When I put together an outfit in the morning, there’s a definite image I’m trying to project – especially if it’s a day that I teach. I try to look like the clothes I put on my body are there by some intention, however vague, and I attempt to match them, somewhat. True, my wardrobe consists of skull-and-crossbone button-ups, but they ARE button-ups, and I match them with nice-enough pants and boots, wear winged eyeliner sharp as the daggers in your eyes and cold as the Wicked Witch of the West, put on my Resting Bitch Face (a practiced look) for when I’m walking in public and do not want to be approached, and plug in my headphones, feeling fierce and intentional. This is the image of myself that I want to project – scholarly, still kind of weird, but not taking anyone’s shit. Yeah, I usually end up looking dissheveled, haphazard, and confused, and my nacho-and-cat backpack admittedly detracts from my professional ethos, but it is the EFFORT that counts, my friends.
On Facebook, too, I try to craft statuses that are in keeping with the image I want people to see of me – somewhat religious, if searching, a lover of books and babies, a hypothetical crazy-cat lady who is allergic to cats, connoisseur of all things Seahawks and American Horror Story, maybe a little manic, maybe a little obsessive, sometimes leaning a bit to the left, but overall, you know, a good person. A nice person. Someone you wouldn’t mind being friends with.
But there are things I don’t say, too. I hold back on posting a lot of things I like, often because, well uh, my grandpa’s on my Facebook (Hi, Papa!) and you know I ain’t gonna be like, “DAMN BENEDICT C. IS SO FINE. I’D HELLA HIT THAT…I mean, if I weren’t a VIRGIN, yes, a VIRGIN…ahem, TOTALLY A VIRGIN, DAD.” Okay, honestly, I hope my dad isn’t reading this (DAD. STOP. READING.), or any of my students (NO!) but that’s what we omit. And our omissions are often as telling as the things that we post. Those who do post all their wacky interests or sexual predilections are often given the stink eye, a little bit, their statuses rejected with a lack of likes. I mean, technically, Facebook is still a public space. We act a certain, polite way in public (or try to) and we act similarly polite (sort of) on Facebook. So we upload halfway-decent selfies with good filters, in outfits we think are nice, and we present ourselves to our 1,200 friends, most of whom we don’t even interact with.
At family gatherings, someone randomly will mention a Facebook post, and you’ll be like, “Oh, shit! I didn’t know you read my Facebook! Dangit, what did I post…shoot…” And these things make us a little more careful, a little more censored in voicing our opinions. That, and when we say anything delicate or personal, such as a religious belief or a political leaning, our statuses blow up in angry comments and friends start debating with friends and then private messaging you, “Your friend is really rude,” and at the end of the day, it isn’t worth it, so we water ourselves down to the lowest common denominator and try to make our profile pictures appealing in case a cute dude is Facebook stalking us, and well, we aren’t exactly honest, but we show our best selves (and sometimes, in status arguments, our worst selves), and hope that projection overlaps into the real world, when we got our bat-wing eyeliner on.
So uh, let’s talk about Timehop.
This is an app for your phone that tells you what you posted a year ago. And two years ago. And five years ago. And it’s alarming.
See, nobody wants to go back and see what we used to post on Myspace (PLEASE. GOD. NO.), and similarly, knowing what we used to say on Facebook is kinda like, “ah…shit.”
Here’s what I posted a year ago today:
Okay, not bad. A little self-aggrandizing, maybe, but I needed the confidence boost and was really flattered as a new teacher. But then we got my post from five years ago – PREPARE YOURSELVES, PEOPLE.
Okay, first off, I clearly used the wrong term for where I was. “Mental Hospital” isn’t accurate so much as “Psych Ward,” which is the top floor of a hospital where the people who are close to serious self-harm or who are unable to mentally cope or who just need some extra help at that moment go. And I did make amazing friends there! One was a beautiful boy. He was tall with dark hair. We all wore these strange hospital clothes, weird clothes, and I remember all of us were dancing in the common room, just dancing like, for no reason, and he was saying, “When we dance, we come into alignment with the stars.” And it was just nuts and so much fun. I met another girl who made me smile and laugh a lot, and who I’m still friends with on here (Hi, [Name Redacted For Confidentiality’s Sake]!!!).
This sweet boy would hold my hand, laying on the couch, and we’d get in trouble from the nurses for touching, and the meds they gave me at night fucked me up and made my bed feel like it was upside down and I was in fact hovering over the floor, and I was there not because I was really terribly unstable, but because other traumatic events in my life had culminated in a way that insisted on some sort of outside help.
I don’t know if it helped me at all, but I loved dancing to the no-music with the beautiful people I met there. And I posted that on Facebook, a year later. And looking back on it now is SHOCKING. That is just something you DO NOT SAY. Why would you ever admit to needing help, ever, at all? That does not fit my self-projection. That doesn’t fit the Perfect, Clean, Chaste Self that I want to present as a professional, academic, ostensible Christian. Christians don’t go to psych wards. They certainly don’t post about it on Facebook.
I mean, this is problematic in a lot of ways. Obviously, the experience doesn’t embarrass me, or I wouldn’t write about it now. Honestly, I’d forgotten about it until I saw it on my Timehop. It was just something that happened. It was fine. It wasn’t a big deal. It’s a part of my complex mental health history that I’m fine with. But it is AWKWARD for people. It makes them UNCOMFORTABLE. They’re uncomfortable, which makes me uncomfortable, now we’re both uncomfortable! (to loosely quote Denice Frohman). It’s not appropriate.
And yet – if Facebook is what Myspace used to claim to be – a place for friends – then one’s Facebook should be a place to be real. Instead, we create ideas of who we are, and hope that our “friends” are buying it.
I will end with this: the boy – the beautiful, beautiful boy – who I met in the Psych Ward? I never got his contact information. But I thought of him often in the coming years that I lived in Seattle. I thought of his long, lean legs, of his sweet smile, and of the way he was convinced that the stars were all created to align with us when we dance. And then, one sunny Seattle day, when I was at a crosswalk on Third and Pine, walking toward Westlake, I saw him. He was walking the opposite direction, toward Pike’s Place Market, and he had on corduroy pleated jeans and a button-up shirt, and I stopped him, cupping my hand against his shoulder, and I shouted his name.
after writing this post, I went to my friend’s Facebook page. It was filled with messages to him. He had passed away. He messaged me very near the day he died. One of his last statuses was “love love love love love love love.” Rest in peace, sweet friend. I leave this blog entry unedited in memory of that moment I still believed you existed in the world.