Month: December 2019

A More Personal Note

I’d like to say something to my friends who use Facebook because I feel like I’ve lost touch with nearly every single one of you due to my abstinence from this medium, what friendships remain have atrophied to being only echoes of the raucous chorus we used to share,— and I’d like to be better friends. There are few burdens or blessings that are not made better by sharing them with friends, and I bear the bulk of the responsibility for pushing most of mine away.

I stopped using Facebook about a year ago, in 2018, after a longtime friend of mine ghosted me with no word of explanation. Every time I thumbed through my newsfeed, I saw dozens of posts and comments between him and our other friends. It took a few months for the sense of loneliness, isolation, and rejection I felt every time I opened Facebook to become unpleasant enough for me to stop using it entirely. No one noticed that we had stopped talking so suddenly after fifteen years, and when I removed him from my Friends list, Facebook eliminated all traces of him from my newsfeed and post history. It was like he didn’t exist.

When I was more engaged with my friends, I felt that we had stronger, better friendships,—friendships that were augmented by Facebook (and Instagram, for those who see them as separate,) so that we could share more of ourselves with each other. As we started to spend less time face-to-face, it became harder for me to feel connected to the people I cared about. The best parts of of my friendships have been the quiet moments of mutual reflection in between the chaotic vicissitudes of fate, and as our relationships transitioned from “Facebook official” to “Facebook exclusive,” I felt like I lost my value as a friend.

All I could see were ghosts of the people I used to know, carrying on in my absence as if I also didn’t exist. It’s not their fault—I’m not trying to blame anyone by myself for any of this,—my experience simply results from the mechanism by which Facebook operates: engagement begets more engagement, and isolation begets more isolation.

There are many conversations I would love to have in person with any of my friends that I nonetheless refrain from engaging in online, and that preference for discussing sensitive or incendiary topics in a calm, face-to-face manner has left me with seemingly nothing to say in a culture that demands allegiance to a faction, where silence is taken as defection instead of consideration. I spent most of my teenage years locking antlers with people on message boards, engaged in digital debates that stretched on for pages,— and that’s just not the way I like to have a conversation anymore, if such a discourse can be called “conversation” at all.

Without engaging, I deprived my friends of whatever they used to value about my perspective, simply by withholding it. Since I wasn’t bringing anything to the table, I stopped showing up entirely. I thought I could sustain the friendships I cared about without the help of this social apparatus, but the world has moved on and I see that I was wrong,— wrong about my capabilities, wrong about the constitution of my friendships, and wrong about the way I tried to manage my transition. Honestly, I’m no longer sure what my friends even saw in me to begin with. What was I bringing to the table in the first place?

I owe you all an apology. When I decided to stop using social media, without a discussion and without informing anyone beyond the few friends I reached out to directly, I ghosted you. As far as you could tell from my online activity, I stopped caring about you and abruptly broke off all attempts at communication. As anyone who’s ever known someone who died can attest, it’s deeply troubling to hear a voice to which you’ve grown familiar suddenly fall silent.

I ghosted you, and I’m sorry. I was hurt, embarrassed, lonely, and afraid, but that was the wrong way to handle it. I remember when we used to be better friends, and I wish we could be closer. Enough time has passed that we are undoubtedly different people now than we were then (I’ve become a father, for starters,) but I never stopped being in favor of the idea of you and I would be delighted to get to know you better.

When it comes to social media,—Facebook in particular,—I have some challenges to overcome, but I’d rather do something challenging than risk us drifting any further apart. Social media is a problem for me in the same way that alcohol or gambling is a problem for some others, so I hope you can appreciate why I needed to get clean before trying to figure out how to use it in moderation.

If you think we should be better friends, I want you to know that I am open to you via whatever means make you feel most comfortable. If that’s a phone call or a text message, you have my number or I can share it with you in a private message. If that’s chatting over a coffee or a beer, I’ll buy the first round. If that’s meeting you at a party or other social event, I have made great strides in managing my anxiety and work a regular 9-to-5. And if that’s exchanging Likes on Facebook and commenting on each other’s posts, I’m prepared to meet you where you are.

Thanks for taking the time to hear me out. You’ve made me a better person for knowing you.

P.S. If you’re curious about the relationship between Facebook and social pain, I compiled some research on the subject.


A tickle on your nostril makes you subconsciously snort and sniffle, rousing you from your unconscious slumber, but just enough for you to reach for your blanket, or the black satin sheet, anything to cozy yourself back to sleep. Another tickle, you wipe your nose, you reach again.

Your fingers close, but not on down, nor pillow, nor sheet. Your fingers close on a clump of cold beads, smaller than ball bearings, the size of rounded grains of sand.

What? What is this? You pick up the pile, but it holds its shape in your hand, conforming slowly to the curvature of your grip. You drop a few, tighten your grasp, but lose more through your fingers.

With your other hand, you grope for the lamp. Some beads roll down your wrist and remind you of the way an insect crawls, pinballing between the hairs on your arm that are now standing on end, pulled taught between rippling goosebumps.

Where is that lamp? You look. There’s the light. You hit the switch. You look back.

What IS it?

In your hand you hold a black pile of tiny glittering jewels that are trickling down your arm, like sap from a tree. The trails leading from your palm to your elbow look wet, but your arm feels dry. You pull your hand close for inspection (no need to find the glasses just yet.)

You’re holding ants.

You lunge for your glasses. Now you can see that your hand is a black sequined glove, teeming with the psychedelic undulations of thousands of ants. The glove reaches halfway up your forearm like bejeweled formalwear, then splinters into sickening black veins, snaking toward your bicep.

Expletives fly as you smack the flat of your hand against your mattress, flicking your wrist on the upswing before low-fiving the bed again, *crunch*. Some of the ants fall off and the glove starts to deteriorate.

Oh God, I can feel them everywhere! But you know you’re overreacting. It’s understandable, you have a handful of ants. Now less. A few more whacks and your hand is clean, excepting a few stragglers that you can brush off with the other hand.

Better make sure they’re out of the bed.

You reach for the black satin sheet that has slipped down to your hips, but when you grab it a part breaks free, crumbling like moist sand between your fingertips, tickling your belly as it falls.

The bedsheet is ants.

This time you scream, no words to express the terror of being trapped under a blanket of ants. You scramble to your knees, slapping your legs. The ants are everywhere, fat tendrils creeping up your thighs.

Thank God I wore underwear, but you didn’t, you went to bed naked tonight because the low was only 79 and it was fucking scorching all day and your fucking box fan stopped working. It was a temporary solution, but the weather was supposed to break tomorrow, so you thought fuck it, I’ll live a little.

You’re not wearing underwear, it’s more ants, they’re traversing your genitals through the crevice of your buttocks.

All composure is now a long-forgotten dream. You’re stamping your feet, smacking your knees into your chest and rubbing every inch you can reach with your hands, but every pass just sweeps ants with more ants. You’re making progress, but it’s slow, and the ants keep finding interesting places to tickle you.

An ant crawls into your ear so you send a finger in after it, but your finger is covered with more ants so they’re going in too.

You stamp your feet on the bed, hoping to crush the ants you’ve thus far divested, but retch when you see the bed is ants.

You jump down onto the floor, but the floor is ants.

The room is ants.

Everything is ants.


I can see it coming, like a roiling thunderstorm on the horizon. There’s a rumbling in the distance and darkness swells from the corner of the sky, billowing through the blue like ink in water. The wind turns sharply in my direction, blowing my breath back into my lungs. It’s like I’m breathing nothing at all.

There’s an electricity in the air, but I know it’s not rain. Neither thunder nor lightning announces the tempest that approaches. Below my feet, the tide recedes with impossible speed, leaving fish and mollusks on the sea floor, rudely exposed, flapping their gills or their shells in vain. It’s not a storm, but a giant wave that comes racing in at me from the surf.

An arching wall of water seems to move in slow motion, curving in and up as it grows toward me. As it gets higher, it blocks out the sun itself, allowing me to see illuminated in the water the silhouettes of great sea beasts, unaware of the impending destruction of their medium.

I’m alone on the beach, there is no shelter that could withstand the impact. I don’t know how it is in other worlds, but in mine there are two choices. Stand and maybe live or die here on the ground with my head between my knees and the stink of my own armpits in my nostrils.

So I stand. I remember my form and plant my feet like anchors, bracing my legs to absorb the force and transfer it downward, into the sandy earth. It’s the front stance, which has some Japanese name I’ve long since forgotten. I try to remember its name while I wait for the tidal wave, idly biding whatever time I have left. Like enormous jaws of curved glass, the sea itself opens up to devour me, but I will not be destroyed.

Then the towering wave crashes into me and everything is chaos. My stance holds for the initial impact. A solid wall of water smacks into my braced forearms and I settle deeper into the stance, sand rising past my ankles as my feet sink into the continental shelf. I can hear nothing but the low-frequency roar as water fills my ears and swirls around me. The force is incredible, but my stance is strong and I am not obliterated.

Surviving initial impact is only half the battle. Now I am under water with the rushing current threatening to tear me asunder. Shells, fish, and floating sea foliage strike my body, tearing my flesh in a thousand different places, but I refuse to break my stance. It’s the only thing keeping me from being swept away into the watery darkness.

One good thing about being planted at the bottom is you know which way is up. Swallowed whole, I am surrounded by black. No light can reach me at this depth. Although my muscles burn from the strain and the swirling sand is now up to my knees, I hold my position and wait for the riptide to subside.

The cool water soothes my straining frame. I’m completely submerged, patiently holding my breath, trying to stave off the panic that I might run out of air before I can reach the surface. My ears pop to adjust to the pressure and I can slooshy the amniotic swish of my surroundings.

Slowly, the current loses speed. What feels like the pull of an undertow is really just a return to still water. Easing my stance, I push down on the ocean floor so I can lift my legs out of the sand. Time is running out. I need to reach the surface, I need to breathe. The sun is still nowhere to be seen.

Like a cat ready to pounce, I squat down as low as I can. I raise my arms above my head and press my palms together, fingers stretched toward the sky. With what strength I have left, I kick off from the ground to begin my ascension.

I am weightless, but still so deep. Everything around me is silent and dark. The air in my lungs has gone stale, swelling in my chest like a toxic cloud, screaming at me to replace it with clean oxygen. I bring my arms around and kick my feet, sweeping the water behind me in an upward breast stroke. When my ears pop again and my lungs feel like they’re going to burst, I exhale to relieve the pressure.

There’s only so much left, but I breathe out bubbles in a slow steady stream. I can see them rise in front of me, so I look up and there, impossibly far away, I see the twinkling light of day peering down at me from the surface. My hands are flippers and my feet are propellers and my mouth is a chugging exhaust pipe, sending word to the sky to prepare my arrival. The water is blue now, not black, but my lungs are almost empty.

It’s slow work, swimming to the surface. My arms and legs grow weary. With the last of my oxygen turning to carbon dioxide in my blood stream, the blue begins to turn black at the edges even though it brightens in the center. I am looking into the eye of God, blinding at the center of an otherwise impenetrable void, the only sign of warmth in the frigid water. My lungs are empty, so I seal my throat to prevent the panicky breath that would end my life. I flail my rubbery appendages in desperate determination. This is not how I die, I think to myself, even as the darkness threatens to overtake my vision.

At last, my head emerges from the waves and I gasp for breath. The panic in my mind almost makes me hyperventilate, but I force myself to remain calm, float on my back, and take slow, deep breaths. I’m still alone on the water, but the sun feels warm on my skin, red on the inside of my eyelids.

All that’s left is to swim the few miles back to shore.