For all intents and purposes, the online pinboard community Pinterest is a wonderful concept indeed. For Word on Fire's Kerry Trotter, it's a surefire way to kiss an otherwise productive afternoon goodbye. In her search for true inspiration, she looked a little closer. Read on for what she found.
The sounds of my chirping daughter crackling through the baby monitor shook me out of my haze.
I blinked furiously, my eyes falling on my watch.
“4:30? P.M.? Are you kidding me?”
Two-and-a-half hours had sped by while my daughter napped, and I had spent it nearly motionless at the computer.
Dishes sat dirty in the sink.
Toys were strewn about.
A tumbling wad of dog hair chaparral cascaded past me.
Representatives from the cartoonishly large super race of ants, which have called our duplex’s woodwork home long before we ever did, brazenly sauntered nearby. Their numbers usually diminished by the green flipflop I keep as a side arm expressly for this purpose, they now had the edge.
I panicked. Where did all that time go?
To a time-suck heretofore unparalleled—to Pinterest.
For those of you who don’t know Pinterest, it functions as an online pinboard where users can virtually tack and share recipes, exercise tips, inspirational quotes, outfit ideas and anything with an owl on it (trust me on this) into a categorized cache of items and ideas ready for easy browsing. It’s also debilitatingly addictive. For those of you who are familiar with Pinterest, you’re likely nodding furiously while taking a break from DIY-ing a crafting table using old pallets.
For me it acts as a sort of netherworld, an artfully decorated Middle-earth where I am always impeccably dressed (I favor jewel tones in Pinterestland), prepare exotic meals in my Crockpot (denizens of Pinterestland seem to prefer things slow-cooked), and wile away off-hours refinishing salvaged furniture in a three-acre garden (those fervent of Pinterestland are almost entirely delusional about both time and resources). I’ve pinned useful things such as “50 Free Summer Activities to do with Children,” and not-so-useful things, such as a watermelon carved to look like a shark cresting from black waters to use as a receptacle for fruit salad.
I in no way intend to escape my “real” world, a world of joy and comfort and love for which I am so grateful, but I like to think of Pinterest and all its lifestyle magazine-ish splendor as the icing on an already sweet cake, the feather in my cap, the chevron-patterned throw pillow on my white slipcovered setee.
And a free-time vacuum. The ironic madness of it is that I use so much precious alone time gathering ideas for how to make life easier, tastier, prettier to look at, but then all the time I could spend bringing those ideas to fruition are spent getting more ideas on how to make life easier, tastier, etc. In the end nothing gets done.
And I thought Facebook was bad.
Between the voyeuristic thrill of seeing what your friends have deemed inviting, and the idealistic assemblage of what you could be with more time/money/talent/will, Pinterest will draw you in. And keep you in.
I recently read an essay from a blogger who blamed Pinterest for any lingering doubts she had about her abilities as a mother. I can see where she was going with this. Pins tend to pile up from moms, as she observed, who make their kids’ grilled cheeses to look like ice cream cones; moms who brewed their own stain-resistant batches of finger paint; moms who Mod Podge—whatever on earth that is—crafts, and not just for a special occasion. It’s enough to make anyone who has ever had a lapse-in-confidence day as a mom (one where the precious naptime is squandered in front of the computer, perhaps?) feel even worse. I’ve found that I’m self-aware enough about my abilities to not let these Supermom tendencies rampant on Pinterest get to me. And I know how disappointed my daughter would be if she bit into something thinking it was an ice cream cone and cheddar cheese started oozing out of it.
But then there’s what’s conspicuously absent.
Since I’ve worked at Word on Fire, I’ve become more cognizant of others’ Public Displays of Faith—praying in restaurants, wearing religious jewelry, talk of the Divine in casual conversation—and I’ve kept up this awareness on Pinterest. How do virtual lives, those that are presumably more put together than the ones we’re actually trudging through, display their faith?
My ham-fisted analysis? They don’t. Granted, I’m often too busy decorating a three-season porch I don’t have to pay too much attention to the occasional Bible quote that someone else has pinned, but I recognize that I am very much part of the problem. My life on Pinterest is unrecognizably shallow.
I grapple with faith all the time, especially working with wonderful folks who appear to be so much better at it (as though it’s a skill!) than I am. They pray better, get distracted less, think clearer, put others first more, swear less than I do. I’m already working at a deficit, and my alternative life in Pinterestland, while admittedly adorable, has somehow managed to squeeze any lingering drop of religion that I do actually possess right out of the sphere. Ouch.
But that’s not a criticism of the site. Pinterest is actually a very cool concept that has proved useful time and again. I have friends who are designers, artists and teachers that rely on it for professional development. Fellow parents credit it with sanity-saving activities and resources. Anyone planning a project has found his or her haven. But I think its more superficial groupies, like me, are at fault for it trending toward an accessory-heavy wasteland and less a repository for true inspiration—a place where the Divine can seamlessly coexist with recipes for spring rolls. Pinterest’s capacity for truth is only as big as we make it. In my realm, it appears to be mighty small.
Among the several-dozen categories to browse, besides the food-clothes-décor stuff I’ve mentioned, are “Cars & Motorcycles,” “Photography,” “Science & Nature,” and “Sports.” There aren’t really any other subheads listed that could accurately corral the religious-themed pins. There’s a “holidays category,” but that’s just mostly red and green “tablescapes.” In the “other” category I found wacky pet pictures. “My life”? Nope, no faith there (pin pun intended). Ah, surely in “Weddings & Parties” there’s … never mind.
Ask anyone who has a healthy relationship with God and they will tell you it’s forged in the mess, when enduring the painful, lonely, ugly curves life throws at us. Try as we might, we can’t whitewash our suffering like so much Shabby Chic’d garage sale furniture. Just as most of those “50 Free Summer Activities” weren’t actually free, creating my perfectly appointed, stylish fantasy existence manages to be devoid of life.
There’s baby stuff but no baby. Husband stuff but no husband. House stuff but no home.
No faith. Nada. Not a bit.
As my daughter’s “mamamamamamamama” pleas crescendoed into staticky feedback, I leapt out of my chair, back muscles rigid from a two-hour hunching, and high-stepped over a dustbunny-toting giant ant on my way to fetch her. The kitchen was a mess, the vertical blinds were a design abomination, and the options on the dinner horizon were bleak. Kerry of Pinterestland would have been ashamed.
But in my actual life I climb actual stairs, strive for actual love, reconcile with an actual God, to reach what actually matters.
Although, a fruit salad-toting shark couldn't hurt.
Kerry Trotter is the content manager at Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.