No More Rude Nerds: It’s Time for Some Tech Therapy

I need to vent. Trigger Warning: This blog may not be as well-written as others on this site. I’m pretty pissed. Here goes: Three and a half years ago, I quit my job. I quit for many reasons: I’d been … Continue reading

Looking the Gift Calf in the Mouth

A few days ago, I wrote about running with my Fitbit and Nike app—how I was evaluating what benefit I derived from these tools and if they interfered with my running experience or enhanced it. I got some interesting feedback from a couple of women, both of whom basically said that noticing something doesn’t mean that something is bad and needs to be eradicated. One woman said she used to time her runs and chart them out on graphs—back in the day, you know, before we had Fitbits and Nike apps.

I read an article recently that takes to task the folks who are advocating unplugging and promoting “days without technology.” The upshot of the article was, in a nutshell, “why?” Why would we want to ditch something that makes our lives better? I just spent a good hour looking for that article so I could put a link in, but I cannot find it. I did however discover during my Google search that 1 in 3 Christian adults are giving up technology for Lent. Which makes me wonder, what makes us feel virtuous when we give up something?

Yes, yes, I know that we all need restraint and moderation and that there are things that are undeniably bad for us, but what about seemingly positive things that make us go “no, no, no—I can’t possibly have that, because it makes life too easy, makes me feel too good. If I feel too good or get too much benefit or pleasure from something, I must sacrifice it. Cut it out.”

One friend who has given up martinis for Lent says she gave them up because nothing tastes quite so lovely on Easter morning as that first martini after a 40 day martini drought. So, delayed gratification and the resulting enhanced pleasure is perhaps one reason to give something up, at least temporarily.

I suspect that is not one of the primary reasons to give something up for Lent but it’s not a tradition my brand of christians followed so I’m not much of an authority. My people eschewed most everything that smacked of fun all the time, so giving up something for Lent seemed redundant—if we could give it up for Lent, why not just cut it out of our life for good?

I’ve been thinking lately about a phenomenon that occurred quite regularly when I was a member in good standing of Campus Christian Fellowship back in my not-so-halcyon college days. Whenever a Fellowship member felt like something they were doing was coming between them and their relationship with God, they gave it up.

One of my bible study leaders my freshman year—let’s call her Tina—was a gifted French horn player. A music major on a scholarship, she was a senior when she decided that playing the French horn had become more important to her than her commitment to Christ, so she gave it up and changed her major. Ostensibly, Tina’s decision was based on the second commandment: Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Her French horn had become, in her words, an idol, a graven image, the Western Washington University undergraduate equivalent of the golden calf. Like the golden calf, the French horn had to be (metaphorically) melted down, or at least put away.

I remember being horrified by her decision as she shared her logic with us at a bible study meeting—I asked Tina if perhaps she was missing the point . . . that god had given her this amazing talent and wasn’t she just squandering his gift to her by quitting?

She replied by reminding me that god had given Abraham his son Isaac, too, and then asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Evidently god was insecure enough that he required a human sacrifice (well, yeah, eventually he sacrificed his own son, so Isaac was merely a precursor). Tina wanted to be as devoted as Abraham. Privately I suspected Abraham was a crazy old man who heard voices that were not god’s, but I was only the bible study attendee, not the leader, so what did I know? Turned out god was merely testing old Abraham and let him keep Isaac after all, but still. What sort of god requires that kind of sacrifice?

I kept seeing this notion crop up while I was in CCF—students ended relationships with one another because they became “too special.” Students gave up their apartments, their roommates, even their cars if they felt like they were becoming too attached. It all seemed a little crazy to me—why give up a good thing, I wondered. I failed to see the harm in appreciating a great apartment or a favorite car, or, especially, a deep friendship.

I imagined the great white sky-god pulling his long white hair out over all of this foolishness—all of this sacrifice. After all, hadn’t these students prayed to succeed? (Trust me, they had—everything became a prayer in CCF). Prayed to find the right apartments, prayed to find friends? And hadn’t god granted these things? Only to watch these ingrates squander his blessings?

I’m decades removed now from CCF and no longer even try to understand the logic that sect adhered to, and I do try not to have judgments about whatever it is that people want to give up for Lent because I think it is a time that can be like the new year when people can adopt new habits and try new ways of being. Lenten sacrifices may serve as a catalyst for getting healthy or for taking on positive new challenges. But even outside of religion, in the realm of regular folk, I believe we have a tendency to adhere to some spilled over puritanical beliefs that can strip us of small joys (like tracking our fitness) and larger gifts (like music and friendship and art).

We might all benefit from looking a little deeper at what we are giving up and why.

TechTherapy for Writers and Other Anxious Folk

I’ve come up with a name and a tag line for my new business supporting writers and technology:  Tech Therapy for Writers and Other Anxious Folk. I’m building a website, too, which is more challenging than I thought it would be. The good news is that by the time the website is up and running, I’ll be excellent at building websites.

That’s the beauty about learning something and practicing it—the more we do it, the better we get, and the better we get, the more whatever it is becomes second nature. And I don’t mean that only the end result becomes easier to achieve. I have discovered that the process becomes more meaningful and profound as well—so much so that the process or practice becomes the focal point of the activity, sometimes eclipsing the product.

I’ve found this to be true with writing—by making a commitment to a haiku a day, I’ve gotten really good at writing them and not just at creating a 5-7-5 syllable poem, but at the craft: choosing the words, noticing the cadence, enjoying the sort of transcendent experience that the process evokes—that little daydream along the way, and more importantly, the connection with another person.

The same thing has happened with the daily blogs. At first, I thought coming up with something to write about everyday would be the biggest challenge, but really, the hardest part is trusting myself once I sit down to write—trusting that what I have to say will somehow connect with at least one other person. Learning to still the voices that tell me no one could possibly care what I think and trusting that place in my gut that reminds me we are all connected and that if I care about something, there are others who do as well.

So more than having a series of blogs at the end of this month, I’ll have an experience of having connected and the practice of connection—of the exchange with readers, the building of a community. And having that community makes the writing easier the next time. Synergy.

So, too, hopefully, it will be with websites and building a business that supports synergy and connection. I have to think that by focusing not just on the end result but on the process, the learning, and the craft we will all come away energized and engaged. And that’s what TechTherapy should be about.

p.s. if you’re interested in techtherapy, drop me a line at pamela.s.helberg@gmail.com

My Drug and My Vice

Feedback hits my veins
Smack for my ego, mainlined
I close my eyes, sigh

I wrote this haiku over the weekend, fueled as I was then by a steady stream of positive feedback for my writing and after a really great response to the Whatcom Writes reading on Sunday. But like any good addict knows, that euphoric feeling fades fast without a continual infusion.

I managed to ride the wave for most of the week, getting by on a steady stream of Facebook likes and occasional comments, but on Friday I hit bottom.  Two months ago I sent out some queries to a handful of agents and within days one agent requested I send sample chapters of my memoir. This is it, I thought. I’m golden. I worked feverishly for a week to put some high polish on a few of the better chapters and sent them off into the ether. I tried hard to stay in the moment but really, who among us writers doesn’t live at least part of the time on that fantasy book tour? On the bestseller list in our own heads? I’m a legend, if only in my own little monkey mind.

Things came crashing back to earth for me on Friday when the agent got back to me with a kind and generous email indicating that perhaps my pages aren’t quite ready for primetime. Honestly, I can’t say that I wasn’t expecting this—I know the odds. We all do, when we sit down and dare to think we have a hope of seeing our words in print. The statistics are depressing, but still, we dream.

This crash, this bursting of my ego and the view from down here at the bottom set me to thinking about how fortunate we are now, though, as writers. We have an audience if we want one. We don’t have to toil in obscurity—relative obscurity, maybe, but not completely. We have communities that welcome our imperfect work, places where we can get our hits and fixes, venues even if they are of our own making.

I started wondering, though. What was it like as a writer to wait months and months for feedback on a piece of writing? Or to not get any at all? Imagine—writing something, spending a few hours, or weeks, months, years, on a piece and then just . . . doing what with it, exactly? Sending it to an agent or publisher and then waiting for a single letter to come by post. No instant gratification. No thumbs up or down within minutes. I suppose after a week or so trips to the mailbox might become something like obsessively checking Facebook within a few minutes of posting a particularly witty comment or status update. The worn path to the mailbox might have been a little like the iPhone-shaped silhouette on my back pocket—there because I want easy access to my inbox, the ability to quickly check my blog stats. My self-esteem rises and falls with the number of hits I get.

All of which leads me to ponder just how healthy it is, this continual trickle of sporadic feedback and my incessant need to check in on it. On the one hand, when the stream dries up a bit, we can just post something new. On the other hand, why? What’s my motivation? To continue the high or to hone my craft? I’ve been reading about B.F. Skinner and the behaviorists, operant conditioning—the key to operant conditioning is the immediate reinforcement of a response. Suffice it to say, I’ve been thoroughly conditioned by variable reinforcement. I feel a bit like a used lab rat, and the unpredictable rewards are messing with my monkey mind.  One day there might be these beautiful little gifts waiting when I press that lever, other days there’s nothing. Does the nothing keep me from pressing the lever? No it does not. The nothing makes me press the lever even more—there must be some mistake! Where’s my feedback? My next hit? I need my fix!

So. I enroll in a mindfulness class. I employ hypnotherapy and guided imagery. I run. I run and run and run. They say the endorphins produce a natural high. It doesn’t really compare, but there are 30, 40, 50 minutes a day where I’m away from the lever at least. And I’m getting healthier as a side benefit. I’m not sure I want to give up the drug, the high, the next hit long term, but I’m trying to get better at living in the moment and focusing on writing just because.

Oh hell. No I’m not. If I were, I’d not be posting this damn blog.  Hit me baby. Just one more time.