Friend me

I signed up for Facebook the other day. I think this link will work. Friend me! It’s another social networking website where we can network, socially. As opposed to networking anti-socially, I suppose. Which is harder, and more pointless. I do that too, but I can’t tell you where.

Facebook is wild. I signed up because my father said that he’s posted a bunch of pictures from his trip to Vietnam. Well, you know, one thing leads to another on Facebook (I think they design it that way) and suddenly I’m getting messages from High School friends I haven’t seen in twenty years. Which, aside from making feel kind of old, is really cool. And kind of odd.

It’s disorienting, falling into all those memories so suddenly. I’ve been so completely disconnected from that world that it barely even seems to have been me. Through a glass darkly and all of that. I mean, sure, I bear a strong resemblance to that gawky, awkward, terribly sad and desperately pretentious teenager who had such awful, awful hair. But I’m pretty different now… or maybe I’m not. Maybe I’m just fatter.

But I don’t think so, and that’s part of what makes Facebook so odd. None of us are the same as we were twenty years ago. We’ve married or partnered up–sometimes repeatedly–we’ve had kids,  we’ve gone to college, we’ve learned and lost and loved and moved and… well, we’ve grown up. We’re all versions of the people we were back then, but we’re not the same. Of course, that’s part of what makes “catching up” so intriguing.

I’m excited to hear from all these people, to exchange the bits and excerpts of our lives that seem relevant or interesting. I’m excited to see, however veiled it might be, the shadow of the child that lives in these adults. I’m excited to see all these teenagers finally free of the weight of teenage angst.

As it happens, John August blogged about this today too.

When I left Boulder to go to Drake, and when I left Drake to move to Los Angeles, I left people behind. Through phone calls, letters and visits home, I maintained relationships with a few close friends. But ninety percent of the people I knew vanished in the rearview mirror. That doesn’t happen as much anymore. Through Facebook and email, it’s trivial to keep up with dozens of classmates more or less daily.

But is it really a good idea?

Your twenties are a crucial time, and I’d argue that it’s harder to discover yourself — or reinvent yourself — when surrounded by a vast network of people who already have a fixed opinion of who you are. I went to college and grad school not knowing a single person, and while it was a little terrifying, it was also liberating. Decoupled from my previous opinions and embarrassments, I was able to become the 2.0 and 3.0 versions of myself. I could only do that by going somewhere new. By changing place.

By leaving the old ties behind.

Facebook is like finding the knotted cords, unraveling them and then trying to play cat’s cradle.

Or maybe it’s like finding a metaphor that doesn’t quite work and then torturing it to death. … I said I got fatter; I didn’t say I necessarily got less pretentious.

Part of what makes the reconnection process so interesting is that it’s necessarily so incomplete. Twenty years is a long time. I realized that I’d been trying to sum up twenty years in twenty words; it’s impossible and impossibly frustrating.

I can say, “I married a wonderful, amazing woman who fills my life with joy.” But I don’t have space to fill that in with all of the little details that made the wedding so improbable and spectacular. I can say that I moved from Portland to New York, but that fails to capture the dread terror of that move, the excitement of having been recruited, or sufficiently set the stage for the way I felt when the center moved to D.C..

To latch on to another incomplete metaphor, it’s like trading baseball cards. We exchange pretty pictures of ourselves and our kids and share the statistics of our lives, but we can’t watch the games where those stats were compiled. To overextend the metaphor; our lives aren’t Tivo’ed.Which is not to say that there’s no point in reconnecting. Trading cards can be great fun, and these are the cards of some of the favorite players from my life.