photo cred: Socality Barbie
Dear Socality Barbie,
I broke the Chemex coffee maker this morning trying to take a photo of it. It’s dumb to even ask why I was trying to document the experience– I wanted people to know that I’d gotten up, made my own coffee, and was now preparing to conquer the first Monday of the fall in a flannel. Why else would I need the perfect morning lighting and my cellphone at 6am?
The cone of the Chemex cracked as I abruptly hit it against the kitchen cabinet and watched the spout shatter into three thick pieces. My dad got my mom the Chemex for their anniversary. She looked at me and blinked twice like, “Why are you even taking a picture of this?” Now I have to buy her a new coffee maker before I fly back to Georgia on Sunday.
Now not a single soul knows how authentically I managed to live this morning with my coffee and my journal and my bible. If you felt like your day was missing something then it was probably that photo. Happy to solve the mystery for you, Socal.
But do you know what happened after the glass cracked this morning? Life moved forward without the documentation. I sipped my coffee. It was still good and piping hot. No one was made better or worse because of some inspirational caption I planned to pair with a photo softened by VSCO Cam. I tasted real life for a second and it felt pretty foreign on my lips. I wrapped myself in a blanket and a little bit of conviction for this day: why is it necessary to obsess over making life look perfect for the others? We all know it isn’t. Why does the charade play on until something breaks? Glass or a heart, why can’t I actually show you my real mess?
You weren’t made to have my actual, day-to-day mess.
It’s you and a couple hundred or thousand followers who are not equipped for what happens when my junk actually hits the fan. You and I both know it, Socal: the day you get drunk and verbose, leave Ken, and act like an angry train wreck with a megaphone on all your social media streams then people on the fringes won’t want you anymore. It’s harsh but probably true. Ken’s friends will unfollow you. You’ll figure out if Skipper isn’t just some Judas with long hair and high heels when she goes after Ken like hot bait.
So manage your mess, Barbie. We want a mess we can monitor from the people we follow. We want honesty without the bruising. We want the kind of pain that is digestible and won’t disturb our days. The day you use social media as a megaphone for your pain– the kind of pain latte art can’t touch– people will leave you.
Some people will start talking in their circles the day you start to let the anger and the rant statuses flow. They will start psycho-analyzing and putting the pieces together from a safe distance. They will take social media and turn it into a soap opera, sigh out of relief as they say, “At least I’m doing better.” But when did tiny glimpses of our lives– cropped to perfection– become the measuring stick for who is doing better and who is doing worse? When did life, and managing to live it, become a competition and a comparison? When did we confuse the real with fake and the fake with real?
My mom thinks I’m being a little too cruel to you, Barbie, seeing as you aren’t really “real” but I reminded her of all the times people manage to say, “Well, that person was fun to follow until that happened.” And we all know what that thing was.
Point is this: we want you right now, Barbie. We like you right now. You are doing something awesome and managing to make some really great puns of out of posed coffee shots and #liveauthentic hashtags. When you are doing something awesome people will always want to claim you and tag you. When you are making life look easy then people want to follow you.
Social media is in the DNA of our relationships now.
It scares me to say that but it’s true. I wanted to see how a friend was doing the other day and I clicked into her Instagram. I checked her off my mental list without even using the phone in my hand to perform the task it was always meant to do– dial and hear a person’s crackly voice on the other line, find out they’re okay. I know how damaging that action of mine was. I know because I sat across from a friend last winter, in the thick of a depression I chose to name after a city because it was just that wide and just that big, and I heard them say to me, “From the looks of social media, you are doing just fine.”
Them saying that, it broke my heart. It broke my heart to think that, because I had white walls in all my pictures, it meant there was no longer a reason to reach out and ask if I was really doing okay. Socality Barbie, I am so afraid to check people off my list because of surface level visuals. I am so afraid to find out, too late, that I needed to ask “how are you” before someone died inside and no one could get to them.
Please don’t hide within the cracks of the exposed-brick breweries and trendy tiled coffee shops you find. If you are lost, pick up the phone and call someone. If you think you are about to lose someone (and yes, there is a gut feeling for that), pick up the phone and call them. Ask them four words: are you really okay?
We save lives everyday when we just manage to speak up.
This whole letter might be a terrible waste.
Maybe your life is as perfect as you portray it to be, Socality Barbie. In that case, congratulations! You beat us all with your plastic lattes and trendy hiking boots. Regardless, I hope you find something real today. Something tangible and intangible, all at the same time, that you would skip the act of documenting it just so you could live inside it for a little bit longer.
I hope you spot a rare, soon to be extinct, moment. And I hope it’s all yours- no need to share it. Maybe it’s the smile of an old man who is going to leave this earth real soon. Maybe it’s a piece of a mail from a friend you used to be able to trace the scent of when they showed up in a room. Maybe it’s a single dance from a cute stranger at a wedding who makes you feel like you’re the most beautiful thing in his orbit.
Either way, I hope you feel known.
I hope you feel picked out and chosen.
I hope something grabs you so hard, shakes you so good, that even the notifications can’t touch it.
You’re not fake, Socality Barbie. You– like the rest of us– are probably just doing the best you can within a world that wants to trace and tag every tiny, beautiful piece of itself.