In a time when it seems every day brings yet another story of just how how much work we still need to do on race relations, even I have a moment when I just need to step back. While this space has become primarily focused on race, there are times when I need to go back to my writing roots and muse on life. Today would be that day for me.
A few weeks ago, I read this piece about the blogger known to the world as Dooce and it really resonated with me. Obviously, my trajectory in the world of blogging hasn’t been anywhere near Dooce’s; after all, I’m still working at my day job and asking readers to consider supporting this space. Yet as this blog’s profile has risen in recent years, I am far less inclined to talk about my life, especially as I have realized in recent months that there are a few readers of this space who feel the need to keep tabs on my life while looking for the “gotcha” moment. Among my favorites have been “Jessie,” who insists that I am living the life of Riley in my palatial Victorian-style house (big, yes, but hardly mansion-level swank and in serious need of plenty of work) or the local chap who insists that my son was/is heavily involved in Maine’s rap scene therefore I must be withholding knowledge about a local murder in a Portland recording studio. Never mind that my son didn’t start his career in earnest until he went away to college in the Midwest and hasn’t lived in Maine for a number of years…
Increasingly, technology is starting to feel like a double-edged sword to me. On the one hand, it has allowed me to create a voice for myself and my work but increasingly it is coming at the expense of my own humanity. I feel less and less like a person, and to quote another Black writer who I know online, I have become “a fact portal” for far too many. People know me in bits and pieces but few know me as a whole human. Even within existing relationships the frenetic pace of life makes connecting in real time damn near impossible and too many of those connections feel hollow to me.
As I grapple with some major life transitions, I am confronting the limits of the connections that I have made in recent years and, to be honest, it saddens me. A few days ago, I was in a deep funk—the kind of funk that I know is part of this transition. To dismantle a life and start over at midlife is not an easy task, and no one goes through the process without funky moments. Yet what scared me was realizing that in that moment that I needed support what I honestly needed was a friend. And in that moment, I realized that on a gorgeous Friday, there was no one who I have met in my 13 years in Maine who I am close enough to that they would willing inconvenience themselves to be there for me.
The funky mood passed but the reality that I am utterly alone is a hard pill to swallow. I know many people but it’s the type of knowing that is part of this brave new world we all live in. We “see” each other on Facebook, we read our updates, we “like” the same things but rarely do we really know each other. On the other hand, I still have the same childhood best friends; however, we are thousands of miles away thus making those connections tenuous at best.
When my mother was diagnosed with cancer in the summer of July 2003 and until her death in March of 2004, my mother was never alone. Her friends organized their lives to make sure they could support my mother and father during her illness. That meant rides, friends going with her to chemotherapy, etc. In the days immediately after her death, so many friends reached out to support our family that one day my father was so overwhelmed that he unplugged the phone. As I have faced my own health struggles in recent months, I find myself aware that my own journey has been vastly different, and while I have taken to joking that I am simply an unlikable person, the reality is for younger generations including my own, it feels like we have moved away from those deeper levels of connection.
There are most certainly places where community rallies behind people but ours is increasingly a world where far too many of us are alone. The fact that at 2 am, so many of us are up and posting on Facebook or tweeting on Twitter is about more than group insomnia. However no one really wants to cop to feeling lonely. It’s a vulnerable feeling and vulnerability is scary. Hell, just about writing about this has my gut churning.
The older I get though, I am aware that I no longer want to exist in my own silo of “aloneness.” I want community; I want camaraderie. As wonderful as social media is, increasingly I find myself wanting to unplug from it and plug into others in real time over tea, a walk or even a good fruity drink. In the early days of social media, real connections were formed but as social media becomes a tool, and we the product, those connections are harder to find especially when a mistaken word can result in a digital posse coming for your ass. Or heaven forbid, a big slip-up might even be the end of your job. I can’t speak for anyone else but it’s hard for me to make real connections when I am hoping I don’t make a mistake in a world that is changing so fast that at the tender age of 42, I struggle to stay up on the correct words to use because I don’t want to offend anyone.
Days like today, I wish making friends was as easy as it was back in grammar school, when you could slip someone a note: Do you like me? Will you be my friend? However those days are gone but as I start over and rebuild my life which include a move soon (have no fear, I will still be a Black Girl in Maine, just one in our state’s largest city), I do think that forming and strengthening connections is definitely a priority for me. Like many women over the years, I put my energy and attention into my family and while that was the right decision at that time, I also know now that a support system that is not family-based is also important.
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