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.