Thursday, June 9, 2011

In Defense of Facebook Status Updates

I wrote a post a while back about considering shorter forms of literature, such as numbered fiction and even text messages (people publish collections of letters as biographical material; why not collections of text messages?) In it, i briefly mentioned six-word memoirs, a form of literary expression that is catching on more and more all the time. I'd like now to talk a little bit more about memoirs and how we all write them every day.

Here is the difference between a biography and a collection of memoirs: They are both like a river, but they are traveled differently. When you are writing (or reading) a biography, you start at the source of the river and travel along it to the end. You move at the same pace as the water, and look at everything that presents itself to your notice. If a stone juts out of the water, you look at it. If an historical event such as a war intrudes itself upon your life, you make mention of it. You look at the banks of the river as you pass them, much as you orient the biography in a particular time and place. Context is vital. You don't often bother with going very deep into the water, because you are more interested in charting the flow from beginning to end and making sure that everything stays in order.

A collection of memoirs is like the river teeth, the hard, twisted knots of trees that lodge themselves in the river and collect things. When writing (or reading) a memoir, you don't travel the whole length of the river from beginning to end. You find one river tooth, one significant moment or memory, and delve into the deepest depths of it. You consider each droplet of water in that one space. You look at the fish, the algae, the pebbles, the mud. You look at the tiny bubbles in the water. You look at outside things that have collected within that moment, whether or not they are strictly related to what is happening (raindrops against the window, the scent of fresh-ground coffee being brewed, the scratchy feel of the cushion at your back, etc). You're not as concerned with orienting that moment within a particular time or place as you are with orienting it within a particular set of sensations and impressions. Context is important, but not necessary. Each moment, each memoir, each river tooth, is complete unto itself. You collect these moments into whatever order feels most meaningful to you, and you don't worry about connecting them. They're all in the same river.

With all this in mind, therefore, i would like to introduce my favorite form of memoir: the Facebook status update. While it is true that the FB status is often used for things like song lyrics, more often than not it is actually a tiny memoir. Here is a sampling of statuses on my newsfeed at this moment:

*Nicole: I wish I could get rich by smashing pots and cutting grass clumps.

*Emma: misses friends near and abroad.

*Kelly: Seriously wishing I could find my wallet ugh

*Kim: Another wicked scorcha here today!

*Ben: is bowing at the alter of e. e. cummings right now.

*Steve: Got to help an Australian guy understand his first ever baseball game, and talked about the benefits of a salary cap with someone from Denver. Season tickets are great.

Sure, not all of these plumb the depths of human experience and emotion. But they are baby memoirs, existing only within a single moment. They do not bother to consider a larger context. They make no attempt to tell a longer story. They are an expression of a moment, a recognition that something has touched them. Some are more than six words, some are less.

Like the FB status, six-word memoirs are prone to cheesiness, as well as emo-ness. Sometimes it's just a generic statement about "my pain" or "no one gets me" or "life is lame". They are not all gold. But just because it is possible for someone to use an art form badly does not mean that the art form in and of itself is bad or unworthy of consideration. Lots of high school students write bad poems, but poetry itself is not bad. Lots of people are bad dancers, but dancing itself is still an art form. Just because some Facebook statuses are stupid, or some six-word memoirs lame, does not mean that beauty and art cannot be expressed in a condensed form on the internet.

*names changed

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