"When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time." —Maya Angelou
"I'm sorry." It's what you say when you've said something callous or even intentionally mean to someone in the heat of the moment. I get it. Love doesn't mean never having to say you're sorry.
And yes, Mark Zuckerberg finally admitted he was sorry, five interminable days later. But no, it wasn't enough. "I'm sorry I was found out" is not the stuff of an apology, especially not where the dismantling of democracy on a global scale is the intended outcome.
Let me put it this way. If a loved one says something mean in order to be mean, I take that seriously, and their apology had better be sincere. If a loved one were to hit me, we're in another kind of place altogether, a serious "you do not have access to me" place. And if a loved one gets drunk and harms me, and says sorry the next day ("it wasn't me, I was drunk"), then they don't get access again—or not until they have demonstrated over an extended period of time that no substance is driving in place of a human self.
All of which is to say that I am leaving Facebook. I'm a bit sad about it, a bit scared. I have a community of mostly like-minded individuals on Facebook, with enough variation to provoke and enough similarity to provide support (yes, that's probably both a good thing and a not so good thing, but for one who has lived most of her life as an outsider, it's a welcome thing). I have made some real friends through Facebook, people I would not have met otherwise. Maybe there are others I will never meet. And maybe everyone else will stay happily connected and I will be carrying my prophetic sign alone.
But I think of descriptions I've read about the romance of addiction, the romance of the drink, the romance of the smoke, the romance of gambling. And I think of the romance of the like, the heart, the tears, the wow, the angry brow. I will have to learn to speak in sentences again (I hear friends' LOL), and to draw my own icons. But I suspect that I will recover a whole lot when I let go of Facebook. The Cambridge Analytica story is huge, but the simple "like" is easily as big and as bad because it was designed to make addicts of us, to keep us glued to the screen, trying to get a quick hit where a deep draught of breath is needed. I want the deep draught again, probably even more than I want to tell Mark Zuckerberg that saying sorry doesn't make it better (he also said: "we have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can't, then we don't deserve to serve you").
I am reading a book now, and learning another language, and practicing a piece of music. Because these are the kinds of things I have terribly missed doing. The book is Life Everlasting: The Animal Way of Death by Bernd Heinrich. The language is Italian. The music is the Exsultet, the joyful chant for solo voice that is part of the Easter vigil service. I confess that I choke on some of the lyrics, so forgive me if I substitute lyrics that are truer to my lights. It's a beautiful chant and I love to sing it, so I have to find a way. Just as I have to find a way back—or rather, forward—to doing things I love to do, instead of staring at a screen watching the same five icons.
And then there's this. As if the blue thumb were not a powerful enough draw, last summer I was told that if I ever wanted to publish another book, I would need a big established media presence. I hired consultants. I created interlinked media accounts. I blogged regularly. I published beautiful photos of animals I have been privileged to meet face to face, though even as I published those photos I missed the real animals. Facebook was in the middle of it, still is. I came to see it as a way to do the work I love, writing about human-animal relations. But it also became a matter of analyzing responses and counting likes, knowing that potential publishers would be counting them too. And is that the way I want to write? Is that the level of thought and expression and engagement that I hope to achieve? No. Is it the magic wand on the way to (some) people who might think and express and engage at deeper and more complex levels? Maybe. But it's a chance I have to take.
Emily Dickinson, a poet famous for her mystery, has been the subject of more literary analyses than anyone except Shakespeare. She died virtually unpublished, little known and vastly misunderstood even within her small circle. She wanted to be published, known, understood. When she died, she left two thousand poems neatly sewn into volumes in her dresser drawer. She died a failure of sorts, a saint of sorts, a winner of sorts, a creative genius. For years, I have kept a picture of her tombstone on my writing table. I think I know what she would say about the blue thumb. I think I know because I have read her work, repeatedly and deeply. And I think I will go polish the frame on that photo now, and say an overdue and sincere thanks to her, a thanks that recognizes the magnitude of her accomplishment in living a life of integrity, and of great artistic worth, without ever having had any blue thumbs to show for it. As for Facebook:
P.S. This post is twice the length it should be for "today's readership." No apology. And yes, I will keep blogging, and adding photos of animals to my website, knowing that Google, too, owns and sells my voice.
P.P.S. Graffiti in the snow by Ian David Hill (1926–2015), my beloved father-in-law. It's the best of epitaphs.