Yesterday, at our public library's annual book sale, an older acquaintance and I happened to meet at one of the many tables. "So I see you're on my Facebook," she said.
"Oh, well yes," I said, a little confused because it was she who had sent me a friend request.
She went on to say how the whole thing disgusted her, and how from her point of view, it was all a big ego trip, a way to say "Look at me, everyone, look at my pictures and see my great life." Although I know she was talking about the site in general, and could not deny at least some truth in her opinion, I began to feel sensitive about how much I share on the site.
I told her how I have a lot of family and friends spread half way across the country and Facebook is a great way to share photos and jokes and little things about our lives with each other. I also joked that I was fairly careful not to brag about my children too much, because I know that can be irritating to some people.
"Oh, I don't mean you," said my acquaintance. "I'm only joking." And she walked away fairly quickly.
As I continued my search for gems hiding somewhere between the pulp fiction and the self-help books, I tried to shake off the discomfort I was feeling as a result of the exchange with my acquaintance; perhaps she did mean me and didn't want to tell me point-blank to my face. Suddenly my Facebook life flashed before my eyes. Every photo, every quip, every opinion, every link to my two blogs I had shared over the past few weeks passed through my mind like the pages of a flip book. I decided not to spend any more time (just then) worrying about what had just passed and concentrate on finding some books with my youngest daughter who had accompanied me to the sale.
The experience at the book sale brought to mind something a friend had said to me when we lived in the Campbell River region of Vancouver Island. Campbell River had been home to a writer named Roderick Haig-Brown who had become nationally and internationally famous for his beautifully written books on fly-fishing, on nature and the adventure of living and working on the West Coast, and for his stories for young readers. Haig-Brown, while well respected by local environmentalists, outdoors people and literary types, was somewhat scoffed at by others in the region, my friend being one of them. "That guy?" she said, "He couldn't wait to die so everyone could hear the eulogy he wrote about himself." Poor Haig-Brown. I will admit that my friend is something of a philistine, but then, I didn't know the England born Haig-Brown personally, only visited his house which was a Provincial Heritage Property now run as a B&B by a live-in caretaker and read a few of his books - the ones not about fishing - so I was not in a position to argue. In addition to being a prolific published writer Haig-Brown was a magistrate in Campbell River and drove around in his sleek Jaguar. He died in 1976. As usual, I thought of something to say to my friend in reply much later. (They call that 'carriage wit', as in, you think of your witty retort in the carriage on the way home from the party.) I thought perhaps my friend did not understand the personality of a great writer like Haig-Brown, of their need to communicate their thoughts, to bounce them off, well, somebody; the great pleasure they take in something they have written to their satisfaction after mulling over it first in their minds until it has the right aura, and then getting that intangible glowing thing down on paper in words, glorious jumblings of letters on the page which culminate into something like art, if not art itself.
I knew my friend was mocking Haig-Brown for his ego because she had said as much, so I decided to look up the word. In my tattered copy of Webster's New World Dictionary the word 'ego' has three meanings. 1. the individual as aware of himself; the self 2. conceit 3. psychoanalysis the part of the psyche which governs action rationally. The first two meanings interested me the most because people generally think of ego as being conceit. When it comes to a writer, however, I tend to think most writers are individuals incredibly aware of themselves, and this, while doubly a blessing (because it enables them to be incredibly aware of others) and a curse (because all that awareness can be exhausting) for a writer, appears to others, especially those not terribly understanding of the artist's ways, as conceit and self-absorption and even exhibitionism.
I grew up with writers and learned to recognize the signs of productivity, and the signs of despondency in them. The constant juggling of the exterior and interior life of a writer makes for a rewarding but, at times, difficult path which is understood by few. This lack of understanding is both humbling and frustrating, and the writer must simply carry on doing what he must do. For his sanity, and for his art.
So, in the end and despite my annoying sensitivity to the opinions of others, I will carry on sharing my writing on Facebook, along with anything else I please. I have realized that it is communication and expression of ideas which make me tick - dare I call myself a writer - and if Facebook is one of the formats for that expression then so be it.