This Awkward Spinster’s Life on Social Media

I was going to start a 5 part blog series on ways to embrace prolonged adult singleness, but to be honest this week isn’t the week for it. Hurricanes, fires, over 180,000 dead of Covid-19, police still shooting Black men, the murder of protesters by a white nationalist teenager, so many lies each day of the RNC that it’s dizzying, and the constant barrage of white evangelical Christians online arguing on the side of violence, selfishness, greed, hate, ignorance, and hypocrisy has left me with little to no mental, emotional, or spiritual space for that right now. I’ll get to it because it is important, just not today, not this week.

Instead, I’d like to explain how I try to interact online in the insane world of 2020 social media. This is what I strive for, but to be honest, I constantly fall short. As a single adult in the 21st Century, a lot of my community has been facilitated via social media sites long before Covidlife made that normal. When you live alone or just with one other flatmate, and when you have a lot of friends who live in different cities, states, and countries who really are more like family, connecting online is an incredible blessing.

I don’t have a Twitter account anymore because I tried it for a year a couple years back and it just stressed me out. I already struggle with feeling the need to know everything that is going on in the world, so having that much information at my fingertips every second was overwhelming. I know I’m missing out on some awesome things, some beautiful and clever communities, some networking opportunities, etc. but I can’t do it. That’s a personal choice, you’ve got to make those too. But honestly, feel free to just delete an entire platform if you don’t like what it’s doing to you. 

What I do have is Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest. Instagram is my favorite because I’m a visual learner and photography is a hobby of mine; I studied it in high school and college a bit, my first job was a Sears Portrait Studio photographer, and I love seeing people’s lives through a visual medium. In the past few months, I’ve added more of my political views into my Insta account, especially through my Stories. With stay-at-home due to coronavirus and the lack of contact I have with other humans, social media is one of the main ways I can let others know that there are indeed real true Christians who disagree with the way the current administration sees the world, who know that Black Lives Matter and aren’t afraid to stand up for them. It’s not a Private account, so anyone can follow, but I do Block people who get weird.

Pinterest is my silly space to pin pics of all things geeky, Anglophile, and bookish as well as find recipes and keep track of my reading. I’ve been in that space for years, and really enjoy it. Before my school closed the school library this year and I lost my job, it was also a great place to find ideas for bulletin boards, lesson plans, and activities. This space is still just a fun one for anyone to check out.

Facebook is my most troubled online existence, but still remains the main way I can keep up with some of my dearest family and friends. It’s also where a lot of you, my readers, find my blog. FB, for me, has always been the main space I post any political or social thoughts, so be warned. I also only add people as Friends who I actually know in “real life” or know of well enough to trust on FB. So if you try to add me and I don’t know you, it probably won’t work, but a lot of what I post is public so you’ll still be able to see some of it.

When I lived in Los Angeles, a much more liberal city than the one in which I currently live, I never blocked anyone on social media unless they got truly pervy or creepy. I figured that, since I lived in a pretty liberal area, I shouldn’t limit my bubble, so I kept a pretty even balance of conservative and liberal friends. As an alum of both UCSB and The Master’s College, as a person who has lived most of her life in either LA or the AV, as a woman who has spent many months in other countries and continents and experienced worshiping in churches that look quite different than the typical white evangelical one, my friend and acquaintance list is incredibly diverse. I used to want my daily FB feed to echo that. But since moving back to the AV and working at a Christian school, my tolerance for that balance has decreased. Most of my in-person life was surrounded by the white evangelical Christian bubble, where I never quite fit, so I needed a slightly more liberal bubble online to keep me sane. So here are some of my online rules to help keep my sanity and some semblance of balance:

  • I don’t go on other people’s FB pages and argue unless I have an actual relationship with them, and even then I very rarely do so. I’ll “Like” and comment on pictures and posts, but steer clear of arguing. If they keep posting stuff I find horrible, I’ll just unfollow them. No big deal.

  • If someone comes on my FB page to argue, I try to respond reasonably and with respect, but with honesty. I do not pull my punches. I will respond until it becomes obvious that the “debate” is going nowhere, and then I will end it because there is no point in continuing. This is especially true when people I have not heard from in years, or even over a decade, hop on for the sole purpose of arguing. I don’t have the time or bandwidth to “debate” with someone who obviously has no other interest in me as a human than to “prove” their point. Honestly, if you haven’t shown any level of care for someone’s actual life, you have little to no authority to jump on their page and say they’re wrong. That conversation is not going anywhere for anyone.

  • If someone comes on my page and calls people names, will not stop arguing even after a few tries of being asked to stop because it is devolving, or is belligerent in another way, I will unfollow, unfriend, or block them as needed.

  • If someone is a creep, I will block and report them. Right now, I only have 6 people on my FB Block list, 3 of whom are creepy/abusive ex husbands of friends of mine, the other 3 of whom were blatantly and repeatedly disrespectful and verbally abusive to me or my friends and family in comments on my posts. The saddest part is that 5 out of 6 of these blocked “friends” still claim to be following in the footsteps of Christ. Shudder. Honestly, if you don’t like what someone says on their social media, just stop following them. Don’t abuse them, their friends, and family. I have more people blocked on Instagram, but that’s mostly because I get random creepy comments/friend requests from guys I don’t know that are just cringey. So I block them real fast. Again, why??? Just eeeeew. No woman likes this. Not one.

  • I’m not going to lie, the longer the current administration has been in power, the more people I’ve unfriended online. I stopped feeling bad about that awhile ago.

So why do I bother saying anything online that isn’t all joy and happiness? First, there is such a thing as Toxic Positivity that claims everything is okay and we should just have a positive outlook and it’ll all get better. Which is neither biblically or demonstrably true. Second, I think it is incredibly disrespectful to the families and friends of people who have died from Covid-19, or Black Americans fighting for their very right to live, or others who are genuinely suffering to pretend everything is normal. Things are not normal. And, as a follower of Christ, I believe I should follow the advice of King Lemuel’s mother as recorded in Proverbs 31:8-9:

“Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

So I try to create an online presence that looks an awful lot like me, like my real life. A weird balance of pictures of my dog, activism, my niece and nephews, nature, my mum, books, mixed with scripture, articles, memes, comics, and other random stuff. I’ve never been one to shy away from being open and authentic, so you’re going to see that in whatever space we meet. 

I was a high school English teacher for 8 years of my life, so a lot of the people who follow me online are former students of mine, now incredible young men and women in their 20’s and even early 30’s (gasp!). Many of them are young men and women who are struggling with the current state of America. Though I’m no longer their teacher, they are still and forever will be My Kids, and I feel a responsibility to them as well as any other people who follow me online, to do all I can to stand up for what is just and right and good. Don’t mess with my kids!

Here’s the downside – I fail at this. A lot. I’ve argued more than I should. I’ve ignored comments I shouldn’t have when I was tired or just over it. I’ve reposted things with the wrong intentions – just wanting to get my thoughts out there without actually thinking how it would affect others. I’ve hurt friends inadvertently by posting things that pain them. I’ve said too much or not enough, spoken about the wrong thing in the wrong moment, been insensitive or arrogant. I know of at least 2 relationships at the moment that I need to figure out how to repair, if possible. I am imperfect, but I am trying. And, by God’s grace alone, I am growing. So, please have patience with me in all my various versions, I’m trying.

How do you guys deal with your online realities?
Any tips that have worked for you?

Mourning in Times Such as These

Today I am grieving. Grieving over 70,000 lives lost in my country from one virus in just a couple of months. Grieving yet another black man murdered months ago while his white killers still walk free. Grieving the defensive excuses so many people (mostly Christians) I know are making in order to not have to truly mourn these losses. 

Yet, while I grieve, I still sit at my computer updating the school website for the teachers. I wait for phone calls from our textbook reps to get quotes for next school year. I research free ebooks and read alouds and virtual field trips for my students. I increase the tip on my instacart order to make up for the income loss due to items not being in stock. I pet my dog, who comes to visit me in my “home office” for a quick snuggle. I text my global prayer group about books I’ll be dropping off for their kids. I drink my morning coffee, and turn on the fan as the day begins to heat up. 

And yet, I mourn. Or at least, I try to. 

In the middle of an email about school accounts, logins, and passwords I feel like bursting into tears. It passes quickly, and I move on with my tasks for the morning. Lately, my days feel like this – a slightly jumbled mix of emotions as I try to balance living life day to day in faith and hope (one of the most difficult things for cynical me – hope), while experiencing grief for these deep losses we are facing globally and locally. 

I have friends that can’t even try to balance this. And I get it. Friends who are so focused on the pragmatic side of life that they just can’t give in to any emotion right now. The economy, kids at home 24/7, working from home, getting groceries – this is what they can focus on. And, often, only this. 

Then I have friends who are paralyzed in their grief and mourning, lamenting and gasping for breath at the mere thought of the immense loss surrounding us. They become unable to deal with the practical side of day to day life.

But most of us are somewhere in between, just trying to figure out how to survive this time without becoming callous or overwhelmed. It’s a tricky balance, and I don’t think I know anyone who has gotten it just right. Most of us lean one direction or the other, becoming either too cold or too emotional, prioritizing either the compassion or the practicalities. 

I challenge each of us to continue to seek ways to be both practical and survive, yet compassionately mourn. If you lean toward just getting on with life, and accepting all of this death and injustice as “normal,” “inevitable,” “necessary,” or “not that bad,” I challenge you to learn to lament. My dear friend, an incredible woman who lives with chronic illness, has a blog called The Curse and the Blessings which can walk you through lamenting via the Psalms. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma has been recording a series of Songs of Comfort as the pandemic rages, that can help you process your emotions. Spend time in prayer, asking God to help us “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15) during this season of loss for so many.

For those of us who lean more toward the emotional side of things, and are struggling to get through the day to day tasks of life, I encourage setting aside time to pray for God to help comfort you, but in a way that makes you capable of reaching out and comforting others (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Don’t let this overwhelm you, keeping you in your head. Set some practical steps, like limiting your time on social media and the news. Make a To-Do List that has one achievable goal for each day that week. Bathe your days in gratitude for every little gift from God, from spring flowers outside (even if you’re allergic to them) to a bed in which to rest.

I’m trying to take one or two small steps each day to help me continue to live life and be useful where God has given me tasks to do, but also hold a compassionate heart for those who are hurting right now, including myself. 

If you have anything that is helping you lament, or helping you continue living daily life, please share with the group. We can all use the encouragement and support!

My Brain Won’t Work. I Blame You, Rona!

Each day, I sit down at my desk in my home office (guest room) for a couple hours of online tech support for the teachers as they deal with Home Learning. This new opportunity to get ½ my hours back after 5 weeks without work was a godsend, the gift of administrators who have been doing everything in their power to help me keep some kind of income since campus closed due to the pandemic. Other than this, I have time. “Free” time (without the freedom). Yet, I haven’t written a single blog post, poem, story, or journal entry. My brain exists in some kind of existential fog, incapable of expressing itself in more than the odd Facebook rant, and even those haven’t gone far, mostly deleted before publishing.

 

Yet, I don’t have kids to balance the huge load of online learning with general parenting. I don’t have a husband who needs to use my space, or laptop, or spend time with. I’m not working all that much, and rarely leave the house, so I have way more time to write than ever before. No outside distractions. No excuses. Except maybe that is my excuse?

 

Being a semi-unemployed, mostly-quarantined, insomniac, singleton in the time of a global pandemic leaves the brain way too much time and space. Thank God for my mum, because if I lived alone, it would be even worse. 

 

This mental fog in which I dwell hits whenever I try to focus on something that requires deeper thought. I can get through work pretty well because it’s mostly looking for content, uploading stuff to a Google site, or emailing parents and teachers back about the reading program. Nothing requires truly deep thought. I can watch TV, but only lighter programs or shows I’ve seen before. I can read, but again, only lighter fare or rereads. I couldn’t even finish a puzzle.

 

Even now, my head is fuzzy and my eyes are having trouble focusing. Creating each sentence is like digging through mud. An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education helped me feel more sane about my mental deficiencies. “We can’t read. We can’t think. We’re having difficulty communicating. It’s all the profound effects of stress” The Harvard Business Review published an article explaining how what we are experiencing with our emotions and thoughts during this exceptional time is grief, actually several types of grief at once. 

 

This makes sense to me, as I can remember my brain reacting in a similarly floaty way as my dad was dying, and when my sister was having some health problems when she was pregnant, and when I’ve been in a couple different periods of deep depression. 

 

The thing is, I wasn’t expecting my brain to do this now. The day after my campus closed due to a stay-at-home mandate, I made a list. I was going to be Productive! I was going to be Creative and Efficient and get So Much Done. I would come out of this season more awesome than ever. Possibly with a book deal, a more toned body, the thanks of friends whose lives I had made better, a thoroughly KonMari-ed room, a signature cocktail, new life skills, the cure for insomnia, and a redone blog without that darn error code at the top that I just can’t get rid of.

Instead, I’m definitely on track to gain the Covid 15 as my mum has taken up baking again. I’ve had sinus infections and allergies, so have spent a good amount of time in bed, though my sleep is worse than ever (and that’s pretty darn bad, considering my lifelong insomnia issues). My closets and drawers are as messy as ever. I haven’t Facetimed my besties since the first week of this. I managed to get the ingredients for Moscow Mules in one of our Instacart orders, but other than that have been quite happy with just two fingers of scotch, neat. And I haven’t written a word before this rambling thing. I am the poster girl for Quarantine Brain, except instead of a Fight or Flight instinct, I Freeze.

 

I’ve got friends who have been using this time well. Reading Good Books. Writing. Drawing. Painting. Cleaning. Baking. Adopting pets. Raising kids. Learning new skills. And I’m just here, proud of myself for putting on non-pajama shorts today (at noon, after I finished working online). Ah well, to each her own.

 

The one thing holding me together is the same reminder I’ve needed my whole life, the reminder than God loves me. I can rest in that knowledge. He doesn’t love me because I have reached a certain level of productivity, in fact, there is nothing I can do to make him love me any more than he already does, because his love is already complete. Even when these blurry eyes of mine are having trouble focusing on anything, even Him, God is still there loving me.

 

How are you holding up during this time? Comment here, or on my social media, or DM me to chat more about it. 

 

From Sprained Ankles to Leaky Hot Water Heaters

This time of year is always a mixed bag of emotions. In the span of one week we celebrate my mum’s birthday as well as my littlest nephew’s, then move right into the anniversary of my father’s death. This year my life decided to also throw in a mild ankle sprain and a leaky hot water heater.

In the midst of hobbling through my usual workday, birthday parties, a writer’s group dinner, the Downton Abbey movie, GriefShare, a going away party, church, heating up water on the stove, and all the various other little details of daily life there was a low-lying hum of something just not being quite right. For others in my family this year, the hum this week was more like incredible sadness or constant anxiety, but for me grief remained under the surface. It doesn’t always, some years they are pretty unaffected and I’m the one with more obvious symptoms. It’s rarely the same for all of us at the same time, which is nice because we can help each other through when needed. 

So this year I managed to get through the 17th anniversary of dad’s death without too much sadness, but with a couple tears alone at night, digging up a beautiful old photo of us snuggling, and stopping every once in awhile to recognize how much I still miss him. The moment of digging out his old crutches from the garage, the very ones he and I used to trade off between our constantly sprained ankles, brought memories flooding back. And I know the thought of “I wish Gordon was here to help deal with this” is constantly in the back of my mum’s head as she deals with the broken hot water heater. But God gave me encouraging students to help cheer me on as I hobbled around this week, and an endlessly kind and patient neighbor to come rescue us with his special vacuum, and tools, and truck, and knowledge. 

Ah Fall, my favorite season and yet one filled with so much emotion. Our house is already decorated with fake fall leaves, pumpkins, scarecrows, and various adorably haunted things. The nights are cool enough that I can snuggle under my top covers again, bringing me better sleep. Even the days are finally cooling down – I’m even wearing a long-sleeved top as I type this! We are burning pumpkin or apple scented candles non-stop, and may even fire up the fireplace tonight! I love it. But I also have that undercurrent of melancholy coursing through my body at all times.

Perhaps that’s part of growing up, of becoming an adult: we learn to hold both joy and sorrow at the same time, to celebrate life and grieve death simultaneously, to yearn for something lost or that we know we will never have while also reveling in the beauty that surrounds us. I no longer fear holding both things at once, no longer feel the need to only experience one at a time. Part of how I’m able to do this relies on talking to God about it, letting him know what I’m experiencing throughout the day and relying on him to give me peace.

Philippians 4:4-13 keeps coming up, at GriefShare, in my own study, and at church again this Sunday. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

I’m learning that rejoicing in everything and not being anxious require facing the truth of what’s going on and relying on God to get me through it, knowing he always has done and always will. Peace and contentment don’t magically appear after I pray, or throughout the day as I talk to God, but this week I’ve experienced moment after moment when I can choose anxiety or peace, when I can panic or trust God, and this week God’s been gracious enough to grant me the peace. 

As September turns into October, I’m looking forward to more and more crisp, cool weather and nights by the fire with cups of tea and delicious smelling candles. I know the melancholy will be there, but so will the joy. And, as I’m about to dash out to go shower at my sister’s house, I’m really looking forward to hot water again. Praise God for fall, and for healed ankles and appliances.

An Awkward Spinster Has All the Thoughts as Summer Ends

With one week left of summer vacation, I think my mind is trying to process all the things it’s been pondering this summer. Things like women’s roles in the church, how best to help those suffering through grief and loss, the effects of institutionalized racism on my bookshelves, the awesomeness of graphic novels that work for kids and adults, the joy of supporting art, and how to be both firm yet gracious. I can ponder forever, but coming to conclusions is another thing. So now that I’m down to just a few more days before my mind is filled almost entirely with the business of getting the library up and running for the school year, I’m trying to actually make some decisions based on the things on which I’ve ruminated for the past couple of months. 

On the role of women in the church, this video by N. T. Wright has had me thinking for days. It was suggested by female Anglican priest Tish Warren in an interview on Preston Sprinkle’s podcast “Theology in the Raw.” As this issue has been a concern of mine for literally my entire life, and as it is an issue that directly affects me as a woman in ministry, any conclusions I come to will probably take more time and study. If this is a topic of interest to you, please check out the video and let me know what you think. Comment below if you’d like to get a conversation going. It’s a complex issue, and one that is often considered “not a priority” (a direct quote from a pastor with whom I discussed this) by many churches as men are solely in leadership, thus think they are not directly affected by this (they are), think it’s clear (it’s not), or think it’s not that important (it is to the other 50% of the church).

Last night, I showed my mum the Anderson Cooper interview with Stephen Colbert, and we both cried a little. Colbert’s compassionate and authentic response to Cooper’s vulnerable questions on loss and grief was insightful, beautiful, and pointed to Christ. As I am gearing up to, once again, co-lead a grief group at my church, this interview will stay in my mind. Check it out. Discuss below.

This January, as I thought of what New Year’s Resolution I could make, I looked around my bookshelves and realized that the ratio of white authors to authors of color was not great. Though many of my favorite authors are men and women of color, I’m still not hearing their voices as often as white voices. And since I’m actually pretty angry with many of the white voices that can seem to screech the loudest in our culture, I thought I’d like to hear some perspectives that differ. At this moment, I’m in the middle of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me.” If the late, great, Toni Morrison said it’s “required reading,” I’m there. It’s beautiful, difficult, thought-provoking, and important. If you’ve read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts below. If not, perhaps you can join me in reading it and we can discuss together when we’re done. Which will probably be tonight, because I can’t put it down.

Another way I gear up for the school year is by reading some of the kid lit I’ll be introducing to my library this fall. I had heard great things about the graphic novel series by Ben Hatke, “Zita: the Spacegirl,” but never got around to reading them. I know this shocks most people, that an English major and librarian hasn’t read Every Single Book in Existence, but hey, there are A LOT of books out there, so we can’t read them all! Anyway, I stumbled across the Zita trilogy for a great price at one of my favorite Southern California used bookstores, BookMonster in Santa Monica, and snatched them up for my kiddos. I just read all 3 in 3 days because they are fun, amazing, and lovely. I can’t wait to get them into the hands of my students as soon as the school library is open for business this fall! I’ve also been told that “Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl” is even better, so I can’t wait to read it. Someday soon. When I have time and money again. (I don’t get paid during the summer, and yet somehow I still bought 3 bags full of stuff for my library, sigh.) Are there any other graphic novels I should stock in my TK-5th grade library? Let me know.

Something that reminded me of how much I love to support others’ art was the successful Kickstarter campaign of illustrator Seth T. Hahne. His American Lit series is brilliant, and I’ve now got both the Salinger and Fitzgerald pieces framed and hanging on my living room gallery wall and mailed off a bunch of the others to some literary geek friends. Check his work out, and buy some. You can also support my two favorite artists-who-are-related-to-me, my brother Joshua Kemble, and his wife Mai S. Kemble. Their work is incredible, objectively, with no bias on my part. Check them out and support your local artists! Are there other artists I should know about? Link to them in the comments.

Another idea that’s permeated my summer is how to stop seeing people as one big group with whom I’m upset (cough *evangelical Trump supporters* cough) and instead get back to seeing individuals. And, as silly as it may seem, I’ve been convicted by the depiction of G. K. Chesterton’s gracious, kind, clever, and firm Father Brown. Mum and I happily discovered that Season 7 is now streaming on Amazon Prime’s Britbox (yes, of course we have Britbox), with a new episode offered each week on Thursdays, I think. If I could be more like Father Brown, I think I’d be doing well. His ability to both treat people with respect and grace, yet hold people accountable for their sinful actions and desires, all while calling them to repentance and reminding them of Christ’s ever-present offer of forgiveness is astounding. Are you a Father Brownian? Let me know in the comments. 

I realize I’m ending this post with very few conclusions, and possibly may be giving you more questions, but I’m an educator so questions are my favorite tool! Let’s ponder these things, and more, together. After all, a single lady needs her community to share ideas, debate, and discuss. Have at it.