Books that have inspired me to write and made me think

COVID 19 has been a game changer for me as it has for many people. As I mentioned in my previous post, when the outbreak first began I was left reeling. All of my leisure activities, my entire self-care routine, my job and a dream vacation Adam and I had lovingly planned were gone. Gone also was my carefully thought out game plan with regards to the possibility of growing our family. Since I last wrote on this blog however, I have finished getting over the anxiety and fear the pandemic poured into my life and I have begun to slowly carve out a new direction for myself that I hope will fit in well with the new normal my life will hopefully settle into over the next few months.

The biggest step I took to redirect my life was to sign up for an online memoir writing class at the University of Oxford in England. I have always enjoyed writing and I do feel like I have a few stories worth telling. I am, however, rather rusty when it comes to getting my thoughts and memories down on a page. I never really focused on writing memoirs before, most of what I created during my most active writing phase as a teenager was fiction. Once I reached university and decided to major in art and architectural history all of my writing efforts became academic, which took most of the fun and spontaneity out of the exercise. I didn’t read nearly as books while in university either, barring the volumes I needed for the research for the above mentioned endless heap of essays I had to get through every semester. I did devour books during the Summer though and after I graduated and moved into my own place, I read even more. I would get out a pen or pencil and write sporadically but not in any serious manner and I kept another blog for a while as well, but it is now lost to cyberspace. What, therefore, has pushed me to want to turn back to writing lately? Firstly, my life experience over the past seven years has been varied and often challenging and I have gotten a lot out of sharing bits of it on here. Secondly, I read an amazing memoir last year entitled ”The Measure of my Powers” by Jackie Kai Ellis. Her book was as beautiful to look at as it was to read. She was involved in every single step of its creation from beginning to end, not just in the writing. In her book, Jackie tells her story with such clarity and relatability and each chapter is built around a food-driven memory for which she shares the recipe at the end. These shared dishes range from carrot cake to salted chocolate chip cookies, to chinese dumplings and yes, she has cooked them all herself, either alone or with her family. The running theme in the memoir however is being true to yourself, even if it means reinventing your life from scratch in order to do so. I had the enormous pleasure of meeting Jackie a few months ago when she came to Montreal as part of a book signing tour and she was just as humble and open with regards to sharing her story as she was in her book and she also shared some of her wisdom with regards to writing. If there was one major driving factor behind my desire to learn how to better share my story in a creative, insightful way it was the memory of Jackie’s beautiful book, which I cannot recommend highly enough. She also has a beautiful blog, APT La Fayette , where she posts occasionnally and shares any news of her upcoming workshops or book club meetings, which are all currently held online and therefore highly accessible.

The only major roadblock I could see to my being able to write in a more easy and focused manner was social media. It was killing my creativity and my ability to focus on any given task for more than five minutes at once as well as eating up huge chunks my free time. Social media was also affecting my mood and triggering anxiety, especially after COVID-19 hit. For all the guff about how fortunate we are that the pandemic hit during the social media era, I have to say that Twitter, Facebook and Instagram did me way more harm than good during the first weeks of the pandemic. I had already thought of cutting back on my social media use before the virus got into full swing here in Montreal, which is why I had included ”Digital Minimalism” by Cal Newport in my pandemic readiness book order in early March. I didn’t make it the first book I read in my stack once the government requested we stay home because I didn’t feel ready to dive into it and apply any of his methods just yet, but early May brought with it the reality of our postponed trip and the fact that I couldn’t run away from Mothers Day as I had planned (fun fact: Mothers Day is celebrated in March in the UK, which is why we were heading across the pond for Canadian Mothers Day for the second year in row). The Mothers Day posts started popping up on Facebook and Instagram, the ads for it were running on the radio and my mood was darkening at a rather alarming rate. I became irritable and prone to sudden bursts of anger or tears so I did the only thing I could think to do. I deactivated my Facebook account and and began reading Cal Newport’s book. A day after turning off my Facebook account, I removed the Instagram app from my phone and two days after Instagram, Twitter got the boot as well. Guess what folks? I do not miss having any of these apps on my phone. I still have my accounts but I barely touch them. I can go days without logging on to Facebook and when I do, it is because I want to check in on a specific person or because some shop’s only website is a Facebook page. By the time the five minutes it takes me to check what I came for is up, I am already annoyed by Facebook and the same goes for Instagram. As for Twitter, it is getting even less attention than the two other social media sites. I still post to Instagram occasionally but not nearly as much and never on the account I created for my dog. I never share photos to Facebook anymore and I have no intention of putting the Instagram, Facebook and Twitter apps back on my phone. My life has changed for the better. I am more focused in general and happier with my life because I no longer spend my days comparing it to everyone else’s . I am reading more, cooking more efficiently and creatively, have an easier time being punctual and most of all, I have written this post and will have gotten it up in two hours when writing and posting used to take me a minimum of two days. My assignments for my writing class should be a breeze, or at least I hope they will be. If you are looking to diminish the hold social media and your smartphone have on you, I highly recommend Cal Newport’s book. If you aren’t ready to read a book about cutting your social media use just yet, I can give you a few simple suggestions for how to get on the right track and see if you are ready to go further:

1- No phones in your bedroom

2- No phones at the kitchen or dining room table

3- Keep your phone in a separate room from you as much as possible

The first two points listed above have been a rule in our house for years. Our phones charge in the kitchen and we often leave them there on silent mode as of 9:30-10:00 P.M. and they stay there until the following morning. I now routinely spend an hour or more apart from my phone and guess what? 90% I don’t miss a thing. Not one text, not one call and even if I do, that is what I have voicemail for. Finally, if your first excuse for not divorcing your SmartPhone is that it serves as your alarm clock, Here is what I have always used as an alarm, it has never failed me.

Embrace real life, embrace creativity, embrace your good memories and cherish them, face down your bad ones and you will discover that you have grown because of the challenges you have been through. Most of all, embrace the fact that your time is yours above all else. Use it wisely because time is far more precious than most of us allow.

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