Backing away from Facebook around Lent

Shrove Tuesday (AKA Mardi Gras) and Ash Wednesday quickly descended upon me and passed me by without notice. They almost did. I was out of touch with this year’s liturgical cycle, so on Monday, I googled to see when Shrove Tuesday was and the result mentioned the next day. I don’t go crazy and party that day. However, I am often more interested in what follows with Lent. I don’t simply give up pleasures in the short term like chocolate or coffee because there’s always going back to them right around Easter. I do try to think of how my Lenten practice is life changing and I hope that what I take on is not just mere abstinence even if I go back to whatever it is I decided to step away from.

This year, my desire to avoid Facebook coincided with Lent. In a previous post, I made it clear that this medium no longer is a pleasure to me. To use Marie Kondo’s language, it doesn’t spark joy for me. Whether I like it or not, it is something that is entrenched in my life and that of everyone else I know.

Facebook with its ubiquity has the advantage of connecting people and facilitating communication. Posting is easy and accessible by everyone on one’s network. It is a democratizing platform where everyone has a voice.

It’s also a medium where posts are ephemeral yet permanent. A thought or any other kind of share lasts a day and the world moves on to other posts. Because of this, it’s easy to share that brief thought on the fly or say what fun thing you’re doing. The way things move doesn’t lend itself well to more longer, more reflective posts that take more thought, though many people I know (myself included) have done this. Still, the general preference seems to be for much shorter thoughts and something quick to look at, like pictures.

What I described above isn’t bad in itself. We live in a world where many of us have so many demands on our time, including keeping up with our social networks. It is nice to have those fleeting moments to make us feel like we’re staying in touch with everyone.

A problem for me is that Facebook lends itself very well to reactive posting. This definitely was highlighted during the time fake news, satire sites, and partisan blogs enjoyed heavy circulation. This was very recent, in the years leading up to the last presidential election. Even if many of sites are no longer around, the thought process behind sharing them remains. With a president who’s not very well-liked (at least on my own group of “friends” on Facebook), the outrage sharing impulse is on display every day and it often accompanies sharing of legitimate news articles that may come with some text of the sharer’s own about what makes them angry. Additionally, straw men/ad hominem posts that went for unflattering images (most likely Photoshopped) and going after perceived character defects like not liking to read reflect more about the poster’s biases, especially confirmation bias. Pointing these things out does not make the president and those working for him any less problematic. However, much of the posting pertaining to him amounts to outrage porn.

Often, posting about one’s outrage does little to change the problem, especially on Facebook where it often is preaching to one’s choir. In other words, this discussion mostly reaches like-minded people. In my personal experience, seeing these posts go on nonstop and have contributed to my feelings of hopelessness regarding the situation. Seeing articles on the news can have this effect as well, but when there is constant sharing of these news items coupled with the outrage, the feeling of hopelessness increases greatly. In some eras, it helped to resist the news by tuning it out. Now, resisting Facebook with its serving of the news seems more necessary for sanity.

One thing to keep in mind about outrage is that it is not critical thinking, no matter how it may guide someone in their criticism of something. It’s an emotional reaction, often in terms of anger about something that unjust or not right. Granted, outrage can lead to action, such as fighting for civil rights, justice, change, or all of the above. The pitfall of outrage is that it often blinds one to the reliability of information that upset them. Along with that is a feeling of rightness or righteous indignation that makes it difficult to evaluate the sources shared or their own thoughts they are putting out into the Facebook feed.

Now everyone is woke, everyone is a political observer. Along with the outrage, it gets very exhausting to see these posts.

I have recently tried not to engage with posts about the president or even political topics. Somehow, Facebook’s algorithm doesn’t catch this or pushes these posts into my feed because of it. And because I can’t block out keywords and unfollowing someone feels rude, I felt like I am left with little opinion. It’s like Facebook wants me to engage in these posts I am trying to avoid and boost up this buffoon in charge. I don’t want to do either and I need a break. I have reached my limit with hyper-awareness.

Apart from that, Facebook takes a lot of time, which I don’t think anyone ever intends. I don’t ever block out time for that or any other social media. A few seconds here, a few minutes there, adding up to even hours. It doesn’t feel like much when it happens, but the time and mental space to do the other things seem to give. Funny enough, the time and energy to follow short posts (and occasional long ones) and engage by commenting amounts to reading, no matter how reading fetishists try to say it’s not “reading.” To post is writing as well, though it doesn’t fit wit the formal media defined as writing. Facebook does pose challenges to writers and those wishing to take up writing as a practice, some more than others.

For me, I have long felt like Facebook took away from my writing. Unlike the politics issues that define much of the discussion on the medium, this is more of a time and attention issue. Even without the existence of social media, time and attention are challenges for me. There are always other things competing for my attention, much of it legitimate. When I was teaching college classes, reading (and even re-reading) texts and books I assigned along with taking time to read and grade their work took priority. It was often difficult to be in the space to read and write apart from that. Also, to teach the classes and handle the discussions with classes have at times drained me where I did not feel I had the emotional, creative, and intellectual energy to pursue my own reading (whether for pleasure or to read like a writer for style and genre). This was an issue no matter what my level of competence with teaching was. Funny enough, spending so much time on Facebook been draining on a similar level. Except this was what I mentioned that following and engaging posts amounts to the same mental processes as active reading. With wasting time on Facebook, I had little left over time-wise or energy to read and write.

I still have things that demand my attention, like my library and photography courses this semester. With the first one, I am looking to gain professional skills and knowledge. With the second one, I am learning a medium I have long wanted to learn. I also hope that it fuels my creativity where it spills over into other areas.

During this time that I am backing away from Facebook, I am taking the opportunity to look at my priorities and attention. If I claim something is important to me, how do I go about setting the time and space to do it? By getting a stressor and a time waster out of the way, I free things up a bit. However, as I have acknowledged, other things do demand my attention. Also, self care is important. Getting a source of stress out of the way is only one way to care for myself. Giving myself a time to recharge is another. It is difficult to do this when there is the constant checking of the Facebook feed along with the likes and updates to one’s posts. There are times when that is taking time for myself to rest, while there are times when that means going out and seeing friends in real time. Then there are times when recharging is going out and doing something fun and not worrying that it will suck up my time. Or couple or all of the above. If creativity is important to me, then it is important to make sure that I have something to give. In taking care of myself and cultivating habits where I put what I’d like to do in practice, I am engaging in something life-changing regardless. While this doesn’t need Lent for me to do this, the timing is right.

Back to School and Beginner’s Mind

It does feel like I’m having to start all over in this midpoint of my life. I remember 15 years ago, I was so over school that I never wanted to take classes again. I finished my MFA and it was a difficult, trying time in my life. I find myself at another difficult trying time in my life where the things I got caught up in ended. I was adjunct teaching English for a long time and that ended. My recent journey to transition into a career in teaching high school English was ended by me. There were a lot of emotions I had on the issues of teaching a year ago when I decided I could no longer do it. I find myself at this point in my life where my degrees don’t matter and my career as a college instructor don’t matter. On one hand, I’ve been mourning it (along with feeling a lot of anger). On the other hand, it is liberating because I am in a position to explore and find something else.

For the past couple of years, I sought to pour new wine into old wineskins. I took education classes at CSU San Marcos to prepare for a teaching credential program. They were the upper division (undergraduate) prerequisite courses for the post-baccalaureate program: Introduction to Education, Education and Technology, and Diversity and Education. However, this was just the stepping stone, not a guarantee for admission into the credential program. I applied twice. The first time I was not accepted but put on a waiting list. The second time, I was conditionally accepted. It seemed ideal as my goal was to parlay my experience teaching college to high school and I sold that at my admission interview the second time around. However, this was around last year after I got laid off from classes I was scheduled to teach and then formally resigned from adjunct teaching. The idea of teaching, especially in the public sphere, had soured. I had been doing something for a decade and a half and hoped to use that to make a change. From my experience, I was very qualified to take this step. However, that my feelings at the time led me to decline admission into the credential program indicated my relationship with teaching was an uneasy one.

Ever since I started teaching in grad school, I found it emotionally exhausting and felt it time and energy away from what I was in the MFA program to do – to write my fiction. Early on, class management issues plagued my teaching and one or two students especially contributed to my difficulties. I got into teaching for practical reasons – no one was going to pay me to go my indulgent hybrid text projects and I needed to make a living. I got into the adjunct tract after graduation, worked in several schools and survived in only one college. While I eventually found myself and my stride in teaching, it never was truly my passion.

Last year, in late January, I got a call (in the middle of my education course) from the assistant department chair of the English Department at the community college that my class was canceled. I had faced this situation the fall semester before, but I was saved by a last minute class that was created when I lost another one to a more senior instructor who lost his. No last minute course rescued me this time. It was like 10 years before when I was laid off for a semester. I came back the following spring semester when that happened. This time around, I couldn’t rely on that classes may be around in the fall or after. So I quit.

I filled out the paperwork to resign and then sent my department chairs a polite resignation letter. I got nice replies from the assistant chair and the acting dean. Nothing from the chair, who happened to be a friend of mine once upon a time in the MFA program. Little did I know how this leaving adjunct teaching would affect me during the year. I didn’t anticipate that I would abandon the path to becoming a high school English teacher.

I knew things had to change even if I wasn’t going to continue on the educational career path. Funny enough, I seemed to have found an answer at the end of the summer gig of teaching at the foreign language school.

This place felt like a place I came home to whenever I was available to teach there. I enjoyed the conversations I had with colleagues all the time, including one who eventually became the school’s academic director. She was aware of the changes in my life and in a friendly after school conversation, she asked me what would I be doing if it weren’t teaching. I said libraries. We then looked up some qualifications and the City of San Diego’s posting for a library clerk opening listed having taken three library courses as one. I found that Palomar College, not too far from CSU San Marcos offered those courses. It was the only school in San Diego County that did.

Last fall, I took several library courses and it was stimulating. However, I found I was not prepared for the demands of those courses and took on too much. Needless to say, it was very very difficult and I pretty much crashed and burned, especially on a personal level. I may say more about how and what in the future. I barely survived it.

This semester, I decided to take one library course and one course that was of a non-academic interest to me: photography. I have been an amateur photographer for a long time and I used whatever I had available, especially point and click cameras and iPhones. Last year, I started using a DSLR camera. This semester, I stopped using automatic modes as I’m starting to learn about how the camera works. I will talk more about that later as I feel it’s opening my mind more to creativity in a way that literature and writing haven’t.

I’ve been a student again for a while. With the education classes at CSU San Marcos, I brought my knowledge and my experience to what I was doing. Granted, I still learned from the courses and I tried as much as I could do learn deeply. However, it was all familiar to me. Here, I found something wonderful in that I have to throw aside all my assumptions and learn. This mindset is very important when it comes to learning a tool that’s been highly democratized. Anyone can push the shutter button of a camera. Anyone can take a decent, even great photo with their smartphone. But it’s the skill and learning how to see that most people don’t have. While I think I have a good eye, it’s still a learning how to see process for me. And learning the skill will aid in the seeing. But I am here with my beginner’s mind.

Unexpected Rant about Facebook

Originally posted on my Squarespace page.

It feels like I haven’t posted here in years, though it might as well be.

The last post was on June 27, 2019, and it was about getting back into writing practice. This is always been on the back of my mind and the challenge for me is to find those few minutes each day where I can be still enough to do this. However, I have had the intention to start posting here again, especially with this new year.

I remember once upon a time thinking that Facebook killed my blog. That was in more innocent times, before this medium became the toxic problematic thing it is. The selling of information, the time Facebook used its users as human subjects, and Facebook’s recent role in the political polarization in this country and worldwide are all yucky problems. Though like with discussing Morrisey, one could argue that Facebook has always been this way and is more glaringly so.

I got caught up in using Facebook because it was easy. Everyone I know plus some uses this social medium despite whatever they may feel about it. Its ubiquity doesn’t translate to that it’s popular or well-liked, however Facebook may try to spin it. We all use it to communicate because it’s there and there’s not a better alternative at the moment, not even Twitter (which has its own share of similar problems).

That Facebook doesn’t allow users to block out topics is something I find upsetting. I wish to block out seeing on my Facebook feed news and posts of outrage about that toxic president who faked it until he made and continues to do so along with his antics providing a smokescreen for the more serious problems his administration and party pose. And Facebook benefits from the traffic this clown’s name generates, refusing to take responsibility for that, the political polarization, and the spread of misinformation its platform allows. I do suspect much of the mentions of this creature of the media, who’s had five decades of help from the press, television, and now the Internet, are a form of outrage porn. Somehow, people who hate this guy seem get off on showing how woke or outraged they are. That does become very exhausting after a while.

That’s as much space I really want to devote to this topic. I would rather not feed into it, though Facebook and Twitter seem to like that we do as the traffic goes right through the roof. We do live an age where social media thrives on how it manipulates our priorities for which topics have our attention. They are not neutral parties. They do have something (or a lot) to gain from the toxic effects of their algorithms and I don’t want to feed into it.

I do have my own platform here. It may not have the same reach as Facebook, but it’s mine. And as much malaise as I’ve had towards Facebook and even Twitter, this is where I can do something about it. This is where my self expression, discussing things like, and even sharing my story aren’t going to die from the lack of likes or whatever else Facebook does in manipulating what posts get attention and which ones go by the wayside. If I choose to share this link on Facebook, it’s very likely that it will disappear very quickly, only to show up on a Facebook “memory” on the anniversary of the share and the painful reality that it died from the lack of engagement comes up again every time. While I don’t have the guarantee of Facebook’s reach (sarcastic laugh), my space is my own for whatever I want to post.

Here, I have possession of my words and images. Even though Facebook’s policies state that users own their copyright to their content, users and their data become the commodity that Facebook peddles and makes money from. Granted, Squarespace makes money from me paying for web space, but the website space services is the product, not me as the consumer. That is important to note that the decade and half that I have been on Facebook, I and my data are the product it makes money off of and multiply that times a few billion. It’s free, but the problems with Facebook exposed over the years shows that it is not free. It’s simply that it has no direct cost to you, but you and everyone else become the commodity Mr Zuckerberg and stockholders profit from. And no amount of posting some silly copyright assertion as a status update will stop that.

While this has become an anti-Facebook entry (not my original intention), my dissatisfaction with the platform and its problems has driven me to engage less on that medium and has made me want to return to my blog. There’s no returning to the good old days of the blogosphere. I miss that, but that’s not what’s going on here. This is more taking control and reclaiming my virtual space.

Now the question is what to do with my Facebook account. I’ve been posting less for several reasons, as I’ve been trying to stay out of the non-stop conversation about the Fake It Until You Make It and Keep Faking It president, feeling malaise that some of my posts just die no matter what it is, and my recent posts now are significantly personal updates or an extremely superficial posts. I feel like deleting my account, yet I worry about losing touch with people or alienating them. That I’ve been contemplating for quite a while means that it is a matter of time before I quit.

I didn’t expect to unload about Facebook in a new blog post, especially when it is one that marks my intention to post here more often. However, I note that my stopping the previous blog and even my sporadic attempts at blogging on some other blogs have been linked with that I spent way too much time on Facebook. Engagement had dropped on the blogs (speaking mainly for myself here) over a decade ago and it’s possible that a post can be read many times without comment. Facebook on the other hand offered that immediate engagement with likes and comments. In recent years, a shared blog post on Facebook could simply disappear and die, which made me less inclined to do so. Here, there’s no guarantee of engagement, even if a post is read a lot. However, the sense of ownership in this platform compared to Facebook is motivating me at this point.

Through the Marine Layer

First Bike Ride of the Year

Yesterday morning, I embarked on my first bike commute of the year. It was through what we in San Diego call the marine layer, that fog that rolls in over the coast and the city from the Pacific Ocean. Some parts of the ride was thick with ground level clouds while a clear path was seen further out. It’s just one part of my cycling journey.

Continue reading “Through the Marine Layer”

My Web Presence History

My first website was made sometime in 1997 on Geocities after a friend of mine created his own site on that platform. I started from a template that created a simple, but ugly website. It went this way for a few months until I bought a copy of Dreamweaver and created more attractive HTML files I could upload and then I updated it with an attractive portfolio with some short stories and poems I have written to date. The title was unimaginative: The Fiction and Poetry of Shinichi Evans.

I went into the Wayback Machine and, unfortunately, I could not find a copy. A few years later, I branded my site shindotv and I got a domain name to boot. Shindo came from a moniker a high school friend gave to me when he created a postpunk goth zine.

I created an artful entry page with a cross and cigarette photo made by my brother, which the Wayback Machine has an intact copy, but for the menu page that follows, the blue square graphic grid with the mouse on over squares is incomplete. It still had the portfolio of the previous page with some additions. Continue reading “My Web Presence History”

Reading: Griffin & Sabine Trilogy

  • Books: Griffin & Sabine, Sabine’s Notebook, The Golden Mean
  • Author: Nick Bantock
  • Publisher: Chronicle Books
  • Genres: Fiction, epistolary fiction, visual fiction, art book, toybook

What drew me into the Griffin & Sabine trilogy was the conceit of them being a series of artfully done postcards between two people corresponding across the world. Griffin makes prints of his artworks on postcards and Sabine sends her own artwork on handmade postcards along with her country’s stamps of her own design and both occasionally send letters in altered envelopes, which the reader can pull out and read. The handwriting and artworks of these two are distinctive enough to establish who did what, and these visual elements add to the believability of a very surreal story. Continue reading “Reading: Griffin & Sabine Trilogy”

Reading: The Phantom Tollbooth

  • Authors: Norton Juster, Jules Feiffer (illustrator)
  • Book: Phantom Tollbooth
  • Publisher: Random House
  • Genres: children’s fiction, fantasy, allegory, visual fiction

It’s one thing to be exposed to this story as a child. It was in the form of a play done at my American elementary school in Japan when I was in fourth grade. It was bizarre and entertaining and a lot of the concepts flew over my head. It would be several decades later that I’d pick this up as an adult and the conceptual stuff was fun. I got these personifications and representations the protagonist Milo and his friends for the journey encounter because they were things I picked I gained in my knowledge over the years. Continue reading “Reading: The Phantom Tollbooth”

Busted E String

I’ve had a goal to learn how to play the guitar for a while. Last summer, I bought a guitar, a wonderful left-handed Fender model. I got some self-teaching books, but I never made it past first string. I have also felt it would be a good idea to get lessons, but it’s always a matter of schedule and expense, etc.

Since this year is still young, I figured I’d pick up the guitar again and learn it. I made music flashcards with notes and string positions, so I can arrange them any way I want: open strings, by string, sharps, flats, etc and even throw a chord or two in at a time. I came up with a way that works for me in the meantime and I was excited to try it out. Continue reading “Busted E String”

Facebook and Orange Haze

Over the years, I have come to have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. I love the connectedness I have with the various groups of people in my life. I hate that I can spend too much time chasing updates. I like when people share funny or interesting updates. I hate that the updates have now become non-stop articles about the orange haze. No, I’m not going to name that, but I’m sure you have a good idea already. Continue reading “Facebook and Orange Haze”