Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Spring means starting again. I think I've been having another malaise. Like the proverbial frog in the pot of water on the stove, it's hard to recognise when you're in trouble until you reach a stress point.

After fighting with Anthony on Twitter on Monday night and then deleting the tweets, I've decided to ease off social media. Not make some public, flouncing exit, or use an app to block the sites (although I have used SelfControl for this), but just kind of… back away. It's actually easier the longer you're away, because the less you interact, the fewer notifications there are to draw you into interacting.

My mother is always telling me that I post too much online. She's been doing that pretty much since I started blogging. But as someone who's always felt a need to communicate with words (rather than to record or express things), writing online felt more useful to me than keeping a private diary. (Which I did at the height of my worst depression in 1999, although I can't seem to find it now. Probably a good thing: it was full of bitter talk of how my friends were all bitches, and none of the men I liked were interested in me.)

And I did make a lot of friends online: through blogging and M+N, mainly. It seems interesting to me that it's these earlier, pre-social-network forms of online sociality that feel strongest to me now. I do get a lot of value from professional support groups on Facebook, but I tend to really cement a connection by meeting someone in real life, and early online sociality was big on 'meetups'.

In a way, I started my retreat from social media earlier this year, when I decided to stop making elaborate Photoshopped birthday cards for my friends, which I'd been doing for a few years. Then I stopped wishing people happy birthday on their Facebook walls. Nobody seems to have noticed this. (Except for family members, because I knew my mother would be keeping score of who'd been a dutiful child.) I've started hiding posts that upset me from my Facebook feed (mainly pictures of people's holidays and children), and even entire people, because they made me feel rageful or unhappy. I blocked a family member from seeing my Facebook posts because every comment he made was a 'jokey' insult to me or my immediate family and I was just sick of it. But maybe I have just been generally unhappy and fed up?

What is the meaning of this tapestry of interpersonal interaction we weave when we post things online? What do all those replies and notifications mean? They seem hollow to me right now, more ritualistic than intimate. I should be up to date with people's lives, but of course people mostly post elliptically about major life events, which is why I'm shocked to learn things like that someone's long-term relationship has broken up, or someone has died or been diagnosed with cancer, or someone is pregnant, or someone is planning to become a single parent via IVF.

I also feel that the jaunty self I perform on social media is increasingly unlike the real me. I've observed repeatedly, thanks to Facebook's 'On This Day' function (which I refer to as 'Facebook Mimmries'), that when I first started using Facebook I was much more unguarded about what I said, and I said embarrassingly emotional things all the time. I feel like my self-performance has become more polished and professional, more focused on fleeting moments and jokes, the more I've realised that Facebook isn't a walled garden but is more like an agora.

My private Twitter is most like the real me; it's where the essential meanness and fretfulness that I think of as my 'real' personality asserts itself. And this blog, I suppose, because I now assume nobody even reads it. Even though the real me is awful, and nobody would ever like her, I still perversely want to be seen for 'who I really am' rather than the performance. A few weeks ago I was feeling especially lonely and desperate, and I thought about writing an angsty blog post about how I don't think I actually have any real friends any more, only acquaintanceships and old friendships alike kept artificially vital by social media.

By contrast, I've felt actual joy at events where I've caught up with people in real life. I went to the wedding of two friends and spent an afternoon in pleasant company. I met up with Daniel and Andrew for an Enthusiast catch-up last weekend and we agreed that what we'd liked best about the entire project was the chatting and the drinking. The website was secondary, and it stopped being fun when it got to be a chore.

These things have made me suspect that this is where true sociality lies. I recently stumbled across this article about how when you're a single woman, you rely on friendships for mental and emotional sustenance while everyone else gets it from their partners and families. The article also made me feel ashamed, that I've just been quietly opting out of my friendships and I should try harder to do the work of maintaining them.

Who could I call in the middle of the night for help? Who could I tell about my day? Who (I'm embarrassed about the adolescent tang of this one) would even care if I died? I suspect the answer is 'my parents', and I can't keep relying on them forever. I don't even think they realise how much I do rely on them for basic things like 'telling them my worries'. They're so busy caring for my chronically mentally ill brother that it doesn't seem worth mentioning my own struggles to them.

(I pretended I had made these examples up but they all apply to me.)

Interestingly, Daniel actually mentioned this post to me on Saturday and recognised what it was about because he's suffered from depression and anxiety himself. This is the article I'm referring to, and the article I'm comparing it to is this one. I've found it quite inspiring, because most people conceptualise 'self-care' as 'treating yo'self' but what if it's actually the hard life stuff you really struggle with? Like paying bills on time, remembering to invoice for the work you do, housework, laundry, etc.

Right now my backyard is the most overgrown it's ever been. If I got a letter from the real estate today saying I had a house inspection in a week, I'd be in real trouble. But out of nowhere today I decided to make a start on weeding it. I didn't get very far – just one corner. But I uncovered enough soil that I could fill a small pot and replant the mint that has been not-quite-dying in a glass of water on my kitchen windowsill since June.

It's not great, but it feels like a start. And it's a nice day outside today, and it felt nice to leave the house for a few minutes. And I was reminded that spring is a time when things that appear dead can come back to life.

This is a major theme of my mummy novel, which I've been working on for three years now, but which I recently reread and it was stilted and pretentious and I felt like all that time and thought and research weighs too heavily on it, and the voice isn't there.

But then I remembered that it's also a novel about death and grief, and perhaps I've been coming at it wrong as a coming-of-age story – what if it's also a story of the heroine's mother coming out of the depression she's been sunk in since her only son was killed in WWI? I'd always had the mum in mind as a major character. I'd been thinking of her as being like Demeter, waiting for Persephone to come back from the underworld to bring back the spring. She spends her days pacing in a cypress maze; in Greek mythology cypress is sacred to Hades. She has a little black cat named after Clio, the muse of history. Her name is Alice.

I'd been thinking about putting the mummy novel to one side and working on my sea-wizards novel instead, but as I pulled out weeds I thought perhaps I might try to write something from the mother's perspective.

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