I admit it. I’m addicted to Facebook. It’s a terrible time killer and keeps me from doing much more important things—like writing—but I can’t seem to help myself. Acknowledging my addiction is, however, the first step in getting a handle on it. And one of the ways I hope to manage my Facebook addiction is by using it as an opportunity to locate writing ideas.
You might wonder how a writer can find inspiration within the detritus that daily deluges one’s feed. Yes, it does require sifting and sorting and assessment of value—usually more trash than treasure. But I have discovered that value can occasionally be gleaned through posts by friends who disseminate interesting and useful information via Facebook. I can also use news (from reliable sources!) as the basis for potential stories. I regularly visit several Facebook groups I have joined based on my interests: local news, writing (mostly memoir and family history), books, retirement and genealogy, and these are fruitful sources for ideas as well.
During a brief browsing session, I identified ten potential ideas for writing:
Therapy horses; anniversary of the publication of Old Man and the Sea; Using Google instead of your brain; marching in support of reproductive rights; falling off the “Diet Wagon”; digital addictions; deriving meaning from online communities; kayaking; the beach; life as a retiree.
I don’t write fiction, so I am not planning to write a short story featuring one of these topics; I usually write in the personal essay genre, so my approach is going to be based on existing knowledge and, of course, interest as it relates to my life.
Motivating myself—remember, I am trying to write rather than use Facebook, which is quite a sad admission—I will choose three of the ten topics to begin a brainstorming session. I feel better already identifying what I am about to do as requiring cognitive ability. The three that most appeal to me are:
1. Using Google instead of your brain
2. Deriving meaning from online communities
3. Life as a retiree
Here’s my review of the three potential ideas:
Googling is, of course, an activity most of us take for granted. Ease of access to information motivates our use of Google—why shouldn’t we look something up? I believe the “instead of your brain” portion of the equation considers how we might be too lazy to engage in the act of recall. Maybe it’s enough for us to realize that we once knew the answer to a question, and we don’t need to waste time digging in our aging brains. On the other hand, using Google can be seen as an opportunity to expand our worldview and knowledge base. At this point, I don’t feel motivated to further explore this issue, although I will likely return to it later.
I’ve already described that I look to Facebook groups for inspiration, so of course I could conduct an exploration of some of those groups and discuss my engagement in the group, how useful I find it and how it provides me with information and ideas. Or I could examine some of the dialogue that ensues following a member’s post. Better yet, I might write about a discussion that develops from one of my own posts.
One of my recent posts on the Horry County Residents page—a rather trivial one—was an inquiry into the topic of how people don’t return shopping carts to the parking lot corral. The post was accompanied by a picture of a cart propped up against a curb. Over 100 people weighed in on this; some “reacted” with thumbs up and angry faces; many others commented. Those who thought it was a lazy thing to do were met with a variety of defenses: it gives employees a job to do; disabled individuals can’t be expected to make the extra trip to the corral; mothers might not want to leave children in the car. Several individuals suggested there were more important things to worry about. And that I should get a life.
In the end, it was a pointless, yet slightly amusing endeavor. I have no interest in writing an essay about this issue, although I might decide to examine the phenomenon of dialogue gone awry on Facebook groups in a future writing endeavor.
This brings me to the topic that interests me most: Life as a retiree. Clearly, I have given over too much time—of which I have an abundance as a retiree—to mundane activities. Granted my retirement has spanned the course of the pandemic, and there have been limitations on activities that would necessarily take me out into the realm of other human beings who might infect me with a deadly disease. That is, however, not really an excuse for a general malaise that has left me uninspired to pursue more edifying interests.
How do I know that there are, in fact, such interests that retirees pursue? Because I am a member of a Facebook retirement group of course! Within this group—15,000 strong and spanning the globe—can be found the answers to myriad questions on topics from housing to Social Security to travel to illness and to lifestyle.
If I were to write an essay about my life as a retiree, I might use the dialogue generated by my recent post: “Has anyone experienced difficulty adjusting to retirement in terms of feeling a loss of purpose?”
A potential title for my essay might be “Retirement and Purpose: Is it Really Necessary?” It should be obvious by my post that I am feeling a sense of purposelessness. And it should be equally obvious that I’d like to feel I have a purpose. I was gratified to read from other retirees who suffer similarly. Several acknowledged that it has been a difficult transition from employment to leisure.
Those who found great satisfaction in their jobs were those who claimed to struggle the most. From others I learned that because work did not define them, retirement has been an opportunity to figure out who they are. The most popular suggestion on how to achieve a sense of purpose is through volunteering. I volunteer for a non-profit, so I guess I’m on the right track here.
After reading the many comments, I feel that I have a fair sense of how a personal essay might evolve. I must first explore “purpose” beyond mere definition: “something that one hopes or intends to accomplish.” This definition is what likely motivated several commenters to ask me why I needed a purpose at all. Purpose is not, however, about mere accomplishment. It goes much deeper than that. Purpose is not about achieving a goal. It is about having a dream.
In this sense, retirement is no different than any other stage of life. We all need to have dreams—something to believe in, hope for and aspire to. Only time will tell what that is for me. Perhaps I can uncover that dream through writing. But I know for certain that I will not find the answer on Facebook. I must find the answer within.