I recently rescued my Facebook page from a sneaky little trick the gremlins that control the site had slipped in: adding a default option in which I don’t see all my friends’ posts (except those I’ve chosen to hide, which includes any games or generic silliness), but only those I had interacted most frequently. All of a sudden, what I had to read when I went onto Facebook went way, way down, and I’m afraid that all the friends I’ve collected because I want them to see my posts think I’ve disappeared too—or worse, not even miss me. It’s only by chance that I spotted the “Options” menu way down at the bottom and was able to restore the full range of news and status posts from my Facebook friends.
I understand Facebook a lot better since watching the movie Social Network twice. I’m a great admirer of Aaron Sorkin (creator of West Wing), who wrote the screenplay, and I trust him to have gotten it right. Facebook was created by college kids for other college kids, who do want to know when their friends have a hot date, eat the whole box of brownies, or pop a pimple. No wonder grownup writers and other adults have trouble replicating and maintaining the Facebook tone.
My problem finding the right thing to say frequently enough to keep my Facebook presence active is complicated by the fact that in my “other hat,” I’m a therapist, and moreover, one who works online with clients all over the world. I don’t know if any of them has found my Facebook page. But they might at any moment. So I can’t put anything on the social network (or any other public area of cyberspace) that I wouldn’t want even one of my clients to read. I’m not a psychoanalytic therapist, and I do make the occasional benign disclosure. But even therapists with traditonal office practices have to maintain rigorous boundaries, and it’s a clinical and ethical disaster when they don’t. So there go the hot dates and the pimples. (For the record, I have neither.)
Writers on Facebook are under a lot of pressure to keep the majority of their posts out of the realm of BSP (blatant self-promotion). The two topics that most of them draw on most frequently are pets and food. Unfortunately, neither of these topics works for me. I don’t have a dog or cat for good reasons. I’m severely allergic to cats, and I live in Manhattan, so getting a dog would involve scooping poop daily for the next fifteen years, a price I’m unwilling to pay. Yet animal people love to write about their pets and hear about the pets of others. On Valentine’s Day, one of my Facebook friends shared that her husband demonstrated his love by cleaning up dog vomit (her very words) without being asked. The animal lovers were happy to hear it, and nobody seemed to find it at all unromantic.
So what’s wrong with food? Everybody talks about food. Some publishers insist their authors put actual recipes in their books. Blogs like Mystery Lovers Kitchen, whose bloggers include our own Sheila Connolly and my friends Krista Davis, Avery Aames, and MJ Maffini, are immensely popular. Everybody talks about bodies too, their own and those of others. Most Americans have absolutely no boundaries on this topic. They comment freely on who’s gained or lost weight and disparage their own too-much or not-enough body parts not only to their intimate friends but as publicly as TV award shows. Last time I went to a stand-up comedy club, the performers made as many jokes about bodies, mostly their own, as they did about drug use.
As the author of Death Will Get You Sober, I’m already barred from making ho-ho-ho jokes about drinking and drunkenness or blogging about margaritas or martinis. My next book, Death Will Extend Your Vacation, tackles the sensitive topic of eating disorders and compulsive overeating, a group of illnesses that is even more misunderstood than alcoholism. My protagonist Bruce and his friends take shares in a lethal clean and sober group house in the Hamptons. When they’re not dropping dead, their housemates are acting out with food. Eating disorders are the source of deep, deep shame and are as hard to overcome as any other addiction. And they’re killers, not only anorexia and compulsive eating with obesity, but bulimia, which doesn’t show on the body people see but can be even more extreme. So no, I’m not going to make jokes about chocolate being better than therapy or share how I pigged out on Thanksgiving and can't close the button on my pants. And that’s why sometimes I open Facebook, stare at that blinking cursor inviting me to share, and have nothing to say.