“There’s a picture that looks like animals far away, but if you move close up you can see that a war starts to appear.”
This is what my friend said to me, about 17 years ago, during our first Chocolate Cake Friday (AKA: Writer’s Group), and she was talking about Picasso’s Guernica. I had seen the picture a million different times, like we all have, but I hadn’t paid much attention to it until she said that. A picture that changes as you approach it and study it more? Fascinating. I didn’t know anything about cubism then.
Sometimes, because I’m a little weird, I see this picture in my mind when I’m having a terrible time. I think of how life can trick like Guernica. People seem one way from a distance, and you can even love or hate them from this place where vision is strained and your eyes play tricks on you. And then you get close up and you start see the blemishes and hear all the grunts and curses. You see the beautiful specks in their eyes and hear their natural singing voices too. And you realize, “This is not the person I thought I knew.”
In the past, I think letters must have allowed for this distance, but today, it’s social media. We see our social media people as we want to see them, or as they want us to see them, but sometimes we slip and we say something authentic–something we really believe or are troubled by–and the inauthentic games of the internet break the beauty we believed we had cultivated between each other. And you realize, “Oh…you actually didn’t really like me. Woops. My mistake. I can’t actually be myself in your presence. I can only be myself at a distance.”
I know why Harper Lee never had parties. I’m sure I know. She probably didn’t hang out with friends or have church people over either. I only hang out with the friend who said the above quote about Guernica and I only go places with people for whom I’ve bought clothes in the past. The internet has taught me why I have only one regular friend–she’s comfortable talking about ugly shoe posts, references to pigs flying, or very important things like whether or not it’s okay to suggest that bubbles are real things (all things that have offended people on the internet). She can also talk about adult things, too, like taxes, God, and voting. All of of those things draw blood on the internet. With her, it just makes us think harder and drink more coffee.
Facebook fights always make me retreat back to the original distance, before everyone looked like decapitated horses and children with broken necks. Must writers really engage this closely and openly with people who can edit their faces, responses, and truths, anyway? Can’t we just write books? Do I have to stand there, say something in the dark, and wait to get hit over the head, because someone is sensitive or because they were just waiting for the right moment anyway? This seems like a stupid way to communicate with people.
The worst are the ones who only show up to fight.They don’t appear when you do well, when you have a victory. They seemingly have no interest in your best. What’s the psychology behind that? At a distance, they’re absent. Up close, they hate you. You make them itch. They make you over eat.
I think the new litmus test for social media friends should be this–Would I want to spend an hour with you in a broken elevator? Could I stand it?
Suddenly, my Facebook friend list just shrunk to a microscopic number of the same people I see every week in real life.
The truth is, once you examine something up close, and it’s either exceedingly beautiful or exceedingly unbecoming, you never forget it. The moment when the pretty unauthentic becomes the ugly authentic, you’re awake. There’s such a temptation to lie and say that this didn’t happen, that you didn’t make someone cry over a Facebook post about money or pants or women driving in Saudi Arabia or pencils that never need sharpening or even about something you’re an expert in, like beet soup (all of these also made people angry on the internet).
Once you’ve seen the ugly, it’s hard to pretend that everyone is lovely.
But the truth is, no one is lovely all the time (most especially me) and some people always hated me (or you) anyway (and really that’s the only reason they’re hanging on, to see if we fail). What can you do? Make them love you? Who has time for such nonsense? Just move along now that they’ve shown you how offended they can get behind the mighty protection of a filtered Instagram picture.
In the past, I would have paused for a long time, left the building, and never returned if I had encountered someone’s Guernica. A young me would have cried that I could anger people so fast over so little, but the old me will pause for a short time, ignore everyone, and read and write deep into my stories. I will cook and drive and ignore. And stories will come of this and those who’ve seen my authentic ugly will make new social media friends who say things better than I do. Everyone needs a cheering section when they’re drinking coffee on the deck or buying paint.
And, if after all that has transpired these last 48 hours, if we are social media friends, I will try not to examine your Guernica, and you can be sure that I will not let you examine mine if we are not friends in the flesh as well. And if I can’t picture myself standing with you, next to a bus, on a rainy roadside in Spain in July, we’re definitely on a break.
The last seven people were just omitted from my Twitter followers, and Instagram has only babies now. On Facebook, you won’t even see this, because I set everything so that only I can read my posts, and I have no arguments with me. We’re good.
Guernica, Pablo Picasso