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Amy's Blog: One Author's Life 

Ukraine

When I see what is happening in Ukraine, I feel it in my bones, my family having gone through something similar in WW II. 

 

My mother lost numerous members of her family, some at the hands of the Nazis (for reasons we don't know), and, at the end of the war, by Russians. Russian soldiers chased my family, all civilians, and murdered several, including my great-grandpa, who was in his eighties. (He was shot and, while still alive, thrown off a bridge to drown.) My mother and her parents were, fortunately, in America at this time.

 

While in college, I interviewed several surviving members of my mother's famiily. They had been Displaced Persons at the end of the war and went through absolute hell. One great-aunt had lost both legs to frostbite. Eventually, they found their way to an American zone where they were taken care of, but the physical and emotional scars lived on. They were damaged people, and some of that trauma, no doubt, has been passed to my generation and even the next. 

 

What is happening in Ukraine at this moment is horrible and has made me reflect on my kinfolk who fled a similar situation in 1945 -1946. There are relatives I never met, and whose fate I will never learn. I do not know where they are buried, assuming they were buried properly at all.

 

The atrocities being committed in Ukraine will have a life of their own that will be felt a long time from now. 

How to be Happy on Social Media (and Make the World a Better Place)

I have a love-hate relationship with social media. I see the benefits of it. I've made new friends and acquaintances. I've learned all about butterfly gardening (something I've always wanted to do) by joining a Facebook group, and made notes about new places I want to travel from members of another group.

 

And, of course, as an author, it's lovely to interact so easily with my readers. This is a great improvement over the days when readers sent letters to my agent or publisher, who then forwarded the mail to me. Sometimes, weeks had passed before I received the letters!

 

But there's no doubt that social media is too often a destructive force.

 

A few years ago, I made a deliberate choice. I decided I would not engage with social media provocateurs, whether or not I agree with their point or issue. This way, I'm not adding any fuel to the fire.

 

Of course, sometimes this is hard to do. Sometimes, a post seems like a junior high school dare. I feel as if I'm expected to participate, and that I'm a coward if I don't speak my mind, too.

 

But first, let's remember that Facebook algorithms, according to a high-ranking Facebook whistleblower, reward anger and outrage. This is wrong, and I'm not going to buy into it.

 

Second, it's not as if the only way to exercise your right of free speech is through social media. It's not even a particularly effective option, if what you hope to do is change someone's mind, according to recent studies.

 

There is also the issue of Internet privacy. By participating in every rage du jour, you're handing a ton of revealing information about yourself to Facebook or other social media corporations. Why do that?

 

Last but not least, it simply isn't healthy or the best use of time to get caught up in a social media argument.

 

Several times over the years, I have considered quitting all social media altogether. Instead, I just take a break from a few hours to a few days, depending on how annoyed I am.

 

Ultimately, it's worth it to me. I'd miss hearing from old friends. I'd miss all the posts of dogs, cats, babies, birthdays, new books, and stunning sunsets. On my Facebook Author Page, I'd miss reflecting on the interesting people I've met through my career, or answering questions about my books. When I don't have much to say, I look for something to share, often about history or nature. Life is what you make of it.

 

And so is social media.    

 

Are You a Bystander in Your Own Life?

My father was a very good amateur photographer. Then one day in middle age, he set down his camera forever.

 

He simply stopped taking pictures. He'd been his high school's yearbook photographer, documented his own experience in WW II with a camera, and took hundreds of photos of his wife and family in the 1950s, '60, and '70s.

 

I must have been in my late teens when we all noticed he no longer carried his camera bag with him. I asked him why, and he said he was tired of feeling as if he were documenting life rather than living it. "I want to be a participant, not an observer," he explained.

 

I've thought of his words often. I love photography and have sold some of my pictures over the years to newspapers and magazines. I've taken my own photographs for one of my nonfiction books. But I understand what Dad meant and I've heeded his warning. Photography is a passion that will swallow you whole if you're not careful. When I go out with friends, I don't want to be the person everyone counts on to get a photograph of us together. Ditto for every experience from travel to family holidays. I don't want to be worried about the lighting, or if someone blinked. I want to live the experience, not record it.

 

Now this situation is multiplied a thousand times with social media. Those of us who participate are performers, documentarians, reporters, witnesses, and judges. On social media, real life can take a backseat, and it's not always clear what is truly happening. Some people are perhaps too candid while others are cautious. Many people present a curated view of their lives. Some people post photos once a month and others, ten times per day.

 

As for me, I'm finding my own way. I love social media but I don't want it to own me. I love photography but I don't want it to take over.

 

Like Dad, I want to live fully in the moment.

Finding Common Ground

I sometimes think we all need to stop talking about politics completely. Just for a while, as a time-out, like the old days when Dad pulled the stationwagon over to the side of the road and told us all to cut it out. All the fighting and shouting isn't getting us anywhere. We are a big, complex country and we need to find common ground. Some issues have reached a boiling point, and anger is understandable, but you aren't going to win a true victory by bludgeoning someone over the head.

 

I've been thinking about previous generations when people practiced the art of conversation. Perhaps "small talk" about dogs, gardens, and the weather is more valuable than one might think. Sharing a gentle laugh or a small story that is designed NOT to offend is the foundation for building trust, which is the springboard for listening and learning. If we aren't respectful or at least courteous to one another, how are we going to move forward?