I read a great article about Aziz Ansari and his recent abandoning of all things social media. The main reason I read the article is that I am thinking about something similar, about stepping off of that platform, that host of platforms, because I’ve begun to think about how we perform our lives instead of living our lives.
Well, instead of saying we, let me say I. And instead of just throwing out the phrase “performing my life” let me speak with a little more complexity about it, because I do think with complexity about this, all the time. I’m always bewildered by people who apparently think that the lives they see on social media represent real life — that other people always have it together, always have Pinterest-ready food, and magazine-worthy interiors, and happy-memory-prepped experiences. Really? And yet people do seem to think that, despite how mysterious that is to me. And I try hard to be as honest in my representation as I can be, without (a) being gross, (b) betraying the lives and privacy of others, and (c) committing unnecessary self-flagellation. Still, even with those cautions in mind all the time, I recognize the way later presentation has infiltrated my in-the-moment experience of things. When we were hiking around Belleayre Mountain last weekend, scouting a place to watch the Perseid shower in a few days, as I looked at the flowers I wasn’t really seeing the flowers. I was seeing whether they would make a good picture. To share.
And the complexity is this: by taking photographs, I have become a keener observer. I see more things than I did before I started taking pictures. By writing so often, I observe more closely. I take in material through a storytelling lens — that hike isn’t just walking over rocks and crossing creeks, it’s an adventure, the shape of which will be determined by how it ends, which will become a part of the story’s beginning lines in some way. By observing as a storyteller, the experience gets a kind of form it might not otherwise have. I love the way taking pictures and writing has made me a better observer, a better watcher, a better listener.
But it’s that add-on that makes a difference — not just “would that make a good picture” but “would that make a good picture to share.” And that shift takes me to performing a life in some different way. I do love to share things I see, and especially since I am alone so much at Heaventree, having a place to say, “Look! Look at this, isn’t it beautiful?” is a nice counter to my solitude, while still allowing me the solitude. And frankly, it’s a different experience now that I am in an entirely new place, in an entirely rural, lonely place, and without real people [yet] to spend time with. Withdrawing from social media in my Austin life would’ve been very different than doing it now, where it might be filling an important need in my transition away from such a social life.
Needing to withdraw from the political discourse has also shifted my experience of social platforms, moving me a little more towards Instagram than Facebook. I notice a shift in my state when I have to read more than a couple posts about the Republican nightmare we are trapped in, but by the time I feel that and close FB or IG, I already feel terrible. It’s too late by the time I feel that first punch. So I’ve pulled away from the same kind of participation in Facebook that I used to have, already. This month I’m participating in Susannah Conway’s August Break 2017 Instagram project, which is dedicated to paying close visual attention to the world via a daily prompt — yesterday it was “my eyes” — and that’s fun but not deeply meaningful to me.
And so I am thinking hard about how to do this so I still get the parts I need, which are (a) local news and events, and (b) the maintenance of connection with friends all over the world. I don’t know how I’ll do that; perhaps with a FB list of local news pages and the people I really count as friends, and a quick once-a-day jump on and jump off? Or maybe I simply need to pull the bandage off with a quick, hard rip. Another possibility is to take a hiatus, maybe start with one week and then take a month. Whatever I do, I will continue to write here, I know that. That presents a lopsided dilemma: I share myself with you, but don’t have the same opportunity to learn how you are doing, and that’s very important to me too. I always invite a conversation on my posts, and welcome whatever you have to say, to share, but it’s not your platform and you don’t know the other readers, the way I do.