I’ve just spent a week in a retirement home. I looked around at the comfortable surroundings designed to accommodate late-in-life transitions – wide corridors, shared spaces and institutional sameness, yet each individual’s doorway subtly unique in ways that both broke and warmed my heart – and Alice-like, suddenly I was holding up a mirror in which I could see reflected my attendance at Blissdom's wrap party.
With it’s dust-ups and popularity contests on any given day the blogosphere can certainly be reminiscent of high school, we have all heard Twitter compared to a cocktail party, some bloggers strive for numbers, hits, and comments like young lawyers competing to rack up clients and hours, but truly, we are not all that and a bag of micro chips. We are much closer to the culture of an old folks home than to that of the freaks and geeks we imagine ourselves to be.
How often do you get lost in the hallways of the intrawebz, following one link and then the other until you forget where you started?
How often are you comforted by a site that gives you the simple pleasure of a conversation and maybe a nice piece of cake?
Transitions bring people together online. So can shopping, but the participants in the discussions, forums, and networks, the people interested in social media as a place of conversation and connection are engaged in a dialogue. For the most part, I believe we are here for more than the giveaways. We are here because of life’s transitions, and the figuring out and writing down of those transitions. We are here because of grief, joy, motherhood, depression, travel, divorce, second families, quitting smoking/ boozing/drugs/bad relationships, recovering from smoking/boozing/drugs/bad relationships. We are all groping our way forward in one way or another.
Late in life transitions are perhaps the most difficult of them all. We become inflexible, settled into the bones of our personalities, any real stretching might lead to a broken hip. I wonder if these are the same reasons we cultivate brands and avatars online? It is easier to hunker down, wave the remote control belligerently and voice an opinion from the comfort of our blog.
In order to cope with the internet and it’s various protocols, we assume identities. In order to cope with the institution, the residents of a retirement home (if they are lucky enough to get to choose) have to carve out a new identity as well. There is a social committee, there are meet-and-greets, there is the daily gauntlet of the dining room. How much more nervous will you feel to attend one of those events with a walker to push in front of you, or a face which does not co-operate, or without a spouse you are missing like one of your own limbs.
I watched the social dynamics playing out in the common rooms and hallways: each person has their story, their affliction, their secret hurt or visible pain.
Hat guy with the newspaper only talks about the war. The one with the flowers on her walker is an incorrigible flirt. That distinguished man with the dramatic stoop was an engineer and he knows all the tricks to the doorways and apparatus. The two ladies who head up the social committee are genuine forces of good. Gloria only talks about her children. You have to be careful of Dennis.
I pass the common room and see women sitting in chairs working with stretchy bands. They are paying close attention to the woman in the front of the room. I realize they are doing slow-motion sitting aerobics. It is like watching starfish unfurl in a tidal pool. It looks soothing in a purposeful way.
“Grannie!” I say later in my most cheerful voice, “Grannie, I saw they have exercise classes!”
She shrugs me off. Will not go without someone else, a decent outfit, a damn good reason. I am less than half her age and truth be told, I hate exercise classes. Hypocrite I think to myself, and settle back into the chair, cup of tea in hand. My mind turns to the Blissdom party I would attend the next night. I would be walking into a room of people I mostly didn’t know, without the right outfit, uncertain of my reasons.
I went anyway, and the landing was made gentle by the truly truly beautiful in-the-flesh women who make this community the dazzling thing it is. I knew each person by the image or detail or motto on the doorways of our collective institution, but to walk though those doorways and meet the gorgeous that I suspected lurked there was divine.
We are all so terribly, vulnerably human. However flash the avatar or how deep your Digg, we all wander the wide hallways of the Internet and then return to our rooms, lean our backs against the door and think: safe. We are made of starshine and ether online. It is only when we find the courage to look into each other's eyes and enter a room together that we get to see the truly beautiful imperfections of each other’s humanity."