An Admittedly Perplexed Paean To Unplugging.

I know the rules. As sole proprieter of a blog and website, I’m expected to be a content creation machine and a social media maven. The way to grow an audience is to update frequently, tweet feverishly, and slather myself all over Facebook. That’s on top of writing songs and interviewing artists. In a normal work week, I fail miserably. It’s a big huge problem. During the holidays, I didn’t even try.

I spent last week in a rented house in Los Angeles with my sisters and my dad and all of the husbands and kids. We swam. We ate. We hiked and played games and road-tripped to Joshua Tree in a pimped-out tour bus that my pal Curtis lives in. I met my friend Tori’s horse. We exchanged gifts on the little-known miraculous tenth night of Hanukkah because various personality-related circumstances prevented us from celebrating during the traditional eight-day window. I don’t know what happens in your family, but our family gatherings require a certain flexibility.

Sometimes on vacation I carve out an hour or two each day to work, but it’s a double-edged sword. I feel vaguely productive, which stems the constant anxiety over the need to produce more and better and faster, but I invariably wind up spending more time than I had planned in front of my computer or with iPhone in hand. My family is always understanding and always bummed. And once the door to work is opened it oozes all over everything. I might be lounging in the sun having a lovely chat with my nephew but in the back of my mind I’m trolling for something clever to tweet or post. Hardly a recipe for quality time. I did carry my lyrics notebook out to the yard one morning but as soon as I got settled someone put on Stevie Wonder and cranked it.

So. Work was a wash. I halfheartedly posted a couple of photos and then abandoned the social network entirely. For a minute there it actually felt like I was disappearing. Like if I didn’t make my presence known to unseen followers and invisible friends I would quickly be forgotten. Like I was losing the thread of something important, and maybe I was. Maybe I’m messing up by not being a more dedicated, disciplined, hard-working member of the digital ranks. I want to live a real life. I want my project to succeed. It’s so confusing. All I know is once the panic subsided, there was nothing but relief. Here’s what that looks like.

In a year or two, when my website is a bust and my career is up in smoke, will I look at these photos and kick myself for not working harder? In a year or two, when I have a stack of songs that could only have been written by a person living her life, will I be satisfied that I made the right choice?

I know I’m not the only one struggling to straddle worlds. Pray tell.

Filed under: Word/Play Tagged: ,


  1. Cindy Lange
    Posted January 4, 2012 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

    Wow…this speaks to me so much right now Joan. We’re at similar points in our lives…our kids, spouses, family and friends want our undivided attention. Imagine that, our teenage and early 20-something kids WANT to be with us, to delve into lively conversation and vacation together, and be with our friends. How awesome is that? I think you will probably look back on this very special holiday trip with a grateful heart…that you were given a gift of time spent with loved ones…and you wrapped your arms around that gift wholeheartedly.

    I just looked up at my bulletin board over my desk…there is scrap of paper with a quote I had written down after hearing(can’t remember who told me or who the author is). “When life presents a detour, take it. Pause, think about here it could take you.”

    When you are feeling stressed over deadlines or piled up work, take a mindfulness break and look back at the fun holiday pictures and I’m sure you will smile and feel at peace that you were doing exactly what you were meant to be doing at the time!

    I leave for LA next week, and I have a brand new collection of beautiful little hair barrettes. Thanks for helping me find my inner kid Joan, I’ll have to send you a picture!

    • joan
      Posted January 4, 2012 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

      Cindy, I’m so grateful for your words of support and solidarity. Sometimes I feel like a satellite. Especially these days. Safe travels to LA and bravo for barrettes! I want pictures.

  2. Posted January 4, 2012 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

    Funny you mention “a person living her life.” Just heard the most moving, raw interview (rebroadcast) on NPR — Terry Gross with Maurice Sendak. His last, truly urgently-spoken words… he was almost crying: “Live your life. Live your life. Live your life.”

    I believe him!

    • joan
      Posted January 4, 2012 at 11:11 pm | Permalink

      Wow, Paysha. I’ll have to find that interview. I believe him, too. In my heart of hearts.

      • Posted January 4, 2012 at 11:45 pm | Permalink

        Here it is, hope this link works. But be ready to cry. This is the most intense, honest interview I think I have heard. This man is 83 years old and just balls-out. Amazing and inspiring and so sad, all at the same time.

        By the way, I think the blogosphere will wait for you. You are bringing us the good stuff, people appreciate that. Also, don’t you have to go into the cave to create? Seems like a lot of the artists you talk to advocate for that. And you can’t be all Tweeting from the cave and stuff!

  3. Posted January 5, 2012 at 12:14 am | Permalink

    I hear ya and feel ya.
    After posting one photo per day every single day on facebook for an entire year, I completed my project.
    2011 was over.
    That was the longest I stuck to anything in my life, except for maybe parenting and dieting. I loved posting photos, amused at which photos garnered comments and likes, and which didn’t. Early last year, I upgraded from Blackberry to iPhone (major improvement) and became a phonetographer. In 2011, aside from some paying gigs, I hardly picked up the SLR and heavy glass lenses (which cost more than my car) and instead found my own silly way to play along with the social network scene.
    But as the year drew to a close, I had to resist the addiction of adding another year to the project just because I was used to it. Taking a daily photo, and posting it, became part of my daily routine and a minor addiction. Like about 800 million others, facebook hooked me. And I kinda hate that.
    Yet, here we are, only 4 days into 2012 and I am struggling with the nagging feeling that I’m missing something by my self-imposed face-break. WTF??? For 20 years I lived in the wilderness and I didn’t need people to witness or “like” what I was doing.
    Why does it matter? And while it’s nice to get the strokes of people when you post things, photos or writing or songs, does the instant gratification really support your best work? Dunno.
    I believe, as an artist, that you sometimes need to sit quiet in order for the next thing to happen. So, here I am sitting quiet… for a whole 4 days… but there is some strange, pathetic emptiness that I am trying to put my finger on.
    Let’s keep noodling this.

    • joan
      Posted January 5, 2012 at 11:54 am | Permalink

      The addiction problem is real, Elissa. But so is the need to constantly promote and market oneself in a crowded online world. It’s a confounding set of needs we have: on the one hand to give ourselves the time and space to create, and on the other to jump up and down and shout “look at me.” So we stumble into the new frontier with no real sense of place, only mission and purpose. Let’s keep noodling, indeed.

  4. Posted January 5, 2012 at 12:18 am | Permalink

    By the way, your vacation sounds and looks fab.
    I also heard the Sendak interview. Live your life! Live your life! Live your life!

  5. Posted January 5, 2012 at 2:14 am | Permalink

    still maintain you need a few commas. still maintain that you have an avid, appreciative and attentive audience, despite lack of commas and/or non-stop commentary. a girl deserves a vacation, for God’s sake. the 10th night was lovely, you must admit. can’t wait for next time. nothing like a glowing green hot tub at night. or an ocean view. or our life. speaking of bacon. bring it on.

    • Posted January 7, 2012 at 2:40 am | Permalink

      what in the world? “a GIRL needs a vacation, for God’s sake.” geez. just when I try to get myself in print, forget it. obviously.

  6. Posted January 5, 2012 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

    You know, I like noodling this one. It’s been bouncing around in my brain all day. Joan, I wonder if your journalist and artist aren’t fighting?

    Here’s a theory: in journalism, we grew accustomed (and yeah, probably addicted) to the quick hit, the instant gratification of the daily paper. I can count the stories I wrote that were too crappy to make the paper: 2. (Not saying much for newspapers, haha!) I never wrote for myself. Only for publication. My husband, who is a real writer and poet, used to bug me about never writing for myself. He has hundreds of poems in his garret and just now — after 20 years of writing — entered a poetry contest. His stuff is beautiful. He reworks them again and again, creating whole worlds, questioning every word. I am pretty sure he is a genius. But I digress.

    Anyway, I wonder if your addiction to the pace and very public nature of journalism — now translated to the even faster pace of blogging and social media — is at odds with the still thoughtfulness needed to create beautiful art. I am fully convinced we need that quiet — and changes of scenery/stimulation — to bring on the muse. And then there’s the plain old hard, lonely work of crafting something.

    Just some thoughts. I admire your quest to do it all. (Not to mention you are still doing real journalism, with your excellent interviews.) The challenge of promoting and marketing yourself is also vast… basically, you are a team of people right now. I hope you grow and soar and succeed, so you can delegate some of this stuff someday!

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