Thursday, August 09, 2007

facebook 2 - worlds fall in

Sometimes I think time behaves like an alternate universe, that the me-who-I-was-then is still there, perpetually existing and I could sidestep into that time. Sometimes memories are so sharp, so clear it's almost like you're looking through a gap straight into that concurrent past. Sometimes I long to walk through a memory (Fred's first days, the afternoons in various shared houses, sitting outside with friends in the sunshine, drinking beer, laughing hysterically and feeling young and free).
Of course I am not alone in this - it marks us as temporal creatures - the pastness of the past is part of our shared melancholy (part pleasure, part pain). This is why movies like Peggy Sue Got Married succeed, a movie I once bought an ex-rental copy for $3 at a closing down sale at a video store, and therefore have watched more times than substance or quality would demand of the viewer - yet it is perfect comfort food fare. And why is it comforting? Because it suggests a chance to do-over. It says we can go back to an earlier event knowing what we know now, and see things for what they really are. Perhaps this is where something like Facebook is so seductive. It's - potentially - like a party where there's all these people you knew at different times in your life in the one room.
But tell me now, does anyone REALLY want to go to a party like that?
Don't get me wrong. I adored Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion, simultaneously laughing and cringing, wholly identifying (does everyone think they didn't quite fit in high school?). Zoe and I occasionally talked about going to our 10 year high school reunion, worrying that the most interesting thing we'd done, like Romy and Michelle, was move to Melbourne (except that they moved to San Francisco or something). But my 10 year reunion (I believe attempts were made to organise one but there wasn't enough interest, perhaps because so many of us were living away from Tasmania or perhaps because ten years wasn't long enough to feel we'd truly left those selves behind) fell when I was 25, and I was in the throes of an existential crisis. I felt no inclination to go back when I was so unsure of how to go forward.
These days I'm extremely happy with my place in the world, happier than I ever would have expected to be as a teenager. Which is not to say that high school was utterly traumatic. But without a doubt the four years I spent at Taroona High weren't the best years of my life. Thank god. I'm glad that I'm qualified to say with utter conviction to my own daughters when they're in high school 'It gets better. It gets so much better.' The people I shared that time with are now, for the most part, strangers to me. To reacquaint myself with them seems a peculiar exercise and I am not quite sure why I would do it. And yet I seem to have joined a (small) group on Facebook created for that purpose. What drives me? What drives any of us? (the overwhelming tone is 'good lord, why am I here?') Of course the uncomplicated answer is that there are people in that group who I genuinely liked back then, who I thought were clever and funny and interesting, who I wish well, and would love to hear what clever things they've done since. It's mostly curiosity I guess, it's the epilogue, the 'where are they now?' But there's other psychological impulses at work, clearly, because part of me is uncomfortable with it. It's partly I guess to measure change, surely if they have changed, I have changed, if they have not changed, I have not changed. How much of who we were then is in us now, how much can you tell about a person by the teenage school persona? The part of me that wries YA is especially interested in this.
Who are we to each other? It's a strange and distorted mirror, looking at the people who shared your childhood or adolescence, not because they loved you, or because they chose you, but because they were simply there. High school is intense, not just because you're a teenager, but because of the degree of daily contact you have with a group of people of odd number, too many to care about them all, but few enough that you are connected, and that connection oddly lasts throughout life. I would not choose (and have not chosen in adult life) that degree of society. There's a reason why I'm a writer, why I worked from home even before I had children. It's a strange mirror, a mirror that tells us what we are not as much as what we are, a mirror that gives us glimpses into the sideways universe where we are always 15. (Why does that thought give me a cold shiver of dread? Always 15? Perhaps it's time to go break that poor girl out.)


  1. I choose to look at it as recapturing a little youth, reminds me of days before crying kids, lack of sleep ins, days when everything was about me, not everyone else. Before bills and adult responsabilities (tho we all thought we were sooo grown up!). Also at reunions, you get face your deomons with a new set of strengths behind you (the bitch that always gave you a hard time is now dirt beneath your shoe!). It is a time to catch up with those you liked, but also time to right old wrongs (real or imagined!)
    my 2c

  2. Anonymous2:32 PM

    This is beautifully expressed. I never know whether to laugh or cry when I think of back then...but now I'm wondering whatever happened to so and so?!! I ran into tall, slim blonde Georgina from college, the other day in Sydney and we had one of those, such and such is doing that, conversations. And I have to admit I find it fascinating, although I wondered how and earth she already knew about some things about me!

  3. Anonymous6:30 PM

    The curiosity factor is a huge pull. I love to hear what people I have known have become. Probably because I'm perpetually amused by what I have become.

  4. Anonymous10:08 AM

    I find it fits me well. The comfortable illusion of a shared physical space with the security of lots and lots of actual distance appeals to me precisely because it allows me to be the person that each of my friends used to know without having to reconcile that with who I am now. And I manage to avoid conflict between the different version of me because people I'm actually close to, in real life, know today's me.

  5. Anonymous11:16 PM

    I really like your theory on shared melancholy.

  6. Anonymous8:46 AM

    Well said.
    For better or worse I have changed from that bratty little oink I was at 15 as I'm sure we have all. All that childhood rubbish was left behind years ago.

    I'd like to see how far I've come.


  7. I know, something tells me that if I broke my 15 year old self out, ten minutes in her company and I'd be throwing her back in again.