Quiet: A Time to Remove Voices
No one can deny the challenges 2020 has brought: some are devastating—loss of jobs, loss of loved ones, economic damage; some are smaller, like the inconvenience of wearing masks, one-way traffic in stores, and toilet paper shortages. While this year has only been difficult for countless many, a few people have suffered much less. This year, instead, the changes have brought some people relief. The changes have stirred up life just enough for these few people. These changes have lowered societal expectations, slowed life’s pace, and removed non-priorities. I am one of those few people.
“You have too many voices in your head,” concerned friends have said. I do not deny it: peoples’ opinions have permanent lodgings in my brain. As logical as I try to be, opinions easily influence me. It could be viewpoints from family members, who might mean well, but don’t acknowledge my emotional needs; it could be the media, who are trying to sell something; it could social media, where everyone’s trying to win validation. In today’s interconnected world, opinions push me from every angle. Opinions tell me how to socialize, how to spend my free time, how to spend my money, how to look, how to eat. Opinions are ubiquitous. Opinions made me feel that unless I adhere to them, I do not have value.
Then the great shake-up of 2020 happened: a pandemic. Things began to shift: wearing masks, social distancing, and grocery shortages. All around the world leaders tell their people to stay home. The pace at my job slowed, and coworkers went on furlough. I see fewer people on the bus, and I only connect with friends via Zoom and Skype. My social interactions fall dramatically. Societal expectations decrease to: wear a mask, stay away. As an introvert, this has only given me relief.
Prior to the pandemic, I gave serious heed to peoples’ advice:
“you need to get out more often”,
“your BMI should be this–”
“Anyone in this hobby needs to do this–”
“why are you still single?”
I considered this advice as gospel: if I didn’t match a description, something must be wrong with me.
Then the pandemic happened. With everything being shifted, I was forced to spend more time alone than before. With social distancing, real-life interactions changed. Suddenly being an introvert didn’t equate to being antisocial, but to being socially responsible. Societal pressures dropped. I no longer feel like every time I step outside my door, I have to be put on display. Not wearing trendy clothes? No problem—it’s a pandemic, nobody cares. Not traveling on vacation from work? Well, nobody is. Growing a little female mustache? Nobody can see it anyway, I’m wearing a mask. Still single? My dating options are apps and Zoom—no thanks. Instead of performing to meet basic surface standards, I’m free to relax, free to stop trying to impress people. Some things have lost their importance for the moment.
Social (Media) Distancing
I have had the privilege of being employed continuous this whole time—I know this is rare. I thank God for it. This meant coming to work for an entire shift where I interacted with few people, and had little to do. I pondered a lot. From this period of quiet, I wondered: could I free myself from the “voices in my head”?
I had previously started the process a year ago: I stopped communication with toxic family members. This has cleared my head quite a bit. This year I have wondered: what other voices could I remove? The next step, I suppose, was cutting social media usage.
Before this year, I could not find the justification to decrease Internet interactions. As an indie comic artist, I have every reason to promote my work online. I would argue because of one site in particular, deviantart.com I was able to finish my comic at all. I would say God used the site to bless me as an artist. Because of the original format and social activity, I was able to promote, engage readers and fellow members, and best of all, gain valuable feedback to grow as a comic artist. It was a period of time where I could regularly produce art, and I could gain others’ interest. It was only because a few readers wanted to own a hard-copy of Concerning Rosamond Grey that I sought self-publishing. This has been one of the best Internet experiences I’ve ever had. It was a validating experience, when people in my real life had no interest in my comic at all. This experience gave me the confidence that my stories are worth telling.
Only now can I justify a break from social media. With deviantart.com changing their format, people being less interactive, and my not producing regular art, I basically lost the little following I had. I keep in contact with a few friends from there, and that’s it. With this realization that I really had nothing (more) to loose, now I can step back and take a break. I don’t have to promote my book or art; I don’t have to find relevant threads to share my advice; I don’t have to follow hobby forums. Taking cue from Cal Newport’s concept of digital minimalism, I cut usage of social media dramatically.
A Month Later
Easing from social media for a month confirmed my suspicions: I have let online opinions influence me too much. Another thing I have realized: I have lost my sense of private time. Rather than announcing to the whole world, “I’m doing this now”, I’m thinking “why is it anyone’s business what I do in my free time?” When did I have to update everyone on everything I am doing? With this updating, especially with art, I felt the pressure and stress to create something post-worthy every time. Now that I’ve decreased my online presence, I feel much more free to experiment and learn—in private. I can discover what works for me, and not rely on peoples’ approval. I can do things because I like doing them, not because the “hive mind” suggested it. I can afford to make mistakes and learn from them, because only I will see them.
I will return to active social media use: but not now. I’m in between comics, with nothing to post for the general public. As much as I tried to avoid it, I’m following Tolkien’s model: created a story that readers enjoyed, and then spending years working on the sequel. With cutting Internet time, I’m able to focus on making my sequel comic the best I can. I’m writing and rewriting drafts of the script. I’m studying human anatomy to draw better characters. I’m experimenting with different art styles. When I’m more comfortable with my artistic abilities and can produce more art regularly, then I will frequent social media again.
This year has been a year of change: mostly bad, let’s be honest. Oddly enough, this year has also brought opportunities for personal healing and growth. In this period of quiet, I’m better able to identify priorities, and to finally decrease the opinions residing in my mind. Maybe this year I can see what I should focus on, and disregard irrelevant advice. Maybe I can start to develop the person I’m supposed to be.