I woke up one morning and I couldn’t open my mouth. Or if I could, I wouldn’t. Or if I would, nothing would come.
For days, I stayed off email and the phone. I made a note to friends on Facebook: “Don’t worry, I’m here. Just going to be off Facebook for a few days.” But what I meant was, “I am not here. Please don’t ask for me.”
What would it look like to attend a party for years? The music never off. Always the same snacks. No room of one’s own. Chatter, chatter, chatter, chatter. And always the ready smile, because that’s what we do at parties. Except the drunk people. They get loud. Sometimes they break things. I do not go to those kinds of parties—where people get drunk and angry.
Oh, but I do.
The day I lost my will to speak, I realized I was tired. I have been at a party for years. You could say the cause of this fatigue was all of digital life. But you would be wrong. If you said, “Facebook?” I would say I have been doing an experiment.
About six months ago, I landed on this way of framing the world. My daughter wanted to attend something she was unsure about. “Why don’t you try it as an experiment?” I said. “If it doesn’t go well, then it was just an experiment that didn’t work out.”
I was not experimenting with silence when I became mute. It simply overtook me from the inside. After several days, when I began to feel, in the smallest of ways, like I had a room of my own, where I could sense my own breathing and feel something like weights rolling down my arms and flying off from my fingertips (and each day, lighter, I felt lighter)—after this, I remembered my words to my daughter, and I became a scientist.
What would happen if I left the party? Not just for a few days, but for weeks? Or longer.
Here is the thing. Facebook is “push” technology. Things keep popping up without you asking, and the algorithms pretend to take your wants into account, but you really have virtually no control. What’s more, you are connected (semantically) to “friends,” not interests, and friends put all kinds of things out there at all hours of the day regardless of your mood and intentions at any given moment, and because they are linguistically labeled as “friends” and not “people I follow,” there is a subtle emotional obligation that comes when these posts pop up, saying whatever these posts might say. All the while, you are swinging from extreme to extreme. Laugh! Cry! (Someone died. Someone just said the damnedest thing. Oh, that’s cute. OMG, carnage. Or, here comes a carnal clip of something you hadn’t wanted to see, from some friend who has a righteous moment about it, but who happens to have shared the shocking picture in question (why?).) As with a child who is always made to finish what’s on his plate regardless of satiation, you begin to ignore your own emotional signals (the way the child ignores his physical signals), and the two are in competition—what’s being asked of you and what you might be capable of or wanting—and it’s confusing, but you keep … on … eating, because these are friends and you are at a party, after all.
Respond. Respond. Respond. And? Express. The party has trained us (or have I trained myself?) to lay out the details of our experiences and our thoughts, in an unnatural constancy, until we have given over much of our inner life to the flat sameness of a digital wall.
For the longest time, I thought I was an extrovert. I was even told that by certain people in my life, as if it should prove I ought to be more willing to go out and have a good time rather than wanting to curl up in the sun in a quiet corner with a good book. Being an outgoing person, this was an easy mistake for me (and others) to make: the judgment that I must be extroverted.
I am not an extrovert. I know that now. And this is how an outgoing person can become suddenly, deeply speechless. To live as an extrovert when that is not the reality is a frittering away of the soul, until your best thoughts and words all but disappear.
So one day my mouth refused to open. And after a few days of being silent across all channels, I suddenly knew what the issue seemed to be. Or, I chose to experiment based on a strong hypothesis, and I said goodbye to Facebook.
Will it be permanent? I might experiment with coming back the first Wednesday of every month, for a day of party-going, after allowing myself to experiment with more weeks of being away.
You might want to know (because you aren’t hearing anything about my daily life on Facebook anymore)—what am I up to?
Watching leaves swirl while I rake, walking in the sun (or rain) while looking out over the blue (or grey) of the river, cinnamon-bread baking, reading Emily of New Moon to my girls. And living with enough silence to hand me back my way with words.
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