My underwhelming return to Facebook ….

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I made it through Lent without Facebook. 40 days without social media. I accidentally clicked on the Facebook link a time or two, but then I walked my trespassing ass right back out of there. It’s been nearly two weeks since I came back to the fold – just after Easter began, in fact. “Began” you say? Yes, began. According to Catholicism, this past Sunday was the 7th Sunday of Easter. Easter is not just a weekend – apparently, it’s 50 days long!

Theology aside, I thought it would be difficult to be away from Facebook. I was wrong. It was peaceful. I didn’t have to subject myself to the boredom of being party to the minutiae of people’s lives. No fascinating updates like “traffic was so bad today” or “painting our kitchen” or “my little kid said insert totally-predictable-little-kid-statement here“. No pictures of what people ate for lunch. No political hoopla or look-you-guys-my-life-is-so-awesome staged pictures. Nobody felt the burning need to reassure me that they are #soblessed. No love-me-love-me-love-me selfies posted for the sole purpose of receiving compliments. I didn’t have to read the same ungrateful statuses from the same collection of whiners every day. The acronym FML fell off my radar. When crazy things happened, I didn’t have to listen to the analysis and processing of 50 different people. I could just quietly think the event through, maybe talk about it with a pal. And there was no pressure to craft and post exactly the right response.

Sure, it was strange not to wish Ryan a happy birthday on Facebook, or create a tribute to my father on the fifteenth anniversary of his death. I missed some people with whom I only communicate via Facebook. I was taking pictures, but I wasn’t able to share them with my dozens of Facebook friends. I just had to enjoy them myself, then print them for our family albums. Like people used to do with pictures. It was frustrating not to be able to share links to my blog posts. I kept writing through Lent – in fact, I published five posts. They didn’t get nearly as much attention as they usually do. Ten readers at most. However, this caused me to consider just why I feel like I need lots of people to read my blog.  Maybe I don’t. After a couple of weeks, the pleasure and satisfaction of simply composing a blog post was the same as if I were about to hook 100 readers.

I thought I would be excited to return to Facebook. Wrong again. After a few weeks away from it, social media looks more ridiculous than ever. I feel increasingly alienated from Facebook. I don’t bother to post nearly as much as I once did. I didn’t even share with the Facebook world that Ryan and I were going to New Orleans until I assembled an album a week after our return. I didn’t post a drippy Mother’s Day salute, either. Another precious little soul is going to be calling me Auntie Beth some day. I didn’t share that news. Occasionally, I think of things that could be fun to share – and then I don’t bother. It just isn’t as important as I once thought it was to give a digital audience a breathless update of my everything all the time. Moment of shameless honesty here: I love attention. Good, bad, laughing, shocked – I don’t care. One of my biggest fears is oblivion. But the price one pays for the kind of attention social media dishes up is starting to look rather steep.

Many days, I scroll joylessly, waiting in vain for something – anything – that cuts through the banality. Advertisements. Quizzes. Do you actually think you’re brilliant because you got 9 out of 10 right in the quiz-of-the-moment? Do you really believe that by sharing the result of four minutes of multiple-choice questions you will establish yourself as a genius in the minds of your digital acquaintances? Most of us are rolling our eyes so hard we have to stop scrolling until we can see again. Drama. Oversharing. If you took eight pictures of the same baby in the same clothes with the same background, we only need to see one. Maybe not even one if we saw a shot of the same baby yesterday.

Bullying. You can be anything you want on Facebook and nobody will bother you about it. Unless you’re religious. Or conservative. Or pro-life. Whatever you do, do not be openly pro-life. It will be a matter of minutes before people start piling up on your page, ferociously defending their right to kill their babies under any and all circumstances. You will get called names that would make a sailor blush.

And the ignorance …. Good gravy. A while ago, I fought openly with a blatant racist on Facebook. He is convinced that Islam is a religion of murder, and Muslims are inherently evil – and that one Muslim in Canada is one too many. Never mind that he is a redneck jackass from the arse-end of nowhere who’s never even met a Muslim – he is determined to make sure he never will, either. Sadly, he’s from my home town, and we used to be friends. Many people from Robert’s Arm are lovely, but not him. He is so hateful his Facebook account was shut down. I found out this week that he started another one under a new name, because he showed up on my “people you may know” list. The new account has been suspended multiple times. Apparently, he doesn’t care. He continues to spout evil and – much to my dismay – the asshole has 155 friends. How?

I was guilty of a few of the things I just complained about. I shared things that no one would – or should – care about. I said things that would only be entertaining for me and a handful of my friends. I posted three pictures where one would have done. I got a kick out of compliments on my pictures, even when I knew the compliments were knee-jerk reactions to my pictures by sycophants who just wanted me to notice them – and maybe compliment them back. I eagerly participated in drama (I loves me a good throw-down sometimes), and maybe there are people out there who feel I have bullied them. I thought this was all fine for the most part until I pulled away from it for a while. Surveying it all from the sidelines changed my take.

I don’t really know where this is going. Maybe I’ll quit Facebook altogether. Maybe I’ll go along with it for a little while longer, trying to find my groove. Maybe a thousand words is too much to spend on this subject. Either way, thanks for reading. I love it when you look my way.

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My inspiration: old hamsters and lame goldfish.

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Whenever we go to a pet store, we look at all the critters. Because we have owned various hamsters over the years, we spend a little extra time looking at them. Most of them are just weeks old, adorable little fur pom-poms either snoozing in their nest or tumbling about. However, there is always at least one adult hamster who is housed alone (because hamsters become increasingly territorial as they grow). This one, we know, will not be chosen by anyone. Hamsters have such short lives that no one wants to take one on if it’s not a baby. Prospective pet owners know an adult hamster is a big-eyed fluffy heartache-in-waiting. At this point in our pet store perambulation, it is inevitable that one or the other of my daughters will say “I wish we could take that one home – nobody else will, so he’s going to die here without anyone to love him”. This has always tugged at my heart strings, but I move us all along quickly rather than go any further down that path. Who wants another pet funeral?

Every year, Lent receives heavy consideration from Fiona and Bridget. They follow the common tradition of giving up something they love – candy or chocolate, usually, although one year it was watching “Spongebob Squarepants”. The purpose of going without something you want throughout Lent is to lessen the power of what tempts you – to examine its impact on your life, to learn how to deny yourself frivolous pleasures in order to focus on worthier pursuits. To that end, I try to encourage them to add things as well as giving up things – to consider what they can give to or do for others. This year, Bridget said wistfully “I wish we could adopt an old hamster – to give him a home, and treats, and love”. My first instinct was to say no again. To point out that there are so many much bigger, more important problems in the world. To ask what difference it would make. But I didn’t. Because I’m trying to be more open, to see the world through unjaded eyes. Because I have started to believe that we are all called in different directions by compassion, by love. And that if we all followed our callings, however small, the world would start to look different. Softer. Kinder. More beautiful.

Derek of San Antonio, Texas, is a believer, too. When faced with a disabled fish (the fish has a bladder disorder that keeps it from holding itself upright, meaning it was stuck at the bottom of the tank all the time), he did not shrug and say “this is stupid – it’s just a fish”. He did not say “flush it” (which, I must admit, is probably what I would have said). No, he came up with a system of airline tubing and styrofoam to help the fish swim – a sort of wheelchair for the fish. Now the fish swims all over the tank, like it was meant to do.

And now Gerry the hamster (Gerry is short for “geriatric”) has a forever home – however short forever may turn out to be for a hamster of indeterminate age. Gerry’s a lovely little thing, with a gentle disposition and an insatiable appetite for pistachios, and I’m glad we took a chance on him.

Many times over the past few years, I’ve felt overwhelmed by the tide of deep sadness and desperate need relentlessly rolling in. Wave after wave of hopeless cases and terrible stories. What can we do? Communities that have been destroyed by a natural disaster or a terrorist attack need roads cleared and hospitals rebuilt and people saved and patched up and fed and sheltered – but we can only buy gas for one rescue vehicle or provide a week’s worth of meals for one family. Thousands are dying of preventable diseases, but we can only pay for treatment for a handful of patients. The earth is poisoned, scorched and overheating, but we can only turn off the lights and taps in our own home and reduce our trash by a bag every two weeks. People in our own neighbourhood don’t have enough to eat, but all we can do is toss a few cans in the bin on our way out of the grocery store. Sometimes it feels like our contribution is so small that it’s hardly worth giving, and we start to lose faith in it. Sometimes it feels like there is so much need that the little things – like elderly hamsters and wobbly goldfish – don’t even get a second look.

This may seem like a tall order, but I want to rid myself of that soul-crushing apathy, and I want everyone else to do that, too. Years ago, in Sunday School, we used to sing a little song called “Jesus Bids Us Shine”. I remember, in particular, the lines “in this world of darkness / we must shine / you in your small corner / and I in mine”. The song isn’t about banishing the darkness or saving the world. It is about giving what little we can, when we can, to improve our own little piece of the cosmic puzzle. And, whatever your position on Jesus and Sunday School, you can’t argue against that. None of us can do everything, but each of us can do something – and if it alleviates the suffering of any creature, big or small, human or animal, it’s worth it. Let’s not become overwhelmed by our own smallness. Let’s push back against despair, and watch how drops of water become an ocean.

Farewell, Facebook! (For a little while, anyway ….)

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Yes, I know – it’s been months since my last post. Christmas has been celebrated and packed away, January and February have been endured with varying amounts of grace. I don’t know why my blog has remained untouched by me all this time. Emotional ups and downs, the need to simplify life in order to keep up with it, plain old laziness …. ? I struggled to express all this to my lovely cousin, Charlene, over dinner together recently (delicious food and a thoroughly enjoyable experience at Khao Thai in the market). She’s been a great source of encouragement and enthusiasm for BethBlog, and she mentioned that she still checks in from time to time in the hopes that I will have written something new. A glance at my stats reveals that she’s not the only one. My appreciation to all who keep coming back – and my apologies for the prolonged cyber-silence. One factor in my writer’s block that I discussed that evening with Charlene is the avalanche of information that buries me regularly. There are many days when I feel like I’m being smothered by it – strangled by it – drowned in it. Bad news, good news, fake news. Quizzes, videos, how-tos, recipes, memes. And those ads …. I don’t want to put my girls in private school, rent a beach house in Jamaica, or enhance my sex life. I’d love to buy new dresses and shoes, but not online – and not right now. Where’s it all coming from? Facebook. I’ve been using Facebook for ten years now – I started using it when it was small. My, how it’s grown! What started as a handful of friends and private jokes has become dozens of voices all talking at once, and the resulting babel is grating and exhausting.

Whenever someone complains about internet content, there’s always a snappy, sanctimonious beauty ready to chime in with “if you don’t like it, don’t look”. I’m taking their advice, and leaving Facebook for Lent. As soon as the idea surfaced, I was excited about it. Imagine all that free time! All that peace! An internal clutter-bust! It will be like a long, soothing shower for my soul …. Facebook doesn’t make me a better person. It doesn’t improve my impact on the world. In fact, it makes me dislike people and the world more. Lent is an opportunity to examine our habits and hooks, and assess their impact on our lives. Why not see how leaving Facebook could help me?

Yesterday, though, doubts emerged. There are some family members and friends I only communicate with via Facebook. How am I going to know what’s going on in their lives? How will I know what they’re doing, or what their children look like now? How will they know any of that about me? My beautiful niece and nephew are growing fast – I’m sure I’ll miss some milestones and adorable photos.  I can’t remember the last time I received a party invitation through anything other than Facebook. What if there are lots of awesome parties and events going on and I don’t know about them? My primary form of communication with some people is Facebook. What if I lose touch with them because I’m no longer on Facebook? Sometimes, I see funny memes and videos on Facebook. Sometimes, Facebook tells me what’s going on before I find out from any other source. People on Facebook are all incredibly eager to express how a given death or split or news piece affects them, and that alerts me to the event in question. Facebook gives me ideas, meal plans, exercise regimes, decorating and parenting tips, movie reviews, conversation fodder. And then there’s me, the person I’ve become since using Facebook …. My first thought about quitting Facebook was “how many likes and comments will I get when I say I’m not Facebooking anymore” – and then I realized that I wouldn’t know because I won’t be checking. Can I have thoughts and experiences without sharing them with an instant audience of over a hundred? Can I take pictures without sharing them digitally – just take them like I used to, for the pleasure of capturing a moment? Can I cook or bake or eat someone else’s cooking or baking without taking a picture and uploading it to Facebook with a witty comment? Can I grow a plant without documenting its progress online? Ryan’s birthday’s coming up. So is my friend, Blue’s. Can I send them birthday greetings without fêting them on Facebook – would it look strange not to send them a public shout-out? On March 28, my father will have been gone for fifteen years. It seems strange to let that go by without saying anything on Facebook. Can I go back to the life I used to live, one without an audience? One in which what I did was for me and the people around me, and nobody else? We’ll see ….

I have a feeling I’ll come back to Facebook. It might even creep into my life, little by little, just like it did before – and have me in its thrall in a matter of days. But, for this small slice of time, I’m just me. In my world. Watched by nobody but the people who are actually there. Enjoying the silence …. (I know – awesome song!) Sure, I’ll miss some things. But I have a feeling I won’t miss them as much as I think I will.