Being Here

be here 1

I’m having some trouble being here. Not here on the blog, but here in my life.

Over the past few months I’ve started a new blog (this one!), rejoined Instagram and Goodreads, signed up for Twitter (yes, I know I’m late), and after years of holding out, I’ve joined the ranks of every other person I know and opened a Facebook account.

Initially, I tried to ignore Facebook because it seemed like an online high school reunion, which I had no interest in taking part in (still don’t). But also because it reminds me of yearbook culture [shudder].

I still get sweaty palms thinking about middle school yearbook season. I remember trying to act all blasé, like I didn’t care about how many signatures I collected, or which boy scribbled his name on top of his grinning snapshot, and then the next thing you know I’m sprinting down the hall with every other seventh grade girl, collecting as many signatures as possible.

Fortunately, because I’m so late in the game, the competitive feeling has subsided and most of my high school alumni have already (perhaps) tried and failed to find me. It’s quite possible I’m overestimating myself. At any rate, I’m happily cultivating a small and genuine group of “friends.” It’s also been an unexpected delight to reconnect with those I’ve lost touch with over the years.

But all this online involvement comes at a cost.

My time. My attention. My focus.

There is pretty much NO reason at all to be alone in our lives, to be bored, or quiet, or still, ever. I know I reached rock bottom the other day when I was cooking dinner, and in between steps of the recipe, refreshed Twitter and checked my Facebook status.

UGH. This is why I hesitated to rush into the yearbook fray, because I know myself, I know how susceptible I am to distraction, to checking out.

We are all guilty of this, of course, but sometimes it comes at a cost higher than we’d like to pay.

Eight years ago I spent the afternoon with my mom, about a week before she lost consciousness forever. She sat in her usual reclining chair and we watched TV while my dad attended his company picnic, a celebration my mother hadn’t been able to attend in several years.

My mom seemed more out of sorts than usual. She kept asking me to help her stand up. Just let me put my feet on the floor, she kept saying, agitated at my reluctance.

At least let me try, she said, growing steadily more furious. I can’t do it, mom, I kept saying, I’m sorry. Please, I begged, stop asking me.

But she wouldn’t. Finally, I lowered her chair so her toes were grazing the floor. See, I said, helpless with despair, it’s not working.

Furious, she ripped her gaze away from me and stared at the TV leaving me feeling more alone than I had ever felt in her presence.

You need to understand, my mom was a paraplegic. She had a severe form of multiple sclerosis and hadn’t walked, let alone stood on her own, for at least a decade. Listening to desperate pleas to stand, as if we, her family, had been withholding this ability from her, tore at my heart.

This was years before smart phones, but I did have a laptop. I remember checking my email and staring at a ridiculous celebrity gossip site. Anything to create distance from my mother’s pain and my inability to help her.

It breaks my heart, even after all these years, that I tried to escape from her weeks before she left me forever.

Escape has its consequences. The price for checking out can be steep.

I’m not saying there isn’t a time and a place for the pleasure, guilty or otherwise, of reading say, the New Yorker, or E!

Technology is a brilliant way to stay in touch with friends, keep up with news around the world, and read beautifully written blogs filled with life and writerly advice.

But when all you do is click, when you can no longer bear to hear the noise of your life, it’s a problem.

Sometimes I think I stay online because I am so afraid of missing anything. But if I’m not careful, I will miss my life.

This isn’t news. There are – ahem – a bazillion blog posts, not to mention books, about the risks of living online instead of off. But this is my wake up call. I need to focus.

focus rock

I need to Be Here.

That’s the reason for my rock, the flip side of focus, to remind myself where I’m supposed to be. While cooking dinner, driving with my family (as a passenger!), playing with my kids, spending time with my husband, and writing.

So, if you wonder where I am, that is where. Here. In my life.

I’d love to hear from you, if you can spare a moment, to learn how you balance – or not balance – your online and offline lives. Do you schedule out your social media time? (Something I’m considering.) Do you put away your phone at certain times of the day? What is ONE thing you can do, right now, to be more present in your life? 

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54 thoughts on “Being Here

  1. Oh Dana, this is so me right now. I get really caught up in the social media, and if feels EXACTLY like racking up those yearbook signatures. Thanks for reminding me that real life “likes” from my people are bigger and better than the online ones. xx

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  2. Thank you Lisa! It’s just so hard to unplug. I don’t even have a land line anymore so in some ways, I need my phone to be close by, esp when my kids are in school, and yet, I have such trouble not looking at it.

    Thank you for reminding me which “likes” matter most.

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  3. I usually just use my phone to stay connected to my three sons who are now 25, 23 and 17 and FB to keep in touch with siblings and nieces and nephews. I also limit my laptop activity to a few hours a day, scheduling might work for you. It is difficult to control though, is very easy to get caught up in it!

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    • That’s the problem for me, I love how technology keeps us in touch with people, but I have a problem stopping… It’s like all or nothing for me. When I wasn’t on FB or Twitter, I couldn’t engage, but now I’m in the midst of it. I believe that’s what will power is for 🙂 which I’ll be working on!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s like you climbed in to my head! I am having such problems balancing it all right now. I feel like I am checking constantly! I have totally done the same thing you did while cooking dinner the other night- in fact, if I’m telling the truth, I do it all the time. Your line here, “But when all you do is click, when you can no longer bear to hear the noise of your life, it’s a problem” really says it all, I think. I always have an extra hard time in winter because I get really down on the ‘real world’ when it is cold and we are house bound and I escape in to my phone for a little bit of something different. I keep thinking that it is time to break the pattern but so far, not much has changed. It is so hard when it is social media and e-mail that lead us to wonderful things like the blogs we all love. Thank you for writing this piece- it is an important reminder.

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    • I recognized myself in a lot of this post. I’m sorry to hear you had to bear such heartache at your mom’s illness and dwindling abilities, that must have been tough. The way I try to handle social media is to reward myself with a five-minute break in between tasks, but the key is I have to finish the whole task before I can look. Five minutes is about the length it takes to read a blog post or article, so I will usually choose that instead of FB because I get so much more out of it. FB seems full of negativity to me, or maybe it’s that I feel like I straddle the middle on most political issues, so I take both extremes personally, leaving me feeling like I’m aligned with no one. But I’m usually alone on trying to stop, so I’ll be glad to know I have a buddy who is also trying to make the best of the present moment.

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      • Justine, thanks so much for your comment. You understand, I imagine, because of what you may be experiencing with your grandmother. Watching loved ones struggle is always very heartbreaking.

        Thank you for your suggestion – I think 5 minute rewards is a pretty awesome idea. And it’s funny about FB being negative, I’ve heard that so much, but I think because I only have a handful of friends at this point, and many are writers who I know from blogs and in real life, politics haven’t come up much – at least not yet. But I know from others who have been on longer, it can get ugly, which I want no part of.

        Maybe we need to form a support group… although that might be tough if we can’t meet online, ha 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Stacey, it’s good to know I’m not alone 🙂 Balance is so tough, I think in part b/c it’s all so easily accessible. Just now I deleted FB from my phone app (like I did with Twitter) so maybe that will help.

      A little escape is necessary, I think, but too much doesn’t feel right. And it’s hard because I’ve made SO many wonderful and genuine connections online (like you!) and I’m grateful for that, but drawing a line sure is tough.

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  5. Such a honest heartfelt post Dana. You are not alone with the constant pull we all have of technology updating.

    Meditating really changed my balance in life. It gave me clarity and helped calm my busy mind, which made it easier to turn off and be present if I needed to. What you did with your Mum was completely normal and you should not hold any guilt for the past. You did your best for her.

    Love your rocks! 🙂

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    • Karen, your comment about my mom made me tear up with gratitude, thank you.

      I can see how meditation might help. I don’t have the ability to go to classes right now (but someday that would be great), but I might look into some practices I can do at home. Years ago I read this great book, Buddhism for Mothers, and there was a section on meditation that really resonated with me. I may have to revisit that.

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  6. That’s my problem point right now too. I’ve thankfully reduced checking facebook to once or twice a week, with the final aim of deleting my facebook account. But more than a distraction, I just don’t like the crappy feelings from looking at everyone’s awesome lives

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    • Desi, I think you’re on the right track, to limit and then remove FB from your life if you find it negative. I’ve done that with certain blogs that seem to promote and/or display perfection and unattainability (at least to me!). I unsubscribed and immediately felt better, like an enormous weight had been lifted. It’s much better for the soul to surround yourself with people and reading materials that make you feel good and whole and excited.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m really with you on the online vs real life juggling act and I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with social media. I sometimes feel that checking my FB feed is almost like a nervous tick – I do it without realising (even while cooking too!). It’s a double-edged sword too because although it’s lovely to catch up with friends and stay connected, it can also make me feel quite envious sometimes. Do I really need (or want) to know that so and so who I never really liked at school now has a dream career? No. I think all the access to each others lives is quite unhealthy… and yet I go back for more! Sometimes I cut myself off from it for a week or two and it’s lovely! But then I go back on I think – like you say – partly out of a fear of missing out.

    The way I try and keep social media in check is by limiting my FB friends list (I’m not friends with everyone I went to school with and I do ignore friend requests sometimes!) and keeping twitter at arms length (even though twitter is important for blog traffic I can’t be on it a lot, I just can’t) and I’m not on any other social media sites. I’m sure if I joined instagram I’d be taking and posting pictures all the time rather than enjoying the experiences I’m having.

    Oh, now you’re on FB let me know if you want to join our #WhatImWriting group – no pressure though! xxx

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    • It is like a nervous tic, isn’t it?! I feel the same way, like my finger is itchy 🙂 But I’ve removed FB and Twitter apps from my phone, which helps, and I’m trying (and kind of failing, so far) to only check FB in the morning, if I have a moment, and then in the evening. But hey, this is only day 1 of my fresh start, so hopefully I’ll do better tomorrow.

      I’ve heard a lot about people overdosing on fake-fab-perfect looking FB posts, and that does not appeal to me at all… I think if my FB feed starts to fill up with that, I’ll start cutting down and trimming. I definitely don’t need any fuel for my insecurities!

      Thanks for your tips on FB, and I agree about Twitter! I’m sort of on a hiatus of sorts, just not going on as much as I used to, and it feels kind of like a relief, plus I have less of a “need” to check it now that I’ve laid off a bit. Sigh. It’s SO much like addiction.

      But, YES, please add me to your FB group 🙂 That’s the kind of thing I do enjoy being part of!

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  8. Can’t give you any advice. I’m shitty at this. At THIS: “Sometimes I think I stay online because I am so afraid of missing anything. But if I’m not careful, I will miss my life.” Um, yeah. That. Was just thinking about this early this morning while working on Jena’s prompt.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was inspired by that sentence from Dani Shapiro, what she says in “Still Writing” about always looking for the extraordinary and missing the ordinary. But I think it also pertains to online versus offline life.

      Glad you’re doing Jena’s prompts! I did the self-guided one and got halfway through… oops. But now that I’m on FB, maybe I’ll do that one next!

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  9. Why is it that we are all seeking focus and balance? All this technology is supposed to “help” our daily lives when, in fact, it takes part of our life away. It has done some fantastic things but, on a personal level, it has split our focus and left us with an imbalance that is difficult to regain. I don’t want to miss my life. I just posted about this last week and don’t think unplugging completely is the answer but I’m not sure what is.

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    • Yes, exactly, but it so often does the opposite! I totally feel split and fragmented, like I can almost feel my brain changing (I’m exaggerating, but some days I really do feel so fried) to accommodate this new way of thinking. It’s like multi-tasking gone wild. Or something.

      I’m trying to scale back a bit, so we’ll see how it goes. I’m supporting your efforts from my perch over here 🙂

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  10. No real advice here, but I get it. I get it so much that I am, after a trial run two weekends ago, forcing myself to take at least one weekend a month to be off Twitter from Friday afternoon until Monday AM (mainly because that is when both my husband and daughter are around pretty much 24/7). It was amazing how hard it was to do, and thus telling that I actually need to do it more as a result. I am way downgraded on FB as of about a year ago (I hardly use it) and that helped too, but for different reasons. I try to keep my phone off limits after 9:30ish, but I am not as good about that sometimes. I hope you find the right balance for you to still live in your life and not miss too much of it. It’s hard, there’s no doubt about that, and for me (it seems) I need to enforce hard and fast rules in order for it to work.

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    • I like your idea Kristen, about going cold turkey a weekend a month, and I can imagine how hard it is (!) which makes it all the more important to do, as you say. I am like you, if I don’t have hard and fast rules, I’ll cave. I’m still trying to figure it out, but everyone’s comments are really helping me out. Thank you!

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  11. I really admire your honesty here Dana. I’m sure we are all guilty (or have been at some point) of online escapism.

    I used to be so strict with my social media usage, and never checked it when the kids were around. Then I let things slide, and am now somewhere in the middle. I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook tbh, but it really is a necessary evil to keep in touch with friends.

    My hubby and I usually watch something together in the evening, and that’s when I’ll put my phone away for good. I use the time that I’m giving baby his last feed – after the girlsgo to bed – to do blogging stuff. And I also put my phone on aeroplane mode when I go to bed. This works for me…

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    • Thanks Renee, I figured I couldn’t be alone in this, but reading everyone’s compassionate and understanding comments has been really lovely and helpful.

      I always check stuff online when I put my son to sleep, he still nurses a bit, and it’s funny because I couldn’t do that with my daughter because I didn’t have a smart phone for most of her nursing years, but also the light bothered her! She forced me to be present 🙂 But putting the phone down and off at night is a good idea, and I’m doing that more and more…

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Dana this blogging thing is sucking up my writing time. At first I followed most sites that followed me and I like to read and leave comments. But after following so many great sites I now find myself chasing the time. This week I am going to try and write in the mornings and not check my emails. Facebook is just another tool to advertise my art, I do not put pictures of my kids or what I had for dinner up there, unless I am in my family group. I use them all just to share my latest piece. Good luck finding the balance.

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    • It’s such a hard juggle, Kath! I love keeping up with my favorite blogs, but the list keeps growing and growing… and my time is not. I like your idea of writing in the mornings. That’s my favorite time to write. Lately, during my 2 mornings with my little guy at school, I am trying not to look at ANY technology at all and come to the page completely fresh.

      Thanks for the advice about FB. I just started up my author page, but I’m still figuring out how that differs from my personal page 🙂 since I’m not using FB for family pics (unless I start a group for it) so in a way, they are similar… but one day, ideally, I’ll have a book to promote on my author page!

      Liked by 1 person

      • One day you will so get all those tools ready to use. I am thinking about a self hosted webpage but told myself not to do until I had something to promote….not sure which way i will go. So much to think about isn’t there Dana?

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      • I know, there is SO much to consider. I think it makes sense to wait for self-hosting only because it’s a lot of work and your time is already limited. But if you feel the inspiration to do so, then go for it! I support you in all endeavors 🙂

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  13. So sorry you had to go through that with your mom. It made me sad to read that. As far as the FB and social media, I thought you mentioned that the Facebook account was new? If that’s the case, it’s only natural to get a little obsessy over it at first. It’ll get old and you won’t have as much of a draw to it…At least that has been my own personal experience.

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    • Thanks so much for your kind words, Holly. And yes, FB is new to me, so what you said makes total sense! Anything new can be obsessy, and then fades over time. Thank for you that reminder.

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  14. Lately I do schedule my social media time. I really fell into the whole craze because of years of feeling disconnected and awkward and because it kept me from my family at times. So I tend to do it more in the mornings and then when everyone is home at night or on weekends, I unplug.

    Facebook is fascinating to me but I really love it. Where else can you ask for advice on anything and have your fourth grade teacher, your college roommate and your mama friend all in the same conversation! It’s weird!!!

    Starting now must be odd. Did you get a ton of FB requests at once from people from all walks of your life? I started when FB was new so I have no idea what it would be like.

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    • I hear you, it’s easy to fall into the comfy 🙂 black hole of social media because it can be so embracing and wonderful, but at the same time, potentially alienating to family. That’s why I need to find a balance. I like your idea of using nights and weekends to unplug to be with family.

      I did get lots of FB request early on, and some still popped up years later! It’s a little overwhelming to start now, but in a way it’s good because I get to figure out exactly how I want to use it before digging in too deeply.

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  15. I really struggle with this- which is why I give up FB for Lent each year. There’s a lot I could say about it- but I will just say- it’s like most things- has pros and cons. The key is to manage it rather than letting it manage you. I’m pretty sure I read somewhere that the spike in your happy hormone when you receive a message or email is at a similar level or the same hormone as is present in drug addiction. I wanted to pass along this series of articles on it- this is one and there are links to the others at the bottom of it: http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/13066/blog-alogue-final-question-time-for-social-media/

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    • I love that you gave up FB for Lent! Because I know how easy it is to get sucked in. That is partly why I stayed away for so long, I know how susceptible I am to these things. Twitter consumed me too, for a few months. It’s lessened now, and I suspect the same may happen with FB, but in the meantime what a time and brain suck. I read about the whole dopamine hit you get for every like, friend, email, etc, and I’m so glad that technology is where I begin and end regarding the addictive quality!

      Thanks for the link, I’m checking it out now.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Laurie, good to know I’m not alone 🙂 But I can see how it can fizzle by the end of the day. I am trying not to log on at all during the day, just a quick check in the AM and PM, but so far I’m only moderately successful…

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  16. You are so right!
    I’ve been stepping away more and more. There are feelings that are stirred when I enter certain spaces, feelings that I only have as a result of those spaces. Lately those feelings have been leaning heavily to the negative. I have unfriended people on FB that I let in for reasons I no longer remember. I’ve declined to engage in certain twitter mobs. I take days away from Instagram. I think the turning away and turning back reveals greater joy on both sides.

    I think I want a rock 🙂

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    • Thanks so much Amanda. It’s a really hard juggle, because I feel so grateful to have found such a wonderful writing community online, but at the same time, it can all be TOO much. Twitter and Facebook feeds are endless and they make me feel so anxious after a while. When I stay away, I feel more at ease and less consumed by it all.

      You should make a rock! It might be fun for your girls, too. My daughter (almost 7) loved making them. We used some paint pens I got from Michael’s and drew animals and designs on them (and then I made my own special word rock).

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  17. It’s a really hard balance, one that I am terrible at. In fact, my post this week voices some similar thoughts, the main one being that I am missing out by being so distracted all the time. Facebook is the worst by far. I’m not even that interested in all these random people that I went to school with, but I can lose an hour reading status updates, all the while thinking, I don’t care! But, I would feel ‘left out’ if I left the conversation… there’s a teenage girl left inside us, isn’t there? Thank you so much for sharing with #ThePrompt x

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  18. “Sometimes I think I stay online because I am so afraid of missing anything. But if I’m not careful, I will miss my life.” This is me; spoke right to my heart. I really struggle with this–the need to check in, to indulge my serious case of FOMO, to stay on top of what’s out there, what’s worth reading, who’s saying what, and on and on and on…but the interest and curiosity is insatiable–at what point will I feel like, ok, I’ve read enough. I can put the phone away today. I worry I never get there. I think for me, it’s also tied up in a newfound sense of loneliness–new town, no traditional workplace to fill my desire for adult socialization, etc. Sneaking peeks online has definitely filled my need to connect–but at what cost…I am definitely more distracted when I’m with the real, flesh-and-blood human beings in my life. I’ve debated carving out set times for social media / online reading. If you do try such a thing (or know anyone who does), I’d be interested to hear how it goes & what you recommend. In any event, thank you, thank you for this lovely, thoughtful, relatable post! xo

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    • It’s a vicious cycle, and the more I click, the harder it is to stop. I keep thinking I need to keep up, that I have to read every single link. It feels so crucial in the moment, yet when I manage to step away, the urge fades. Like with Twitter, but only because I started FB. Sigh. It’s so clearly an addiction!

      It definitely fills a void for me, too. I’m in a new town and have very few real life friends to lean on, so it’s easy to fall into what can be a great and supportive environment. But too much, is, well, too much.

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  19. Dana, great post!

    I left FB, then created a slightly different new account with… get this… only 8 close friends! Imagine. Can skim through the newsfeed in seconds once or twice per week, its great. Love Twitter & WordPress but try to limit the use of my smartphone in the presence of my child. I see many mums tapping away on their phones at the school gates, on the school run and at the park – I think it sends out the wrong message to our children. We ignore the phone when eating and the dining room has no t.v. Some might find this odd but it facilitates proper engagement and meaningful conversations.

    Use technology wisely, family time is precious – as you so eloquently quote.

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    • I love that idea of only 8 people! I’m still in the low numbers since I started so late, but I bet people who began early on could really rack up way too many people. I agree about limiting phone use in front of kids… in theory !!! But I’m working on doing it less.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. Ugh. I can totally relate. I’ve been sucked in to online media (mostly FB) lately and feel my soul dying with each click. Thank you for this reminder!

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  21. I can relate as well. I have backed off of blogging and social media a lot over the past six months or so and the world didn’t end. Still though I feel guilty sometimes. I worry that I need to post more frequently… but I was staying up until 1 am every night and then was grumpy getting my son ready for school so I just backed away a little bit. I’m still really guilty of checking FB and Twitter too often but something happened during the shift as well – I just don’t care as much about the numbers. I mean, I care about writing, and forming connections with fellow bloggers, and have made amazing friendships through blogging. But. I no longer check my site stats daily, and I’m not 100% sure how many Twitter followers I have off the top of my head. Of course, typing that makes me freak out a little and feel like I need to go engage NOW but well, hopefully I won’t (ok I totally will but then by the end of the week I’ll be bleh about it again. maybe). Glad to have read this tonight!

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    • Kristi, thanks so much for reading my post and chiming in. It’s a really, REALLY hard juggle, isn’t it? I’m still trying to figure it out. The fear of missing out, which I’ve discovered has an acronym (of course) – FOMO – is such a strange beast. It grows bigger the more time I spend online, but I know from experience it will fade after I come down from withdrawl. It truly is an addiction at times.

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  22. “Focus” is the word I chose for this year. I have been “present” in life this year…however, the cost is my writing. I’m trying to find a balance. I don’t want to neglect my writing which is really foremost for me, but I also don’t want to give up living fully in the now and the connections I am enjoying. Some days it’s difficult, isn’t it? I find as long as I don’t allow guilt from whatever I’ve neglected to creep up on me my happiness stays intact.

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    • I absolutely love your last line here, “as long as I don’t allow guilt from whatever I’ve neglected to creep up on me my happiness stays intact” – I think I need to pin that up on my bulletin board! Thanks so much for coming by Suzi. I’m really happy to have found your blog via the wonderful Rudri.

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  23. Pingback: Diving In | writing at the table

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