When Facebook Friendships Are Stronger Than 'Real' Ones

When I began writing my memoir, I realized that I was lacking a writing community. While writing my previous books, which were novels, I had unwittingly created a protective bubble around my self. My creative instincts at the time were undeveloped, my voice shaky. When I would hit writer’s block, friends would suggest I workshop my draft with a writers group so that I could get feedback, but I was hesitant. Rationally I knew it would be helpful, but I couldn’t do it. In my twenties and most of my thirties, I had shared the craft of storytelling with my ex-husband, and inevitably, my own voice had become muted. So when starting over on my own, honing my own instincts, I think I was wary of allowing other people’s suggestions to influence the unformed story I was attempting to manifest.

I wrote the first draft of my memoir the same way, but when it came time to get it out there, i was stumped. Was it ready? Was it in the right format? Should I be shopping a memoir proposal, a business plan for the book, rather than a manuscript? What was the best way to query agents, and what would the grueling submissions process be like when what you’re putting out there isn’t an imagined story with fictitious experiences (not that that isn’t painful!), but the inner workings of your heart and soul, laid bare?

And then I received an invitation on Facebook to join a large private group of women writers, which consisted of novelists, memoirists, essayists, teachers and bloggers. I somewhat impulsively posted a question about memoir submission in the memoirist group, and to my delight, received a cascade of useful advice I consequently put into effect.

And along the way, I made friends. I attended a writer’s conference for this group in NYC, where I didn’t know anyone but on my way out, ended up standing in the bathroom line between two women who I instantly clicked with. (And I’m glad I waited, rather than my usual maneuver of ducking into the no-line men’s room). We couldn’t stop talking for hours, and now we are friends, providing feedback on each other’s work, and meeting for dinners to talk about life, love, and writing. I’ve attended cocktail gatherings (go figure) and became inspired by strong and brilliant women who share my passion and who have come out on the other side – who’ve provided me with unsolicited support and comfort, and moments where I’ve been able to reciprocate in kind.

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But when I finally secured an agent who began sending my book out to editors, I felt alone again. I went about tending to the needs of my day, but anxiety sat in my pocket like a hard stone. I stared at my inbox, waiting for news from my agent, wondering if what would come would suddenly change the texture and trajectory of my life. There was no advice my close friends and family could give me, or that a community of writers could give me now, no to-do list to follow. All I had was feelings, and lots of impatience (although that’s nothing new), that were mine alone to sit through.

I was wrong. A writer in the group named Joan, who lives in Colorado, saw that my book was out on submission and reached out to me in private message. Joan was in the same situation I was (but with a vastly different life story). She too had a new agent who now had her baby in hand to send out into the world. What was it like? How did I feel? We began pinging one another when a rejection came in. Or when we were irrationally worried or bereft. And then, Lily, another memoirist on submission pinged me too, and we invited her into the group.

That was in March. Our virtual friendship continues to blossom in unexpected ways, unique to the norm of Facebook friendships. We check in with each other almost every day on memoir status, and sometimes also, about life. When I received some exciting news about my memoir’s potential, my hands shaking, that Facebook message box was the first thing I searched for. When I received bad news, fighting tears, I found myself doing the same. When two of us were receiving updates from our agents, but one hadn’t heard anything, we helped her brainstorm what to do. We listen. And sometimes we disagree with one another, implementing tough love, the kind usually reserved for my sisters and closest friends.

When a close work colleague of mine asked me how my book was going, I surprised myself by saying, “It’s going okay, thank you,” my typical urge to unburden myself eradicated. Because I had my support – the kind I needed, without knowing that I did.

While out to dinner with a client in Soho a few weeks ago, I saw our three-way chat box light up. I was unable to read it but the CAPS and “!!!!!!” relayed what we had all been waiting for. Joan had received an official offer on her memoir. She was freaking out. Her husband wasn’t home, and she was pacing her apartment alone. My heart soared for her. I couldn’t get out of my dinner fast enough. As soon as I left, I messaged her: “Can I call you?”

She picked up on the first ring. “Joan?” I said. “Yay!! I’m so happy for you! This is huge!” and other such congratulatory cheer. Her sweet voice – that I had never heard before – was pitched in excitement. She had spoken to her husband, her therapist, and… me. A woman she had never met before, on this most significant milestone.

When I received some disappointing news a few weeks later, and felt as if I was jumping out of my skin with worry, I wanted to go meet Joan and Lily for margaritas. But the three of us know, that that time will come, as we continue to hold one another’s virtual hands on this long beautiful journey.

Why I Couldn’t Stop Crying Over Cecil The Lion.

I could definitely be considered “emotional”, “intense” (words often used as code for “kookoo”), and easily moved when I witness hardship big or small.

But when I heard what had happened to Cecil the Lion, I didn’t just tear up as when worse tragedies happen – those that involve the loss of human life. For Cecil, I wept like someone I love (God forbid) had passed away. Final-pictures-of-Cecil-the-lion-emerge-as-the-US-considers-extraditing-dentist-killer-595187

No doubt, the systemized targeting, hunting, and torture of an unsuspecting animal is heartbreaking. It’s wrong. It’s dark and cruel. And the fact that it was a regal lion, the subject of academic study who had 24 cubs, only makes it more appalling. And, lions are the archetype of strength and nobility in our mythology and human history.

But the part that made me cry the most was the luring and subsequent forty hours of torture. Because in order to be lured to one’s death, one has to be unsuspecting. Innocent. This animal, a predator of sorts in his own kingdom, was trusting and oblivious to a human predator. Cecil blindly followed his own instinct and DNA – his program for sustenance and survival – without knowing what fate awaited him. Cecil’s instincts deceived him. Cecil’s instincts were used against him, to bring him harm.

And yet, tears like that? It gave me pause. Is there some deeper sorrow, some personal chord this event, this loss, struck? I thought of my old, innocent and beloved dog, a Rhodesian Ridgeback whose lineage goes back to Zimbabwe where these dogs were bred to be “lion hunters,” (actually, they were lion-herders… a wimpy dog like mine only hunts food in garbage cans). I pictured her being lured, her unsuspecting tail wagging as she cluelessly anticipated a reward, and it saddened me. But no, that’s too easy an analogy.

I thought back on other examples that elicited this kind of disproportionate emotional reaction, and remembered Aslan the lion of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” and the image of the White Witch luring him out of his sanctuary before tying him up on a slab before torturing and killing him. Aslan’s face remained regal and still if not a bit sad. That scene leveled me as a child, and still levels me now. Cecil is Aslan, and Walter Palmer the White Witch. And in the aftermath of their death, we cry like children too, the way young Susan and Lucy in the story did:

The moon was getting low and thin clouds were passing across her, but still they could see the shape of the Lion lying dead in his bonds. And down they both knelt in the wet grass and kissed his cold face and stroked his beautiful fur – what was left of it – and cried till they could cry no more.

E.T, the sweet bug-eyed alien in my favorite movie, ET: The Extra Terrestrial, comes to mind too. The last time I wept like I did for Cecil was just a few years ago – when I watched it with my husband, then boyfriend. We had only been dating a few months and the movie happened to be on TV. When E.T gets caught by scientists and is found by Eliot in a ditch, his withering gray body twisted, I looked at my boyfriend, tears streaming down my face and called out with indignation: “He just wants to go home!”

(My husband told me later that was the moment he fell in love with me. Whatever it takes.)

He just wants to go home.

He just wants to be left alone, in his habitat, in his routine, free to be what he was put on this earth for. To live out his purpose with comfort and ease. E.T. just wants to be home. Just like Cecil.

Just like all of us.

When we cry over these ill-fated creatures – like the children cried over Aslan – we are not bestowing their existence with more importance than humans. Certainly not. Perhaps our tears and outrage over their wrongful death reminds us that innocence – our own rightful sense of home – can be shattered in an instant.

The murder of these animals – whether mythological or real – reminds us of the encroaching death of innocence. The flawed and susceptible innocence that lives within us, and in the darkening cruelty of the world we inhabit.