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We Write Ourselves Into Existence

December 7, 2010

In addition to the obvious layout changes, I noticed two additions to the new Facebook profile: Books and Sports. One could take me hours to fill out, the other, I have no need for.

Did you guess which is which? Yeah? Well, come to think of it, thanks to GoodReads, I don’t have much need for filling out the Books one either, but it looked so blank there between Lyle Lovett and Toy Story 3 that I decided to add the latest book I read, The Book Thief, just to provide some mortar.

Filling out my new profile got me thinking how true these things can manage to be. It – and a certain monumental act of creation slated to take place before my mom and I hit MetroNorth back into the city in a few short hours – have me thinking about the spaces between how we represent ourselves online and who we really are.

My task tomorrow is to help my mother complete her Facebook profile. She finally joined (Is that the word?) on my birthday a couple of weeks ago, and in response to her last abandoned attempt to move beyond a profile picture and accepting a couple of friend requests, my eight-year-old niece had this to say, “Nana, I don’t think you’re ready for Facebook.”

My mom is 67, and as I think about the time we spent together today, I can’t help but wonder how she might have encapsulated it on Facebook.

“Played soccer for the first time in my life with my three-year-old grandson and a beach ball in my daughter’s kitchen in Connecticut.”

“Elisio and I made a tent on the couch with a sheet just like I did with Angie when she was this little.”

“Reminisced with everybody at the table after supper about picking worms off tobacco plants and pulling honeycombs dripping out of the hive. Nine kids on 400 acres, coal heated irons, stolen watermelons, winter beets, and new shoes when the cotton crop was in.”

But no, that would be me writing her story, my version of her today. Yet in some ways that’s what she’s asking me to do by requesting my help to fill out her Facebook profile. And if David Weinberger is right that “we write ourselves into existence” online, there may be more to it than that.

Over dinner and after it, I listened to the kind of memories she’d rarely shared with my sister and I when we were growing up. Beyond repeated snatches here and there like, “It was so cold some nights we piled dirty clothes on top of the quilts to keep warm,” I guess she was too busy moving away from that other life to look back. She was fully occupied moving us toward our lives, the ones we’re living right now, where we’re of course hoping for our versions of better for our own kids.

As we cleared the table, I wondered if she would like to post the photo she picked up this afternoon from Elisio’s dresser and showed to my mother-in-law, the photo that started the whole conversation, I suppose. If that picture were on Facebook, how many of her eight brothers and sisters – standing there in front of a clapboard farmhouse, toeheaded and barefoot as she’s always described them – would she be able to tag?

“It was like that for me too,” my Colombian mother-in-law said several times, and I got the impression that everything she did understand, she really understood, in a way I couldn’t: the warm thickness of milk right out of a cow, sharing the hard work of a household with her sisters. Colombia and Tennessee occupied the same geography of memory for a moment, and the journey up and out of labor was shared too. It was not something the few letters I may type in the boxes for my mother’s hometown and current city tomorrow morning will be able to reflect.

The employment section won’t be able to do my Momma justice either. It might leave space for her as a Kresgie’s shopgirl, but it won’t reflect the fact that she sat at a segregated counter with a boss who ate his apple pie before his lunch. It might not be immediately clear that she spent time on other side of the counter, too, a few years later, fielding the flirtations of Atlanta’s emerging black politicians – and my father – at the Old Hickory House.

Under relationship, would I be right to categorize it as “It’s complicated” when it comes to the two of them these days? What movies, tv shows, books, and activities will she want to add when we sit down together in front of the computer screen tomorrow? If I tried to complete this profile for her right now, would I know how? Do I know her well enough to know what to write?

Or is that always a presumption? She’s always known me, since before the day 34 years before she signed up for Facebook, but what will she think when she discovers this blog? Would she be able to guess which moments – today or from all my days – have mattered most to me?

She brought me into existence in the only way that is real. Tomorrow I suppose we will write her into existence online. I can’t wait to see what she’s going to say.

nly half understood, I assume, by the others at the table due to the barriers of age and language that seemed to free her to pour out memories in a way I’ve never heard before.
3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 7, 2010 9:58 am

    The best you can do is “rise up and call her blessed.” I lookforward to discovering her on FB.

  2. Ray Henderson permalink
    December 7, 2010 10:49 am

    Your mother is an incredible lady who I love very much

  3. January 15, 2011 10:48 am

    How beautiful and moving! So glad to have found you here, Angie! 🙂

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