What If We Put Down Our Phones — and Started Living?

What If We Put Down Our Phones — and Started Living?

This afternoon, I met with a fellow creative for happy hour and to discuss a potential collaboration. What I initially expected to be an hour meeting turned into three hours of conversation about art, entrepreneurship, family, moving to a new city, the creative process, writing, authenticity, being paid what you’re worth, setting boundaries, the meaning of beauty, and travel.

The best part? We were having such a great time that our phones didn’t come out once, other than to exchange numbers. There was no compelling need to photograph our meal, ourselves, or to otherwise document the occasion. And while there’s nothing wrong with doing any of those things, I marveled at the silent agreement that had been made between us: our mutual company was enough.

The conversation was enough.

Being present was enough.

Recently, I read a quote from novelist and Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison that resonated with me:

“At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough. You don’t need to photograph it, paint or even remember it. It is enough.”

I think I may have reached that point.

The last week of December 2017 was an eye-opening time for me. After reflecting on what I had experienced in the previous year, I realized I had thousands of photos to look at — but the majority of these images portrayed only half realities. (There were more than a few smiling selfies in which puffy eyes hid behind dark glasses.)

Further, in selectively sharing only my best photos to social media, I was adding to what I believe is a dangerous clamor responsible for alarming rates of anxiety, depression, feelings of inadequacy, and other forms of psychological distress. And research suggests our society’s youngest members are at the highest risk of developing these side effects, particularly when using Instagram.

It seems that, in our widespread use of social media, many people are living within the self-imposed constraints of curated lives. Many of us show our faces only when they’re made up, filtered, and otherwise beautified. (Ladies, please tell me you realize the smoothing function makes your husbands look like Ken Dolls and your babies’ already cherublike faces resemble possessed Cabbage Patch Kids. You and your families are beautiful; please stop turning them into scary dolls in the name of vanity.)

Yes, there are certain benefits of social networking.

I work in this field, so I’ll be the first to disclose: social media is an integral part of my business and my livelihood. The platforms at our disposal have revolutionized and streamlined the way we communicate. News and information can reach millions of people in mere minutes. Powerful imagery can be uploaded to the web and shared with people on the other side of the planet in seconds. Correspondence can happen between loved ones living across oceans.

But at what expense do we experience those benefits? At the expense of our productivity? At the expense of our authenticity? At the expense of our mental health?

As I looked at my year in photos and pondered the disconnect between what I showed the world of an entire year of my life — and the reality of that year (for the record, 2017 sucked, y’all), a part of me — the part of me that craved connection, suffered intense FOMO, and needed constant approval — cracked in two.

It was by no means a trip to the beach or the mountains for a full-fledged digital detox, but I embarked on a brief purge that meant four days without using my phone, watching television, or listening to the radio.

Those four days were both my punishment and my reward.

I missed social invitations, yet fortuitously ended up running into several friends whom I hadn’t seen in months. I missed a few days of working over the weekend, yet that meant I actually took time off for the holiday (like most normal people with jobs and vacation time do). I was absent from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Marco Polo, Strava, Instagram, et al. — but I was, for the first time in months (maybe years) present in my own life.

Something else amazing happened when I realized I didn’t have to publicize every social function, every life event, every happy hour, every toast with friends. I call it liberation. It was only a four-day-long detox, but I felt like I got my life back.

In the weeks that followed, I found myself experiencing my life with newfound curiosity and wonder. My phone’s battery began to last the entire day, instead of just eight or nine hours. I began to notice just how dependent I was on a device — for distraction, for entertainment, and for fulfilment.

And I started asking myself some tough questions I wasn’t willing to answer even a week earlier.

What would happen our society stopped its morbid fixation on documenting every last detail our lives?

What would happen if we truly showed up — with our presence alone as our sole intent?

What would happen if we put… the phone… down?

Social media platforms go away, algorithms change, people get bored, people unfollow. Remember MySpace? You may laugh, but that kind of mass, gradual exodus can (and will) happen again. (Did I mention I do this for a living?)

If you, like me, could rarely enjoy a moment last year without your phone in front of your face, a digital detox may be in order. At the very least, I’m inviting you to join me in committing to connectivity — real connectivity — in 2018. Whether that’s reconnecting with others or reconnecting with ourselves, I feel it’s a worthwhile endeavor.

We still have 11 months remaining in the year to show up, be present, and take it all in — even without the phone. Maybe, just maybe, everything about our lives would improve.


Finger-Pointing and a Well-Aimed Slingshot

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” ― Anne Lamott

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about kindness and compassion—both how easy it is to forget the importance of these qualities and how quickly we remember them when we’re on the receiving end of harsh words or behavior.

Much of this frustration came to a head over the weekend when I ran into an old friend at a local beer market. We caught up over a quick conversation—only to have one of her short little crones… er cronies… approach, point a finger up into her face, and angrily say, “YOU should NOT be TALKING to her!” (Capitalization used to indicate the shrill inflection characteristic of a convincingly repugnant movie witch.)


Here’s the thing: I had never seen this woman before in my life. And she didn’t know me; she only knew what she had learned from her companions in my absence. But there’s a reason for this behavior: I left their religion. Five years ago.

Now, that may not seem like a good reason to outsiders, but it’s their reason, and these individuals are entitled to behave in whatever manner they see fit, just as bakeries in certain states can refuse to provide wedding cakes to homosexuals. It may not be just or kind, but it’s their right.

But when I saw that unfortunate woman’s furiously plump red cheeks and fleshy finger shoved into this poor woman’s face—and the insinuation that I was a disease-ridden monster to be avoided and abhorred—something in me snapped.

For a long time, I’ve decided not to share certain things about my life publicly, due to fear of speaking ill of my former friends, being labeled by them, or disregarded further by the few beautiful people (out of thousands) who still maintain even sporadic contact with me.

However, partly due to keeping pseudo-religious posts to a minimum, my blogging has come to a standstill. I now know I was doing a disservice to myself and others by writing about only cheerful and superfluous topics—without also sharing that which is honest and real. It was almost as if I was on a pathway leading into a verdant forest, but blocking my way was an enormous rocky crag, and the only way to move forward was to make a long difficult climb over it.

I’m beginning to realize that moving forward in life requires saying the hard things, and having difficult conversations that might hurt people. And, when I look ahead at my life, the risk of not saying them poses more harm than keeping them inside.

While I certainly have no desire to point fingers because that would be unkind (does anyone else see the irony here?), it’s worth acknowledging that the majority of this post is fueled by the brilliant Anne Lamott quote at the outset. So I won’t use names, but I will use examples. In honor of moving forward, it’s time for me to climb over the hard things that stand in my way.

I’m tired of protecting people who engage in shunning and ostracism because they believe they are representing the will of god.

I’m tired of making excuses for people who will go out of their way to greet my friends when I am in their company but simultaneously pretend I do not exist.

I’m tired of protecting people who hide behind religion as permission to administer so-called street justice in the name of their faith.

I’m tired of remaining silent about the people who heartlessly divided up and distributed my personal belongings amongst themselves during a drunken house party before my divorce was final.

I’m tired of defending people who blamed me for the same or similar mistakes they themselves have made throughout their lives.

I’m tired of defending a religious band of glorified frat boys who jeered and yelled at me one night as I walked along one of Boise’s busiest streets after having dinner with friends.

And as of Sunday, as I watched that sad little finger wagging in the face of one of my most favorite old friends, I’m tired of defending people who continue to deprive me of my basic human right to be acknowledged and to take up space on this planet.

Frankly, I’m also tired of making excuses for “nice people” who have not been all that nice to me. Throughout history, so-called “nice people” have committed terrible atrocities in the name of religion.

Ever read Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, by Jon Krakauer? It will give you a whole new (and terrifying) perspective about churches that favor personal revelations and messages from god. And lately, if you’ve been watching the news, you’re likely tired of hearing about religions that deprive their children of proper medical treatment in the name of faith—but are defended by certain legislators who deem them “nice people”.

For the record, the intent of this post has nothing to do with religion. It’s not about god, or politics, or even activism. It’s about compassion. It is about the basic tenet of treating humans with compassion and dignity—and if that’s missing from your religion, you have some serious spiritual problems to address.

It’s sad to admit that I’ve learned as much about compassion in the last five years as I did in the decades previously. That may be partly because my former religion preaches that the “meek will inherit the earth”—while smugly acknowledging their own meekness will win them salvation (and simultaneously pointing both figurative and literal fingers in people’s faces).

Most importantly, I’ve learned what meek people (or “nice people”, for the non-zealots) look like. But strangely enough, they are some of the same people I was too busy judging in previous years that I failed to see their contribution to humanity. Here’s what one of them looks like:


Today, a Facebook friend shared the above video of the sweetest old Greek grandmother who accepts refugees in need with open hands and an open heart, when many in the world consider them a burden (or worse).

While I can’t relate 100 percent to the devastating plight of humans on the run for their lives, I do know what it’s like to be treated like a subhuman species by a large group of people which places more value on judgment than on human kindness. And it seems to me that this world would be a lot better off if we all tried to be a bit more like this grandmother.

Yet, some are so worried about protecting their own rights that we justify hurting people (or at least not helping them), simply to make a statement. When did being right come at the expense of others’ wellbeing?

Lately, I’ve been asking myself some big and very tough questions: ‘How do I treat people? How do they feel I’m treating them?’

But maybe more specifically, ‘How do I treat well-arranged and beautiful living sculptures of bone and sinew and flesh, with their very unique backgrounds, life stories, pains, heartbreaks, and daily struggles?’

And that’s when I know: there is always room for more compassion.

Noted Scotsman and author Ian MacLaren once said, “Be kind. Everyone you meet is carrying a heavy burden.” Isn’t that the truth? Sometimes I think humanness is synonymous with weakness; there are days when just living can be a challenge.

But there is a power transfer that occurs during acts of kindness and compassion. Doing or saying nice things hurts no one. In fact, it can change the world. And it definitely can change our relationships.

Occasionally, old friends and family members will ask why I don’t return to my former faith, in a tone that often borders on pleading. Part of me understands the desperation—many of these individuals honestly believe that I’m as good as dead, at least until I am properly disposed of by their supposedly loving “god”.

It’s during these conversations (and especially while writing this) that I think of the words of Maggie Kuhn, a lifelong activist who fought for human rights, and social and economic justice:

“Leave safety behind. Put your body on the line. Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind—even if your voice shakes. When you least expect it, someone may actually listen to what you have to say. Well-aimed slingshots can topple giants.”

I don’t often share such raw, personal experiences. It’s scary and it’s very, very hard to do, especially in anticipation of the inevitable fallout, hurt feelings, and ridicule. But if “speaking my mind” means endorsing compassion over judgment, kindness over criticism, and love over condemnation, I will gladly bear my slingshot, and accept whatever punishment comes with it.

Ultimately, one major purpose of this blog is finding inspiration—and how can you and I be inspired unless we first climb over what stands in our way? So if sharing this writing with the world means it resonates with someone, then I have all the courage I need. Better yet, if it helps us understand one another, or empowers someone to have a conversation about something that’s been difficult to address, then I’ve done my job as a writer.

And if you need one, I’m happy to let you borrow my slingshot.

How to Suck it up Social Media Style: A Recovery Program

Have you or someone you love recently been offended by a comment made via social media?

Are you currently discussing the grievance amongst your closest friends?

Do you often feel the need to address minor disagreements via comments on public profiles, private messages, or outright unfriendings?

If so, you may be suffering from an acute case of “Toomuchtimeonyourhandsitis”. This condition is serious and requires immediate attention—but there is hope!

toomuchtimeonyourhandsitisToomuchtimeonyourhandsitis can be effectively treated with regular injections of SUCKITUP and GETALIFE.

Less harsh alternatives include a recommended daily dosage of physical exercise (endorphins, yo), healthy personal relationships, and a fulfilling career—essentially, any activity that logs you out of Facebook and into the real world.

But the healing doesn’t stop there. Once you’ve acknowledged that other humans are going to say and do things you don’t like, you are on the road to recovery. Here are five easy ways to guarantee that someone will have an opinion that differs from yours:

  1. Pursue a career in line with your personal values.
  2. Date someone who makes your heart flutter.
  3. Have a political stance.
  4. Have an opinion (about anything).
  5. Be alive.

Here’s the rub. YOU CHOOSE how much time you waste obsessing about minor disagreements (and, no coincidence here, how much time you fritter away arguing about trivialities on Facebook).

Read: Your peace of mind is your own responsibility.

So pick your battles, people. For someone fighting in an outright war, the gravity of your complaint likely pales in comparison to their recent layoff, their medical diagnosis, their crippling addiction, or their death in the family.

As a general rule, it’s safe to assume that if something offends you (with exception to murder, rape, or the literal kicking of babies and/or puppies), your trivial beef is probably best swallowed and forgotten.

If You Can’t Say Something Nice… Then Get Out

According to Soul Pancake’s Kid President in 20 Things We Should Say More Often, the number one thing is: SOMETHING NICE.

Have you said something nice today?

As of today, many of us gratitude journalers have penned 30 things for which we’re grateful. If your list looks like mine, a good many of those 30 “things” on your list are people. But have you actually told those people they made your list?

child's hand offering daisyYesterday I received such a message from a friend, saying she was thankful that we met. How often does that happen?!?

Nonetheless, much like the pay-it-forward line at Starbucks the other day, I was moved to spread the love, so I sent a few of my own “happy to know you” messages.

Because I’m thankful for people. ALL kinds: the good ones, the bad ones, the adventurous ones, the intelligent ones, the likable ones, and even those not so likable.

Here’s a handy guide to help gauge where you fall in the latter category, inspired by Kid President.

  • Do you repeatedly and almost exclusively talk negatively about others? Or do you have more important things to do and/or discuss?
  • Do people like you as much as your pets do?
  • Whether you agree with the estimation or not, have you ever been labeled a “bully” or a “troll”? Or do people generally describe you as fair, generous, and kind?
  • Are your in-person and social media interactions consumed by a self-appointed task of berating others who disagree with you?
  • Beyond just claiming to agree to disagree, are you truly capable of showing respect and grace toward others with different opinions? Or do they feel treated as less than human?
  • Are you continually enmeshed in heated debates, hashing and rehashing problems? Or would you say you’re a part of creating solutions?

hands reaching

Even for those that fall a bit short in the warm-and-fuzzy social scale, then I feel compelled to say, from the bottom of my heart, “Thank you.”

Because it is people like these that provide constant reminders of what kind of people the rest of us never want to be.

But if you’re reading this, without judgment or scorn (because that’s what the good ones do, they look for the good, no?), you are one of the rarities. And you should read this, along with me, every single day:

Never allow anyone to rain on your parade and thus cast a pall of gloom and defeat on the entire day. Remember that no talent, no self-denial, no brains, no character, are required to set up in the fault-finding business. Nothing external can have any power over you unless you permit it. Your time is too precious to be sacrificed in wasted days combating the menial forces of hate, jealousy, and envy. Guard your fragile life carefully. Only God can shape a flower, but any foolish child can pull it to pieces.” ―Og Mandino

Now, let’s all go out and say something nice—or at least buy someone else’s coffee.

Social Media—The Game Changer

I never tire of observing the polarity of social media engagement. If there’s anything I’ve learned about this fast evolving game, it’s that everyone plays by a set of different rules.

Social media is a lot like football.

Some take it very seriously. Some engage just for fun. Usage can lean toward the personal, the professional, or may fall somewhere in between. There may be witty statuses updated, pictures posted, articles shared, or game progressions revealed.

Some see it as an opportunity to interact with fellow adults via respectful discourse, genuinely asking for the answers to difficult questions and hoping for solutions to big issues. Others use it as a platform to broadcast their beliefs, often stating their opinions as fact and berating others with differing views.

I used to be afraid of trolls as a child. But they really are quite harmless (even if they do have bad hair).
I was afraid of trolls as a child. But they really are quite harmless (even if they do have bad hair).

And while social media has increased the speed at which we can receive information, it has also completely changed the way we share it.

Social has transformed the way we communicate.

It’s made us harder, more opinionated, and a little less forgiving. We engage in heated battles via Facebook, and talk to one another roughly via Twitter’s limited 140 characters.

On the flip side, how often do we treat our acquaintances with that same brusqueness when we see them in person? I don’t know about you, but if I could see the countenance of every person with whom I communicate online, I would likely be a little less vocal.

Because feelings get hurt easily, no matter how much of a troll a person may appear to be on the web.

Come to think of it, aren’t we all flawed human beings who make errors in judgment? Personally, I struggle to find the perfect balance—both in face-to-face communication and when online. What should I say? What shouldn’t I say? How much is too much? And how do I remedy a situation if I’ve crossed some invisible, digital line? I’ve certainly made my share of bad calls, throwing  inappropriate statements like yellow flags onto a field of aghast onlookers. And sometimes those calls must be retracted and apologies must be made.

But if something unkind is said in person, anyone with decency would promptly apologize. That’s not always the case on the worldwide web. In that climate, if you mistakenly tackle a teammate by saying something inappropriate, sometimes without knowing or intending to, you lose a friend. Sometimes permanently. But always with a crowd nearby to taunt or cheer both teams along.

football players on field
Social media—how do you play the game?

Due to my vocation, I spend most of the day logged into multiple social media platforms for both personal and professional use. I’m the frequent announcer of my own game, and my voice projects louder than the crowd noise (at least when it comes to my own Facebook wall).

That sense of hyper-engagement has sparked this post, as well as the following questions:

How do you prefer to engage online? Do you socialize casually or professionally? If you’ve ever found yourself sacked or outed when communicating via social media, how did you handle the situation?

Also, if you’re on Twitter, let’s play ball. I’ll try not to make too many bad passes.

Taking Out the Trash: The Case of Too Much Stuff

Taking Out the Trash: The Case of Too Much Stuff


Nothing will make you take inventory of your earthly possessions quite like acquiring a roommate, moving, or writing a will.

I have done all three, some more frequently than others. But each time, my conclusion is the same: I have too… much… STUFF.

Stuff like empty egg cartons, Pringles containers, pages of wedding-themed scrapbook paper (the usefulness of which is growing more unlikely with each passing day), and a mélange of other items worthy of some art project.

If you had the incredible privilege of knowing my grandmother, you’d know about her propensity for holding onto a staggering amount of stuff, and you would not be surprised that I am of her kin.

Of all the oddities she saved, one collection in particular stands out: After my parents’ divorce, she set aside several photographs that documented my mom and dad’s young love—and the bittersweet years that followed. Now, many families I know bitterly dispose of all tangible remnants of a failed marriage. But not this woman. She kept these photos and hid them from everyone (even me), knowing that they could be inadvertently discarded in a moment of frustration. (She was wise to do so. Many years later, I threw away an entire box of love letters from a former boyfriend, an act of impetuous defiance I still regret.)

That’s not to say that “taking out the trash” is a bad idea. About a year ago, one of my good friends succinctly coined the phrase, and it has come to  define the process of cleaning my house (and personal life) of unnecessary crap. If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you know this purging is a recurring theme: the purging of several items, a list which often includes toxic relationships or disloyal friends. This doesn’t mean I’m anxious to rid myself of them, the cleansing simply needs to occur more frequently than most people realize. And I can’t begin to tell you how much less malodorous my life has become after taking out said waste—both literally and socially.

But sometimes, in the name of spring cleaning—or self-betterment—we dispose of things we shouldn’t, like old love letters or photographs. Or people.

I’ll be the first to admit, it’s hard to know when to throw certain things away. It’s even harder to know whether to discard a friendship/relationship or to try and salvage it. To further complicate matters, our social-media-obsessed world makes it difficult to know if and when it’s appropriate to unfriend versus courageously talking through our differences (or heaven forbid, overlooking them).

Maybe it’s because I’ve been thinking of my late grandma a lot lately, or maybe I’m just sentimental. But I’m realizing that some of this “stuff” might not even be trash at all. Maybe it just needs to be put in a box, labeled, and placed on a shelf for another day.

Except the empty egg cartons. Those have got to go.

Life is a Party—Bring Something to the Table

Life is a Party—Bring Something to the Table

Friday night after dark found me at a friend’s home in the lovely Surprise Valley area. It had been an especially long and difficult week, but the gorgeous view, fire-pit smiles, baked clams, and a seemingly endless supply of red wine quickly turned things around.

wine bottles

I had brought a bottle, of course, which was promptly enjoyed. (To show up empty handed would have been a social sin, in my book.) The Toscana blend, from “Santa Christina” (which sounds quite fancy—read, expensive—but really isn’t, as I rarely break my self-imposed ‘ten dollar and under’ rule when buying wine) came highly recommended by my local co-op’s wine shop, and who was I to argue? My adult beverage of choice is often the kalimotxo, a signature Basque drink made with inexpensive red wine and coca-cola. My palette is hardly refined.

Either way, I arrived to the gathering with a tangible contribution to the effort. But that got me thinking: In what other areas of my life am I a little less prepared to arrive with something in hand, so to speak? How do my relationships, my creativity, and, ultimately, my life suffer because I’m doing more taking than giving?

Particularly, as a creative, how frequently am I partaking in what others have offered up to the world as opposed to offering something in which others can partake?

I stumbled upon a quote the other day that went a little something like this:

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing about.” -Benjamin Franklin

I consider myself both a reader and a writer (one of which I get paid to be, the other is an insatiable hobby), so the words hit home. I had also read a recent article on Cracked (6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person) that conveyed a similar insight: “How much of your time is spent consuming things other people made (TV, music, video games, websites) versus making your own? Only one of those adds to your value as a human being.”


Isn’t every film, every book, and every piece of fine art a creative work in and of itself? But I had to ask myself, When was the last time I did something worth filming or writing about, wrote something worth reading, or created a painting worth hanging on the mantle? 

After recently reading Don Miguel Ruiz’s book The Mastery of Love, I was struck by one of his metaphors. He describes a “magical kitchen,” where you can have any food you want from any place in the world in any quantity, and you never worry about what to eat. You can have anything you wish for, and can share it with whomever you wish. One day someone knocks at your door with a pizza in hand, and says, “I’ll give you this pizza if you let me control your life. And you’ll never starve because I can bring it to you every day.” How ridiculous would it be to take that offer? You can have your own pizza, even better. You’d obviously laugh aloud and say, “No, thank you.”

And yet, in reality, we so often accept that pathetic, inferior proposal. There’s so much we each have to offer the world and yet we absentmindedly take someone else’s crusty old pizza—their ideas, their affection, etc.—when we have everything we need for a delicious feast, right in our own kitchen.

While the author is illustrating self-love versus love from others (you have an abundance of love in your own heart, not just for yourself, but to share with the world, so why rely on someone else’s to sustain you?), I think the same can be said for our accomplishments—our creative efforts, if you will.

Due to my vocation, I spend much of my time online, so I’m bombarded every day by a tremendous amount of written and visual information: curated articles, cat memes, stunning new research, brilliant commentary—the list goes on and on, beyond information overload and into another more dangerous realm. A realm where I feast on the spoils of others’ creativity, rather than my own. 

I can’t remember the last time I picked up a paintbrush, yet ten years ago, I painted more hours in a day than I slept. But am I a fan of MoMA on Facebook? Absolutely. Can I name off a handful of local artists, whose work I have in my home? Yep. Also, within the last year, I’ve read about a dozen books, and have about a dozen more on my nightstand. But have I finished writing my own? Nope. (This may sound neurotic, but one of the only reasons I’m afraid of dying is due to the inevitability of friends and family finding several half-written manuscripts and wondering why on earth I never published them.)

As with most bloggers, my posts are as much for introspection as they are for sharing. So in acknowledging my own need to create and offer something of value in my lifetime, I’m in turn inviting others to do the same. In confessing my shortage of art production, I believe that someone who hasn’t painted in years might pull their canvases out of storage and start again. In mentioning my unfinished manuscripts, I hope that someone who reads this might be inspired to finish theirs.

Let’s  get our arses off the couch and away from the television, and show up to this party with something in hand. We’re not just in this world to partake, we must contribute.