I don’t want to be your Facebook friend.

There is so little that I know.

I’ve been struggling, since the election, with how to articulate the maelstrom in my mind and spirit. I’ve felt silent, and silenced. Every time I start to put words on paper I stall out, spin my wheels, falter into wordlessness.

What can I say in the face of all of this? I don’t know. I want to speak, but my tongue cleaves to the roof of my mouth and passion dissipates into uncertainty, resolve into fear, conviction into self-doubt. All I know is that I write my way to what I know, and all I can do is try. I can offer only this, a shabby sort of Christmas present, in case there is someone else out there in the dark woods who needs to know she is not alone.

I took a break from social media in November. I find I need to do this periodically, and each time, I scarcely miss it. Lest I sound like a complete Scrooge, I miss the people–but I’m always missing the people, whether I’m online or off. Through a series of social media breaks, I’ve come to the realization that electronic connection is not, for me, soul-food. It does not sustain–it merely tantalizes. The surfaceness of it frustrates and saddens me. I crave connection, and while social media does keep me aware of what’s happening on the surface, it doesn’t offer me even a glimpse into what matters–into the secret dreams and secret grief that make us who we truly are.

When I see pictures of friends’ babies, I’m happy for them, but that happiness is tempered by a wrenching grief that I’m not sure I’ll ever get over. Lost in a wilderness of postpartum depression, I missed my first son’s first year. There are few precious memories of that time. What I remember is darkness, exhaustion, fear, and a crushing sense of unworthiness. I wonder how many of my friends feel silenced by the barrage of baby pictures because they aren’t able to have children, by the “Best husband EVER!!!” posts because they are single by choice or by chance. I feel like a Scrooge for not posting pictures of my kids. I want to brag about them, but more than that, I want them to control their own social media presences when they’re ready, instead of having me make the decision for them before they’re capable of informed consent. I wonder if even saying this makes me sound like a bad, judgmental person.

I wonder for how many of us this is true–that the glimpses of surface beauty bring waves of pain in their wake. Pain and beauty are, of course, blended, inextricable sometimes from each other–but this is not what we talk about on social media. Social media can be powerful–it can mobilize us for massive good. But even this seems to happen on a surface level, one day’s outrage giving way effortlessly to the next.

This is not what I need. I need a tribe–not a digital one, but a flesh-and-blood one. I feel the lack of it keenly. I want people to, as one friend says perfectly, “do life with” in all its messiness. I don’t want to see pictures of the babies. I want to bring meals to the parents, walk with the colicky little ones so mamas and daddies can get some sleep. I don’t want to click “like,” I want to celebrate with friends in the flesh. I want us to laugh until we snort, stay up late talking, hug hello and goodbye.

My childhood memories are of a house filled with people–college friends of my parents who showed up out of nowhere and spent the night, family friends who were really more like family, three months when my dad’s sister and her family lived in our basement while they built their new house. With blankets, we partitioned off a sleeping area for my cousins. We rode the school bus together. We played with Legos. We were present.

I’m not sure how often any of us are present these days. I’m not sure what has changed. Is it technology? Our smarter-than-us phones have become appendages. Is it busyness? Everyone seems to be always running around, though I’m not sure where anyone actually is.

Over the past year, I’ve offered a six-hour creative retreat in my home once a month. I have one friend who regularly shows up. Each time, I get posts and messages from people who want to come but don’t have time. I want to build a creative community, but it’s becoming clear that I don’t know how to do this, or that what I’m offering isn’t what people want or need.

The election has terrified me. I vacillate between hope and despair, resolve and powerlessness. Ever since it happened, I’ve been percolating my response. I think that my response to hate and fear has to be love and courage, but I’m still sussing out exactly what form those need to take. I have no answers, only a soul-deep need for connection–real connection. Not “likes” or “favorites,” not clicks or hastily tossed-off comments that will be forgotten five minutes from now. It all feels so facile, so meaningless. Right now–and always–I crave meaning. I crave the mess of actual human interaction. I don’t want to sad-face-emoji your post about your illness. I want to bring you soup and clean your kitchen. I don’t want you to click “like” when I bare my soul. I want you to listen, and then to talk with me. I don’t want to be Facebook “friends” with people who live fifteen miles down the road–I want us to get together, to do life together.

Am I the only who wants these things? the only one who is willing to make time for them? What are we becoming? Should I just shut up and accept that life in this age is lived mostly online? Am I the only one without a tribe? The swirl in my head gets ugly and confusing pretty quickly these days.

I have some truly wonderful friends, but I have no community. Perhaps mine is a diaspora community. I don’t know what to do with this. All I know is that I would trade all the clicks for a book club, a salon of creatives, a house church, a regular girls’ night out, a monthly potluck, something. Something present and messy and real. This election was about disconnecting us from each other. I think the only way through the wilderness now is together.

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14 thoughts on “I don’t want to be your Facebook friend.

  1. Mine is a story in parts.

    Part one:

    There is a nice therapist, one is who is not covered by insurance but comes highly recommended. She is telling me that no, it’s not typical for people to “practice” driving to a new location the day before an event. It’s unusual to cry before making phone calls. The behaviors that landed me here will lead to my downfall, and there are are other, safer options to express my anxiety and sadness. She lists them out for me, and I smile and nod in a way that reassures us both.

    She says that when I make a mistake, whether it be in my speech, my writing, or my social life, it’s unlikely that others even notice. I nod some more and spend the appointment wondering if she’s noticed that I stuttered over the greeting that I spent hours practicing in my head. At the end, I smile and thank her.

    My insurance dictates that I can not return to her. I still wonder if she thinks about the words I tripped over.

  2. Part two:

    It’s 2013. A woman asks me if any members of the faculty ever hang out together, and I say I’m not sure. She sends out an email to a select group asking if we’d like to get drinks after work. I don’t really drink, but I say yes because I understand, even then, that I am watching a slow-moving train. If I don’t jump aboard, the train will pass me by.

    It’s a metaphor, and a dumb one, but I end up with Dylan and am satisfied.

    Later, when Dylan and I get married, there are no more emails. No more invites. We listen to the exciting weekend stories of others and wonder what we are doing wrong. Months later, when I ask about the radio silence, I’m told that people assumed that we wouldn’t want to hang out anymore, that we’d want to just enjoy each other instead.

    “Thanks,” I tell her.

    I spend the next year worrying about why, when my feelings were being hurt, my instinct was to act as though I were grateful.

    1. This is why you are a writer. You captured that moment perfectly. I’ve been there, so many times. Thanks for your thoughts, your honesty, your good brave words. ❤

  3. There’s more, but it quickly became clear that whatever I was saying was not truly an attempt at meaningful discourse, but rather a weird, cathartic stream-of-consciousness writing exercise. I don’t know that this was the appropriate place for it, and I tried to delete my other comments but couldn’t figure out how to do so.

    I’ll let them stand so as to confuse others. Thank you for the inspiration.

    1. I love your weird cathartic stream-of-consciousness writing. It is exactly what I needed to read. I can’t tell you how much I love your honesty. And when you’re ready to put your fiction out there in the world, I am ready to be your biggest fan.

      1. Maybe I will send you some more parts, then. They’re sort of messy and strange, but I like the idea that they might be read.

        My fiction is largely an embarrassment. Sigh sigh sigh. But I’d still like to read your novel now that November has ended. If you want another set of eyes reading it, send it my way. I will have some time over break to offer feedback!

  4. Oh, Brenna. I am so right there with you, and so wish I could be actually right there with you. The most heartbreaking thing about the Internet is that you meet these amazing people. These people that feel like part of you, but live (as you do, for example) more than 1,700 miles away. And here I am still struggling to find my people. In March it will be 6 years in Santa Fe and still I search. That is why the Apocalypse Garden needs to become a real place in the real world. Why it will. When it does I hope you will come visit. Maybe even come and teach something. Until then, I will recommend a book: This Is Where You Belong by Melody Warnick. It gives me hope for finally finding or creating the tribe I am looking for without having to give up this place I love.

    1. Exactly! Why are we all so far-flung? I do love the place I live in, but I often feel it’s time for a change. Change is tricky, though, when other lives and dreams are entwined with your own. I LOVE the idea of the Apocalpyse Garden being a physical place–I definitely want to hang out there! How can I help you make this dream a reality?

  5. God, Brenna I really do wish that we lived down the road from one another! I was just talking about you today at my staff meeting potluck (were your ears burning?) and about how you are one reason why I no longer hate my FB feed! Because if it weren’t for social media, we wouldn’t know one another at all. And so I have this love-hate relationship with the box that I’m typing on right now.

    I’m lucky enough to have a local tribe of people and we do get together on a fairly regular basis to be together, laugh until we snort or cry, help raise one another’s kids, etc. But I worry about our kids. Another topic of discussion today with my work tribe… Are kids able to make REAL connections? Do they know what true intimacy is all about? Can they look one another in the eye and have a heart to heart discussion? Ack – these are the things that keep me up at night. Desperate to make sure that my children are still capable in all of this – but with whom will they be able to relate to in this way? Where is THEIR tribe?

    PS – There is a note coming your way soon. Given what we’ve discussed here I hope you will appreciate the irony of this year’s Christmas card… XO PPS – I love the falling snow on your page, it makes me so happy.

    1. You are one of my social media bright spots, too. ❤ Isn't it weird how many of us hate so much about it and yet continue to use it as if it's some kind of requirement for being human in the 21st century? Why do I do this?? But there are the beautiful spots. I think I don't really hate social media, but rather the ways in which we've adapted to it, conformed to it, squeezed our self-expression into little square boxes.

      You are indeed fortunate to have a tribe. I suspect that your kids see this–they're soaking it all in. I learned about community not from anything my parents said, but from the ways in which they interacted with their tribe.

      Now I want to know–how did you find your tribe? Do you have any words of wisdom or encouragement for the tribeless?

      Looking forward to more Barb words!

      1. Brenna: Many of my tribe are the people that I lived with in intentional community after graduating from college as part of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.

        When all of my college-mates were suiting up and interviewing for jobs that they might not even want to have, but just needed to have as part of the “next-step-after-college” gig that seems so ingrained in our American culture, I was driving across the country to do some of the best and hardest work of my life working with homeless men, women and children and then living with other 20-something recent graduates doing similarly challenging work. It upended ALL the plans for getting on the hamster wheel…

        Many people went back home – wherever that might be – following the end of the volunteer year. But many of us stayed, like me to do a second year, or because we had found a real sense of community, with purpose and intention. I swear, I think everyone should have this kind of experience in their early 20s, just so they can take a breather before LIFE begins.

        But, as you know my dear introverted twin, as an extreme extrovert I try and forge community wherever I go. Even in my classes, I spend an extraordinary amount of time trying to create community among the families that I teach. I bring snacks the first night and have them sign up to bring them the rest of the classes, because eating together promotes community. I do a fun, non-intimidating introduction exercise so that they will know they are in an environment of cool and friendly people. Many of my “graduates” will get one another’s contact information and continue to meet up sometimes for years following the birth of their babies. Nothing makes me happier.

        Community is everything.

        I want to encourage you to continue to seek it out. There are people who live much, much closer to you than I do, who would be so happy to know you, spend time with you, build community with you – they don’t even know that this is the “thing” that’s missing in their otherwise full life.

        And it’s up to those of us who feel the ache to be in community with others to continue to try and create it in ways both big and small. I wish I was where you are to help you create this for yourself and others.

        XO

  6. Super magical Brenna. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your words, and how much I agree. Maybe one of these months I will come down and visit you, and we can have our own Make Time together. I still think so fondly on how wonderful and meaningful and deeply connecting it was for both you and Miss P to come visit. Even though it was only one time meeting you ‘in person’ the ink is indelible and the positive impacts will last far-far (years even!) than the actual visit. I appreciate all of your threads in this note so much – and you surely inspired my FB break! (Life feels so much better without FB, and I feel like I have more hours in my day). Sending you lots of love, and eternal gratitude for the honesty of your writing. xoxo!

  7. Super magical Vanessa! I appreciate and admire you immensely for forging ahead in writing, house-building, life, and connection. You inspire me. And I’m so grateful to have gotten to spend a weekend in Wisconsin with you and Miss P. Any time you can make it down here to visit, I would love, love, love to see you.

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