Everyone who works for me is about a decade or two younger than I am, each with perfect skin and shiny hair and I would be jealous of them except I adore them. I feel uniquely happy to have met each person in my group. They all have more sophistication, ease, and maturity than most people have in a lifetime of living.
Today at lunch we started talking about social media.
“Instagram makes me feel bad about my life,” said Stephanie. “And Twitter makes me feel bad about the world.”
“Yeah,” said Tom, “and Facebook just makes me feel bad about other people’s lives.”
Have you ever in your life heard a better way to describe it? That just cracked me right up.
After the election I could feel myself getting sucked into some dark Twitter vortex. Occasionally I would bump into people or tweets from parts of the internet I have never visited and I would feel overcome with ickiness. After a few months, I think I developed a Twitter addiction. It’s also no coincidence that during this time I started sleeping poorly, feeling depressed and worried about the state of the world, and then sometime in mid-March I started breaking out in hives.
While we were in Stockholm over Easter, I went cold turkey-ish on twitter. I used my limited online time for posting vacation pics and steered clear of the obsessive news reading. Since then I have managed to moderate my weird Twitter problem, if I start reading too much of it I can feel myself getting anxious so I timebox it.
Instagram is a happy place for me, so is Pinterest. Even though I completely understand Stephanie’s take on these outlets, I love looking at beautiful images and it makes me feel inspired and satisfied. Part of this is because I am an artist and I had to let go of comparing my life to a picture a long time ago. Imagine the first time you see a Salvador Dali painting or a masterpiece by Manet — that’s not something most mortals can recreate. As an aspiring artist, comparing yourself to the masters is a first-class ticket to cirrhosis of the liver.
There are whole scientific studies out there proving that Instagram makes people feel anxious about their lives, and I have real-life friends who have told me about their Pinterest/Insta-anxiety, so I know it’s a thing. I am on Instagram all the time and have very rarely felt worse for it, and yay, great for me, but man I am sensitive when it comes to words. Pictures are great and twitter is what it is — but comments and reviews, that’s where I fall apart.
You may have noticed that I don’t have a Facebook.
I have never had a Facebook page. Well, that’s not entirely accurate — I do have a feeble, completely unpopulated account that I use exclusively for tracking my candy crush progress. I have three “friends” on that account, one is real and two are bots. One of the bots is beating me at Candy Crush and it tortures me.
All these years later I do not regret my absence from facebook. I see my friends stress out about politics and blocking people and unfriending and what do you do when your coworkers try to friend you? I know some folks who find facebook integral to their happiness. My friend Justin says it’s how he keeps up with his far-flung family, coordinates his schedule, and shares pictures of his kids to his friends. He loves his facebook breaks the way I love double tapping on beautiful snapshots of hand knits and insta-cats. Each to their own!
Social media is still an evolving thing with me, but blogging is solidly in my lane. Blogging was the third or fourth incarnation of my online life. More than a decade before Crazy Aunt Purl, I started an online journal on Geocities, way before the Diaryland days. Then came my weird website all about lobsters (don’t ask) replete with a round up of the lobster cams of the world– surprisingly, yes, there was more than one live streaming lobster cam. I was working at a movie studio back then, and recently I bumped into a guy here on the lot that I had not seen since those prehistoric years at WB, and he said, “Laurie Perry!! Do you still have a lobster cam site!?” and we laughed our butts off. The internet was super quirky in the early days.
Let’s see– post Lobsterland, I dipped my toe in the cam girl waters. Back then, cam girl wasn’t a sexual thing. There was no nudity, it wasn’t skeevy like today’s internet, you just occasionally live streamed yourself doing boring things like painting your nails or talking or listening to music while you typed. I was kind of boring and didn’t last long. After that came my first online magazine. Calling it an “online magazine” is kind of hilarious, since it was hot pink and entirely written by me, featuring articles and horoscopes and random wisdom all created by me, me, and me. It did very well over time. That site came to a thunderous crash at the same time the internet dot-bombed and my marriage began to implode. There was a quiet spell for a year or two while I spiraled way, way down. And then there was the creation of old crazyauntpurl.
I loved writing that blog.
It became my only outlet during a tenuous and uncertain part of my life. I had no plan, no goal, no filter. This was pre-social media, in the tender year or two before everyone online made themselves into a brand and started monetizing their ad stream with SEO buzzword hashtag dot meme.
I met some incredible people through that blog. I wrote a book, and another one, and I love those memories. I also learned what it felt like to become the Internet’s art project, a whole world of voyeurs watching a tiny sliver of my life through a window.
When I think about that time in my life, I feel astonished that I made it through. It was absolutely one of the worst periods of depression and despair I’ve ever experienced … and I put it all out there for the world to see. At that time I had no idea that anyone would want to read a diary written by a woman who was three sheets deep into a nervous breakdown, had four cats, a mountain of debt, a boring job, and regularly launched into long monologues about the perils of eyelash yarn.
That simple little blog and the people who I “met” online through it were sometimes my only confidantes. I don’t want to think about what I might have done to myself if things had gone differently. What if I had never taken that one knitting class? And what I hadn’t started my knitting blog? Would I still be here today?
I remember very clearly sitting at my desk one day over ten years ago, quietly plodding away at my soul-sucking beige bank job downtown when an earthquake began to rattle through the halls. The skyscraper started to sway and groan and crackle. I was TERRIFIED. The earthquake made headlines all around the country and yet not one person who knew me in real life called or emailed to see if I was ok. Before I could go into a drama spiral about being all alone in the world, about four zillion people online checked in on me to see if I had surfed the moving fault lines. That was the day I first realized you could feel love from words sent to you by complete strangers. The connections built online could be as strong, or even stronger, than those in daily life.
A lot of times, people don’t need advice… they just want emotional reassurance that they aren’t crazy.
That blog was a huge part of my life. Over time, the divorce and the person I was during that period became small in the rearview mirror. I changed, I got better, I moved on and dated and traveled and had ups and downs, new jobs, new cars, new jeans, new worries, new plans, new problems, new dreams. The things I had written on that website were accurate, but they did not feel true any more. I needed a break from being an internet fixer-upper project. I wanted to go out and live my life and see what came after aunt purl.
So I did. I didn’t say goodbye (maybe my one regret), I didn’t make a whole about it, I just stopped living online and started living my life. Sometimes I would worry about it, or find myself having to explain to yet another person who googled me that I wasn’t still crying alone in a corner eating my hair and calling for my mommy. Many people keep a journal during dark periods of their lives, but not too many folks choose to put it online. Sometimes I cringed at my ownself. Now I feel compassion for that part of my life. I realize now that I felt free to be so raw and honest because I didn’t see how I would survive much longer. I had no worries about consequences I would face in a life I didn’t plan to keep living.
Hard to write that last sentence, but true.
My how things have changed.
Today I am as close to sane as I have ever been, which isn’t a high bar but is a very happy outcome. I’m pleased to be yammering all my thoughts in yet another online diary, it’s comforting to me and I love doing it. The biggest change is that I am no longer painfully isolated and alone, reaching out for a thread of connection in the ether. That seemingly simple concept of “connection” is a greater accomplishment to me than anything I have ever written, published, earned, sold, or scaled. It was worth taking some time off from living online. It forced me to create an offline life, no small task these days.
Not everyone who “met” me during that brief, dark window in the past will recognize me today as the same person. If you read my online diary back then you might think I have pogo-sticked on to some new sort of lifestyle. But the truth is much more complicated — after so many years, I am only now solidly back on the road I was traveling when the difficulties derailed me. I’m a better person for having gone through all that, but for fuck’s sake I certainly did take my sweet time.