Performing a Life

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.

These plants become more than yellow flowers and white fluff, they become evidence of the summer coming to an end.

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.

Hmmm. Seeking.

6 thoughts on “Performing a Life”

  1. Yes yes and yes!! This! I love you and all my other friends, particularly our shared ones. But in an increasingly complicated life, I find it very difficult to be present as consistently as I perhaps feel I should be, and so I have backed off altogether. I miss you. I am hoping to talk my family into coming your way even for a day, just to see you. Please, keep writing. I do always read even if I don’t always comment. Love you, my friend. Xox o

    1. No matter what I do elsewhere online, I can’t imagine stopping writing in this way — I think I would choke to death on all the words I’d need to be getting out of my head.

      You are in the most insane stage of life, with a very busy career and a kid the age of A, and a partner, and family nearby; when I remember that stage of my own life (oh so long ago now, and I didn’t even have the family nearby stuff!), I mainly remember having never enough time even for the most basics of life, and I mainly remember feeling like it was always going to be like that, because “a few more years” sounded like forever.

      And oh OH OH, if y’all happened to come to (or even anywhere near) NYC, I would drive to you in a heartbeat. Even if you came to Boston, or Maine, or anywhere in New England. I would hop in the car, drive to you, hug your neck so long and hard, drink some bad American coffee with you, or a beer or glass of wine or whatever, and even if that’s all the time I got with you because everyone else needed you, it would be well worth the drive. I love you too, my beautiful friend. xoxoxox

  2. Every once in awhile I think about it….and while I’ve been on Facebook more this summer, once school starts, it’ll be a lot less. I do enjoy Instagram quite a lot, but most of those accounts have to do with yarn and fibery pursuits. I have more family and IRL friends on Facebook….so it’s a way to keep in touch….but then again, I don’t measure my life against theirs….maybe I get a “wow, wish I was there” feeling every once in awhile….but that’s about it…..the politics are there, some days I read things, some days I don’t……those are the only two social media accounts I use, although I do have others…I never use them…and I’ve never had a Twitter account…but I definitely understand the need to step away…I know several people who are not on Facebook….

    1. I think plenty of people can use social media — FB especially — like reasonable people. On and then off, managing their consumption so it doesn’t overtake them. I think you are one of those! I wish I could be, and even after all these years I haven’t learned how to do that. I don’t get Twitter, either; I have an account but it always feels like trying to take a sip of water out of a fire hydrant, just SO MANY to read, a neverending fast scrolling. It’s way too overwhelming for me. I really like Instagram, a lot.

      And isn’t it weird when you encounter someone who’s not on FB? I always look at them like they are from another time and place, and wonder how they get along. And then I slap my own face for my ridiculousness. 🙂

  3. Beautiful words we should all consider….BUT I would be lost without your beautiful words should you decided to “pull the band aid”. 🙁 Of course, I will still have a connection through this your Queen blog so that makes me happy! I simply cannot miss out on your Heaventree fall pics! 🙂

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