Browsing Tag


Eating/Food, emotions, Guest Posts


November 17, 2019

By Judy Harper

My daughter had her 15th birthday party at our house a few months ago. Eight teenage girls converged at our home and had the 2019 version of the classic sleepover: they scrolled through Instagram, watched YouTube videos, listened to Billie Eilish, ate a lot of junk food, talked about their crushes, giggled, and stayed up really late. The next morning, I tip-toed past the mass of girls sleeping in my living room, and went into the kitchen to dutifully make the breakfast my daughter had asked for: bacon and chocolate croissants. The young women ate their breakfast and the sleepover wrapped up at 10:30 a.m., with a mountain of blankets, wrapping paper, and leftovers for me to clean up. Oh, those leftovers. Pizza, croissants, bacon, cupcakes, chips…

Do you know how this story goes? What do you do with the leftovers? Do you throw away the slightly stale chips? What about the pizza? I do, eventually, end up throwing away the pizza, but not after I spend the majority of the day binge eating leftovers. I eat a chocolate croissant, a chocolate-covered donut, and five pieces of bacon at 11:30 a.m. About an hour later, I have a piece of pepperoni pizza, and at 2:00 p.m., I have four more pieces of pizza: two pepperoni and two cheese (I don’t eat the crust, though, you know, because I’m watching my carbs). Then, I drink two diet Cokes and sit down, stunned and dazed, in a sweaty stupor. The next day, I will throw away the pizza and the chips, but not yet. On this day, I just sit there, trying to pretend like it’s OK that I ate this because tomorrow will be different.

Do you do this, too, or is it just me?

That night, I sleep fitfully, having to get up to drink water and eat handfuls of Tums. When I do sleep, it is fitful and shallow. The next morning, I wake up, groan, get on the scale, and groan again. This number that I hate is staring at me, judging me, and this body that I hate and treat with such contempt is there, on full display, the symbol of my neglect and addictive tendencies. I want to cry, or scream, or punch something, but I don’t let it out. I never let it out. Instead, I start to scheme about how not to end up here again, ever, while also trying to forget all that I ate the day before. It’s a complicated dance requiring careful and exacting footwork that has to be performed in a specific sequence, and, usually, it works. It involves frantic, non-stop thinking, scores of internet searches, dozens of podcasts, trips to the library and, of course, Amazon purchases. It involves promises and lists and the constant, thrumming noise of trying to tune out of the pain and into something more comfortable.

I try to forget the pizza, the donut, the sweating, the Tums, and I focus on what I’m going to do to make sure this never happens again. The fixation on the image of the perfect life I’m going to start living just as soon as I’m done showering and getting dressed keeps me somewhat occupied as do the internet searches and lists of things I need to do and buy in order to finally become better, to finally become the perfect woman, like the one I see on-line who runs her own blog, makes her own soap, raises five children, runs half marathons in under two hours, and works on her PhD in psychology in her spare time. I want to be perfectly reconstructed into the woman I heard interviewed on NPR, the one who overcame horrific traumas and a severe learning disability to triumphantly publish her first novel and find herself short-listed for the Man Booker Prize. The options and variations of who I want to become are endless; I can be the athletic intellectual, the intellectual comedian, or the quirky eco-warrior. The images dance in my head and for a while, I’m drawn into the creation of the woman I will soon become.

When I used to drink, this part of the morning took much longer…the frantic and desperate attempts to piece together what I’d done the night before, and often, no matter how hard I tried, not being able to remember. Those mornings were far darker and more torturous than the post food-binge mornings, but the action is the same: trying to twist time and memory into something other than what they are. Trying to find the space inside my soul where there is respite, coming up empty, and then replacing that respite or self-forgiveness with stuff…mental exercises, frantic writing of to-do lists, texting friends in search of validation, reading blogs, searching for new gyms, and reading about diet programs, and so on.

Wanting to forget something is almost as difficult as trying to remember, but a little less painful, and as my day progresses, I slip into that dark internal abyss of loathing and hatred—why did I eat all that? Why can’t I say no? Why can’t I control myself? Why do I eat until I can’t see straight? Why can’t I do better? Why can’t I be better? Why can’t I be someone else?

This continues for hours. I distract myself and then I have a fleeting thought that I wish I hadn’t thrown the pizza away because a slice or two sounds good. Then, I hate myself for having that thought, and sink back down into the awfulness.

This takes hours, and the ping-ponging between the highs and lows exhausts me. With each thought of the shiny new me that I’m going to forge comes also the crashing thought of a life without the escape of pizza or chocolate or chips or blogs or podcasts or internet searches.

And I am so uncomfortable there, in that swinging back and forth between the highs and the lows, that I grab my notebook and write out “the plan” to turn myself into someone else, someone completely new and different. Anything to get away from my thoughts.

The plan takes shape: I’ll never eat sugar again, goes the familiar refrain. Not one bite. I’ll also never eat anything with artificial sweeteners in it, oh, and of course, I’ll never eat chips or crackers again. Better to just wholesale go 100% Paleo and dedicate my life to eating this way. I’ll clean the whole house, top to bottom, organize every single drawer and cabinet. I’ll clean out my closet. I’ll write my book. I’ll run 5 miles every single day and do yoga, too, becoming that person who wakes up at 5:00 a.m. and cheerily goes about her day, non-stop, until 11:00 p.m. I’ll be that perfectly busy living that perfect life. Oh, and I’ll stop chewing my cuticles, too.

The day moves forward smoothly from here; I have now found an escape from my thoughts and I have a plan. I have eggs and avocado for breakfast, but I put milk in my coffee, which isn’t strictly Paleo. It’s OK, I tell myself. I’ll go to Whole Foods today and buy coconut almond creamer. This is the last time I’ll ever do this. I put my earbuds in, turn on a podcast, furiously clean the stove and sweep the kitchen. Then, armed with a list of 25 items that will make my life perfect, I head off to Whole Foods.

I arrive and walk optimistically through the store, filling my cart with things that will save me: pasture-raised eggs, ghee, cabbage, avocados, plantains, tomatoes, and ideas for recipes and images of the way everything will be when my life is perfect flood through my head. I find the coconut almond creamer and put three of them in my cart…if I’m going to change my life, wholly and completely, right now, today, I better be armed with groceries. A thought pops into my head: maybe I should give up caffeine, too, as I am far too reliant on my daily cup. But I manage to shut down the thought.

I move easily past the beer and wine aisle, grateful that the siren call of alcohol no longer plagues me. I turn the corner and see the banner hanging from the ceiling, a picture of a happy, achingly beautiful young mother, next to her cloyingly pretty little girl, and they are smiling at a tray of sponge cake, whipped cream, and beautiful berries. Shit, I remember, my thoughts and spirit sinking, I told my daughter we’d go downtown and go clothes shopping and get ice cream at our favorite place. What am I going to do? Watch her eat the ice cream? Eat some myself? Find a sugar-free, dairy-free variety? Shit.

I turn the final corner in my sojourn toward perfect living and I see the bakery, and the slices of cake and the cookies and chocolate bars. And, in an instant, I put two chocolate bars—one with almonds, one without—in my cart, right next to the cabbage and tomatoes and plantains, and I walk to the register. There is a low-level buzzing in my head, and a voice that just keeps saying “it’s OK. Just this once. Don’t worry. You’ll be fine. This doesn’t mean anything.”

I pay, walk to my car, and carefully load in the $158 worth of organic, locally sourced groceries into the trunk. I slip the chocolate bars into the pocket of my sweatshirt and I get in my car. Before I can think or look at myself in the rearview mirror, I start the car and turn up the volume on the podcast I was listening to, and I quickly begin eating one of the chocolate bars. I try to eat one square at a time and savor it, but, of course, I don’t. I can barely taste the chocolate, but it is pulling me out of the feeling of fear I have of the groceries in the trunk and before I’m out of the parking lot, the first bar is done. I’m now waiting to get to a red light so I can rip open the second one, which I devour almost as quickly as the first. As I drive down the street, my teeth aching dully and my head buzzing, I feel a wave of sadness descend over me. I pull into my driveway, and, feeling like a fraud, I unload the groceries and carelessly put them away.

I stand in the kitchen, staring into space. I have worn myself down. I can’t figure out a way to justify the chocolate. It doesn’t make sense. I am not angry at myself anymore nor do I have thoughts of how to fix this, either. I’m just done, spent. An entire morning of bouncing between self-loathing and desperate attempts to pull myself out of it render me exhausted. I spend the rest of the day half-listening to podcasts, walking the dog, skimming through some work, and cobbling together a dinner of leftovers.

I don’t cook anything using the ingredients I bought at Whole Foods; they just remind me of what a failure I am, remind of the chocolate, which then reminds of the pizza, which then reminds me of the time I ate an entire container of French onion dip and a whole bag of potato chips and the roof of my mouth ached for days, which then reminds me of the time I drank so much that I passed out on the couch and spilled a glass of whiskey on the floor, which then reminds me of the time in college when I threw up on the stairs of someone’s house at a party, and so on. These thoughts are so painful that I shut them down the only way I know how, by stuffing them down with food or with podcasts or with Wolf Blitzer sharing 20,000 breaking news stories.

A week later, I find the cabbage that I had planned to braise with onions and tomatoes in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator, rotten. I put it in the garbage and see that the tomatoes on the kitchen counter are shriveled, and as I throw them away, I turn on a podcast and turn up the volume.

Have you ever done this? Anything similar to this? Or am I the only one? What is your thing? Is it food? Alcohol? Shopping? Perpetual busy-ness?

Drinking was, by far, the most destructive of my habits, and I’m so glad I quit. But food is also very destructive, and removing alcohol hasn’t cured me of what truly ails me: fear of my self. Not “myself”, but my self…my soul, my inner-most me. I don’t know her, probably never have. I’m afraid of what I might find if I do, and so I avoid her. I fear so terribly that she’s some awful disappointment that I distract myself in every way I can conceive, purposefully blind to the consequences.

Can you relate? I ask because I have a hunch you can. This isn’t about food addiction or alcohol addiction or cell phone addiction…those things are the consequence of the core issue: not knowing ourselves and not having the time or space (or desire) to actually know who we are. The most common manifestation of this is the Instagram moment or the duck-lipped selfie pose, those very falsely manufactured moments intended to show us something real. But of course, they aren’t real. They are fake, and yet we somehow elevate them in our consciousness and create ideas about how our lives are supposed to mirror this ideal.

I’m not writing about anything new here. For years, we’ve known that the internet and especially social media are robbing us of some aspects of real life, and I don’t know if my particular issue of binge-eating angst is because of the internet, per se, but I do know that my disconnectedness from the world around me, from feeling things in the here and now, have been exacerbated by the internet and the need for distractions in general. Or maybe, it’s just that I’m 46 and I’m in the throes of a bout of existential angst.

And yes, while existential angst is certainly a part of this, I also know that my food addiction and my podcast addiction and my addiction to anything that will keep me from a moment of quiet, a moment of reflection, a moment of stillness have gotten far worse in the years since I’ve had a smartphone and access to stories and pictures and interviews with people who live lives that are thousands of times more glamorous than mine at my fingertips. Everyone has a story, a life hack, a “you can do this, too.” You can organize your whole house, build your own compost bin, change your diet, do more core work, run your own business, and thus become just like someone else.

There is nothing wrong with self-improvement. Not one damn thing. But are all these books, podcasts, and blogs really aimed at self-improvement, or do they sell the idea that the way someone is doing something is the way we should all do it? In short, are they selling the idea that the way I am is fundamentally damaged and that if I can change external parts of myself, I’ll be better?

As someone who is, by nature, deeply insecure, deeply neurotic, and very impressionable, I think the answer is yes. I have bought, hook, line, and sinker, into the idea that I’m not good enough, but that there is an answer out there for me, that some blogger or self-help author is going to fix me.

I have been searching for years now, and I can’t find the answer, no matter how hard I try. And the harder I look, the less I know. I used to be able to eat a meal without second guessing myself, and now, I can’t. I can’t figure out if eating a banana with breakfast is good for me or not, and an internet search only makes this worse. And if I can’t figure out if bananas are good for me, then how will I ever figure out how to lose weight, get in shape, write that book, be a better person, and so on? If bananas are confusing, then what about life? How will I ever know?

I want to believe that I’m actually fine, just the way I am. I really do. It’s just very hard and overwhelming. I have read about and seen a lot of movement toward body positivity and inclusivity, but even that overwhelms because I don’t want to blog about it, be interviewed about it on the Today show, or post about it on social media. I don’t want to be famous or a vanguard. I don’t want to have the answers. I just want to be who I am, whoever that is, and not feel less than because I don’t run fast or compost or follow a strictly Paleo diet or a strictly vegan diet or write a blog or make my own goat milk lotion.

Or, how about this? I want to go through a day, a whole entire day, without feeling less than anyone else, without needing to drown out the self-doubts with noise. I want to be able to just be, whatever that means, and to not feel so afraid of that, just that.

Judy Harper is a 46-year-old adjunct instructor at a community college. She is married and has a 15-year-old daughter. She lives near the ocean on the central California coast.

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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!


Sexorcism: The Sequel.

October 11, 2012

Okay, so my Sexorcism note apparently made it to Reddit yesterday and I have to admit that the social media geek in me was bummed that I didn’t put my website on it or something that had my name. A million people saw it! Gah! I had no idea it would go viral.

C’est l’avie.

Funny to also see what these Reddit people are saying like ” this is fake” and that it was “a friend of theirs’ note” etc. Oh, the internet, you crazy thing, you! Click here to see.

Anyway, I guess one of the people that saw it was my neighbor who wrote the note and this morning a new note was there. Ha! Here it is:


Anyway, all in good fun. Here’s to great sex!

The original note.