In the dregs of no-end-in-sight pandemic boredom I started deleting my Facebook and writing a novel. While I’ve chipped away at both in fractured spurts, post-by-post and word-by-word, the combination of the two tasks has slowly taken over my resting mind. Any time my brain rests — before bed, during meditation — my mind’s eye returns to settings in my past. They aren’t distinct memories or important scenes, just places. I close my eyes and I’m suddenly at the Olive Garden at the Boise cineplex—the one by Costco. Or, I see the view of the high school parking lot from the side door of the theatre. One that returns often is a random spot on Orchard Street on the drive to my non-profit job the semester I took off college. I lied on the job application and said I still believed in Jesus.
I don’t trust Facebook to actually delete with one click, or “deactivate,” whatever that means. So I’ve instead been manually untagging every photo, deleting every wall post (even the birthday ones), and unliking every page. Skylar did this years ago and advised me not to read, “it will distract you and make you feel weird.” He’s not wrong. I have resisted, mostly. The girls changed their last names and I have to squint for a second at their puffy, aging faces to remember—oh yeah, that Sarah. There are some people I don’t remember at all. “I’m obsessed with your photos Kara!!!” posts, now a whole decade old, like a stranger at a party you don’t remember meeting. There were a few things I wanted to read before my muscle memory took over and I clicked and they were gone—forever lost in the stand mixer that is now my mind.
The book is, I think like most first novels, about my life if my life were much more interesting and I was also a better and much worse version of myself. The Facebook is, startlingly, my life—more corny and embarrassing than I even knew, or remembered. High school plays, “modeling” for “photographers,” a dozen people who became instant friends and were gone the minute we realized we didn’t like each other all that much. It’s a graveyard of friendships with people I used to call “my women” and now I don’t speak to at all.
I’m not sure why these specific places keep returning to me; the tanning salon in Eagle that my sister went to, or the church activity center backyard. I’m surprised at what I recall. None are really connected to what I’ve been writing about or even deleting. I listened to a podcast years ago about how thoughts might be mistakes, how they may simply be your brain misfiring and assigning truth and authorship where there is none. The idea was that thoughts came from nowhere, just an electrical oddity with no meaning. At least that’s how I remember it.
The pandemic’s given me too much time, an impractical gift I did not ask for and sometimes don’t want to be responsible to. As I get older there are fewer things I like to do with “my” time, even though it’s disappearing faster and faster. I find TV boringly miserable and movies are only good in theatres. Writing has been nice. It fulfills my creative impulse with little resemblance to the exhausting creativity of my job. I don’t have to make real colors work. I just have to describe them. Or, at least, try to describe them. I had the opportunity a few years ago to write a book. Then I had only bad ideas, but also, luckily, the uneasy sense that I didn’t have anything to say. This time is different, I think.
Looking at my own life on the Facebook and writing about this character’s feel more alike than I expected them to. Not really because we are similar but because they both feel out of reach and unfamiliar to me. Two lives I don’t quite understand, at least anymore. It’s freeing I suppose. What is personal truth if not a misremembered feeling?
The places with no meaning—the Dutch Bros on Cole Road, the nameless elementary school where you can see all of Boise—they flash in and out and quickly back. If I may overextend the metaphor, they’re short circuiting. Beautiful, broken flukes of the mind. Gifts, old friends, someone else’s life.