Day Twenty: Friending and Sharing Revisited

A group of retirees sit at a table and debate the debt ceiling.  I doubt Washington will be consulting these gurus, but they don’t care.  It’s a game where points are won through logic and humor, where talking over another is the norm and where no one bothers to ask questions.  It sounds like a bad case of real-life cable news and maybe it is – except that they pull it off with an implied wink that you’d never see from Glenn Beck.

I’m shaky nervous as I set up my MacBook.  Brenna sounds out the noises of each farm animal.  My mentor Brad the Philosopher once told me that courage begins small, in tackling tiny fears in everyday life.  It’s a habit, like washing your hands or shooting up heroine.

I’m outnumbered, though, and that makes it all the more terrifying.

I breathe deeply, stand up and gesture toward them.  “Hey, I have a funny video.  Anyone want to see it?”

For all the contentious debate among them, each man looks toward the other for guidance in this simple decision.  One man shrugs his shoulder, giving the group the go-ahead.  Maybe it’s generational.  Perhaps those raised in an era of front porches and social clubs don’t see anything odd about watching a short video with a stranger.  Or maybe it’s Brenna.  An eighteen month old can be pretty disarming.

We walk over to a clip of The Onion News Network.  The men laugh collectively, on cue at each joke.

“That was funny.  Thanks for sharing it,” a man says.

Another man pulls out a small pad of paper and writes down “watch videos from the onion on http://www.youtube.com.”  I don’t have the heart to tell him that no one uses www. anymore.   I sit down at the table and allow Brenna to listen to “Tree By the River.”

She dances.

I’m jealous. I’m wishing I wasn’t so easily embarrassed to be myself in public.

* * *

It’s been years since I made a new friend.  I’m very comfortable with my small circle of unwavering mutual admiration. However, in doing the Living Facebook Experiment, I’m realizing that “making friends” is something deep and profound that I’ve sort-of neglected as a result of family life and social media.  I “meet” people on Twitter, for example, but I have very few people who truly know the unvarnished version of me.

So I call an acquaintance.  I’m terrified.  The phone slips from my sweaty palms.  Truth is that I get this way every time I have to make a phone conversation.  It could be my naturally introverted nature.  Or maybe the years of being yelled at when working customer service.

“Is Tim there?” I ask.

“That’s me,” he says.

“Hey, this is John Spencer.”

“What’s up?” he asks.

“Well, I’m sending you a friend request.  We’re pretty good acquaintances, but I think we should be friends.”

“I’ll accept that friend request and give you a thumbs up,” he explains.

We decide on a time to meet for a pint. Friendship is never that easy.  I get that.  It happens in layers.  However, whether it’s the sense of relational isolation or the distance from community, I am beginning to see that the first real layer is fear.  And it strikes me as odd that in doing something completely irrational (like Living Facebook), I am facing the greater irrational fear that has come to feel so normal to me.

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Day Fifteen: Sharing a Video

As a medium, video holds a powerful place in my life.  The television is the focal point of our family room, the guide we seek out when tragedy strikes and the place we go for a dose of diversion.  It’s how we share our cultural stories and how we process our world.  All too often, however, I experience this medium in solitude.

However, with Facebook, I have a chance to share the experience socially.  Occasionally people create their own videos, but typically they link to another video on YouTube.  Afterward, I post a comment, “Yeah, that Jim Gaffigan cake routine is a hoot.”  Or I simply toss out a thumbs up.

So, in living out Facebook, I start with sharing a clip from The Onion News Network in the staff lounge.  Although I had seen the clip numerous times, it feels somehow more original with the fresh laughter of fellow teachers.  Unlike Facebook, where the clip led to an interesting discussion, only one person comments in the staff lounge.

She shrugs her shoulders and says, “I don’t get it.  Fake news.  How is that funny?”

*     *      *

I share a class video with my students.  Although I pretend it wasn’t much of an effort, I am secretly scared.  Something about the hours of work and the creative energy stirs up this fear that somehow it will be mocked and I will be found out as an artistic fraud.  Instantly I’m twelve again and I’m scared at what my peers will think.

We gather together in two semi-circle rows and wait for the projector light to brighten up.  I stare at a still-frame image of us, larger than life, consuming half the classroom.  I click the spacebar and the story begins.  Our story.  Our movie.  Our unassuming epic.

Unlike a Facebook, in a classroom the comments begin during the video with murmured whispers of “remember that” and “hey that was me” and “I can’t believe I used to look that little.” We laugh, not in lol’s and rofl’s, but in collective chuckles.  As the video moves toward its closure, the comments cease.  We are watching ourselves, seeing our story, remembering our mythology.

When the video ends, students clap.  Some cry.  Some sniffle and pretend that it’s allergies.  Others look away, trying silently to make sense out of what this year means to their story.  Nobody comments.  Nobody offers a thumbs up.  But we’re closer now than ever before.

I could post it to the private area of our class blog, but instead I pass out individual DVD’s.  In this moment, students want artifacts; something tangible to hold onto as evidence of a community that developed over the course of a year.  And I’m struck by the deeply human need to literally hold onto our memories with our own two hands. We need relics, not merely of sacred people but of the sacred spaces that shaped us.