Last week I had dinner with a friend who I hadn’t seen in months. Over a bottle of wine she told me of her relationship troubles, her unfulfilling job and her overall bummer state. I was confused. Although we hadn’t been face to face since the summer, my creepy online stalker-self had been diligently keeping up with the digital story of her life. The glimpse of her existence that I had been viewing – all the Valencia filtered shots of glorious Sundays spent with her man, the geotagged snaps of wild nights out, the silly updates and articles pinned on Facebook – gave the illusion that she was a blissful human with a life to envy. But that’s what social media is, right? A bragging charade, a carefully curated view into who you are and how fabulous your life is.
It would be hypocritical of me to find fault in her manic masquerade. I’m guilty of it, you’re guilty of it, now everyone and literally their moms are guilty of committing at least a shade of personality fraud. We’re all getting dangerously good at pretending.
And yes, sometimes our lives are awesome, but like everything, our good fortune and contentedness comes in waves. In between all the “insta” worthy moments, sad things happen, challenges present themselves, we experience set backs, face tragedies and make mistakes. Throughout the good times there are bad, but seemingly not for our online counterparts.
Online we tell a golden version of our lives filled with accomplishments, strictly (and often unbelievably) fun times, and a never-ending well of wit. The glorified digital narrative that we construct of our lives worries me like a 1950’s housewife watching Elvis wiggle his hips on TV. Our modern-day record keeping seems wildly inaccurate to the truth of our inner lives. What is happening in our too-much-information-nation? But more importantly, what is happening with us? Behind all the selfies and sandwich shots, who are we?
In order to correct the imbalance of truth, I propose we start writing it down. We share so much of ourselves with the web, but do we take enough time accounting for our private lives in realm that is removed from the world of likes, comments and followers? The idea of keeping a journal is nothing new, but we’re living in a time where we could benefit from taking a personal inventory of who we are, lest we deceive our future selves through our revisionist digital autobiographies.
While our faces are buried in our phones, we risk missing the smaller details in life. If we don’t remember the bad, how can we possibly enjoy the good to the highest degree? With time, I’m concerned we’ll look back at our Facebook timelines and mistake the façade that we presented of ourselves as fact for who we actually were.
As a writer who spends a large (and probably unhealthy) amount of time writing about herself, I often hear the condemnation of navel gazing. Sure, it is narcissistic to think your life is exciting enough to put to paper, but is it really more self-centered than a side-angled pouty pose of you enjoying your fun-filled Saturday night in the club, posted to Instagram with hopes of garnering likes from your followers, confirming that, yes, you are hot? I would venture to say that the former is self-reflective and productive, while the latter is vapidity and belly-button eagle eye-ing at its worst.
I’m not recommending you go all “dear diary” and start documenting your daily rhythms by laboriously chronicling what you ate for breakfast, the jerk who cut you off on the freeway, or what your plans are for the weekend—if that works for you, do it, but there’s no need to pen a three volume memoir. What I’m championing is the process of jotting down your feelings, thoughts, conversations, inspirations, events that meant something to you now that you might benefit from reflecting on in the future. This is a dose of honesty for you today, in five months, in ten years, at 97. To look back on after your next break up, when you’re contemplating marriage, on your graduation, before a big interview, or simply on a rainy day.
Your notebook should be far from the manicured image you pimp out on Instagram, Facebook, OKCupid, etc. In Joan Didion’s 1966 essay “On Keeping a Notebook”, written before our over-stimulated minds were flooded with technology and its never-ending distractions, she explained, “We are not talking here about the kind of notebook that is patently for public consumption, a structural conceit for binding together a series of graceful pensées, we are talking about something private, about bits of the mind’s string too short to use, an indiscriminate and erratic assemblage with meaning only for its maker.”
For me, a piece of ‘mind string’ is the harmonica chords to ‘Piano Man’ scribbled in my notebook from 2008. A stranger might assume a bizarre Billy Joel fixation, but when I revisit them in my journal, the mess of notes and the triggered sound insist on memories of a motorcycle trip through Spain and feelings of maddening love. All you need is sentence, a word, a thought, and suddenly you remember who you actually were.
If I skip forward in my notebook to 2009 I stumble upon a string of doubts, the point where this love began to unravel. The same way the smell of sunscreen can instantly bring back memories of summer, a list labeled “Pros and Cons” reminds me of the creeping anxiety I felt for planning my future. My Facebook timeline, however, tells a different tale of a giddy girl with bangs who enjoys raves, beaches, and doing the limbo.
Didion advocated for the importance of preserving a part of yourself that in time you can return to. She wrote, “It all comes back. Perhaps it is difficult to see the value in having one’s self back in that kind of mood, but I do see it; I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not… We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what screamed, forget who we were.”
Notebooks are fantastic tools for keeping in touch with our former selves that go far beyond the sculpted image we present on the web. I love delving back into my journals from middle school to the present, not because I’m a fan of the person I see there, but rather because I understand the benefit of knowing her.
I want to yell at my thirteen year-old self to please take off that padded bra stop being in such a rush to grow up. I want to hold my fourteen year-old self and explain to her that you are the company you keep and the sooner she starts loving herself the better. I want to bitch slap my sixteen year-old self, she was one angsty girl. I want to tell my seventeen year-old self not to mistake lust for love and to please stop talking to that boy in the band that told you he learned how to play “Brown-Eyed Girl” for you when, in fact, your eyes are green. I want to stay up all night talking to my twenty year-old self, feeding off her energy and drinking up her thirst for spontaneity. I want to see the word through her eyes, she reminds me to believe in magic. I want to whisper in the ear of my twenty-three year-old self, and tell her that soon enough she will see that it really was a means to an end. I want to tell my twenty-five year old self to trust her gut and not settle, I want to remind her what love looks like and tell her that this is not it. But I can’t tell her any of that. All I can do is learn from her mistakes, be reminded of what to hold meaning to, take note of her intuition, celebrate the coincidences, and enjoy all the beautiful moments and connections made.
Although I already know how most of the stories end, it’s important to track the progress I’ve made, reminding me who I am and who I was. To draw my own attention to the larger patterns my tendency and predilections make when I can see them from a birds-eye view. A notebook can serve as a wake up call on what I may be rightly or wrongly romanticizing and what I may be purposefully forgetting. Notebooks give us a shot at staying honest and in touch with ourselves, something I think we should strive to be in this digital age.
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