Virtual Authenticity

I’ve been thinking a lot about authenticity, about what is genuine.

It’s something I look for and love about the people in my life: give me honest grumpiness over false pleasantries. I think that’s why I sometimes have a hard time with sarcasm–if I can’t tell what’s true, it makes me uneasy.

I’ve recently had a few conversations with friends about the internet and authenticity–the ways we portray ourselves and the quality of our online relationships.

Just last weekend, I was at a baby shower for a dear childhood friend, sitting at a table with my sister, my oldest friend, and others from the neighborhood. The conversation turned to the love-hate relationship many of us have with Facebook.

My sister refuses to join Facebook, while the rest of us use it to varying degrees. She teased me about some of my posts, brought to her attention by my cousin, who asked if I really do the things I post about (especially with three young kids).

The things I post about really do happen.

But it got me thinking.

When I post a photo or an anecdote about some small instance of joy, like dancing in the kitchen or enjoying coffee under canopy of trees or laughing with friends by a campfire, it’s not to point to them as examples of my everyday life.

My everyday is filled with a rather unexciting routine of kids, coffee, writing, kids, cooking, coffee, housework, relationships, writing, wine, frustration, bickering, procrastination, overcommitment, deadlines, and so on. The everyday is pretty typical. It’s messy, and I’m generally ok with that.

This is my dining room right at this moment--a mess of homework, Halloween, and the ever-moving piles of paperwork.
My dining room at this very moment–a mess of homework, Halloween, and the ever-moving piles of paperwork.

Sometimes I will post about the everyday, usually if I think it’s funny because I think it helps to know that other people are dealing with ridiculous moments of child stubbornness or homeowner frustration, but nobody wants to read about the everyday every day.

So most of my everyday posts are about coffee or wine. Because the sharing of those seems to be a recognizable symbol for “the routine”–a shout out to everyone else, as if to say “Cheers! We’re in this together, this grind of everyday”–without having to specify the details. It’s like a nod of recognition.

Those other moments: the ones that are silly or playful or creative–they are exceptions and exceptional. They are the moments that make me stop and feel gratitude, they remind me to keep perspective, they show me what the everyday is for.

When I share them, it’s because they are outside my norm, because they are not everyday or typical. I feel like they’re a  gift, so I share them.

I’ve been reflecting about why I post the things I post: on Twitter, on Facebook, on Tumblr, on the blog. Each one is different, a different tool.

This past year I’ve been trying to write as much as possible: fiction, short fiction, poetry, comic book script. Making a  commitment to writing means that I spend a lot more time at home alone on my computer.  When I take a break, I pop online. I read a post or some tweets. Then I go back to work.

Twitter? It’s about community for me, the larger writing/arts community, many of whom are not in Chicago. That’s where I can wave to friends who are also writing at 2am, learn about a new poem someone published, or give congratulations for an award or good review. It’s also where I get most of my news.

Tumblr? I post photos and stories that I find interesting and quotes that strike me as compelling. Much of what I post there if for myself, a sort of bookmark for the future. (I tend to use Google+ in a similar fashion).

Blog? I process the world by writing. When something is really important and I’ve been giving it a lot of thought, I often write a blog post. It’s my way of working things out and also inviting a conversation from people I don’t get to see in person.

Facebook? This one is trickier.

Facebook is good for long distance friends and family, for birthday greetings and other milestones. I periodically check-in on people, pick a few folks I’m thinking about and read their posts, skim their photos.

But what about the things I choose to post?

There are the interesting articles and links. I try to only post things I think are compelling or important.

The rest?

I think it comes down to connection.

In her TED talk on vulnerability (and also in her book), Brené Brown says, “Connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning in our lives.”

I think she’s right. Of course, connection means different things for different people. For some people it’s the close friendship of a handful of trusted friends, for others it’s crowds of fans and followers. Most of us are somewhere in between.

I think at its best, Facebook can be about those little nods that tell us we’re not alone. Especially when we are alone so much of the time.

That’s how I see “likes,” as nods, not in agreement necessarily, but in acknowledgment: I see you, I hear you. In this moment, you are not alone.

Of course, we are. Alone. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s what I loved so much about Louis CK’s talk on Conan.

Louis CK said:

“You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That’s what the phones are taking away, is the ability to just sit there. That’s being a person. Because underneath everything in your life there is that thing, that empty—forever empty. That knowledge that it’s all for nothing and that you’re alone. It’s down there.

And sometimes when things clear away, you’re not watching anything, you’re in your car, and you start going, ‘oh no, here it comes. That I’m alone.’ It’s starts to visit on you. Just this sadness. Life is tremendously sad, just by being in it…And I go, ‘oh, I’m getting sad, gotta get the phone and write “hi” to like 50 people’…then I said, ‘you know what, don’t. Just be sad. Just let the sadness, stand in the way of it, and let it hit you like a truck.’

And I let it come, and I just started to feel ‘oh my God,’and I pulled over and I just cried like a bitch. I cried so much. And it was beautiful. Sadness is poetic. You’re lucky to live sad moments. And then I had happy feelings. Because when you let yourself feel sad, your body has antibodies, it has happiness that comes rushing in to meet the sadness. So I was grateful to feel sad, and then I met it with true, profound happiness. It was such a trip.”

I think Louis CK is  right. We need to be able to just stand in the way of moments without the distraction of the phone or the filter of the camera. We need to be able to feel them fully, to be present.

But after? After those moments?

After that profoundly sad moment happened, Louis CK shared it on live television, and it has been archived and passed all over the internet.

Maybe somewhere in there lies the balance?

We need to experience genuine moments–moments of joy or sadness or revelation. But after? Afterwards we can share them.

Facebook can never be a substitute for a face-to-face talk, a hug, the energy of a lively dinner conversation, but the internet does give us a starting point from which we can further connect.

I think it’s always important to remember that the virtual is only part of the whole.

When I raise my mug of coffee in the morning, know that I’m probably setting it down on a large pile of papers to be sorted. Just because I don’t mention them, doesn’t mean they’re not there.

When I’m singing to the Beatles in the kitchen, it may to be to drown out the sound of the kids complaining about homework or fighting over who gets to use the cool, sparkly pencil.

And when we’re dancing in the living room–I often close my eyes not to see the clutter –because sometimes it’s better to just be present in the moment. The rest of it can wait.

Leap Day Promotion – The Silence of Trees FREE for Kindle until March 1st

As a special 2012 Leap Day promotion, my novel The Silence of Trees is available for FREE on Kindle Monday, February 27 until the end of Leap Day. After 11:59pm on February 29th, the price will go up to $4.99. (The Silence of Trees will still be available for free on the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.)

The Silence of Trees is a historical novel of magic realism set in Eastern Europe during WWII and modern-day Chicago. You can read reviews here or go to Amazon, where there are more than 100 customer reviews (thank you, readers!).

In 2011, The Silence of Trees reached the Top 100 for Paid Kindle books. Thank you to everyone for spreading the word! Let’s see if we can do it again and reach the Top 100 in 2012!

Stay tuned for an announcement about the audiobook soon to be released by Iambik Audio!

Words and Cake

Tomorrow is my first official novel reading and book signing for The Silence of Trees.

It’s wonderful to be able to write those words, The Silence of Trees has been so long in the making. I began it while still in the MFA in Writing program at the School of the Art Institute, and it has gone through several radical revisions since I first completed it in 1999. It’s been in the hands of three literary agents, and across more than a few editors’ desks. And now it’s here, in my hands, on my bookshelf, and on the nightstands of the folks who have already purchased it from Amazon.

So tomorrow I will bring boxes of books to the Book Cellar in Chicago, and a two-layered cake adorned with the beautiful cover that was illustrated by the talented Madeline Carol Matz.

To date, the facebook event page lists 69 yes’s and 108 maybe’s. I’m not nervous, but I am humbled and touched at the thought of people coming out to show support for this little book of Ukrainian magic realism.

It’s a labor of love, and the one thing I had always hoped was that it would be published while my grandparents are still alive. And they are, which is remarkable. The Silence of Trees is fiction, but inspired by my grandmothers and grandfathers, who made the journey to America from the Displaced Persons camps after WWII.

Feedback so far has been wonderful, and I’m excited about the other cities and bookstores that I’ll visit as part of my tour, but right now, I’m looking forward to tomorrow–where I’ll be surrounded by dear friends and family.

*pinch me*

All I have ever wanted to do is tell stories. I hope to do it in many different ways over my lifetime, taking my inspiration from folks like Neil Gaiman who do not limit themselves by genre or medium. I believe that the story will dictate the form. One novel is finished and in the revision stage, another two started, some short stories barking for my attention, and maybe a play! (Oh, I have *so* many ideas!) So there will be more parties in the future, to celebrate new stories, and I’m excited to share them with you.

For those of you in Chicago this weekend, you are invited to join us at the Book Cellar, a wonderful bookstore in Lincoln Square where we’ve had the release parties for Conclave: A Journal of Character. We’ll have varenyky/pierogies for you to taste, cake to share, and I hear there may be fabulous cookies. Support the Book Cellar by buying some coffee or wine. I’ll do a little reading, and I’ll sign books. If you purchase a book, you can wait to have your cards read by our very own vorozhka.

If you can’t make it, The Silence of Trees is available on Amazon (paperback and hardcover versions), as well as at, and you should soon be able to order it from an independent bookstore near you.

Thank you for reading and being a part of the magic.

(P.S.  Author photo was taken by the amazing Kyle Cassidy.)