I thought I would write to let you know that after years of thinking (and even talking) about it, I am finally going to leave you later this year, probably on or around Easter, definitely before the summer.
You won’t really miss me. I was never one for posting photos of my amazing holidays or beautiful children (though they are, naturally) or thousands of awards and shortlists for my poetry (there haven’t been any) or arguments with other poets (ditto) or photos of the jam I have just made or that weekend living in my van.
I used you to spread the word about my blog, which I still love and feel wholly committed to in spite of everyone telling me blogging has died since Twitter. And, to be fair to you, you were good at that: getting the word out, helping me to get noticed, talked about. And I’m grateful.
What you weren’t so good for was my mental health. I think it started innocently enough with someone’s perfectly ordinary picture of their cake. (Or was it their cat? I don’t remember, and in any case, I’m sure you get the idea.) Innocent enough, you would imagine, and you would be right. Except it left me feeling rather empty. And worse, enraged. Not so much with the cake/cat (we need all the fulfilment we can get) but with the likes and the comments it engendered. I can’t have been the only one looking on, speechless and nonplussed, at the gap between the ordinariness of said baking/moggy and hyped-up self-congratulation and awestruck wonder expressed in the feed below. A question began buzzing around my head: Was this what I signed up for?
I am sure there must have been some highs from using you, something akin to witnessing an actual wedding or road trip or birth or sunset or a new poem taking shape or a really great poem by a friend. It’s just that I only remember the lows. My general feeling of inadequacy, lack of beauty, and wit, all fuelled by endless and instant comparison with others in the broad daylight of numbers of likes and comments.
So, in secret, I unfollowed every single one of my friends, and kept only the newsfeeds of the papers and blogs and websites I felt I could trust to give me an honest account of what was happening in the world. And then Brexit happened. And then Trump. And then Cambridge Analytica. And I knew, deep down, it was over. Even if you had nothing to do with these things, and I think you can see where I am going with this, the daily trauma of reading about them and only them became too much. After quite a lot of googling (you don’t make it easy, do you?) I found how to deactivate and finally delete you.
Which would have been the end of the story, only it isn’t. Such is your persuasiveness (not much different from pervasiveness: see what I did there?), I had installed a ‘work account’ in the meantime, so I could stay in touch with former students. Inevitably this began to bleed into contact with real friends, some of whom were the very same people I had unfollowed merely months earlier. I may have got to the point of hating everything about you, but there is still a part of me which has to applaud the armour-plated logic of your business model, namely that most of us are too afraid to miss out on (delete where applicable) the sunsets, births, parties, holidays, children, achievements, prize-winning poems, cats etc. of our friends, even if we lost touch with them a century ago, even if we live on the other side of the country from them, and even if we no longer feel we have anything in common with them. Perhaps especially that.
I am not sure when I decided to ditch you. Certainly before January 1st, when you made an appearance on my list of resolutions, and before I read Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism in less than a week recently (see how much time I now have?). We are not done yet, not completely. I am putting my house in order. I have found new Admins to take over my student group in my absence. And I’ve been letting my page-followers know how they can sign up to read the posts on my blog without you guiding them there.
I am going to use the time without you to learn a musical instrument and read the large pile of poetry that I have bought -and ignored- over the last few years. Mostly I am going to sit in silence for long periods, seeing where my thoughts take me, learning (I hope) to accept them as I go. I am going to write more, daily, if possible, and spend longer out of doors. I might even get a cat. If I do, you’ll be the last to know.
Yours with good wishes