Reclaiming Our Attention from the Distortion Machine

This is a reprint of a guest post I wrote for the Fratres Dei blog. Be sure to pay some love forward and check out Rachel’s amazing blog about embodied spirituality and contemplation in the material world!

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Social media is kind of my thing. I met my future spouse through Tumblr, I’m an author who promotes her work on Twitter, and, as some of you may know, I’m the digital communications manager for Fratres Dei Spiritual Direction & Ministries.

Thoroughly a product of the digital age, I’ve been privileged to witness the best social media has to offer. I’ve seen friendships forged, beautiful art created, valuable information exchanged, and online spaces for religious expression blossom. However, I’ve also lost weeks of my life to mindless scrolling, been “dragged” and “cancelled”, participated in unwarranted digital pile-ons I still regret, and woken up in a cold sweat from nightmares about being doxxed.

Sometimes, friends, the internet is bad.

At the start of 2019, I knew that something about my relationship to social media had to change. As an increasingly public figure, I was placing too much of my worth in my public persona. My attention was becoming more and more fragmented, and time on social media was the only “leisure” time I was allowing myself away from my day job and writing, even though I viewed social as just another form of work. I had no inner life I didn’t perform for the internet. My prayer life was nonexistent, because I couldn’t sit still that long, much less devote intentional time to something that didn’t have an immediate material benefit or reward.

But what do you do when the internet feels like an increasingly essential, increasingly centralized feature of the human experience, and if, as for many of us, being active on the web is part of your job?

Common sense advises moderation, but I’ve never been good at finding balance. As I started listening to podcasts about the effects of social media and reading Cal Newport’s phenomenal Digital Minimalism, I realized this isn’t a Sarah-specific compulsion. The majority of Americans have a disordered relationship with social media. Like a gaslighting lover, social demands a glance at our phones every spare moment, yet convinces us to consistently underestimate how many hours a day we devote to the tryst. And as we uncover more about how social media is configured to work on our brains the same way slot machines do, keeping eyes on screens for as many minutes as possible to turn the highest profits for companies, whether or not those minutes wreck our sense of self, warp our view of our political reality, or urge us to throw money down the drain on products we would never otherwise want…The straits get a bit more dire.

As this year’s Lenten season commenced, I felt that gentle nudge, that divine voice in the back of my head saying here’s your chance. A chance to pull the plug on social for forty days and re-set my inner schema. It wouldn’t be a total fast, since I do spend a handful of hours a week managing the Fratres Dei social, but there would be no more browsing, posting, or scrolling from my own accounts for the rest of Lent.

By and large, I’ve taken God up on the offer, and the results have been quietly astounding. First of all, the jittery fear of missing out (on what? Malicious gossip and highlight reel announcements of rivals’ successes and the thousandth click-bait headline heralding society’s demise?) faded in about a week. What followed was overwhelming relief that I didn’t have to care about it all. Human empathy is a divine gift, and social media constantly exhausts it. We swing wildly from outrage to apathy, which makes it hard for us to be attentive and compassionate towards the real needs that surround us. Secondly, I got time back I didn’t even know I had lost. I started finding hours to cook big, wholesome meals while listening to audiobooks, and since I didn’t have the illusion of connection from seeing friend’s Instagram posts all the time, I started calling them a lot more. But most of all, I got my focus back.

The fragmented attention created by the noise of social media is really no attention at all. Conversation with a friend, playing with a child, reading a book, and especially listening for the stirrings of God in our lives require real, sustained attention. Constantly flipping from platform to platform, or article to article, trains our brains to make only the most cursory skim of information. Re-training the brain takes time, but we can start by setting aside hours of our day where we leave our phones on the charger, whether we’re out for a run, meeting someone for coffee, or scribbling idea in a notebook. It’s only in these moments of receptivity that God can press in with soft revelations, interesting food for thought, or divine encouragement.

I observe both the church calendar and the wheel of the year, a cycle of seasonal holidays used by Wiccans and other earthy types. The wheel’s holidays usually involve baking, candle-lighting, handicraft, and other things I love to do but never seem to have time for. But when the spring equinox rolled around during Lent, I suddenly had the time, and without the pressure to post aesthetically pleasing pictures and a description of my practice online for the edification of the masses, I didn’t experience the usual sense of poor planning or inadequacy. So, I pulled out the yellow candles, put a bit of soda bread and calendula tea out on my altar, and said some prayers praising God for light, and for new life. The ritual existed for no one except me and God, and that, I found, was empowering. For the first time in a long time I didn’t worry about how I looked or if I was doing “enough”. I just followed my intuition and listened for God.

Like chocolate, long naps, sex, and whisky sours, social media is good, if used in intentional moderation that doesn’t throw off the balance of the rest of our lives. It should be a tool that we use, not a corporate-run outrage machine that uses us for clicks and buys. Philippians calls the faithful to turn their thoughts towards “whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable”. Personally, I find that hard to do when I spend hours a day being fed an inane stream of war crime, advertisement, callout post, wedding pictures, advertisement, human rights violation, cat picture, bad faith political meme, advertisement through my smart phone.

Now, I haven’t jumped off the social media bandwagon entirely. In a move I hope my audience will find charmingly meta I’m currently denouncing social media in a social media post, after all. But for now, I’m enjoying being time-rich and having the space to simply notice my emotions, my relationship to space, and my own breath. I’ve been noticing God a lot more too, not because God wasn’t there when I was scrolling or posting, but simply because I was too tapped in to digital white noise to notice.

Yearning to take better notice of the divine already in your midst? Learn to listen with a spiritual direction session with Fratres Dei.

Happy Book Birthday ROBBERGIRL!

At long last my sapphic Snow Queen retelling is here!  Celebrate Valentines Day with a Snow Queen retelling full of secrets, ghosts, and a disaster bi thief and femme witch falling for each other opposites-attract style.

In a Sweden wracked by war and haunted by folk stories so dark they can only be spoken of in whispers, Helvig has been raised by her brigand father to steal whatever treasure catches her eye. When her men ambush a strange girl on the road with hair pale as death and a crow perched on her shoulder, Helvig cannot resist bringing home a truly unique prize: a genuine witch.

Drawn irresistibly into the other woman’s web, Helvig soon learns of Gerda’s reason for walking the icy border roads alone: to find the Queen who lives at the top of the world and kill her. Anyone else would be smart enough not to believe a children’s story, but Helvig is plagued by enchantments of her own, and struggles to guard the sins of her past while growing closer to the other woman.

As Christmastide gives way to the thin-veiled days when ghosts are at their most vengeful, the two women will find themselves on a journey through forest and Samiland to a final confrontation that will either redeem them or destroy them entirely. It’s DEATHLESS meets FINGERSMITH in this coming-of-age fable! 

KINDLE: http://tinyurl.com/yxf5pa46
PAPERBACKhttp://tinyurl.com/y2bqwsty

GOODREADShttps://www.goodreads.com/book/show/43154099-robbergirl

ROBBERGIRL Cover Reveal and Preorder Announcement!

At long last I can unveil the cover for ROBBERGIRL, designed by the phenomenal Lena Yang. This sapphic Snow Queen retelling is possibly even more dear to my heart than my last book, and it’s certainly longer and more jam-packed with mystery, romance, reindeer, and knife fights.

This beauty will be widely available on Valentines Day 2019, so read on for the synopsis and pre-order information!

In a Sweden wracked by war and haunted by folk stories so dark they can only be spoken of in whispers, Helvig has been raised by her brigand father to steal whatever treasure catches her eye. When her men ambush a girl on the road with hair pale as death and a raven perched on her shoulder, Helvig cannot resist bringing home a truly unique prize: a genuine witch.

Drawn irresistibly into the other woman’s web, Helvig soon learns of Gerda’s reason for walking the icy border roads alone: to find the Queen at the top of the world and kill her. Anyone else would be smart enough not to believe a children’s story, but Helvig is plagued by enchantments of her own, and she struggles to guard the sins of her past while growing closer to Gerda.

As Christmastide gives way to the thin-veiled days when ghosts are at their most vengeful, the two women find themselves on a journey through forest and Samiland to a final confrontation that will either redeem them or destroy them entirely.

It’s DEATHLESS meets FINGERSMITH in this coming-of-age fable.

Readers in the US can pre-order their autographed paperback copy directly from me.

I’m happy to announce that shipping speeds and tracking on direct-from-author orders have been improved for this title.Paperbacks and digital editions will become available through worldwide distributors on February 14, 2019.

If you’re not in a position to order a copy right now, sharing this post is a great help to me! If you’d like to donate to my ability to keep writing, considering contributing a dollar or two to my cute bat-themed patreon.

And of course, don’t forget to add this title to your to-read pile on Goodreads!

CATCH ME ON THE LATEST EPISODE OF THE PRAYER TO GO PODCAST!

In case you need a ten-minute shot of encouragement, pop in your earbuds and listen to me talk about writing as a spiritual practice, the catharsis of being angry with God, and good representation in books as a ministry. If you like it, be sure to check out the other awesome episodes in Carolyn’s series on creativity, or her bite-sized prayers for use with yoga, silence, a latte, or a rosary.

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On iTuneshttps://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/prayer-to-go/id1435044569?mt=2

On the PTG Websitehttps://prayertogo.blubrry.net/2018/10/23/024-pen-and-paper-writing-as-a-spiritual-practice/

Author Interview with Nosetouch Press

I had a blast talking church grims, Southern Gothic, religious cultural memory, and pumpkin spice with the editorial team at Nosetouch Press. Full interview below!

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What is your favorite season and why?
Autumn, no contest. The spicy scent of decaying leaves, the spooky stories over spiced cider, the cold-fingered winds, the paper-thin veil between this world and the next…What’s not to love? Then again, my birthday falls on All Saints Day, so I’m partial.

What drew you to Folk Horror?
Historically folk horror has been very concerned with the muddied lines between older religions and newer ones, and the ways cultural memory gets buried only to resurge up in new, unexpected, even horrifying ways later. I love exploring the tangled emotions religious sentiment dregs up in people, and the way our distinctions between “magic” and “faith”, and “paganism” and “civilized religion” are largely matters of perspective. Folk horror has done a great job of teasing out these themes in the context of Western European rural life, and I wanted to bring those questions to the American South, where I was raised.

What does Folk Horror mean to you? How would you describe it to someone?
Folk horror is one of those wonderful genres that situates itself squarely in the natural landscape of its setting, whether that’s an English moor or a Puritan settlement in the New World. Besides this fixation on the (usually cursed and hungry) land, folk horror brings to mind stories about the ways sins of the past haunt communities in the present, the resilience of folk belief against modernism, the power religion has to corrupt, liberate, or annihilate, creeping mass hysteria, and inglorious characters with filthy secrets.

What is the most Folk Horror thing you’ve seen/encountered in your community?
I was once napping on a stone monument in a little graveyard behind a church that had been burned to the ground thrice, and I’m pretty sure a church grim padded up to snuffle at my hand. When I opened my eyes it was gone, but I know I heard it trotting across the dry leaves moments before.

What writing projects do you have next?
I just published a paranormal novella about a marriage between magicians, and now I’m back at work on a fantasy adventure novel about a gang of con goblins, arms dealers, diplomats, and pirates out to bring down the criminal queenpin who screwed them all over. However, I’m also hoping to find time to work on some short queered folklore stories, and the collection of Biblical poetry I’ve been chipping away at for years.

If you haven’t already grabbed your copy of THE FIENDS AND THE FURROWS FOLK HORROR ANTHOLOGY, you can still get your six stories full of malevolent forests, snake handling, and devilish harvests by Halloween! Look for my Southern Gothic story “Revival” at the book’s finale.

ODD SPIRITS is on 99¢ sale through the month of October!

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This novella will be on sale for the ghoulishly low price of $5.99 for paperbacks and 99¢ for e-copies until All Hallows Eve. You’ll never see it at a lower price, so grab your ticket to flirty tarot readings, folk religion, and mysterious hauntings today! 

It takes a lot of commitment to make a marriage between a modern ceremonial magician and a chaos witch work, but when a malevolent entity takes up residence in Rhys and Moira’s home, their love will be pushed to the limits. Brewing up a solution is easier said than done when your magical styles are polar opposites; throw a psychic ex and a secret society in the mix, and things are bound to get messy.

This diverse paranormal romance novella is perfect for fans of The Raven Cycle and The Haunting of Hill House!

“Like a lovingly-prepared home-cooked meal, Odd Spirits compels its reader to both devour and savor…Gibson’s background as a poet allows her to deftly create richly-drawn little moments.” –Rouges Portal

See what people are saying about the novella on Goodreads!

FIENDS has arrived!

THE FIENDS IN THE FURROWS anthology, featuring my Southern Gothic story “Revival”, is available now in ebook and paperback!

Growing up as a girl in a conservative religious community is challenging, especially when you’re the bastard child of a snake-handling Pentecostal preacher and a Catholic waitress. Considered unclean by the congregation and her grandfather, the fearsome Reverend, because of her affinity for the church’s’ venomous snakes, eight-year-old Callie Ann spends most of her time feeding crickets and mice to her only friends.

 But as the Reverend’s sinister hold on his rapt flock grows, so does Callie’s connection to her dead mother, and a dark prophecy begins to take shape. 

What People Are Saying

“Revival finds that old time religion venomously snaking its way back, to the peril of those who would dare to dance with vipers and tempt Fate itself.”

“Gibson’s Revival was like THE BAD SEED set to a religious hymn (that’s a good thing)”

If you’re craving some grimy gothic goodness with your brave little girls toppling abusive religious hierarchies, add FIENDS to your Goodreads TBR! Also be sure to subscribe to my intermittent author newsletter to stay in the loop about new publications, giveaways, and flash sales!  🕸🐍🌾💀