Tag Archives: social media

Making Space for Real Connections

As many of you know, the last year has been a challenge for me. I’ve been driven (kicking and screaming) into activism. This intense immersion in news and politics is new for me. New and overwhelming. As a writer my most important skill is empathy, but as a newbie activist, my empathy can be crippling.

Several of you have reached out to ask if I’m okay.
Yes and no.
I’m not deeply depressed, but I am deeply wounded by this broken world.

The hardest days are the ones when I feel powerless against my congressman, against corporate money in politics, against the racist history of America, against violence of all kinds, and against the men calling the shots at the highest levels of government—men who don’t care at all about me or mine.

This powerless has bled into my writing life. There are days when I question everything I’m doing. I ask myself hard questions: Does this book matter? Do I have anything relevant to say? How can I spend my days creating worlds when the real world is burning around us?

I have struggled more than ever with my relationship to social media. There are huge benefits online. Thanks to Twitter I can listen to activists around the world. I can learn from people of color. I can broaden my experience of the world far beyond my small, predominantly white, rural town. I don’t want to disengage from that learning, but there are also some huge downsides. I am often inundated by heartbreak and suffering and cruelty to such an extent that I begin to believe our American culture is damaged beyond repair.

At those moments, I would be wise to close Facebook and to shut down Twitter.
And yet…
I don’t.
Why is that?

Not because of masochism, I assure you. It’s because of hope. It is because you are out there. You and good people like you. I keep scrolling because I am hoping to see you—a bright pinprick of light in a dark tide. I keep looking for the connections we make, the lifelines that keep us above the water, the way we reach out our hands to one another.

So this is the purpose of my missives from here on out—connection.
I want to entwine our fingers.
I want to reach together to the brightness.
I want to work and learn and listen and stretch.

And I want to carve out a space for human connection that is outside of the social media networks, which increasingly control our lives. So I will write you letters and hold this  space, outside of the flood of bad news and calls to action, where we can talk if you want to. Maybe you could tell me how social media is impacting your life for good or ill these days.

I’ll leave you with another thought from Cedric Wright (1889-195). He was a violinist and wilderness photographer dedicated the preservation of the High Sierra. He mentored Ansel Adams, if that tells you anything. He was also a poet.

Our lives like dreams endure
and reach out over the universe.
Nothing real is to itself alone.
There are side streams to rivers; there are overtones to thought.
Great love reaches out
and is involved in the world’s purposes.

– Cedric Wright



Resolve to Make Your Words Matter

This year, I resolve to make my words matter.

“What?” you say, cocking an eyebrow.  “You’re a writer.  Words are your thing.”

Yes.  I am a writer.  I write pretty much every weekday, rolling around in words like a puppy in a laundry pile.  I struggle to find the right words to build worlds my readers can believe in.   In each book, whether fiction or nonfiction, I strive to tell “true” stories.

In my “happy place”

It’s a perfect job for an introvert like me, defined, as Susan Cain does in QUIET: THE POWER OF INTROVERTS IN A WORLD THAT CAN’T STOP TALKING, as a person who prefers low stimulation environments.  Give me a park over a mall, a dinner with friends over a kegger. My happy place is unplugged, in the wilderness, with people I love.

So why is it that time and time again during my writing day, I turn to Twitter and Facebook for that uniquely extroverted cacophony that is social media?

“Is this a hate on Twitter blog post?” you ask.

No.  Actually, I love Twitter.  I use it for work.  As the published member liaison for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in Oregon, I use Twitter (at both @amberjkeyser and @SCBWIOregon) to promote our members  books and events .  I also try to spread the word about interesting opportunities and information for writers.

But I also turn to Twitter and Facebook for connection.  Sometimes real conversations ensue (like a recent one with Olivia Croom on what constitutes a “challenging” read for adults), and I’ve built genuine friendships that started on Twitter and extended into real life.  What would I do without @kiersi, @quickmissive, @heidi_schulz, and @teribrownwrites?

Sometimes though, I log into social media feeling a little desperate, wanting someone, anyone to reach out to me.  That rushing stream of over-stimulating snippets washes over me, and I’m left feeling like I did at 16 flipping through a copy of Vogue Magazine, lumpy,  unfashionable, and definitely left out of the conversation.

In short, overwhelmed.

“Oh, you introvert you!”

Exactly!  But the article (which of course I found on my Twitter feed) that really spurred this blog post is by Luke O’Neil and came out on Esquire.com.  Click through and read THE YEAR WE BROKE THE INTERNET: AN EXPLANATION, AN APOLOGY, A PLEA.  O’Neil’s thesis is that what he calls “Big Viral” is killing journalism.

As our information gathering moves online, we have to swim in this great, gushing mess.  The “news” portals that dominate are the ones that generate the most click-throughs.  These new media outlets need their headlines to go viral.  As O’Neil, a journalist guilty himself of feeding this beast, points out:

“You don’t need to write anymore–just write a good headline and point. If what you’re pointing at turns out to be a steaming turd, well, then repackage the steam and sell it back to us.”  

He illustrates this point with the “news” stories that went viral and turned out to be bogus (e.g. snow on the Sphinx, Samsung paying Apple $1 billion in nickels, etc).

“Uh, Amber?” you say.  “Where are you going with this?”

I read this this article and thought Oh, shit, I’m part of the problem.  I’ve clicked on those links to celebrity side boobs.  I’ve wandered in the morass of BuzzFeed and UpWorthy.  I’ve “shared” and “liked” in a millisecond.

I don’t want to be part of the problem.  I want my words to matter, and I want them to further connections with real humans.

Last night, my family was eating out at one of our favorite restaurants (The Rendezvous Grill in Welches, btw), and I was telling them about an interview I’d read by Megan Garber with Sherry Turkle, an MIT psychologist, who has written ALONE TOGETHER: WHY WE EXPECT MORE FROM TECHNOLOGY AND LESS FROM EACH OTHER and is working on a follow-up book called RECLAIMING CONVERSATION.  My son pointed out a couple across the room sitting together and staring into their iPhones.  Alone together.

In the article, Garber writes:

“The conclusion [Turkle has] arrived at while researching her new book is not, technically, that we’re not talking to each other. We’re talking all the time, in person as well as in texts, in emails, over the phone, on Facebook and Twitter. The world is more talkative now, in many ways, than it’s ever been. The problem, Turkle argues, is that all of this talk can come at the expense of conversation. We’re talking at each other rather than with each other.”

“So what are you going to do about?”

I’m not planning on turning into a rogue, anti-technology hermit, but I am resolving not to be part of the problem.  No more side boob links.  No more sharing things from viral sites. Instead, I’ll take time to think before I “share.”  I will continue to post and tweet good reporting and spread the word about opportunities that will help my fellow creatives, and perhaps most importantly, I’m going to focus on online interactions that build connections and could help us to “reclaim conversation.”

Are you with me?


Twitter, we need to talk. You’re making me crazy!

Dear Twitter,

I love you AND I hate you.  We’ve been together for a couple of years now.  Together we’ve sent over 5,000 missives, but we’ve got to talk.  It’s not working any more.

  • I love it when I get to have real conversations however short or silly with others.
  • I value the links to articles, blogs, links, and quotes I never would have found on my own.
  • I need the camaraderie of other writers in the trenches through word count sprints, commiseration about writing process, and encouragement.
  • I relish the shared silly and mutual geek outs that we share.

But I hate (or at least dislike) some things too.

  • Listening to famous authors, agents, and editors talk to each other about their cocktail plans is like overhearing to the in crowd talk as if the rest of us weren’t present.
  • Hearing the good news, huge deals, and movie options of people I don’t know is demoralizing when I’m down in the dumps.  (When I’m up, I’m into the cheering, and when it’s someone I know, I’ll celebrate no matter how down I am.)
  • Minutia–need I say more?  Don’t tell me about breakfast or your empty kleenex box.
  • Those ads and blatant book sales pitches you send my way do nothing but irritate.
  • But most of all, I’ve realized that you’re only showing me a small slice of the world–writers and their brethren.

In the beginning, when we were swept away by the heady intoxication of new love, I yearned to immerse myself in your flood.  I followed and was followed.  I spent way to much giddy time in your arms.  But now, Twitter, things have got to change.  I need more of what I like and less of what I dislike.  Here’s the way it’s going to be now.

I’ve revamped my lists and used twitlistmanager to put my people where they belong.  I’ve got private lists for my real life friends and for people I’ve made a real connection with online.  Using Tweetdeck, I can have columns for each of these lists.  Skimming them first gives me the connection I so love about you, Twitter.

So I can keep the information flowing (and share the good stuff), I have public lists for writing resources (publishing houses, literary organizations, and individuals that are good aggregators of information) and book bloggers.   I also have a public list of editors, agents, and the literati (big names).  If I feel like scanning, that’s good, but I avoid if depressed.  Since I’m on the advisory board for SCBWI-Oregon, I have a public list of our members because I like to be able to spread the word about this talented group.

Finally, Twitter, I think we need to branch out, maybe open our relationship a little.  I’m planning to spend more time with other hashtags, ones that have nothing to do with writing.  So if you catch me winking at #archery, #muaythai, and #nordic, don’t get jealous.   Perhaps it can even add a little spice to our life!

With love,