When I stopped posting on Facebook, the first thing I missed was writing little clever posts about the world around me. I realized I had been devoting a significant chunk of my brain and my attention to noticing things and then composing a status that summarized them in a concise, clever way.
These posts were not the reason I decided to take a break from Facebook. The day I first decided to step away, it was because I’d become overwhelmed by sad and angry articles about the Parkland, Florida, school shooting. I had begun to feel like everyone needed me to care for them and soothe them. I’d started reading articles about gun control so I could understand the issues and somehow “solve” gun control in my head. I was stretching my head and my heart too thin.
But after I stepped away, it was my own clever little posts I missed first. So I asked myself, Would it be OK to post my own thoughts without reading everyone else’s?
I was surprised to learn that the answer was No. In those early days of Lent, it suddenly bothered me how attached I had become to these small, clever status posts.
As my decision to step away for “a few days” gradually stretched to encompass all of Lent, I found myself wondering what it was about being clever that didn’t feel right. Now that Lent is almost over and I’m contemplating what my life will look like after Easter, I’m wondering what needs to change in my old routine if I decide to come back to Facebook.
On the surface, my cleverness seemed pretty harmless. But as I dug deeper, I began to realize it was shoring up my ego: “Look how smart and funny I am!” I missed not only the cleverness itself but, of course, people’s “likes”—and their subsequent comments, which were often clever as well. The cleverness became a game. In fact, when my father expressed to me that he doesn’t “get” Facebook—Why should he come back again and again? What would he get out of it?—my first thought was that he would enjoy it because he’s the one who taught me how to be clever, to match witty remark with witty rejoinder.
At its worst, the cleverness is snarky. Really, it’s about feeling superior. “Look how clever I am” becomes “Other people are not as clever as I am”—or as clever as we, the witty rejoinder people, are. People who answer our posts with a straight face have lost the game.
I began to wonder if this is the liberal intelligentsia that conservatives seem to hate so much. We liberals think we’re very smart. We marvel at the stupidity and credulity of those silly conservatives. Yet I see us sometimes getting so caught up in our cleverness, in our swift repartee, that we fail to acknowledge the real pain and anger our political opponents are experiencing. And, on the flip side, sometimes we get so caught up in our world of words that we don’t seem to realize that conservative sometimes say mean things just to get liberals’ goat. “Mom, he’s calling that Senator Pocohantas!” “Brother, stop calling people names. Sister, you’ve got to grow a thicker skin. He likes to tease you because you get so mad when he does.”
I took a good, solid look at my own cleverness and I didn’t like what I saw. I saw something with an edge of mockery and superiority. It didn’t jibe with the quiet humility I realized I needed during Lent. I had stepped away from Facebook because I realized that somehow I was looking for answers to my life on Facebook rather than through prayer or contemplation. And once I began to wonder why the cleverness didn’t feel right, I heard: “You are good at being clever. But this is not really you.”
As I’ve removed the smokescreen of cleverness, something else has emerged. Something humbling. All this time I’ve been thinking of myself as a writer who works for herself, who stays at home and works on a memoir as a big gamble, investing years of my life in this book that I hope will sell and do well. Now I see I’ve had a hard time accepting what I actually do all day, now that the writing has failed to come and the book has eluded me. In fact, I am a suburban stay-at-home mom—the very thing I was taught to mock when I was growing up.
In fact, the more I force myself to think about this memoir I’ve written, about my own sad childhood and how it’s affected my parenting, the more unhappy I get. On the other hand, stepping away from Facebook and becoming more present to my life woke me up to the struggle I’d been having to define who and what I am, but also woke me up to the fact that I have a six-year-old son I want to see and know more. As I stepped away from my phone screen, I encouraged him to step away from his tablet screen, too, and I started to connect with him more with board games and visits to the park and reading books to each other.
Cleverness has been my armor, which I have been using to protect myself from the scorn I had for what I have actually been doing: raising a son while being emotionally present to all the joys and struggles that entails. By looking clearly at my life, I realize that being a stay-at-home mom is damned hard work, and also that it’s worth doing. And that no one has a right to make me feel bad about it—no matter how cleverly they say it.