Saturday, July 18, 2009

I Didn't Mean to Hug You

Stand back everyone – I recently joined Facebook. That’s right, this 47-year-old mom is the newest member of the social networking site designed for and by 19-year-old college kids. Facebook has now made a full transition to being wholly uncool.

Before I had even posted a profile photo, I made the biggest rookie mistake of them all. I naively “friended” everyone in my address book when I signed on, thinking something along the lines of Gee, this’ll be fun!

“Gee” was actually part of my thought. That's all the proof you need that Facebook is wearing floods.

What I didn’t know was that my indiscriminate We Are the World friending essentially gave everyone I know—intimately, casually and professionally--permission to eavesdrop on all my conversations.

And comment on them.

And let me know what they are making for dinner.

So, let’s see, who is in my address book? My children’s teachers, my college journalism professor, PTA board members, my younger sister, the guy I lost my virginity to, my teenage nieces, my husband, a pro football player I dated between my first and second marriages, coworkers from my dormant corporate life, a Mormon guy I network with, my Buddhist brother, my current business clients, my host sister from the Portuguese family I lived with when I was 18, the guy I travelled through Europe with, the guy I kissed in high school who turned out to be gay, a dozen friends from elementary school I barely know, our babysitter, our Girl Scout Troop leader, a few current friends’ husbands, a smattering of my kids’ friends’ parents, my 72-year old mother, my rodeo relatives in Montana, my old college roommate who is a lesbian school teacher, another one who is an artist, a cousin who lives in Oregon, my other cousin, my cousin’s husband, former playgroup moms, a comedian I once groped at a comedy club, the techie guy I did a high school project with 30 years ago, cast members from my gig as a nun in Sound of Music, my realtor.

Joining Facebook, it turns out, is a lot like attending your own wedding reception. Only they don’t start clearing the tables a midnight. I find it awkward and noisy and neverending clatter. Best of all it is a decievingly close-knit forum in which to bring together a bunch of people who would never otherwise choose to be together, but are gathered here today to bear witness to your lifetime commitment to dorkiness.

Every time I log on I’m a little on edge. I wonder if anyone will stand up to give an embarrassing toast divulging some of my most unsavory moments. Will past drug use, for example, be jokingly referenced within earshot of my coworkers and child’s second grade teacher? Will photos of me smooching an ex be shared with my husband, nieces and journalism professor?

Just like a wedding reception, but without cake.

That is, of course, unless you choose to use one of the many popular applications available for merriment on Facebook, such as “Food Fight.” This particular app allows you to choose a foodstuff to toss at a lucky friend -- Boston Cream pie or plate of Jell-O maybe. Or to let them know you would if you could.

And there are questionnaires that show all your casual aquaintances how you scored on the “Who is your celebrity boyfriend?” and “What TV mom are you?” quizzes. (Will Smith and Carol Brady, if you must know.) There are apps that enable you to send virtual drinks, gifts, kisses, chocolate to anyone you choose. And it is customary to return the favor if you receive such a gift. If you know what you are doing. Which I don’t.

Yesterday, I received a “Hug” from my foreign exchange sister in Lisbon. It turned up on my Wall with an image of Snoopy hugging Woodstock. I attempted to send one right back to her because I adore my sister and am delighted that Facebook makes it easy for us to stay connected and share photos of our kids.

I'm a little fuzzy on what exactly I did, but apparently I sent the Snoopy Hug to my entire friend list--all 127 of them. My professional business clients, my friends’ husbands, my kid’s teacher, the guy from high school. Not that I don’t like these people. After all, they are my friends – according to Facebook conventions. But, I’m wondering if there’s a socially acceptable way to say I didn’t mean to hug you.

If there’s an app for that, I hope my realtor understands.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


There are two remarkable things about me. First, I am mistaken for someone else more than anyone I know. At least once a week, someone will say to me, Aren't you Phil's sister? or Don't you work at BevMo? or Didn't I just see you in the ER last week?

In all cases, I am mistaken for someone the person only knows marginally anyway. And always the exchange is both oddly flattering and mildly irritating. Because I was raised to have good manners, I try to alleviate the conversationalist's embarrassment with a good-natured apology for not being Phil's sister and I play off the error with something witty and clever like, That's okay, I get that a lot.

Sometimes, the mistaken identity conversation can be extended well beyond anyone's comfort level when a new person is invited to validate Person One's mistake. Are you sure? they query, then pull over their spouse to study my straight, freckled nose, doughy figure and limp, mousy hair for a moment. The companion's job is to mask her annoyance and look gamely perplexed as she tries to register who Phil is. Doesn't she look like Phil's sister? You know Bucky's friend who used to rotate our tires...his sister lived in that basement apartment...?

Together, the two grope for some connection to the person I am not, while I politely feign interest in someone I don't know and who, frankly, sounds pretty unremarkable in her own way. I continue to make every attempt to soothe their potential embarrassment and try to play it off until finally someone thinks enough to grasp for a meaningless connection to me.

Person Two will point to my feet, perhaps, and say a little too shrilly, I used to have sandals exactly like those! And with nothing further to say, the conversation has fully run its course and we can all splinter off in separate directions to seek out the host's famous salsa/the restroom/someone interesting to talk to.

The second remarkable thing about me is that despite my utterly unremarkable, plain Jane exterior and my ability to meet the same person on eight different occasions and experience them saying nice to meet you each and every time, I have somehow amassed the most interesting friends. I'm here to attest that it is possible to be a dull, suburban mom and still cobble together a life colored mostly by talented, funny and intelligent folks who don't mind you hanging around -- if only to offer stain removal advice when something gets bloodied.

I attribute this to my fear of too much attention coupled with my true appreciation for people who have the guts to do things that I'd never dream of doing in real life -- setting themselves on fire, say, or becoming a pediatrician who specializes in treating street kids. I suppose my relationships with fascinating, accomplished people could be due to my dishtowel persona -- inert yet useful. (Also occasionally amusing like maybe a dishtowel embellished with blue, apron-clad ducks!)

You might ask why someone so benign and spotlight-averse would bother blogging. The truth is, I'm not sure. But after browsing the Internet, it seems no reason is necessary. I only know that after "writing a book" for ten years that amounts to about 900 double-spaced pages of crap, and bitching about not writing for another four years, I know that I prefer writing to not writing. (Luckily for me, writing and bitching can be done concurrently!) Plus, I realize (again, still) that I'll never actually be a writer if I don't write. And that even if 99.976 percent of what I do write is trash, it still may be a more worthwhile activity than spreading ugly rumors about my neighbors or shopping for the perfect frozen pizza.

There are always excuses for not doing something. And I am expert at finding them. But as my husband (who is quite remarkable) says, you gotta do something! You can't let fear of being mediocre or embarrassed or boring stop you. The only way to become a better writer is to actually write.

When my son comes home from school and I ask what was the best part of his day, the answer is always the same: recess. The boy spends most of his day at school, doing what he's supposed to do. For the most part he is a quiet, well-mannered student in class (another story at home) with the guiding principle: "just don't get in trouble." But at recess he is free to be with his friends, to scale mountains, slay dragons, face insurmountable physical challenges presented by his co-seven-year-old cronies. Twelve hours a day he is following someone else's agenda. But he gets to be fully, unapologetically himself each morning during the best part of the day: 10-minute recess.

There will always be laundry to fold, emails to return, excuses to make. But I've decided it is time to allot myself a weekly -- if not daily -- 10-minute recess. I am anticipating the bell and allowing (forcing) myself to peck out something each day -- even if it is sappy, crappy, maudlin, crude. Even if it is unremarkable.