Epistle to my first friend in Japan, February 15, 2003

Elle, have I ever told you how I came to find you?

The streets smelled of overcooked eggs, and people wouldn’t look me in the eyes.  My hotel chambers, with the sterility and lifelessness of a dentist’s office, offered little comfort against the backdrop of an indifferent city. I was, however, grateful to have a view of a small Japanese man atop a neighbouring rise, who would pummel his rugs with a bamboo stick. Dust eddies were my transient joy.

It had only been a week and a half since I left Paris, where everything was lighter with wanton expressions; then, “je t’envie” became “je t’aime,” and her parting words, caught between closing metro doors, changed everything.  I knew that it would be impossible to reciprocate Emily’s words while maintaining my Parisian lifestyle in Tokyo.  Drugs and alcohol – memory suppressants – were out; I feared what I might forget. We were too far apart.  Besides, Elle, I was looking for a reason to get away from those destructive inclinations, so why not do so for Emily and I?

Despite what many people think, modeling is difficult.  Aside from the long days, where it is not unusual to start at five in the morning and finish at eight in the evening, it is very lonely.  Time does not often afford the opportunity to develop meaningful relationships, so alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs become the glue that holds the ephemeral bonds that exist among us.  In order to uphold this new commitment with Emily, I had to abandon that life.  I didn’t have a single friend.

Aside from my toilet, with a heated seat and oscillating bidet, my room was lonesome and cheerless.  I went to the streets.  Paradoxically, it’s lonelier lost in a whirl of people than an empty room; this is especially true when portly Japanese men with wet-slicked hair offered me flyers, trying to sell Japanese girls who were younger than my sister.  In the bustling centre of my district, Shibuya, I weaved through a dense fabric of people in motion.  Though the shop was abuzz with people, the magnetic pull of floral scents brought me to you, Elle, with your iridescent crimson blossoms.

The Japanese have a language for flowers, and Elle, you signify ‘great taste’. Both my decision to live a pure life and my eye for beauty had been affirmed through you, a dahlia.  You were a beautiful, platonic friend.  Emily, in Paris, was one ocean, nine thousand kilometres, and 300 yen per minute away. I could talk to you.  You brought new life to my hotel-apartment and inspired me to liven it further with photographs, drawings, and other personal mementos.  Soon, as you know, I made a new friend, Enel, from Estonia.  Remember, Elle? How you sat between Enel and I as we ate spaghetti with that terrible sauce that came from a shiny metallic sac.  Your aroma coupled with our conversation filled the room with an incurable need to be among the living.

I soon succumbed to my social desires and, somewhat against my will, went to a cavernous party that flogged exquisite Mexican fare.  Soon my revels reached Ropponghi – a district that is infamous for its nightlife.  I threw the crumbly white pills the bouncer handed me on the scummy floor, and within minutes of entering The Lex, Laura entered my world.  Her tattooed freckles – I now recognize as spores of caution – were a charming addition to her English grace.  She was an actress and ex-wife to a former Coronation Street star, the “handsome one,” she said with pride. (Please, don’t be jealous, Elle, I only want to explain).  How could I refuse her colourful life?   I was re-entering the old European world that I thought I left behind.

As I cultivated my relationship with Laura, I neglected my love for Emily, my friendship with Enel, and you, Elle; you and all the others withered in Laura’s shade.  Unable to give myself to Laura, because I wasn’t so shrewd as to completely disregard my commitment with Emily, that relationship, too, failed.   Did I kill you or did I let you die?  In either case, you’re gone and I’m wracked with regret.  It has been seven years now and I don’t talk to Emily, Enel, or Laura anymore, but I can always count on you Elle.  You’ve always been the best listener.  How you managed to grow with such luminous colours amidst the grey steel, pavement, and sallow people still astounds me. You’ve taught me to do the same.

Yesterday I had a facebook. Today, I have a blog.

 

Last light, 2:16 am, my screen illuminates my fingers — dark rods, alien in the blue-black glow. “You can contact me by e-mail or phone.” I’m sick. I’m done with the voyeurism, the illusory self, the politics.

Though I must confess, I love facebook, which is precisely why I had to leave.

It’s strange how quickly love can turn to repulsion.  I found myself, with each login, growing more furious. I despised the social network for turning my friends into people I hate.  But I don’t hate my friends; I hate their online simulacras. Jennifer X > Michelle X: “Yeah, let’s meet up for drinks Thirstday.” This, for me, was the catalyst.  At what point do we share personal messages between two people with hundreds?–when we want an ostentatious social life that reflects the celebrity culture that our western world has become.  People’s facebook walls are now forums to flex their social muscles to the world – err, to their friends. Put simply, I do not need to, nor do I wish to, read about issues that concern no more than two people in my “news feed.”  I am aware that I can block posts by certain people, yet, most all posts are moving in this brash direction.

It’s not just ‘them’ that is the problem – it’s me. I connected with people on facebook, but my connections were self-serving. To be sure, my close friends will always remain close, regardless of a wall or a tag. But the people who I needed to be connecting with had simply become objects of my voyeurism.  When I wanted to connect with someone I would peer into their life: browse their albums, read their wall, check out their info, and, very seldom, communicate.  In this sense, the gaps created from lost connections are filled with a façade that was prompted both by me and for me – not a mutual desire to share our lives.  After spending hours with my girlfriend exploring our pasts through photos, we laughed over the stories that accompanied the photos, we learned from one another, and, simply, grew closer together. I saw what I had been missing.  I want to sit down and connect with people. I want to hear the stories that accompany the photographs in their albums. I don’t want to seek; I want to be shown.

I’ve been without facebook for a day and, already, my life is better. I’m genuinely excited to learn about peoples’ lives and stories from the people, and not a wall or feed. I had more than enough time to tend to my beer and winemaking.  My homework is, well, I’ve done more homework than I otherwise would have, and I’ve written a blog entry. I didn’t do these things solely because I left facebook, but, moreover, because I feel good about leaving facebook.

I am not anti-facebook.  While facebook works for many, it no longer does for me. Certain features, like events, will be missed, but, to steal the words of a spurned lover who deleted their dumpee: “I need my virtual space.”

Feel free to share your thoughts on facebook. How does it improve or limit your life?