I KNOW IT’S BEEN A VERY LONG TIME since I’ve written anything here. My return has the potential to be like walking into the gym after a year’s absence, arms raised in triumph, proclaiming “I’m back! Sorry to keep you guys hanging!” But the people at the front desk are new, and your favorite gym characters like the grunting guy in the shorty shorts or the lady who lounges on whatever machine you need while checking her email, have been replaced by new characters in unfamiliar shorty shorts. Nobody knows who you are or how long you have been gone, and they really truly do not care that you are back.
However, in case you are curious and have a couple of minutes, there have been some interesting developments over the past year. Our family added a second dog, Minnie, to our menagerie. I posted here long ago about how I did not want a dog, but as my oldest son prepares for high school graduation, and the youngest is entrenched in middle school, I see why people in our particular stage of life get dogs. Dogs – unlike your children and the people at the gym – are excited to see you, and you realize you’ve forgotten what that feels like.
I’ve toned down the highlights and my hair is a little browner.
I’ve found I don’t like sushi as much as I used to and I’ve miraculously fulfilled my goal of regularly making pasta from scratch.
I’ve become more serious about my skincare routine and I’ve started listening to news radio and podcasts…all natural outcomes of turning 43.
Oh, and hot darn, I wrote a book.
Released in September, “The IFs” is my first novel, and the entire experience has freaked me out in very good and very scary ways. But mostly it’s been great…fun, exciting… a dream come true, that has allowed me the coolest opportunities to talk with people about not just the process, but the story itself.
If this is the first you’re hearing about it, “The IFs” is about otherwise fully functioning adults forced by the demise of social media to create imaginary friends in order to battle their loneliness and survive a foreign social landscape. It just so happens, in real life, I’m the mom of a Y2K baby and the book takes a speculative peek into the future, when the Y2K babies are venturing out into the world as new adults. I regularly categorize “The IFs” as a quirky beach read, but at its core, the book is about friendship and human connection and what might happen if we’re suddenly deprived of both.
So through a three-plus-year process with the book, I thought a lot about loneliness, isolation, friendship and our reliance on staying electronically tethered to each other. I often stared at my phone and wondered if the thing was making me happy or miserable. I stared at my children and their friends, and wondered if they were happy or miserable as they sat silently together staring into their phones. I sat on our local commuter train staring at people as they stared into their phones, startling them when they looked up to find me, a strange psycho offering uninterrupted eye contact from afar.
A few days ago, as I was parking my car, news radio cranked and thumping from my speakers, I sat just a little longer because one non-traffic story caught my attention. The UK has just introduced the Minister of Loneliness. Named for Jo Cox, the late, dynamic British politician who established the UK’s Commission on Loneliness, the position is designed to address the issues caused by social isolation. Loneliness is a recognized epidemic in the UK, and here in the US even though we don’t yet have a minister for it. (Find out more about it here and here)
This is what I thought about and wrote about and dreamt about for years. Not the minister part, and spoiler alert, I didn’t come up with a widespread solution for how the world should deal with our connection problem. But seriously, WHAT WOULD HAPPEN? WHAT WOULD HAPPEN if we experienced a radical shift in our surroundings that once again changed how we formed our relationships? Would our collectively deteriorating social acumen be enough to help us find our way?
We don’t know how the world will change next, or what we humans will have to do to adapt. But we’ve all had, at our luckiest, glimpses of loneliness and isolation. For those surrounded by people most of the time, an evening of solitude sounds ok, because you can eat a baguette for dinner and binge watch true crime shows. Soon enough though, you feel gross about the baguette and paranoid from the true crime shows and solitude loses whatever weird appeal it may have momentarily held.
Writing is the perfect way to repeatedly plunge into a messed up kind of solitude. You have to take yourself out of social media or you won’t write a word. You stare into space. You think about what snack you will have next and why your thumbs bend the way that they do. You look at your cat as nothing less than co-author of your work. One day, you think what you’ve written doesn’t completely suck, the next day, you’re ready to throw in the towel and never write again, not even your name. You’re operating in a vacuum. Giddy, depressed, numb, repeat.
And then, when the dang thing finally goes out into the world, you physically can’t sit there wondering if people are reading and liking it or maybe hating it so you occupy your brain and hands by reorganizing every nook and cranny of your house, trying on every piece of clothing you own to see if it brings you joy. Oh, and people…you find where the people are, and you go there.
Have you noticed a change in the nature of your relationships? What you seek in a friendship? These aren’t hypotheticals – I’m truly asking you, yeah YOU.
We need to ignore each others’ ill-fitting shorty shorts and connect. The future of the planet depends on it.
That photo up there on the left is me and my book club. I was terrified for them to read it, because they are all so smart and well-read and discerning. But they were incredibly gracious and supportive and amazing.
And allow me to introduce you to Moe and Minnie