Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Facebook, The Way of the Bow and Paulo Coelho

I have just returned from having lunch with a cousin. We are kissing cousins in so far as we are the affectionate one peck on the cheek cousins but not bear-hugging, Italianesque triple kissing cousins as I have witnessed at some other family gatherings. Of course this outward display of affection bears no correspondence whatsoever to the love you have for someone, that side of the family is Yorkshire and reticent after all. Travelling back on the bus, trying to reduce my carbon footprint a tad I decided to use my Wallace Stevens thinking time on how we greet each other and how we display affection.

I have for some reason slipped into being the recipient of what I feel is the greeting reserved for the elderly. “You’re looking well.” I got it three times last week from friends. One of course would prefer,
“You’re looking gorgeous /stylish/beautiful/perky/sexy/fantastic." Any of those descriptive terms would do. But no, I am starting to get the, “You’re looking well….. despite your handicaps/problems/disposition/haemorrhoids/age which feels like the continuation of this statement left hanging unspoken in the air. Once you get over fifty perhaps the only thing you can expect in a greeting is some indication that the greeter is pleased that you aren’t dead yet and are managing to stay out of incontinence pads and hospital.

Perhaps I am being oversensitive here and churlish the “You’re looking well” comment might also encompass the greeter’s genuine pleasure, amazement and admiration at your ability to maintain a facade of well being. I should be grateful for such greetings but still I can hear endless old women at bus stops when I was a child nodding to each other and saying “You’re looking well.” and the classic response,“Mustn’t grumble.”

I have recently joined Facebook and am now trying to navigate all the greet and meet display behaviour that goes on with that. I have had graffiti on my wall, been given mice, penguins, fish, drinks, nudges, etc. I have had offers to be bitten and turned into a Zombie, a werewolf and a vampire. This is a whole new world of social expectations of how we greet and show affection to others. If someone sends me a fish should I send one back, likewise the drinks. The social etiquette of this cyber world is beginning to become complicated. Will Person X accept my invitation to be a friend if they don’t what does it say about them and me. I have accumulated friends of friends, people I don’t really know. I have worried about declining an invitation to be someone's friend because I have no idea who they are but then three days later I find out that I do know them but I had only met them once with a friend of a friend at a poetry reading etc. Will I hurt people's feelings if I don’t let them bite me or give me fish or hide their offering of a small duck on my profile. The angst associated with this is endless. I have sent people small offerings myself and watched to see if they display them (like the aunt’s awful vase that is brought out only when they visit but now on Facebook the awful aunt with bad taste can visit at any time of the day or night and see that you have hidden or rejected her lovely vase). Is Facebook a way of playing Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon…you know that game when you start with anyone’s name vaguely associated with Hollywood and then name someone connected with that name (a film they were in together, they were married, they opened a restaurant together etc etc) and thus the idea is that it will only take seven names to arrive at a connection with Kevin Bacon. On Facebook perhaps I am only seven degrees away from Seamus Heaney or Gore Vidal if I play my friends right, seven clicks on faces in profiles and I could be on the Queen’s Facebook page. At present I am two clicks away from George Szirtes a former TS Eliot prize winner, he or one of his friends must have at least been to a garden party at Buckingham Palace (does this count as a viable connection).

This game of course relies on other people’s friends letting you become their friends and that’s where it all falls down as I am immediately back in the playground wondering why on earth the cool gang would want me to join them and not wanting to embarrass myself by asking as I may be rejected, deleted and not offered fish or mice. I note I have only sixteen friends whilst others have scores I can at a glance see how unpopular I am and rate myself against others. See what I mean reader this way lies madness and social dysfunction. Perhaps I am not sending enough smiley fish or drawing on others walls or telling them about my favourite movie/song? I have signed up for a facility that allows me to post questions, should I ask why I am friendless?

I can feel myself getting very hot and sweaty on the bus and a lie down in a darkened room is fast being required but then a small ray of light enters my burning head as we turn onto the by-pass. I actually use the word friend very sparingly, a friend is someone who knows me totally and whom I trust without or should I say beyond question and whom I know trusts me. I have very few such friends and that is wonderful as such friends are rare and precious. Facebook friends are perhaps just people trying not to be isolated, to form a quick community of belonging based on whim, interests and mouse click. I went into the market in my small fen town yesterday and as I walked around I was aware of how many people I met who I know to say hello to and who know me in various guises, neighbour, mother, professional, volunteer, resident of this small town for twenty-five years. Were all our nods, friendly eye contact and greetings the same as a mouse click, a cyber fish, a Zombie bite? I don’t know the answer and I don’t ask the question in the expectation of a yes or a no.

It may be that cyber communities are the way forward in a fast-paced isolating world where we need such things to keep a feeling of connection. I wonder whether on Facebook someone would send me cyber chicken soup if I was ill, would I bother to tell them I was ill on Facebook in the first place. On Facebook you are only what you want others to know butthen that is true of us most of the time. A neighbour brought me real soup when I broke my leg a while back but of course she could because she’s kind, a few yards away and is there even when the power goes off. However spontaneous expressions of caring are always to be welcome and I am grateful that someone would want to click on me in their day for a minute or two as in reading this blog for instance which I take as a form of greeting.

I have been reading short stories and essays by the Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho who appeals to the old dippie hippie in me. He studies Kyudo, which is the Japanese Art of the Bow, refined to a state of meditation.
I have just sent out some poems and am contemplating sending out the novel in the autumn and this particular section from his book just spoke to me. Of course just substitute writing/poetry or anything one is serious about in this world for the word arrow but of course you and he know that already.

How to observe the flight of the arrow (Taken from Like The Flowing River)

The arrow is the projection of an intention into space.
Once the arrow has been shot, there is nothing more the archer can do, except follow its path to the target. From that moment on, the tension required to shoot the arrow has no further reason to exist. Therefore, the archer keeps his eyes fixed on the flight of the arrow, but his heart rests, and he smiles.
If he has practised enough, if he has managed to develop his instinct, if he has maintained elegance and concentration throughout the whole process of shooting the arrow, he will, at that moment, feel the presence of the universe, and will see that his action was just and deserved.
Technique allows the hands to be ready, the breathing to be precise, and the eyes to be trained on the target. Instinct allows the moment of release to be perfect.
Anyone passing nearby, and seeing the archer with his arms open, his eyes following the arrow, will think that nothing is happening. But his allies know that the mind of the person who made the shot has changed dimensions: it is now in touch with the whole universe. The mind continues to work, learning all the positive things about that shot, correcting possible errors, accepting its good qualities, and waiting to see how the target reacts when it is hit.
When the archer draws the bow string, he can see the whole world in his bow. When he follows the flights of the arrow, that world grows closer to him, caresses him and gives him a perfect sense of duty fulfilled.
A warrior of light, once he has done his duty and transformed his intention into gesture, need fear nothing else: he has done what he should have done. He did not allow himself to be paralysed by fear. Even if the arrow failed to hit the target, he will have another opportunity, because he did not give in to cowardice.


Goodbye and thanks for all the fish..... hasn't someone else written that line before?

1 comment:

Anne said...

Very good post re facebook - these are my anxieties too! Am seriously wondering what on earth I'm doing there, how long I'll stick it out, and what I'll be missing if I leave.

There are an indordinate number of writers on fb. Is it just an elaborate form of displacement activity? Or is it 'marketing'?