Facebook made me physically ill tonight. To hew to accuracy at the expense of truth, a round of interpersonal drama facilitated by and conducted over Facebook made me ill. Happily, this means that I am not currently a victim of Mark Zuckerberg’s free agency, which is a great way of staying on the sunny side of life, as they taught us in Boy Scouts, and studiously forgetting that the other party to this pathetic drama is a woman whom I hold in ever so much higher esteem than that smirking babyfaced twit.

The scenario here is horseshit worthy of the most banal, navelgazing teen emo blogs: she accepted my friend request, I made a somewhat edgy comment on one of her photos, I may have put her off further with some of the material that I had posted on my own wall, and she defriended me. The whole sequence played out within about 48 hours.

It’s absurd that I got worked up over it. It’s also absurd that it took place between a thirty-year-old man and a woman in her late twenties. But isn’t the only factor that makes this donnybrook surprising. My erstwhile Facebook friend, Lady Huntington, is by all other appearances quite levelheaded and mature. She seems to burn at a pretty hot temperature, but I’ve never taken her to be flighty, impulsive and dramatic like Sweet Thang and some of the latter’s friends. I guess I missed some signs to the contrary. Admittedly, I base this assessment on the one and only time that I met Lady Huntington and a smattering of her Facebook posts that I saw, but I think I got a fairly accurate impression of her. Some people’s personalities really come through in their portraits and writing; she seems to be one of them.

The big wrench in the works is that Lady Huntington is one of Baywatch’s friends. I met her at a birthday party of Baywatch’s that I more or less crashed. Facebook played a role in the miscommunication that time, too, basically serving as a platform for Baywatch to be coy about who was actually invited. The truth, though, is that I have been far too clingy around Baywatch and her crew down south. My feelings about Baywatch and her friends are far too entangled in my feelings for coastal Southern California, where I was first seriously tempted to relocate in 2006, more than three years before I first met Baywatch. Lord Lochforrest had an even more sporadic role in my life at that time than he does now, and since our common grandmother (biological for him, honorary for me) died I’ve had practically no relationship with her other surviving relatives. As I got to know Baywatch, then, I made the mistake of sincerely hoping that she would be the lynch pin that would make everything fall into place for me socially down south. For a month or two she was starting to do that for me in Arcata, so this wasn’t a completely ridiculous pipe dream. The big problem was that I just couldn’t keep my shit together. I was a hot mess. And I’m not kidding at all when I say that Baywatch has approached me with far more graciousness and constancy than I expected or can reasonably expect. Even a tiny bit of grace can make a huge difference when it’s genuine.

Still, my social situation can look tragic. I probably wouldn’t be such a clingy wreck around Baywatch if I hadn’t had such a hard time living on my own in Philadelphia after college. The loneliness got overwhelming a number of times, and that was with Junior Bear and his crowd maintaining bases in Horsham, Olney and Manayunk; my apartment was a few blocks from Market East, a rail hub with direct connections to all three. Lord Wallingford, a friend of mine in the District of Columbia who seems to handle solitude much better than I do and has a fairly consistent social life at work with some of his colleagues, has told me that he wishes he had more companionship. He lives alone in a studio apartment, much like I did in Philly, although even when he had roommates at his previous apartment, none of them seemed to be close to one another. The roommate situation with which I was most familiar in Philadelphia was a hell-on-wheels clique that split a rented Victorian in Manayunk. This place was one of the main crash pads for me, Junior Bear and our extended crew for a few years, and it could be a nightmare. We regularly had to deal with one of the housemates, Prefontaine, getting shitfaced, paranoid and semiambulatory; he often came home with unexplained bruises, and he needed $3k in dental work after faceplanting on the R6 tracks. He and regular houseguest Herb Hancock were both known to piss on the couches, and another housemate, Bulldog, was a weird abrasive who, I’ve been told, has mellowed out and matured beyond belief in the past couple of years. Junior Bear’s best friend told me that he declined an invitation to fill a vacancy at the Manayunk crash pad and continued living at home instead because it was simply too unhealthy an environment.

I was never as alone in Ashland as I was in Philadelphia, but in a way my living situations, first with Farmer Uncle and Stoner Aunt and then around various losers at the farm, were just more insipid variations on the horseshit that I witnessed in Manayunk. These were de facto roommate arrangements from hell; I got the same hideous drama that I would have expected from strangers on Craigslist, but without the explicit recognition of the nature of the arrangement. This delayed my recognition of what exactly was wrong with the arrangement. My default gloss was run-of-the-mill family trouble, when really Farmer Uncle pulled a lot of the same shit that unnerves people on Craigslist: butting into my business, bumming rides and groceries off of me with a studied and very forced coolness, being a slob with atrocious table manners, having petty shouting matches with his wife over trivialities all the time.

The sick irony is that I have a sizable social network in place in Ashland. This would be a huge help if it weren’t comprised overwhelmingly of assholes, earnest dipshits, and those beholden to either or both. It was a fool’s errand for me to try to reframe my reasons for being in Ashland, or for doing anything else. Believe me, I tried, but Farmer and Stoner kept hosing everyone down with more self-serving bullshit whenever I tried to correct the record; I was shoveling the Augean Stables. If I wanted to be my own person in Ashland, I would have to shut out almost everyone I know there and hope that my social circles don’t come to include people who know Farmer or Stoner, both of them quite well-known and popular in town. I have neither the energy nor the skill to adequately counteract the barrage of fabrications, presumptions, half-truths and lies that Farmer and Stoner unleash on all who are within earshot. I can’t deal with that place. It’s bad juju land.

Plus there’s Farmer Uncle’s disinhibited behavior. I consulted Lord Wallingford about it since he’s an attorney, and he said that Farmer is clearly off his goddamn rocker. As he put it with respect to Farmer’s drinking behind the wheel and defying my parents’ wish that he stop, “he obviously isn’t playing with a full deck.” That was my thought, too, but my parents seemingly can’t bring themselves to admit that this country drunk shtick is not the behavior of a person of fundamentally sound mind and good morals. My mom even brought up Rashomon as an analogy to explain how different people come to different conclusions about the same event, i.e., for why other people might not regard Farmer and Stoner as malicious yahoos. So here I am, one of the assigned family fuck-ups, forced to stand up to my parents and tell them that I’ve seen what I’ve seen, that they haven’t seen all of it, and that I’m in the right and they’re in the wrong. Besides, how the hell does one conclude that playing alcoholic’s chicken with the Oregon State Police and then defying one’s older brother-cum-major creditor when asked to stop is not completely out of control? By what reasoning is such a self-righteous ass held to be misunderstood and deserving of unending forbearance?

This stuff affects me. Even when I don’t dwell on it, it’s in the back of my mind. We have a family reunion coming up this summer, and Alien and Caretaker Aunts are planning to attend. I’d like to see both of them, but things are obviously really touchy with Farmer and Stoner, and I’m at a loss to keep them from lighting the powder keg in the interest of airing and assuaging their own butthurt. I’m not likely to lay a finger on the tar baby at the reunion, since I’m very conflict-averse, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll do likewise in consideration of the small mercies that they receive from me. Then there’s Farmer Uncle’s entanglement in my professional life, which he so poisoned by injecting extraneous family drama; even so, I still need him as a reference since he’s my prior employer.  Seeing how all this shit has affected my psyche and my relationship with my parents, I can’t imagine that it doesn’t also affect relationships with my friends.

One of the things that I end up doing is venting about this drama on Facebook. I’m careful about the privacy settings, but apparently not careful enough, since I seem to have alienated several people, including formerly close friends, to the point of their defriending me because they didn’t care for my negativity. That’s the most plausible inference I can make, in any event. It’s a really disconcerting situation. Why, I wonder, would people get in touch with others on Facebook if they do not want to hear about what’s on their minds? The very platform is notorious as a den of oversharing; that risk is known. It’s an inherent problem for anyone who doesn’t severely self-censor, because it’s impossible to keep track of dozens, let alone hundreds or thousands, of acquaintances’ tastes and interests for the purpose of not offending them in public or semi-public posts.

I recall twice removing people as friends because their posts were annoying me. Both of these guys were absolute bozos. One of them was a townie in Eureka who followed up a lengthy (and entirely cordial) conversation with me in a cafe by cornering me to accept him as a friend, which resulted in my feed being cluttered with a barrage of bizarre show business video links. The other guy was a very casual acquaintance from college, so casual that I cannot recall ever having a one-on-one conversation with him that lasted more than a few seconds, who cluttered my feed with endless treacly left-wing sociopolitical nonsense: Barack Obama and Anthony Weiner working miracles A, B and C for constituencies X, Y, and Z, ten great things that charities have done for America since breakfast yesterday morning, that kind of thing. He has at least twice sent me follow-up friend requests in the course of his exile, one of which I rejected and one of which I ignored. I feel bad about snubbing him in this fashion and maybe having hurt his feelings, but I just can’t countenance all the do-gooder partisan brain rot with which he bombards his electronic acquaintances.

For a few minutes this evening, I thought that the Facebook model of communication was evil and dangerous. Then I realized that it’s really just powerful. Its capacity to facilitate friendships and correspondence is amplified by its technology, but so is its capacity to fuck relationships up. The good news is that it’s everything rolled up into one: post office, photo album, Western Union office, phone book, diary, church bulletin, you name it. But that’s also the bad news. The other bad news is that the technology itself is TMI. In the old days, if one’s friend was too offended or whacked out to respond to a letter, one might have assumed that the friend’s letter carrier was one of those frazzled head cases who hoarded undelivered mail in his attic. There was enough ambiguity and a high enough error rate in the delivery system itself to give the petty bastard of a recipient the benefit of the doubt. The same thing is true even of e-mail.

Facebook offers too much reliability, precision and raw data to let the inquisitive user harbor such illusions. You wanna know what happened? Well, you know what happened now, motherfucker. In terms of knowledge, it can elevate us towards the level of gods. The problem is that with that knowledge comes pain. Jesus of Nazareth, for example, is said to have understood the full pathos of humanity, certainly to have known a lot more about it than your or I. This may not be a level of understanding that we wish to have.

Another bundling problem with Facebook is that it aggregates everybody into one place to hear everything from everyone else. Some people, especially older traditionalists, would no sooner share their personal thoughts on such a public platform than they would drop trou and shit in the town square on market day. The more historically minded among them may consider Facebook’s social dynamics a techie version of the old village idiocy, smothering gossip and all.

There certainly seems to be a weird self-promotional culture that has taken root on Facebook. I didn’t notice it for the first few years that I was a member, starting in 2004, but these days I notice it more and more. It’s probably part and parcel of assuming that everyone is in the audience all the time, since one can’t ignore one’s brand in such conditions, lest it be tarnished. Instead of serving as a platform for real engagement, it has become for many users a platform for mindless mutual flattery. Time and time again I see thoughtful, even witty posts getting either no feedback (including likes) or a tiny fraction of the feedback received by self-congratulatory banalities; self-righteous complaints usually fall somewhere in the middle for outward audience engagement. A lot of this stuff is amazingly anodyne, and much of it comes from people I recall being sharper and more thoughtful in college. I can’t help but wonder whether some of these people are tailoring their posts (subconsciously, I would think) to elicit positive feedback from the peanut gallery. But hey, if you announce your engagement to your paranoid, possessive schmuck of a boyfriend, you’ll get mad congrats from your peeps, except for the friend and sometime date you started shutting out for months at a time upon taking up with handsome.

Used thoughtlessly, this sort of technology can really fuck up relationships; been there, done that. But as I mentioned above, the thing to keep in mind is that it’s powerful. Similar things have been said about new technologies going back millennia: this blog shit is making everyone self-absorbed and arrogant; computers are turning our children into recluses; television is turning our children into recluses; these telephones and automobiles are corrupting our daughters; the Gutenberg press is of the devil; nobody can fucking remember the campfire stories now that we’ve got this writing bullshit; nah, man, you’ll kill yourself if you try to use fire. These are tools that can be very useful. The main thing to do is to have some sense when using them, and maybe step out of the press room and away from the fire pit from time to time to deal with real people in the real world.

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