Check In, 6/30/20
Posted on June 30, 2020 Posted by John Scalzi 47 Comments
First, in my brain I had today, Tuesday, pegged as the first day of July when I took my break. I was genuinely taken by surprise yesterday when I looked at a calendar and it was the 29th instead of the 30th. Math is hard, y’all. Anyway, today was the day I put in my schedule to check back in with everyone, even if it’s a day early on the calendar. So, uh, hello.
Second, I feel better, thank you. I spent most of my days off reading, watching movies, playing video games and taking pictures, such as the one above, of a lily that’s in my yard. And also, you know, thinking about life and things and stuff. Taking time away from the world was a good thing for me, because the week before this felt like getting repeatedly punched in the face by news and revelations, and I needed time to process all of it, away from people who (it at least felt like) wanted me to immediately respond to everything that was happening, and then wanted to nitpick how I responded. I can handle a lot of that, but eventually I need to tap out, as I expect anyone else would. Four days off did a lot to help get me on a more even keel.
(Although not entirely. Still processing, folks. Still thinking about things. But feeling a little less like I’m being punched in the face by events.)
Third, looking back on June I got less writing done that I would like: about 12,000 words, which is not bad, but I spent most of the second half of the month distracted by events, both public and personal. Tomorrow starts the second half of the year — I know, what the actual hell, right? — and if I write a thousand words a day, every day, between July 1 and December 31, I will just about be on schedule for everything I have due by the end of the year in terms of pay copy. This doesn’t count other projects, both professional and personal, I’d like to engage with before 2020 is history.
My solution here is something I already know — run away from social media for some portion of the day. When I did that in the first half of June I did fine; when I didn’t in the second half, well. I lost a considerable amount of focus. This is, for me, a tale as old as time.
With that said, there’s another aspect of it, too, which I think I’ve been minimizing: it’s not just time on social media, it’s engagement when I am on it, and how social media is making me feel when I use it. The term “doomscrolling” refers to how people basically suck down fountains of bad news on their social media thanks to friends (and others) posting things they’re outraged about. It’s gotten to the point for me where, particularly on Twitter, it feels like it’s almost all doomscrolling, all the time, whether I want it to be or not.
I don’t want to leave Twitter (or other social media), but I do have to recalibrate how I manage it if I want to stay on it. So that’s a thing I’ll be doing — I’ll be trying some things on Twitter and other social media starting today and recalibrating as needed going forward. How will this affect Whatever? I don’t think too much, except that I am considering turning off comments on posts here slightly more often, if for time and/or other reasons I’m not able to ride herd on the conversation. We’ll see.
So that’s where I am at the moment! Wheee, it’s fun! I hope you’re okay, and wearing masks and being smart about social distancing and all that good stuff. We’re about to get into the second half of this year. It’s going to be a thing. Let’s get to it.
I agree about “doom scrolling.” That’s why I post so many funny memes, jokes, and silly stuff…I also post interesting science and history. I don’t want to be a stress donor to my friends.
“The term “doomscrolling” refers to how people basically suck down fountains of bad news on their social media thanks to friends (and others) posting things they’re outraged about. ”
Can we call these folks ‘doomposters’ ? And are these people really the friends we’re looking for?
“Your focus determines your reality.” Qui-Gon Jinn
I noticed some folk were getting crankity about your lack of immediate off the cuff response to June scandal #9,901. Dunno about any other frequent visitors here, but I usually need time to properly process an event and frame a response.
As a fan, will there be any Emperox Most Profane books? What was it like writing her scenes?
“Doomscrolling”–I like that. Sounds about right. I finally gave up on Twitter a few years ago. So much garbage, pettiness and outright trolling that it’s hard to see much benefit in it. Sadly, Facebook isn’t much better these days, but at least it allows enough characters in a post that people can say something thoughtful without having to break their post up into a numbered thread. Might still need a vacation from all of it.
I am happier in my bubble on those days I don’t get trapped scrolling through social feeds, but its tough for me to balance “knowing what’s going on” vs “ahhhh its all on fire and horrible” without slipping down that doomscroll despair slope… and nobody but my wife expects me to discuss it with them. And I didn’t get punched in the face with such horrible stuff about people I know directly. Take all the time you need.
That we’re half way through 2020 seems… optimistic, somehow? We’re not over the hump of horrible things yet, I think…
But whatcha playing? Something fun? I REALLY want to get in to TLOUS2… I loved the first one AND I have a thing for the Critical Role cast, who feature prominently. But woo it seems like a bleak game to be playing right now.
I accidentally walked away from social media back in the fall; I got so busy that something had to give, and it turned out to be that. I was planning on going back over the winter vacation, but the issue is that in the meantime, my anxiety had plummeted to near zero, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to give that up. As a result, I still haven’t returned.
I’m not sure what to do about it. My friends and family are so geographically scattered that without social media, I quickly lose track of what a lot of them are up to and how they’re doing. These are people I care a lot about. On top of that, beginning to follow Black, Indigenous, and disabled voices on Twitter was crucial to the much better understanding of societal power dynamics that I finally got around to developing in my mid-twenties. It’s a work in progress for me, but nothing else has played such a pivotal role.
But the big problem for me, especially since 2014, was absorbing an enormous amount of secondhand apprehension. If someone I cared about shared an alarmed/negative reaction to a news story I hadn’t seen yet, first I’d notice their reaction and feel bad that they were having a hard time, then read the news story through the lens of that. This happened so many times in a row over so many years that a) it ran my own ability to look at the news completely into the ground because I was overwhelmed by feeling bad for people who were agitated; and b) I also misplaced the ability to decide how I felt about ongoing events myself. My reaction to just about everything in the news became nothing more than “my heart is thudding very badly and I feel moderately sick and I’m not sure I can even finish reading this article because I already know my friends are really upset about it.” Now, I don’t blame my friends for being upset – usually this was for good reason! – but I noticed that this happened even in the case of some minor thing that occurred that I didn’t think was a problem.
This helped convince me that there was something there I actually needed space to heal from. Ever since my accidental open-ended departure from social media, I’ve gradually been able to reclaim the ability to look at what’s going on. I am once again capable of empathizing and providing support and feeling terrible for those who are suffering without having disproportionate anxiety symptoms through the whole thing. Fortunately, by this point I’ve had a Facebook account for fifteen years (however preposterous that is), and the fact that people come and go and some have long since stopped using their accounts is well understood.
Gorgeous flahr! Glad you’re feeling better, and yes, we all need to take breaks from social media. For sanity, for productivity, for life.
John – you share more of your process, and your challenges, than just about any other popular writer. It’s really helpful to me and I’m sure others, and I’m grateful. Thank you.
The last four years, and this year in particular, have been…flattening. I feel especially sorry to those under direct threat from the Trump regime, and also young people who have had to live a big chunk of their lives in this awful chaos.
On a positive research note: have you checked out Kevin Jardine’s Galaxy Map website, blog and Twitter account yet? If not, here’s the upshot: we all now have Creative Commons-license, open-sourced, GAIA DR-2-derived vector maps of our corner of the Orion Arm of the galaxy to play with thanks to Kevin. If you’re interested in how he’s gotten there…?
Welcome back, and accept my good wishes for your time management efforts. I’m reading a book just now about a neurotic writer who keeps telling himself he must not get upset, like a character in Heart of Darkness, because it could be fatal. Metaphorically, I presume. I dislike the anxious tenor of much of media, so I skim through news as fast as possible, and don’t do media at all, apart from the occasional comment here. I find the mindfulness exercise helpful, when I do get panicky, focusing on how I actually am–in pain? Hungry? likely to be ejected to the curb any moment? Always, the answers are no. it helps to get some distance. I’m glad you came back on the day you intended rather than the day you said.
I have to be the person who says… it’s not a lily (Lilium)… it’s a daylily (Hemerocallis). Sorry.
Great to have you back. Missed your daily messages. One thing, though: this is Leap Year, right? So tomorrow (July 1) is day 183 of 366, and the second half of the year starts on Thursday the 2nd.
Just saying. Otherwise, carry on.
I appreciated your daily posts in June, but if you are overwhelmed and unhappy then it really isn’t worth it. Quick responses don’t always fit the rate of emotional equilibration – as with everything, fast, cheap, and good – pick any two (at most).
I get doom posting but I’ve also got the political parts of my timeline with massive disjunction and I don’t know where the twain will meet. I have my head on one side of it and I don’t understand either the logical or moral position of the other (for the most part) but there’s a sort of relationship doom too, like we’re in the midst of a messy divorce as a country except we can’t get divorced and can’t seem to fix things. So there a lot out there that is hard to process and about which I feel impotent.
welcome back – man, the maelstrom of sh!t is overwhelming at times. As someone on my feed posted – how can tomorrow be July if it feels like March?
The daily posts here weren’t a problem, actually. I may continue the “Five Things” format after this — it’s easy to do.
With age comes wisdom. Disengaging emotionally occasionally is wise. My 50s were years of self-evaluation, self-revelation, and self-recalibration.
May your maturity treat you kindly.
As you figure this stuff out, will you be sharing your process/conclusions? I for one am working on the same problem and would appreciate knowing how how approach it.
Do you know how long your stories will be or is that how you are paid, by the number of words?
I have a romantic and perhaps naive view of authors writing stories they love according to the schedule of their muse, becoming successful on talent alone, when in reality it’s likely work with arbitrary deadlines set by people who don’t understand the process and a constant pressure to over perform or risk homelessness.
1. I too thought today was July 1st! That’s an important date for me because…
2. I will be scaling down my “need a screen” use to the bare necessities for 30 days and then deciding what to keep and what to toss permanently. I’ve got dead-tree books, house and other projects to fill the time. I’m actually very curious about this and looking forward to it.
3. Please keep the “Five Things”
4. Can I make a few comments about the Collapsing Empire trilogy? I finished book one last week and am 80% done with book 2.
* I love the pacing, the push push push nature of your novels. Looking back at these two I can’t quickly identify a part that I’d call slow or a bog.
* I love the world-building. I think you’ve answered this elsewhere, but I can’t remember the answer so: would you allow other authors to write stories in the worlds you’ve built?
* The ship names are a plus.
* A negative: Don’t like Kiva Lagos. Let me explain: Cardenia and Marce both have clearly obvious strengths and weaknesses What are Kiva’s weaknesses? I have a pretty good idea of how Cardenia and Marce must have developed the qualities they display in the novels. Kiva is a mystery. And her scenes with her busily engaged in her favorite activity? I haven’t seen one yet that advanced the story. They seem to be there more for shock effect. I find that cringey.
* Cardenia and Tomas Reynauld Chenevert are my favorites, and I enjoyed their scene together.
I’ve tried taking breaks from “doomscrolling”, but at least for me it doesn’t seem to help. I’m not bothered by reading about bad things, I’m bothered by bad things happening and they’ll keep happening whether I’m reading about them or not. So I’m still stressed.
Thanks for that word “doomscrolling.” On Facebook my friends were filling up my feed with six or eight pictures of Trump every day — because that’s what displays when somebody links to a news article about his latest atrocious behavior — and I had to change some settings because the toxicity was too much. I read the news, constantly seeing his mug besides is too much.
Too bad there’s no computer app like Apple’s Screen Time that would help one limit time on Twitter or other media. (Hmmm. Maybe there is.) One that would put time limits on how long, block you from social media until you’ve achieved some sort of goal, check your pulse (with a wearable) while you’re twittering (or whatever) to make sure you didn’t get too involved, notify Krissy when you cheated (on too much media), etc. Missing TOR deadlines and not producing enough words each day are symptoms of low-grade depression.
During the Vietnam war era when I was in grad school, one of my buddies became very depressed over the war and had trouble attacking his thesis problem. So his advisor (who was my advisor as well) told him to stop watching the evening news. You know, Cronkite and the rest, for these was no Internet or cable at the time. He did. And it worked. Out of sight, out of mind, and back to theorem proving. Just an anecdatum.
Save the World?
Savor life by choosing wisely where to focus my intellectual, etc., pursuits?
I choose the latter…. quality (always!) time with my lovely and highly compatible wife, checking in with my kids every day, granchildren, sharing time with people who I believe enhance my life… not wasting my time with those who don’t, loving my cats, reading (102 books so far in 2020), listening to music which feeds my soul (listen to the song Chase Wild Horses by Kettering native Kim Richey… It came up on my playlist just now), walks to clear my head and maintain my health, watching and listening to the birds which we lovingly feed, and so much more (sad some of my passions not possible in a serious pandemic). Of course, I understand that my personal life choices are made possible since I am privileged to be a retired college professor at a relatively young age, 64.
Doing my part to save the world? My ability, given where I/we are in life, is minimal. I care deeply about many issues…equality, anthropogenic climate and environmental change (I taught an environmental chemistry course every few years during my career), our increasing political dysfunction due to our weak Constitution which requires rational compromise to accomplish anything of substance, and probably most disturbing to me, the ever increasing level of animus in our personal and collective communications. Again, I am privileged to be able to step back from most of the negativity.
John. You do have a fairly large platform to share your feelings and opinions, and engage with those who agree and disagree with you. The thoughts you have shared today indicate you are conflicted about your level of engagement. As an online reader of what you post, and a fan of your work in general, I’m sure the dings your mind and soul have taken over the years has become increasingly tiresome. I do believe that what you choose to share is thought-provoking and entertaining, and definitely forms a clear image of you and where you stand on issues. But very few, including me, wouldn’t understand if you choose to decrease your level of public engagement to focus on the seemingly wonderful and fulfilling life you, your family (including the cats), and your close friends, both personal and professional, have built over time.
Incoming! Noted on FB:
Apparently there’s another round of kerfuffle being played in the SF community….
Welcome back. You’ll be pleased to hear that, as far as I am concerned, you did get the date right. It really is 1st July down here in New Zealand.
I think it is absolutely essential to take frequent breaks from social media. I use WordPress more than anything else. I haven’t gotten rid of my Twitter account but I have to agree, it is like consuming a big whack of negativity the few ties I have been on it. I am glad you’re feeling a bit better. Take care of you!
I will say that I enjoyed reading your daily “5 things”, but if it interferes with your paying work of course you should set it aside or do it less frequently.
Glad to hear you’re doing better, John. 😊
For what very little it’s worth, I think you’re handling things (things specifically meaning your responses to various revelations and crises) very well.
That is, I’m glad you’re handling things in ways that are best for you and, by extension, your family.
Thanks for giving me a place to vent and, on occasion, tap out of the perpetual battle that is American citizenship.
Also, + 1,000 on rethinking engagement with social media.
While I disagree, fundamentally so, with another poster’s suggestion that judging, labeling and ghosting folks for venting on social media (the implications of that are especially problematic, depending on the identity of the angry person and the subject of his/her anger) is the way to go, I can totally get behind muting certain people lest you get engulfed in their rage.
I eschew most social media because I don’t play well with bigots or other terrible people; they infest all of the major platforms and the slumlords who run them won’t fumigate because money.
At any rate, I wish you sanity and contentment as you try and navigate this mess.
I’m an agnostic but agree with John Gray (no, the other one) that, no matter what your (lack of) belief is, if you’re a European you’re steeped in Christianity, a 2000 years’ of seepage.
My parents were atheist but their family roots are North Dutch Protestant – and I still carry that in my bones – so I am very good about feeling guilty about things. Not following the news makes me feel guilty in a peculiar manner. It’s not that I think I can change the world but there’s this sense that not reading the news is a form of desertion – in the way Leonard Cohen described it in his 9/11 song, On That Day: ‘Did you go crazy or did you report..?’ Reading the news is like showing up, I guess.
Anyway, there is something like mental – or spiritual? – hygiene, so, over time, I have managed to spend less hours reading the news. A maximum of two hours reading four newspapers, and no more than an hour per day on FB & Twitter.
(I have a few things I will read for my amusement, like this blog, and I have put those on a site that does what iGoogle used to do; so that’s a kind of personal front page, with only the voices of a few sane & entertaining writers politely asking for my attention.)
I’m glad you got a good break. I hope things let up on you a bit and words flow as you wish. Also, it was nice seeing you back in my feed, with a pretty lily (my dad loved orange ones) on my birthday. :) Sometimes there are good side effects to the calendar gettin’ wonky.
Yes, please do some more 5 things. The light parts you used were some of the better pieces I have seen of late. My digital feed had turned into doom-scrolling.
I have dismantled it and have been searching for good, soul inspiring stuff, but the Dunning-Kruger effect seems to be overwhelming the interweb.
I was also having a wonderful fantasy that it was much later in the year. I wanted the election to be right around the corner. Maybe our President will stay in meltdown mode for the duration anyway.
Twitter turns out to be really useful for extracting constructive customer support from large institutions like airlines, banks, bus companies. Who knew? I guess their social media teams are tasked with making the company look good, unlike their customer support apparatus.
As for the rest of Twitter. Phlrrrp….
1) you have a very nice garden (a yard in the UK is a concrete thing that terraced council houses had).
2) I vaguely remember something I was told at the supermarket I worked at when I was 17 collecting trolleys: if something good happens to someone, they will on average tell 5 people, something bad and it’s 7 people, so good service/news is harder to spread and it’s a basic human nature trait. Which is slightly sad in it’s own way, but if you’re aware of it, you can try to guard against the bad thoughts. Glad you’re feeling a bit better.
Welcome back, glad you are feeling better!
& glad/hopeful that you have the self-awareness to stop early so a 4 days break is sufficient to recharge your batteries & function again. You have been repeating to us about how draining this year has been and about the importance of taking care of ourselves and each other, and it’s good you (or those around you) paid attention to the signs.
You had also been explicitely & recently telling us about the challenge of reactIng the right way when « stuff » occur involving ppl close to you and the time needed to process things. It seems « we » should learn to respect that and to remember that after all, as was said of someone else in a different context, you are not our bitch.
Enjoy the summer holidays!
I really enjoy your Five Things posts, I consider you a better essayist than novelist. And that isn’t meant as backhanded snark to your novels. I’m glad you’re continuing them.
We all cope with screwed up times in different ways.
Our last cat, Java the Slut (a black Maine Coon mix who topped out at 20 lbs), crossed the Rainbow Bridge a little before Ghlaghghee. We have stayed catless since then, mostly for practical reasons.
My wife’s reaction to the barrage of COVID and Trump and economic disaster was to decide it’s time for another cat. SSRIs can only take you so far. We’re not traveling due to COVID and it’s going to be another year before we get our house built, so why wait?
So we now have a 4 year old petite long-haired calico who is the antithesis of Java in everything but hair length. She was kind of hissy at the shelter but she’s coming around. She’s definitely made her mark on the house. A mark made of gray and white fur.
Today’s my birthday, so I thank you for the surprise gift of a 5 Things post! ;) Welcome back!
I guess it falls to me to post
Variation on a Mnemonic:
Thirty days hath September,
April, June and November,
all the rest have thirty-one,
excepting February, son!
twen-ty-eight days hath that one,
and when years leap you just add one.
But on Mars:
Sixty days hath Sseptember,
Aapril, Jjune and Nnovember,
all the rest have sixty-two,
except for Ffebruary who
depending on the pull of Ju-
piter has 57 or 58 or 59
a mnemonic written by a committee of swine.
This is entirely irrelevant, but this far down the comments thread it should be easy to ignore: Hagerty, an insurance company specializing in antique vehicles, has a quarterly magazine (I have a policy with them on a nearly 70 year old motorcycle). The latest issue includes a photographer’s project on dirt track racing. One of the tracks he photographed was in Darke County, so naturally I thought of you.
Doomscrolling is a perfect description, and it makes perfect sense that it helps to take a break from it. I’m glad it helped.
I appreciate your transparency about grappling with all that you’re finding out (always remembering that this is the you that you’ve created for public consumption and that there are more nuances). That being said, self care comes first.
I set my Twitter account to “read-only” a few days ago. My account is protected so nobody can read my tweets, which are inane anyway, and I removed all eight of my followers. If I didn’t have to follow my kids’ school to get any news, I would have dropped it completely.
(Twitter is the lesser of evils compared to Facebook. I deleted Facebook two years ago.)
Close family member: Y’know what really pisses me off?!
Me: I’ll get the Rolodex.
A good alien invasion would be the icing on the 2020 cake. Please, oh pretty please, could we get the Hobbs Land gods?
If the Kzin, Daleks or Trisolarans come a-calling, one look at Twitter and they’ll settle back, munch on their popcorn-analog, and enjoy the show. They won’t have to lift a single appendage.
Political climate, rallies, etc., show that we should fear native invasion much more than alien invasion. For one, the natives are closer. For another, one of these has a long and varied track record of actual deeds and impacts; the other, not so far.
Welcome back, now go away. Regularly.
I strongly endorse a scheduled retreat from the irritating, disturbing, heartbreaking reality – for myself, I started taking a month off every winter, bracketing the winter solstice, beginning in 2016.
More recently, beginning in early March, I ignore all the [crap] each and every Wednesday… this actually takes some discipline, (“breaking news!”), but has proved very worthwhile.
First rule when the oxygen masks drop – take care of yourself first.
Occasional Correspondent, I don’t disagree! When these conjectural aliens arrive, they’ll find they’ve nothing to do, because we humans are *already* creating merry hell for each other. And *have* been doing since Neolithic times or earlier.
I always, always endorse good self-care practices, both physical and emotional. The important corollary is that the only person who gets to decide what that good self-care looks like is the person who is caring for themselves.
So props to you for identifying what you need for good health, and more props for arranging to get what you need. Please keep on doing that, because I’ve already got a whole lot of other folks who don’t practice good self-care to worry about, and I really don’t want to add anyone else to my worry list. Thanks.
I want to apologize for judging you for not reacting the way I expected. It wasn’t fair.
Good luck as you figure out what works for you! I ended up deleting Twitter and Facebook apps from my phone (and stayed off the browser version on the phone too), because I found it made a huge difference in my mood and engagement. The sole exception for me is Instagram, because the content I’ve filtered on there still makes me consistently happy.