Thursday, June 26, 2014

When college breaks up the boys

Drew and Sam : the boys as the boys
 If you have raised boys, and will see one of them off to college in the fall,  you may worry as I did about what the separation will do to their close relationship. 

When Drew left for college, Sam was not yet a teenager. He didn't count the days until his brother's first break.  He kept a chart on the back of his door and crossed off the days. 

It was after Drew had been out of the house for five years that I understood the enduring strength of their brother relationship. 

Below is a post I wrote that year about the closeness that was not lost in the separation, but enriched by the days that came before.

September 6, 2011

From the kitchen window, I’m watching Drew on the lawn, chipping golf balls into the air toward his target which is the outstretched hand of Sam, who leaps from the shallow end of the pool and into the air like a caffeinated retriever. There is heckling and laughing when he misses, and then catches the little ball. Despite the chance that this ad-hoc game could end with a head injury and a trip to the ER, for now, it has my appreciation.

On paper, Drew the golfer, and Sam the baseball player, have four things in common which are their parents and siblings. Drew is organized, pays his bills on time, and runs his life like a business. Sam is spontaneous, has not met a deadline he can’t extend, and handles all his responsibilities on the same day of the week after he is sure that everyone he knows is busy. They are seven years apart, at different stages of life, with a respective circle of friends who wouldn’t necessarily click. On paper, there is no reason they’d want to spend time together, and yet…

It is a week later and a tropical storm has left us without power. Nobody is happy but for Sam and Drew, who have unearthed a twelve-year-old video game called “Backyard Baseball” and are playing it in Sam’s dark room on a battery-charged computer. There is much mocking of the nostalgic, antiquated game that once captivated them. I crack the door and peer inside and they wave at me. It looks like they are sitting in a mitten. Both are wearing baseball hats.

As people, they affect others differently. People talk to Drew who is by trade as well as by nature, a careful listener and talented writer. People listen to Sam who has been a compelling and persuasive speaker for all but six months of his seventeen years. And yet...

After a while the power is back on and the storm has calmed. The boys appear dressed and showered and announce that they are going to check the level of the river. They haven’t a clue what they’re checking, what to compare it to, and I’m sure they may not even know where the river is, they just think it will be fun to be “storm trackers.”

Here is the something.

Fun happens when we're not trying to have it, I think, a feeling more than a thing we actually do. It can make you glad to be alive, glad to be who you are or glad about who you're with. And though I think fun as a feeling is hard to replicate only by recreating an activity, I believe the soul keeps track of our potential to feel it again. 

In the way they related to each other, our boys discovered their appetite for fun. Despite the distance that followed, they never lost it.

One day, Sam and Drew will have spouses and children and schedule issues that make it hard to get together unless the serious one is willing to hop a flight at the last minute or the less-serious one is willing to plan in advance. They will need to remember the feeling of fun to make it work. They will.

Life says, “Here’s my price,” and we decide: we can afford it or we can’t. My belief, as their mother and ride to the ER, is that they will have absorbed each other’s company and counsel enough to remember these days of fun clearly. Enough at least to make a healthy down payment on that asking price.
Sam and Drew at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
September 20, 2013

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Is Facebook enough?

There was a link circulating last week about what Facebook is doing to your brain.Who wouldn't click on a hook like that? 

The video, packed with rapid-fire assertions suggests one theme: we have allowed ourselves to substitute e-connections for actual, IRL (in real life) ones. Depending on the presence you believe you have out there in the cyber-hood,  this is a haunting or illuminating revelation, but true I think it is.

True friendships according to this video - the ones you can't edit your way through - are not possible to cultivate if your circle exceeds 150 "friends".  On Facebook, to keep up with circles in the hundreds, one is required to construct an online friend M.O., comprised of low-investment behaviors -  sharing, liking, commenting -  to sustain them. The things we cull to invest in an IRL relationship - confidentiality, honesty, vulnerability, and the big one, spontaneous expression - are often not invested in the Facebook self we project because among other things, we know that everything we say creates a permanent record. Imagine being overheard in a restaurant by everyone you know at once.

Some comments in response to the video were defensive and worried. Others were more of a shrug. My own reaction was mixed. I know there are those who only use Facebook to connect with others, but they may well be people for whom "real" friendship does not feel affirming, but risky and revealing.

And not everyone with  Facebook friends in the hundreds or beyond is real-friend challenged as the video seems to suggest. Some people are introverts who wish to be neither social nor isolated, and find the non-committal aspect of the cyber-friendship a perfect solution. Some people become fabulous cyber-friends when distance prevents an IRL connection. My own invaluable association with a huge network of writers would not be possible without Facebook. But a balance is important to appreciate both relationships.

Where trouble happens is when direct communication is called for but shunned because the "real" social skill set has been allowed to wither. On a diet of  multiple, empty connections every day we can lose our appetite for real ones. Unplugged, our communication can begin to feel unnatural, and we can become lost in our own company.

That's what got my attention.

I would be lost without my real friendships, and I'm comfy in my own company. But I consider Facebook a fun way to connect outside of them and some of my most important connections depend on it. Still, the video made me and, apparently, many others consider the importance of Facebook in our lives. 

I've decided to curb my own habits. Twice a day I'll check in and once in a while I'll post statuses about strange people in the supermarket or annoying drivers, or  maybe a video with cats being unfriendly toward dogs. I will continue to use Facebook to shamelessly promote my published work. But I've removed phone notifications, and when I'm working, Facebook will stay in the other room.  I'll always leave comments to support or celebrate others I e-know, but I might disconnect from the notifications  ("so and so also commented on this or that") as I usually don't e-know "so and so".

It takes a little trying to build the real friendships that affirm us, support us, give us a place to hide out, produce witnesses to our lives. We can lose those things without trying at all.

And so, with that, I shall personal message a friend and see if they can have that lunch, share that drink, bring me up to date, help keep me out there IRL.

I want to talk about that Facebook video.