Tripping through the Social Network Alleys

“I was thinkin’ about my hundred old lovers,
How we’d weave the cloth of our sleep, how we’d kick off the covers.
But where you’ve all gone to I’ll never know,
And maybe there were only 50 or so.”

all excerpts by Greg Brown from the song “Twenty or So

Statistics bear out that FACEBOOK is now the 3rd largest country on the planet. The largest growing segment of that social network are planetary citizens over the age of fifty-five. In a couple weeks, I’ll fall into that demographic. Please… pop a few balloons for me. My guess is that half of those ‘boomer’ types joined to spy and snoop on their kids, and the other half have just found a new way to waste time. Hey, who needs to e-mail around those nauseatingly saccharine e-mails with pictures of cute kitties and heartwarmingly generic messages when, on FACEBOOK, you can go to “What’s my British Name” or “I bet Wisconsin can get 1 million fans before any other state.” People don’t send e-mail anymore, they send messages to your Facebook inbox.  They don’t sprawl out or luxuriate in long hand; they express themselves in 140 characters or less. Ha! I can barely say hello in 140 characters.

The big deal with FACEBOOK is:   everyone is on it!   You can search and find (and maybe even destroy) with such ease that it’s frightening. The upside of that is if you are a business, you can toss your product out there like a perforated can of wormy dog food suspended over a catfish pond, and the whiskery customers will find you in no time. Before you know it, you’ve got a thousand ‘fans’ and your message is out. Really, this is not a bad thing. The writing is on the FACEBOOK wall for paper media: Newspapers are dropping like flies. Magazines are turning into e-Zines, and the post office is dying a slow death, delivering nothing but local coupon mailers and bogus credit card solicitations from Delaware and South Dakota (c’mon guys, give it up already). The medium is the message and the medium is online.

So I joined and toddled along on FACEBOOK for some time.  I collected 20 ‘friends’ (mostly my kids, my siblings, and their kids, and one or two acquaintances). then a couple weeks ago, I got found by a friend of mine from high school. We’ll call him F. to preserve his identity (in case there are any goon squads out to get him). I didn’t know what to do at first.  It had been 32 years (he informed me) since we last spoke. He had two FACEBOOK friends (by name, they appeared to be his kids, so he fell into category A, perhaps). We started exchanging messages and darned if it’s all good. He’s still a bit ‘abstract’ but well centered, like my old chum from school  but with gray hair. He’s done alright for himself. We managed to ‘converse’ about ideas new and old, avoiding the rut of ‘kicking the past’s ass all night long’ as too often happens with old, out-of-touch friends. He remembers artwork I created almost 35 years ago and asks me about it; he looks forward to seeing more of my work someday. We laugh about Dylan and the psychedelic days, and I tell him his ideas have endured. He still intrigues me. Making connections is not as scary as I thought it would be.   So I figure… maybe I should see who is out there.

And so I start typing names into the FACEBOOK search box…

“May you find great apartments with very low rent,
May you always have a friend when your money is spent.
May your parents live long; may your debts all be paid,
May your clothes fit you right; may you all be well laid.”  (GB)

I’m a man so I did what a man usually does: I searched for my old girlfriends. Funny how the thing that get us in trouble is the thing that points the way. In short order I managed to find a few old flames. Here was one (we’ll call her ‘X’ or “B’ or whatever) who actually lives in my town. She looks a little weathered now, a vague image of that squealing teen-aged girl I knew, but the sight of her only brings back the fact that, when I was at my most vulnerable, she cut my heart out, cast it throbbing on the snowy street, and didn’t bother telling me why she did for nearly a month (so it was back when we had these things called letters, delivered by people in blue suits, dropped through a slot in the front door of my north side garden apartment).  I felt better after I got that letter.   Really I did.  And I thank her for at least sending a letter.

I find another, whose last name is the same as a company that cans peas. In her profile pic she looks as young and fresh as when I last saw her buttoning up her shirt at twenty-two (in that same garden apartment!). In the photo she wears a very fancy equestrian helmet, nifty riding outfit, and is standing by a well-trained mare with what appears to be a private stable behind her.   Wow. I can barely maintain two bicycles; I can’t imagine taking care of an animal with such a big mouth.. It reminds me that the SECOND to last time I rode a horse was with her when I was a junior in high school. We galloped around a sunny plot of land in northwest cook county, and then we rolled about in the oats (though I don’t recall sowing any oats that day). The last time I rode a horse was the time I got thrown off a nasty pony near Black River Falls, Wisconsin. As I consider the ‘friend request’ button, my brain wrestles for a reason… a reason to connect.   It was a good time, with her, the time we had.   It was full of many firsts.   The first time you feel that way, it gets embedded in your memory  — like a crabapple tree —  It comes back, the feeling, blooming pink and sweet, every few years… even when I’ve forgotten what she looks like.

So what would I ask her? How are you? Remember me? No? Do you have kids? Did you think that we would have kids together? No? Yes? Did I say yes? Do you make lots of money? Your husband does? You don’t work? No, I’m just saying… not working is fine if you can. Would you love your husband if he made LESS money? It depends? Depends on what? Do you love him? Sorry, it just popped out…  So you ride horses, hmm? Nice.  Do they ever throw you off? Did you see what happened to Christopher Reeve?  Sorry… it just popped into my mind.  Where do I live? Is that necessary? Why did I contact you? You know… I’m not really sure.

“But where you’ve all gone to I’ll never know,
And maybe there were only twenty or so.” (GB)

I don’t mean to sound cynical or negative. Really, I’m not. There was one lover I had who was awful — much worse than ‘X’ or ‘B.’ We’ll call her ‘Z.”  I found her on FB too.   She ended up with a diplomat, living in a Georgetown flat, travels in Europe, talking French all the time (hearing it was like having thorns flowing in my blood… used to make me want to vomit), and she even ended up being dragged through the mud by pundits for a questionable method of getting a job in the foreign service. Most of this I learned on Google! (gosh what a great thing that is, eh?) But I managed to write a wonderfully nasty poem about ‘Z’ and got it out of my system.   More importantly, I learned that relationships (lovers, etc) don’t end because they are taking a break; they end because they are over. We meet, we find, we grow, we take what we can and apply it to a new lover, a new partner, a new garden, a new house, a new story, a new painting or drawing, a new song. That song is over, it’s all behind me. Old lovers are good for sighs and dry tears and stories at cocktail parties and lessons and poems. But the world moves forward. We move on or we sink in the cypress swamp of our minds.

What I found

My new lover is my partner. We are wise because of the time that has passed, and we have listened well. I am where I am now because of each step, each station along the way, each friend and each lover. Each is a note, a stroke of the pen, a seed in the new garden. I’m not perfect, so I write these words ’cause I need to remind myself daily .  I wave and smile at the strange Facebook profile pictures of lovers I used to know but barely recognize, and whisper…

“May you all get great jobs; may you travel in France,
May your cars always start; may you have hot romances.
May your children be sturdy; may you swim in the sea,
May you smile a little if you think of me.” (GB)

Now I better go check on my daughter’s FB status. I think she’s got a new friend!

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One response to “Tripping through the Social Network Alleys

  1. I sent a chatty catching-up message to an old boyfriend. In response — instead of writing back he “friended” me. After observing his status updates, I discovered he hadn’t changed one bit — didn’t really want to talk, just wanted to talk about himself. I unfriended him. That felt good! What a strange way to use the word “friend.”

    By the way, I like what you found. 🙂

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