for the curious

On March 5th, I saw a bald eagle and made a rash decision to give up Facebook for Lent. The two events weren’t related, but it did kind of suck that they were sequential, because–let’s be honest–posting about seeing a majestic bald eagle in the dawn’s early light is bound to bring in at least five likes.

Anyway, the point is that I decided to give up Facebook…partly because life events like that always have me running to social media. Whether it’s a bowling score, a delicious meal, a funny quote, or just an awkward situation, I am 150% likely to post about it on Facebook. Every thought has the cadence of an award-winning status. And I’m good at it, too. In the past few weeks, people I barely know from high school and college have been sending me private messages informing me that I’m hilarious. Everyone I told about my Lenten fast has been bummed that I’ll be absent from their newsfeeds. Apparently, I have fans.

But what’s the point? More and more I’ve felt disconnected from the events and people in my life and confused about where I stand. A like is such a quick, glib way of interacting. A like could mean “I agree,” or “I support you” or “This is hilarious!” or “We’re still friends” or “I’m still interested in a booty call” or “I’m thinking of you” and more! Even with so many different possibilities, we rarely take the time to qualify our likes. Having a newsfeed makes it even easier to feel like you’re interacting without actually engaging. You don’t have to intentionally go to a friend’s page. Facebook plays the middle man and brings friends to you at random. And then there are stickers. I’ve now had multiple conversations that have degenerated into just sending stickers to express emotions. Rather than saying I’m feeling sad or nervous or excited, I’ll just show it through a cute kitty eating spaghetti. It’s  less serious, less urgent, less real, and therefore less risky.

Anyway, I could type about this phenomenon for hours. The point is, Facebook has given me an easy way to completely disinvest in my personal relationships and feelings, yet still pretend that I’m actively involved. I needed a break from peoples’ grad school announcements, engagements, ultrasounds, and travel albums. I needed a break from my own attempts to make up for the fact that I have none of those things. So I’m taking a 47-day vacation, but that’s all it is. For all I just bemoaned the existence of Facebook, I don’t want to give it up forever. It makes crowdsourcing easy and fast. It provides me with an simple way to contact people I care about (which is great, as I am constantly breaking my phone and losing peoples’ numbers). It’s a nice platform for recording the things that happen to me and for sharing important events and stories. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, George Washington would have loved social media. The point is: I don’t want to get rid of Facebook; I want to take the time to reform the way I use it.

a facebookless lent // a good time to practice drawing with my fingers?

For the curious, I have started a fast journal to record what’s going on in my life. Below are some of the highlights from the past week:

March 5th:

I had a nightmare about Charles Finney. I was giving a tour through Tappan Square at night, and near one of the boulders facing W. College Street, I paused to write “Charles Finney 1852” on a piece of paper with a green marker. (That is the year Finney became president of Oberlin College. Good to know my dreams are historically accurate?) A woman came up to me. She was wearing a hoodie and her hair had been mussed up by the wind. It fell into her face and she didn’t push it away.

“Are you the one with the green marker?” she asked?

“Yes,” I replied, tentatively.

“He’s coming,” she said. “Charles Finney is coming.”

I dropped everything and ran to my car. But I’d dropped my keys and my door was locked. There was a whooshing sound. I dropped to the ground and rolled underneath my car. The sound continued and the world went black.

When I woke up, my towel was hanging off the shelf above my bed like a white specter. It stopped my heart.

You know you’re not fasting for Ash Wednesday when a box of Girl Scout cookies arrives on your doorstep, sent straight from Satan—but actually your mom sent them because she loves you, and you think even Jesus would have paused a fast for Tagalongs.

March 6th:

Last night, I had a dream of yearning. I felt it deep within my bones—I was happy. I was the other woman in a relationship without meaning. He said he loved me. I believed him, and we continued on: his wife having babies, painting little wagons red, serving vegetable smoothies “for your health,” worrying over rent and an under-decorated apartment. I hid in closets, watching through cracks in the door, sneaking out and back in at opportune moments. She never left. She was pregnant with their third son. He said he loved me, and I believed him.

Suddenly, we were on a train, all three of us, husband, wife, woman. I was sitting in an empty row in front of them. We were riding from Seattle to Ohio. He was gentle. “Look outside,” he said to me—young, innocent me who had never been anywhere at all. I looked.

Before me were magnificent orange rocks, piled on top of each other, almost melted into each other—orange, rust, dark crimson, red in stripes so uneven yet so perfect it could have only been the work of God. I’d never seen anything like it. He was asleep. I turned around and made him look, but the sun had gone dark and the dried up dirt on the window obscured all of the beauty so recently left behind.

“Go to the scenic viewing car,” he suggested, giving his sleeping wife’s hand a squeeze. My stomach twisted in knots. He said he loved me.

He knew everything about trains. As I walked through every car, I looked out the window and saw the scenery lit in the stark light of dusk. There were golden waves of grain, swaying in the wind of our high-speed transportation. There were animals—buffalo munching on grass, rhinoceros charging at nothing, elephants plodding and waving their trunks as we sped past. More rock formations, all of them orange and magnificent. Lakes. Vast, empty expanses of land.

I was happy.

“It takes 30 hours to get to the Grand Canyon,” I thought when I woke up. “I could do it.”

But with each step I took to work, my feet felt heavier, my body felt stuck, my spirit was grounded. I live here. I eat, I sleep, I blow my nose, I blink my eyes, I laugh and I cry here. It takes 30 hours to get to the Grand Canyon. There is nowhere else. Just here…and my dreams.

A little girl hugged me after I gave a presentation at her school. She just came up to me and hugged me, a complete stranger in a historic dress, without worrying about what other people would think, without even considering the fact that I might reject her, that she was putting her good little heart in my cruel little hands. “Thank you for coming to our school,” she said as she hugged me. I can think of no better feeling in the world than the validation of a child; for it comes without expectation. In a world full of fear, this little girl, this clueless little girl with her arms wrapped around my body, became a little anchor. “Thank you for coming to our school,” she said. “You’re good at your job,” I heard. “You can make a difference. You aren’t a failure.”

March 7th:

That awkward moment when you meet the author of two books you’re using for your research and she says she loves your work on your museum’s Facebook page: pardon me while I die absolutely.

March 8th:

Rocket cats.

Grad school no no

“There’s meaning for every creature—a meaning for every Pokémon and for us too.”

That’s all for now. It hasn’t been easy. The last time I gave up Facebook for Lent, I’d been planning for a few weeks. I was in Ireland, so the world was in my hands. I’m still not 100% sure I can find a better way to spend my time this season. I’m still not 100% sure I’ll have friends by the time Easter rolls around, but, on the off chance I do, here’s to taking a risk.


4 thoughts on “for the curious

    • Aw, thank you! I’m partly hoping this Facebook fast inspires me to write more in depth and creatively than the limits of social media allow. I used to write a short story or essay every few weeks. I’d like to refine those skills again…we’ll see!

  1. This is great, Jen. I love your consciousness about your/our use of Facebook and I love reading your journal entries.

    • Thanks! It is kind of ironic, though, that I would post this on Facebook, isn’t it? In any case, since digital outreach is part of my job this year, I’ve learned a lot this year about how weird and miraculous social media is. Hopefully soon I’ll have a more concrete thesis regarding how I feel.

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