Some of you who are following these pages may know—
Wait. Before I go on: those of you who are following these pages: thank you. I’m not yet ready to use “message” as a verb, but I do appreciate being, um, contacted, whether privately or publicly. And it’s wonderful to know things I say are resonating. Is it bad that I want to use the slogan for the Syrius Cybernetics Corporation? Share and enjoy, companions, share and enjoy.
Anyway. Some of you who are following these pages may know that, in the hope of spreading the word about what the afternoon knows, I’m recently embarked on my first blunderings round the Dark World that is Facebook. Apologies to those of you who I may already inadvertently have intruded upon, irritated, offended or (aaaargh) “unfriended”. (Thomas Hardy coined a lot of adjectives by putting ‘un’ in front of existing ones, but I don’t know what he would have made of this strange and undelicious new verb. Oh brave new world, that hath such dictions in it….) My first message was from Lem (beloved nephew; see ‘what country, friends, is this?‘), who told me that leaflets would be given out shortly and that executions started at 4am.. I’m not aware of being under any immediate sentence but I do get an e-version of the country-mouse thing I feel in cities—a silenced, saucer-eyed unease, and a pervasive, unspecific sense of my incompetence and inadequacy in a world of the bustlingly-competent and unthinkingly adequate. The thing I “should” be doing is always somewhere else. Introduced to the concept of FOMO, I recognised it instantly.
I can also relate much more immediately to the Facebook-related incidents and feelings which clients—many clients—bring to therapy sessions. There are the wounds which social media give you the means to inflict, at a distance where you don’t need to see the reaction of your victim, or otherwise experience them as a fellow-human. And there are the pre-existing wounds which are touched, re-opened, worsened, by all that can happen online. The pros and cons of social media is a large subject which I acknowledge without pretending to the experience or knowledge to engage with properly. Nor do I imagine that my reactions are in any way unique. Caveat lector, therefore: this is simply the view from here.
And already, non-engagement with social media feels like a pre-lapsarian state which I have now intentionally and irrevocably forfeited. I ate the damn apple. At times, FB feels something akin to that other Dark World of online dating, where strange and unpleasant things can happen, and the normal rules of civilised human interaction are sometimes suspended. In addition, I notice the same drug-like capacity to offer intense highs, precipitate equally intense lows, and be a place where priceless time is lost forever. However, I can also see that this fallen world does have its conveniences and attractions, its blessings and marvels even: it makes so many new things possible, the good as well as the less good. I just hope I can learn to relate to it in some kind of healthy-enough, non-addictive way.
During the writing of this piece, my spellchecker responded to a typo by offering me “Faeces Book”. That’s going too far. But I really notice how posts about friends’ families are getting to me. To one processing the kind of maths I am—no ‘+1’, no ‘2.4’—FB can sometimes be a very alienating experience. I feel no part of a lot of what I see—no connection; feel unredeemably other. And this isn’t about random horridness from strangers: it’s people I care about, rightly wanting to celebrate the joys of their lives. I don’t like feeling sore, irritated, judgemental. I fear I’ve become an embittered, muttering spinster. But perhaps irritated is a key word here, with its reminder that these are places in me which are sensitised—not yet healed. Yes, I may know that there aren’t pain-free ways to live, only different pains. And maths may tell me that women without children now number 1 in 5, rather than 1 in 10 as it was not very long ago. No matter. It can still feel very difficult to be that 1. The corollaries of not having a family are too numerous to grasp all at once. This means, among other things, that as well as acticipated stretches of grief where you engage with the fact that no-one will ever call me Mum, or Granny, there are also ambushes—odd, unexpected glimpses of what it means, unforeseen shafts of pain. Bookface, as a dear friend calls it, lances me with those.
FB sometimes feels like a horribly permanent and endless version of The Christmas Letter.* Of course everyone “knows” this—that people may, with whatever level of awareness, feel compelled to share only a version of their reality; that it’s a kind of commercial which invites us, as Gillian Anderson has recently pointed out in WE, to compare our “worst” bits with others’ “best”. But however clearly I know this intellectually, it can be really hard to feel it. George Eliot (of course!) has the words for it when she talks about ‘conceiv[ing] with that distinctness which is no longer reflection but feeling’. These days, some way through my acceptance process, I do have more frequent, and more lasting, bits of time where I feel that my ‘-1, 1 in 5’ state is ok, or ok-enough. But I could always do with more.
…which brings me to a request. I was looking for a poem about childlessness to go with this post. I knows lots of wonderful poems about fear of not conceiving, miscarriage, stillbirth and the death of a child. As with all intense and life-changing human emotions, it is wonderful that these things should be evoked, explored, unfolded and shared in poetry. But where is the anthology of childlessness not-by-choice? Even a pamphlet would be a start. Or a single poem. Can anyone help me with this?
*Wendy Cope has useful (to me, anyway) things to say here!