Happy 2nd January.
One thing with social media, I note, is the extrapolation of the ‘me too’ thing. I don’t mean the hashtag movement, I mean the sense of solidarity, you’re not alone. This has become increasingly prevalent, and as such we start, as the the habit forms and strengthens, to look for it. When you are feeling alone, know this: you are not alone. Instagram says so. Celebrities say so. If you are miserable, do not worry! Others are too. Misery can be shared! We have learned to accept that although it looks like everyone is having a great time, they are not. Not always, anyway. Happiness is a moment, not a permanent state. #motivationalquote.
Have you noticed the distinction between the Instagram grid and Instagram stories? The grid is for beauty and curation; a ‘this is me at my best’ truth, for gratitude, contentment and favourable camera angles. Stories, which fleetingly disappear after a day, are more for reality; ‘this is me, for real’. The same applies to teenagers, whose behaviour I am fascinated by. They have their ‘main’ account, and then their ‘private’. The main is the public show. The private – well, the mind boggles. It’s a space they have carved out that is away from prying eyes, and where they can be themselves in all their hormonal glory. Anyway, don’t worry, most of them have graduated over to ‘TikTok’, where we will be in a year’s time, thinking we invented the place. Regardless though, we have become adept at understanding that we are being fed different glimpses, different vistas of the same happy/sad/multitudinous life.
This was never, ever more obvious than at Christmas. During the festive season we present life in all of its false magnitude. Scrolling over the last month has, on the whole, made me feel utterly alone. Christmas, when everything is fine, is fine. When it is not, it is torturous. The truth – that life is not all that much fun all the time – is systematically smothered in a smiley, perfection-laced basting. It is remarkable. On Christmas Day, I saw goodness projected on the grid, to then receive a message from the very same individual, to be told that they were having a downright miserable time. Uncanny. Yet we all press ‘like’ and comment gleefully ‘Happy Christmas’! Santa emoji.
Layered on top is the perception that to call bullshit on Christmas is to resemble Scrooge; thank you Charles Dickens with furnishing us all with a lifelong fear of behaving like Jacob Marley, the miserly nay-sayer. This fear is so rooted in our Western social conscience that there is no escape from the merriment. The world becomes Mr Fezziwig himself; along with a spray of champagne mist, and loving kiss under the mistletoe. And this is counterbalanced with a nod to charity for those less fortunate, and to taking stock as we approach New Year’s Eve, made even more potent for being the end of a decade, yay, a ten year review! It is literal madness.
My personal subscription to madness was to do the same thing but to expect different results. Road to insanity, apparently. In many ways this Christmas was the same as ever; we were at home, there were traditions observed, a set of festive routines and regularities that gave the comforting air of repetition and surety. Yet underneath, it was a seething, emotional mess with a gaping hole in it. My overriding feeling come daybreak on Christmas Day: we should have fled, done something totally different, gone to the Outer Hebrides, another hemisphere, the moon, literally anywhere but here. But there was no escape – even in the Outer Hebrides – one must go through the motions, despite the pain or loss or confusion. The requirement to ‘do’ Christmas is so ensconced in us, in our childhood selves, in our societal constructs, in our obligation to our own children, that we succumb, and participate, even though it is an endurance like no other.
So happy 2nd January. Thank f**k that’s over. For those who loved it and had a social media presence to match, I applaud you. I have been there! It’s fabulous isn’t it? But know that one day the paper crown might slip. It’ll be OK when it does, you will learn new things, you will broaden and welcome its lessons, despite yourself. These milestones, these markers, they are necessary in human life however you come to experience them. Then, you may be like me, welcoming in the new year sat in your dark garden by candlelight, with your surly fourteen year old son and two dogs (one of whom was wearing the cone of shame because he has a warty tail). You’ll be in your pyjamas and a big coat, hood up, cheap Prosecco in hand (because you won’t wanna waste the good stuff on this shit show), and as midnight strikes, you’ll look at the stars, and the fireworks bursting on the horizon and you’ll know (hope?), despite all evidence to the contrary: you are not alone.
It’ll be OK. Welcome 2020, I’ve got high hopes for you.