As an extroverted empath, with a tendency to isolate when stressed, I find myself in the uncomfortable position of poking my head up above the ashes of the burnt hole I left in social media many months ago (what is it now, 9?). Between personal and political upheavals between November of last year and today, I found myself shrinking more and more into the closed space of myself. The online world was (and continues to be) a festering garden of anxiety and social discord.
I watched as people I love “un-friend” or attack one another on Facebook and other platforms because of misunderstandings and disagreements- even when they were essentially on the same page, just using different vernacular. I had to answer to many private messages reading too much into my own posts, which I intentionally kept light and non-personal.
The internet was becoming a weird slam-book that I wanted no part of. **Unlike the imaginary slam-books of my middle school Sweet Valley High imaginings, that I was SO eager to see, but never did. Probably because it’s a shitty idea. To everyone except drama-hungry 12-year-olds. Which I fully was. But am not now… but I digress.**
Last January I announced my hiatus from Facebook. I took the app off my phone, and made a concerted effort to not look in on the traffic through my computer. I did maintain my Instagram page, as it just feels safer somehow- less whinging about politics and more pictures of kittens and such. The lack of commentary was refreshing.
I also collapsed this blog, which has bothered me since. Several times a week I consider what I would share in a post about navigating the strange landscape of immigrant experience in Australia. But, so far, I have kept it to myself- and the occasional napkin or stray piece of paper I find floating about. I needed time to sort myself and figure out how (or if) I wanted to proceed in the digital world.
Over the past few months, though, this self-protection/preservation chrysalis I had formed to keep the online strife at bay had also had repercussions on my real-life interactions with people. I am an incorrigible talker-to-strangers, but realised that I have been engaged less and less with my friends.
Initially, a few folks would notify me if there was a Facebook event I needed to tap into- all of which I, inevitably, missed. Every so often I would peep in and catch a birthday or a memory or a funny post and make a little comment, then scurry back into my hole like a trapdoor spider. What happened was that I forgot about Facebook, and it forgot about me. Which was kind of nice for a bit.
One day I happened to be on and saw that a femme-crush of mine had posted about forming a group to talk about parent co-misery, and I was ALL IN. I followed this page, with parents and carers of young people coming together to laugh, cry, and give advice- because, let’s face it- kids are fully realised human beings and, thus, sometimes total assholes sometimes. We need places to give hugs and applause, be it physical or virtual. And, because of this group, I put the Facebook app back on my phone.
It did not take long for me to start opening it up to “check-in” (read: creep) on what my friends and groups were up to. For some reason, the app thinks I want to see when students from my university put couches up for sale, and that’s annoying, but I largely ignore this… except that burgundy velvet sofa I am still sad got snatched from the curb before I had a chance to respond…
All of this information distracts from the point I am trying to make. Simultaneous with my online retreat was a visceral one, that pulled me in and away from people I could have interacted with in a real context but, for a variety of reasons, avoided.
And then I became lonely.
But, and I know this is odd to non-extroverts, I began talking to strangers more than ever.
I know Paul, a cashier at the grocery store, who grew up in an Aboriginal community out west and was told that he was light-skinned because his “Momma got the black whipped offa her for hanging out with white-fella.”
I know Siobhan, an elderly woman who walks a small and bitey-sort-of dog around the neighbourhood. She owns the house where they filmed “He Died With A Falafel in His Hand,” in 2001 (great movie, by the way). The back half was cut off during filming, and she never bothered to have it repaired. She’s a hoarder, and the house is packed to inaccessibility- but the garden is lovely, and host to plants and flowers that dance across the senses like Garbo and Astaire in chlorophyll shoes. Siobhan always dressed creatively and pokes though the piles of times left out for collection We often tip each other off to good hauls.
I know Tom and Gemima, who traipse daily through the cement waterways under and beneath parklands to document and preserve graffiti art. If they see that a piece has been covered, they get to work peeling off the new layer of paint. Tom is the talker, Gem the peeler. She is relentless- casting palmfuls of acrylic chips into the woven bag at her hip.
But knowing, and- perhaps- loving these people (and a whole lot more- maybe a post for another time) has not helped to push me out of the blue wasteland of loneliness I have cocooned myself in. We are friendly, but not friends.
Many of my Australian friends have been cast off to other parts of the globe – it’s a hazard of International Studies. Everyone gets jobs in Solomon Islands or South Africa, Geneva, Burundi, New York (ya’ll?!!) and you get left alone waiting for a new crop of people that will eventually leave, or be forced out due the prohibitive immigration system here.
But there are some here still.
And I have my friends back in the US, who are celebrating all manner of personal and social milestones that I need to be back in touch with. New family members- partners, children, animals (I fucking REFUSE to call them “fur babies,” so get used to that)- jobs, houses, cities…
And I recognise that, if I want to be around them, I need to get out of my hole and interact.
Because we live in a world where social media is a necessary tool to grease the social wheels.
And I realise the need to connect with people because my social synapses are starting to prune themselves.
So, fuck it. I’m back.
(‘Scuse my French)