Without a warning or a goodbye, I up and left social media for two and a half months. Last night I hopped back on for the first time.


From January, when I had my baby, up until June, life had been moving fast. The days were rushing through a broken dam. Every week felt like a couple of days and every month felt like a week. I won’t check the math, but you get it. Social media was doing what it does to our days, stuffing loads of information down the proverbial drain, clogging it intermittently, the disposal grinding in fits of futility. Information overload.


I’d been thinking about leaving social media constantly. But it’s hard to take the plunge. It promises you will miss everything. The pregnancies. The ladies' church events. The engagements, the moves, the babies, the jobs. The thought of disconnecting feels impossible. And then you do. And life sails on smoother than ever. Someone says, “did you hear So-And-So is pregnant?” And you might say, “yeah!” because you talked to them in person. Otherwise, you might say, “Oh my gosh, no!” and gush with that person about how excited you are for them. The information comes in consumable amounts – amounts that you can retain, because there is little enough of it, that you remember who said what and when. I started feeling like a person again.

So, when I logged back on last night and scrolled for a while, it felt like slamming a Five Guy’s burger and fries after two months of garden greens. Bleh. Heavy. I deleted the apps again and didn’t feel burdened to get back on.


Lore Wilbert has been writing recently about the pull writers feel to have an online presence. (I know this because when I left social media, I started reading her Substack. I curated a list of writers whose words I still wanted to read, social media or no social media.) In one of her latest posts, she links to another article written about a certain plagiarism debacle. Around and above and beside plagiarism, the author writes of the kind of problems that undergird these massive ones. She writes,


“Plagiarism is a shortcut, but there are many kinds of shortcuts. This story happens to be a very public and clear-cut example of how confusing the creative work and the business can completely invert your priorities, but I cannot tell you how many people I’ve met who want a ton of advice about publishing even before they’ve finished a single draft of a novel, or even started one. They want to be published more than they want to write, or sit with what they write. Or revise, or research, or return to the page. Or read.”


This has been much of my experience, online. I love writing, but that pull to be published easily takes precedence over the curation of meaningful words. The pull to have a name, which apparently few people have, or we wouldn’t be clawing after it. I am drowned in this feeling when I am on social media. I read other writers’ poems and prose – good stuff, definitely – and feel like the post I haven’t written yet, or even thought about writing yet, is already late. Good writing cannot take place in such conditions. Not faithful writing. At least not for me. And then, after a post is written, I hunger after likes and shares and comments because this is the stuff publishers eat up (and my ego, too).


Today I turned twenty-nine. I feel old, but I know I am not. Even with only these-many years, time has started to feel invaluable. Seasons transient. The idea that I will be a “young” author is passed. And this may be an opportunity (and not just the maudlin ruminations of an almost-thirty-year-old). Now, and not tomorrow or next month or in a few years, is the time to mean something when I write, and to do it quietly, among the rushes.


When I logged back onto social media, I felt no compulsion to click into almost any of the billion notifications that were waiting for me. Most of them were meaningless. And, conversely, it was humbling to know that nothing was begging me to come back. Social media does not need me, and I’m not so sure that I need it, even when it comes to the publishing game. (Who knows? I don’t know. But people are saying we need another way, and I am with them.)


So, am I leaving or staying? I’m not totally sure. But I don’t want social media, and that feels like a very good start for today. I like being here, in this blogosphere, in this quiet space. I read a writer’s bio, who is not on social media, a while back, and it said, “she sometimes writes in secret.” And I like that. Very, very much.




There’s a red-brick building with a cow-print gable at the edge of Tri-county’s industrial corner. It’s a work and western wear shop. As you might expect, this is a little niche in Cincinnati. We’ve got some horse pastures, definitely, but enough of Ohio is too suburban or city to know a riding boot from a muck boot. The difference between an “R” toe and a “J” toe?


Hah.


This place was my second home for most of my college years. My best friend’s dad managed the shop, at the time, and invited me to interview on hearing I needed a job. By interview, I mean I had to take the mandatory test to make sure I was not A) into thievery or B) into drugs. So, I had the job. But I was so nervous when I came in. My coworker Rhonda used to love remembering me walk into the store for the first time. This shy girl peaking around kiosks of bolo ties and bedazzled purses, asking very quietly – much too quietly for a salesperson - if the manager was in. Rhonda thought, “she’ll never make it.”


I remember Tom turning on the steamer back in my first few weeks on the job. The click and shutter. The hum, as the temperature of the water rose. The ambient heat hovering from the metal spout. The long exhales of hot-breath steam as he pressed the pedal, let off. It seemed a magnificent talent. Something forgotten, mostly. He’d take up a Stetson or a Bailey and rinse it in the steam, turning it over in circular motions. His whole hand and hat would be engulfed in hot cloud; it would eat up his arm. There he’d be, in the middle of a fog, his own black hat sitting on his head, glasses hanging on a button on his flannel, looking straight out of the past.


The art intrigued me, but I hardly wanted to touch an expensive Stetson at all, let alone bend it. But he invited me behind the counter. Showed me how to coax the wool to shape. How less was more, how to avoid creases, folding.


One night, after a busy day, the owner turned up to see that the stock hadn’t been put out. Back then we’d pile everything behind the steamer until we could wrangle a minute to unpack things and set them on the shelves. Tall, leaning towers of yellow Carolina boxes. Lines of the same pair of Justin boots, in every size. This was also the area where the hats sat on hooks on the wall, and this mess about completely blocked off the hats from the customers’ view.


Bill said, “we’re not leaving until all this stock is out.” My coworker and I exchanged a look, annoyed because it was past 8, and we’d never had to stay past closing. Our modern sense of responsibility was nagging. Can he really make us stay? But Bill was stubborn. He had a no-nonsense air that didn’t invite quibbling.


He was also extremely generous.


He stood there with us, opening boxes and folding open tissue paper, reaching down to grab the paper stuffing from the leather shaft of boot after boot, which chafes a hand and makes it flake. He stayed with us until it was done. It didn’t take that long, with all of us. But it’s always stayed with me, seeing the highest person do the lowest job, when it was more our responsibility than his.


No one at Boot Country was under some misguided figure-it-out-on-your-own work philosophy. Under such guidance, everyone with any kind of work ethic to stand on thrived. This was a generous gift. It was the fulfilled promise of the way we feel when we watch an old film and see some young boy apprenticing as a blacksmith. We think, I bet I could do that, if somebody would really show me how.


I yearned for such a program, when I was learning to write. I didn’t want college classes so much as I wanted an apprenticeship. Someone to throw me into the pool and swim with me. Show me what it was really like, to write in the field. I was in journalism at the time. The most apprentice-style opportunity was the college newspaper.


After some self-talk, nervous jittering, and probably a call home, I walked into the newspaper office and asked for a piece. “Give me what you got,” kinda thing. I can’t remember what I started with, but I ended up doing a few pieces: a design school cat walk, a student government political campaign, some kind of inclusion forum or something. A classmate of mine got her own column. It was called something like Fresh Perspective (because she was a freshman). This seemed like the top tier of first-year writing (even though, admittedly, another classmate of mine was already out in the real world covering a state politician).


I ended up asking the newspaper for an opinion piece. This felt, and was, less restrictive than the nothing-but-the-facts pieces I’d been doing. This would allow me to be me on the page.


They set me up with a political piece. We used to get a lot of sidewalk preachers on campus, screaming angry messages at students as they walked to class. Calling ladies they’d never met “whores” through a megaphone, nodding to their skinny jeans or skirts, and waving their black Bibles above their heads as justification. It got to where they were following students around at times. It was uncomfortable, I’ll tell you that. Mostly because I loved the Bible they were beating people with and daydreamed of talking them out of their hatred with the persuasion of Stephen.


My opinion piece was to focus on whether or not these preachers overstepped the intended bounds of free speech. Should there be free speech “zones?” Should they continue to be allowed to hound students on their way to chemistry?


My editor sat by me at the table. My stomach was sinking as he explained my prompt. I had no ideas about free speech or about any discussion surrounding this. I wanted to ask him about the implications of zoning, about the dangers and the pitfalls of both sides of the issue so I could get a better handle on what I was tackling. Instead I ended up asking something stupid, like, “what do you think about this?”


Rather than immediately answer, he stared at me from his seat. I waited. He said, slowly, as if we were maybe breaking a core tenant of journalism, “do you want me to give you an opinion?”


I paused. I wanted to say no, because there’s nothing investigative or journalistic about slathering someone else’s opining on your own op-ed. But, more pressingly, part of me did want his opinion. I didn’t want to be spoon-fed; I wanted the “right” answer, and I thought he had it. What I needed was a gentle guiding. A prodding to, ya know, go be a journalist and research the issue. Maybe even show me how he’d do it. I ended up taking his opinion and running with it, and they ran the piece.


Those are two very different jobs: salesperson and journalist. Well…I’m sure we could find some similarities. . .


The point is, I never really wanted to sell. It wasn’t something that was natural to me, like my desire to write. But even this unnatural thing – making the shy, suburban girl a western and work salesperson, able to tell the electrician what he did and didn’t need and to sell snake skins to cowboys – was possible with careful training. What could this mean for any job and any person? For the one who feels unpracticed as a mother? For the boy learning to be an older brother? For the librarian, the grocery store worker, the candlestick maker? What would it mean for anyone to learn anything with a bit of kindness and a helping hand?


A lot, probably.









My husband has drawn me this little mouse. He said he fashioned her a bit after me, with her hands together, a little timid. I had asked that he draw her with pen, in the style of old-fashioned children’s book illustrations – something whimsical and real. She already feels at home here.


She doesn’t particularly have an obvious connection to Still Traveling. But, in my mind she’s a country mouse, preferring the slower way, partial to sunrises, wheat fields, an evening read. She travels around (of course she does), but she most travels her own fields, finding there is always a new stone or burrow to investigate.


I love her to bits.


Welcome to the blog, ol’ girl.


-


There are many rural places in Ohio. Most people picture cornfields, and they aren’t wrong. There are cities, too, one of which I live in, but even then the cities are green. My own is nestled between Kentucky country and nature reserves. Much of the state can be crossed at 70mph on a quiet highway. One summer in college I packed up and moved to Chicago. By the end, I ached for a cornfield. A wide green pasture. A clump of trees like a desert island, surrounded by dry amber.


Out here there are billboards with the Ten Commandments. Big, sprawling advertisements that say “Hell is Real,” shadowing cow pastures and family farms. We always pass a particular one on the way North. It says, “Marriage is between one man and one woman,” the words sitting next to thick gold bands, one resting on the another. I agree with it. This is the kind of marriage God purposed when He made people; it’s the pattern after which He modeled Christ and His church. It’s the natural instinct of the body.


I believe, too, that these billboards tend to render snappy head nods from some and disgusted eye rolls from others. For some of us, it’s some uncomfortable feeling between. I agree with it. Decisively. Yet I wonder, when we zip on past, cruising an easy 75, who these signs are actually for.


My boys and I were in the grocery store the other day. The baby was strapped to my chest while his brother sat in the cart. At the register, the friendly cashier looked at my youngest and asked, “he or she?”


I smiled, “boy.”


“Of course, that doesn’t mean much anymore,” he said, jovially.


I hesitated. He looked at me, waiting for a reply, and then he went on – remarking how everything was changing, how it was a little crazy.


I said, “it’s a lot,” speaking overhead the boy in the Baby Björn, about whom I have prayed earnestly, around this topic and others, but about which topic I hadn’t considered how to make small talk over frozen corn and baby wipes.


My whole chest had gone tight. Cat got my tongue. This little mouse ready to drop and run. I think he felt a little strange, too, for bringing it up, because he quickly let the subject drop. He was being friendly, and it had backfired. He was attempting to make conversation is a trying world, where words are banished quicker than fists. Honestly, I wasn’t sure how to be a light there. I had no idea how to be kind, truthful, unwavering behind what God says, bleeding for the cashier.


I’m still praying for the words. I hope I can trust you with that, dear reader, as a frightfully unreliable narrator. Praying for clear candor. Unafraid love. God has told us ahead of time, “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). It’s worth finding a better way than a billboard, I think. Worth looking that scared cat in the face. If it bites, then I guess it bites.


-


Once, in Trinidad, my youth group visited a Hindu temple. Our guides had gathered and instructed us before we’d arrived. They told us, respect the people, honor the rules – remove your shoes before entering. They assured us, this wouldn’t do a disservice to God. Instead, it would strengthen their witness among the people, many of whom they had been loving for a long time.


This was hard for me. I was a black and white film, and these were hues I hadn’t seen yet.


At the temple steps, we slipped off our shoes. We took to the stairs barefoot, like all the others. We didn’t worship the gods, or place fruit at their feet, where the flies were feasting. But we honored the people around us.


The temple faced the sea, a literal High Place, where you could look out over the water and see Tobago on a clear day. A family was gathered down by the bank. We watched as they released their loved one’s ashes into the water.


I have never regretted taking my shoes off, though it pained me at the time. I didn’t know that loving God meant loving people in incredibly specific ways. It didn’t mean worshipping their gods, which I wrongly supposed taking my shoes off would imply. It meant being humble. And it would mean being honest, too, if given the chance.