don’t need it as a “friend.”  A smaller page with a more manageable population is a better way to ensure that the friends and writers I do enjoy get more of my focus and attention.

Now because I still need to be online in a limited capacity, you may argue with whether or not I may say, with good conscience, that I am really in recovery—because it’s true that I have not, as alcoholics or drug addicts must, completely quite practicing the habits of those who suffer from addiction—hey, I still do have to announce what I publish and give thanks to the people who selected it, I still do have to meet and greet some very few friends and colleagues I love and definitely want to keep tabs on from afar—but I’ve cut down on communications with total strangers and deliberately mislaid time, as well as general mind-numbing sloth.  Also, I’ve admitted I’m too attached to my phone and I’d venture to say that anyone who has admitted they have a problem and has begun to take steps to eradicate the problem is indeed in recovery.

In fact, as part of this recovery, I routinely force myself to read articles about the way online social networking diminishes higher-level thinking and creates depression and ADD.  I read about teen bullying on the rise in cyber-settings.  I read about marriages destroyed by online activities.  I read about the benefits of going outdoors.  I go outdoors. Sometimes, I even read about going outdoors while standing outdoors.

I realize that our growing addiction to computing resources is worse than society’s current addiction to television shows because social networking and things of that ilk are like watching the most masturbatory entertainment ever created–the show of me and everyone I know, spontaneously erecting a makeshift tale that is only about my life, my interests, and my friends, twenty-four hours a day since I have friends in multiple timezones. How could anyone ever jump that shark? Well, I am not bored of me or my friends these days–but I am bored of entertaining or being entertained in ways that zap my ambition for more herculean tasks, like reading and writing novels.  I don’t want my brain re-wired to expect continuous thirty second fixes. I don’t want to write shorter fiction because it better suits an attention span for online reading, as I’ve been told is true. I want my mind big and voluminous and wordy.  I want it spry enough to wrestle with Tristram Shandy again, both for a long time and on purpose, or to watch an opera, or to see a three-hour film with hardly any dialogue, without falling into an urge to turn on sporadic updates.

I want to return to the slow speed of life where boredom is allowed because boredom inspires invention.  No one became anything interesting without occasionally being bored.  Why do you think Zimmerman must have created Facebook with his cohorts?  Yes, I emphatically want to be underextended rather than overextended.  For a long time.  Until I can hear my heart beating and imagine it is a tribal drum that sings directly to my blood, maybe longer.  I want to be free (as possible) from device-driven pleasure.

A related article I read today genuinely made me swoon with envy.  It said some liberated people are deliberately replacing their six hundred dollar smart phones with basic cell phones that receive only calls and texts–on purpose.  To restore their sanity!  To get away from the Pavlovian salivation impulse they experience each time their phone alerts them of new email or comments on their status, to end any websites’ ability– from their phones to their eyes– to send constant and automated come hither and don’t log out propaganda. To cessate the beep or the note or the blink!  Oh, glorious separations!

Note to self: I often wish I could silence or separate everything but the essential, as these revolutionaries have done. I’m working on that. I like silence and separation in moderation. I like to get away from new email.  Granted we all must answer email sometimes nowadays, for business reasons–but this does not forbid deciding it is okay to check it once a day, or once a week, but not once every half-hour–and I know people who check email more often than that.

Please don’t think I’m not aware that the irony of this post I make here is that it is anti the end-user’s online excess, while simultaneously being made online–and expected to be read here, hopefully shared here, too.  I know this and it’s an interesting pollution of my motives.   But if you want to help an addict, I’d posit, you have to infiltrate from the place or source of his or her addiction.

Those of us who have become addicted to the endless feed of various cyber sites need to stop wasting our lives and our time in the wires.  We need to restore our sense of what really matters by not allowing things like Facebook notifications or blog commenting to fracture whatever it is that we are, or should be, doing with our minds and talents. We need to do things that are legitimately valuable to the real-world life of a human organism. We are human organisms.  We need to stop self-documenting and binge-feeding on the self-documentation of others.

To those who have never had a social networking problem or addiction, I salute you.  Carry on.

To those who have endured the onslaught of online demands, I know you know what I mean by every sentence of this essay because you are probably guilty of the very  same needless excesses I now to try to escape. Do you get up first thing in the morning and check your phone?  Do you take it with you to the bathroom while you brush your teeth?  Do you feel an earth-shattering fear that someone will explore it, nay, violate it, if you leave it in an unfamiliar room, unwatched, for more than thirty seconds?  Do you somewhat feel it is almost a piece of you because it has become a habit so deeply engrained you must remind yourself not to check it, but instead not to check it? If you lost it, would you likely replace it the same day?

I’ve felt these things.  But I am in recovery.  So now I tell you: Pull the plug without remorse on your repetitive or useless activities.  Shamelessly, if you’re able, replace your phone with a simpler model.  If you have a problem with wasting time online, go only to select sites that actually educate or interest you, for a specific reason. Delete your Facebook page if you don’t need it, or log in less often.  You can’t? Stop crying. Stop begging.

All right.  I understand. You’re in the throes. I know, reclaiming your private life is a process. I know lives on parade are distracting and of interest.  As mentioned above, I know there are good things about going online.

Some of the people whose addictions are the worst, like me, are those who have difficulty finding people with like interests who live nearby–or those whose lifestyles are restrictive for outings.  In other words, Facebook can be a lifeline because if they didn’t have online, these people would have no social outlets or access to the people who truly interest them.  In these cases, the cyber world can be good in moderation. As a writer who is a single parent with a full-time mortgage-paying dayjob, living where most writers don’t live, I understand this. Most of my best friends live so far away that I can only keep track of them via the telephone or what they post.  But if you have no such excuses and are just reluctant to talk face to face to others, if your smartphone has been unnecessarily wasteful and distracting, consulted far too frequently to justify your needs as an individual with Feelings, FEELINGS–how about you do what I do lately? Stop allowing cyber experiences to take the place of real world experiences.  Rein it in.  Cut back.

Put your smartphone on the charger and remember, for a few hours at least, how it feels not to have something insistent and ridiculous pinging in your pocket (about everything and anything you never needed before the insistent barrage), before your favorite slack-off-get-commercial seat came to be in front of your computer (and no longer in your living room where you actually do relax, though the advertisers are still bound and determined to get you there).  Note to social networking addicts like me, reforming and otherwise: Make plans to go see friends you would like to know or know better.  Also, most of the time, your hand goes in your pocket.  It’s soft in that pocket without intruding technology.

Try this maneuver without your phone.  I swear—they’ve been doing this hand in the pocket thing pleasurably for years, before velcro, before anyone thought of appliance storage possibilities, before anyone could make a society of screen watchers reach and check, reach and check, multiple times an hour or day.  Let’s reflect on this together: People never used to have the goal of reaching into their pockets or purses to locate their decorated and almost fetishized objects (to which they’d become enslaved), except, perhaps, when they were looking for their keys.

Keys: The metal things you put into your doors or cars.

Doors:  Those things you open to let friends inside your houses–or use to get into your cars and drive home from wherever.

Friends: The kind people you know in person, plan to know in person, or wouldn’t mind calling, who you can meet and talk to and embrace, who will bring you chicken soup when you’re sick and talk you down off the ledge when the electronic nature of your modern lifestyle becomes absolutely, pixel by pixel, intolerable– proximity  or time permitting. You can have a hundred people ready to offer their sincere condolences online at any least little cyber sneeze of your displeasure, but how many, if they could and you needed them, would drive to your house and actually take you to a doctor’s appointment?  Even if you were snot-faced, grouchy, tired, and relatively unappreciative in the moment of duress? The online world provides an easy place for easy solace and easy praise–but too much of that creates the lie of an easy reality, the storied and cozy space of signs and symbols that, when ridiculously overtaxing our fields of vision, in the end, don’t add up to a life better populated with people in the real world to meet a real person’s needs. You’re never more alone than in the crowd.

I aspire to friendships like those enjoyed by Maya Angelou and Andrew Young, those that are long and deep and true.  I hope that my online life will yield such treasures when I make a conscious effort to bring the people I meet and care about into the air that I breathe.  Look at the hug in that video–it’s a pleasure to watch.    One of my favorite things about any writer’s conference I may attend is not necessarily the talks or even the books; it is meeting the people who have written with me or published with me in journals, those who have inspired or augmented my creative world and have added to my intellectual life immeasurably.

Hello, my name is Heather, and I am a social networking addict.   I am in recovery.  I am ready to unplug more often.  I have begun unplugging and will keep trying to minimize my presence online so that I can do all the real work I need to do–and meet the real people who will show me any parts of their houses I want to see, the environments that will never make it onto their Facebook walls or into their online photo albums, because they trust me and want to know me as a human being.  I am satisfied with only these sorts of relationships these days, and I am now the kind of person who makes vigilant unplugging a priority because I’ve realized that the newest power accessory to living a more meaningful life is living a more meaningful life, with less electronic paraphernalia.  The online world should be a portal to real world enrichment, a beginning of more personal relationships–as opposed to their replacement in entirety. Yes.  I am that sort of person, all touchy feely.  The sort who wants to live again, dancing in the trees.  Undocumented, thank you.  (Should I actually document such dancing and put it up on YouTube for others to see, I am quite aware that it will never live up, visually, to the experience it may provide spiritually. Not only that, but they would laugh–and while I’d gladly look stupid to entertain real friends, I don’t need to provide humor for strangers.)

In sum, I am longing to be more real and more powerful, and I am leaning that way every day, on purpose, to preserve my humanity. I am actively interested in preserving my humanity and in reducing the habits in my life that only rob the ticking clock of my mortal coil without providing the potential gift of real words and exchange in the balance.  I want to give the passive aggressives and mean folks less of a platform to enter my life and I want to use the web again as I want to use it–not to let it use me.  Hell is not other people–it’s ourselves, when we don’t decide and take only the good from a resource, when we refuse to regulate our own compulsions.  We must increase our own pre-meditated resistance to any online sites that wish to seduce us or betray us from our authentic human lives.  Otherwise, we are batteries, people.  We are dollar signs.  We are tapping in our ambitions to true fealty or loving others, yet, with good intentions, never planning on executing them.

As an aside, many of my writing colleagues say the same thing–Facebook has become a burden. They are happy to escape it, even briefly.  So I think many of us who have long used online sites and weren’t bothered before, now, in the advent of those sites that become daily more intuitive towards creating wasteful addiction paired with constant commerce, have to set and keep new boundaries in the current climate. We have to make new rules for interactions and profit by them.  We have to guard our time, as I advocate for in my story “The Time Broker,” which is now online at Fictionaut and housed in Suspended Heart.  We must elect to keep some things private and some things public, and not confuse the two.

Again, reclaiming our private lives and making our interpersonal relationships deeper and more meaningful is a process.   It’s a choice.

And I want to talk more about this later.  I do.  But right now, I’m going to walk outside.  As soon as I pick up my kids from daycare, once I know they’re safe in my care, I will turn off volume to my phone.  I won’t boot up my computer tonight or tomorrow night.  I do that a lot lately.  No one can stop me. I’m a rebel about this phone and computer avoidance thing.  After the kids go to bed, I’ll likely pick up one of those books or candles I’ve been neglecting, maybe fondle one or the other, memorizing its shape in my hands.  I plan to do this more and more–touching real objects, remembering the substantial–until I forget the lure of the relentless me-and-you-fed-feed, until I finally and fully believe I’ll be free from all the marketing and exploitation of my private world turned inside out.

For now, I’ve productively decided that I do really hate my smart phone and that I will one day want to leave it somewhere and never turn it on again.  The people who have done that are my heroes. As I continue to consider them, that day comes sooner and sooner in my imagination. I visualize chucking my smartphone into the ocean and cackling triumphantly.  Or, better yet, I’ll just relax into the rhythm of clearer protocols for how often and in which ways my time will be spent.

So, I guess I’m on my way, closer to fine as the Indigo Girls might say. And, you? How’s your addiction? Don’t worry.  It’s a process.  If you’re doing it less often, that thing you do that drives you nuts online, whatever it is, I’m quite sure you’re doing well. Eliminate the useless in your life.  Hide what you need to hide.  Grow what you need to grow.  Forsake your cyborg self as soon as humanly possible and be a real person making real connections in the real world, even if these same relationships were initially originated online. You only live once.  So–touch people as often as possible, both with your beautiful minds and your sentient hands. Strike your own impenetrable and fiercely guarded balance.

Do this for yourself. Live as an organism with five senses, maybe six. Be a part of the world that satisfies all parts of you.  You are not an automaton. Sally forth.


Heather Fowler is the author of the story collections Suspended Heart (Aqueous Books, Dec. 2010), People with Holes (Pink Narcissus Press, July 2012), This Time, While We’re Awake (Aqueous Books, May 2013) and Elegantly Naked In My Sexy Mental Illness (Queen’s Ferry Press). Fowler’s People with Holes was named a 2012 finalist for Foreword Reviews Book of the Year Award in Short Fiction. She received her M.A. in English and Creative Writing from Hollins University. Her stories and poems have been published online and in print in the U.S., England, Australia, and India, and appeared in such venues as PANK, Night Train, storyglossia, Surreal South, JMWW, Prick of the Spindle, Short Story America, The Nervous Breakdown, and others, as well as having been nominated for the storySouth Million Writers Award, Sundress Publications Best of the Net, and the Pushcart Prize. She is Poetry Editor at Corium Magazine and a Fiction Editor for the international refereed journal, Journal of Post-Colonial Cultures & Societies (USA). Please visit her website: Like Heather on Facebook here.


with Heather last night in Paris. It's 9:30 at night here and look how light!

with Heather last night in Paris. It’s 9:00 at night here and look how light!


Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above!

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above!

funny, Guest Posts, R Rated, Self Image, Sex

When the Man Talks to Me about My Lady Parts. *R Rated.

February 16, 2014

**This humorous essay by author Heather Fowler has strong sexual content and is R Rated. If you have no interest in that…stop reading right now. Seriously. I have every intention of providing a space for women to keep it real. (For everyone, really.) This a light, frank, body-positive post. Proceed with a sense of humor please 🙂 And I bow to Heather for being so bold. We had a great conversation where she brought up the fact that women aren’t allowed to really talk about their own genitalia without causing a stir. So, here ya go… ~ Jen Pastiloff, Founder of The Manifest-Station.


When the Man Talks to Me about My Lady Parts by Heather Fowler.

I can’t help it.  I’m excited.  Who knew I had something so great?  It is with extreme enthusiasm that he engages this topic.

As for me, during this engagement, I’m agog by my own former underdeveloped awareness. I can be forgiven. We often undervalue the things right under our navels. I mean, I know I’ve taken pleasure from this anatomy variously in my past, without even recognizing how important this particular part can be. But he specifies criteria like a pussy aficionado.

He doesn’t mind when things get wet and impromptu.  He is a fierce explorer. Fierce!

Now, his opinion should not be discounted because he is actually an expert in this field, belonging to a Harley gang and all.  This means he’s had lots of pussy.  He has enjoyed it as a meal and a la carte.  I like a man who talks the walk.  He squeals he has had more than one at once.

Several of them, many times. We discuss.  “Tell me about your sexual past,” I say, because I am a role-bender that way, intrepid.

When I reflect deeply, I recognize that his interest in pussy is parallel to the interest of a guy who loves sports statistics. Maybe this one keeps statistics.  He certainly knows about his bat.

Why did I do this?  Not sure, but here’s the good part: Usually, I’d pay for analysis from this level of “expert in the field,” wherever research is needed.

But I got lucky, and with this level of lucky, I don’t have to pay.  I pull the sheet up and wait.  I am covering my boring breasts, which he largely ignored. I smile, trying to be innocuous.  I’m about to understand my pussy, really get the lowdown, articulated from a guy’s point of view, probably for the first time.  This is huge.

I tremble. I have to be humble. I look away.

I hope I don’t look too curious because, sometimes, that puts guys off.  Nope.  He still wants to talk about it.

“Some women just had too much,” he says.  “They can’t feel a thing.  Not like you.  Yours is still sensitive.  And you have great padding in the back.”

“Oh,” I say.  “Right. Padded ass. That’s good.” But I nod, intrigued.  “Go on.”

No one has ever spoken this frankly.  I examine his hair, that blond stuff on his head.  It is long in the way that motorbike riders enjoy, since their hedonism extends to the wind at play.  Everything is play. I think about washing the sheets.

“And some women are hard down there,” he says.  “Like a plank.  You can bruise your hipbone on that.  And sometimes you can’t go that deep.  Some women have what’s like a slit, hard to push into, and other women hang loose and open all the time.” He mentions to me that a condom might have skewed his view of this pussy, my pussy, a little bit, but it was still good.  He says I couldn’t possibly have experienced it like he does.

Right, I’m thinking. It must be like that freckle on one’s face that becomes rather insignificant in light of the whole face.  I have a whole face.  A whole body.  But he is a pussy specialist.

“Would you say these things if it was bad?” I ask. “I mean, go on like this?”

“No, of course not,” he says.  “Then I’d just say nothing. I’m not a total cad.”  He kisses me like he thinks I’m cute.

I am not cute like he imagines.  I am pondering how it would feel to experience my own pussy, from the exterior, with nerve endings, by inhabiting two bodies at once.  I wish I could bodysnatch him and enjoy being both of us.  I get lost in this fantasy.

“It was great, great,” he says. “And so I could just sneak in here and help you out,” he says, pulling at a tendril of hair near my face.  “Like I’m the rogue character in one of your novels.  I could be your bad boy.  Does your pussy squirt?”

“I haven’t thought about it,” I reply, neglecting to mention that I don’t write romance novels.  “I’m not down there, you know, watching.  Does squirting imply a sort of specific distance?  Does it involve a quantity of fluid? Maybe you can tell me.”  I do like the idea of having a bad boy, especially one who so appreciates my pussy.  But if I want a bad boy, I want one with mad skills, one who cannot be denied.

He smiles, petting my head, and I say, “If you gave me five or six orgasms a session, that could be worthwhile.  But we’d have to be monogamous for fluid-bonding.  We could build to that.”  I’m thinking that’s a low bar for taking on a bad boy, if he doesn’t plan on nurturing or taking out the trash.

His face falls.  Maybe he thought two or three was really big shakes.

For me, it’s not. Two or three is an introduction. Nonetheless, from this exchange, I realize I have an excellent, frequently underutilized pussy.  This is a subject to ponder.  How can I do better for my pussy? Why, and for how long, must my organ remain underutilized?

He asks what I think about his dick.  “It’s fine,” I say.  “Good.” But I have no new remarks to issue here.  What does one say when one means, “Truly average.  A decent size.  Not too large?” but knows these comments won’t go over well.  I think about saying, “Your dick is important to me insofar as it functions well when we are engaged in romantic exchanges, aided by outings and interpersonal connection, though I would not be upset if it wasn’t functioning, provided I loved you enough.”

I determine he is too bad boy to appreciate this distinction.  “You have a good dick,” I conclude, going for minimalist.  When he leaves that day, I think:  I won’t remember it.

Later I examine my pussy as if it is not attached to me and think about other women.  Do they know how great their pussies are?  How underutilized? Someone should tell them.

This someone might be him.  Then again—he might not know enough.

I’ll be a crusader for the femme O.  Look out world, I got this.



Heather Fowler is the author of the story collections Suspended Heart (Aqueous Books, Dec. 2010), People with Holes (Pink Narcissus Press, July 2012), This Time, While We’re Awake (Aqueous Books, May 2013) andElegantly Naked In My Sexy Mental Illness (Queen’s Ferry Press, forthcoming May 2014). Fowler’s People with Holes was named a 2012 finalist for Foreword Reviews Book of the Year Award in Short Fiction. This Time, While We’re Awake was recently selected by artist Kate Protage for representation in the Ex Libris 100 Artists 100 Books exhibition this February at the 2014 AWP Conference. Fowler’s stories and poems have been published online and in print in the U.S., England, Australia, and India, and appeared in such venues as PANKNight TrainstoryglossiaSurreal SouthJMWWPrick of the SpindleShort Story America,Feminist Studies and others, as well as having been nominated for the storySouth Million Writers Award, Sundress Publications Best of the Net, and the Pushcart Prize. She is Poetry Editor at Corium Magazine and a Fiction Editor for the international refereed journal, Journal of Post-Colonial Cultures & Societies (USA). Please visit her website:

writingrefractedJennifer Pastiloff is a writer based in Los Angeles. She is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Jen will be leading a Retreat in Costa Rica at the end of March and her annual retreat to Tuscany is in July 2014. All retreats are a combo of yoga/writing and for ALL levels. Read this post to understand what her retreats are like. Check out her site for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Jen and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. `