Confession: I don’t know where the refresh button is on my computer, or what it does. I only know I’ve been told to “refresh” a page for up-to-date information (I think). I just click out of the Internet and start over. Don’t laugh.
In 1982, when my husband bought my first PC (an Osborne we still have) and dragged me kicking and screaming into the home computer era, things were pretty simple. Then came the Internet around 1997 (for me) and that wasn’t too bad either. I could find books from my childhood! Twenty years later, the digital world is out of control, so many changes, so many updates, that I find myself in front of the Mr. Coffee maker, unable to figure out which button to use. Sometimes I feel like running away.
Here at Hollins University this summer, I’ve listened to a number of guest speakers. The question of social media platforms has come up. People are anxious about what they should be on and to what extent (worries too often from people who haven’t even written a book). What about the pitfalls of creating a brand too soon? If your online persona reflects the sexy YA you just published, what if you write a picture book next?
Discussions expand to the types of social media and I remembered how MySpace was all that and a bag of cats until it was overrun with “older” people. Young people jumped ship to Facebook, but darned if their parents didn’t follow them over there so they could post embarrassing baby photos and play Candy Crush, so next the hipsters defected to Twitter and Instagram and Snapchat. Somehow Facebook and Twitter became “musts” for writers and illustrators, along with websites (blogs seem to have fallen out of favor), and now I’m hearing murmurs we should be on Instagram, too.
I have a website (woefully out of date and in the process of being re-done), a personal FB page and a fan FB page that I forget about most of the time. I will never have a Twitter account and, because I don’t own a smart phone, can’t use Instagram. As the digital world leaves me in the dust more each day, am I in danger of not being published because I don’t maintain a broad social platform?
Tomorrow I turn 65. (Medicare!) I have been in this business more than half my life. Writing for children is my life. Yes, times have changed but I’ve managed to weather those changes and stay fresh. Didn’t nobody draw those 137 books I’ve sold. Yet I spend more hours now working than I did back in the day. I’m older and slower, but also more thoughtful. Age has given me perspective and experience, things I can’t describe in 140 characters or less, or prettied up through a digital lens.
Being at Hollins allows me to refresh, away from housework and errands and the hunting and gathering of food. I walk out the door into cardinals singing, cicadas drilling, muskrats foraging, herons stalking, buzzards gliding. Trees and mountains and fields. Oh, how I love fields. Give me a blanket of chicory and Queen Anne’s lace, horses under blue skies and I’m in heaven.
Every chance I get, I ditch screens and emails. It’s enough I do my work at a computer. My body isn’t meant to stay hunched over a laptop, much less have a phone clamped to my hand. What’s better than driving the little red truck down a winding road, windows down, into the deep green of a Virginia summer?
What I see won’t be Instagrammed, what I experience won’t be crammed into a YouTube video. Real, unfiltered life seeps into my work, far more important than broadcasting on any social media.
I’m glad to be 65, old enough to have lived before the digital age and know I have a choice. If I need to be refreshed, I don’t hunt for a button. I just go outside.