This is My Letter to a Slightly Smaller World

A letter from the desk of Dirt.

Weds. Feb. 27, 2019

Dear Friends,

Recently, I tried an experiment to break a heavy creative block that I’ve been carrying around for years, and I asked people to volunteer to receive letters from me. I wanted to write letters to people who I knew were (a) open to receiving them and (b) theoretically interested in whatever I might have to say. Doing so was creatively freeing for me, and it provided a feeling of connection that made writing much easier. One of the reasons I have found it challenging to write over the past few years is that I don’t know my audience, or I’ve been writing for an audience of “everyone,” and that includes a lot of people who probably don’t care one whit about me. “Everyone” also includes my inner critics, my parents, my college advisors and mentors, my entire grad school community, and a massive chorus of internet commenters who only read headlines before forming their very important opinions. It is extremely hard to write for such a broad and hostile audience. In the age of the internet where everything has to be entertaining and the best way to succeed is to go viral, it felt like a disservice to myself and my craft to try and write in a way that would appeal to literally everyone all the time. I know there are people in the world who don’t like me or  “my kind,” whatever that means to them. I know there are and will be people who think my ideas are shit, my execution is sloppy, my research is lacking, and that I am too emotional, too subjective, too … whatever. I am no longer sorry about not appealing to those people. Instead I just want to connect with those who are willing to receive a sincere letter from a real human being without a promise of being entertaining or clever. I don’t have any big ideas to spread except that of connection — being human together by sharing genuine thoughts, feelings and experiences.

So far, I have I found this practice to be deeply healing. It has helped me to remember that I am writing not just for myself or for a monolithic audience but for real individual human beings. I make no promises about the quality of the work, just that I will write each person a unique letter, and that they can request that I write about certain topics. With each letter, I included a note that the recipients were not required or expected to write back although return letters are welcome and appreciated. Not many people write back, and that’s just fine. After all, we do live in a busy world and everyone’s got a lot going on. It’s a simple honor to be allowed however briefly to be part of the lives of these friends, acquaintances and strangers.

To be clear, these letters are not for sale. These days it seems like everyone is preoccupied with monetizing everything, as though anything people won’t pay for is inherently lacking value. While I do like to get paid for my work, I give myself permission to focus on the connection and the creative act — both with the letters and with my other current creative pursuits. Specifically excluding money from the letter-writing experiment helped me to feel  more connected to the people I wrote to. And yes, I was still receiving something from them in exchange for my letter. I received their trust when they gave me their personal mailing address and names (especially those social media friends who don’t know me in “real life”). I also received their time and attention when they read my letters. And perhaps most valuable, I received permission from them to show up on the page and in their mailbox, just as honest, vulnerable, thoughtful, and sincere as I could manage to be. That part was priceless. And in a few cases, I got very sweet, thoughtful, and inspiring letters in return. It felt great to know that those who did choose to write back did so out of their own desire and not obligation, again creating genuine human connection.

On the whole, the letter writing experiment was hugely successful in helping me set down that big concrete block of self doubt and move forward with greater creative freedom and a real appreciation for my audience rather than a fear of them. Since I started it, I’ve had a renewed inspiration in other areas of life and have been making more zines, collages, and other artwork. In addition, perhaps you’ve noticed, I’m finally blogging again. It feels so strange and new, yet old and familiar at the same time. I think for the first time in my writing life I have begun to understand the concept of audience on more than an academic level.

I hope to continue writing letters to friends, acquaintances, and strangers on the internet. If you want to receive a letter from me, I invite you to comment here with your request or follow me on Twitter where I occasionally as around for volunteers. The expectations are the same as before: You provide your name and address, and I will write you a letter. You can suggest or request a topic, but I make no promises about the quality. If you don’t specify a topic, I’ll just write some reflections on the world, my personal experience, or something that I hope will interest you based on what I know about you. If you let me know how to look you up on social media, I’ll take a peek at what you’re sharing in order to know a little more about who I’m writing to, but if you don’t want to share that info, that’s perfectly fine.

In closing, I would like to say one last “thank you” to the people who invited me to send them my thoughts and ramblings. You may not know exactly how much you’ve helped me with your participation in the project, and I don’t know what impact my letters have for you if any. However, it’s my wish and intention that each letter brings at least a little bit of joy into your life because we all need joy, and we are all in this together. So with all my heart, thank you, and good luck.

Sincerely,

Mary

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Welcome to Weird-Old-Ladyhood (OR Why didn’t I quit Facebook sooner?)

This morning, I deactivated my Facebook account. I’m still on social media elsewhere, but Facebook in particular really feeds my anxiety and negative feelings, so it had to go. I’m in the process of learning to do what I want and not just what will get me the most approval from people on the internet. It’s not that I don’t care what my friends and family think or that I don’t want to share my life with them, but I think the sharing I’ve been doing via Facebook has been tainted with approval-seeking and conflict-avoiding, and as a result, it’s been less than genuine. I’ve been writing more lately but keeping most of it close, and I’m starting to feel ready to share in a more real and honest way.

If you wanna see what I’ve been working on, I’m hoping to get braver about sharing things here, whether completed works or short snippets of ideas. When I have a poem or a couple lines that I like, I’ve been posting it on Instagram. Sometimes I post clips of songs I’m learning on the ukulele. I’m not a rock star or anything. I’m barely even a poet. (I mean, I am a poet in that cursed way that people with depression and an affinity for grammar tend to be.) But that’s ok. Right now, I am pretty much content with surviving.

Part of what’s going on here is that I’ve been rather deeply depressed this winter, and the past couple years have gotten harder, but this year has been the worst. I am sure the political climate has a lot to do with it, plus the seemingly constant stream of violence and conflict in every other public arena. I was staying on Facebook because it was supposed to help me stay connected with my friends and family, but it was also serving as a surrogate news source, especially when I was “too busy” to seek other sources. But instead of being a good way to keep abreast of the issues that my community finds important, Facebook provides me a firehose of bad news supplemented with the reactions of all my acquaintances. As I read my timeline (not just daily, but compulsively throughout the day, even when I really don’t feel like it) I feel the same heartbreak and rage over and over again, then temporarily soothe it with cute cat videos or tear-jerking videos of the good side of humanity. I’ve been emotionally overdosing, using news and memes alternately the way people mixed uppers and downers in the 80s. This is not mentally or emotionally sustainable. If you’ve ever bleached and dyed your hair till it felt like Easter basket straw, I’d say that’s my approximate emotional condition at this time, and Facebook is a direct contributor to that.

With all that said, I’m gonna wrap this shit up by resigning myself to being that weird old lady with the blog no one reads because why the hell not? Better to be that than the sad, semi-suicidal old lady pretending everything’s ok to get more likes on Facebook.

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Jenn’s 2013 Good Stuff Jar

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In preparation for 2014, I’ve asked my friend Jenn (who you should know from the derby experiment) to write about her favorite New Year project, the Good Stuff Jar. I think this is a rad idea, and I’m looking forward to making my own jar!

Last year around this time, I was looking at Pinterest a lot for work.  I don’t particularly enjoy using that outlet because it seems like it’s designed to make me feel like a failure.  I mean, come on, Pinterest Fail exists because some of the projects are so absurdly difficult or completed by people that are like, professional fucking crafters or something, that us lowly bedraggled working moms can rarely get the same results.  I’ll admit that there are probably some exceptions to this rule of “FailTerest” but they seem only achievable with limitless time and limitless money.

And then I saw this idea: The Good Stuff Jar

The idea is simply to write down a happy moment and stuff it in the jar. You then read the good things on New Year’s Eve to help remember all the fun stuff that happened over the course of the year.

I think that this resonated with me because 2012 had a lot of upheaval.  My best friend moved away, I broke up with my girlfriend at least 3 times, I started 2 new jobs, our in-laws decided to move in with us full time … on and on.  So, when I was about to start a brand new job in 2013, this seemed like a way to document what I hoped would be a year of positives.

And it was.  My jar is full of tiny folded pieces of paper and I can’t wait to make the new jar.  I think there will be two this time…one for public consumption and one for just me.  This is the first Pinterest project that I’ve been successful at completing and frankly, it’s the best one I’ve seen on their yet.  Let’s take more pleasure in the great things that happen and this is a simple solution to do that.

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The Madness Comes and Goes

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So it’s been a few more days of minimal social media time. It hasn’t been half bad. True, I catch myself attempting to check Twitter several times a day, but I’ve been helpfully yet irritatingly thwarted by Tweakdeck crashing repeatedly. In the time I’ve been away from social media, I’ve done a lot of actual socializing. I don’t want to brag about it or rattle off all the people I have hung out with because that defeats the purpose of this experiment.

I’ve gradually peeked a little more at my social media sites but have kept my commenting and posting to an absolute minimum. From a quiet distance, I am watching other people live their lives online and share their ups and downs. I have a pretty low tolerance for most of the noise online, yet I still have a lot of room for caring about people’s tragedies. Someone I haven’t actually talked to in several years recently lost her child and has been talking about it a little bit on Facebook. She’s getting support from her friends and family there. I’ve pondered whether I should send her a note of condolence or just remain quiet. Nothing I can say will bring back her son, but maybe it would help her feel less alone. If there’s any great reason to use social media and networking sites, I think that’s one.

I’m also in the midst of researching more places and ways to teach yoga. My husband and I have been pondering whether/when/how to move to San Francisco, and if we do move, I will need to find work there. The idea is a little daunting, but I do think I have a lot to offer as a yoga teacher, and I’m determined to find a way to keep doing what I do best no matter where we live. That requires finding a way to make my teaching pay a lot more than it does right now, but I’ve got a few ideas as to where to start.

Oh, and mercury retrograde has finally ended. I never put much stock in stuff like that before, and I still don’t know what the heck to think of it, but I do know the past month has been totally discombobulated. So whether it’s a real thing or psychosomatic doesn’t matter as much as the fact that it’s ended, and I now feel prepared to lay the groundwork for moving forward.

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If a Tree Falls and You’re Not on Twitter

Snorting some of that Pixydust.

It’s funny how no one misses you on the internet. It’s a weird thing to admit, but if a tree falls and you’re not on Twitter, no one cares if it makes a sound. Granted no one cares about most of the digital content we consume on a daily basis. We all kinda go numb to it on some level, don’t you think? We binge on bad news, celebrity gossip and the salacious details of other people’s private lives. We consume media in much the same way that I used to eat sugar as a child — by the spoonful and straight out of the bag. Social media is intellectual Pixy Stix, and what I’m looking for is like … Avocados. Let’s stretch this metaphor beyond its reasonable limit and say I would like to experience and create the intellectual equivalent of the farmers’ market online. I would like to live in a world where digital content is not just soundbites whizzing through space at the speed of your next nervous breakdown. I know our society is geared toward doing things quickly all the time. It was hard to just slow down today, and after I relaxed most of the day, I felt like the most abominable slacker. But I just don’t think most of us are capable of fully processing information and experiences at the rate we feel compelled to take them in, which is interesting. I guess that’s how evolution works — we are always reaching for something just beyond our reach.

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