Facebook Launch Interview – Dr. Robert Snyder, author of “Why Did Daddy Have To Leave?”

About a week ago, I was fortunate to take part in Dr. Rober Snyder’s Book Launch event for Why Did Daddy Have To Leave? – a children’s book detailing the things a child may go through when his parent goes off to war. Dr. Snyder is an Iraqi war veteran and fellow author friend of mine, among other titles including educator and P90X instructor.

Below I’ve included a link to the full interview where I take Rob through his inspiration to write the book as well as what his time was like overseas.

Here’s that link: Click here

And P.S. – please excuse the slight lapse in sound with the video (I’ll go ahead and take the blame for the connection speed if need be, Rob).

A Clear Voice

If you’re reading this, then you may have an idea of what I’m going to write about. Or maybe you don’t and you’re just curious. Either way, welcome, and here’s hoping you might identify with this post. As we know, there is no shortage of voices who claim to be authorities for navigating life. And they cover just about every topic under the sun: “Be the Best Parent”; “Make More Money Now”; “The Best Guide to Dieting” or “Epiphanies, Theories, and Downright Good Thoughts on Video Games” (sorry, had to throw that one in there for my own sake). But, at the end of the day, how many do you listen to? Well, if you’re a parent, you may tune into more parenting books. If you’re financially insecure, you read up on managing your money. The list goes on. Much of what we read is often an indicator of what we need. Or what we’ve made ourselves to believe we need.

The tricky part is knowing just what it is we need in the first place. Because as we know, there are plenty of voices telling us what it is we need. And the messages come faster than we’d like to admit.

This past week, I intentionally took a week off from Facebook. Not because I’m trying to lead a revolution against social media (I’m here, aren’t I?) but because I knew I needed something: a clear voice. For any writer or artist that might relate, you know what I mean. Yes, it’s fun to flip through your news feed and see what’s happening around the world. Or in people’s lives. I’ve done it frequently. But, there are ramifications if one isn’t careful.

For example, you see someone sharing an intriguing article and you click. That action leads to another click. And another. And another. Soon, you may find yourself reading a top 10 list of what not to do in summer whereas you first started reading a blog on rioting. At first glance, it sounds relatively harmless. You’ve become more “educated” on what’s happening in the world or you’ve been made aware of several hot travel spots you wouldn’t have considered otherwise. But, here’s the point: in a span of 10, maybe 20 minutes, you’ve allowed your brain to be subject to a multitude of incoming messages. And that sort of clutter lends itself to a cluttered mind. Rather than making crucial, timely decisions, your brain is now more interested in vacations (which is coincidentally just what it’s doing now – going on a vacation). The real issue you’ve been working on is lost in the muck and hey, that’s not good.

Reading isn’t bad. It’s fun. It’s entertaining. It’s educational. But, reading anything and everything can be bad for you. It’s why I intentionally decided to take a breather. Halt the messages and find some center ground. Not because I can’t control myself, but because it’s better to not tempt one’s self when temptation is imminent. I don’t need to be up to date on the newest blogs or even the latest hashtag. Those things have a way of finding a person if the message is good. And plus, I can check it out when I want to. Not when I feel like I need to. If what you want is a clear head, then don’t allow so many voices to fill it. It’s really that simple.

Oh, and to any I may have ignored this past week, I’m sorry. This is partially an apology for not checking my news feed. I trust we’re still friends, at least online.

 

 

 

The Worst of Enemies

I wanted to share an epiphany I had this week. One that has to do with the battles we face. Trouble is (ironically), I’ve been fighting my own battle as to find the proper medium to share it. Mostly, because I wanted it to be short and sweet. A quick dose of pick-me-up and then gone. But Twitter only allows 160 characters and Facebook is chock full of random quizzes, shared videos, and daily updates about bad drivers so I didn’t want it to get lost in cyberspace. So back to the blog we go.

My moment of clarity came whilst I was standing on familiar terrain: warring over a crucial decision. And doing so with myself. There’s such a tendency to point fingers in life – to make it appear that we, ourselves, are without fault and the world is against us. In many ways, the world can be cruel, but the more I travel through this thing called ‘life’, I find the greatest enemy isn’t necessarily the Devil or any one person or circumstance: it’s me. If you’re a Type-A, insanely-driven perfectionist, you can relate. If you’re a Type-B, oftentimes procrastinator, you can also relate. And if you’re someone who isn’t sure of either, you too can relate. Basically, I feel like any one person can relate to being one’s own worst enemy.

This conclusion doesn’t sound practical. I feel we’d prefer not to believe we have an evil doppleganger somewhere inside of us. After all, that sounds crazy. However, I’d argue that we do. I’ve experienced it and I’m willing to bet that so many others have too. And he’s bigger and more in control than you think. The reason? He’s all about survival; reaction to situation. Not about living life, not about conquering new heights, and certainly not about victory.

There are several major projects I’m working towards – a novel, a short story compilation, a new website – so at times, I find myself becoming easily overwhelmed. And something inside me says, “Hey, it’s too much. Take a break.” And I do. And then a day, maybe two days later, I resent myself for taking that breather. So I gear up. I get going. And a week later, I’m further along. Then the voice returns and I’m back to being comfortable. Then, almost immediately after, I am defeated again. Ugh.

I’ve tried overcoming this internal enemy many times in my life, but only now – some 30 years later – am I getting a better handle on how to press through his advances. The secrets aren’t necessarily buried in well-written self-help books; no, I’ve found silent time to be the most life-giving. Quieting the mind is of utmost importance. It keeps distractions from becoming the focus and it keeps you from focusing on those distractions. I cringe when I hear people say they’re “so busy” all the time. Are you really? Or are you just really, really distracted? There is a difference. Consider if this applies to your life and take action against that.

As a writer, it’s so incredibly easy to get distracted. A new idea comes along and *ping*, it’s off to the races. But if the idea fizzles out and nothing gets done, then that feels like a failure. Then that voice comes back again. “You’ll never finish”; “Your ideas aren’t that good, try something else” – this is what can go through your head as a writer. More so than I’ve given credit to in the past, but I’m learning how to quiet that noise. How it’s me I’m fighting; not my next publication. A freeing and liberating feeling; one I’m slowly becoming more familiar with.

Social media is no substitute for life.

I recently went to my 10-year high school reunion. A lot of people don’t go to theirs, but I went to mine. My graduating class, 2003, had about 120 students in it so I expected to see about 15, maybe 20 of my classmates. I was pleasantly surprised to see more than that – about 25 in total – and was even more pleasantly surprised to find that most people had gone on to do things they either enjoyed (job-wise) or had families of their own (child and spouse-wise). This was very encouraging to hear. I hadn’t attended in hopes of comparing my life to everyone else’s, I just figured it would be nice to go. And the time spent doing this was time well spent indeed.

The night went on and we shared stories with one another. We laughed. We joked. We reminisced on funny moments from the past and even took time to remember those who were no longer with us. This was difficult and a sad reminder that life is short, even in the space of 10 years, but there were good words for each of the people who had passed since our graduation day. Once again, this was most encouraging to hear despite the circumstances. And so, the evening progressed onward and everyone appeared to be enjoying themselves.

But then something happened.

At one of our tables, I overheard two of my former classmates discussing their children with one another. One of the women stated how she had two kids and potentially a third on the way. The other exclaimed how excited she was and followed up with how her little one was doing. Listening to new mothers having discussions about their children is something I will never be able to relate to fully (you know, that whole pregnancy thing is something I just can’t do) but I can certainly understand the joy that comes out of new life in a family. That’s the good part of this tale.

The sad part is that I already knew all of this because I have Facebook. And Twitter. And LinkedIn. And Google+. I have most all of my social media bases covered so this was somewhat old news to me. Even if I hadn’t seen these folks for years, I already had a leg up on their lives. I had seen baby pictures; I’d ‘liked’ or commented on the new arrivals; or I’d perused old photos just long enough to discover what others were up to and how they were presently doing. I was “up to speed”, if you will. This was a little depressing, if just for that one moment, and I decidedly turned my attention to another conversation.

But then something else happened.

One of the mothers started a story about her child. And then she started another story about her new house. And then someone else chimed in about housekeeping and the lessons learned therein. And then another person spoke up about some other life lessons they had learned. The conversation went from social-media-reminder-time to normal-adult-conversation-about-life. How intriguing, right?

I was experiencing how the possession of social media was no substitute for actual life. This may seem like a “duh” statement, but consider that notion for yourself. How often are we content to just follow a person’s activity on the internet rather than pick up the phone and talk to them? A close friend or relative even. And how often do we accept commenting on a person’s status as being ‘enough’ to show support for them doing a tough time? The amount of time it takes to dial a number is the same amount of time it takes to write a post on Twitter or Facebook. There may be slight variances by mere fractions of a second, but I’m pretty sure they’re really close.

I’ve been particularly convicted by this fact as of late. I see the lives my closest of friends and family are having across the vastness of internet space and I sometimes feel like that’s good enough. Like that’s all I need to be doing to be a good friend or relative: just follow their daily posts and keep tabs on them. So long as no one is dying or in pain, we’re good, right? I’ll see you at a holiday or something and we can chat idly there too, right? Yep, that’s what we think. But of course, something will happen and I’ll be reminded of how silly that thinking truly is.

Case in point, I had a phone conversation with a high school friend (one who could not attend the reunion) a couple weeks ago. I haven’t seen him for over a year, maybe longer. We were close in high school and closer afterwards but our careers pulled us to different parts of the U.S. Now, he lives two time zones away from me. Sad? Sure, but I’ve seen his wedding photos, replied to comments he’s made online, and have read that he’s just as witty as ever in his status updates. So I am at peace and in balance with our relationship, right?

Well, after a six month hiatus from speaking, we connected via phone and caught up on everything but the photos, the status updates and the comments. None of those things really mattered at all, really. He’s fond of cooking now; something I was shocked to discover, and I hinted to him that I was to be engaged soon (for the record, not as shocking to him but exciting news nonetheless). There was much life to be had in our conversation and I left it feeling like I’d been brought “up to speed” on the last six months of his life. A life that just couldn’t be summed up in a candid photo or a sarcastic one-liner from Twitter. No, neither of those could do the conversation – the connection we made – any bit of justice.

If anything, I felt cheapened by my own presumed assumptions. I had seen a photo of him jumping in the air so I figured that he was physically alright and yet, he’d had surgery and had been couch-ridden for days on end. Hence, his new obsession with cooking. I wanted to reference how I’d seen other updates or pictures of the past six months but hearing him tell me was far more gratifying. And when I reciprocated that discussion with my own life stories, I got the same result in return. So as our conversation ended, I wasn’t left pondering about something I’d seen or read out of context – I instead knew where he was in life. And he knew where I was. That was a good feeling.

So is social media the devil incarnate sent to break our ties with the ones we know? Some would say so. I’ll choose to say ‘no, not exactly’. All I’m saying is to not treat social media as a means for being engaged with people’s lives. Sure, you can follow others on social media and that’s all well and good, but do not mistake the experience for knowing someone’s story. The real thing is much more enjoyable, I assure you. Not to mention, it’s real too.

Pardon me – how is your day going, social media?

This month could be the death of me. In the midst of NaNoWriMo, seeking representation, and starting other endeavors, November is primed to stretch me in ways I never knew possible. Sleep has taken on the identity of both enemy and friend. My keyboard looks like a cruel form of punishment rather than a tool of the trade. I find myself staring at treadmills and free weights like they are lustful objects. Anything that could distract me from the work at hand would be a welcome escape.

And yet, here I am. Typing, blogging…ugh. I know I have to keep going and that’s that.

As an added bonus (and it’s a big one), I have a steady income and a home. I can wake up and not feel the sting of inaccessible internet or other crucial resources. I have a computer, fridge and a fancy Starbucks card to buy that tea I love so dearly. It’s these kinds of things that help me keep my motivation. A little gusto to keep the wind in my sails. And when I’m really bored, I check out Facebook, WordPress or Twitter to see what’s happening ‘out there’. When that’s done, I’m back to it and away I go. But when the day’s over, I try to relax. That, by and large, is a good feeling.

In light of this, I started something new. I began to ask myself a question. Not a tough one, but a crucial one nonetheless: how bad are things really? You know, if I had to make a list of horrible things that happen to me and those that are positive, what would that look like exactly?

You may imagine this being an external discussion: “Josh, just how bad is your life? Honestly?” To which I usually reply, “Not that bad, I guess?” To which my separate personality responds, “Yes, that’s right.” By this point, I stop the conversation entirely. Because let’s be honest, any continued dialogue would be unhealthy.

Like most people, I used to enjoy media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. When they were new, they were exciting. People flocked to these things like they were giving away free food and drinks. And now, more than half the world has at least one of the above accounts and checks theirs daily. Crazy thought, is it not?

But what started out as fun has really taken a turn, I’d say. What’s Facebook like nowadays? People post their inner emotions every five minutes – and they aren’t normally the types of emotions you’d want to read or hear. “The world sucks”; “I hate everything”; “My test was stupid”; “Why are drivers so stupid”, etc. and etc. Reading these kinds of things all day, every day, is not good for your brain. Think about it this way – if I eat cupcakes or fast food every day, I’ll become unhealthy. My energy level may go through extreme highs and lows but ultimately, I’ll be weak, dreary and tired. My diet will be off and I will suffer the consequences of my choice food. But that’s what I’m filling myself with: crap.

Now, consider the same thing as it pertains to the brain. If I read depressing, angst-ridden, angry messages every morning then how might I feel? Or even think? All those angry posts I read will get embedded deep in my noggin, which could lead to me acting out in a similar way. And even if I don’t act on them, I may begin to form the opinion that yes, everybody must be pissed off and the world sucks. Ok, yikes.

If there were a program for tracking the overall mood of Facebook globally, based on certain key indicators in status updates, I’d be curious to see the results. Would people be more upset? Or would they be more happy? One can speculate, but I’m inclined to believe the former. Facebook, Twitter, etc. – they are more like sounding boards for the mistreated rather than a handy socializing tool. Don’t think so? Go to your page right now and read the top five or 10 posts in your news feed. I’m sure you’ll find what I’m talking about very quickly.

So what’s a person to do? Be a rebel and delete all forms of social media accounts? I know some that go that route. Maybe that’s you? If so, then don’t be afraid to unplug. It could be very helpful. But if you don’t feel that obsessed, and are just tired of the same old, same old, then consider another alternative: being mindful of what you are allowing yourself to read. This goes for more than just status updates. What am I filling my head with? What am I deciding to allow in my brain for further processing? It may not seem like an important concept, but it really is. I can’t stress that enough. Try it for a day. Try it for a week. Heck, just do it. So many people give up at the first sign of duress and then wonder why things never change. What’s the downside to actually trying though?

Nothing. Nothing at all.