22 June 2013

I Quit: Update 2

In keeping with the current trend of updates every ten days, here is my third “No Internet” post! [If you haven't read the first post, you can do so here!]

It’s getting difficult. Weeks One and Two were a breeze. I felt energetic, alert, happy and free. I read a lot of books, wrote a lot of letters, neglected none of my chores or duties, spent time with loved ones. It was quite nice! But, typical of this balancing act called Life, I dropped the ball and let old habits encroach.

My excuse is that I had a fully scheduled week starting with work last Saturday. Every day was packed, and while I was running around from place to place I was also trying to plan this weekend (second Roller Derby Bout today, yay!) and next weekend (trip to Nebraska to visit Jamie, double yay!!). I don’t handle busyness well. I like to have a lot of downtime. When I don’t have plenty of spare time to plan ahead, take care of chores and tasks, and play, I have a strong tendency to want to give up and shut down when I do get a free moment. I was tempted to go back to the same old sites to escape, especially at work (which has always been the place I had the hardest time dealing with temptation… I mean, I’m literally stuck in front of a computer with nothing to do for hours sometimes, who could blame me?). I managed to keep that in check and stuck to the approved list of websites, but all of my coordinating and reservations for my upcoming plans were online, so I quit trying to time myself. It really wasn’t practical to do so, and I don’t regret it.

So I didn’t technically cheat or fail my specific goal of “No Internet”. But, I found an alternative. I still had letters to write and books to read and people to visit, but I chose to watch T.V. and movies instead. I love T.V. and movies. I like to think I choose quality stuff to consume. But I consumed them greedily, to avoid having to think about and face what was coming next and what I had to deal with, to escape. I traded all these good things I was enjoying for sluggishness, sadness, loneliness, “woe is me” depression, just for a chance to turn off my brain for a bit. I went back to default... but don't think for a second that default is neutral. Default is like turning off the engine in the middle of the river. For me (and I would think for much of the human race) it’s much easier to drift with the current than to keep moving forward, but in my experience the current will always dump you in a place you don’t want to end up.

Clearly I have deeper issues to deal with than how much time I spend on the Internet. I was afraid of this… but after all it is good to stop denying the real issue, especially when I knew the solution all along. I knew I had a problem, but I’ve been trying to bandage a gaping wound with a band-aid, because it’s faster and less painful (in the short term) than pouring alcohol on open flesh and wrapping it with gauze and having to change the dressing every day until the dang thing heals.

So what is it I’m actually dealing with? I’ve been reading C.S. Lewis, so I have vices and virtues on the brain, and if you’re familiar with him his influence will be quite obvious at this point. Small disclaimer: when I talk of virtues, don't confuse them with religion, though I am religious and the Church has done most of the talking about them; they are traditional virtues that common society would agree are good to strive for. Unfortunately their names are old-fashioned sounding and often misunderstood. I just hope that the language I’m using doesn’t obscure my meaning or distract from it, because these terms make sense to me and I think describe perfectly what the problem is. That said! Self-diagnosing is dangerous, but I do have Help… plus I think it would be fairly obvious to anyone that I have a terrible case of Gluttony and Sloth, the antidote to which would be Temperance and Fortitude.

I say Gluttony because I am never satisfied, which drives me to consume, and Sloth because I’m too lazy to try to come up with some decent alternative to yet another episode of 30 Rock and I would rather “turn off” (and put off my problems) than just muscle through the stuff that’s stressing me out. I say Temperance is an antidote to Gluttony because Temperance is knowing when to stop, when enough is enough, moderation. And I say Fortitude fights Sloth because Fortitude is having the courage and strength to carry on with doing the right thing, no matter how much of a chore the right thing happens to be.

The bottom line here is that I can’t turn off my brain, ever, because it never ends well when I do. I need to have constant vigilance, in the wise words of Mad Eye Moody. This idea seems exhausting, not to mention impossible, but so does the thought of running a marathon if you’ve never so much as taken a walk around the block. You have to train for it. Unfortunately I have also come to the conclusion that in dealing with these “deeper issues” it’s very difficult to come up with a detailed and specific training program. If I go off into the woods or join the Amish these vices will follow me. It doesn’t matter if I smash my router or turn off my cable. There will always be something I can distract myself with. This is a human problem, not a 21st century problem. So what do I do?

Baby steps. Listen to the tiny voice of my conscience that says, “five episodes of 'Courage the Cowardly Dog' is enough!” or “you don’t need another bowl of Crunch Berries, you are full and you know that much milk gives you gas!” or “you should brush your teeth after that first bowl of Crunch Berries because you just had fillings done and you don’t want to keep paying your dentist for preventable procedures” or “you have a bit of spare time, write a postcard to your grandma or go to practice early for once” (all things that have crossed my mind in the last 36 hours which I usually ignore). Yeah, it seems unfair, like I should cut myself a break every so often (especially after a long day at work because then I deserve a break; oh boy, that's a good one), but these little things are better than the alternative. And I’m getting pretty sick of the alternative.

I guess this isn’t really about the Internet anymore… but then again, it never really was.

12 June 2013

I Quit: Update 1

I was going to do a big post about all of the good changes I’ve seen since “quitting” the Internet, but then I realized it was a bit premature to celebrate… It’s only been 10 days, after all. And I think AA claims it takes 90 days to break a habit. So I’ll just keep posting every so often about how it’s going in general just for a bit of accountability.

That said, it’s going good! Still sorting through some of my thoughts about it. I have noticed that I have a growing reluctance to go online at all, but I’m suspicious of this… I’m afraid I’m just avoiding responsibility altogether. I could say I’m a bit drunk on all this freedom, haha! I don’t want to go back to a place where people can find me and bring me things to do! I’m an introvert, and a selfish one, and I do like to have my time and my space with no interference. But unless you’re independently wealthy (and even then), no one can afford to be a hermit. So I’m keeping an eye on that one.

Otherwise I’m already enjoying the benefits I said I wanted by quitting! More time, less stress, a better mood… all good things! But again, it’s way too early for an official report…

In other news… Jamie is in Nebraska! He left on Sunday morning and won’t be returning until July 19. Which sucks. The first couple of days were weird and surreal, and I was really sad on Monday. Not depressed, just sad. It’s nice to just feel sad! Sadness is kind of nice and bittersweet. Depression is soul-sucking. Anyway, I miss him very much, but I’m keeping plenty busy and have lots of plans to continue! I was anxious about today because I had no plans with anybody and would be alone all day, but it’s already 4:30 and I haven’t even noticed that I’ve been by myself! Given the choice I would rather have Jamie with me, but because he is safe and sound and doing math in Nebraska and I don't have to worry about him too much, I’m enjoying the solitude. For now. Talk to me in a week, I could be in a pathetic puddle of tears and loneliness. You never know!

Still not sure about the future of Scoutaroo… as some of you may have noticed I missed Father’s Day as far as making cards for it! Oops. I’m feeling really apathetic about it (see paragraph 2). We will see. This summer I planned on a haitus from it anyway, and I’ll be taking that time to help my brother with concept art for a game he’s making, which is cool too.

Tonight I’m having pasta for dinner! Yum! I went to market yesterday and bought a ton of berries, green beans, lettuce, and other fresh summer goodies. I ATE SO HEALTHY TODAY GUYS. I had a salad for lunch. Who does that?! Now if only I can maintain it… I also read for hours and got an illustration done, and went on a long walk this morning. Day well spent!

Anyway, I’ll be around with more updates! Toodles!

♥ Ciara Kay

02 June 2013

I Quit the Internet

DISCLAIMER: This is a personal opinion piece which might seem out of the blue, part confession and part manifesto, which will be lengthy, and probably a bit of a ramble. Turn back now! Otherwise you may want to go pee first and maybe pour yourself some coffee or iced tea and get comfy.

I want to offer some of my thoughts from the last week or so… in case you haven’t noticed (no offense taken, haha), I’ve been a bit quiet around here since after the craft show. I’m still sorting through things, but this level of involvement is about what you can expect from me for a while anyway. Let me elaborate.

I legitimately have a lot of stress in my life. A big move (to a completely new city), a big relationship change (my husband will be leaving in a week to be gone for a month and a half), and a big job change (which I haven’t lined up yet at all) are three of the biggest stressors a person can have in their life. But I feel like I can handle all of that. What I can’t deal with anymore is the anxiety that I am falling further and further behind in “Life.” I have lived most of my life feeling like my success and what I can accomplish now isn’t good enough, like I’M not good enough… and I know that a major contributor to this anxiety is the Internet.

I can’t actually blame the Internet itself for this anxiety. After all, the Internet is an amazing invention and resource! We have unlimited information and knowledge at each of our fingertips (for those of us fortunate enough to live in a first world country anyway), and that is amazing! I don’t even understand how it works... it might as well be magic. But, this technology comes with a price. Numerous studies have been done about the effects of today’s technology on my generation; how it re-forms the way we process information, our thought patterns, our habits. It is SO integrated into the way we live that it is radically reshaping our culture and how we relate to each other and ourselves. The Internet just happens to also be very accommodating to negative tendencies that we already struggle with as human beings, and that fact cannot be taken lightly. We owe it to ourselves and to each other to pay attention to what is happening around us.

Like I said, I can’t blame my anxieties on the Internet, but I can’t deny that it has played an enormous role in my development as a person. I grew up with it, after all. My natural inclination has always been towards negative thinking and self-doubt ever since I was a child, which would have been true with or without the Internet. However, since I started using the Internet in my youth I have noticed a constant struggle with two major things as a direct result of using it: discontent and perceived lack of time. Both issues deal with a wonky perspective on reality and ultimately end in anxiety or worry. I want to discuss both of these things and their effects on me as an artist and as an individual, and a few of the conclusions I’ve come to regarding the reality of the situation we are now in.

The Effects on Me as an Artist

As a ten-year-old kid and a fresh new DeviantART user, I would spend hours browsing amazing art. A good thing in the long run, because I can point to DeviantART and several artists I discovered through the site (Tracy Butler in particular) as catalysts to my desire to take my art seriously and improve, and for exposing me to a lot of really great art. It played a huge role in developing my tastes at that age, for better or worse. However, being me, I also spent a great deal of time depressed and unhappy because I wasn’t as good as other artists my age (or artists twice my age!), or didn’t produce as much work, or didn’t have a signature “style,” or didn’t have as many followers, or whatever else I compared myself to.

Something that all creatives must keep in mind is that the Internet heightens competition to a global scale. Gone are the days when artists could strive to be “the best” in their own sphere, because now that sphere has expanded to the entire world (yes, there has been a shift back towards “local” art, but the use of the word “local” on the internet is really just a marketing ploy because the selection for consumers still remains global). As a child until now, I have had a difficult time dealing with the fact that there would always be someone better than me. I was not content to be the best artist in my class, or with making sales at art shows by age 14, or with winning contests, etc. The praise of my friends and family and of strangers who happened across my art was not good enough. I have always been a perfectionist, the type to give up if I feel like I can’t be the best at something (and I’ve never been a patient, hardworking person, so if greatness did not come easily I usually threw in the towel rather than make the effort to improve). Thus, I have spent years “binging” on various creative sites, where I try really hard for a few months to achieve all the stats and popularity, only to be discouraged (big surprise) and toss the whole thing.

Of course, the reality of the situation is that all the time I spent going back and forth between furiously playing the popularity game and throwing myself pity parties should have been spent just MAKING ART. There are SO many quotes from successful artists giving that very simple advice that I found so difficult to follow (Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan, and Ira Glass just to name a few). The Internet made it easy for me to remain in a never-ending cycle of idleness under the really very flimsy guise that I was gleaning inspiration or “making connections.”

[A side note on networking… Hear me on this, fellow artists: all of those favorites and followers you have mean NOTHING. The actual investment that those “networking connections” have made was literally no more than a passing fancy, a click of a button. Worse than window-shoppers, they don’t even have to physically “show up” to consume your work… their “support” is utterly meaningless. Unless someone put money in your account or even just took the time to leave a thoughtful comment, the likely truth is that they added your work to their favorites with as much thought as they did when they hit “like” on the cat video their cousin posted on facebook (which they only watched for about 20 seconds out of the minute and a half of the clip’s runtime). You and I know this is true because we have done it before too. So, don’t let your self-esteem or confidence in your work be ruled by stats, because in and of themselves they are meaningless.]

Anyway, the point is I wasted a HUGE amount of time on the Internet when I should have been doing stuff like making art. I knew I wasn’t actually producing anything, but actually producing something is hard work and takes a lot more effort than looking at other people’s work and wishing. Eventually I would become a kind of ghost, living vicariously through the artists on the Internet. I recognized how pathetic this was, so I would often “quit” in a fit of frustration, only to return a few months later and do the whole thing all over again.

The Effects on Me as an Individual

This wasn’t just a trend with deviantArt (and Yerf and Tomgeeks and all the other art communities I’ve been a part of at one time or another). Other problem sites for me have been 43Things (a goal keeping site), numerous hobby/lifestyle/productivity blogs, and, of course, the Infamous Pinterest… Here is my professional opinion on THAT particular website: Pinterest, I believe, is ultimately a curse. I do know some people who have had good things come from it (diversified cooking, for example), but I think the negatives outweigh the few success stories in this case. I myself have had a love-hate relationship with Pinterest from the moment I “requested an invite”. I’m honestly ashamed I kept it up as long as I did; it was a guilty pleasure in the truest sense as I knew it was awful for me. It masquerades as a life-improving way to curate beautiful things and good ideas, but it’s really nothing but a factory for discontent and wasting time, or at least it is if you are anything like me. ALL of its users acknowledge its fallacy openly. Each of us Pinterest users have seen the numerous pins about the irony of how Pinterest is so full of great ideas that it becomes more fun and more gratifying (and more time consuming) to collect the ideas and pretty pictures than to actually implement them.

My end result (after 3000+ pins) was not an improved life with better time management, a better body, optimum health, more beautiful things in my house, delicious home-cooked meals every night, and a gorgeous wardrobe and hair… it was guilt, unhappiness, and anxiety. We all openly scoff at check-out-line magazines and would feel ridiculous for spending $5 on one (even though we do it anyway). We also know that magazines make us feel inadequate, unhappy, and dissatisfied… all Pinterest did was eliminate the outrageous price and give us access to every magazine topic ever conceived AND make it cool to do all at the same time. How sinister can you get?! Also, I would submit that Pinterest is 100% unnecessary for all of the things it claims to help you achieve. Want to cook better? Use those dusty yet tried and true cookbooks, or take a class... Want a cleaner home? Try turning off the computer for half an hour... Want to have beautiful things in your home? Just go shopping for Pete’s sake, or even better: realize that you don’t actually need “things” to make a home. In my experience, Pinterest is primarily used as a “just in case” bin… the neat ideas we find are rarely pertinent to our actual needs and so merely put the idea in our heads that we have needs to fill that in reality don’t actually exist. Sound familiar? It’s a tried and true advertising tactic.

This is one instance where the adage “ignorance is bliss” is beneficial, and far from the original idea about sticking your head in the sand regarding things that actually matter. It astounds me that I’ve made such big, sweeping statements against commercials and advertising in the past while at the exact same time I was embracing the very thing I claimed to despise. I don’t usually going around telling people what they should do with their lives, but this I will say: If you have a Pinterest account, go delete the damn thing and be rid of it. Or, if you aren’t convinced yet that you are doing more than wasting your time, pay close attention to how you feel about your life and your self after you’ve spent more than an hour pinning away. If you are one of the few who has the power to reap the practical benefits of Pinterest without letting it drag you down, more power to you. If not, please think twice about what you are doing to yourself.

Anyway! Pinterest wasn’t my only problem (it’s just the only one I can actually blame for being evil, haha). Every productivity site I came across and joined ended up sucking away my time and energy, and I would inevitably saddle myself with guilt and self-imposed deadlines and expectations. I overwhelmed myself to the point where I would become paralyzed and spend very little time actually achieving said goals, quite similar to my experience with art sites. I let myself be tricked into thinking all of these self/life-improvement ideas and goals were achievable, and in a very short amount of time, let alone that all of these things were absolutely worth spending time and energy achieving. I felt inadequate as a human being because I wasn’t a super-hot homemaker who lived off the grid and made everything by hand and grew her own vegetables and had a craftsman house on a lake by the coast in the woods that was both tiny and large and full of awesome things who wore awesome clothes and had a farm and a perfect family and a full-time, super-fulfilling and enjoyable career. It sounds ridiculous when it’s all written out like that, but for some reason I spent a lot of time actually believing I could have all of those things at once. No wonder my blessed life seemed dull in comparison!

I have wasted a LOT of time over the years on the internet, and I multiplied my anxiety that I didn’t have enough time in the day by not only using the time I actually had to do nothing, the nothing I was doing made me feel like I needed to do more and be more. This vicious cycle left me feeling drained and like I always had a huge pile of things to do, when in reality all the pressure I was feeling was self-imposed. I was harried and easily depressed. I felt guilty if I wasn’t working hard to cross things off of my to-do list. And when I was tired and couldn’t work anymore, I went back to the Internet because it made me feel like I was doing something (self-improvement by osmosis? I have no idea… the way I can rationalize stupid things scares me). This cycle was a familiar path for me. I’ve tried to quit so many times, and “just be more disciplined,” but I would ALWAYS go back to the same sites and try again, thinking somehow I could keep it under control, while the same thing happened over and over and over again, in the pattern of any run-of-the-mill addict.

My Own Solution

The (super obvious) revelation I’ve had about myself recently is that I simply don’t have the strength of character to discern between what is just a good idea versus something that I must do, or the self-discipline to know where and when to stop. I am too easily persuaded that I can do more and should be more than I am, instead of being ok with the progress that I am making on a daily basis. I have realized that how I use the Internet is detrimental to my growth as a human being and as an artist. My natural tendency to depression and anxiety is exacerbated by my inability to discern and control the things I consume online. I can’t handle having the entire world at my fingertips. I’m not strong enough to wield that power, and I never will be if I don’t change something drastically.

Thus, I have decided to “quit” the Internet. Most addicts have very little success trying to wean themselves off of whatever they’re addicted to, and it’s more my style to quit cold turkey (as evidenced by the many many times I’ve “quit” certain websites… I can’t tell you how many times I’ve deleted my Myspace and Facebook accounts). And I’ve done Internet fasts in the past, for a few days or a week or even the entire season of Lent that one year. But this time I intend for this to be permanent. Recovering addicts are recovering addicts for the rest of their lives, right? From this day forward I swear off all browsing and all past problem sites (and all future ones… no more getting involved in the latest thing, or anything for that matter. I simply must say an absolute No to those things or run the risk of undoing everything in a matter of minutes).

Unfortunately, the Internet is kind of a requirement for modern life… Besides, it’s undeniably a wonderful, useful invention! Used properly, it allows for all kinds of creative movement and even a form of community. Anybody can share their work, get help, and learn, and it’s been the vehicle for some incredible creative projects that I’m proud to have been involved in. Skype kept me sane when I was halfway across the world, sick and dehydrated in an Indian hospital room. Swap-bot introduced me to an incredible creative community of penpallers. Etsy has given me the opportunity to start my own business and put my work out there with no risk and very little cost. Facebook allows easy contact with friends and family and an excellent platform for party planning. And e-mail has made communication ridiculously simple and easy. My aunt even fixed her oven all by herself because of the Internet! I am not a Luddite by any standard (though I like to pretend). But I have proven that I am incapable of using the Internet properly when left to my own devices.

What does this look like practically? I’ve acknowledged that I can’t very well go “off the grid” without making things unreasonably difficult for myself. I’m not about to throw out the baby with the bathwater. I will, however, be limiting myself to 15 minutes of access twice a day, and limiting my regular “check in” sites to gmail, facebook, twitter, etsy, outright, mint, and blogger, with occasional posts to Instagram. I will allow myself to look things up during that time (directions to places, recipes, references, specific artists or projects, etc), but I will not let myself “browse” (including on Etsy!) and I can no longer follow blogs except for ones by people I know personally. I will have to use the Internet for work; when I’m working I won’t set a limit except to only be on work-related sites (none of these multiple tab dealios, which is difficult for me because I tend to flip back and forth between random stuff and work while I wait for things to load, etc). Again, I intend this change to be permanent at this point, for a good long while at least.

What is Ahead

This is still a very young endeavor… I’m only a few days in after all. I’m finding it’s more habitual than I thought; anytime there’s a lull at work I automatically go to open Chrome… it got to the point where I finally just removed it from my toolbar. But already I feel an immense weight lifted. I don’t feel like I have to keep up with anyone or that I’m somehow falling behind. I feel free to do whatever I choose when work is done for the day, and I have better boundaries regarding that work. I am more willing to let things go at their own pace. To be clear, if I hadn’t identified the underlying problem with me, I wouldn’t be enjoying this new freedom because I would likely have replaced the Internet with some other distraction or thing to consume and gone on being frustrated and discontent. Now that I have some space for thought I am forced to be more reflective, which is kind of uncomfortable because I’m realizing that I have had no direction in my life for the last few years. When all the trappings I thought I needed and wanted and all the goals I thought were worthwhile pursuits have been taken away, what am I left with? I’m 22 years old. Shouldn’t I know what I want by now?

I know that a lot of people my age are like me… no sense of direction, no clear goal for their lives. But I don’t think that should be the new normal. And I wonder if part of the problem is that we have too many options, too many good ideas and opportunities, and it is overwhelming. We are crippling ourselves. How can we sort through the entire world at our fingertips, bombarded constantly with endless possibilities, and know what to choose, let alone discover what we were made for? We give ourselves very little time to get to know who we are, choosing instead to try to build an image of ourselves based on the things we “like,” what we consume. We try to be everything and end up with nothing. Who are we? Certainly not the summation of our Pinterest boards or Facebook profiles. What we want to be is not who we are. Until we come to terms with who we are in reality we won’t be able to move forward with any kind of clarity.

So, I don’t know what this means for Scoutaroo, which is a small part now in the course of a lifetime. It could be more, it could be nothing… at this point I feel like I need to put a lot of things on hold until the chips fall in Santa Cruz. A lot depends on where we end up. And I don’t know what this means for you, or how you will choose to use the World Wide Web from this point forward. The Internet has a place; I suggest we keep it there. If you’d like to do something similar to what I’m doing, I would love to join forces with you via e-mail or snail mail! Whatever you decide, I hope you take seriously the effect that our rapidly changing world has on how you relate to yourself and others. We can’t afford to “go with the flow” or our lives will succumb to entropy every time if we are not deliberate.

I will hopefully be checking in from time to time via twitter and here, but as I said, you can expect some quiet around here for some time. The shop remains open! Buy the rest of my stock! ;) But for now I need a bit of silence, some true stillness instead of sitting in one place idling, fooling myself into thinking I’m going somewhere just because the engine is running.