You should know that it took me a while to find the right fake photo for this post. An image that conveys a mood of a life so messily, yet so beautifully lived–a kind of Kinfolk existence where everyone is preened to dishabille perfection. The kind of life you could live if only you tried harder, if only you purchased that precious mug. The equivalent of a drive-by life, but instead of surveying wreckage we’re marveling over feet in knit socks, gloved hands, the spines of old books, and steam rising up from a mug. It occurs to me that this life is an even more terrifying wreckage because the damages it inflicts are elusive, monstrous. We don’t see the hurt coming.
In 1999, I’d grown uneasy with my career at an investment bank. This was a time when you mailed paper resumes and you never conceived of leaving your industry. I’d meet with recruiters who told me that the only jobs worth applying for were those at merchant and investment bank. Perhaps a foreign bank, they suggested. Perhaps you can work for the Japanese although the amount of women in senior positions is anemic. You can only go so far. At the time, I lived with my father above a barn in Long Island where it would take several hours to download a single file. I had an AOL account and I used the internet for messaging people and purchasing collectibles off eBay. One morning on the train to work I made the connection between an unmet need and a fervent desire–people around the country wanted access to designer goods without the hefty price tag. I lived in New York where samples sales and outlet shopping were the norm for those who could afford it, and I started a business where I purchased goods and re-sold them online. I filed for an LLC, did my own taxes, photographed the goods, wrote pithy descriptions and posted the goods online. My only risks at the time were inventory management (holding products that I couldn’t move) and overseas credit card fraud (of which I once fell prey), but the upside was immeasurable. I carved out experience in an industry where I had none. After a year of managing a successful online business, I got a job at a burgeoning dot.com in 2000. Over the next 16 years, I would take jobs and live much of my adult life being a part of the online space. I was able to move across industries simply because I was one of the rare few who had real business experience but knew how to navigate the Internet.
I built projects online, made friends, published writing–all in this rarefied existence, a marketplace where people told stories, shared ideas and wanted to be heard.
I’ve written a lot about the unseemly aspects of playing online. I’ve read countless click-bait articles about how the web is making us brain dead sociopaths while allowing for meaningful connections and a platform for disenfranchised communities. I’ve read the spectrum. I’ve worked on the brand side and have understood the business side of bridging the gap between consumers and companies. I’ve been on the consumer side where I crave stories and connection. I’ve been in the middle where I’ve seen how social media has shaped and grown careers, how one post could rocket someone to infamy, how a tweet can cause a maelstrom of online chatter on the level of a tsunami. Admittedly I’m indebted to social media because it shaped much of my professional career, it’s educated and informed me on the lives and plights of people of which I wouldn’t ordinally be exposed, and it’s brought me some of my closest friends. Having a postage stamp of virtual real estate has given me the privilege of sharing my thoughts with strangers. But…but…
Maybe I’m feeling particularly sensitive lately but I’m feeling dwarfed by the sheer volume of you. I feel subsumed by the masks we all wear on one channel and how they’re cautiously (or not) removed or switched on another. I de-activated my Facebook account over the weekend because I grew exhausted scrolling through everyone’s projections of their best lives lived, replete with photo-tagging and witticisms. I grew tired of the self-editing, the curating. Then I went to Twitter, a place where I receive much of my world + business news, and I felt subsumed. Syrian refugees, the banal evangelism of “happy” via listicle and newsletter, the rape allegations against James Deen, the terrorist attack on Planned Parenthood, the relentless sales (please stop telling me what you think I need and do not need), and personal brand self-promotion, the deserved rage toward the U.S.–a country far from benign, gun control, the mind-boggling stupidity of Donald Trump, and on it goes. I felt the phoniness of Facebook jutting up against the realness of Twitter and I posted a picture of my cat on Instagram because everyone I know has pretty much tired of me talking about depression. There was a moment when I just didn’t want to see because it (everything) was just too fucking much.
Or maybe I’m just on edge. Who can say? I guess I feel like I’m vacillating between two precarious states–feeling everything (the collective bandaids ripping off all at once) and nothing at all (the cool desensitization that accompanies being numb; the anesthetic). The equivalent of a song played on volume 10 and a room gone silent.
I once had a friend who lived what appeared to be an enviable life. Her blog was serene and beautiful as was she, she traveled the world and took pictures of herself in fanciful hotels. This was a time when there weren’t many blogs online and I remembered feeling like I wanted to dive into her world and feel everything it. Our paths crossed and we became friends and then we stopped being friends because the life she architected online was partly true, but only a single aspect of her character–and there I go believing that this slice was the sum of her parts. I don’t remember why we stopped being friends, I just thought you are not who you say you are. Part of that’s my fault because I was feeding off of this fantasy, that if I had proximity to it the fantasy would rub my sadness away. That never happened and I had to find other ways to build a life that made sense for me, but I get the escapism. I know all these projections on social media aren’t the entire story, but I can’t help but feel sickened by the partials or the nothingness.
Perhaps this is why I love The Leftovers so much–it’s a show that terrifically navigates our desperate need to be awake but also the beauty in our sometimes quiet desire to be asleep. The storyline pushes the extreme (of faith, love and rage), inviting us to feel so that we could understand contrast in a way that we couldn’t before. There are days when it feels right to walk around in white, smoking cigarettes, writing things down in an effort to make people remember versus the constant chatter of those living their half-lives.
I read a few articles that spoke of the paralysis that comes with having unlimited choice. I’m feeling this, acutely. Sometimes it’s nice to have guardrails, confinement, and constraints. Sometimes it’s comforting for the shouts to dull down to a murmur because right now social media feels like me opening a door to an onslaught of primal screaming. I don’t have a solution to any of this, only that I’m trying really hard to carve out the small space in the world where I can know, feel, create without the burden of noise.
Until then I’m going to keep staring at this photo, wondering if I should get off Twitter too. Wondering if my feeling this noise-induced paralysis is related to what’s going on in my life and the fear that surrounds it.