Today is National Book Lovers Day. I have some thoughts about being a book lover, both from a writer and reader’s perspective.
If you’ve been subscribing my newsletter, listening to a recent podcast interview I did, or keeping up with my husband’s blog posts, then you know I’ve been experiencing a bit of a Renaissance in my writing career. I’ve regained my tenacity. I’ve re-calibrated my expectations. And, most importantly, I’ve recovered the joy.
I’m writing again.
The ideas are lining up like planes on a runway, waiting their turn, just like they used to. I’ve even designed book covers and taped them to a vision board to assist in their manifestation.
I’m reconnecting to the writing and reading community. Although I wouldn’t go as far as to say I burned bridges, I did pull back quite a distance when things weren’t going so well. It feels comforting to see so many books in my newsfeed again, to take part in the conversations, and to be engaged simply for engagement’s sake.
I love the book I’m about to birth into the world. I love the books I’ve already written that have been reaching new readers. And the older I get, the more comforted I am when I am surrounded by books, be it at a bookstore, a library, or my own home.
I’m also reading again. A lot.
Not that I ever stopped reading. More like scaled back. Read fewer books more slowly. To look at it retrospectively, I think reading was actually painful for a time. I so longed to create these stories and characters and settings that I almost couldn’t bear to take part in others. Soon, what began as painful turned into something more therapeutic. I missed reading. And I figured that even if I wasn’t currently writing, even if I didn’t have a single good idea, I could celebrate others’ good ideas. I could appreciate the act of reading. I could bide my time, and my ideas would show up somewhere in the pages of other books.
Which is pretty much what happened.
I read for professional reasons, too. If I was officially diving back into this business, then I needed to know the market. If I needed to get comfortable with the craft again, then what better way than being a student of it again through reading?
Reading, like writing, has become immensely joyful again. And as I reflect on these last five years, offering insight and advice for writers who may find themselves in my position, I would tell them to keep reading. Even if it was painful. Read through the pain. Read because eventually the pain turns to peace. It turns to power.
Put another way, it’s act of love.
I'm so excited to officially announce that my twelfth novel and fourteenth book, ALL OF YOU, will launch on October 11, 2022.
This one is special (well, they're all special). I began writing this book in 2014, and it kept getting pushed aside for other projects. Add to that major life changes, a career crisis, a pandemic, and a resurgence of confidence and commitment, and ALL OF YOU is finally ready to be born into the world.
I'm completely in love with this novel, this story and these characters. (See the synopsis below.) My husband put it this way: "Her whole heart is in there," and he's not wrong. I'm also digging this cover, a joint effort between my husband and me.
Stay tuned for upcoming interviews and information. And although time already passes too quickly, bring on October!
Former teen pop star Joey “Paisley” Parker has loved her lucrative career as a music producer and audio engineer. However, ongoing changes in the industry and consumer consumption threaten her livelihood, and she’s faced with walking away before she turns fifty. Yet before she does, she agrees to produce one more album: the British quintet Taro, who came of age with Joey in the 1980s and saw stardom rivaling the Beatles. They want to attempt one more comeback, and they believe Joey—who owes much of her musical inspiration and ambition to Taro—is the only producer who can make that happen.
There’s just one problem: Taro’s bassist Garrett Chandler, twin brother of the late drummer Gavin Chandler who died before his twenty-fifth birthday and was the love of Joey’s life. To work together, Garrett and Joey need to set aside bad memories and their shared ghost. Moreover, as a drummer herself, Joey offers to fill in for Taro’s deceased band mate, much to Garrett’s resistance.
With a crowdfunding budget, a home recording studio on Long Island, and a little help from her friends, Joey and Taro are a long way from the rock star life of glamor and excess they once knew. Yet day by day, they are making something special. Furthermore, Joey finds herself at the dangerous edge of a professional boundary by getting personally close with the band and an intimacy she’s never experienced. She is especially alarmed by the chemistry between her and Garrett, both in and out of the studio, which threatens to betray her ethics altogether and put the album and Joey’s reputation in jeopardy.
Ultimately, Joey risks losing a life’s worth of credibility and achievement, as well as ending Taro’s career permanently. Worse still, she fears losing herself and the connections she’s cultivated, which, she’s learned, is as powerful as the music she makes.
Using her signature style of heart and humor, Elisa Lorello has crafted a seasoned story of the love you need, the music you make, and the life that happens between the notes.
My husband Craig and I just finished a two-week road trip that, among other places, brought us to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where we attended a Celebration of Life ceremony for our friend and honorary brother, Jon Ehret, who passed away suddenly in August, 2021.
My husband gave a beautiful eulogy, a sort of exclamation point to a blog post he’d written last year. I stood by his side as he delivered it. Afterwards, Jon’s wife, Laura, invited others to share memories or stories about Jon. I felt called to come forward on my own and deliver an anecdote off-the-cuff.
I’ll tell you that story here in just a moment, but first, let me explain the title of this blog post.
In basketball, there are five starting players from each team on the court. The sixth man* is the first person off the bench when a player takes a rest and is considered a singularly important player. This player is typically not the superstar. He likely doesn’t have sneaker deals or TV commercials. But he comes onto the court and gives everything he’s got. He’s the consummate team player—he’s in it for the win rather than the glory. He has a job to do and relishes the role.
I didn’t know Jon for nearly as long as Craig did—Craig introduced us in 2015 during a trip to Seattle; he and Laura were living there at the time—but he almost instantly became like a brother to me.
I already have five older brothers. Even my twin was born three minutes before I was. I didn’t think I needed a sixth.
Jon showed me that I needed him as my sixth brother.
And he was a sixth brother much like the sixth man in basketball. He showed up when needed, came off the bench and onto the court, and shined during those minutes of play. A star performance without the glory. A team player, through and through.
He did it in email exchanges, such as the one when I picked his brain about digital photography—I was toying with the idea of taking it up as a hobby—and he delivered so much more than the rundown of what a decent camera costs. He did it on subsequent visits, when he allowed himself to be both vulnerable and empathetic in conversation, while extolling the virtues of good food and good music. He did it at our wedding (which he and Laura traveled across the country for), when he helped Craig set up tables and chairs at the venue, and gifted us with two high-end bottles of champagne.
Oh, and he was tall. Like, basketball-player tall.
Which brings me to what I shared with those who gathered last week to celebrate Jon. Hopefully I will tell my story with more eloquence here than I did there.
Jon and I shared music fandom. You all know by now that my band is Duran Duran. Jon’s was The Who. Given that Jon fell within the age range of my siblings, I have, at the very least, an average knowledge of The Who and perhaps a slightly above-average appreciation for them. Jon could’ve said the same about Duran Duran, I surmise. We swapped stories about memorabilia finds, best concerts, musical talent, and more. We each respected and appreciated the other’s fandom.
When Duran Duran came to Everett, Washington, just outside of Seattle, in 2016, I scrambled to buy tickets online. I was pretty proud of myself for scoring twelfth-row floor seats. We let Jon know we got them, and thus would be in Seattle, hoping to line up another visit.
Jon called us back.
He scored third-row center.
Suddenly my twelfth-row seats were looking pretty shabby.
I playfully fumed at him: “Damn you, Ehret!”
He laughed and replied amiably, “I know how to manipulate the system.”
I was mostly happy at the prospect of Jon going to see Duran Duran and perhaps getting a birds’ eye view of my fandom. (Did I mention how tall he was?) I was happy about the prospect of Craig and I getting to see our friends again. On top of everything else, Jon and Laura and Craig and I were great double-daters.
Jon called me shortly afterwards. “I’ll trade you tickets,” he said. “Your seats for mine.”
I went slack-jawed and wide-eyed. I think he could almost see it.
“That third-row-center fan experience is for you, not for me,” he said. “You need it way more than I do. Those are your guys.”
That was Jon. Selfless. Simple. A superstar without the glory.
We did trade tickets, Craig and I went to the show, and it was, indeed, the fan experience I’d always dreamed of. As special as these things come. One of the best Duran Duran shows ever.
We didn’t get to see Jon and Laura on that trip, and they didn’t get to attend the show. I can’t remember why. But one month later, they came to our wedding, and celebrated our second anniversary with us in Maine.
That was the last time we got to see them together in person.
A Celebration of Life isn’t only about remembering the person who’s passed. It’s also about the people left behind. The shared love and gratitude for having known him/her. The stories. The memories. The artifacts. The messages. The signs. It’s literal celebration of life. And in this day and age, when death has hovered over us like a monsoon that just won’t let up, we need that sunshine.
I didn’t have my sixth brother in my life for long. But oh, what a mark he made.
*Yes, women also play basketball, so “the sixth man” as a term is antiquated. But I hopefully illustrated why it worked in this context.
I wrote some reflections--lists, actually--based on journal prompts, and decided they would make a good end-of-year blog post. Here they are.
What were my biggest achievements for 2021?
What were my biggest challenges for 2021?
How have I developed as a person?
What did I learn in 2021?
How would I describe 2021 in three words?
What aspects of 2021 can I leave behind?
What aspects of 2021 can I bring with me into 2022?
What seeds of opportunity are being planted?
So here's to gratitude and optimism. May they be the bridge from this year to the next.
*Update on said manuscript: I asked my agent if I could have it back for some additional revision and tweaking. She said yes. Now's a good time to do so because shopping for a publisher at this time of year pretty much grinds to a halt. The good news is that I'm still in love with the story and the characters, and it's already in really good shape. The other good news is that there is room for improvement, and it doesn't need much. (Biggest change thus far: the title!) I'm looking forward to spending my January 2022 on it.
**OK, so obviously this isn't my achievement, but shout-out to it being a highlight of 2021. It really is a great album, and was worth the wait.
***That might sound silly, but I like story structure. However, I like it in the revision stage as opposed to the pre-drafting stage.
If you subscribe to my newsletter (and if you don’t, now’s a good time), you’ll know that I’m taking a mental health break this month. But I wanted to share this milestone—an anniversary, if you will.
Eight years ago on this date, I launched my memoir Friends of Mine: Thirty Years in the Life of a Duran Duran Fan.
If you looked solely at the numbers, you might say its success was modest, at best. Mediocre, even. It didn’t chart in any best-seller categories. Its sales-to-date haven’t warranted any plaques, and it hasn't won any awards or honorable mentions (except for cover design, and rightfully so).
And yet, I consider it one of the most successful books I’ve ever written.
That last bullet point is the one I’m most proud of and most moved by. Ninety-five percent of my Twitter time is spent conversing with fellow Duranies (the rest is about books and cats, if you’re wondering), and so many of them found me (or I found them) as a result of this memoir. We support each other creatively, laud each other’s projects and triumphs, and seek solace in each other during difficult moments.
It very well might be my only book that still generates conversation (see podcast links below).
I wrote and published Friends of Mine during a time in my life when I was on a fast track to the top of the world. And what’s happened since its release is enough to fill the pages of another book (SPOILER ALERT: a rough draft of said book is already done). Nowadays, when the fate of my author career is still unknown and unresolved, I know one thing for sure: I want to publish that second memoir. Preferably by 2023, ten years after Friends of Mine.
Because we’re still on this journey, Duran Duran and me. As I write this, I am surrounded by posters and Funko Pop figures; memorabilia and that photo of John Taylor and me holding each other’s books in 2012—I’m about four months away from the age he was back then. That alone is hard to wrap my head around. We’ve quarantined together. Felt our way through the darkness. We’re emerging on the other side with music to show for it. With writing. With something to celebrate.
So today I raise a glass (or a mug with JT on it) to my favorite band, still going strong 40 years later. They’re still the band to dance to when the bomb drops. Still the band to swoon over. Still the band to write about, to be inspired by, to blast in the car with the windows down. Still the soundtrack of my life.
Dare I say, still friends of mine.
WANT A SIGNED COPY OF FRIENDS OF MINE? Make a special request when you order from This House of Books, and they will ship it to you. (Make sure you specify your request in the Comments on the website's order form, or call the store directly and let them know. Also specify whether you want a personal inscription.)
When I announced I was leaving all platforms of social media last fall, I truly didn’t know when—or if—I would return. At the time, it felt rather permanent, and I was OK with that. It might be dramatic to say I took a leap into the unknown, but as an author who is expected to be accessible to her readers, to maintain a “platform” (and oh, is that a loaded word), and who was social distancing with the rest of the world, it really was a big thing.
Fellow authors called me brave. Others speculated that I would be back in a week. Family and friends were sorry to see me go. I’m sure others felt the opposite.
I made it approximately 120 days.
120 days doesn’t seem like a long time, but here’s how I spent them:
Aside from missing keeping up with close friends and extended family, I was rather surprised by how much I didn’t miss the constant checking in, counting Likes, and scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. To say nothing of the fact that I was less outraged, less stressed, less riled up on a daily basis. I hadn't noticed how those feelings would linger throughout the day until they no longer did. And above all, I neither missed the time suck nor being glued to my phone.
And yet, I also struggled with pandemic fatigue and low-grade depression. Moreover, despite the fact that I was writing again, my confidence continued to flail, and doubts about whether I would resume writing as a career continued to pester me.
It’s no secret that the Bernie memes following the Inauguration brought me back. Twitter especially was a treasure trove for them. I couldn’t resist.
I wound up sticking around on Twitter, especially after I Muted and Unfollowed a lot of accounts that had contributed to my initial reasons for leaving. It made a difference.
When I "officially" returned to Twitter, I noticed some of my online behaviors had changed. For one thing, I observed a general lack of boundaries. I became hyper-aware of people over-sharing, being passive-aggressive, and acting in ways I suspected they wouldn’t in a face-to-face situation. And I saw myself more clearly, too; or, more specifically, my past social media self when I read things I previously would have commented on or Retweeted. I was now more conscious of what I was sending into the ether, so to speak. I withhold more now.
I was also more observant of the mundane. That's not to say that the mundane is a bad thing. Sometimes mundane and simplicity overlap, and there’s almost a peacefulness to it. Other times it's just… well, mundane.
Some negative behaviors returned, unfortunately. My productivity went down again. So did my pleasure reading.
Eventually I began wafting over to Instagram, mostly to catch up with my twin brother’s cats’ account (they have ten times the followers I do, dammit), but soon I found myself scrolling, stopping, lurking, reading, and dropping an occasional comment at others’. Yet I didn’t feel I had anything to say or add on my own account. I really didn’t want to get on that train again.
What’s the train, you ask? The one where I have to be ON. Where I have to crack the code of what a “successful social media presence” is for an author.
And of course, there’s always the elusive “create epic content.”
Oh, and did I mention they also all say to “be yourself”?
Here’s the thing: The more I try to put any one of these practices in place, the less successful I am. The other day I posted a 7-tweet thread about the next manuscript I’ve chosen to work on. I expected a moderate amount of Likes, even replies. I think I got one.
Likewise, hours before writing this blog post, I tweeted something that came to me during my morning walk that had amused me to no end—actually made me laugh out loud—and… crickets.
And yet, when I replied to a question about great songs with a harmonica in it (Chaka Khan’s “I Feel For You”), I got close to 50 likes, a couple of Retweets, and a few replies. (Granted, the questioner has over 750,000 followers, so that might have helped.)
Which tweet was the more authentic me? To be honest, it was the latter. I put too much thought into the former. Wrote what I thought I was supposed to write as an author on social media. Made a conscious attempt to elicit a response, and of course was let down when I had none.
So what’s an author to do—especially one who writes fiction, and not specific genre fiction like Romance or Horror or Fantasy?
And why, if it’s all so stressful and such a time suck, did I just return to Instagram?
Short answer: I don’t know.
Long answer: I may be trying to reinvent myself. And yet, when I say “reinvent,” I don’t mean shedding my authentic self. But the world has changed over the last fifteen months, and certainly I have changed over the last five years. I’m finally recovering from the whiplash all that change gave me. And I might be trying out what this new skin feels like, as well as being maskless again—in more ways than one.
And if there’s anything I wish to go back to—or, more suitably, to re-purpose—it’s the Ben & Jerry’s adage: “If it’s not fun, why do it?” I used to put that on the heading of my course syllabi at the beginning of each semester. I used to have a bumper sticker tacked on my vision board in the office space of the house I rented in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, when I took the leap of leaving teaching and becoming a full-time author. I lived it every chance I could; if not literally then in intention.
I’m curious to see if I can have fun on social media—not to sell books, attract followers and newsletter subscribers (although hey, if it floats your boat…), or win the attention of influencers, but simply for fun’s sake.
I’m daring to defy every best practice that cautions against making yourself your ideal reader and follower, and I’m totally making myself my ideal reader and follower. After all, I taught the kind of class I would want to take, and I’ve written the books I wanted to read.
Overall, I’m taking another leap by emerging from the bubble. And like the first leap in, I have no idea if it will last, or for how long. But here’s to what happens in the meantime.
(All that said...)
And leave a comment below!
Very early in my teaching career, when I was still learning my craft, I’d had a disastrous first essay assignment with my students. I’d mistakenly believed one of my jobs as a teacher was to edit their papers, and the result was, as a student bluntly referred to it, “a bloodbath.” (I’d even used red pen. I’d thought teachers were supposed to use red pens.) I hadn’t taught them as much as I’d corrected them. I hadn’t guided them as much as I’d crushed them. They were deflated, as was I. I had thought I was doing it right, only to discover I’d not only done it wrong, but also that I’d probably done damage.
When I confided in the professor who became my mentor, he didn’t chastise me, but politely showed me the errors of my ways, and offered suggestions on how to improve. And by doing so, he’d freed me to become the kind of teacher I aspired to be.
For the second essay assignment, due right around Halloween, I was now inspired and even confident. Dubbing the assignment “The Monster is Out of the Cage” (and following it with an excessive amount of exclamation points; like I said, I was young and had a lot to learn about my craft), I offered a completely new approach to the learning objectives. I had derived the title from the manager of the New York Mets referring to catcher Mike Piazza, who finally had the batting performance the fans and team had been waiting for during the 2000 Subway World Series with the New York Yankees.
Drawing on Stephen King’s essay “Why We Crave Horror Movies,” I offered my students to write their own “Why We Crave…” essay, filling in the blank.
The students loved it. And the topics were varied. Why We Crave Love. Why We Crave Football. Why We Crave Music.
Their writing came alive, as did they. Moreover, they came to understand the objective of the assignment: what we in the field described as a causal analysis.
“The Monster is Out of the Cage” had been an apt title for the assignment in many ways, and it set the course for the remainder of the semester, which ended way better than it had started.
Dare I say, this is how I’m feeling these days.
It started last month, when I devoured Glennon Doyle’s memoir Untamed. Yes, I nodded as I read, putting the book down every few minutes to record the moment in my journal next to me. Yes, yes, yes. Somehow, in the last two or three years, I’d given too much of myself away, forfeited too much, sacrificed in order to compromise. I was hardly aware that I had, and then when I was aware, I was angry at myself for having done it so willingly, consciously or subconsciously or unconsciously, against my nature. I’d thought I was beyond all that, especially at this point in life. I thought I had more wisdom.
I didn’t want to be caged anymore, however that metaphor applied. I wanted to let my free spirit be free again.
Or perhaps it started even earlier than that, when I made the decision to leave social media (which is at forty days and counting). Because since leaving, I have, indeed, felt freer. I’m writing again. Heck, I’m reading again. I think I read ten books all year. I’ve read ten books in the last 30 days. Closer to fourteen in the last two months.
I’m learning how to be a writer again. Heck, in some ways I feel as if I’m even learning how to write again. Moreover, I’m learning how to be an author again.
And, despite being so sheltered these days, I feel like I’m finally learning how to live again.
After at least two years of not knowing if I would ever write a book again, if I would ever even want to write a book again, the desire is back, and (at the risk of jinxing myself), the doing is back.
October 22nd’s Why I Love Singlehood’s Zoom event with my co-author Sarah Girrell and This House of Books (SEE BELOW) was when I really ran wild. Sarah and I had so much fun reliving our writing process, revisiting The Grounds and those characters we knew and loved so intimately. Just as I had done with The Second First Time the week before, I reread Why I Love Singlehood and reconnected to all the things I (we) loved about it, all the things that still made it good, and all the things where I could say in hindsight, without judgment, “I was young. I still had a lot to learn.”
Best of all, the event stirred the creative pot for Sarah and me, made us start asking the what-if questions. Sifting around for a story.
I was back in my element, back in my joy. It showed in my smile and my raucous laughter. It showed in the way I vigorously talked with my hands. It showed in my enthusiasm for the subject and for my friend, and all those who participated.
My husband and I always laugh at the scene in the movie Wonder Boys, when the late Rip Torn’s character (referred to only as “Q”) kicks off the academic literary festival with this booming declaration:
“I. Am. A. Writer.”
We know that guy. I, having been in academia for so long, have met that guy several times over. But in the wake of the Zoom event, I feel myself wanting to roar those very words from my natural habitat.
So yeah, the monster is out of the cage. Like Grover and Cookie and Herry, she’s a friendly monster. But she’s walking around, unleashed. I don’t really know where she’s going or where she’ll end up. But with each step, she feels a little more free to write her own story as she goes. She’s a writer, after all.
I was delighted to discover that fellow Long Islander and author Marci Brockmann devoted her most recent “Book Talk Sunday” show to my novel, The Second First Time. (See video below.) As part of her review, Ms. Brockmann surmised that Sage and Jonathan’s story mirrored my own love story with my husband, Craig.
So now it can be told: Yes. And no.
“Paralleled” might be a better word choice than “mirrored,” for one thing. And there were definitely… er, similarities.
Imagination picked up from there.
I was, indeed, heartbroken at the time. I also had been contracted to write Pasta Wars (late 2014-early 2015). One of my story goals was to cheer myself up. Yet in the middle of writing it, I came across the New York Times article and intimacy questionnaire Ms. Brockmann mentioned, and inspiration struck: I decided to give Craig’s and my failed romance a different outcome. If I couldn’t have a second chance in real life, then I’d give it one on the page.
Thus, The Do-Over was conceived.
In fact, the idea was so powerful that I put down Pasta Wars smack in the middle of a fast approaching deadline and wrote approximately 35,000 words of The Do-Over in two weeks
And then something else happened.
Just a few weeks after those 35,000 words, Craig and I got back in touch, cleaned the slate, and re-established our friendship. Two months later he flew to New York; we spent the week together, and by the end we knew we’d be spending much more than that.
And yes, we did the questionnaire, but we were already in love by then.
That same year, I was contracted to write The Do-Over as part of a two-book deal with my then-publisher, Lake Union. By then those 35,000 words had morphed somewhat and the story had lost a little of its original spark. Having gotten my own real life do-over (and waaaaaay different from what I’d envisioned in the fictionalized version), I had lost the emotional intent and thread, and thus Sage’s intention and obstacles became muddied as well.
With the assistance of Tiffany Yates Martin, the fab developmental editor who had worked with me on Adulation, She Has Your Eyes, and Love, Wylie, we found the thread, and Sage and Jon embarked on their road trip.
One more change was made: The Do-Over became The Second First Time.
In its delivery, The Second First Time was something quite different from its conception. And in a way, that disappointed me. But shortly after its publication, when I read it to Craig (something we like to do with our books, and with each other), I found myself proud of it, with deep affection.
A review from a reader named Joe Miller particularly touched me:
“A compelling treatise, tenderly and engagingly written with life-changing realities. Had this book been available during my 52 years as a military chaplain and pastor, I would have bought multiple copies to have on hand as required reading with follow-on discussion for individuals and couples who came to my office for guidance in relationships and personal growth. I look forward to reading more of Elisa Lorello’s books!”
Likewise, I truly appreciated Ms. Brockmann’s video review because she received what I strive to achieve in every novel I write:
Moreover, she connected to her love story as a result of reading Sage’s and Jon’s. That, too, was confirmation that I achieved what I especially strive for when I craft those characters and dialogue and scenes:
What’s really important and special and profound is ultimately not what the book means to me, but what it means to you.
Because once I’m finished writing it, once it’s been edited and proofread and designed and produced and published, it’s no longer mine.
And thus, your connection, your experience, and your interpretation surpass mine. As it should. Because you carry its light, and share it, and sustain it.
When Duran Duran wrote and recorded “Ordinary World,” it was just a song. When they released it into the world, it became more than a song. For me, it became a lighthouse. For others, a lifeline. For others still, an embrace.
Its whole became far greater than the sum of all of us.
Books have this same magical power of transformation. But the magic can only happen when you wield the wand in the act of reading them.
You are the magician. You are the magic.
I joined Facebook about eleven or twelve years ago, right around the time I self-published my first novel, Faking It. I joined Twitter not long after that. Instagram way more recently. Thanks to these platforms, especially Facebook and Twitter, I connected with people that I never would have had the chance of knowing, several of whom have become close friends. I even met one of them in person for the first time at my wedding. Furthermore, when I’d launched Faking It, I was hoping to reach a few reader networks based on the places I’d lived. Social media changed that for me, and I was able to reach readers in places I’d never imagined.
Moreover, Facebook helped me connect—and reconnect—with family and friends, and even healed a few old wounds. It meant so much to me especially to be able to see how my cousins were doing and get to know them a little better.
Heck, it’s likely that my husband and I wouldn’t have gotten together had it not been for Facebook. Not that we’d met there, but the daily interaction helped build a long distance friendship, and we did the rest.
Those were the good ol’ days.
Facebook was much more benevolent back then, although you would still see some clashes break out from time to time. I had seen that previously in blog comment sections and chat forums. But there’s been an increasingly dramatic shift over the years with all social media platforms. While the illusion is to be connected—to readers, fellow authors, favorite bands, family and friends—the reality is that were disconnected. Estranged. In the world of social media platforms, we are not the consumer, but the product. We are a commodity to be traded and manipulated. And the manipulation is so subtle we hardly notice it.
I don’t wish to be preachy here, or even doomsday—social media already does too much of that—but I’ve known for a while now that my time on social media has been making me increasingly depressed, overwhelmed, angry, powerless, and even ill. Every time I have thought about leaving, I hear voices over my shoulder: If you leave, you’ll never get your readers back. What little you have left in sales of your books will be gone. You’ll never be able to attract new ones.”
And not just readers. In the last few months I’ve begun new endeavors that I’ve been hesitant to talk about here because a) I’ve not wanted to cross-pollinate them, and b) I didn’t want to come off as self-promoting (which could eventually be another blog post altogether). But with each business I started new Instagram and Facebook pages, and I figured that pouring my attention into them in positive ways would be a way of balancing out the bad stuff. Plus, I needed new clients, and I was getting some as a result.
However, I can’t shake the knowledge and the feeling that I’m feeding a beast that is out of control and doing damage to our planet and our people day by day, minute by minute, eroding both.
I am also convinced that social media is the reason why I’ve spent the last couple of years floating and flailing from one thing to the next. I’ve lost the ability to sustain focus and momentum. I’ve lost energy. I’ve lost hope.
And so I’m taking a massive leap into the unknown: I’m leaving social media.
In a lot of ways, this feels like a divorce. Loved ones are going to get caught in the crossfire. I’m going to miss people. I’m going to miss birthdays. I’m going to miss events and updates. I’m going to potentially lose business.
It’s a scary thing to do, to give up all these connections especially during a time when our physical communities have been taken away from us. I feel as if I’m severing a lifeline.
However, I also feel like I’m breaking a chain.
I am not becoming a Luddite and relinquishing my smartphone and Internet connection (although I am removing some apps). And I won’t be completely unreachable. I still have a mailing list that will be playing a more prominent role in my intention to inform and connect and sell my products. I hope many of you will subscribe if you haven’t already. And if you have, I hope you’ll check your Spam boxes and make sure the emails aren’t getting sent there. I still have my website that I will be updating and looking into ways to maximize its potential. You can always email me via the Contact Me page on my website. Also, I’ve already got at least one Zoom event planned for early November (more on that to come—this is one incentive to get on the mailing list, so you’ll hear about it), and I hope to have more in the months to come.
And in the meantime, I will be, as my husband would say, uncoiling the tightly wound spring of these last few years. And, if all goes well, performing a little alchemy.
Many people in my tarot/oracle card-reading circle of friends and mentors have been on a quest for meaning and purpose during this pandemic, and throughout the turmoil of 2020. Speaking only for myself, I thought, among other things, that there was an opportunity to be of service in ways other than writing, and to jump-start new businesses and ideas. Plus, I needed to make money for the same reasons we all do. The work has been fulfilling in many ways, and I have been and will continue to be of service.
However, there’s a message I’ve been ignoring, and I think it’s something we as humans are often afraid of:
Withdraw. Go within.
This weekend, I could no longer ignore the call, even despite my objections of having just started to gain momentum in this business, and needing to ease the burden my husband has shouldered (not to mention the guilt I’ve shouldered as a result of my repeated failed attempts to do so). Social media has not been the tool, but rather the weapon. It’s not been the outlet, but the prison. It’s not been the focus, but the distraction. It’s not been the connection, but the diversion. It’s not been the means to wealth, but the source of poverty, especially emotional and spiritual. I am speaking only for myself here.
It has been the addiction.
I fear I will not be successful. I fear I will get sucked back in at some point. I fear I will crave connection. Engagement. Validation. I fear I will miss out. I fear I will lose more than I will gain.
And yet, I also feel as if this is the only way to save my soul. I know that sounds hyperbolic, but that’s the weight I’ve felt. In fact, it feels a little like what the computer says the end of the 80s movie War Games (SPOILER ALERT): “The only way to win is not to play.”
Prior to my writing this, I called in to Denise Linn’s radio show, Mystic Café. For those who don’t know, Denise Linn is a renowned expert on feng shui, clutter clearing, energy clearing, and more. I’ve been following her work since 1996, and I own and use several of her oracle card decks. I told her what I was about to do, that I was scared to do it, and I asked her to pull a card from one of those decks. She chose the Sacred Traveler oracle deck, which just so happens to be one of my favorite decks, and one that I’ve used quite a bit in my recent work as a tarot and oracle card reader. She squealed with delight when she pulled my card and revealed it to me:
MIRACLES. “Expect the wondrous to emerge.”
“You are absolutely doing the right thing,” she affirmed with conviction and excitement, “and it’s going to open up so many things for you.”
I’ve decided to remain on all platforms until September 30, the day before my wedding anniversary. And although I won’t be deleting my accounts, they will go dormant indefinitely.
Will I ever return? I really don’t know.
But I will be here. More importantly, by making myself absent from social media, I believe I will finally be present.
If there is such a thing as a soul lesson, meaning a lesson that a soul takes a human lifetime to learn, then mine is loss and letting go.
I’ve always had immense difficulty letting go of my attachment to whatever I’ve lost, be it a job, a relationship, even a favorite spatula. I’m serious about that last one. Around 2010, after I misplaced a green, plastic spatula that I had bought at a WalMart some fifteen years prior when I went away to college, I lamented for at least a year that it was gone forever. Then I found it one day while packing to move in 2012, rejoiced, and kept it until it broke some six years later. I was ready to let it go by then. Maybe because by then I had a new favorite utensil.
The big stuff is harder. It took me a long time, for instance, to come to terms with my parents splitting up, to accept that their marriage hadn’t failed, but ended. I’ve struggled in that same capacity with the loss of my novel-writing career—that it ended as opposed to failed. Not only that, but also, like my parents’ divorce, it was an ending I hadn’t asked for and had little say in. I spent two years trying to reverse it. Then I spent the next two years admitting it was gone and grieving it. Even as I came to terms with the loss, the question What do I do with my life now continued to be a challenge.
One thing I have attempted to do, especially this past year, is re-frame how I see writing as a career or a vocation or even a pastime, or how I might approach it differently should I choose to make a go of it again. I’ve drawn inspiration from everyone ranging from Simon LeBon to my friend David O’s podcast, The D Side, to my friend and fellow author Heather Grace Stewart’s tenacity when it comes to her own career.
Even after my husband and I moved back to Montana three months ago, I picked up a manuscript I had started late last summer, and was reveling yet again in word counts and exuberance that This might be good.
But the momentum didn’t last.
Neither did momentum for the new space-clearing business I’d started, nor the website that was supposed to include a podcast, webinars, and more.
Throughout most of April and May, I kept asking the question: What am I supposed to be doing with my life now? Should I go full steam ahead on this new business and step up my Instagram game and actively recruit clients (which poses a challenge during a pandemic), or should I adopt a Novel-Writing or Bust attitude, and climb my way back up that career ladder, rung by rung, no matter how high it goes into the clouds? Was it possible to pursue both simultaneously since they both fed my passions, even though I suck at multitasking?
Plus there was that pesky little issue of needing some income, the sooner the better.
During this time I took a tarot card-reading course for beginners with Radleigh Valentine, who just so happens to be one of those human beings I want to bear-hug should I ever meet him in person. In daily practice readings, I kept drawing the same card from Radleigh’s Archangel Power Tarot deck: Two of Michael. (If you’re a traditional Rider-Waite-Coleman tarot reader, this would be known as the Two of Swords.) The image on the card shows two unicorns on a beach, their horns clashing. Radleigh includes the possible interpretations on the cards themselves (which just so happens to be one of the reasons I love his decks and learning tarot from him; I also suck at memorization), and the first one was “It will all be if you just make a decision!” I tried one of Radleigh’s other decks: Two of Air. Same card.
During the class I asked Radleigh about it and he showed me how to do a reading to help me choose between the two possibilities (writing or space-clearing). Either my skills as a card reader were too amateur or my ego was still too tied to the outcome (my money is on the latter than the former)—I was terrified not only of making a decision, but also of making the wrong decision—but the readings seemed to be telling me I couldn’t go wrong either way, that they were equally good choices.
Which still left me paralyzed in terms of making a choice.
Besides, there was a part of me that really wanted the cards, or Radleigh, or some divine sign to tell me definitively that the choice was writing.
Then I remembered something that happened a little over twenty years ago. Following a breakup with a boyfriend—one of those losses that had truly devastated me—I had started to see an aromatherapy massage therapist who was also a registered nurse and clairvoyant. A couple of years later (way longer than my ex and I had actually been together), I was still having trouble getting over this guy, and I confessed this during my session.
“Is he your soul mate?” she’d asked.
Instead of responding yes or no, I paused and said quietly, cravingly, “I want him to be.”
That should have been a moment of revelation, but it took even longer for me to realize the full truth of that statement. Mark Manson describes it succinctly and bluntly: “If it’s not a Fuck, yes, then it’s a no.”
So in present time, I asked myself pretty much the same question: Is writing your soul mate? Is being a novelist what you’re meant to be doing for the rest of your life, regardless of whether it makes you another cent?
And my answer was the same as it had been for that guy all those years ago, said with the same longing: “I want it to be.”
There was my decision.
I had to come to terms with it. I had to detach once and for all.
But here’s the other thing: the other business also wasn’t a Fuck, yes.
Which left me back at square one. I so did not want to be back at square one. Especially not at 50 years old.
It’s possible that the message was there in plain sight, but I was still too attached to the question, and to that “I want it to be” to see it. Nevertheless, I grew increasingly frustrated and impatient and pressured to find work that was safe and sustainable during a pandemic.
Finally during a guided meditation, I practically demanded an answer. And I got one:
Your life purpose is to be Elisa.
Well, great. And who’s going to pay me for that?
But here’s what I’m finally understanding: When I was a first-year writing instructor in the university, my mentor told me that I had a special quality as a teacher that couldn’t be taught in a graduate class on how to teach. As a novelist, what set my novels apart from others wasn’t necessarily genre or characters or stories, but something you can’t teach in a class on how to write. Even while I worked concessions at our little movie theater in Boothbay Harbor, what made me enjoy my job—and others enjoy me—had little to do with how well I performed my tasks. In every case, the X-factor was me. I’m not saying that in a boastful or conceited way, but I believe that’s what the message is about.
What I do for a living doesn’t define who I am. Rather, what I do for a living is defined by who I am. In other words, what I authentically bring to any job, profession, vocation, and/or career makes it special. Meaningful. Impressionable. Valuable. Successful.
Whatever is next for me will appeal to my strengths and skills and talents and senses, and I will bring my authentic self to it. And because I will bring my authentic self to it, it will be “right” for me. Not my soul mate, not who I am, not something I have to fear losing. Because here’s the soul lesson in all of this. What I have lost in life, however painful, tragic, traumatic, etc. has never diminished who I am.
And who knows: maybe novel writing will be a Fuck, yes again someday. After all, I’ve still got that manuscript. And it still might be good.
I'm an author of commercial women's fiction and a writing instructor. My claim to fame: I can say the alphabet backwards.