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?

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. 

 

A Sudden Ambush of Grief

On my way to work this morning, I drove past the long-defunct Hometown Buffet. It closed down ages ago, but this time it was in the midst of being gutted. Walls were smashed by large machinery, insides exposed in the process of being laid to ruin. I’m sure the no-longer-with-us Toys “R” Us next to it will be next.

Glancing out my window and seeing the red and green sign still hanging on, declaring “Hometown Buffet” over wreckage hit me out of nowhere. I went from benign coffee drinking and podcast listening to brushing tears out of my eyes. My heart did that little skip, that almost-hurt. It came as a surprise.

In that second, memories of my long deceased grandpa flooded in. Birthdays and Father’s Days spent heaping plates full of meatloaf and limp salad, looking forward to soft serve ice cream with sprinkles on top were brought to mind. Thoughts came of joking with my brother and sister about how only old people ate here, about how mediocre the food was, about the birthday song played over speakers.

And my grandfather? Man, he loved that place. A typical WWII Veteran of “The Greatest Generation,” he desired the most food for the money. Even though he didn’t actually eat much, and barely ate meat after a stint working in an abattoir in his younger days. But as one who lived through the Great Depression, he couldn’t bare to see food go to waste – thus his love of a buffet.

My grandpa (my mom’s dad) was my last living grandparent, and the one to whom I was closest. He told me I was like him, that I had inherited his wanderlust which led him to enlist in the Navy, then to move around Southern California from place to place in his RV when my mom was a little girl until retirement.

He passed away about one year after my dad. That was a tough year as he was in heart failure for much of it and couldn’t get around much. He fell a lot. We sold our old house and bought a new one, moving him in with us (mom and I, and Josh on the couch during summer break from university). Lavender got married to one of my best friends and grandpa got to be there. Greg had my first nephew, Graden, a gift from God, my father’s first grandson he never got to meet. And grandpa died.

All of these memories flood back just from one building in the midst of being gutted. Grief is a funny thing. 16 years later, and it can still ambush me. But I don’t mind, not really, because these memories make me smile through the tears. I’m reminded of my grandpa’s deep and eternal love for me and all his grand-kids. Grief has somehow softly transformed over the years, and by the grace of God, into an old friend who comes to visit, bringing all the memories with them, but not staying for long.

To my friends experiencing grief that is much more fresh and raw, know that God is with you in it. Our God is a God who can lift up the downcast, he is the God of steadfast love (Psalm 42). Hope in him, and know that someday the ambushes of grief will be softer, bringing joy instead of pain.

The New (Single) Girl At Church

I missed church this Sunday, accidentally. Somehow, I was an hour off in my head, starting last night when I set my alarm, right up to the middle of my shower this morning when I realized my error when it was too late. I’ve been trying out a different church for the past few weeks, and was looking forward to it. Ah well, such is life.

The church I’m trying out is multi-ethnic, tiny, and only a couple years old. It is led by a young, black, male pastor who loves God’s word and his people. As someone who has been unhappy with the state of the white evangelical church since moving away from my LA church, it was time to try something different. We’ll see how it goes. I’m still leading GriefShare (a grief support group for those who have recently lost a loved one) at my former church while I figure out if I’m going to leave or stay. The counseling pastor at my former church is aware and supportive of this transitional period, as is the pastor of the new church.

Trying out new churches as a single woman is always a daunting process. I know it’s now easy for marrieds either, but at least you have someone to walk through those doors with, someone to talk to about it after, someone to run interference in awkward social situations. You also don’t get stared at quite as much as you do as a single woman. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, having tried out churches as a singleton from college through today, but it’s still unpleasant. 

You have to face confused questions like “did you come here alone?” and, once they find out you’re single, the dreaded “don’t worry, there’s still time” or “never doubt that God can still bring you a husband” or “I know someone who got married at 50!” Ugh. I actually haven’t gotten much of this at my new church, which has been a pleasant surprise. I have gained enough confidence to shut it down pretty quickly when it does happen by reassuring people that I’m actually quite happy with my single life, and that I’m glad to be following God’s plan for me. And, when I’ve got nothing to say on the tip of my brain, I echo what my llama church notebook (pictured above) says, and just say “Nope!” and leave it at that.

There’s also the fear that every man you meet in the church might think you’re trying to hit on them, or their wives may get possessive. I don’t feel this way when I meet men outside of traditional Christian environments. But after enough experiences with men in conservative Christian circles being convinced that any unattached woman must be on the hunt for a man (specifically them?), and therefore dangerous possible vixens, I always feel more nervous during the church meet and greet when I shake a woman’s hand, then turn to shake her husband’s.

Sometimes the men ignore you altogether, and won’t even greet you. It’s bizarre. Then there’s the awkward Christian hugging thing – do I side hug?Actually hug? An awkward combo. of both? Anyway, I didn’t have horrible experiences with the men here, so that was nice.

A dear friend of mine who I’ve known for years has also started trying out this new church with me. She’s a single mom, and her adult daughter has come as well. Thank goodness she started coming before we had communion, or I’d never have figured out the whole wafer shrink-wrapped on top of the juice thing! We singles need to stick together to mitigate some of the awkwardness.

I battle between hope that this could be my church home for the foreseeable future, and cynicism that there is no church where I currently live that can fill that role. I’m not naive enough to think a church that’s “perfect for me” exists. I’m well aware that church is made up of fallen, broken sinners (like myself!) and it’s a family, which comes with some good, some bad, and lots of complications. I know it’s not all about me as well.  But I still yearn for a church where I see both a deep respect for God’s word and his love for the vulnerable lived out in word and deed.

I had the chance to meet with the pastor one on one to get some answers to questions about church doctrine, structure, and accountability, as well as views on women in ministry and on social justice and community involvement. It was a great start, and I always respect a Christian man who isn’t afraid to meet with me at the church, who listens well, and who responds with thoughtful, biblical, compassionate answers. I feel hopeful.

I’ll keep trying this new church throughout fall and hope to make my decision this winter. I’ll keep you guys posted on how it goes. Your prayers are appreciated!

Other singles out there, how do you handle trying out new churches?

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.