a letter about social media and the creative life

Our social media hiatus is nearing its two year anniversary. Within these past (almost) two years, we’ve had the opportunity to answer questions and give a perspective that others have lost. A decade ago, living and creating looked similar to what it had for thousands of years. Relationships were cultivated around a table or, in more recent decades, over land lines. Art making was done out of a desire to do something with the ideas in one’s head, many of which arrived out of sheer boredom or quiet contemplation.

Things have changed. Relational and creative life look a lot more like this these days:

art by Kristen Sims

Every week we receive a letter or two asking about our social media fast, and the benefits and struggles we’ve encountered. I got another couple of emails this week and I thought I would share parts of my response to one of them here, in hopes that it may shed some light on our growing perspective as social media platforms get further and further in the rear-view for us.

…………………………….

Dear _________,

Thanks so much for writing. Oh gosh, I totally hear you about social media and the inauthenticity being bred on these platforms. I think that was one of the big factors for us just needing to walk away and take a break, and one of the biggest factors for not returning after the break. I think we humans are hardwired to live authentic, truly connected lives, and the curation and lack of connection that social media breeds wares on us all. I can hear and understand your weariness with it all, and I totally feel for you because I remember exactly how discouraging that was. 

Unfortunately, it was a love / hate relationship, some days awful but some days really fun, which made it difficult to finally pull the plug and walk away. I agree with you that there seem to be some really wonderful creatives out there, but they did seem fewer and fewer as the platform got more widely used and became a copycat Pinterest board of sorts. 

I think there are two aspects to consider when it comes to using or leaving social media. Personal and Creative. When it comes to the personal aspects, you are the only one who can decide what it’s doing to your insides. I had attempted to stop following the people that seemed fake, formulaic, or repetitive. I tried to draw some boundaries around when I would and wouldn’t allow myself to use it. But I proved to be pretty bad at keeping my own rules, and knew that I wasn’t going to be able to use it in a way that was responsible or honoring of my time or the time of people I was with. 

Creatively is a different issue. I really think we soak up creative inputs like sponges. whether we realize it or not, our brains are logging all of this “inspiration” and using it for fuel. I really saw a culture of lemmings being developed creatively on Instagram. It’s hard work to walk away from that constant visual input, to allow yourself to get bored enough to form your own ideas and come up with your own inspirations. But that hard work is the work creatives have been doing for hundreds of years before social media came along. And those are the artists we praise and admire the most. So I see no real benefit in the culture of artists being bred right now.. people who don’t actually remember how to take a long quiet walk alone (without their phones) or spend a day reading a book and sketching ideas in the park (without their phones) or even sit on the toilet without their phones. 

I / we felt insane freedom and a surge of new creativity when we walked away, deleted the apps, and even chose times to turn the phones off and just let ourselves begin to exist and think again. Now the way we reach people is different because we’ve thought of new ways to connect and serve them as a result of all this time on our hands. Time and boredom breed creativity that others “don’t have the time” for. 

..Here’s the little secret that no one remembers when it comes to marketing and growing our business.. just because we aren’t on Facebook and Instagram doesn’t mean our couples and fellow vendors aren’t. We get annoying emails from Facebook every week trying to get us to come back, letting us know that our reach went up 300% that week because people posted about us or shared a blog we posted or an article we wrote. Everyone else is still living on those platforms and sharing on them. So we only have to work hard, do a good job creatively, and follow our guts and they will talk about it. It’s an unexpected reality that we were shocked and surprised to discover as we got further and further away from our dependence on social media. 

Here’s the sad reality – you either give your life to it or you jump ship and do something new. (the something new is actually something thousands of years old.. creating without dependence on these silly platforms) You mentioned feeling behind if you aren’t posting all the time and we get it! the sad truth is you are! There are too many competing voices out there, some of whom pay to be heard louder than all the others, not to mention fighting with algorithms you can’t control. It’s enough to make any creative heart lose it’s will. 

I’d love to talk with you more about what it looks like to at least take a breather, a little step back, and reconsider your relationship to social media. … I hope that helps and that it feels like a pat on the back from a friend rather than a firehose of too much information! 🙂 I’m here anytime you want to chat more.

warmly,

ash

Inspired: the paintings of Lee Price

Lee Price, Boston Creme, 2011 Oil on Linen

When I discovered Lee Price and her hyperrealist paintings, I was captivated, specifically by her series on Women & Food. Let me reiterate – these are paintings, not photographs. The detail makes these works all seem so real at first glance but, alas, they are oil on canvas.

As someone who is currently trying to work through my relationship with food and my body, I could see bits of myself in each one.

Lee Price, Jelly Doughnuts, 2010 Oil on Linen

It’s not just about the food pictured – mostly processed junk food and sweets. It’s about the subtleties of shame felt when they’re consumed. It’s about the repetitive nature of indulging in these things in excess, and alone. It’s about numbing with sugary cereal at 11:30pm and scarfing down donuts in my sunday dress before heading off to church. These are things I may know something about.

Lee Price, Sunday, 2007, Oil on Linen

Lee Price, Cocoa Puffs, 2009, Oil on Linen

Lee Price, Butter, 2010, Oil on Linen

I wanted to know more about her, where she came from in creating this series, many which are self-portraits. In one interview she shared what sounded so close to my own story and the stories of many women I know:

“Since I was very young, I struggled with issues related to food and body image. I can remember being in grade school, the thinnest and tallest girl in my class, yet trying to loose weight. A critic once commented in regard to the subject matter of my paintings that “the women aren’t grossly fat or pathetically thin, but their lives seem to be oppressively ruled by food.” (Greg Stacy, OC Weekly, May 1, 2008)  And that would be a very accurate description of the role food has played in my life as I bounce between abstinence and complete loss of control. The loss of control comes when I use food to pacify myself and to fill voids other than physical hunger. I use it when I can’t conceive of more appropriate avenues for filling myself. Then I experience guilt over this loss of control and fear over weight gain, so the pendulum swings back to abstinence. It’s been a very, very long road to get to a less troubled place with food and I still gravitate in the direction of eating compulsively when my life is out of balance.”

Happy Meal, 2010 & Blueberry Pancakes II, 2011

I look back on my teen years up to this point right here and now and I see tons of disfunction and abuse in my relationship with food. I see a teen who was insecure, scared, and hurting. To an immature girl, the best way to take control of these feelings seemed to be an eating disorder. That teen still lives inside of me and once in awhile she raises her immature voice to say I should either binge on junk or starve myself in order to feel in control. That part of me resonated strongly with her painting, Refuge.

Lee Price, Refuge, 2009, Oil on Linen

I wrote in my last post about my choice to return to healthy habits in what I eat. It’s not so much a choice as a matter of fact. The stuff I have been feeding myself has been making me sick. After years of chronic pain and digestive problems, the migraines finally pushed me over the edge to make the choice to feed myself differently. The struggle for me lies in the same place within me that connects to these paintings. Unhealthy eating habits have become just that – habits. And habits, in my experience, are really difficult to break. Sure, I can cut out sugar, gluten, processed foods, alcohol, and cheese. But staying away from these vices when I want to feel comforted by them is going to take a militant retraining of my mind and my stomach.

Wish me luck. I don’t want another three week long migraine, but sometimes I just really want to eat chocolate cake.

Lee Price, Lisa in Tub With Chocolate Cake, 2009, Oil on Linen

In my core, though, I don’t want to continue the vicious cycle. Lees words are a timely, important reminder for me:

“As I’ve been working on my latest pieces, two new thoughts have been popping up. First, I’ve been considering how we give objects of obsession/compulsion (in this case, food) qualities that we should be giving to a higher source (e.g., God or our inner voice). We see food as sacred. In Blueberry Pancakes the model is seated in the tub in a posture that resembles meditation. She’s holding a solitary plate of pancakes in her lap as if she is worshipping it. However, the lower third of the painting, where the model is seated, is compositionally very busy, cut-up, and frenetic in comparison to the top portion of the canvas—behind the model there is peace, but she would have to put down the pancakes and turn around to see it. My second thought, and this one was initially unintentional, is about how compulsive behavior can snuff out your life. I mean this literally, as in the case of drugs or alcohol or even food if used to an extreme degree, but I also mean that this behavior deadens you. It anesthetizes people from their actual life. In Blueberry Pancakes, for example, I started to see the tub as a coffin.”

 

a deliberate return to health

2016 was a hard year. if you don’t know us, let me spell it out for you:

It started with a loud party, our city house full of neighbors and friends, loud, raucous, and most of them still there for breakfast the following morning. 

One year later our family was huddled up for a quiet New Year’s Day at our new house, miles outside of the city, under blankets watching castaway while zion napped. 

It’s a perfect picture of what the year did – it took the party out of us. 

2016 took the fight out of us, the free-for-all lifestyle of perpetual open doors, clinking glasses, and big table dinners and sleepovers. 

The party was followed soon after with an emergency brain surgery for Zion, who was four years old at the time. 

Brain surgery was followed with my first panic attack and a chain reaction of consistent panic and anxiety coursing through my body. 

We had already listed our house for sale and sold it by the time surgery came, so we had to find a place to move. Which meant we had to buy a house for our family on the fly. The dream of having a farm house with land was quickly replaced by finding a good-enough old house on a large lot close enough to drive to the Children’s hospital in 20 minutes.

We moved for good reasons – no other option, good school district for the kids, hope that we’d give them a more carefree childhood. But this also meant we moved away from our community, away from a five minute walk to dozens of people we loved, away from our support system.

Then came Zion’s seizures. They manifested in a tricky way so it was hard to diagnose at first.  

This lead to more frequent, severe seizures and eventually one, life-threatening mega-seizure, landing Zion in the pediatric ICU for a week, and our family in a new frame of living as he was finally put on epilepsy drugs.

Long story short, sometimes after a seizure, Zion just stopped breathing. So I had to be ready at any moment to do CPR and get him to the hospital.

By this time it was June, nearly half of the year gone to a constant blend of travel work abroad, hospital stays, anxiety, and seizures at home.

Things got harder before they got better.

Zion’s neurologists worked to find the “perfect cocktail” of epilepsy meds, while he continued to have seizures every three days.

The meds were personality altering and lead to a lot of confusion and emotional distress in our little one, not to mention stress in our home as we tried to navigate unknown waters.

We did what we could to find “normal” every chance we got, but were always reminded quickly not to make plans. Seizures change everything. From date night to dinner time, nothing was certain.

It wasn’t until the fall when we finally seemed to strike gold with a good blend of medications, saw Zion’s seizures decrease, and started to live a somewhat normal life again.

……………….

I am sure I’ll be unpacking the effects of that year for a long time. There were dozens of other stressors and painful factors, relationally and otherwise, that affected my psyche in harmful ways. What I am beginning to see now is one particular overlooked factor. We got stressed, frazzled, busy and overwhelmed and, pardon my French, but

WE ATE LIKE SHIT.

We numbed with food like a drug, which is easy to do in the children’s hospital. With endless supplies of vanilla milkshakes, pudding, and macaroni and grilled cheese, it’s so easy to thoughtlessly fill one’s body with mood-altering drugs. It’s easy to get diner at a drive through on the way home from another doctor’s appointment, another stressful day. “While we’re at it, why not get drive-through fast food for lunch?”

When it comes to what we put in our bodies, the past year has not been a pretty picture. We forgot that food is fuel, that we are what we eat. We’ve been using it to numb and mask symptoms of pain and anxiety instead of using it to heal.

I believe these habits have lead me here, on the tail end of three weeks of uncontrollable migraine pain and no other option (apart from taking four risky prescription drugs at once) but to change what I eat.

I believe the biggest source of my migraine attacks has been what I’ve put into my gut. 

I believe stress has been the other major trigger. 

I’ve had plenty of time the past few weeks to read up on migraine and how gut health affects brain function / disfunction. Here’s what I’ve come up with : Gut health = brain health.

There’s only so much I can do to lower / control my stress. I plan on doing what I can, within reason.

BUT there are a TON of things I can do to control what I put in my body, and in turn, how it runs.

From what I’ve learned so far, there is a serious correlation between gut health. So I’m going to be sharing more about that here, because I think it’s fascinating stuff and I don’t want to make these discoveries alone or keep them to myself. I’m also writing about it because it’s more than a fad this time. It’s a necessary move to get my life back and my mind back.

I’m going back to the source. The source of where all health originates – what goes in my gut.

 

* photo credit Land Army girls picking peas at a farm near Wolverhampton in July 1947