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.

three things: 12/30/16

1)  No talking around it, or talking in the general direction, it’s time to be blunt: I am very depressed. I know from depression, as people in the northeast would say — like my taxonomy of headaches, I have one for depression and it’s enlarged by generations behind me and now beyond me. My people are the kings of depression. I have so many versions, including one version that visits me every eight years like clockwork and ends in a suicide effort/attempt (I’ve had three of those, the last pinning the cycle in 8 years for me). I have another version that makes me sick and lays me so low I struggle to breathe. I have another version that makes me so enraged I hate the fucking sun for shining. I have a version that completely blanks out my mind, bleaches away the words and thoughts. I have the light ones, the little dips and low periods that descend and then lift, like everyone else. When I am very depressed, except for the blank version I always have an ‘explanation’ for it, my list of ‘reasons.’ They are always more or less true, more or less connected to the reality of things, even if they are slanted and deepened. Except for the dips, I have to take them seriously, for my history is as serious as death. The depression I feel now feels very true and connected perfectly to the reality of things, even as I can also see that it’s not the whole reality. The incoming president and his gang of thieves, along with my contempt for all those who voted for him, have nearly paralyzed me with fear and dread. The world I want — one where we respect each other, one where we are thoughtful and value intelligence, one where we lift an umbrella over those in need, one where we engage thoughtfully with the world — has been kicked to the curb with jackboots. That’s not hyperbole, it’s not a simple “nyah nyah I wanted my girl to win,” it’s the truth of this change that’s coming and it terrifies me. All the things I value, my values, are being shit on. They’re not just being erased, or set to the side . . . they are being shit on. And I am depressed. I really am. So many of us are. Had the Republican voters elected Jeb Bush or any other “normal” Republican, I’d have dreaded the policies of hate and cronyism, the pulling-away of concern for any but the super-rich, but it wouldn’t be the same. It’s absolute dread I feel, and I am so depressed. Color seems faded. Hope seems too quiet and tiny, a mustard seed hidden in a dusty corner behind the drapes.

I see my grandchildren there. (And then I fear the world they’re getting.) I my see my beloved children (and ditto, plus my dread for them as parents). I see my friends, the overwhelming majority of whom are with me, fighting with me, we’re helping each other (and thank God for all of you, all of you). I see travel in my future, I see happy time with friends, I see babysitting of Oliver and Lucy, I see celebrating birthdays together, I see all that. And all that matters, it does. It’s not disappeared by the depression, it’s there, it just feels muted by the heaviness of the world that’s coming. And so this is another kind of depression to add to my taxonomy: the extremely realistic kind that’s due entirely to the world. I do not feel suicidal or in any kind of danger beyond the kind my government is about to cause, it’s not that kind of depression. Goddamn. Help me Jesus. Help us all.

“Gooseneck barnacles,” photograph by @fifi_dob

2) It is such a weird, weird world. You know how much I depend on every single person I know? Instagram keeps me going: I depend on seeing Fiona’s underwater photography every single day, depend on it. Mary’s shots of the beaches around Sydney. Judi’s gorgeous sunrises and sunsets when she is in Lorne, and the various amazing birds she sees. Friends who travel? I live for your pictures — Mary’s in South Africa right now, Leanne is showing her sons a glorious white Christmas in Europe, Alison is usually off to somewhere I want to see. Megan always has some kind of lush delight for the eye and spirit, whether it’s her extraordinary shots of flowers or the art she makes. Who knew how important an app could be, how invaluable to my daily life could be people I have not yet met. I depend on you, every day. You have a very real spot in the hours of my day, in my anticipation, in my making-it-through. (And it must be said that it’s not just your photos, it’s the real, and very personal kindnesses you show me regularly, the way you are so open with me, the way you share in my life, too.)

I depend on a close watch on politics by my friends Cindy, and Don Ray, and Tina, and Matt, and Margie, and Debra, and Anne, and all of you who are new militants like me. And of course I depend on your communications with me, as we share and worry over the onslaught we’re facing. You help me feel less alone, you help me remember that there are millions of us in this battle.

I depend on people in my real life that I can see in person, regularly (even if not regularly enough), I can’t even name you all because I’m afraid I’ll leave one of you off. I depend on those coffee breaks, those glasses of wine or beer, those dinners or breakfasts, those walks, those hand-clutching conversations. And I depend on the online private communications just as much, whether you are a friend I can see in person, or a friend in another country — the emails, the FB PMs, the texts, the way I can be feeling low and hear a ping and a friend’s note reminds me that I am not sitting alone in the dark. I depend on you more than you could ever imagine. Ever. You give me so much more than I ever give you. (And while I was writing this, *ping* came a note of big love from Dixie, while I was writing a response to one from Alethea. See?)

I depend on my oldest friends, my years-long friends, and friends I’ve just made (a wonder, that, making new friends at 58, especially when they are like long-lost sisters) whether I see you regularly, or not. I really depend on you, and I mean that in a blood-and-bones-and-breath way. I depend on you, I depend on knowing you’re there.

It’s too easy, I think, for us to feel some degree of isolation, and surely we all have those moments—even if they’re brief—of feeling unimportant, or unseen. Unappreciated. Undervalued. So let me tell you: if you were gone, a hole would be blown in my world. You probably wouldn’t think that, but you’d be wrong. My beautiful, beautiful friend Laura in Perth shared this image of a net with me, and let me remind us all that we are connected like a net, we’re each a knot, a nodule, a small thing with arms out to others nearby, and together we are mighty.

3) Even if it’s not your easy style, call a friend sweetheart, or darling. Anne does this and I literally explode in delight, a small fireworks of feeling loved, of feeling special every single time she says it. Give that to someone today.