Lessons From Facebook
First… and this is important… I learned today that my iphone has a name: Hana Lagoon. I learned this from a friend’s status update on Facebook: one of many important lessons I’ve learned thus far….
It’s in the third grade that I first clearly remember writing. Several years ago, while looking through all my books, I found a story that I’d written that was before the third grade. I have no recollection of writing that story at all. What I do remember, though, is writing the Mickey series. I was a collector of the Baby-Sitter Club series by Ann M. Martin. I really, really loved those seven girls. I have fond and hilarious memories of reading specific books from that series. One day, after finishing reading one of the series’ books, I thought to myself, “I can do that! I can write!” and I came up with the Mickey series. In essence, the Mickey series copied the Baby Sitters Club series, except that the group of friends in my series didn’t babysit kids: they were just friends. For the next four or five years, the group of kids in the Mickey series became my friends. I used to pretend that one of them would come talk to me. Then, one bright day while walking in Kroger, I read the back of Danielle Steel’s “Kaleidoscope.” I think I was, like, twelve or thirteen. “Kaleidoscope” is the story of three sisters who are separated; the oldest becomes determined to reunite them (such a Tiffini-type story!) As good as they were, the Baby Sitter Club series suddenly lost much of their appeal and once I read “The Ring”, also by Steel, I was hooked. My writing changed about that time too. I wanted to write real stories, longer stories, stories that would allow me to really get to know the characters one at a time (this is important). “Broken Dreams” in ’91 was my first real novel. After that, I left writing series and focused my attention on creating the most in-depth novels imaginable.
I still pretended that my characters visited me. Usually, back then, they came at night, when it was dark and sometimes scary, and yet also quiet. I would have conversations with them. I really talked to these characters. Landon, Clayton, Pete… these men were imaginary, but they were more than my characters, they were my friends. When they visited me, they usually didn’t have a whole lot to say… but they always, without fail, hugged me. And when they did, I didn’t feel very alone anymore, I didn’t feel like I was some sort of alien from outer space. I didn’t feel like I was clumsy, or inept. Even the shame seemed bearable. I never pretended that I was the heroine, I never pretended that the hero had come to marry me and take me away. That wasn’t what I wanted. What I wanted was Strength and warmth. Sometimes I’d be crying and, when I cried, one of them always showed up. And hugged me. And made me believe that crying was okay. Did you know that being strong is ridiculously hard? But, when you’re not strong, what you’re doing is asking for attention…. and that’s selfish, and bad. At least it was in my world. Except at night, when the characters came. It was pointless to put on a happy face for them, because they already knew my deepest and darkest emotions: they were created from those emotions. So instead, they acted as Strength. I’d pretend that they were holding me. I’d pretend that it was okay to cry, and then I would. At the time, this was a sanity-saving, critically necessary mechanism that I thank God for every day of my life. I have no idea how I’d have survived without that imaginary world.
Think of every negative adjective you can and that’s how I thought of myself in relation to other people. Shame used to waft over me in gushing waves whenever I walked into a classroom–even if everyone in there was kind. Suddenly, the Goth kid with multiple tattoos or the class geek with the Erkle-looking glasses seemed cooler than me. At least that Goth kid was a cool outcast and at least that Erkle-looking geek was smart and beloved by every teacher on the planet. Me…. my only claim to coolness was that I was ALWAYS writing. I never looked up. The kids thought that was kind of neat but mostly weird. I never tried to get them to understand. And they never asked. When the three bully girls wrecked havoc on my self-esteem by, one day, taking a page of my book, wadding it up and tossing it back and forth over my head, I staunchly looked down, whispered an apology to the characters written on that page and promised them I’d re-write them. When the girls finally threw it in the trash, I calmly got up and rescued my characters, then spent long minutes smoothing out that wrinkled page. When, the next day, they came in, put catsup on a sanitary pad, stuck it to the TV and told the teacher upon his arrival that I had done it, I cried from embarrassment and said not one word (the teacher knew they were full of it though). My point is that my refuge was my writing; my characters thought I was too cool and awesome to make fun of. I fit in with them.
So, I clung to them. I effectively shut myself off from the outside world. I only talked to a select few students at school. Parties intimidated me to death, and so I never went. In essence, isolation became a sanctuary, a safe haven.
Then, a couple years ago, during a particularly rough time, I wanted to reconnect with high school classmates that had never mistreated me, that had, in retrospect, treated me kindly—classmates that, too often, I hadn’t been able to really see then. The lure of possibly being able to do that captured me: I signed up for Facebook.
In no time at all, I fell in love.
At first, it was just because I was able to “watch” the daily lives of people I was only acquaintances with. Other people made jokes and complained about status updates that told really random and mundane things, like “I’m cooking fried eggs for breakfast this morning. Hope the kids eat!” or “I’ve been totally unable to poop ALL day!” I, on the other hand, relished these totally unnecessary and random glimpses into others’ lives. You know why? Because I started to realize that a woman I’d admired from a distance for years was actually NORMAL. She cooked, her kids weren’t perfect, she had runaway thoughts sometimes, just like I did; she hated getting up early in the mornings but she liked her job. For the first time in my entire life, I did not feel so…. strange. I could relate to some of the thoughts people were posting, because I had the same thoughts myself! I didn’t feel so awful if, one day, I woke up wanting to just quit because at the appointed time, I could logon and see that so and so “ignored the alarm clock” the same day. All my life, people had told me that I was “special” and “unique” — but, in my head, that translated into “weird” and that translated into “bad.” All I’d ever wanted was to be just like everyone else. Thanks to Facebook, I started to realized that, actually, I am quite ordinary, I’m a lot like the women I see every week at church and those that read my books. Ordinary-ness: What a wonderful, revolutionary thing!
That was my first Facebook lesson: that I DO fit in with other women. It took awhile but, once that lesson began to really sink in, I suddenly found that I was more confident when I talked to other women. I even went on a few lunch dates with other women for no purpose other than to “visit.” That is what you call a miracle, folks. I was still scared. I was still intimidated, and I still felt unworthy. But I was learning that everyone else had such thoughts too.
My second lesson was huge. I reconnected with just a couple of really, really important people, people that I don’t think I would have reconnected with in real life. Friends that I had known, and lost, and had deeply missed. Facebook made communication safe again, and opened the door to the healing of some important wounds. I learned that a couple of my high school birthday parties had been important and memorable for some of my classmates in school. I learned that I wasn’t the only one who had a special relationship. I was remembered. And, for this, I will be eternally grateful for the creation of Facebook. You see, truth be told, I have a lot of fears but my biggest, deepest, darkest fear has always been the fear of being forgotten. I write letters to my children. Now, it’s so that they can have them when they need them one day. But, initially, it was because I was terrified that I was going to die before they were old enough to remember me. I was afraid of requesting any “friends” because I was terrified that no one would remember who I was. I was afraid of requesting to be “friends” even with those who I had cared about because I was convinced I was unimportant, that my “friendship” wasn’t even desired. I knew no one really knew me, and I thought no one wanted to. But the “friendships” weren’t only made, they were nourished so that they could grow into real ones again. I was afraid that my daily thoughts and activities would become a nuisance to people. I was afraid that I would be the one people would write status updates about. Instead, I suddenly found people stopping me at church and saying things like, “you are so creative! Everyday, I want to write down what you’re doing, it would be a great tool!” or “You wear me out” or “You’re a great mom.” I even had people stop me to ask me about writing, or to tell me it was cool to see “a book being written!”
I had never been given affirmations like this from my peers before. I started thinking that maybe I wasn’t as forgettable as I’d originally thought I was. Maybe I did have something to offer. You see, I’d forgotten something: I’d forgotten that –I– was the one who made isolation a sanctuary. I had forgotten that it had been me who decided to stop communication with my peers, to shut them out and instead be just a happy face. I’d forgotten that while no one had ever really tried to get to know the real me, I had also never really offered: instead, I’d relied on my imaginary characters to be my friends instead of risking any more rejection and heartache. Behind the safety of the computer, though, it was easier for me to voice behaviors, to take thirty seconds to express my frustrations over the umpteenth break-down of a stupid car or the restlessness of insomnia. It also gave me a safe place to voice pride for my books or joy over a great day of homeschooling. It gave me a quick way of jotting down all the funny, sweet or wacky things my girls say and/or do. Somehow, in other words, it seemed to validate my own thoughts.
Nowadays, I’m likely to post what I cook for dinner even though I didn’t used to want to clutter anyone’s wall with useless information. Except, it’s not useless information: to cook a meal takes work and is done because I hope my girls will have a good, yummy and healthy meal to eat. Dinner matters in my house. And since I have to believe that I matter, then a status update about what I’m cooking for dinner also must matter. Playing cards with my kids is a small thing. The fact that someone else went to an audition is a small thing. My car breaking down is, really, a small thing. That someone else is going on vacation is a small thing. That my kids thought I was a genius for a particularly fun or engaging lesson is really a small thing. That someone else hates a particular song is a small thing. That I’m tired a lot is a small thing. And yet…. the small things are what life is made up of, the little moments are what construct our whole world. Big events, like deaths and marriages and births, are choke full of emotion and deserve attention—but so do the everyday moments that ultimately define who we have become as adults. No status update, therefore, is “dumb” because it’s a window into someone’s thoughts and emotions. We are not islands, we are one big community and no one is greater than anyone else. No one has perfect thoughts every day. We all have strengths and weaknesses. I am not the sore thumb that’s sticking out and I don’t have to be afraid to talk to someone because, chances are, they’re not watching me in disgust or disdain or judgment.
I still love my characters.
And they still come to help me through the nights. I still talk to them. I still see them. And sometimes, they still hug me so that I can feel warmth. I’m still not a social butterfly. I don’t have any real life friends that I see just to see a whole lot. But I do have people whose lives I care about, people who I now think about and notice. I still don’t have people inviting me over for dinner at their house; I still don’t give invitations to more than my children’s parties. Speaking candidly, without fear of hurting or angering another person, is still difficult for me. I still cling to the safety of seclusion and the illusion of friendship my characters offer me. I’m still, in a lot of ways, a happy face with a chaotic, misunderstood heart and mind. And maybe I’m just also egotistical, but Facebook’s comments and emails and “likes” encourage me to believe that people outside my family also care about me and my life. Nothing dramatic usually happens to me these days. I spend the days teaching and playing and the nights writing in solitude. But if I don’t wake up when I go to sleep, Facebook allows me to believe that not only would my girls and my family remember me and miss me, but others might as well. And that gives me solace.
Every day, at the conclusion of Devotionals, the girls have to go one by one into the bathroom, look at themselves in the mirror and name, out loud, something that they like about themselves. My oldest totally gets it. My youngest doesn’t at all. But I remind her that, one day, she’ll remember to do an affirmation, and that, maybe, it’ll be an affirmation that will provide her with hope and motivation and, most of all, confidence. I used to think that self-esteem was given to us or taken away from us. Now, I think it’s a combination of social and environmental factors as well as internal dialogue. We have to work to maintain our self-esteem. Others influence it, we mold it. Loneliness can make me believe I’m worthless, but a daily affirmation can remind me that, in the lives of my family, I am instrumental. Isolation can convince me I’m a freak but taking a chance and writing random status update can result in positive feedback which, in turn, makes me think that maybe I’m just a woman.
Facebook should never replace human interaction but, for me, it has been a bridge from isolation to communication and has taught me that being me, even when I’m tired or even when I’m boring or even when I’m excited or nervous, is okay. And I am thankful for the Facebook lessons.