Jason Gurley

By day, I'm a user experience designer; by evenings/weekends, I write novels from my home in Scappoose, Ore. My newest is Awake in the World, published February 2019 by Roaring Brook Press; my previous novel, Eleanor, was published by Crown in 2016 and has since been translated into German, Portuguese, and Turkish. I’m currently working on a new project.

I quit the socials

Maybe you noticed; maybe you didn't. Maybe you did the same thing, and you've discovered something like what I've discovered: life outside social media is still the way it was before social media, at least in all the ways that it needs to be in order to keep me sane and in touch with myself. (In other ways, life is a raging tire fire, which we all know is fueled more and more by social media, but would still be a tire fire without all that extra kerosene.)

I enjoy new tools. Testing them out, seeing what they can do. I get restless every year or two, and try to replace my email application, only to discover that the one I'm using is still more or less the best available. In my design work, the leap from Photoshop to Sketch was thrilling, and weird, and thrilling. 

Social media was the same way. I joined Facebook when it opened its doors to the masses; I think I signed up for Twitter in 2009-ish. When I began self-publishing novels, they were obvious places to share my work. I found myself giving my blog less attention. It's funny, now, to see the comfortable old technologies asserting themselves again: as the conversation about social media and its place in our lives, and its value to our mental health, intensifies, blogs and e-mail have reminded us that they're here, and they're possibly more genuine ways of connecting with one another, at least in the digital space. 

I deleted my Facebook and Twitter accounts in early 2018. Part of this was in response to both platforms' involvement in spreading unverifiable news and their growing population of bots—but more than that, I was just tired of turning my attention to my phone constantly. Twitter demanded that I give it my eyes at least every hour, if not more frequently, if I wanted to "keep up." Facebook's content had somehow self-whittled to just a few people's posts, again and again, combined with a barrage of thinkpieces and hot takes on sites nobody had ever heard of. 

One bit of advice authors hear when they ask how to engage with social media is this: Don't spread yourself too thin. Figure out which social platform works for you, and live there. You don't have to be accessible everywhere. I finally decided to listen to that, and I'm not accessible everywhere anymore. I've kept Instagram, because it's enjoyable, but who knows how long that will last. The social media narrative always lights itself on fire as the platforms attempt to wring money out of their users; what was once free and pleasant becomes essential, because everybody else is using it, and then it eventually becomes an obligation that you tolerate because there aren't any replacement options, because you wrestle with the fear of being left out, because there's no easy way to take your toys and go home. 

In the real world, I will say no to most things. Parties? Dinners? Hanging out with people? I know my own limits, and I'm not great company when I reach them. Whenever I think about participating in something with other humans, I think about the things I could be doing instead, and then I decide I'd rather do those things. It isn't personal, though certainly people may take it that way. I'm just usually most comfortable on my own, or with my family. And part of being a happy-ish grownup, I think, is being okay with declining things. I've always been perfectly capable of participating in things via the internet, though. But in the last few years, even that's become tedious, as one by one every happy space has turned toxic—some slowly, some practically overnight. Being a happy-ish grownup also means knowing when to get out for your own good—so that you can still be good to yourself, good to those who love and need you. 

One of the books I'm reading right now is an anthology of essays called Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process. In one such essay, Kathryn Harrison writes this about the tension between being an "author" and being a writer: 

I don't really like publication. Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful to be making a living doing what I love. But though I love to write, I don't much like being a writer.

She continues:

Sometimes, I have to run out and pretend to be that person for awhile, which requires a lot of energy. I'm very much an introvert. But I am also a willing and cooperative person in terms of serving the thing that I care about, which is writing. So if that means that I show up and give readings and interviews, even if it takes a lot of energy just for me to work myself up to appearing in public, that is something I'm happy to do. I'll present myself to the world as a writer if it helps me continue writing.

After bringing Eleanor into the world, I did a lot of the things she describes. Never on a massive scale, of course; the novel was not an overnight sensation, my phone wasn't ringing off the hook, I wasn't flying to all the late-night shows. But I did a local TV morning show. Another local newsperson came to my office and interviewed me about the book. I did a dozen or so events where I read from the book, talked a bit. All of those things are sort of necessary to helping to sell the thing you've written, and like Ms. Harrison said above, I'm generally okay doing all of those things to help my books find readers. I don't necessarily enjoy those things, but I will do them. 

Social media, on the other hand, has become harder and harder to find any sort of pleasure in. And it's widely believed that Facebook and Twitter don't do much to sell books. That didn't stop me, or a million other authors from trying. And it turns out that relentlessly promoting yourself is exhausting and sort of gross. 

So, at least for now, this is where you can find me. This site, these pages, right here. This is my little space that I own, that I can do with as I please. I kept a blog for about a dozen years, once upon a time, and coming back to give mine the attention it deserves is a great feeling, one not unlike fitting into the well-worn jacket I wore in high school. Now and then I'll share a bit of news, of course, about the books I'm writing; that's a big part of my life. But for the most part, I think I'll just hang out here, writing about things that interest me, things that are on my mind. You're welcome to join me, if you like. 


The jewel of Morro Bay, Ca.