Last week I updated my Facebook status (as my alter-ego, Jenna Mills, not Ellie James—sometimes it’s confusing being more than one person!) with a whimsical anecdote about my four-year-old son’s attempt to give our placid, overweight, deaf cat an appendectomy. At least, I thought it was whimsical. I mean, I found him before anything bad happened. I took the pairing knife from his hand. I hid it again, this time really, really well…I think. And heck, I’m not even convinced anything bad would have happened, had I not intervened. Surely the cat would have moved if he actually started to cut her. My son is only four. He has a vivid imagination (occupational hazard). He makes stuff up left and right. He tells stories about the spaceship in the clouds over our house, the one he came from and returns to at night, where there are zombies and aliens and storm troopers, and they always listen to him, even if they sometimes take his brain out and make adjustments. Yeah. He’s four. Four and two months to be exact. But I digress. Kind of.
At the time of my post, I was sitting in a shadowy hospital room, watching my eight-year-old daughter sleep off anesthesia from an emergency appendectomy. (Went to a minor league baseball game Saturday evening, laughed in the rain for two hours before the game was postponed, woke up Sunday morning to a little girl not feeling well, discovered her pain was in her lower right abdomen, off to the ER, they sent her to the OR.) So, there I was, twenty-four hours after eating French fries in a downpour, sitting in the hospital alone, with the silence and way too many ‘what-ifs.’ So I posted the story about my son, who, while I was hurriedly packing for the hospital, attempted to re-enact what was happening to his sister with the cat.
The next evening my husband looked up from his laptop, gave me one of those guy frown/scowl things, and told me he thought maybe we needed to think about what we do and don’t post on Facebook. He used words like drama and TMI, but I don’t remember a ton of detail, because I immediately got defensive. I do remember telling him that my friends love my Jack-stories, to which he made some kind of comment about telling the world our family was out of control.
BUT this isn’t about what he said, whether he was wrong or I was wrong, but rather, about what we post—and why we post it.
Facebook is fascinating. I mean really, truly fascinating. I’ve always been a people watcher. I notice everything, especially minute details. For someone like me, Facebook is the ultimate playground—or psychology lab (my minor in college). I no longer have to leave my house to see the world dance around me. I’ve found friends I lost twenty years ago for no other reason than I moved. I learn all kinds of exciting news, see pictures of kids and pets and far-away places (right now I’m following the story of Poppy, a rescue dog in Australia!). I know when Friend A has diarrhea (yay, me!) or Friend B can’t sleep. I know when Friend C is furious with the electric company or her neighbor or whoever else might cross her path and Friend D is fighting with her boyfriend (because they do it all RIGHT THERE for the world to see. Oiy!) I laugh and I fume and sometimes I cry. Oh, and I get to ask tons of research questions!!
Being a thinking kind of person, sometimes I sit back and reflect on the bizarreness of it all, not just Facebook but the explosion of social media we never even conceptualized five years ago. It’s crazy how much it has changed my life, how, yes, I reach to update my status when hail pummels my house or run to Twitter when I hear there’s going to be a big announcement. And yet, I have many friends who don’t participate in any social media, and those who only lurk.
Why, I wonder. What drives us? What prompts us to share life’s little moments, some quite personal and intimate, with hundreds of faceless people, to post RIP message when someone we never knew (a celebrity or sports figure) passes away, weather updates, sports scores, to tell 523 people when we have a headache….or when my four-year-old attempts to give our cat an appendectomy.
For me, as a writer, the answer is two-fold.
1) I’m a story-teller. That’s what I do. I tell stories. Given that, something like Facebook is a natural extension of what I do for a living, with the exception of the fiction versus non-fiction thing.
2) I spend most my time in my house and my story-worlds. I don’t get out much. I don’t have an office to go to, with other people to hang around with. I don’t have a cafeteria with a coffeepot to stand around and exchange hellos and anecdotes while adding cream and sugar. There’s no hall or cube chatter. There’s no communal TV to stare at with my co-workers when something big and huge happens in the world.
So, for me, social media is my cafeteria. It’s where I go when I want—or need—to talk. Sometimes I’m looking for advice or feedback. Sometimes I’m looking for people to share my excitement or incredulity. And yeah, sometimes I’m looking for a virtual hug. I try not to use social media as dumping ground. I try not to excessively vent or rant (try being the operative word). I steer clear of divisive topics like religion and politics. I try not to unleash negative energy on my unsuspecting friends. I try not to make the people who read my posts sad. I rarely mention when I don’t feel well (with the exception of comical things like when jumping and twirling off the arm of the sofa, after straightening the curtain pleats, resulted in blowing out my knee) But…I do tell stories about my kids, and sometimes those stories reveal flaws in my parenting or coping skills. But you know what? I’m okay with that, because I’ve always been all about being real. That’s how I make connections with others who are traveling the same road as I am. That’s how I survived my journey through infertility. I don’t need anyone to think I’m perfect, because I’m not. But I would like to think someone might find it interesting (informative? witty?) to sit down and talk with me for a little while (ahem…upon proofreading this post, I sorta gotta admit that sounds a little pathetic!).
What about you? Do you have personal guidelines, protocols, or habits for what you post? Are there things you’d never post, or someone you blocked because you just couldn’t take anymore of their updates?