Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Facebook: Time-wasting guilty pleasure, or writer’s oasis?

Do you ever sneak onto Facebook, guilty that the tiny amount of time you linger there might have been better spent composing haikus or writing postcards?

I’m here to tell you that such guilt is unnecessary if you can view Facebook as a potential writer’s resource. Not only can you use FB without guilt, you can even feel justified in using it on a regular basis.

I’m not saying that you should go on and spend hours each day taking every FB quiz or playing every FB game that comes along. (Although, occasionally, you'll need to know such valuable information as your Gilligan's Island character.)

There are several uses I’ve found for Facebook. The first, and the most compelling for me is:

Facebook as an electronic diary

A few weeks ago, I was feeling glum that I hadn’t written a journal entry in months, not even in the pocket-size calendar I’d bought to record the occasional minutiae of daily life. (I always miss this stuff when I don’t write it down, months down the road. I find it comforting, in retrospect, to see what I was doing or thinking on a given day. Such info is also handy for writers who want to write about a real and particular day in the past.)

Then I realized I’ve been keeping an ongoing, electronic journal on FB through postings on the status line (aka the “What’s on your mind?” box). Of course, some of the time, I’ve attempted to be clever, but, more often, I’ve written down what I’m doing, much as I would in a regular journal, although, of course, more succinctly. Status lines, when taken as a cumulative whole, can reflect natural and cyclical patterns, from hot, humid days to snowed-in January afternoons.

And keeping a FB-based electronic journal doesn't require a lot of time. Most days, I go in, do my two minutes in FB to update my status and to see who/what else pops up on my Home page, and then I go off.

Here are some recent entries/comments. I’m posting them here mostly to show that none of these is especially profound. If I tried to be profound, I’d never post anything:

likes this cool, cloud-covered, humid morning.
August 14 at 9:08am

watched as a long black snake slowly slithered down the window ledge this morning.
July 30 at 4:44pm

lingering by the window, waiting for the sudden red buds on her hibiscus to bloom at any moment.
July 23 at 10:04am

is re-reading the Collected Stories of John Cheever, looking for a happy ending.
July 14 at 12:44pm

is going to D-Day beaches today
June 28

saw the sun for five minutes this morning. Oh well, at least I'm saving money on sunscreen.
May 6 at 11:24am

is watching the clouds roll by (the weather is changing here every five minutes)
April 3 at 2:04pm

spent the afternoon cleaning dead growth out of the herb garden in 70 degree weather—just 4 days after sledding in the backyard
March 7 at 7:35pm

Helpful hint:
If you decide to do this, you might want to download/keep your status lines every 2-3 months. In attempting to go back five months, I had to scroll down through screen after screen, and click on "Older Posts" at the bottom of the page. As the updates got older, FB became less cooperative, often not uploading the older posts the first one or two times I clicked on it.

1. Gather up all your status lines from the last six months. Copy into a word processing program. Put in page breaks between months. Add other things to each page, whether from a paper calendar, an email or a paper journal, trying to arrange by date. Print and put in a notebook marked "Journal."

2. Gather up your status lines from 2-3 computer screens. Copy them into a word processing program. Add only a sentence between each and try to compose the opening page of a short story, or a poem.

NEXT POST: Facebook profile pages as fodder for fiction

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Book of changes

The day after I wrote my last post in the DMV, I "threw" the I Ching while sitting in the car on the way to North Carolina, to ask why I haven't been able to write this summer. "Threw" is a relative term here. In the past, one would throw three pennies to determine whether the lines in the I Ching hexagram were yin or yang/broken or unbroken; and, in the distant past, one threw yarrow stalks. But I was actually just picking cards from the deck that came with my recently-purchased "The Lost Art of I Ching" set.

Perhaps I should offer a disclaimer here: I approach fortune-telling sources like the I Ching and tarot cards with a creative and open (but hopefully not gullible) mindset. I like how ideas and images can materialize where there was only a blank table before. I think such tools can help people—especially creative people—make decisions, not by any direct advice, but with whatever pops up in the subconscious as a result. If you laugh at the results because they seem ridiculous, that in itself is your answer. Such a reaction can perk up the mind to come up with less ridiculous possibilities.

It's been years since I threw the I Ching. I occasionally threw pennies in my dorm room, hoping for answers to my love life, or lack thereof, but was turned off to the I Ching a few years later when some people I knew in Santa Cruz consulted it day and night, for guidance on every action they were supposed to take. But I liked the look of this small boxed set when I saw it in the bookstore, and I had a hankering to consult something beyond my usual circle about my creative frustrations: at $7.95, it was cheaper than going to a therapist.

My card set advised me to state my question clearly and to select two cards: the first card would be to answer my question; the second would be how the answer would be transformed. Somehow, in my mind (I can't find it in the book now), I thought I was supposed to select a third card, for the question unasked, which I did.

Q. When am I going to have the time to write? What should I be doing right now about that?

Card One:


Bide your time. Attend to necessities.

Card Two (transformation/change):


Create alliances and systems of mutual support. Strengthen bonds, connections, and relationships.

Card Three (the unasked question):


Allow attraction to guide you. Learn from all you encounter.

These results pleased me, and gave me a sense of ease about my busy, errand- and work-filled summer. I am attending to necessities, as I should be. At the same time, I realized I need to start looking for systems of mutual support, which, for me, means attending a writer's workshop and/or meeting other writers as soon as possible.

I have no itch to consult the I Ching again, anytime soon, but I'm glad it's there, in my nightstand, if I need it.

Postscript: I thought that my advice to writers to consult the I Ching for questions about creativity was going to be new and unique; and, I had planned to write a post in the near future about using the I Ching and other forms of randomness/divination (like randomly selecting pages in books) to help writers come up with story ideas. But it turns out that at least two other writers have beaten me to it. I googled "I Ching and writers" just now and found two books on this topic:

(I don't know whether these are worthwhile books or not; I'm just noting their titles.)

There is probably, also, somewhere a published story or a poem based on I Ching hexagrams or a particular I Ching reading, which I've also thought about doing. I suppose that just because it has already been written about or may have been done already, that's no reason not to do it again, or differently. I realize also that the possibility that what you're writing has already been used/discussed/approached is something all writers must face in everything they undertake, but that they're never going to write at all if they think about it too much.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The once-a-week writer, more or less

In my last post, I described feeling crazy unless I write on a regular basis. And then I realized, after I uploaded it to the cyberworld, that it was the only thing I'd written in a week.

It's been like that all summer. Not only have I not gotten to write much, but I haven't even gotten to some of the necessary/piddly stuff on my To Do list from early July. My closet is crammed with things I haven't had time to put away and I've been grabbing whatever shirts and pants are most accessible when I get dressed.

This busyness of adulthood is not something I could have imagined in the humid, lazy summers of my youth, when I could read a book a day, and lay in the grass staring at the clouds rolling by without anyone scheduling me to be somewhere, nor with any trace of guilt about needing to do something else.

Now I look at the clouds through the car window when I go somewhere, or at the pool, while watching my daughter, scanning the sky occasionally for storm clouds.

I don't know why this summer has seemed busier than summers past. I'd hate to think that it's because I spent two weeks in France at the end of June and I'm having to pay for the time lost the rest of the summer. I had editing and volunteer work to attend to, while my daughter was in camp for only a week—which meant that during those five, lovely free hours each day, when I went to the computer it was not my own words I was working on; I had to suppress the flow of thoughts that wanted to come out of me. (Even when I watch TV late at night, it is in short spurts, my mind too tired to do anything creative).

Seeing my busy-ness, my teenage son remarked a few days ago, "It really must suck to be an adult." Realizing this, he seems to be trying to make the most of what is perhaps his last unscheduled, work-free summer. I hear him typing at the computer, late at night, long after the Internet has been turned off for the evening.

I wrote this originally on a notepad, with a gel pen, while sitting at the DMV, waiting for my son to take his test to get his learner's permit. I may be the only person here glad for the wait because it's the first time in a week that I've had spare time and no excuse not to write.

(written August 6, typed into Blogger August 11)