Showing posts with label instagram. Show all posts
Showing posts with label instagram. Show all posts

gram mercy

The amount of flip flopping I do on social media is ridiculous. I love Instagram! I hate Instagram! Follow me! Leave me alone! Public! Private! YOU'RE ALL BLOCKED!

And here I'm specifically referring to IG but I've always been weird about all social media platforms. I don't know what it is. Some mixture of contempt, insecurity, Luddism, and misguided nostalgia. Missing the days before smart phones, when being in someone's company meant having their complete attention. When a call or the click of a camera shutter constituted a brief interruption of some activity, not the activity itself. 

I'm a dinosaur. And because I'm as addicted to my phone as anyone, I'm a hypocrite, too.

Anyway, as I explained to my friend Meg just today, I've rejoined Instagram because, frankly, it's a rough time and I'm greedily tapping all resources, whatever and wherever they be. But while I quite selfishly slunk back in hoping for a dose of lurve, the second I saw the familiar feeds of old buddies I forgot me and my dumb shit completely. It was just so nice to see everyone again. Their lives, their spaces, their creativity and commentary. Duh. And everyone who remembers me has been incredibly welcoming, which is a reminder just how great that community can be. Duh

Back when I quit, I spazzed pretty good. I manually blocked god knows how many people. Hundreds. I don't know what it was. I think I just came to resent the very vulnerability I profess to enjoy here. Something about all the lurkers just really pissed me off. So I yanked the needle off the record player, shoved everyone out of my house, and shut the lights.

Well, lights are back on. Party is slowly starting back up. And all - truly, all - are welcome. I've been going through my old posts, trying to figure out from likers who I blocked, and then unblocking them. It's a massive, time-consuming pain in the ass and I deserve every second of it. But I don't know that I'll ever figure out everyone I axed, and if you're among those who I haven't unblocked, and you'd like to re-follow, please do drop me an email. The blocking spree was fast, furious, and indiscriminate; anyone I've missed is at this point an oversight, not an intentional exclusion.

So come chat me up, if you're so inclined! Or just watch. That's cool, too. Either way, door's open.

happy vs. happiness

Happy has got to be the most prostituted word in modern society, and certainly in the blogosphere.

Happy is not the same as happiness, and there's all the difference in the world between the two. Happiness is an occasional, organic byproduct of living in sync with your values. It flows into and through you. You can't control its production or delivery. You just wake up and it's there, or turn a street corner and feel it grab you. It pulses in huge bursts or slow, steady waves, until it fades away again.

People search for happy all the time, sometimes desperately. They seek it out like a drug, a quick fix to get them through the day. Sources of happy are short-lived and almost always involve some form of external validation.

Happy is a thing people hunt, but happiness is a thing that finds them.

Some of us bloggers forget this difference - or we live in denial of it. For some of us, happy is the whole point. We treat it like a trophy, polishing it and placing it prominently in front of us. Then we can hide behind it, and use it as a shield to block criticism or uncomfortable truths. Look at my happy! Just try and get past it! We worry that if we don't prove our happy, we'll be laughed at, scorned, judged - or worst of all, pitied. So we parade our happy even at the risk of ridicule. Even at the cost of exhausting and alienating those around us. Because not everyone wants to march in our Happy Parade.

Not everyone comes right out and declares their happy. They're smart enough to know this is mawkish and unappetizing. More savvy and sophisticated bloggers underplay their happy hand. They play their happy cool, with a casually-worded caption and cute emoji on an Instagrammed photo of a beautiful day - or a beautiful child. Here the happy lies quietly in subtext, but don't be fooled. It screams just as loudly: I AM HAPPY.

But I'm gonna let you in on a little secret. We're not telling you. We're telling ourselves. Which is not to say that manufactured happy and genuine happiness never overlap; sometimes they do. But sometimes the happy is a placeholder for happiness, which never needs likes and rarely poses for photographs anyway.

It's all so bizarre, our fixation with finding and flaunting the happy. And to complicate matters, happy is a squirrelly, highly subjective concept. To one person it might mean extreme elation; to another, balance and inner peace. We all aim for different spots on that continuum. Some are satisfied by a sense of general well-being, and some lose their minds in pursuit of elusive ideals of financial wealth and personal power.

The fact is, the less you need to make you happy, the more powerful you are. If all it takes to get your happy is walking with a loved one on a sunny day, you're going to be able to fill your tank much more easily and frequently than someone who needs luxury vacations, or the envy of others.

And because the stakes are so high, we use happy against each other. We lord it over one another, secretly feeling glee when our enemies seem to lack it. The ultimate cut down is to declare someone unhappy (i.e., sad). It's such a hurtful thing to say because there is no more pitiable condition, particularly when it's on public display. We cluck our tongues and say Oh, she's clearly unhappy, and we feel smug and safe and uninfected when we do so, because emotional well-being is a form of wealth. True happiness is a currency of mental health but the temporary nature of happy adds up to pittance.

But we open our wallets and show off our happy hundreds, because they are so very easy to count, so attractive when spread wide in our hands.

hashtag AI

A year ago this week, fed up with yet again "having to" concurrently document something that I was just trying to enjoy (in this case, Coachella), I quit Instagram. I bungled what could have been a breezy goodbye by having a mini breakdown, getting inexplicably, retroactively angry about my own two+ years of oversharing and taking that frustration out on several hundred innocent bystanders by way of the blockhammer. From over 1100 followers, I whittled and hacked my way down to 25 or so inner circle friends.

So silly.

Not quitting; I'm glad I left. But the concomitant drama - that was unnecessary. I should have just walked away and let things be, instead of making it so weird for myself, for readers and friends. Ah well. I was in deep. Big emotional investments result in big emotional cash outs, I guess.

I don't really know what the state of the gramming union is. If people love it, generally, or if enthusiasm is waning. If new features keep it fresh for them or if, like I was, they're burned out and bored. And it's the ultimate in navel-gazing, I realize, to write a post about Why I Did a Thing On Social Media. But every so often someone says something to me along the lines of I get why you did it. And I'm kinda jealous. Or, Totally understand. Thinking about doing the same.

So this post, aside from being a belly button lint check, is an assessment of life After Instagram. It's for anyone considering jumping ship, wanting a glimpse of the dark side. We here on the dark side are always recruiting.

No lie: the first week or so was really weird and rather awful. I felt like I'd up and moved away from some close friends. It was disorienting and isolating, like being in a foreign country without wifi access. Self-imposed banishment. I questioned my decision, only finding reassurance that I'd done the right thing when I reminded myself of all the things - better, more fulfilling and self-improving things - I'd be doing with my time instead.

So, how's that going for me? Am I doing better, more fulfilling and self-improving things with that portion of my time?

Nah, not really. I haven't exactly plowed through my reading list. I'm not out volunteering every weekend, and I haven't mastered a new language. I can claim no intellectual high ground, being off of IG. I still find plenty of ways to waste time. I do think my writing has improved, if only marginally, from forcing myself to tell stories more than show them. But leaving Instagram didn't magically transform me into a sophisticate.

It definitely made my life simpler, however. One less thing to "keep up", to manage. Pictures sit in my phone or on my computer until I'm ready, if ever, to share them on my blog. There's less nagging sense of expiration, gotta stay current, gotta 'gram it while it's fresh! So it's quieter, too.

I still take snapshots of my experiences to include here, but the urgency to Record! Every! Event! is gone. Which, interestingly, has made me look at the very nature of my friendships, of my relationship with Terence, differently. Well perhaps not differently, since it's something I've known - but maybe with refreshed eyes. A year clear of the mind-fuckery of IG, I am reminded that whatever the degree of my closeness to others - that is the same whether we're in front of a camera shutter or not. My dear friends are my dear friends, acquaintances are acquaintances, I am tolerated by some, disliked by some, and adored by a few. I can post a dozen photos a day, a carefully curated selection of flattering selfies, sunny hiking trails, and smiling faces, but not a single one of them can change what's going on behind the lens. I've got wrinkles. My boyfriend and I fight. Some nights out are boring. And that's okay.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to share the highlights of one's life. But there was a certain superficial affirmation in that feedback loop that, having now cut it, I recognize. Wow, my life looks so good! I must be doing great! Look how happy I look! I must be so happy! Which is not to say that I wasn't happy. Just that admiring myself and my life daily, in cleverly captioned, pretty little thumbnails, was a great way to excuse myself from the very hard work of trying to actually be happier. When I enjoyed a constant stream of external validation (You look fantastic! You two are the perfect couple! Wow you do cool things!), I wasn't overly motivated to find realer, more long-term and satisfying sources of internal validation (such as setting and accomplishing goals, and improving the very relationships I so proudly exhibited).

These days, if I want to feel good about myself, I have to actually do something. Something productive, or kind, or difficult. I no longer have the quick fix of posting to Instagram and getting a flood of positive cues to reinforce my lazy, push-button creativity or implicitly praise my lifestyle.

Last plus of being off IG? Opting the fuck out of self-comparison games. There's a fine line between inspiration and envy and being even one inch in the wrong direction was toxic to my sense of self. Sure, you can limit your range of motion on Instagram, only interact with people who make you feel good. But sooner or later you're going to see something that will make you feel inadequate. Or maybe not. I did, anyway, and I'm glad to be free of that.

Sometimes, when my phone is full of picturesque, perfectly filtered pictures, I'll miss it. I'll think about how great they'd look on IG, colorful and bright, reflecting moments of my life that seemed beautiful enough to freeze the frame on. But then I'll realize how self-involved that is. That I'm not wanting to get back on Instagram because I so miss joking around with my buddies and seeing what they're up to. That I'm wanting to get back on Instagram because I'm a goddamn me monster who is vastly less interested in other people's images than in my own. Yeah yeah, okay, kid, kid, sunset, selfie, cat...NOW ME! MY TURN! LOOK AT ME MY PHOTO MY LIFE ME ME ME!

I do more than enough Me Monstering right here.

So that my friends is what it's like here on the dark side. A little bit quieter, a little bit simpler, a little bit lonelier, with at least one monster poking about. I'm probably not making it sound as nice as it actually is, but I'd be glad for your company if you came over all the same. #atleastIwonthashtagyou

pixieset

Things I've not missed about Instagram:
  • the enormous time suck and exhausting effort of trying to keep up with it
  • agonizing over posts (is this too many of Chaucer? of Terence? is everyone bored of my lookups?)
  • racking my brain to come up with clever captions
  • submitting cherished personal moments for approval/dismissal in the form of "likes" (I fucking hate "likes" and believe they are a symbol of everything that's wrong with the world today)
  • playing shitty, zero sum self- and life-comparison games 
  • possibly being a cause for others to play shitty, zero sum self- and life-comparison games
  • the inanity of comments (my own included!)
  • an un-shutoff-able comment system that by its very nature obligates people to participate in an endless circle jerk of compliments*
  • hostile lurkers (people who interacted with other accounts but just silently crept on mine)
  • dramazzz
Things I've missed about Instagram:
  • joking around with some very fun and funny people
  • seeing good times and loved ones reflected back at me in happy little squares
  • having all those happy little squares in one place for easy sharing (GFY Google+)
Luckily I remain in (loose) email contact with most of my old IG buds. And those with whom I don't have been exceptionally sweet about letting me know they understand why I left, and don't hate me for being a fickle spaz where social media is concerned. So that solves the first point. And a possible solution for the others: a "Notstagram" account on Pixieset. It's got a simple, clean web layout comparable to Instagram's:



It's also optimized for mobile (easily swipe through pics), and it's free up to 3GB! You can only upload from your desktop, but once you do, rearranging photos and managing multiple collections (including private, password-protected ones) is a snap. Seems pretty cool so far in case you, too, are looking for an alternative.

---

* To be verrry clear, I'm not talking about any of my old IG buds. I'm talking about the super shallow interactions you unavoidably get sucked into on Instagram. The bullshit reciprocity contract of "like-backs" and empty, meaningless comments. It's inescapable if you've got a public account and don't want to be a complete asshole.

Incidentally, that's also one of the reasons I keep blog comments disabled. I would hate for anyone to ever feel obligated to comment on my posts. And I can imagine that in some cases, were I to post something extremely personal, some of you lovely, loving people would feel like you should chime in with a word of support. Or if I posted a piece that was obviously more carefully written than others, some of you would rightly suspect I'd be keen to get compliments on it. Even selfies - I'd never want anyone to feel like they had to say OMG ELLIE YOU'RE PURRRTTTY or whatever. I know some of you cats pretty well by now, from emails and whatnot. So much so that at this point, it would almost be weird if you didn't comment on my posts, were commenting an option. It'd be like being ignored by a friend or something. And that's way too much pressure for both of us.

I like the idea of my blog being a place where readers and friends and readerfriends can come and go freely - and totally anonymously. You can take me or leave me, and hopefully you never feel pressured to participate further than just peeking in as little or as much as you'd like. I also imagine that at some point, you'll move on. I'm just not that interesting - I know that. And in the same way that I'm being spared the sadness of wondering where some longtime commenter went, you're being spared the guilt of having disappeared without explanation. Symbiotic mystery FTW. 

seven things I am aware of as the year comes to an end

1. If a tree falls in the forest and no one was there to document it, it still made a sound. 

Quitting Instagram turned out to be a surprisingly educational experience for me. When I took away that push-button validation, it got weirdly...quiet. And in that quiet I had plenty of time and space to consider why and how I document my life. What my motives are, what if anything I'm trying to show - to prove - to myself and to others. I got honest with myself about some of my longstanding insecurities, particular those surrounding friendships and what has, pathetically, persisted as a never-ending need to prove I have them.

I went through some shit growing up, with friends. And not-friends. And frenemies. Some awful, awful shit that launched me into adulthood frantic to fix that part of my life. And I do feel miles away from where I was, as recently as my twenties. But I certainly don't need to fuck with the precious, mysterious thing that is friendship by making it any more of a spectacle than it already is here on overshariquent.

Not being able to announce, immediately, HEY GUESS WHAT I HAD DRINKS WITH MY FRIEND KERRY, WHO LIKES ME, BECAUSE SHE IS MY FRIEND, BECAUSE I HAVE FRIENDS is really good for me. It took some getting used to, because I was so warped by the Insta-machine that not documenting my good times made them feel, at first, somehow less real. But eventually I was able to just chill and let go of the need to SHOW and TELL, and I know I became a better friend for it. More present and relaxed and engaged. Less distracted by the need to Make Sure and Get a 'Gram Out of It! Nowadays I don't even blog about every "bloggable" thing I do. I'm just doing things and enjoying them, like a normal fucking person. Imagine that.

Whether or not I blog it or Instagram it or Twitter it - the good moment happened. That's the thing to remember.

2. Reading fiction makes me a better person. 

My reading habits aren't what they used to be, but I'm fighting to earn back my bookworm badge. It isn't always easy to find time, and distractions abound. But when I do make the effort to plunge into a novel, to persevere until I feel its hooks sink gloriously into me, I marvel at myself. Psst, dummy! How can you forget how good this feels? How can you not want to do this ALL THE TIME? 

A good book occupies my thoughts and distracts me from the annoyances of daily life, making me less irritable. Even when I put it down, the back burner of my brain has something more satisfying to chew on than whether or not I should reorganize the spice cabinet. Fictional characters feel like temporary friends, and the (often epic) challenges they face smack some perspective into me.

I feel more open-minded and cheerful when I'm reading fiction, and I suspect I'm more pleasant to be around. It leaves me feeling peaceful and thoughtful, which probably primes me for more loving and engaging interaction with the people I care about. Compared to how I often feel after an hour or two on the internet (depleted, agitated), that's a very welcome change.

3. Being precious with things wastes them. 

For as long as I can remember, I've had the notion that "good" things need to be reserved for special occasions. It's only now starting to dawn on me how crazy this, because I'm looking back at the last few decades of my life and realizing how little I've utilized some of those good things. The expensive, the rare, the treasured and beloved. The "good" china. My "nice" sweaters. For a while after I bought it, I even avoided sitting on my own sofa, because I didn't want the cushions to wear out.

It's all fine and good to value your belongings, but what's the real value of something that you don't even use? When you think about it, disuse is about the saddest fate you can assign to some material thing. I mean, if you were a thing, wouldn't you want to be used and loved and appreciated to your fullest extent? Would you want to sit collecting dust in a cabinet, or in a jewelry box, or on a closet shelf? Wouldn't you revel in being taken out and given a chance to shine?

Losing my parents unexpectedly in quick(ish) succession has absolutely driven into me that life. is. short. Embrace what you've got here and now because you never know when it'll be gone.

4. Crowding out the bad is easier than cutting it out.

I first came across this concept in Hungry For Change, a food documentary espousing an approach to diet and exercise from a place of health and self-love, vs. one of deprivation and self-recrimination. And it was sort of revelatory for me, because it absolutely did work. When I stopped focusing on restricting bad foods and concentrated instead on slowly integrating in better ones, my life changed. And yeah that's dramatic, but it's true. I have never felt so consistently healthy as I have the past year, and that, I believe, is due to what I've added to my diet (which in turn has crowded out some of the worse stuff). It's easier not to fixate on avoiding unhealthy choices (thoughts which veritably consumed my food-disordered twenties) when they've been upstaged by healthy ones.

This idea has worked in other areas of my life, too. I'm as addicted to my phone as the next person, and much as I try to cut back on screen time, it's difficult. So rather than continuing to just rebuke myself for making poor choices (tap tap on Safari, oh look here I am surfing TimeWastersAnonymous AGAIN...tap tap on some shopping app, oh look here I am being a materialistic asshole AGAIN), I've added in some good choices. Duolingo. An awesome, super simple flashcard app for (NERD ALERT!) learning new words I've picked up while reading. I also only recently realized that I can save web pages, such as to news sites (or my blahg), to my home screen. But - and this is where the crowding out comes in - in order to do so, some other apps had to give up their prime real estate. Result: when I reflexively grab my phone in a free moment, it's that much easier to choose curiosity or creativity over mindlessness.

5. Curiosity and creativity are muscles that have to be worked. 

Sometimes I criticize myself for not being more up on current events, for not reading more articles, for not being better in touch with popular culture or knowing more quirky, interesting things about the natural world. The thing is, curiosity comes naturally to children, I think, partly because they have so little else on their plates. And since learning is so empowering, it becomes addictive. But the older we get and the more we have demanding our time and attention, the harder it is to keep this habit of learning up. It takes more effort to read the whole Times piece, for instance, and not just glance at the tweeted summary. But I think that just like any other habit, it can be strengthened. So rather than beat myself up for not knowing ALL THE THINGS, I accept that I can only know some - and even knowing those will take work. But educating myself about one issue is such a confidence booster that it feels less daunting to move on to another, and so forth.

Same thing with creativity. I believe writer's block exists, but I also know that forcing myself to sit down and create content sometimes produces the best stuff. No fairies are going to flutter down to my fingertips and take over. There's plenty of inspiration to be found in the world, but no magical muses. And the more I flex my creative muscles, the stronger they are and the braver I am about breaking out my guns. Even for silly stuff the point of which begins and ends with my own amusement. 

6. Good enough is a great stopping point for me.

A few months ago, Terence and I were checking out at the grocery store when a magazine caught my eye: Domino (a home decor magazine that was wildly popular but inexplicably retired in its prime). I was obsessed with Domino back in the day. I subscribed and saved every issue, only giving them up with great difficulty when I got married and wanted to pare down.

Anyway, when I saw the glossy cover on the rack, I audibly gasped. "What?" Terence asked.

I pointed. "My favorite magazine ever. Well, after Jane. I had no idea it was back!"

Terence grabbed a copy off the shelf and tossed it on top of our items, assuming from my reaction that I'd want one.

"No!" I exclaimed, shaking my head vehemently. "I can't." He didn't understand. "I'll want to redecorate our entire place," I explained. It's too much."

"Too much" is a place I can go to, too easily, and be too dissatisfied...and too spendy. Too much is Apartment Therapy and Pinterest and Domino. Where my home is concerned, I've learned that comfortable, organized, and welcoming to friends are good enough. I could make myself insane (and broke) trying to make it the most OMGstylish and amazing space ever, but that way madness lies.

Accepting its imperfection frees me up to better enjoy the home I've already got vs. obsessing over some future-perfect version of it that may never exist.

7. I want to be a fisherman.

A few weeks ago I told Terence about an interesting website I'd stumbled across. The Center for a New American Dream's tagline is "More of What Matters" and it sponsors initiatives having to do with things like community collaborations (sharing resources, strengthening regional food systems) and post-consumerist culture (better work/life balance, protecting kids from the marketing machine - even an alternative giving registry where experiences take the place of material goods).

But most exciting to me is their "Redefining the Dream" program, which is about what you'd imagine, and has a number of thought-provoking resource pages exploring the capital B Big questions (how much is enough? what really matters in this life? how fulfilling can an earn-and-spend existence be?) that, the older I get, the more I ponder.

Anyway, when I told Terence about it, he told me the story of the rich man and the fisherman, which I'd never heard. There are several versions of it floating around, but I like this one best. And if you're too pooped to click over, in a nutshell it's a story about a businessman who's too blind to see that the best things in life are free. (I'm not doing it justice though, because it's a powerful little tale and you really should read it because wow is it some food for thought.)

I've known a lot of rich men in my life and a handful of fishermen, and I've seen what it means to be each. I'm pretty sure which I'd rather be.  

breaking news: people brag on the internet

That thing people do, where they are grossly ostentatious in showing wealth, with the express purpose of making others jealous? It has a name: invidious consumption.

Invidious consumption is defined as "the deliberate conspicuous consumption of goods and services intended to provoke the envy of other people, as a means of displaying the buyer's superior socio-economic status."

We all know this phenomenon exists. Thanks to the internet, we see it all the time. But if like me, you didn't realize there was a handy sociological term to denote it, well, now you know. And if like me, you find it exhausting to witness, think about how exhausting it is to be those people. To be constantly burdened by the need to prove something to others - to people they probably don't even like. People they've ex'ed out of their lives. Ex-husbands and ex-lovers and ex-friends.

I can't even imagine.

Oh wait, yeah I can. I can imagine, because there have been times in my life that I've done it myself - times when my financial security seemed like the only thing I had going for me. And yeah, it was exhausting. It is fucking exhausting to make choices based on deeply rooted hurt and anger. Oh yeah? You don't want me in your life anymore? Great. I'm gonna show you just how fucking amazing my life is without you in it. God, I am so much fucking happier now. Can you not see how FUCKING HAPPY I AM?? 

It's impossible to get through offline life without collecting cuts and hurts along the way. Painfully dissolved romances, abandoned friendships, misunderstandings and miscommunications. But bloggers and other live-online'ers (i.e., heavy users of social media) amass these cuts and hurts in full view of everyone they know (and a good deal they don't, the imagined judgment of whom is sometimes worse). Pride and ego - which despise pity - demand they show everyone that, not only have they survived, but they've gotten to the very top of the caterpillar pillar, bitches.

A public platform (such as the internet) + an inability to let go + insecurity = the perfect storm for invidious consumption.

Part of why I quit Instagram is that I recognize remnants of this behavior in myself, even though I have worked really hard, in the years since my divorce, to curb it. Not so much invidious consumption as "invidious happiness". One could argue that happiness is a form of emotional wealth, so in a way, it's the same net effect. I've got something you don't, person I dislike for X reason. Neener neener.

This is not to say my happiness hasn't been real, because I can say with gratitude that it is, even when it is undercut by my ever-present depression. But if it's easy to throw up a smiling snapshot on my blog sans context, sans any attempt at thoughtfully rounding out the bigger picture of my life (ups AND downs), on Instagram the whole fucking point is to blast the best moments and cut the sound on the worst.

The internet is a great place for sharing our lives with people we like. But it's also the perfect vehicle for showcasing those lives, like diamonds in Tiffany's window, to those we don't. And when we cease to examine our motives online, we cease to care about the difference. And that's not an internet anyone needs.

this just in: spazzy blogger is spazzy

To finally, belatedly expand upon my last post...

I am so very sorry if you were a casualty of my Instagram block party the other night; I've decided to start using it again, but with a very small following and a private account. Manually blocking over a thousand people was crazytown, I know, but I didn't want to start a new account and ditch all of my photos, the last year of which are especially precious to me because of Terence. And I didn't know how else to handle it; asking everyone Uh, could you please unfollow me? Thx! would have been ridiculous. I've since realized that I could have posted a heads up about I was going to do...but I didn't think of that until afterward. Forethought fail.

Please, please don't be offended if I blocked you! For one thing, that follower count is way off; it's a glitch, or ghost followers still in the IG system or something, I don't know. The actual number is 22. Twenty-two followers. For another, I don't even know how much I'll use it. I just want to keep the option open.

I've written about a dozen versions of an explanation as to why I'm doing this, but the simplest answer is: I thought it might be nice to have a place on the internet where I don't have to be Ellie, personal blogger, and where I can just be Ellie, person.

I know that having a personal blog means that I basically am Elliequent. I get that. But I've been blogging for so long, sharing pretty much everything significant that happens to me (and much of the mundane, too), that sometimes it feels like my life is a like a TV show that's always on (the cast of which includes more than just myself). I just think it would be good to put a boundary in place.

I hope this makes sense and can be forgiven. Nothing whatsoever is changing here. Nothing at all. And again, I am so sorry if my weird blocking decision affected you - I meant absolutely no offense, and I feel awful to have hurt anyone's feelings. I am and always have been so spazzy and conflicted about social media. This latest decision isn't about any one of you at all, or even the collective you. It's about me, and my efforts to continually monitor my motives where blogging and social media are concerned.

I don't know how long they're going to keep calling it "new" media, but I for one will probably be fumbling my way through it for years hence.

IG blocking

I'll explain more when I have time but real quick: if you happened to notice you were blocked by me on Instagram, please don't think I'm upset at you or anything like that at all, and please don't be offended. After setting my account to private, I went through and manually blocked almost a thousand people last night. In fact, even though my follower count shows around 280, that's false; it's actually closer to ten or fifteen.

Again, I'll post about why I did this shortly but for now, please don't think twice about it! Just Ellie and her weird social media shit, and nothing whatsoever is changing here on elliequent. :)

internot musings, part 5,039

Last night I spent about an hour sitting alone on the sofa in the dark, just thinking about some things I'm going through personally. Craptastic feelings of inadequacy and failure that are inching into self-loathing territory. I didn't pick up my phone or open my iPad to distract myself. I didn't put up a fight at all. I just let a parade of shitty emotion march right over me.

Simply sitting like that - being still and quiet with my thoughts in order to work through them - is something I've never been good at. When things get uncomfortable for me emotionally, distraction is the name of the game, typically in the form of some screen. Until I dumped Instagram, that screen was usually my phone's. I'm still turning to the browser far more often than I'd like, but overall, the amount of time I spend staring at my phone has gone down significantly. I'm happy about that change, but I know that I'm still using the internet in some pretty unhealthy ways.

The internet is my wooby and my scourge. It's where I go when I'm upset, and it's the place I go to get upset. It's the buffet at which I can gorge myself to bursting on whatever my appetite demands, no matter how toxic the craving. I overstimulate myself in some pretty fucked up ways on the internet, knowingly subjecting myself to annoyance, anger, envy, covetousness, jealousy, and more, all of which sit like jagged rocks at the bottom of a slide disguised as curiosity, or boredom. I start out surfing pages, but I end up surfing feelings themselves.

The internet is my right-hand enabler for some of my worst tendencies - egotism, materialism, superficiality, competitiveness. But it's also where I go to reaffirm my values, and the things I want to believe about myself. On other blogs and news sites, in communities and forums, I can read the words of like-minded individuals and surf away feeling reinforced by opinions I already held. It's the ultimate self-selection tool. And I wonder how my perceptions of the world - and of myself - would change if they weren't constantly being filtered through an internet page or two.

I'm also thinking about the ways in which we sell ourselves to one another online. Every so often, in discussions of blogs and social media, someone will point out the obvious: Okay, but don't forget: we're only getting a little bit of the picture with her. She's only sharing as much of herself as she carefully chooses to. And we know this, of course. But I think considering the degree to which we have allowed ourselves to become invested in these virtual relationships, it cannot be emphasized enough, just how important this is to remember.

Much in the same way that white sugar, white flour, and even cocaine are highly refined, concentrated essences pulled unnaturally from their greater, nutritively diverse packages, so are our 'net selves an artificial, winnowed-down version of who we really are. When I meet my friend Kerry for drinks, there's not a lot I can hide from her. She sees I'm tired. She sees my clothes are wrinkled, or out of fashion, or inappropriate to the occasion. She can see the tension on my face and draw conclusions about the kind of day I've had. It's easy for her to ask questions and get an idea of where I'm at emotionally, how I've been spending my time - how happy I am or am not. Sure there are things I can keep from her, but it's tricky to hide who I really am, time and again. Sooner or later, my flaws and uglier traits will out themselves.

But when I pop online, for all anyone knows - I'm perfect. I'm dressed stylishly, well-rested, productive, creative, and happy. I'm clever and cute and everything is peachy. For all anyone knows. And though yes, we're all quick to rush and say Oh, of course. Of course we know there's more to the story offline, I wonder how healthy it is to keep subjecting ourselves to these incomplete pictures of a one another. I think it fosters a whole host of shitty feelings we'd be better off without. She's prettier than me. He's more accomplished. They're a happier couple than we are. Etc. Or, when we identify the lie: Ugh, what a phony. She's not fooling anyone. Who does he think he is? I can't stand him. 

Annoyance, anger, envy. Why do we do this to ourselves, when we know better? When there's an entire, gorgeous physical world at our fingertips (not to mention a pretty interesting internal one), why do we ignore it hour after hour in favor of the virtual one filled with things that trigger such crappy emotions?

More and more, and especially since leaving IG, I'm thinking about what life was like, pre-internet. I've made a lot of noise about Productivity! and Literature! and Writing! and Better, More Creative Use of My Time! as motivating factors in my decision to (again) withdraw from social media - but now I'm wondering why that void needs to be filled with anything at all. What if the spaces between daily activities were filled with...nothing? With a few minutes of just sitting quietly? With petting Chaucer or just enjoying the sight of sunlight pouring in my window? I mean, what the fuck did I do with my spare time before I had a billion screens and gadgets to toggle between all day? It's been so long, I don't remember. Maybe nothing? Maybe a lot of sitting alone in the dark and thinking?

And maybe that isn't such a bad thing?

severance packages and safe bets

Nine days ago, I posted a final photo on Instagram with what I hoped was a not too dramatic-sounding explanation and farewell. I turned my phone face down so I wouldn't see any push notifications, and returned to what I'd been working on, determined to back up the decision to better use my time with immediate action.

That lasted about five minutes.

Then I picked up my phone, checking to see if any responses had come; a few had. I replied to them, and turned my phone back over. Twenty minutes later, I peeked again. I read goodbyes from IGers all over the world, some of whom had been following me for almost two years. Their kind words took the wind right out of my sails. I cried more than once, as messages continued to come. Yep. I cried when I quit Instagram. If you're thinking to yourself, Wow, this chick has problems, let me tell you - you don't know the half of it. Because quitting was easy compared to what came next.

Terence gamely suggested we go to happy hour to "celebrate" my Instafreedom. And I don't use scare quotes to mock his word choice, which was him just trying to make me feel better about my decision, and totally sweet and supportive. I use scare quotes because I spent the better part of that evening second-guessing myself and feeling variously depressed (Wow, I just destroyed a really nice emotional resource), scared (Was this the right call?), angry (WTF, so-and-so unfollowed me without even saying goodbye? I liked every one of his lame, boring pics for two damn years), guilty (I'm abandoning faithful readers who've been so supportive and encouraging), and this strange mixture of resignation and detachment, as if I'd just signed up for a deep space mission, and was saying goodbye to life as I knew it. Or as if I'd been sentenced to solitary confinement, albeit with access to a really good library.

Point being: I didn't feel celebratory, though I could feel the first, tiny shudderings of relief and unburdening. All sorts of questions were going through my mind, and that didn't stop Friday night or even that weekend. In fact, I've passed most of this past week thinking about the ramifications of my decision to quit, which - expected, right? What I didn't expect was the Pandora's box of much larger questions that quitting IG would open up, about things like the meaning of friendship, self esteem, and the definition of success. Thinking about those things raised other questions about my life and my priorities - re: myself, my relationships, and even this blog. I know it sounds dumb, but I don't feel like the same person I was nine days ago. Existential crisis: there's an app for that.

Some things I've been considering:

What could I look at, if I wasn't looking at my phone all the goddamn time? What could I think about instead? What sort of space, as my friend Jenny put it, would I have in my mind for other things, if Instagram wasn't there?

What am I communicating to my blog readers by quitting IG? Are they going to think that I don't want to interact with them? Would I blame them if they did? Why should anyone continue to give a shit about my life when I've essentially said, Welp, nice following your life for a while - peace out! 

Regarding social media, is more necessarily better? More followers, more Facebook friends? If I'm not actually interacting with most of those followers, what is the value in those relationships?

What about in real life? What would happen if we pared our relationships down to a core group, and truly invested ourselves in them? What would those relationships look like? How deep and strong could they become? Is there anything wrong with limiting our time and attention to a few trusted and loved people?

Who are these hundreds of lurkers who are otherwise active on IG but never like or comment on a single photo of mine? Why is that an acceptable concept to me, that my loved ones and I would be entertainment for them? How can I take the power back into my own hands, and stop submitting the treasured moments of my life for their daily perusal and (non)approval? What if I returned to my pre-Instagram way of posting what I want when I want, here on my blog, without auditioning for their "likes"? What if they had to work a little harder, to see what my life is all about? What if I at least had the satisfaction of making them come to me?

What was it about sharing photos on Instagram that I found gratifying? What were the drawbacks? How much of it was fun, and how much of it felt like obligation and upkeep?

Why do I feel compelled to share personal photos online at all, whether it's on IG or here on my blog? What are my motives for doing so? How much of it is sharing and how much of it is validation-seeking?

And finally: how much faster could I get to the life I want - to being the person I want to be - if I wasn't slowed down by the need for approval?

Like I said, reflection and introspection central around here. I'm still working out the answers, which aren't always obvious, despite my leading and loaded questions. One thing I have realized for certain: Instagram was not relaxing for me. Editing the photos, playing with color and filters and the overall look of my gallery - that I loved. But once a photo was actually posted? Then it was like a running ticker tape in my head. A constant distraction. How many likes? Hmm, not many. That's what I get for posting another pic of the man I'm wildly in love with and whose face *I* want to see reflected back in my gallery. Guess I better post more universally appealing stuff or I'll lose followers. Clever comment from so-and-so. Gotta reply to that, but too tired to respond right now. I'll do it tonight. Let me see what so-and-so's been up to...

Instagram is just too mentally stimulating for me, for it to be relaxing.

One awesome silver lining: I have been absolutely blown away by the amazing responses that have come in from readers and IG friends who reached out to say, Yo, I get it, and have shared their own struggles with social media and the internet in general - and those who've said, I guess you're not too horrible, Ellie - what say you we strike up a private correspondence, instead? In fact, I now have a handful of pen pals  (one of whom proposed snail mail, so we have legit mementos to keep and everything) and texting buddies whose friendship I can cultivate post-IG. Talk about a severance package.

---

One of the best things about Instagram was being able to scroll back and see loved ones and fun times at a glance.* It was, among other things, the perfect scrapbook - but it was a public one, in the same way this blog is. I've thought a lot about privacy, about intention, and about being present when I'm with the people I care about. About when a quick snapshot is worth disrupting the moment to revisit it later - and when memory alone should be enough. I've thought about the differences between posting to IG vs. posting to my blog, and about context, frequency, and timing.

I'm probably going to keep thinking about all of this until my head explodes. But for now, I believe that doing things from a place of love is a safe bet - with the important caveat that what we're doing is in the best interests of those we love. And if were to die tomorrow, I hope I would be remembered as someone who loved the people in her life absolutely, and sometimes just couldn't get enough of their awesome, smiling faces.

To that end, here they are, in some of the moments that have made up life lately, along with some ungrams, because why throw the creative baby out with the creative bathwater? Captionless because I'm too damn tired and this post is too damn long already, and the best moments in life speak for themselves, anyway.





Answerless, confused-as-ever Ellie out.

---

* This was the one big concern Terence had about my leaving IG. He said he'd be bummed not to be able to see those collected moments anymore. Solution: I'm not deleting the elliequent account, so the photos aren't going anywhere. I also made a new private account for just us that I can flood with personal pics day or night, without worrying about alienating/impressing/annoying anyone else.

the quiet

After I published my post yesterday, I felt weird, like I'd walked out of a party but had neglected to shut the door behind me. I could still hear laughter and music, and snippets of conversation that had ceased to include me.

So I picked up my phone and, before I had time to think, I deleted the Instagram app.

Then I felt really weird.

You know that feeling when the internet goes out? That strange sense of quiet and emptiness? That's what it was like. I wandered around the apartment for a few minutes, feeling actually shaken, and feeling shaken by the fact that I felt shaken. What the fuck. It's a phone app. It didn't even exist five years ago. For the first hour, I honestly didn't know what to do with myself. It was like, Okay Ellie, you did it. You cleared your desk. You tore off a clean sheet of parchment. What the hell are you going to put on it?

Then the sads got me. I thought in particular about five or six of my Insta friends who I joke with almost daily, and it bummed me out. I wondered if they'd read my post and if it had hurt their feelings. I re-read it about a dozen times, second guessing my wording and tone and wondering when and if I should write another, and what I would say.

Then Terence came home, and I told him. Wow, he said, genuinely wide-eyed. And he asked how I felt. And a stream of words starting pouring forth from me that didn't stop for about five minutes. Feels I didn't even know I felt kept bubbling out. And the more I heard myself speak, the more I felt I'd made the right decision.

And as I was talking, numerating both reasons I'd written in my post and others I hadn't, I received a text. The text was from a reader-turned-friend, whom I've only met once but with whom I've connected in a really nice way. She was texting to tell me that my post, and my decision to leave Instagram, had motivated her to do the same - for some of the same reasons and for some that are different. Terence was next to me when the text came.

Wow, he said again, reading alongside me.

And then he said some really nice but hyperbolic things about me inspiring people which, while they are so lovely of him to say, are not necessarily true, because he is my boyfriend and it is his job to look at me through rose-colored glasses. Still, it was a nice counterweight to some of the more negative feelings I was having.

We watched a movie and went to bed, and when I woke up, the lack of Instagram in my life was pressing on me more than Instagram itself had ever been. In other words, the weirdness had gotten even weirder. But I decided to just get on with my day and let the dust settle and not judge my feelings. And I can say that just laying in bed enjoying my boyfriend, being wholly present, knowing there were no push notifications waiting for my attention - that was a nice feeling.

After a little while, I got up and dressed and went to get us some croissants and coffee. Walking down my own, completely familiar street felt like a vacation in a foreign country. You know that feeling when you travel, when you don't have phone service and no one back home can reach you? That's what it felt like: a mixture of relief and sublimated disquiet. The thought occurred to me that my digital life was about to get a lot simpler, since I wouldn't have the additional piles and piles of Instagrammed photos to sift through. Do I want to keep this one? What about this one? It's a cool pic of a building, but does it really move me? Or was it just an excuse to post something? ...Yep. That's exactly what it was. This one too...

I've been thinking about this decision nonstop. That alone says a lot about Instagram's influence on my life, and I don't think it's saying anything good. The fact that I'm so worked up about it is a clear indication of how addicted I was.

I don't want to be addicted to anything.

I'm having lots of thinks and lots of feels about all of this, and I know it's going to be a while before that stops - and that's okay. But I think putting them down on paper might help me get some clarity on the situation, which still feels alarmingly dreamlike, and also move towards finding some closure on this particular chapter of my life. So here goes.

1. Instagram for non-bloggers (sometimes I jokingly call them "civilians") is a whole different beast than Instagram for bloggers. This is something I want to emphasize and explain particularly because I'm keen to minimize the hurt feelings of any of my IG friends who might be bewildered by my abrupt decision. And my god I know how grossly self-absorbed that sounds, and I don't mean that people will be sitting around crying buckets over my leaving, because LOL. I just know that I've been on the other side of this - I've had IG buddies up and quit out of the blue, and it was a disappointment to me.

Anyway, back to my point. Instagram for non-bloggers is pretty straightforward. Something cool happens, you share it. You see something beautiful, you share it. This is not to say that non-bloggers don't ever have ulterior motives (we are all human), but my observation has been that non-bloggers use Instagram in a fairly cut-and-dry manner.

Instagram for bloggers is like - well, it's like blogging on crack. Bloggers use their blogs as a way to present to the world some narrative, usually about ourselves. I am this. I am that. And every post we publish adheres to and supports that narrative - posts that we publish every few days, maybe less. With Instagram, each photo and caption is an opportunity to push that narrative, to hundreds if not thousands of people. If we want to, we can push that narrative several times a day. (See: Kelle Hampton.)

So think about from our perspective (the perspective of a blogger), how much pressure we feel with each of these posts. What do I want to say about myself today? About my life? About who I am and what I believe? How does this photo reflect who I want to be perceived as? Remember, x number of people are watching, Ellie!

It's exhausting and inescapable, and show me a blogger (that is, a blogger of any degree of popularity or notoriety, who blogs and IGs publicly) who says she doesn't think about those things and I'll show you a liar. She thinks about them, and she thinks about them a LOT.

2. Quitting Instagram feels like pulling a curtain shut, and one that should have been pulled shut a long fucking time ago. I already overshare plenty on my blog. Friends and strangers alike can stop by this space anytime and get a good idea of what my life is like - who my friends are, what my relationship is like, etc. The world does not need daily updates on the intimate workings of my personal life. The people who populate that personal life do not need to be trotted out like show ponies, which, if I am honest with myself, is what I have treated them like at times. I can't count the number of times I've demanded retakes of photos because, rather than keep them for my own personal use, I wanted to share them with the world.

Enough.

My boyfriend should be able to pick up the guitar and play me a song without me sticking a camera in his face. My friends shouldn't have to wait for me to finish taking a photo of our cocktails before they take a drink. And, above all, it's high time I focused more on becoming the person I want to be and cared less about how the outside world perceives me. Because Instagram is a great place to throw up some smoke and mirrors. Psst, world, if you could kindly ignore the fact that this particular area of my life is a mess and please direct your attention to my cute boyfriend and adorable dog and killer abs?? Thx. 

3. I am not creating art on Instagram. And I want to create art. Some people absolutely are creating art on Instagram, no question. Some people are innovating and doing some really exciting things on there. Me? Not so much. That is not my wheelhouse. That is a place I hide to avoid practicing my swing.

4. I am wasting way, way, way too much time on Instagram. I mourn the version of myself that died with the advent of the internet, I really do. Super dramatic, I know, but I mean it. I used to go through stacks of books a month. Stacks. When I was in my twenties, you couldn't stump me about popular fiction. There was no contemporary novel you could name that I hadn't read. To be momentarily, grossly arrogant, I didn't get to be the halfway decent writer I am from reading tweets and blogs. I was a serious and voracious consumer of literature until I was about 25.

And it makes me sick to think of where I'd be now, as a writer, if I'd kept that focus.

I understand that it's 2014. That social media is how much of the world connects, and that even the most popular authors have to utilize it if they want to keep up with the times. But for one thing, just because something is trendy doesn't mean it's inherently valuable. And for another, I'm NOT a popular author. I don't have anything so spectacular to share - and I certainly won't ever, if I keep pouring the irreplaceable hours of my life into a phone app.

5. I want the quiet back. At least, as much of it as I can get. Just over the past day, I've had a tiny taste of the quiet. The quiet that existed before we all strapped ourselves into the webbed wide world. The quiet that allowed the whispery pages of a book to be the loudest thing calling to me from across the room. The quiet that allowed for intense, prolonged creative output, because it wasn't interrupted by the glow of a goddamn push notification.

I don't know that I'll do anything significant with this quiet - with the time and mental energy I'm taking back. But I won't know until I try.

the long run

In what will come as a shock to no one who really knows me (and my previously voiced feelings toward social media), I'm 99.9% sure that I'm going to quit Instagram. And possibly Twitter.

This past weekend, when I was at Coachella, there was a constant buzz in the back of my brain. And no, it wasn't drugs. It was my acute awareness that I hadn't posted anything to Instagram. That I was "dark." And it was fucking distracting. It stayed with me all weekend, and only got quiet for the couple hours or so after I'd posted a slew of pics on Saturday and Sunday morning, bringing my 1100 or so followers up to speed on my whereabouts and whatabouts, so they could exhale with relief and get on with their day.

You see where this is going.

It got quiet another time, too: when, out of the blue, I received a text from my girlfriend Kerry, who knew I was at Coachella and would be out of pocket, but who wanted to let me know she'd seen Chaucer out with his dog sitter, looking happy and fit. Her text was such an unexpected and welcome surprise that I broke into a huge grin. And I realized in that instant how totally fucked up my priorities were. I'd been spending all of this mental energy seeking out the sights and sounds I thought my internet friends would be impressed by that I hadn't stopped to consider what pics or video clips my actual, real life friends might get a kick out of.

I'm horrified to say this happens a lot.

I'm horrified to admit that there are days when I spend a LOT of time thinking about my internet friends and very little - if not none at all - thinking about my real life friends. Because the fact is, Instagram has grown to be a sort of substitution for doing the work of interacting with those real life friends. Social media is an easy, quick fix of interaction. Tap, tap, type, type - feel satisfied that I've had an exchange with someone. That I've connected. I feel social. I feel engaged. But am I? Because for all that tapping and typing, I haven't gotten the tiniest bit closer to the people whose company and real life support I (claim to) treasure. In fact, I feel like I've forsaken them in a way. Rather than put in the time and effort to connect with them, to ask about their day or make plans to hang out - to keep the generalized loneliness that is a fact of the human condition at bay for another five minutes - I turn to social media for a hit of connection.

The unspoken subtext here, the thing I realize it must sound like I'm implying, is that real life friendships are a more valuable time investment than internet friendships. I'm not saying that. I'm not claiming that as a truth for anyone. I'm not even sure that it's true for me, because holy shit have I been on the receiving end of some incredible support and kindness, online. I can only speak for myself. And I know I've been lax in working at my real life relationships, largely because it is so easy to get lost in (or feel satisfied by) my virtual ones. I hate that this is the case. I wish I had all the time in the world to devote to ALL my relationships, and to interacting with all the amazing people who've reached out to me on the internet, to say they appreciate or admire something I've done/said...but I don't. I'm overwhelmed by social media, and for a long time now, I've let it get in the way of my goals.

Instagram has become for me a very hollow and very superficial form of creative gratification. I get a fleeting sense of artistic satisfaction when I post, but that satisfaction is in lieu of creating something actually meaningful. Stories or personal essays, or compelling opinion pieces. Even the shittiest flash fiction or poetry I write on my blog feels better than posting another goddamn selfie. And when I consider the number of books I could have read - or the languages I could have learned - over the past two years, instead of screwing around on social media, it makes me want to cry.

I talked to Mason about this, and he nailed it: I think for you, as it is for me, a lot of that shit is a way to avoid facing your creative demons. Just a way to procrastinate. Take away all that shit and you're forced to write. Which is what you should be doing anyway. 

Speaking only for myself and my observations/experience, the most successful of my friends are the ones who give precisely zero fucks about social media. The friends I know who are actually most engaged socially, hanging out and taking trips and spending actual face time with one another - are the ones who have next to no social media presence. When I look at the artists I most admire - the writers and filmmakers and musicians who are actually producing (and selling!) compelling content, they're the ones for whom Instagram is last on a long and eye-opening list of priorities. 

I also use social media in some unhealthy ways. "Checking up" on people I don't even like. So, so fucked up. Such a colossal and embarrassing waste of my time. And if I don't have accounts on these apps, it's much, much more difficult to engage in that particular vein of WTFery. I can still log onto my computer and manually search for individuals, but I don't see myself doing that, because I am supremely lazy. 

Last point: having a blog does more than enough fuckery with my sense of reality, and my sense of self. I have to be vigilant not to live my life in pursuit of bloggable content, and not to look at the things and people I love as material. Instagram makes that about a hundred times harder. I find myself seeking out Instagrammable moments and situations, instead of just living my damn life. That's gross and weird, and I want it to stop. It's gotten so bad that sometimes an experience doesn't feel real unless I've documented it for the world to see (particularly when I spend time with friends, or when Terence does something especially sweet). I feel myself trying to prove something, to others maybe, or perhaps just to myself? I am loved. I am loved. SEE, WORLD? I AM LOVED!!

It's time, I think, to reinvest my energy into doing things that will make me love myself, truly and deeply, in the long run. 

thoughts on Kelle Hampton

I've been thinking lately about the whole Kelle Hampton thing. And if you don't know what I'm talking about, consider yourself lucky and just skip this post. But if you must know, here's a quick summary: she's a mommy blogger (three young children of her own, one of whom has Down Syndrome, plus two teenaged stepsons) who is the subject of discussion ad nauseum on GOMI. She shot to internet fame when she published a post about the surprise, postnatal Ds diagnosis of her daughter Nella, subsequently wrote a book about it, and has since built a huge (and it seems, fiercely loyal) readership. Her blog is called Enjoying The Small Things (I choose not to link to it for reasons made apparent below).

I follow the discussion about Kelle more closely than I follow her blog itself, since a) I'm much more interested in the larger implications and ramifications of mommy blogging than in any particular mommy blogger, and b) I don't particularly enjoy Kelle's writing. (And if I'm being honest, that's partly because I'm terrified I share her proclivity for saccharine, cheesy metaphors and pat endings. I think I'm scared that if I read too much of her writing, I'll start to sound more like her than I fear I already do.)

Kelle's Instagram is a hotbed of drama, thanks in part to her father, who often jumps in to defend her against increasingly vocal critics. These back-and-forths can get pretty heated - and are often deleted summarily, presumably by Kelle herself, who has a popular brand (48k IG followers) and some major corporate sponsor relationships to protect. But if you get a glimpse of these comments before they disappear, you'll see they tend to say pretty much the same thing: give your kids a break already, and quit it with the obviously staged, materialism-heavy posts. The consensus among her critics is that her children often look exhausted, annoyed, and overly costumed in Kelle's efforts to present a twee lifestyle - one that is barely challenged (if not enhanced) by her youngest daughter's disability. 

For the record, I completely agree. And it makes me sad to see so many of those kids' intimate family moments splashed across the internet - not because they're not beautiful moments that might be worth sharing - but because they are done so with an eye to earn money from them.

Enjoying The Small Things is a monetized, sponsored brand, whose primary appeal isn't Kelle, or her husband, or her marriage - it's her school-age and infant children. They're what her fans clamor for and ooh and ahh over, day after day after day. I find this deeply problematical and disturbing, to think that kids who aren't even old enough to understand the concept of sales are being used to sell things. The first time I saw the [Target Partner] disclaimer on one of Kelle's Instagram posts, I felt a little sick. What at first glance appeared to be a sweet picture of her older daughter's Thanksgiving craft was in fact an advertisement. For napkins.

Of course, that's just one person's opinion. And someone could easily take me to task for it, saying Ah, but Ellie, you share some intensely personal moments on your blog too, no? Yes. Yes, I absolutely do. And while I'd argue back that these are the stories of consenting adults on a non-monetized personal blog, I'd do so weakly, because there is a parallel, and the point stands.

In any case, I was thinking how so much of the controversy she generates centers around the endless dressing up and photographing of her children. And I was wondering if she scaled back on that, and focused more on writing about them, wouldn't that be a win for everyone involved? But then I realized how wrong I was. It would only be a win for the kids, who'd reclaim some of their privacy. The win I was thinking Kelle would get from that plan - the chance to focus more on the skill of storytelling, without the shortcut of photos - doesn't, after all, strike me as something Kelle would consider a win. She is a photographer first; a blogger, second.

And Target and the other sponsors? No win there. Stories don't sell napkins, no matter how well they're told.

Reflecting on this, it's a short step to musing on the bigger picture - the bigger questions: What do we want to reward? Are we actually okay with monetizing our memories? Are we ready to erase the line between sharing and selling? Is there even any escape if we're not? Now that Instagram includes ads in our feeds, we're all a part of the larger system, whether we like it or not. 

I don't have a solution. I struggle with my own dueling impulses, where this blog and my social media presence are concerned. I'm not always sure that what I write is purely entertaining, and never exploitive of the people I love, or the strangers I meet. Every time I hit publish, I'm making a choice both for myself and anyone else featured in my post, and I have to live with those consequences - which haven't always been good. 

But I do know that what I see Kelle Hampton choosing feels wrong to me. And I wish she'd slow down and think about what she's doing, because she's taking liberties I don't believe she has the right to take. Her children are individuals, little people in their own right - not property for her to do with as she wishes. I cringe every time I read someone say something along the lines of "They're her kids to do with as she pleases!", as if children are so much chattel. 

I have more questions than answers, I guess. I just wish this subject was getting more play in more places, that's all.

the new normal

Every time on Instagram that I do the thing where I apologize for not being around, for not being up to date on everyone else's pics and goings-on, one or another of The World's Most Kickass Blog Readers basically tells me to shut up. That it's not necessary. That it's my right to have and enjoy an offline life.

And I appreciate that so much. But I still feel compelled to talk a little bit (more) about why I've put out a whopping two (2) posts this entire month. Because it isn't just that I've been in a whirlwind of distraction and excitement, romantically. There've been other reasons, as well.

For one thing, there's the matter of my foot. Which is still healing. So very, very, very slowly. So slowly, in fact, that I worked myself up into a lather of worry and frustration, convinced there was something wrong. That it hadn't healed correctly, or that, for some crazy reason, I'd been misdiagnosed. I even very seriously entertained the thought that my X-ray had been mixed up at the lab with someone else's.

That kind of thinking isn't like me. I'm neither a hypochondriac nor a conspiracy theorist. I just thought that once I was cleared to start putting weight on my foot, I'd bounce back to normalcy quickly. This hasn't been the case, at all. I'm still limping, badly, and in pain.

And being an active and generally impatient person, this has been an extremely emotionally trying time for me. To not be able to run, or chase Chaucer. To not be able to go dancing or exploring or wandering around, just taking pictures. To not be able to play and jump and goof around with my amazing new boyfriend (yes, it is official, and the terminology has been approved). I became more and more depressed and withdrawn and scared, and by the time I made an appointment to see the ortho again - for which I had a nearly two week wait - I was beside myself. Truly a wreck. So the last thing I felt inclined towards was anything creative. Writing, blogging, photography - it all fell by the wayside as my thoughts were consumed with doomsday scenarios.

(Meanwhile, the boyfriend did everything in his power to console, reassure, support, distract, and generally love on me while I waited to get some answers. On my worst day, he showed up at my door with a venti macchiato in one hand and his six string in the other. It's weird to be going through one of the most trying times of my life at the same time I'm going through one of the most incredible.)

Anyway, all of that fear and wondering lasted until yesterday morning, when the ortho told me to take a big fat chill pill, because my foot is perfectly fine and healing normally. It's just that feet take longer than anywhere else on the body to heal - particularly my kind of fracture, particularly with how much I have to use it (I walk everywhere), and particularly because I have a thyroid disorder. I was so relieved I cried.

That being said, I still have a ways to go. I'm still in pain when I walk, which sucks, because not having a car, I walk everywhere. I still limp, which throws off my entire body and makes everything from my lower back to my shoulders sore. I have to concentrate on every step, which is so unnatural and annoying - like having to think about breathing. When Chaucer and I go long distances, I get so frustrated and upset with not being able to just relax and enjoy it, I'm nearly in tears by the end of the walk.

And I didn't want to blog about any of this, for fear of sounding like a whiner. Because, my god, there are people who don't have the use of ANY of their limbs. I can suck it up and deal with a limp for a few months, right? Of course I can. But if you want to know the truth, this has been one of the worst things I've ever gone through. Ever.

And uh, that's saying a lot.

In any case, what has now cleared the way for me mentally (and hopefully, creatively) is the realization and, unfortunately, the forced acceptance that for now at least, this is the new normal. Limited mobility, a limited physicality, and just feeling like a limited version of myself overall. Now that I know I'm probably facing a few more months before I'm back to 100%, it's time to stop sitting around in terror, start finding workarounds for those limitations, and work on being patient with my body.

And it's time to reconnect with my creative self.

There's something else, too. There's the fact that my life has been completely changed by the addition of another person, and all that he brings to it. And it isn't just that I spend a lot of my time with him, though I do. I still have plenty of time to myself, for writing and blogging and Instagramming and all of that fun stuff. (He understands how important that is to me, and he very much respects and encourages any and all of my creative endeavors.) It's also a matter of making the mental adjustment to a very different emotional life.

The new normal is being loved, every day. And that's...not something I'm used to.

I've spent an enormous amount of psychic energy the past few weeks trying to get over the hurdle of accepting the fact that, Yes, Ellie, you actually have found someone with whom to have a healthy, happy, and fulfilling relationship. You can stop thinking about it and stop holding your breath, waiting for shoes to drop. You can just enjoy it. 

I've been enormously self-conscious during this time, where my online presence is concerned. I've felt the weight of unseen eyes, friendly or hostile, waiting to see how my latest foray into romance plays out. Which sounds grossly self-absorbed; believe me, I know. But I mean, it's true. I have a pretty good idea of who reads my blog, and who checks in on me from time to time. And that's cool. I'm flattered to be of interest to anyone I've known, virtually or personally. It's just that the fourth wall can be a little crippling, when you're at you're most vulnerable.

And it doesn't get more vulnerable than saying, Holy shit, I am madly in love.

I am in love, which is always scary. But the good news is that someone is making it his business to give me every bit of that love back. Which means I am safe. Safe to try, and safe to fail. Safe to return to this space, and carry on my creative life. And though I know it will be difficult for me - not the least because there are some intimidating new eyes around here - it's important to me to work towards embracing that new normal, too.

So that's why I've been elsewhere lately. In a nutshell: fear.

But enough of that baloney, yeah?

oops


What does one do in such an instance? Unlike? Apologize? I feel so dumb. :/

Yeahhh she abuses hashtags

Me: Your moment of Instazen:




Me: Every pic is captioned thusly.

M: I'm already a fan on Facebook, lol. And Yeahhh She Benches. I scroll through mouth agape. The comments are priceless.

Me: Yeahhh She Benches lololol. All new selfies from me will be captioned "Yeahhh She Run/Walks."

M: Yeahhh She Reads. Yeahhh She Formulates Interesting, Cohesive Thoughts.

Me: AHAHAHA

psst, parents

Do you want to know a thing that is going on, on Instagram? You probably don't want to know, but I am going to tell you anyway, because you should know, unfortunately. This got some coverage on GOMI (yep, failed at quitting that, too, because I can haz iPad and phone browser), but I know not everyone reads GOMI, and I think it's worth getting the word out to those of you that don't.

This is a thing that is going on, on Instagram: some individuals are, without permission, reposting photos of other peoples' children on make-believe "adoption" accounts, where followers are invited to engage in verbal role play about those children. The idea is to leave comments describing what you're doing with that child at that moment. Like, say, feeding it. Or holding it.

Or undressing it.

Or bathing it.

Or spanking it.

Still with me, or are you off scrambling to find your phone, so you can set your Instagram profile to private?

Curious after reading this article (which got exactly one comment), I hopped onto IG to see for myself. It took all of thirty seconds to find @ig_adoptions2002, which features 78 photos of children, mostly babies and toddlers, though one girl looks to my (admittedly inexpert) eye to be closer to five. There are a few shots of multiples, too.

Many of the children are in a state of undress, if not completely naked.

I scrolled through the pictures to read the comments. Some have no comments at all. Some have comments saying things like "I want him" or "Hi, cuties".

Some have the sorts of role playing comments described in the article. often written in misspelled, simplistic language or else in mimicry of baby talk. One such exchange:

[adopter]: Cuddles him all night I wuv wu hinny buns

[adoptee]: cant sleep

[adopter]: Ok buddy gives him mommy mlk

[adoptee]: Yay. Pats ur boob & watches tv

[adopter]: Lets him tamper with me

[adoptee]: sees somone looking through bedroom windoow & screams

(this scene goes on for several lines)

[adopter]: Takes him spanks him and then puts him in a box that had poison

[adoptee]: It smwell bwad. Climbs out. 

You get the idea. I could have posted screenshots, but I feel like what should be regarded as extremely disturbing and potentially dangerous starts to devolve into comedy when you're actually looking at the feed, because it is just that bizarre. But feel free to check it out yourself. 

I was further curious about what sorts of people were just "liking" these photos. One liker, @_randoms_rp, has a gallery full of photos of adolescent boys and girls. Some of the shots are obviously professional, but many appear to be pics of everyday kids, pretty much exactly the sorts of pics I see all day, every day, on my own feed. 

The @ig_adoptions2002 account hasn't posted anything new for eight weeks. Clicking around shows that several people have reported the account to Instagram, though it's obviously still very much in existence. The profile says "ACCOUNT IS UNDER CONSTRUCTION...AS FOR NOW NO CHILDREN ARE FOR ADOPTION." It additionally says "IG adoptions are where you get to "adopt" a baby or child for roleplay. This is all just for fun. :)"

Totally. Fun. I mean, it's probably just a bunch of bored tween girls playing virtual house. There are probably no predators or child pornographers messing about with this stuff whatsoever. And anyway, the account hasn't been touched in eight weeks. I'm sure whoever made it is done with all of it. I'm sure he or she didn't go and make a new, unreported and unexposed account elsewhere. I'm sure these are the last of the photos of anyone's kids that'll turn up being used in this way. And anyway, there are so few people who actually do this, from the looks of these accounts. It probably doesn't go on anywhere else online on a scale that we can only guess at (until the FBI releases the real numbers - or what it thinks the real numbers are).

This shit? This shit is exactly why I mentally high five every parent whose IG is set to private. I cannot for the life of me see what is possibly worth the benefit of doing it any other way. What aspect of your child's privacy could ever not be worth the mild inconvenience of vetting your Instagram followers? Is your impulse to show them off really not outmatched by your desire to shield them from predatory eyes? It's awful to think that for anyone, follower count + ego > child's privacy, but sadly, I wonder if sometimes this isn't exactly the case.

I can hear the predictable objection: Ok Ellie, let's all live in a state of fear and never ever post pictures of our children anywhere online. Realistic!

Not saying that. I'm saying be judicious. I'm saying every single social media platform and photo sharing site has privacy controls. What's wrong with tightening your settings to only allow known friends and family to see images of your children? What's wrong with sharing albums privately on, say, Google+?

I have a lot of friends who blog pics of their kids. And yes, theoretically, there's not much difference in terms of accessibility of those photos. But we all know how ridiculously easy it is to grab a quick screenshot with our phones, and then fire that image off to wherever the hell we want. Why not take control of at least one area of our internet life, where taking control is as easy as tapping a button that says "Posts Are Private"?

No, pics of your kids are not voodoo dolls. If some disturbed individual is engaging, unbeknownst to you, in mental fantasy over an image of your child, your child won't feel a thing. And if you're comfortable with that possibility, hey, I guess you can carry on as usual without feeling any discomfort or unease.

Me? I hope to be giving more and more mental high fives as time goes on.