When social media first came around, I did not jump to join the masses. I preferred to be invisible. My life, as the cliche goes, had taken some bad turns and there was nothing about it that I wanted memorialized in photographs, much less posted for the world to see. I didn’t believe I had anything worth showing and so, I stayed as far off the grid as I possibly could.
When I was 23 I left my hometown, and in 12 years went back once, for half a day. I kept in touch with one person, who would occasionally tell me that someone had messaged her on Facebook to find me. Another friend reached out to my sister to ask her where I was. I would get the messages and let them go unanswered.
Truman Capote wrote of grief in In Cold Blood—he said that it draws a circle around you which separates you from anything outside of it. That’s what fear did to me in my 20s, and I disappeared into that circle. I didn’t want to be seen and so, I made sure I wasn’t.
And then, about 6 years ago, I started to break open that circle. Slowly, I began to make some changes. I let myself miss my past, and I got in touch with a few people. I went back to school and got the degree that I’d stopped pursuing a decade earlier. I took care of some health issues that I’d been avoiding. I didn’t know exactly what I was working toward—I just knew that I didn’t want to stay the same.
But even as my world began to get bigger—more photogenic you might say—I had no desire to be on social media. Seeking out a few people from the past was one thing, but Facebook was quite another. I still felt like, because of all the detours that I had taken in my 20s, I was “behind” in my life. I was insecure about my stats and wanted them to be, y’know, higher and better and more.
Then, last October, I took some advice. Although not the only route to publication, it was explained to me that a blog would help me eventually get published, and that a blog without social media would be totally fine—unless I actually wanted anyone to read it. And since I sort of did want a reader or two, on the grid I went.
It’s been a weird 10 months.
Cut to my birthday a few weeks ago—the first one where all my “friends” got a little notification saying, “Today is Dani’s birthday. Celebrate with her by writing on her timeline!” Or whatever. And celebrate, they did.
And at first, as the birthday wishes started pouring in, there was something that bothered me about it. (Besides, of course, the part of me that loved all the attention.) It wasn’t as intimate; something was lessened about the birthday wishes that mattered by the ones that didn’t.
But there were a few messages that meant a great deal to me—one in particular that came towards the end of the day. It was this picture from a century ago (high school), posted to my timeline by a friend whom I hadn’t spoken to in over a decade.
We had a short private conversation, and the whole thing has lingered very close to the surface since then. I’ve been thinking a lot about my past, mainly about how hard I’ve worked to outrun it. And how running never works. How, when you try to ignore the things that have made you who you are, they end up becoming so much heavier to drag around.
Hearing from people in my past life (one of whom asked me if I still had his K-Ci & JoJo CD, which obviously I do) made me smile, and think about being young and stupid, and having fun when it was all right there opening up in front of us.
And then it made me profoundly, achingly sad. Because time changes everything. Because things have happened that we have had to survive, and those things have left marks that won’t ever go away. Because I used to be someone that I’m not anymore. Because I miss her, and I miss a lot of people.
I was sad because the picture made me think of all the years that were to come after it was taken, all those years of living within my small, small circle. Because in the process of escaping myself, I never really stopped to consider what that flight might mean to anyone else. Because every time someone reaches out and tells me that they’d wondered about me for years, I’m genuinely surprised, and usually even find myself thinking, “There’s no way that’s really true.” Because thinking about the past can be sad, and I’m not quite used to it yet.
I still have very conflicted feelings about social media. (Shameless self-promotion: I wrote a decent blog post about a few lessons Facebook taught me. Go check it out.) I don’t post a ton of personal pictures—just not my style, and it probably never will be. Despite being an aspiring memoirist, I’m also a fairly private person. (I am an onion.)
But what I do or don’t post is no longer about wanting to wait until my life is picture-perfect. Spoiler alert: it’s not. Not only does that kind of life not exist, it’s not what I want anymore. How boring. My life is messy and confusing and interesting and beautiful and ugly. It is nothing like what I thought it would be at 35. It’s better and it’s worse.
And since my birthday, I’ve softened a bit about social media. Maybe it’s not actually the devil.