On connection and disconnection: a birthday letter.

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Canoe TripLate this summer I went on a canoe trip in the Haliburton Highlands. The season was winding down so Ryan and I had the lake mostly to ourselves. There was a family of loons – two parents and two loon tweens – on our lake. Every day we watched them practice the art of how to be a loon. Swim, fly, dive, call.

At night there were owls. Invisible, but we could hear them. And frogs! Hundreds of leopard frogs. They actually sat on lily pads (such a cliché, I know).

I was paddling and sleeping outside for a week, and about three times a day, I thought I heard my iPhone ring, or felt a vibration buzz my upper thigh (where my phone would buzz if it were in my pocket). The phantom rings and vibrations didn't go away – my mind put them there every day. Each time, I'd jolt a little, thinking there was something that needed my attention.

Something other than the lake, loons, owls and frogs, I mean.

After the trip, I paid more attention to the quality of my connectedness – both my connection to digital life and connection to real life. I experimented with leaving the house without my iPhone, and I began to check Facebook less and less.

One day I biked down through the city, past jackhammers and chain link fences and condo developments and blocked streets (apparently, Toronto has more cranes than any other city in the world right now! And I don't mean the birds) – to get to my favourite part of this city: Toronto Island.

You take a ferry to the Island. Foot passengers only – no cars, so the bike paths are wide and quiet. I spent the day there, soaking up the silence, the beach, and the trees. I checked my phone once, just to turn it on Do Not Disturb.

When it was time to go back home, I waited at the dock for the big ferry boat. The clouds started to roll in from the north, over the city skyline. The boat chugged toward the dock, loaded with people and bicycles. "CITY" was posted across the top of the boat, in big block letters.

I carefully lifted my phone and took a picture of the clouds forming above the CN Tower. I relished the moment of creating the picture. I chose a filter to highlight the contrast, and I posted this to Instagram.

Skyline

My final Instagram pic?


The moment – the beauty of it – dissipated a little as soon as I pressed "done." I immediately thought of the people who would see my picture appear in their feed. And once I thought about those people, the beautiful moment was gone.

The boat had docked and people had already started to spill out, and I'd missed it. I hadn't even heard the thud of the boat against the wooden dock, because I was elsewhere. I was in my iPhone.

What else have I missed? What other moments have I Instagrammed instead of experienced? If I hadn't had my phone, would I have felt compelled to write that moment down in my notebook, the way I used to write everything down?

Since then, I have lost my compulsion to post on Instagram. For my birthday this year, I am giving myself the gift of connection – I am leaving social media. For now. It feels right to do this. It feels like a treat. Honestly, I am positively GIDDY about it!

I'm not totally leaving the Internet. My website, email, daily prompts, newsletters, blog posts, online courses, and the Little Bird contest (plus a few other surprises) – those are all still growing and expanding and very much happening. All of that buzz makes my online life feel very full, exciting, and plenty shareable.

But instead of posting status updates and pictures, I'm going to focus my energy back into observing and experiencing the quotidian details of life. I'm going to watch people practice the art of being people.

I'm going to notice these things and write them down to save them on paper, in my notebook. I'm not going to share them right away anymore. I'm going to collect them and let them simmer until those moments begin to form a fictional world that I can recognize. It will be like this world, but different from this world, too.

And once I'm there, I will write.

Love,

Sarah Selecky

     

ps. YOUR BIRTHDAY GIFT!

Alice Sebold quote

I painted you something, a little present, for my birthday. This is a quote from Alice Sebold that my friend Julia told me about. It has stayed with me for a long time, providing simple insight and a jolt of YES every time I read it. I put this in all of my notebooks to remind me how I want to write. It's also given me permission to back away from social media, which is why it feels special to give you today.

You can download this, print it, use it as your desktop wallpaper, or tape it above your writing desk to remind you of who you are.

I hope it brings you a jolt of YES, too.

Download your poster here.   ||   Download your desktop wallpaper here.    


When the writer is ready, the workshop appears.
In the Spotlight: Mary B. Valencia

33 comments

Sarah. I can relate to posting about life vs living it. I am with you on this, thank you for sharing and thank you for all you do to bring for the creative writer in us!
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Mary Nicholson

Happy Birthday Sarah! What a wonderful present you are giving yourself...PRESENCE. A beautiful reflection.
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While your presence will be missed, I wrestle with the very same dilemma myself, but for me it's more about whether or not these outlets INCREASE my happiness. I'm almost, *almost* arriving at the conclusion that they don't, and once I do, I may find myself disconnecting one [virtual] world, to fully connect back into another. Thank you for sharing this, it makes me feel a little less weird for my own feelings about this. And THANK YOU for the poster! I needed that!
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Good for you, Sarah! I stopped using social media once for 40 days (yes, it coincided wtih Lent that year) and I loved it. That was before FB. Now I'm addicted to that time robber and I resent it. I will pull the plug on it soon, I promise.
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Yes, yes, yes! I loved reading this post. There must be something in the air, as I too have stepped away from most of social media. Facebook was my thing, and I found it was taking away from experiencing moments in my life. I just wrote on this last week at my blog, in a post I called The Not So Simple Matter of Apple Pie. I have been away from Facebook since about mid-August, and it has made my life so much better. I still get "share twinges", but they are becoming less and less, and I'm learning how to lean into experiences more and more (instead of pushing those experiences out into the social media world.) Happy birthday!! Rachel
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Cindi Stewart

Happy Birthday Sarah! Congratulations on your decision to reconnect with real life. I am quite a bit older than you and do not feel the pressure to use social media as much as I'm sure you do. I hope it will be a rewarding choice for you and enable you to realize the truly meaningful things life has to offer. Celebrate today as it is your special day. Cindi
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Happy birthday, Sarah! I very much needed this today. I wish you an amazing year and an abundance of connection. XO -S
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happy day, sarah, every one of them. in Japanese there is a phrase i love and have been teaching: ichigo ichie - one meeting, one moment. you knew I'd pull out something like this, no? that is what I wish for you this year (life) and always. with love. peter
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oh yes, this resonates. Thank you--and happy happy birthday!!
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Happy Birthday, Sarah! I just got an email from a friend who is walking the El Camino trail through Spain, by herself. She left all of her tech gadgets home, including her phone but after three weeks, is feeling utterly awed by nature's beauty and fellow travellers. I think a break from faceless, up to the minute messaging is good for all of us. Good for you. I hope to take your course next September so will follow your pared-down online presence with great interest. Peace.
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Grateful! ~We were given to the world on this day; how wonderfully weird to give back in our own unique way~ Happy Birthday. I appreciate you!
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This is amazing. I've been slowly weening myself off of social media too... FB was the first to go. Being in the moment is so valuable to the soul! Happy Birthday! I forgot you were a fellow Torontonian :)
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LOVE it! I don't have an iphone, but lately had been toying with the idea of getting one. Maybe not. There are already far too many distractions. Thank you, Sarah, for being thoughtful and thought-provoking, as always. Have a wonderful year. xo Jewel
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Dear Sarah, I think you know why I say I love you. Your spirit comes through this letter so well, and I feel like I get it so very much. As with your gift of the poster. :) You are a kindred. I am happy for you. And every time I feel like I should explain why I feel the way I do, I stop. You already know. Happy birthday! Be free.
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Happy Birthday, fellow vegan virgo! Honest moments in the world, feet on the earth, eyes actually seeing-- there is no better gift than that. xo
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Leinaala Mitchell

Happy Birthday, Sarah. You share the day with my oldest daughter and my father. Yay for you. I traveled to India last year. I chose to not take any photos there and had no internet access. I experienced all that I could in every moment, knowing it would be enough. Knowing every bit of it was recorded in me. My heart and cells. I returned home with a sense of needing to downsize social media. Left many sites and reduced contacts. Now, I imagine expanding my business with little or no internet! My experiment.
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I still feel like the social media I participate in (only at my computer - I don't do the phone thing) increases my happiness, but I can absolutely see how it could take over, and I do sometimes prompt myself to step away from the computer. I'm so happy I discovered this website. Happy birthday.
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Happy Birthday Sarah! Understand the need to unplug from social media:) And thanks so much for your gift and love the 'embrace your own weirdness' fits me to a tee LOL
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Happy Birthday Sarah! Thanks for reminding me of what's important, as always. Very happy you were born and cannot get over the giving nature of yourself when it comes to your writing and your inspirational words.
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Krista Asselstine

Dear Sarah, A happy, happy birthday to you, you lovely soul. Soul to soul your words very much touched me today. So many of us must be scratching our heads over the topic you brought up. I liken it to the hundredth monkey theory... I wonder how many of us are challenging our compulsion to social media today, questioning it this week and making changes to put it down for awhile or finding ways to balance it better. I certainly have been thinking this and I certainly haven't succeeded at it yet. In August I went to Cape Cod with my family. We took one of those tourist boats out of Province Town and I agreed to go see a whale or two. (I may be the only person on earth with a phobia of them...) It took us over an our to find their feeding ground and as we moved along I realized I had forgotten our camera. What a blessing that turned out to be. There weren't too many whales on this trip. At one point though, the boat came to a stop and I ran to the edge to see a dark wet, shiny black hump slide up and above the water. Then the joyous sound of the blow hole released air. phuuuuzzzzzzzzzzz... The whale was probably less than 10 feet from me. It decided to spend some time above the water and as I gazed at it I felt the right sides of my eyes tear up - the right sides only tear up during certain occasions - such as a child's ballet recital or a wedding. Tears were pouring down my cheeks and then I began to do a hiccup kind of crying thing. I was truly sobbing. My hand went to my heart and I said in a quiet voice, "hello." I had no camera. But afterwards I went and sat down knowing I had experienced something so profound I would never be the same. The couple behind me returned and sat down. A woman began to snarl and speak in an anxious, angry tone about how she didn't get a good shot of the whale. She was so upset, so distressed and so negative. Why? Because she couldn't show the trophy shot to her mother? I didn't know what she was talking about. I just sat there smiling, smiling and being so glad I was me and not her. I hope you have the best day ever. Happy Birthday Sarah and thank you for all the encouragement and help you have given me with my writing.
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Christine Wenzel

Happy Birthday Sarah. Great post about disconnecting and tuning into the moments. There are so many ways to capture parts of life. I have been working slowly on Story State of Mind and wish you you luck with your Story Intensive. Maybe next time the timing will be right for me to participate. For now I'm happy with Story State of Mind. I lived in Toronto for twenty years and your photo of the CN Tower and sky and mention of Toronto Island brought back wonderful memories. Thank you.
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Beth Follett

Happy Birthday, Sarah. I'm imagining you stuffing & licking 4,000 envelopes, mindfully, slowly. . .
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How thoughtful of you to share this wonderful piece with us. Happy Birthday Sarah - you are inspiring.
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Kathleen Peterson

Sarah, A very happy birthday to you today! I hope your day is bright with sunshine and warm thoughts of many more birthdays to come. This day, for me, is a little sad, thinking back that my Mother would have been 101 yesterday. She died in 2011 at the age of 99, and lived life to the fullest----my dream as well. None of this half-way stuff for her, for me, and I trust for you, as well. Kathleen
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Happiest Birthday to you wonder-FULL, creative soul. I hope you realise how much you are appreciated. In honour of your weirdness, a birthday poem (borrowed from a birthday card from years ago): Hippo Birdee, two ewe Hippo Birdee, two ewe Hippo Birdde, deer, ewe, Hippo Birdee, two ewe. Kinda following the nature theme of your letter and inspired by your Little Bird Contest. JOY! Sheryl :-)
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I applaud and support your decision! I've been thinking these same things about social media lately. Thank you for the birthday gift, and I hope the day is as special as you are. xo
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Mark Johnson

Happy Birthday. I give you a story for your present: A nuclear family - tritium, two protons and a daughter - are standing in front of Michelangelo's Tomb of Lorenzo da Medici in Florence. The husband is wearing earphones. The earphones are blue plastic with big black foam discs from which the tops of his ears protrude, and are plugged into a gadget clipped to his belt. The mother is glued to an iPhone, reading all about the history of the place to her daughter. The daughter isn't listening. The daughter is running her hands all over the voluptuous marble. How cool it must have felt beneath her young palpating hands!
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Happy, happy birthday, Sarah! Thank you for the gift of YOU. Love Christina
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Stephen D. Forman

Ha-- I was gonna sing a birthday song, Sheryl! (shakes tiny fist) Oh Sarah, we'll be sorry to see you vanish from social media. Now if we want to reach you we have to-- gasp!-- talk to you or write to you. I feel naked and afraid. Someone hold me : ) Where you write about being present in the moment, I have to smile. My wife and I have this conversation all the time-- most recently in Paris just last week. After elbowing my way to the front of the throng which pressed up against the Mona Lisa, I just gazed for a good ten minutes. While others snapped pics like a White House press corps before harrumphing away, I was a statue. When I'd committed her to memory, I turned around and photographed the mob. To me-- *that* was the original moment. Heck, if I wanted a perfect shot of the Mona Lisa, I could buy a postcard in the gift shop! These famous paintings and landmarks are available to us all over the internet nowadays 24/7-- we don't need to photograph them. Just be present. Anyway, I'm going to visit the SSM group on Facebook momentarily and post a "meme" I created not long ago which makes this point vividly! It's a "facepalm" moment I caught on TV (too bad Sarah won't see it until her year of social media exile is up...) Cheers, Stephen
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Happy Belated! I too am very close to done with Fb. There's a blog post on the New Yorker about studies being done on it, whether it makes us "happier" or not. We all know when we need to be more present, not behind our cameras or phones. I have faith that humanity will always need to get back to real, true connection. In the meantime, happy writing, and thank you for connecting a world of beautiful people! xo
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I've only recently subscribed to your offerings, and I'm grateful that I chose your message to read today amongst the busyness of my inbox. Thank you for awakening the wonderful childhood memories I have of Toronto Island. Growing up my family didn't have money to take fancy vacations, but a trip to "The Island" was an annual event. It's a place I remember my mom being happy, she always took bread for us to feed the ducks while the ferry was launching and docking. I started going there in 1965 and although there have been changes to the Island, many things still remain the same as I remember. Happy birthday and thank you for evoking these warm, exciting and peaceful childhood memories.
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Sarah Selecky

Oh - thank you so much, everyone: for your birthday wishes, your beautiful stories (and songs!) and, most profoundly, for your support and enthusiasm for what I'm doing. You are wonderful - and you made this this writer feel VERY lucky and loved. xoxo, Sarah
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Introducing… Firelight Interview Series | Lauren Carter

[…] demands of social media recently – Sarah Selecky, who does so much to serve other writers, wrote this explanation of her decision to take a break after finding herself mediating a meditative moment through […]
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