Dear Diary…

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I can’t seem to write anything anymore, and the words trapped in my head and soul are buzzing around, bumping into each other and exhausting me. So, with apologies, I’m starting this diary to trick myself into letting the words out. Shhh.. don’t tell my subconscious I’m trying to trick her. She’ll lock me down tighter than Fort Knox.

This has been a weird year. Well… a bad year, with lots of bad current events, lots of losses to the world, lots of unsettling insight into humanity.

If I was completely disconnected from world events, though, if my eyes were shut and my fingers were in my ears and I was shouting “LA LA LA LA! I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” I could say that not too much has changed for me or my daily life. Except it has. Even if I do that, it has.

This time last year, I was immersed in a wonderful, interactive, diverse world of women’s voices. I had fun, intense conversations with writers, and I had a dear (likely beleaguered) friend with whom I had almost daily contact.

Then 2016 happened. The interactive group pretty much stopped interacting. I did, too. It was as though, as a group, we decided we’d said everything there was to say. My dear friend is dealing with real life problems. Though I am always here and willing to help, there is so little I can do from far away, except say how much this person matters to me, and how I’m always, always, around and ready to listen if I’m needed.

At the end of last year, I was given a gift, something I’ve wanted most of my adult life: The opportunity to work from home full time. This allows me to be here for my son. It keeps me out of exhausting and frankly dangerous traffic, and it gives me several hours of my week back. I love it. But I suspect it’s not good for me.

These days, apart from my boys, I hardly interact with anyone IRL. I’ve lost confidence in my voice. I am so fortunate to have a small tribe of women friends online. I love these women and cherish their friendship. But even in this group we’ve fallen a little silent, with many of us struggling with life difficulties, or maybe even feeling a little muted by the travesties around us.

This leaves me with a lot of time in my head, and it is not always so friendly in here. When I write, I’m frequently blocked. I’ll write three or four sentences then decide I need a nap, or I need to check Facebook. Naps help me fret more, and Facebook contributes to the crumbling of my faith in humanity.

I’ve given myself September to not have any writing goals. As a result, I’ve written more this month than I have all summer. Unfortunately, that’s only about four pages. My 7th draft of my 2nd book languishes. There are crickets on my blog, and I’ve forgotten how to have joy in creation.

Sooo… here I am, trying to peck my way out of my shell. Or maybe just furnish it with nicer, softer things, and insulate it from the terrible out there. I’ve added extensions to both of my browsers (News Feed Eradicator for Chrome and Kill FB Feed for Mozilla) to keep myself from playing Facebook roulette.* Both of them allow me to access FB notifications and make status updates but block the news feed to avoid accidental bumming out. They help, but FB is a really hard addiction to break.

As a “how to beat writer’s block” article suggested, I created an imaginary friend to write to. She is smart, sassy and hilarious. She is as coffee-dependent as I am, and she has a sweet obsession with hedgehogs. I will try to write with just her in mind. I think this will help.

I am going to read and write stories about magic that make me happy or at least excited, with no other goal than enjoyment. For my own sense of well being, I’m going to stop staying up to date on the latest outrage. I will vote my conscience on November 8th, and then duck back into my shell afterward knowing that I have done everything the system has given me power to do. At this point, I no longer believe in my voice’s ability to convince anyone else of anything. We aren’t really listening to one another anyway. We are shouting at walls.

I’m going to ask for full medical work-ups and safety patrols around our remaining cherished icons. For the love of all that’s holy, Bill Murray, take care of yourself!!

I will go for walks and to the beach and try to be easier on myself. I’ll be grateful for this quiet time with my family. If I write anything at all, I will call it a success, and hey, some of my shopping lists border on poetry. Maybe after all this, I’ll discover I’m not a creative writer at all, and the last couple of years have been some sort of virus-fueled unbottling of clever word strings. Bottle’s empty, writing’s done. Maybe I’m a painter now.

Thanks for listening, Diary. Sorry if I bummed you out.
* Facebook roulette: Clicking refresh on FB to see if you can find something that makes you feel good before you find something that makes you feel furious or depressed. Hint: These days, the odds are never in your favor.

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I Don’t Think We Can Be Friends

“You’ve changed,” I said, wiping tears from my eyes.

I’ve seen it coming for a while, but I can no longer deny it. The time has come to break up.

In the beginning, things were so good. Fun, exciting, interesting. It was like the world was opening up to me. There were so many connections. Of course it didn’t stay like that. What could?

There was a long time where I was complacent and everything was a little dull. But now it’s moved beyond boring. Now things are dark. I feel bad a lot, and it took me a long time to realize why.

“I can’t do this anymore.” I said.

No answer. Just the cold apathy I’d expect from a computer program.

Which is, of course, all Facebook is.

It’s just a computer program. And yes, I absolutely feel silly for letting it affect me so much. But, I don’t really think I’m alone.

It’s a computer program that allows me to connect with friends and family and co-workers and causes. It is effective because so many people are addicted to it, like I am. And it is addictive because it’s effective.

Through it, I’ve reconnected with aunts, uncles, cousins and friends — people I would literally never speak with otherwise. I’ve gained support and comfort. I’ve met writers, and learned about publishing, blogging and marketing. I’ve found a safe space to discuss topics that are important to me. And I have met some incredible people I would not have met if not for Facebook. I have laughed, tons. And I have cried a lot, in a good way.

But lately, it’s kind of become a bad-news machine. An ugly news-factory. A bad-feeling proliferator.

Being a cold machine, it’s always had its problems. Like how every year on May 10th, people who have been prompted to do so, wish my friend Kevin a happy birthday. They ask why they haven’t heard from him in a while and express hopes that he is well. I hope he’s well, too, of course, wherever he is. But he’s been dead for over three years. I know this, because we have real life friends in common. But Kevin was reclusive and had many internet-only friends. I would post on his wall to tell folks the sad news. But Kevin’s quirky, and I know he’d get a kick out of knowing people were still trying to quasi-chat with him three years gone.

To be honest, though, this is the kind of stuff you’d expect from AI. It’s doing the best it can, and it makes mistakes. The other stuff is more intentional. These are the “you might also be interested in” algorithms. They offer me options based on something a friend shared that I liked. Did you like the heartwarming tale of a cute puppy overcoming adversity? You might ALSO like this story about a mutilated dog.

Fuck you, Facebook! No I wouldn’t. And you know what? If I did, that is NOT something your clever little algorithms should be encouraging. Holy hell.

It was one of these stories — the “You might also be interested in,” ones — that had me on the sofa crying and sick to my stomach. I’m not going to tell you specifics. I will only say that it involved a kid, and there is nobody on this planet who is better for knowing about it.

Maybe if the sharing of it was honorable in some way. Maybe if it could have helped her or others like her. But it was too late to help her. The perpetrator is awaiting trial. This is not a fucking cautionary tale. It is an abomination. And it was suggested to me as a piece of light reading. Here, Jen. Here’s something you might want to check out between a friend’s Time-hop and 30 second video of a recipe using canned dough and cheese sticks. Just a quick little real-life horror story. A little proof that pure evil exists. Come on. Click it. If you do, we get money.

See? That sensational story was trending and viral and important. Important, not to tell her story, but to help someone’s bottom line. Someone made money off of her tragedy.

I know. I know. That’s what news is. That is how things have always been. A sensational story used to sell newspapers and ads, and now it sells “Likes.” For whatever they’re worth.

Here’s the thing, though. I didn’t join Facebook for the news. I joined because I wanted to see pictures of my cousins’ kids. I wanted to say hi to my childhood friend. I wanted to hear about my coworkers’ vacations. I never wanted Facebook to be my news source. I have always had very strict rules about where I get my news, particularly during election years: The Onion, and the Daily Show. That’s it. That’s more than enough.

Since Facebook added “Trending” (a “feature” you can’t turn off), I know way too much about everything.

Did you hear about ___? Yup
Did you know ___ ? Yeah
Hey, what do you know about ____? Every DAMN thing there is to know. Including how other people feel about it.

I don’t need this. More than not needing it, it’s harming me.

I need the world to keep some secrets from me.

For something to “trend,” there has to be a new secret, a different kind of shock. Our psyches need to be cut deep enough to make an impression in the scar tissue that keeps forming over the most recent wounds.

I know, as well, that my emotional exhaustion or even scarring isn’t Facebook’s fault. It didn’t make me join, or visit so often, or click on things I shouldn’t click on. That’s me and my addictive nature. That’s me being part of the “trend.”

What? Like I think the people who make a story go viral are vastly different from me? Yeah right. I may not like the same things everyone likes, but I like the same things a lot of people like.

I can’t even be mad at Facebook. The reason I’ve come to rely on it so much as a source of entertainment and connection is because so much good has come out of it for me. Through it, I’ve had constant updates about a family member’s health struggles. I’ve seen my nephew grow up. I’ve met my writing tribe. And I’ve made a dear and cherished friend who brightens my life daily. I am grateful.

So what to do now? Can we still be friends, FB? Can I check in with you now and again, and ask about your mom? Or do we need a clean break? Can I even quit you if I want to? If I do, which of us gets to keep the CDs?