The interesting thing: All this grumbling we of a certain generation are doing about social media—Facebook, for instance—so self-righteous are we, so sanctimonious: we can’t quite believe we’re asked, for instance, along with a thousand other people, to hear what you made for dinner last night, or that you stubbed your toe last Friday—and, with the next breath in the very same tone (as if we were, all one thousand of us, your intimates) that your boyfriend dumped you or that your mother is dead. Are we supposed to “like” that? “Unlike” it? Quickly scroll (scurry) away as if to protect your privacy? In the end, aren’t we vaguely embarrassed for each other, isn’t that what we are? And yet. From there it’s a hop and a skip to condemning a whole generation—that’s what we do—for its inability to relate to people in person, face to face; all this false intimacy, we insist, all this posting and texting and sharing in fonts and images, when you might be having a face-to-face, voice-to-voice conversation with somebody who actually cares about you. That’s what we say. As if it were the ‘kids’ fault. But is it? Do they use Facebook this way? Actually, they don’t.
When I was new to Facebook, a colleague and I had an argument about what it’s for. She advocated for the personal: Tell me, she said, about last night’s date and the new curtains in the guest room. Don’t tell me, she said, that you have a new book deal or by-line. When I objected—when I said I’m not about to ask my friends (all 600 of them, which apparently isn’t very many) to read about my dog (neurotic), or my herbs (gone to seed, except for the chives which are flourishing nicely), or my tattoos (don’t have any); but how else to alert my 600 friends to my essay in the Los Angeles Review of Books? -she just sniffed. If I catch you self-promoting online, I’ll unfriend you, she said. But six months later she had a new book to sell, and like that (snap your fingers), she changed her tune: acquired a thousand more friends and started posting reviews. I haven’t asked her how she feels about FB now, though neither of us are on very much except to play Scrabble. And if it’s true that I got on in the first place because I wanted to play the game with my daughter, who had gone away to college—because I wanted to keep tabs on her without keeping tabs (she moves a letter, I know she’s okay)—would you believe me? Well, it’s true, so there. However, Eliza has long since stopped playing with me: And I long ago started posting on FB like everybody else: About my by-line here and there; about my friends’ by-lines here and there; even, four years later, about Eliza’s graduation from college. I succumbed, yes, to celebrating the personal online, and I can’t tell you how gratifying it was. Because, come to find out, if ‘friends’ will dutifully ‘like’ a post about my piece in LARB or HuffPo (thank you, friends!), three times as many of them will let me know it was worth my while to show off my beautiful graduate. Does this mean anything? Is there a lesson here? Undoubtedly.
And also a conundrum: Because, yes, I admit I’ve surrendered, I’m as bad as the rest, I’ve addressed you all as if you were one and the same, approached you on Facebook, answered you on Facebook—as if you were interested, as if you were my ideal reader, which, I’ll insist (as did Kurt Vonnegut), is the way to the best writing; if, that is, one were actually crafting prose for public consumption (a story, an essay); which is, you might argue, exactly what we’re doing on Facebook! So why doesn’t it feel quite right? How is it that I want you, in your essays and stories and books, to fool me into feeling they were written just for me? Why am I certain that’s good for your sentences? Whereas when you’re not trying to fool me at all? When you write just for me (and everyone else) on Facebook? I feel a fool for reading and writing and answering in kind. And, blushing for us both, I want to ask: Isn’t anything sacred, off-limits, or simply too dull to post? Maybe not. Maybe so. Depends on the reader, depends on the writer; I don’t know the answer, I really don’t.
Here’s what I do know: For all our whining and preaching about real communication, it’s we who are abusing the venue, not our children. We of a certain age who would appear to need to over-share; we, wishing each other condolences and happy anniversary online—pretending, with equal emphasis, as if we want or mean to confide in hundreds of people, and care what they think to boot—who might be accused of behaviors that are false, coy, and cloying, and having to do with what? Extreme loneliness and alienation? A desperate effort to keep up? Fear of obsolescence? All of the above?
But why oh why, you might be wondering about now (if you’re still with me, that is) am I going on and on about Facebook?
Because every so often, to my mind anyway, somebody gets it absolutely right, as did author Nicholas Montemarano a week or so ago, when he wrote:
You don’t want to write, you don’t want to, you just don’t want to, no way, not today, not happening, you’re afraid that nothing will come or that nothing good will come, it’s Sunday, the day before a holiday, as good an excuse as any, why not spend the day reading, tomorrow you’ll write, or the day after that, but tomorrow or the day after you’ll still have the same fear of not writing or not writing well, so you make a deal, you’ll get into bed with paper and pencil beside you, and you’ll close your eyes, and whatever happens happens, no promises, and after a half hour of dozing and daydreaming you open your eyes and a sentence comes to you: “The year I was thirteen—unlucky thirteen.” And this sentence leads to another: “The year I let a boy get lucky with unlucky me.” And this sentence leads to more sentences: “Three years older than me, but still a boy. Absolutely a boy. Closer to being a man than any boy I knew, but not even close. My mother’s boyfriends were men.” And these sentences lead to more, and 15 minutes later the page is filled with sentences, and you read them aloud, you pick at them, you like the way they sound, you decide that they have a chance at making the cut when your novel is done, probably years from now, and you quit while you’re ahead, while you’re excited. Hours and hours of doubt and fear, 15 minutes of writing. A day’s work.
O but this was personal, and professional, and authentic, and generous, and inspiring, and comforting, too. What a gift. I liked it. I liked it so much. And I hope you do, too.
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|Tags: HuffPo, Los Angeles Review of Books, Nicholas Montemarano, Scrabble|