...and the pleasure of feeling sad
Oh Irina, thank you so much for this - I have so many thoughts. I will say that this space - Substack - reminds me of an older sort of social media, blogging (other have compared Substack to blogging plenty of times before, of course, this isn't an original take) and how this form of social media, unlike Twitter or Facebook, isn't an instant gratification machine. It is more like a conversation - sometimes a conversation a writer is having with themself, sometimes a conversation they're having with other people, but there's always a time delay, and there's usually not an endless amount to scroll through, even if someone were to go back and read each of your posts - they'd still be finite rather than this ongoing, endless scroll.
When I took a weeklong social media break a few months ago, in March, I found myself having the exact same predicament you describe about books - wanting to talk about them to someone. My partner isn't a huge novel reader, and even when he reads novels, they're for enjoyment and pleasure and not in the way that I read them - i.e. analytically when I'm a critic, or with a deep attention paid to language and pacing and character because as a writer I can't really turn those off anymore (although occasionally a book will sweep me along so fully that I will simply surrender to the story, which is always SUCH a pleasure). I relate so much also to what you wrote about having not felt the way you're describing - alone with your books and thoughts - since you were in college.
I think that reading is, in general, an emotion generating technology in some way, and as such I'm able to continue to feel my feelings via books, even when I'm incredibly numbed out or shut down because of the awful news or the endless envy of other writers and thinkers that makes me feel ashamed of myself and thus divorced from my body.
It's odd, isn't it, that professors of literature, even students of literature, don't get to talk about what they're reading all that often, isn't it? I mean, you might write for an article, or for a paper when you're a student in coursework, but the *talking* about it part... I mean, most of my close friends are readers but we're all always reading different things and recommending things to each other that, realistically, we won't read for years if ever because we all have our own endless to-read piles. And I do miss that, and social media does give me that, to an extent, but not nearly to the depth that I wish it would.
Thank you for writing this <3.
Loved this, and always here to talk about books off of social media! xx
Hi, Irina. Just this week I realised that I have been spending (to be read: losing) lots of time on social media and decided to cut it out slowly. I was surprised to realize that the platforms have absorbed the communication process in a way (usually on FB or DMs on Instagram, the topic has to be something already posted and rarely a new offfline one). I found myself feeling guilty for not being available to the friend group. But I am also experiencing the exiting of the numbness that you wrote about in the amazing post that I am commenting under. Apart from the sadness that comes with the reduction of conversations, I found myself so keen to hear and feel simple things (birds outside, cars on different type of pavements, shushing papers). I guess I am in the first phase - getting my glass full. It is good to know what I muight expect when I will feel the need to share the full glass with some other people. Thank you for this - it is very much appreciated. :)
I'm so torn on this topic. On the one hand, I share many of the feelings you report here. I used to read more books and more long-form articles with thoughtful analysis. I also used to write more both for myself and letters to distant friends. Scrolling social media fills that time in a much shallower, much less nuanced way, and those contacts with people become more frequent but also shallower.
On the other hand, social media, especially Twitter and, surprisingly, Ravelry, have been incredible assets to me professionally. I have never been good at networking in face to face conferences, but this is one use case for which social media feels slower and more expansive than the analog alternative.
I find myself looking for a middle path, a way to resist the addictiveness that social media designers have built in to the system while still using these tools to connect with distant colleagues and distant family. I have varying success.
Thanks for writing about it so honestly.
It was as delicious to read this, as I think you must've enjoyed writing it!
Gosh, I really enjoyed this piece. I've been off social media for a few months now, and feeling this sense of loneliness - trying to welcome it in and sit with it. Thanks.
If there is a feeling I've missed it's definitely the one I get while reading one of your essays. I read this one, no, devoured it like a starving man.
I think I can relate to quite a few things. I have begun steadily decreasing my use of social media with the ultimate goal of leaving it all behind.
Although I have to admit, my reasons are slightly more complicated than not liking what it does to me. Even though I don't like what it does to me as well.
Right now my social media use is down to the occasional Twitter foray (Twitter has a really strong hold over me), and three conversations on Instagram.
Most of all the thing I have been able to reclaim in this period has been quiet. There are no unread messages waiting on the periphery of my mind for whenever I finish whatever task is at hand. No conversations for me to worry that I'm missing out on. Nothing.
And for some reason that really surprised me. Not only how quiet it got, but how alien the feeling was. It's been far too long since I had this kind of quiet in my life.
Like you, I've been keeping up with responsibilities and all that, drowning in noise, so much so that I eventually acclimated to noise and forgot what a life without noise felt like.
I'm glad to have the quiet back, and I hope that it continues for long. Who knows, maybe I'll become one of those stereotypical science genius recluses and make some fascinating discoveries along the line. Maybe.
Thank you for writing. These essays always give me the opportunity to both read some really good writing, and reflect on my own life as well. And for that, I am grateful.
O I read a great older book by Elisabeth Gille—the mirador— and I wished I could have shared it with you. The mother-daughter clashes between Irene Nemirovsky and her mom, and how it made me think of writers who clash with socialite moms.. and life in general. Miss you from the hell that is my state where abortion is officially illegal now. :)
Qué lindo es leerte. Le pones palabras a sensaciones en las que no había reparado, hasta que las nombras. Anoto tus recomendaciones de libros. Gracias :)
I find this all interesting. I do think social media is largely about numbing, in much the same way that going out to a bar might be (it's been so many years since I did that, I truly don't know). And it is always true when you stop doing those things the first thing you get to do is reckon with what you've been running from. I've recently had some friends go to silent meditation retreats and they speak of much the same. It's a challenge. i've always had a hard time being with feelings. Working on it.
Thanks, Irina. I also read the review of your collection in NYRB, thought “I must congratulate Irina”—and there was no Irina.
One of the things I argued in Distraction (2008) was that distraction is best understood in terms of value (not just physiology). We’re distractible creatures, not because we can be trained by slot machines, but because we can be wrong about what’s worthwhile for us—or right about it, but unable to gain or hold onto it. Perhaps Matisse’s dutifully bourgeois parents thought the paints they gave him were a distraction from his work at the notary’s. He was certainly bored and frustrated while recuperating from illness, and the paints certainly took him away from these feelings. But art gave him (and many appreciators of his colours) a richer life.
I ought to be preparing for my workday (my writing)—but here I am reading a newsletter… (someone else’s writing). I like to think I’m not distracted.
All good wishes.
Beautiful, Irina ❤️
This so moves me. I have spent the past weeks away from Social media, finding music that triggers sadness, sometimes deep, sometimes shallow but always accompanied by tears. I often cry at the beautiful but with age, the sense of loss, the fleeting memory of meaning, the deep promise of love, all of these have been submerged in a need for sorrow,. Your essay has done the same and I tank you for that. The world is changing and I shall miss the next brief moments of stability but for now I embrace the sadness of change and no one to share it with.
I feel like I could have written this myself. After more than a year of deactivate-reactivate-deactive-reactivate, I finally let my Twitter account go a few months ago. I always knew I'd forget to reactivate in time someday and it would be gone forever, but I thought I'd be a lot more upset when that day came. Instead, it felt like cutting a cord to something that has been draining my lifeblood for years. I experienced the return to reading, the spasms of wanting to share enthusiasms online, the slow rediscovery of what it's like to discuss things in person, and the loneliness of not having instant access to someone you enjoy discussing these things with. (For a while I couldn't read something without instantly sitting down to emulate it in my writing, to relieve the pressure of being alone with those thoughts.) Anyway, I'm glad you're re-experiencing the joys and satisfying melancholies of reclaiming headspace, and if you ever need a person to talk books with, hit me up.
I think this is such an important thing to talk about, because we have spent a long time discussing feelings that might be difficult as necessarily 'bad'. There's a sort of desire to keep things like sadness or anger and arm's length because they are complex and heavy. I think a huge part of interacting with life is being willing to really feel these things. And I do think there is a lot to be said about the numbing quality of online drama in opposition to this. Anyway, now I must read Out of Egypt.
There's a book that came out it has to be over ten years now called _The Shallows_ that you should read if you haven't already. Some of the stuff about concentration and the ways social media manipulate our ways of thinking is talked about there. I find it really hard to walk away because everyone, including my wife, are only available for me to engage with via social media right now thanks to the two-body problem.