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.

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.

Too Much To Read

Do you guys ever get, like, media anxiety? I was sitting and musing about how I was going to spend my evening, and suddenly, it was like an avalanche of wtf. I've been rewatching Gilmore Girls, and I'm almost done with S6, but I've seen Gilmore Girls before, and I'm also halfway through a long Chinese drama, but I also only watched three episodes of Series of Unfortunate Events so far, oh, and that documentary on North Korea is only half-watched, and I'm only 40 minutes into the OJ Simpson documentary, and I've got a long list of review copies of books to read, but this other book is due back at the library soon, and I've been meaning to read THIS for a while, and have you seen how many unplayed games I have in my Steam library, but I kinda want to replay Skyrim, oh and start a new farm on Stardew Valley, except how can I have time when I haven't finished Pokemon Sun, and and and and...

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Isn't entertainment supposed to be, you know, fun? I feel like I need an organisational chart to meet all my story-consumption goals. And that's not very relaxing. Even my Youtube To Watch playlist feels like it's gotten out of hand. There's just too much!

Meanwhile, right now kitty!Hermione is under my chair, mauling her toy mouse. I bet she never gets anxiety over which toy to murder next.

I'm always like, "Well, maybe if you didn't waste so much time, you'd get through all this!", but I reeeally don't think entertainment is supposed to be this stressful. And the one thing that was good for destressing with this stuff was donating all of the books in my to-read pile (accumulated over years and years) and not letting myself buy any more books or games unless I planned to read or play them immediately. It's a hard rule to stick to sometimes, but it's sooo much less stressful.

So. Destressing steps! First, making Netflix not a place of horror. You can't remove shows from your "continue watching" list, but you can go into your user settings and delete the series from your viewing history, which takes them off that list too. I'm watching Gilmore Girls and my Chinese drama, depending on my mood. Done. A quick sweep-up of library books into a tote bag to return tomorrow, minus the one I'm actually currently reading (there were 7 extra ones, all on three week loan). I can reborrow them later. A purge of my Youtube To Watch list, accepting that things I added more than a couple of days ago will now never be seen. And a couple of deep breaths while accepting that none of this is required. This is not a race to watch and read and play everything so I have nothing left to do except stare into space, knowing I've finally achieved 100% desired media consumption.

And now that I've spent my evening overthinking things instead of actually reading, watching or playing any of these things, I think I'm just going to go to sleep. So, all in all, a productive night. :P

Hate? On the Internet???

Argh, I am so mad right now. Like, incoherently, making random noises of frustration at my laptop screen, wondering why the world is so stupid angry.

A couple of days ago, I wrote about the current situation with Pewdiepie on my other blog. Honestly, I thought I was hovering on the line of being too forgiving of offensiveness in an attempt to understand the mindset of the people supporting him. And even six months ago, I would have told you that I didn't really like the Pewdiepie persona, but I liked the guy behind the channel, Felix, well enough. He seemed like a decent guy, and I liked seeing him and his girlfriend Marzia in her vlogs. Since he amped up the "shock" humor in his videos, I started to be really uncomfortable with him, because even if it's just a persona, he's still choosing to create that character and broadcast that to millions of people. All this backlash over his Nazi jokes seemed inevitable.

What didn't seem inevitable -- although perhaps it should have -- was the entire Internet seeming to show up in support of him. I get that this must be a really tough time for him. He's dealing with a lot of public backlash, a lot of guilt over the cancellation of his show, and a giant spotlight on him while he grapples with all this. But, you know, he also chose to say those things. Actions have consequences. And the number of people I've seen twisting this around so that it's the mainstream media bullying him and taking his statements out of context is mindblowing.

Anyone who talks to me about Youtube for more than a minute will figure out that there are two (well, three) Youtubers that I really love: Jacksepticeye, and Dan & Phil. These are my "watch their stuff as soon as they put up a video, don't miss their liveshows, genuinely think they're awesome and would watch them painting a fence for an hour if they filmed it" Youtubers. And they're all friends with Felix. Dan and Phil haven't said anything, because they never comment on serious issues, unless it's in a liveshow. But yesterday, Jack put up a video talking about the Felix drama, and while I didn't agree with everything he said, I thought his response video was incredibly sensitive and measured, talking about how Felix is a good friend, but that he definitely messed up, and that he can't blame companies for reacting the way they did. Basically, saying Felix is a decent person, but his jokes failed spectacularly and crossed the line into offensive territory, and now he's seeing the consequences of that.

So, of course, the internet seems to have imploded with hate for Jack, saying he backstabbed Felix, calling him horrific names, and generally being so intense that he has now said that he regrets the video. It's a mess on the level that only the Internet can provide, where over-intense strangers pile onto somebody because of some perceived infraction -- this time, for being too "SJW-y," despite the mildness of what Jack even said in his video.

And it's just exhausting. It's exhausting and depressing to see someone say something so middle of the road and be lambasted for it. It's exhausting to see someone you respect then backtrack in response to the pile-on criticism. Gotta be nicer to the person who has been vocally supported by Neo-Nazis because of his "jokes," after all! It's exhausting to see how people are the worst, and will go to extreme lengths to insist that that popular white guy who said really offensive things did absolutely nothing wrong and should face no consequences for his actions.

hate internet pile-ons, no matter the cause. Liberal or conservative, 4chan memesters or "SJWs," I find the entire culture of mass insulting and shaming abhorrent. This is apparently an unpopular view these days, where a lack of willingness to join the pile is taken as a lack of caring about an issue. I also hate how the culture of the internet seems to default to hurting others. It's shock jokes, jumping to telling people to kill themselves when you disagree with them, enjoying the schadenfreude of someone else's humiliation, swinging from idolising someone to despising them at the drop of a hat, just... everything is so big and so negative, where being offended is a far bigger crime than being offensive, and sympathy to the nuances of a situation is the ultimate betrayal. And it's so depressing, and so infuriating, to see all of this falling down on someone for daring to say that hey, maybe a more considered and sensitive approach is in order here.

I'm stretching for a wise-sounding way to conclude this, but I got nothing. This is basically just a rant. I almost want to ask why any of us bother existing online at all. It's just all so much, so stressful, so dark. And then, of course, I come back to the fact that one of the reasons I'm upset is because I must have spent hundreds of hours at this point watching Jack's videos, having them cheer me up when I feel low. Without the internet, without the structures and content at the heart of this culture, that wouldn't exist, and that would suck. But I don't know, guys. Maybe we could try and take the good parts without all the violent words and hate as well? Maybe?

A Few Thoughts on Nerdiness and Minimalism

My wonderful college roommate Meg runs a blog about minimalism, and her recent post about passions really hit home for me. She talks about our need to display our passion for others, with things like graphic tees, nerdy accessories, mountains of stuffed animals, and piles of unnecessary equipment for activities we want to do but don't actually do. I'll probably talk about this in more depth another time, but I started something of a light minimalist journey last year when I implemented the oh-so-trendy Marie Kondo method. I'm not joking when I say that it really has changed my life. I wasn't a hoarder, exactly, but I liked having things. I liked collections. I had a guilt-inducing pile of Tsum Tsums and more stuffed animals than I had space for, among lots of other things, and having a hardcore clearout really helped me feel more focussed and relaxed, more appreciative of what I have, and even less anxious. But there's one impulse that still gets to me a lot, and that's to buy things that are branded with characters and stories that I love.

It's Harry Potter tees that don't fit well, but I buy because I love Harry Potter. It's a Pusheen weekly desk planner that I don't need, because I have a bullet journal. It's my BB-8 bag that is completely impractical, and I never use, but that I can't get rid of, because it's BB-8, and BB-8 is adorable.

And then there are my bookshelves. I used to keep every book I bought, even if I ended up hating it. Now I have more of a conveyer belt of "buy, read, donate." But every now and again, I still feel that pull. That need to be the sort of person who has A Library. That can go, "Here are my bookshelves. Look what a big reader I am."

And reading Meg's post really helped me figure out that impulse. It's the idea of wanting physical proof of our passions. We're displaying them for other people, to some extent, but we're also, I think, displaying them to ourselves. Helping define ourselves with things that we can look at and go, "Yes. I am this person."

The trick, of course, is finding comfort and confidence in ourselves without these things. Not erasing them from our lives completely, but only buying them when they serve us. Perhaps it's the difference between the Hogwarts scarf I've worn every winter day for over two years, and that BB-8 bag that I never use, but keep because I'm a Star Wars person, and a Star Wars person needs their BB-8 bag!

I'm definitely still figuring all of this stuff out. But if nothing else, reading Meg's post helped me resist buying a sparkly Jigglypuff tee from Primark the other day that was totally "things Rhiannon loves" and not at all "things Rhiannon will actually wear." So, you know. Baby steps.

Why I Blog

When I think about why I started Feminist Fiction over five years ago (whaaaat?), I always think back to one specific moment in Doctor Who. I started working on the blog in earnest because I was infuriated by the way the media was talking about the new Hunger Games movie, but when I think of why I kept writing, I remember the end of Season 2 of Doctor Who, when Rose left. I was 17 when that aired, and something about that episode crushed me. I didn't have the words to explain why I was so upset, but it left something painful inside me, something beyond this idea of "oh this ending is sad." I didn't really know what it was, and I grappled, in fandom spaces, to figure out why I felt that way. Now I know that this was one of my first instances of feeling that a show I loved had betrayed me, making the female protagonist agentless, powerless, left sobbing on a beach with no control over the situation or say in what happened. But at the time, I couldn't figure out why that upset me so much. I just knew that it did.

So now I write about those things. I write to figure out my own feelings about complicated issues regarding narrative and representation, and I write because there might be someone else out there grappling with the same sorts of problems, feeling that something is wrong, but unable to express exactly why. Other people's critiques of feminism and fandom shaped me in a lot of ways, back in the days when social justice and fandom weren't automatically intertwined, and although I'd never assume I was that influential on anybody, I hope that occasionally some people find my thoughts helpful, whether it's expressing something they agree with, or saying something they disagree with so vehemently that my totally objectionable words help bring their thoughts into focus.

Which brings me to blogging here, and a helpful conversation I recently had with a friend. I really enjoying doing "blogmas," writing a blog post every day in December running up to Christmas on whatever happened to be on my mind that day. Casual thoughts about movies or books, some Youtube recs, some life stuff. Anxiety and writing and perfectionism and Disney. One thing that was great about it was how freeing it was. I'm fine writing on Feminist Fiction, but I second guess myself a lot when it comes to this blog. I have 50 drafts of posts that never went up. 50. That's almost as many as I actually have posted.

Because, beyond thinking about writing quality, I'm always wondering... what is the point of this post? What benefit does posting it bring? What is it really even about? Factual topics don't suit my writing style as much as more musing or analytical things, but surely factual posts, or even the ever-present internet "listicle," are more useful to readers. They have more utility, and that's what this is about, right? Utility. Purpose.

But it took thinking about the real purpose behind Feminist Fiction to understand what I really want to do with blogging, the thing that I always end up second guessing, because it doesn't have enough purpose, because it's too navel-gaze-y. I want to be navel gaze-y. I want to write blog posts that are open and musing about, well, life. About things that happen in the news and about books and games I come across, but also about those tricky other things, like dealing with anxiety and figuring out who you are and who you want to be.

I like to blog because it helps me figure out what I think about these things. And I like that there's always a chance, even if it's a slim one, that someone will come across the post and have it help them figure out their own feelings. Help them see a way forward or feel less alone with their problems. I'm a huge fan of chatty Youtube, the kind of video blogging that doesn't have much purpose beyond someone reflecting on things. It makes me feel calm and connected, and often leads me to think about things in unexpected ways. And that is the purpose of this blog too. To muse, to think, to clarify, and hopefully to connect.

So, this is all a very, very long way of saying that I'm reinstating Blogmas. Not exactly Blogmas, because I'm not going to be blogging every single day until Christmas. But semi-blogmas. Blogging every day that I don't have a particularly good reason not to blog. In fact, my goal is to blog 300 days in the rest of 2017, which leaves 21 days off, assuming I don't get weak and invoke the blog posts I wrote before this point. Is it ambitious? Yup. Will I last a week and then fail? Possibly. But that's my goal.

Keep your fingers crossed for me, and come back tomorrow for some more nerdy, navel-gaze-y fun. Confessions of an anxious author. Or something like that. :P

Coping with Anxiety Today

Well. Today is... it's not good, is it? I don't know how to make the world less horrifying right now, but I do know a thing or three about anxiety. And if this isn't an anxiety-provoking situation, I don't know what is.

So here's what I can offer. Some tried-and-tested anxiety-fighting techniques to keep us going in the face of whatever's to come.

  1. Take What Action You Can

First, tackle this on a personal level. Is there anything specific you're worried about facing, and if so, is there anything you can do about it? Honestly, the answer may well be "not much." But there may be small things. Perhaps you can think up a "worst case scenario" plan. Perhaps you can practice a script for if a dreaded encounter happens. Perhaps you can reach out to someone you know you can rely on, or put a list of important phone numbers in your pocket in case you need them. Just doing something will put a sense of control back in your hands, and if you genuinely can't do anything, then knowing that is, in itself, a way to help handle anxiety about it. "I've done all I can. I can't do any more until the thing actually happens." You can acknowledge that you're anxious, and then move on to other things you can do things about.

Then there's the issue of what we can do in a general sense. How do we stop the world going to hell? How do we protect society as a whole, and help people who aren't us? A lot of anxiety comes from the idea that we should be doing things, combined with the belief that we can't do anything. Bad things are going to happen, and we don't know exactly what they are, and we can't stop them, but we should stop them, and... *brain explosion*.

So, listen to Lin-Manuel Miranda. He's a smart guy, right? And he's said this:

Decide how you are going to help. Decide how you are able to help, something you can maintain. Maybe it's being an online crusader, highlighting issues on Twitter or on a blog or on Youtube. Maybe you have professional skills you can lend to a cause. Maybe you're going to get involved in protesting. But it can be smaller. Find somewhere to volunteer and do some good on a regular basis. Commit to donating to your local food bank once a week. Find something concrete that you can do, and do that thing.

This doesn't mean you're washing your hands of every other problem in the world. But one person cannot possibly do everything. We have to keep going, keep living our lives, and we need the energy and mental health to do that as well. But the enemy of anxiety is action, so pick a thing to do, and then whenever your anxiety starts eating at you, tell it no. You've decided what you're doing. You're doing it. End of discussion.

2. Filter the world

This feels like the opposite of the usual mantra of "stay woke," but remember Lin-Manuel Miranda. If you let everything in, you'll drown. Stay up-to-date on the world, but decide how and when you're going to do that, and stick to it. Maybe there are a few really smart activists on social media that you want to follow. Or maybe you're like me, and the constant flow of social media makes you more anxious. In which case, pick a time of day to read the news, from a couple of sources that you've decided you trust. Get the information. Take whatever action you've decided you're going to take. And then step the hell away from the flood. You've figured out how and when you're going to learn things. Letting yourself get overwhelmed with constant updates helps no-one, least of all you.

3. Distract yourself by living your life

You've got to be able to keep living. You've got to take care of yourself. So don't sit with your anxieties. Don't let them be your constant companions. Find distractions.

First, there's the obvious self-care stuff, the kind of things that anxiety might say we shouldn't do when we're so worried about big-picture things. Watching a favourite Youtuber who makes you smile. Checking out a new Netflix series. Playing a video game. Things that make you feel calmer. Embrace those things. It's not selfish to take care of yourself right now. It's more important than ever. You need downtime, and it will help so much, I promise.

Then there's the other distraction stuff. Hobbies. Passions. Maybe you write stories, or review books. Maybe you're a fledgling Youtuber yourself. Maybe you dance, or you love studying languages, or you paint, or play the guitar. And maybe you don't do those things, but you want to. Maybe you think you don't have time for them, maybe you think you won't be any good at them, but you want to do them.

Now is the time. It's time to give yourself a sense of control over something in your life, and a sense that you're growing, no matter how dark the world gets. It's time to take care of yourself, and make sure you're paying attention to what you want.

And those things, those 'distractions'? They help the world too. Writing things that may one day enlighten or comfort or entertain others. Making people smile with music. Learning new ways to communicate with people and make friends where you otherwise would not. Reading books that broaden your view and understanding of the world and the people in it. Making yourself healthy and strong, so you can keep going, and do more in the future.