Becoming An Internet Hermit

I'm becoming more and more of an internet hermit. This is incredibly weird for me, because I've always been a big online person. I spent my whole teenager-dom in online fandom, talking to friends all around the world, reading forums, and generally nerding out. The internet is the reason I went to the college I did, the reason I got to live in Japan, the reason I'm able to be published in the US.

But oh my god, am I realizing that the internet is a terrible place for me to be right now.

Maybe it's because it's become more centralized and social, with sites like Reddit and Twitter instead of the sprawl of individual sites based on interests. Maybe it's that, although the Internet was full of plenty of drama back then, it seems to have got meaner and snarkier and troll-ier. Maybe it's the non-stop access, carried with us wherever we go. Whatever it is, it is so, so, so unhealthy for me.

I started a few months ago, when I bought myself an almost-dumb phone. It still gets Whatsapp and Facebook messenger, and it can technically connect to the internet, but it's got such a small screen and slow connection that it's too annoying to use for general browsing, and social media is a no-go. I still flip my simcard back and forth between it and my smartphone when I'm going to need apps while I'm out and about, but the majority of the time now, I keep my smartphone turned off and carry my ugly little Nokia 302 with me. And omg, I feel so much less stressed and anxious all the time. I'm no longer pulled into endless cycles of social media checking when I actually want to be doing something, anything else.

And I've been trying to stop myself from going on websites that I know stress me out. Twitter. Reddit. The news. Whenever I succeed, I feel calmer, and when I cave in, I spend the rest of the day feeling much lower and more anxious. It makes me feel so out of sync with the normal world, realizing the extent that social media and Internet browsing affects me, but I've gone through a lot of changes in the past few years, and if logging off makes me a super weirdo hipster, then I guess that's what I'll have to be.

Because I realized that it's not just my general state of mind that gets affected. It's my ability to write. I get self-conscious and convinced that whatever I'm going to say is "wrong," even if I'm just talking about my own feelings. I second guess every word I have, based on this fear of nebulous, sourceless judgement.

All in all, it's just... bad. I struggle to stop, because the habits are so ingrained, and there's something very reassuring, in the short term, about logging onto a website and using it to pass the time instead of getting too bored and listening to whatever thoughts are lurking in the corners of my brain. But enough is enough.

I'm still contactable, via email or Tweet or whatever you like. But in the in-between times, I'm going to be spending a lot more time offline. If that makes me out of the loop on certain things, so be it. I think, these days, we all need to give ourselves a bit more detachment, and a bit more space to breathe.

April Book Love

A few book recommendations from the things I read last month!

One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus doesn't come out until May 30th, but I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy of it from the publishers, and it is a fantastic book. It's billed as "The Breakfast Club meets Pretty Little Liars," and that feels like a pretty apt description. A princess, a brain, a jock, and a criminal all end up in detention with the outcast, Simon, the mind behind their school's infamous gossip site. By the end of detention, Simon is dead. Someone in the room must have been involved in his murder. And all of them have secrets that they might have killed to keep.

I genuinely could not put this book down. After something of a reading slump, I devoured it almost in one sitting. It has some dark themes, and some great character psychology, but it's also incredibly readable, and, dare I say it, fun. I got deeply invested in trying to solve the mystery. I grew to care a lot about the characters. I wanted to see what would happen in the future, and know what had happened in the past.

And, when the answer came, I was delighted to find that I'd figured out some of what had happened, but not all of it. The clues were there, and it's definitely possibly to piece them together, but it's a book that makes you feel clever as you read it and solve it, without failing to offer some surprises too.

Honestly, I loved this one. I really, really recommend it!

Gem & Dixie by Sara Zarr is another advanced copy I was lucky enough to get my hands on, although I'm a bit behind with talking about it, because it came out April 4th. I love Sara Zarr's powerful and painfully real contemporary novels, so I was really eager to pick this one up.

Gem & Dixie is a novel about two sisters, 17-year-old Gem and 14-year-old Dixie, who live with their neglectful mother and haven't seen their father in years. Gem has dedicated her life to protecting her sister, but Dixie resents her for her protection. Gem feels like the unwanted one, the burden, and when a chance appears to run away and leave them all behind for good, she has to figure out if she can abandon her sister, if it means saving herself.

In the end, Gem & Dixie wasn't my favorite book by Sara Zarr. It's very emotional, and very painful to read, but it didn't quite pull me in as much as some of her previous novels. Still, if you're looking for something raw and realistic, you can't go wrong with Zarr's books, Gem & Dixie included.

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli is just about the most adorable book ever. It's a slice of life contemporary novel, a group of friends over the summer, struggling with growing up. Twins Molly and Cassie have always been inseparable, but when Cassie gets a girlfriend, Molly begins to feel left out. What happens when she and her sister grow up and grow apart? How will she cope with being left behind?

Then answer, Cassie insists, is that Molly needs to stop having meaningless unrequited crushes on boys and actually get a boyfriend. Someone like Cassie's girlfriend's friend Will, for example, a hipster redhead who seems to like Molly. If Molly and Cassie can date best friends, maybe things won't have to change. But then Molly starts developing feelings for completely the wrong guy, her nerdy coworker Reid. He loves Ren Faire and wears Game of Thrones t-shirts, and he definitely doesn't fit in with Cassie's cool new crowd. But maybe Molly doesn't care?

Everything about The Upside of Unrequited just feels so real. The emotions resonate, the dialogue sounds like actual conversation, and the way these characters love and hurt each other is so flawed and relatable. I absolutely devoured this book, and I loved every minute.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas was the focus of a lot of conversation in March, but it only came out in the UK a few weeks ago, so I'm a little bit behind. The Hate U Give is a novel inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, about a girl who is the only witness to her friend's murder by police. It's a powerful novel, and a challenging one, at least for this white girl from the north of England. The fact is that African American characters and communities are not frequently represented in mainstream fiction that makes it across the pond, so it was a much bigger leap in perspective for me than I had anticipated -- not in sympathising with the characters, who are all vibrant and flawed and wonderfully portrayed, but in understanding the dialect and slang.

This is an important book, and a painful book, but it's also immensely readable and full of heart. Everyone should read it.

As for books for May, I have a copy of A Court of Wings and Ruin arriving today that I'm admittedly super wary about. I used to loooove Sarah J Maas's books, but Empire of Storms was a hot mess, so... we'll see. I'm hoping it'll be good, but I won't be surprised if it's full of all kinds of misogyny and homophobia in the guise of humor and romance. I've not read any reviews, so we'll see.

I've got a few more advanced copies I need to dive into -- The Whole Thing Together by Ann Brashares, Girl Out of Water by Laura Silverman, The Art of Not Breathing by Sarah Alexander -- and after finishing rereading A Room With a View, I think I'm going to try The Awakening by Kate Chopin. It's definitely a book that a feminist English major should have read before, don't you think?

Defining success with Project Runway

I have a Project Runway problem. 

I saw a couple of seasons of the show were available on Netflix, and I thought, "Hey, why not?" Turns out, the "why not" is that I watched those two seasons in their entirety in less than a week. I watched them while fixing website stuff, which feels like an endless task, but even so. TWO SEASONS. ONE WEEK. 

One cool thing about watching reality shows from years ago is that you can watch all the drama, and then go immediately to Google to find out what's happened to them since. It certainly made one guy's breakdown less horrible to watch, knowing he designs for Beyonce now. And while Google stalking the contestants, I found this really interesting article from the Guardian discussing whether the show has failed at its "help designers build their career" goal.

The fact is that most former Project Runway winners are not megastar designers. But a lot of the winners and contestants are designers. They design clothes for a living, whether it's costume design for film or owning their own boutique. Not everyone can design dresses for an endless line of celebrities or launch a luxury brand name, but there are many different ways that people can use their talent and pursue their passions. If you define success as superstar level, then almost all of them fell short. But that's just not fair or realistic at all. 

IDK, I think it's a valuable things for us perfectionists to remember. It's the doing that matters, and although Project Runway pitches itself as the epic turning point in a designer's career, really it's just one opportunity, one stepping stone in the grand patchwork of chances and setbacks that they have to navigate. 

Also, I really want Tim Gunn as a mentor. That man is legendary.

Fighting Anxiety, March 2017 Edition

Well, this week has been a bit of a blogging (and writing) bust. My good old friend anxiety has decided to make an appearance, and nothing is getting done. So, instead of any thoughts on feminism and fiction-writing, here are a few of the things I've been using to help soothe my anxiety over the past few days. If you're feeling anxious right now, maybe one of these will help you too. :)

Stardew Valley

I have returned to my lovely farm in Stardew Valley after several months away. This game is the spiritual successor of Harvest Moon, an adorable farming sim with bonus exploring and monster-slaying and artefact collecting, and omg, it is so calming to play. It's fall of year 3 for me, we just had a new baby goat called Gertrude, and I'm running around forcing my neighbors to accept endless gifts of strawberries so that we can be best friends and I can get an achievement.

A Night in the Woods

I am love love loving watching Jacksepticeye's Let's Play of this game. It's a meandering narrative game about a girl called Mae, who just moved home to small town Possum Springs after dropping out of college, and it's all about friendship and figuring out who you are and possibly also ghosts. It's incredibly well-written and beautifully animated, and the voices Jack does while playing it are so good. I'd buy the game to play myself, because I looove it, but I'm so attached to Jack's voices and commentary that it just wouldn't be the same.

Seriously, this is turning out to be of my favorite Let's Play series ever, up there with Undertale, so I really recommend it if you're looking for something long and engaging and soothing to watch.

The La La Land soundtrack

There's just something really motivating about listening to Another Day of Sun, even if it is dull and grey in England right now.

Meraki Candles

I've been using a lot of candles and fairy lights over the past couple of days, and my favorite right now are the book-themed Meraki Candles that a friend gave me for Christmas. The Etsy shop is closed right now, so I can't link to the exact scents I'm loving, but my favorite is Starfall, a jasmine-y candle inspired by A Court of Mist and Fury. I highly recommend!

Logging Off

I really need to write a longer blog post about my experiments in reducing my tech use, in an attempt to reduce my anxiety. But I've been trying very, very hard to stay mostly offline the past few days, beyond the required email checks and work attempts. My laptop lives in my desk drawer when I'm not working, my Smartphone is turned off, and... I think it's helping. It's so much easier to remember how to breathe when you step back from the never-ending onslaught of the digital world for a while. So that, I think, is what I'm going to do right now. All the work and stress can wait until Monday. Or until tomorrow, at the very least.

A DIY Guide to Feminist Cybersecurity

The other day, Tumblr introduced me to this really useful website: A DIY Guide to Feminist Cybersecurity. It's explicitly designed for people who talk about feminism online, who can be easy targets for online harassment and doxxing, but really, it's a useful guide for anybody who wants to use the internet more securely with steps beyond "use good passwords."

I've been thinking a lot recently about all the problems with the Internet as we currently use it, from both a harassment/safety perspective and user psychology/mental health perspective, and this kind of security won't protect from all of those types of problems... but it's good to be informed on things like data mining and tech vulnerability, and to know at least a few basic steps to protect yourself as you conduct your whole life online. At least, it might stop those creepy ads that follow you from device to device for days after you Google something once.