The Violence of Busyness

For the past four months, my attention has been captured by myriad technical and not-so-technical snafus I’ve encountered while working to get a Second Edition of my book (At Home on the Kazakh Steppe) both digital and print. It has been an undertaking with more unexpected twists and surprising turns than I could ever have imagined.

And I will not bore you with the details.  (Though the real reason is that I don’t want to relive it by writing about it).

In hindsight, it may not have been worth the effort.  But that’s hindsight for you: it’s never there when you need to make that decision.

As I write this, I’m still enmeshed in the process.

The  Print version, through Amazon’s Create Space, is now live (though the 24 Reviews I’ve garnered since August will take a few days to catch up),

The Large Print version is “In Review” and should be live by the weekend.

The Kindle ebook is also live, though it’s an earlier version and the latest edits have yet to be uploaded; that should happen in a few days.

The task ahead of me is to get the edits that I’ve put in the paper versions into the different ebooks: Kindle (Amazon), iBook (Apple), the Nook (Barnes & Noble), and Kobo.  You didn’t know there were so many?  Neither did I.

But that’s not the theme I wanted this blog to be about.  What struck me during the height of this unparalleled craziness — this unexpected interruption in my daily routine — was that I was losing the one thing that I’ve valued most for more than twenty years: my serenity.

Photo by Daniel Ideris on Flickr
Photo by Daniel Ideris on Flickr

Something had to give.  

Two things that went were, in hindsight, not a good idea: exercise and time with my hubby.   Granted, I still took walks and I still conversed with Woody.  And, if I got lucky, I could save time by talking to him while we walked (or, in our case, snowshoed). That got me quality time with my dog, too.

The third thing that went was social media. Or a good part of it.  I love the forums I’m on; but I’ve been conspicuously absent from all of them.

I’ll be back on the We Love Memoirs Facebook Group this Sunday from 3 pm to 4 pm (New York time), for a quiet turn in the Sunday Spotlight, but other than that, my social media buzz is painfully silent.

And it had to be.  

Let me share this repost of an On Being blog that came out last October. Parker Palmer, one of my favorite bloggers, sums it up well.  Take a look.  I’ve kept the links live.


Thomas Merton — Trappist monk, gifted writer, social critic, and spiritual virtuoso — has inspired many people. I’m one of them.

Merton wrote these incisive words in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander more than fifty years ago, but they are no less true today than when he wrote them.

“There is a pervasive form of modern violence to which the idealist…most easily succumbs: activism and over-work. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence.

To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence.

The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his (or her) work… It destroys the fruitfulness of his (or her)…work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”


Thomas Merton wrote in the very early 20th century, long before social media was a fact of life. Still, this sentence jumped out at me:

The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence.

That resonated with me.  And it reminded me of a slogan I’ve found useful from time to time:

How important is it? 

It is important that I get my book live on the Internet. I spent seven years of my life writing about those two years of my life.  That’s ten years I’ve dedicated to this project so far. I have speaking gigs lined up and I need my book to be available to audience members.

It is important
to me that I participate in social media. I’ve made good friends through social media and I don’t want that to stop. I have things I want to say and I want to hear what my blogs trigger in you, my readers.  Facebook, Twitter, and my website are facts of (my) life and ones I don’t want to give up.  Twitter went easily, however.

It is important 
that I participate in the daily routine of my home. I visit with my mother (on occasion — sorry mom), I spend quality time with my husband (though not nearly as much as we’re used to — sorry Woody), I talk to my dog (and take her for her annual shots — hi Sasha; I didn’t know you could read.  Not surprised though. You’re so smart), I clean up after dinner and even squeeze in some spring cleaning as a way to take a break (though not as much as I usually have behind me by April)

But it’s also important
 that I feel settled, serene, and peaceful. And I was in some danger of losing that for a bit.  The metaphorical oxygen masks had fallen down and I needed to put mine on.  More importantly, I don’t want to engage in violence of any sort, particularly one that had begun to feel “innate.”

Life is going on, slowly. Each day brings me a little closer to seeing the end of this technological nightmare.  But in order to keep my sanity (and my serenity), that end may take a bit longer.  And,  next Wednesday, it’s possible that there’ll be no blog.  I don’t know when that will be back on schedule. Hopefully, not too much longer.  But I just don’t know.  I do know that I miss writing it weekly; I miss the camaraderie I find from those who comment, and those who write me on email. I miss posting something provocative on my Facebook Author page at least once each week. And I miss the friendly banter that my Facebook personal page affords. I don’t miss Twitter, but I do miss you.  I’ll be back.


How about you?  Have you ever decided to pull back, out of the fray?  If so, I’d love to hear your story. 

21 Responses

  1. Sharon Lippincott
    | Reply

    AMEN Janet. I too have pulled back from social media and from a “mandatory” blog post schedule. Life is too precious to squander on Thous Shalts. Bravo for listening to your inner voice and doing what’s right for you. If you lose a couple of book sales, think of that as an investment in Woody, life, or whatever.

    Bravo and thank you for this post!!!!! (yes, I know so many !! marks are bad form, but I mean them)/

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thanks Sharon. Good to have you here. Yes, listening to my inner voice has saved me over the years. And the messes I’ve found myself in can almost always be traced back to NOT listening to it. I enjoyed your April 1 blog: ” Play is strong meat for anyone’s soul, and it’s essential for writers.” I couldn’t agree more. Here’s to more play in our lives.

  2. Ian Mathie
    | Reply

    Ah yes, we all get a PhD in Hindsight, and a fat lot of good it does most of us. this is especially true if it involves anything technological because the technology is changing so fast and one has to sprint to keep up. I have enough trouble walking, let alone sprinting. So withdrawal is not a bad idea. I salute your courage for doing this in the face of all those subtle pressures to remain involved and committed. The whole social media scene seems to be designed to blackmail you into staying on-net.

    The second point that caught my eye was your discovery of how many electronic publishing platforms there are and how much work was involved in covering them all. Haven’t you heard of Smashwords? Their Meatgrinder – well named because it takes a little work to get the hang of it – does all the work for you, so you only have to do it one. It then produces your work in all the different formats, with only a minor adjustment needed t upload in parallel to amazon, although the Kindle format is included in the Smashowrds package. In addition, it’s free!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Yes, Ian. YOu hit that technology problem square on the head. I can deal with change; always have. But the speed of it is now so fast, I haven’t time to right myself before the next wave hits. Alvin Toffler wrote of it first decades ago (Future Shock). Now i’m finally feeling it. Thanks for the Smashwords heads up. I’ll check it out. Someday.

  3. Nancy McBride
    | Reply

    In and out, my friend… realization is 2/3 of the process. That quote is perfect. When serenity and balance ease back in, and balance rights you, we’ll play, OK?

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Play, indeed. Did you see Sharon’s blog, above? I’m all for it.

  4. C. A. Morgan
    | Reply

    Loved this post, Janet. Though I’ve blogged as personal mom-therapy for a few years now, I’m just getting into the social media fray with my website author blog, FB page and twitter, and could tell at the onset that it was a drain on my time and creativity. But what’s a self-publisher to do? Like Ian mentioned, using Smashwords to crank out formatted versions for various e-platforms helps alleviate some of that workload, but one still has to deal with the bite social media takes out of living “real” life. Kudos for recognizing that so quickly and taking steps to reengage where it matters most.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Cynthia. I’m wondering why your blog link didn’t show up? I like using Comment Luv for just that purpose. Often, readers of one blog will enjoy the blog of another reader. I know I”ve discovered a few of them that way myself. See you soon.

  5. Laurie Buchanan
    | Reply

    Janet — FANTASTIC post!

    The “time suck” for me was Facebook (past tense). I made an intentional decision to spend no more than 1-hour per week on that social media platform. It was a decision that’s free’d me to invest time in what really matters.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thanks, Laurie. We do indeed need to find our comfort zone for each of these platforms. You seem to use Twitter to much better effect than I. And Facebook has brought me the vast majority of my books’ readers (and reviews). But everything in moderation; hasn’t that long been the mantra? And knowing what really matters; that’s the key. Glad you dropped by.

  6. Merril Smith
    | Reply

    All so true, Janet. I liked your comment about hindsight, and even more your internalized slogan of how important is it? It’s impossible to do everything–or rather to give everything the same amount of attention all of the time. When my children were newborns, nearly all of my attention went to them. When I’ve approached a deadline on a book, nearly all my time and effort goes there. Last year when I was finishing a book, I pretty much lived in front of my computer (conveniently seated in the kitchen). I took a break each day to go to the gym, and that was about all I did.

    It is hard to keep up with social media. I go on Facebook because that’s my time to socialize with friends and see their photos, and I go on sometimes just as a break. I find it difficult to keep up with too many blogs or Twitter.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Merill. I loved how you mention the fluidity of “what’s important.” It reminds me of a poster I had in college: Time changes the needs of people. I also loved the recipes in your most recent blog. My husband is Jewish and when we married I’d hoped to learn a bit more of the practices, recipes, and rituals. Alas, it was not to be. I love Jewish food and shall try your “Go To” — chocolate idiot cake. Well named and eagerly anticipated. Thanks.

  7. Kathleen Pooler
    | Reply

    Oh, dear Janet, you are singing my song. I’m happy you are taking action to do what you need to do. Yes, we have to put that metaphorical oxygen mask on ourselves first. I’m sending you positive vibes for finishing updated your book and enjoying Woody, Sasha and the warmer spring weather that seems to be making an appearance in our area. We’ll all be waiting for you on the other side. Hugs!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      It does make the trip go easier when there’s someone on that other side saying, “Come on over.” Welcome back, Kathy. Always good to have your voice here.

  8. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    Like Kathy, one of my favorite lines: The metaphorical oxygen masks had fallen down and I needed to put mine on.

    Right now I don’t need oxygen, just a cure for my foot pain. Yes, plantar fasciitis has recurred and I’m doing the prescribed exercises and bought new orthotics. Picture me tapping on the computer with my right leg propped on a chair – ha!

    In light of your spending 10 years on your project, I shouldn’t bitch about the measly one year I’ve put into memoir-in-progress. Still, I feel stuck and have to contend with shrieking voices from my inner critic. I should take the advice I hear from my writing coaches and from Louise DeSalvo’s wonderful book, The Art of S L O W Writing. More power to ya, Janet!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Plantar fasciitis is the pits, Marian. And you know I know. I remember when I was one year in, and wondering why it was “taking so long.” We are so naive when we start. And that’s good. I’ve decided that writing a good memoir is like having a good baby — certainly worth it when it’s all over, but if you had any idea what was ahead before you started, you’d probably never begin. Keep hanging in. You know the routine, “One step at a time.”

  9. Ian Mathie
    | Reply

    If it takes a while life time to lead your life, why should it take only one year to write your memoir of that life? What’s the rush?
    Chill, girl, chill….and enjoy remembering. If you can jot it down to share, that’s a bonus for everyone. There are no prizes for getting to the end early!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Ian, you’ve never birthed a baby, have you? Some things you just want to be over as quickly a possible. It’s an in the moment thing. I can appreciate where Marian is coming from, and I don’t think she’s saying her memoir should take only one year. But I’ll let her speak for herself. Give him a one-two Marian; he can take it. 🙂

      • Ian Mathie
        | Reply

        Whilst I haven’t carried and given birth to a baby of my own Janet -, well, men don’t do they? – I have delivered twenty six babies, mostly in the bush where it is far from easy. Those included one complicated breach, produced by a sixteen year old mother at an African mission while the only qualified nurse got on her knees and prayed vigorously throughout, and my own daughter, who slipped into my hands in a tin shack in the Abu Dhabi desert whist the midwife was away having her lunch. So I do know and understand what it’s all about.

        Yes, Marian, I do know a little about getting a book out even a memoir, and all the agonies one goes through in deciding just what to put in and what to leave out. I start by putting absolutely everything in – after all, nobody but me is going to see that draft, are they? Then I go through and systematically remove all the bits that are tangental. I work on the basis of: Must Include (without it the story will be incomplete), Should Include (because it gives depth and helps understanding), and Nice to Include (not really necessary). All the last lot go.
        Then I go through again and remove repetitons. After that I get picky about grammar and individual words. After four edits, I let someone else read it. It takes time, but so does living, and it’ll be done when I’m done with it.

        Enjoy the process and the opportunity to relive the memories, even the less pleasant ones. There’s always something to be gained from reading any book a second time. It’s the same with reliving memories.

        Good luck with your writing.

    • Marian Beaman
      | Reply

      Hi, Ian. Note that I said that I was one year into my WIP. In other words, I have just stuck my toe in the water. I expect it will take many more years, but I’m not putting a number on it yet.

      By the way, I just finished reading The Art of Slow Writing by Louise DeSalvo, who recommends “cooling your jets” so to speak and enjoying the journey.

      I just read your brief bio and noted your books. Obviously you know a thing or two about birthing a book!

  10. I’m Back |
    | Reply

    […] to concentrate better. I’d already skipped a few blog posts by the time I made it official (here).  My blog had become an important part of my life over the previous two years and I didn’t […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a blog you'd like to share? I use CommentLuv Click here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.