Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Fascination of Old Friends on Facebook

Social media can be (and often is for me) a massive productivity loss, but it satisfies a yearning in me to connect with my past, feel good about my present, and to realize that a lot of those people I have lost touch with have helped me form opinions and in many thousands of little ways made me who I am today.

I was indulging my voyeuristic tendencies on facebook this evening (even better than celebrity gossip magazines because I get let in on the minutiae of people I actually know), and I finally figured out that if I clicked on the two heads in the lefthand corner it would take me to the “people you may know” category.  There are, apparently, millions of people I may know, but do not know because after an hour of scrolling, there were yet still more friend suggestions.  It feels planetary in its scale.

While ambling through and clicking on some familiar names and faces (many, being in the forty something bracket of people, whose faces don’t even remotely resemble their names), more than once I came across a name, thinking, “Oh, I knew that person from high school” and when I clicked on their name, it was, “Oops, I taught that person.”

Yes, age sneaks up on you and not just on your fat cells, either, as evidenced by many-a-picture.  I still remember the day I walked into Mrs. Olsen's 1st grade classroom thinking I had hit the big leagues.  Many are the days I step into my own classroom thinking to myself in amazement, "I'm the teacher?"

It's fun to be "friends" with your present-day friends on facebook, but I must say, I am much more fascinated by my friends from the past.  I am nearly 30 years away from high school graduation and my Greendale, conservative Mennonite upbringing.  To "spy" on the lives of the kids I once shared a three room country school house with and see how their lives have changed (and not), is endlessly fascinating.

Is Dale still eating lemon cheese sandwiches?  (What is lemon cheese anyway?)  Does Sharon still snub her nose at authority?  (Yup!  You go, girl!)  What about one the closest buddies of my youth: Karen?  Has she done all she aspired to as a young dreamer?  (You bet she has and then some!)  Does Reggie still not know the difference between there, their and they're?  (I wouldn't know because he's one of the few who has kept himself free from the facebook addiction.  Maybe he's embarrassed because he can't spell.)   Is Mrs. Johnston still wearing pastel short-sleeved pantsuits with long sleeves underneath?  (Let's hope that fashion trend doesn't come back!)  I could spend hours surfing through the pages of people I have long-ago lost contact with and feel a nostalgia and curiosity that I don't feel about many other things in life.

I've always been drawn to realistic fiction that delves into character studies to the deepest degree. I don't need action or mystery or suspense, just ordinary people figuring out their every day realities.  Alice Munro, Doris Lessing, and Jonathan Franzen are all masters of the art.

People are stories unto themselves. Their plots are what comes out of the living of their lives.  When I look through people's facebook pages (especially the vociferous ones), I find myself unraveling the mysteries and equations of their lives through their posts, their pictures and the comments other people make.

Recently, a "friend" of mine has been coming unwound on facebook from what I can only diagnose from afar as schizophrenia.  I am tempted to "unfriend" her because it seems like I am watching a car crash in slow motion as her posts become more and more delusional, yet I find myself watching for her posts, wondering what is true-to-life and what is true-to-mind, and hoping she is getting help.  One could publish her comments along with the comments of her friends and actually frame together a plot for a book that would be tragically compelling.

It's so easy to get political on facebook, my biggest temptation, and it's also easy to dwell on how it's not Friday yet and how all the people in your life are losers except for you.  For myself, I try to keep my comments positive and upbeat.  Part of it, I suppose, is that I want people to think I am prospering and happy and successful, that the freckled, big-boned "church girl" from Greendale has become a world traveler and "made good."  Part of it is that I am proud of where I am and what I've done, and an even bigger part of it is that I feel called to inspire and uplift.

Of course, it would be wonderful to have a big ole facebook party and invite all the people from my past and see how things are beyond the virtual reality that we communicate in and often just peer in on without communicating at all.  Given that I live thousands of miles away and don't have a piece of property large enough to hold a bring-your-own-beer massive potluck, I don't see this happening, but I like the idea that we're kind of doing it virtually.  What are you bringing to the party?  No alcohol from this old fuddy-duddy: more like watermelon and rollkuchen, because I'm still a church girl at heart.

Which reminds me of my favourite old campfire song from Camp Squeah:

Make new friends
But keep the old:
One is silver
And the other gold.

A relatively new "silver" friend: just as valuable as the gold!

The best thing of all about facebook?  I can reacquaint myself with some of the golden friends of my past!  I've lost touch with too many dear people over the years due to high school craziness, anti-social tendencies and my life in Asia.  My new start every day is to become a better friend to some of those golden friends, even if it's through the virtual world.  Who said all friendships need to be face-to-face?

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