Six months of Instagram: how we became friends again

It’s been six months now since Instagram and I became friends again.
It was ‘the great Instagram break-up’: you can read about it here, and my thoughts after a little while away from the grid here.

Our relationship has always been complicated—love/hate, I suppose they’d say. Really I didn’t love it’s hold on me. I didn’t love feeling like it’s slave, drawn to my phone in all of those unconscious, mindless ways. I didn’t love not being present for others.
I hated not being present to myself.

And I did not love the way I felt after I scrolled. Feeling small.
It know that my shrinking wasn’t the fault of the highlight reels, of the shiny families I’d see, of the exotic holidays, successful businesses, and beautiful influencers. I can’t blame any of them for my shrinking. The smallness I felt came from inside of me; they weren’t hemming me in (my favourite verses, 2 Corinthians 6:11 in The Message). But the comparison was making me small and I couldn’t hear myself amongst all the noise.
So I deleted my entire account. Thousands of followers, a beautiful community that had been built – gone.
I needed to quiet the noise, I needed to stop seeking created things and find space to hear my Creator.

At first it felt the way it does after you leave a concert: after the assault on ears and eyes, the hot mass of bodies, the sudden cold night air prickles your skin and the ringing, pulsing in your ears is disconcerting. Too quiet.
It was just me. An ocean of me.
Then I was echoing Nemo’s dad, “A fish can really breathe out here.” Smile.

In the early days I reached for my phone more times than I could count. But when I did there wasn’t another world to get drawn into anymore. No more interesting lives, or profoundly shared quips and ruminations. There were no more exquisitely dressed children, or expensively decorated living rooms, or stories to drown myself in.
Now, there was just me.
Me and the people in front of me daily, and weekly.
Then, I knew what it felt to be a slave to my phone.
Now, I know what it feels like to breathe free—to stare out of train windows, to study my daughter’s freckles, to chew on Words that bring life; He has a thousand ways to set you free, you are truly the poetry of God—his very handiwork, They will fight you but they will fail.
I know what it feels like to fold bread dough and to watch it rise, smell it bake and hear the crackles of the crust as it cools on the bench. I know what it is to look at each other over a giant slice, leaving butter at the corners of our grins.

I know how to witness beauty and really see it, instead of the rectangular version through the lense of a camera.
Then, after 10 months, I re-entered the ‘gram. Tentatively, intentionally.
And now, I’ve been there six months.
The world is much bigger than my grid of squares; 94 photos cannot possibly sum up the richness, the suffering, the beauty, the laughter, the tears, or the growth of six months of life. I know what it is to seek that beauty. To forget the world of squares, to be here in this one wild and precious life, to seek after what is True and Eternal.
But, it’s nice to try to capture and share some of that sometimes too. To share the beauty, and reveal our truths, and find those who say, ‘What, you too? I thought I was the only one’ (Thanks CS Lewis). To see and feel connected to other worlds, and lives and stories. To wear our hearts on our sleeves, in the hope it helps someone to no longer hide. To give our book recommendations, record the quirky things our kids say, to breathe deep at the ocean while saying, ‘look at this! Is it not magnificent?!’ while trying to pan the glory in front of us.

It’s okay to be there, but be right where you are too.
It’s okay to scroll and smile and watch, but clink glasses on a Friday with your besties while your phone sits at the bottom of your bag.

We can learn how swing our legs deliciously through linen sheets, taking note of our bodies, reclaiming our thoughts as we wake slowly to our day. We can learn how to leave our phones in other rooms, forget their existence.
We can discover what it feels like to read after the house has long gone to sleep, immersed in story until our eyes hurt, just one more chapter until we flick off the lamp, letting the story continue in our dreams.
We can experience the frustration of learning new things, like knitting, and the elation of completion.
We can sit on the porch without a to-do list, and crunch celery sticks slathered in peanut butter, listening to recounts of the world of our kids, remembering what it was like to be allowed to sit next to your best friend in class, get your pen license, run in a race.

We can be here and there. We can both/and. Successfully.

So Instagram and I are friends again, and I’m going back to who I was, who I am.
Just Em. Inside and outside the squares, but mostly just not worrying too much about inside the squares, just inside me. A whole ocean of me.

xx

the long way home

I had a myriad of reasons not to go.
Some of them were legitimate: he’s been working all week, we haven’t had much family time.
Others were not so much: I can’t be bothered, I can write from home, why do I need to drive so far [out of my comfort zone].
I’d said I was going a month ago, but if I’m honest, I probably only made the decision fully the day before. Okay yes fine, I’ll just go.

A weekend in New Norcia, a tiny town that took me almost three hours of driving to reach (Friday afternoon at peak hour was probably not the best time to get past the city!), with a bunch of other women writers, eating and sleeping in a monastery.
It was twenty four hours of adventure that I almost passed on because I was tired. Also because I was facing an existential crisis with regards to my writing. I’d thrown my hands up in the air, with the figurative pages of my book manuscript flying up with them. I’d stopped working on it months ago because of all the self-doubt and angst that writers face when their work just doesn’t feel good enough— I decided that my shitty first drafts were too shitty (Anne Lamott, thank you).

Our first night at the monastery, we walked up dark wooden stairs that were slippery with rain, and sat in a small study. The lights were dim, it was warm and we were donned in ugg boots and cosy jumpers.
Here, we were given our first assignment. Write what you’re giving yourself permission for.
Permission to write nothing, permission to write terribly, permission to have fun or take a nap or eat chocolate.

I needed permission. Not from anyone else, but from myself.

Facing another couple of hours in my car alone on my way home, I was tempted to rush.
Rush out of the moments I’d experienced, and rush out of the slowness into the fast pace of my brain’s to-do list. Rush home faster so I could tick more things off before bedtime.
So that I could go home and once again be comfortable and in control.

As I was driving through the country I started telling myself I had permission not to rush. To keep my writer-hat on and sit with my soul-bucket full, and not to hurry into responsibility and motherhood and pouring out again.
As I was giving myself these permissions, I passed the cutest little green caravan with a fruit stand.
That would make the cutest photo I thought. And kept driving.

Coffee, I’ll stop and get a takeaway coffee for the road. The bakery wasn’t far.
The line was long, so I took a seat while I waited for my order, and pulled out my journal.
I couldn’t stop thinking about the fruit stand with it’s old green caravan, and bags of fresh mandarines.
My fountain pen scribbled these words:

I give myself permission to take the long way home.
The way that backtracks to the mandarine stand, because I desperately want a photo. And a bag of freshly picked mandarines.
The long way, past the bakery to stop for a coffee and something sweet. The long way that says
stop – your family are fine without you for this moment. It’s okay to fill your own soul before you pour out for others.

And look. Look how lovely it is to lean into the solitude instead of rushing straight through it.
How lovely it is to embrace adventure, to backtrack to country fruit stands, to stop here in this busy bakery and write, as you sip your long macchiato.

Why don’t we go ahead and give ourselves permission?
Right now. Give yourself permission to take what you need—space, solitude, time out, a night off cooking or cleaning. Permission to say yes to fun: a netball game, a novel, a movie, an ice-cream with the kids.

I drove home, peeling farm-fresh mandarines that filled my car with one of my favourite winter smells. I drove, with their sweet juice bursting in my mouth, savouring each segment as I smiled to myself, full and alone and unhurried.

You’ll have time to tick all the must-do’s on your list tomorrow.
For now, give yourself permission to take the long way home.

xx

into outer darkness: I deleted my Instagram

I took a deep breath and said it out loud, “I’m thinking about deleting my Instagram account.”
I’ve said that sentence three times, and the reaction is the same: a big deep breath, wide eyes, and then a conversation that follows as my listener tells me all the ways social media is a time-waster, comparison-breeder, insecurity-feeder. And I would agree, that in so many instances that is what Instagram is to me, too.

For me, it’s always been a place of fast connection, instant-engagement-gratification and quick content production—a little scratch of my creative itch, a little connection, a little community. None of which is terrible. For months, though, possibly even for a couple of years, I’ve had nudges to walk away from that grid of squares, from that Still Small Voice—or was it? Is it just me God, thinking I should? I questioned whether this was just a different, more drastic way of gaining attention? Will I announce to the world in piety that Instagram is no longer worthy of I, Em Hazeldean? What are my motives?

Along those same prayerful ramblings I wonder this: what if no one reads what I write anymore?
What if I do write a book, and no one will know and no one will buy copies because I’ve lost the worlds greatest self-promotional tool?
What if I never know what’s happening in the world?
How will I know which clothes are the most stylish?
How will I know which books are being read and endorsed by important people?
I’ll never know the coolest things to buy, the latest trends in home decor or how my hundreds of “friends” (inverted commas because, lets be real, most of them wouldn’t even say hi to me if I passed them in the shops) are spending their weekends/holidays/kids birthdays.

The more I asked myself these questions the more I realised how noisy that world is for me.
How shallow conversations in real life have become, because we’ve all watched each other’s Instagram stories and don’t need to ask how the other’s week has been. How we’ve exchanged knowing each other’s business for actual friendship. How it’s made me a lazy friend who doesn’t initiate phone calls, or dinner dates or invites for coffee. How, instead of making eye contact with the people opposite us, we can’t drag our eyes away from our phones, from the quick hits of happy squares.

I’m not saying Instagram is terrible.

I’m saying that I want to learn again what it’s like to sit in  a space and really see/feel/smell/touch—to engage and delight and appreciate for the pure whimsy and wonder of it all, not to spend that time striving to capture it for an audience of thousands.
I want to string words together in my journal, scribbling with my favourite fountain pen as I curl up in my ugly, fluffy, non-Insta-worthy dressing gown that my girls chose me for Mother’s Day last year. As the words fall out onto the page, I want to be only concerned with an audience of One, not of what words I can pull out and caption my latest post with.
I want to spend time making eye contact, smile at people, and ask genuinely how they are, without having already seen that their kids have been sick, or they’ve renovated their bathroom, or that they’ve been to Bali.
I want people to show the same interest in me, instead of assuming that I am the sum total of my three Instagram posts that week, which are a poor reflection of the richness of my life.
I want to stop being lazy in my creativity and be brave enough to create outside of 100 word captions, and 1080×1080 resolution. I want to pioneer, to enter the wilderness, to hear the Whisper, and to simplify.

I have this memory of my mum sitting at our forest green Formica breakfast bar, holding a phone that was stuck to the wall with its with curly, kinked tendrils of the phone cord wrapped across her shoulder. Planted there, giving her entire focus to her best friend who lived a few houses down, probably after having already had a coffee together that morning. It’s the only way I can think to describe the life I want to get back to.

I want to lean into simple daily rhythms of life where the underlying messages of my days are not keep up, measure up, climb up.

And I’m scared. So scared.
Scared of losing connection and connectedness.
Scared of losing relevance and relationships.
I joked to the ones I’d shared my intention with, that I’ll feel like I’ve been thrust into darkness…

But a couple of mornings ago I planted dwarf lavender seeds into pots filled with warm, black soil and as I buried each tiny seed I knew—in that darkness they will flourish.

xx

PS – are you here because you noticed I was missing from Instagram?
If so, I’m sorry! I didn’t want to create a fuss, I just wanted to slip quietly out the back door and I’m praying that the connections I had there will find me here, in my little corner of the Internet, writing faithfully.