The first and the last / by Vanessa Fiola

For the past 33 days I have been on a social media and news fast. It has been glorious.

One of my faves, Kirk, runs this month-long writing challenge about once a year. He texted me last night to remind me that the group is starting up again on March 1st. The trick to this particular group is that you have to post your work publicly, like on social media. I demurred, explaining how good my cleanse has been for me. If you know Kirk then you know that excuses fall probably just above laziness in things he attributes to the fall of mankind. But my sensitive friend also understands the value of a clear mind more than most people I know so he gave me a pass. I am only writing now because I told him I would write at least one. 

I deleted Facebook over a year ago (though obviously a good ole fashioned web browser still works). I haven't used Snap since probably 2016, so I didn't care about that either. But Instagram, well that's my jam. Back on day 3, I caught myself mindlessly clicking on the app waiting for a meeting to start, only to shut it down the second my brain caught up to the situation. I quickly moved it to Page 2 on my iPhone screen and that’s where it’s been, abandoned like a sweater that no longer fits for over a month now. Sometimes my index finger still twitches for its phantom presence.

I miss stories and pictures of my friends, and my friends’ kids. I even miss finding inspiration on the Explore page. An interesting side effect to a social media cleanse is how fewer pictures I take when I’m not seeing every cute Jonah expression or rainy Portland cafe as a potential post. Instead of taking pictures of the gorgeous stretch of beach we stayed at with our friends over Presidents Day weekend, I stared at the ocean itself, waking early to make a cup of tea, grabbing my journal and perching myself at one of the bay windows to watch the certainty of waves roll in.

Conversely, avoiding news has been a bitch. First, it’s nearly impossible. Second, I have a job. Slack posts to the #general channel, catching a newspaper headline as I wait to check into my hotel, co-workers aghast at Kylie Jenner’s baby name and something horrible that happened in Florida. Do good things happen in Florida too? Please don’t tell me, I begged. I’m on a news fast.

In the wake of the 2016 election loss and the tumultuous 16 months that have followed I have glued myself to the latest information, donated money to the ACLU and to women’s causes. I’ve argued with colleagues and strangers and family members on the internet. My uncle told me to fuck off. 

My anger and my dollars and my targeted social media arguments have not changed minds and have not made a dent in violent crimes. 

But I have flourished on this fast. I am marginally happier, sometimes overcome by waves of gratitude in the most mundane of situations, like yesterday when I was walking down 51st Street in Manhattan to meet some co-workers for dinner. If you can smile in Midtown, something is working. I get more done at work. I strike up conversations with strangers. I have the space in my brain to engage with my son in his philosophical rabbit holes. I read about things that interest me (spacetime and gravitational waves!), and I finally pulled together my upstairs deck so that now we can go and sit where it is quiet and where hummingbirds buzz overhead as the morning sets in. I show up a tiny bit differently in this world. 

My choice reeks of white girl privilege. I remember asking a famous meditation teacher years ago if kids in Darfur get to worry about enlightenment. Do they even have the luxury? He didn’t answer, which, like, I mean, I hear you.

I want to say I’m sorry. This world needs no more resentment. But that would be disingenuous. The truth is, I’m only sorry that I can’t wear the ways in which I push gender and ethnicity and socio-economic equality forward on my sleeve so that anyone who thinks I’m not here for them in my privilege understands that I, too, am doing things to heal our collective wrongs, just in ways that probably won’t make it to Facebook.