(Fragment 03) Facebook Updates "Status"

[Start reading this series of fragments here.]

I’m stunned. I had no idea I’d gained this much influence. But I finally blogged about the “Petition to Facebook to create ‘Widowed’ as a relationship status” and a week later, they friggin’ did it.

(Facebook also added the status, “in an open relationship,” which, personally, I thought was covered under “it’s complicated.” So can someone please explain what statuses remain to be called “complicated”?) (No, wait, don’t. Thanks.)

It’s not exactly Valerie Jarrett commenting on Loralee’s Looney Tunes or Dooce forcing the hand of TWO whitegoods manufacturers, but it’s still been quite a week for Social Media-mediated change. Thank you, Danielle Fait, the young widow who founded the FB group!

Of course I have to diminish my own success and tell you how nutty I am: I joined Facebook partially so I could join this group and protest the exclusion of my (non)marital status. Whatever happened to “I don't care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members”?

Or maybe it's the world that's backwards, at last. Remember the jokes about Y2K being a real-life Revenge of the Nerds? Maybe Social Media is finally turning rejects into leaders?

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(Fragment 02) E-mail from the Beyond

[Start reading this series of fragments here.]

After Gavin died, one of my first tasks in the Dreaded Bureaucracy of Death (DBoD, coined by Kristin) was to arrange for an ad in the local paper. Gmail accounts truncate names when showing a conversation; the summary line for my correspondence with the “Death Notices” department looked like this (yeah, you can click to enlarge the image):

It was just a week after his death, I was so numb. Of course my first thought is: I have to forward this to Gavin. THUNK.

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(Fragment 01) A Widow on Facebook

[Read my excuse for posting bits and pieces.]

Being widowed young disrupts your social networks, along with everything else. As in real life, the break is stark when you interact using Social Media:

On Facebook, the freshly bereaved may be a bit disgusted to find they can choose between relationship status “single” or “it’s complicated.” The latter status may be a bigger bucket now, but as a child of the 60s, I imagine it’s used by the polyamorous and the thought of clicking that box makes me throw up a little. No, it's not fucking "complicated," you dolts. I'm not dating a goat and a girl. I was married and he died. Sounds simple enough to me.

Sure, it’s easy to offend a widow, but how hard can it be to add another check box? Hence there’s the group, “Petition for Facebook to create ‘widowed’ as a relationship status.”

This group is categorized under “Dating and relationships,” which seems a bit off to me. The taxonomy of grieving is a topic that comes up often in these fragmented social media notes; I hope to pull thoughts on this together someday.

Like many, I’m using Facebook to be found by old friends and to maintain relationships that were never (or aren’t now) close. But a lot of folks would just disappear after the initial contact. It’s not called “dropping a w-bomb” for nothing but seriously, how could I answer, “So! What have you been up to for the past 20 years?” without mentioning that my husband died? So I tried to prepare people a little, the way I did with my Match.com ad. Under “Info,” I added:

Because I have had a lot of awkward FB conversations with folks who haven’t seen me in a long time, here’s a short bio:
-- I work as an editor.
-- Have had some jobs in the art world, but not now.
-- I went to college and graduated in 19xx.
-- I got married in 19xx.
-- I went to business school finishing in 20xx.
-- I had a baby in 2004.
-- My husband died in 2006.
-- I remarried in 2008.
I am comfortable talking about my loss, though it doesn't consume my life.

I have to say I don’t think it helped that much because the FB interface buries “evergreen” info. But I still like the idea, and I certainly (as you know) bring up “widow” as an early warning system in any transaction where I think it will be relevant. And I am more cautious of how I bring the topic up in that first FB "What up?!" response, given that e-mail is a less rich, less responsive medium than F2F conversation.

I checked the Facebook page of an art world acquaintance a week or so after he had died. Friends continued to post wall messages, and he was a member of a group art project called “A Book About Death.” It gave me a chill. He must have joined before the accident which killed him. The only other option is that his wife signed him up posthumously, which seems unlikely (though I don’t know her well. Would I do it? Yes, but I’d use my name).

The net gets denser every day -- it seems really weird to me that I know the gallery and many of the artists working on the project.

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(Fragments) Intro, Widows in Social Media (Etc.)

Bitchin’ great weather this summer, until now. My reluctance to quit eating gluten, dairy, and peaches. Or the fact that I have to Mom full time for the two weeks between preschool and K. Whatever is causing my problem, I have a ton of ideas and can’t pull them together.

Maybe it’s also the nature of the subject. I’ve been taking notes on widows in social media for months but nothing coherent or post-like has come together. Given the ADD inherent in Twitter (where I am spending an unfortunate number of little bits of time most days) it might make sense to just take it on the way it is. To post frankly and fast. To inhibit overthinking, for once. To share my (OH GOD) thought process (PRAY).

How about we just pretend that I’ve applied the punkrock ethos of “don’t bother learning your instrument, just get up and play” to writing?

Forthwith, a series of short posts that may or may not fit together.

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First Marriage, Second Marriage, Part 1

I married for love the first time.
I got together with Gavin because I needed a ride to a party, but the summer night helped me hear his gentle voice.
I was growing up, learning about the real world, money, and emotions. We loved the same books and music.
He was 20 years older than me, an Irish mama’s boy with a pinch of the ascetic.
We felt lucky to have each other.
We faced death and decided our commitment mattered.
He loved this world but didn’t really accept it. I was the breadwinner, making choices about my time so he could continue his life’s work.
We bought an old house, paralyzed over palettes and too poor to upgrade any of its “charming features.”
We were idealistic and often chose not to fight.
His Chinese horoscope sign was dog, I am the horse.
Where I was brash, he was kind and calm.
I wanted him to soften me.
I carried all the fire, and I brought him a child, a new life he looked forward to with an appreciation of the divine and the temporary.
We faced death again and he lost.

I married for love the second time, too.
I met Mr. Fresh half a lifetime ago, when I was studying with his teacher.
When we got together recently we were both mature, bouncing back after our different losses. We didn’t look crushed or burned any more. Beneath sarcastic smiles, we were tough.
We’re both intense and goofy, lucky and fierce.
We bring equal fuel to the fire.
He’s fire rooster, I’m fire horse.
We’re both practical, but where I stall, he finishes.
We both tilt at windmills, but we’ve demonstrated appropriate use of the “off” button.
When he lacks faith, I bring him shelter, tools, and love.
I worry like a Mom, but he supports and protects us.
I’m considering the range of real choices and talents I was born with.
I love our world well enough to believe that somewhere, it needs me.
He hasn’t stopped changing, either.
Till death do us part.

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Hommage à Black Hockey Jesus

(In memory of the late great blog which cannot be named)

Black Hockey Jesus, in the name of all that is hockeysticked and holy, without your profane blog, my life will hereafter be a trial. You inspired so many of us with your cockeyed, clear-eyed look at what’s real and what’s a flashback, dude.

While I was contemplating how our world had sacrificed you once again, an apparition showed up. If it was supposed to be some kind of ghost, it sure didn’t look like you.

A Giant Zit appeared to me in the shower last night. HUGE, like a fucking second nose, at the inside nadir of my butt on the right side, it spoke to me in a low but maybe-not-ironically-mockingly-serious tone:

GZ: I am the spirit of all that is foul. You must use the vocative in addressing me, as in “O Great One.” For I am the one.
SDF: Does that mean you’re my last zit? Cause that would be okay.
GZ: Silence! I am here to teach you about the meaning of pain. What hurts you in the middle right of your back is screaming for your attention.
SDF: Wait – my zit is talking to me about my back? You mean the injury I’ve had for the past month?
GZ: Yes, take the muscle relaxants, and sleep, but you must write! Get it out. You must “pop” me by using strong language to dig deep through your soul. You’re the one who says the body always knows. One pore will complete your story. Set that spirit free.
SDF: O Great One, I tremble at your command, but I have never popped anything sentient before.
GZ: Courage, mere mortal. If you wish to reach higher ground, your feet must labor on steep slopes. Sure, it hurts to pop a zit, but in this case, count it as developmental pain. Kinda like a stretch, only explosive.
SDF: But the suspense. The goo [shivers].
GZ: HA! I’m sure you can handle it after everything you’ve been through. Plus, it's a lousy metaphor. WAKE UP.
SDF: O Great One, this pain in my back has been abating and is nearly gone. Is the zit, I mean, are you still a profound revelation waiting to happen?
GZ: Okay, no. Just leave it and let it heal. Still, don’t take too many naps until you have this bad shit out of you. Maybe try one of those “purge” raw food diets or something.
SDF: I hear you, O Great One, but one more question, please.
GZ: Yeah, yeah, make it snappy, I gotta go infiltrate a scab on the sloppy kid with OCD next door before he peels it.
SDF: O Great One, is this zit going to gross out Mr. Fresh? Cause I was expecting some recreational activities tonight, if you know what I mean.
GZ: This man you call Mr. Fresh is powerful and determined. Grant him a word of warning, but keep me from his sight. At least, until after the act.

Jesus, I know, it’s not funny, I suck, and no one can imitate your whollyness. Because see, if it were you writing about a Giant Zit, then that fucker would be ferREAL and it would not be so damn VAGUE about what it's sayin'.

Jesus, may you rest in peace.

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Finding My Own Key

What does it say about me that every metaphor that comes up in my life takes the form of a cliché? Yeah, I’m a lazy writer, but as Gavin used to say, “All clichés are true.”

Each night for the past five years I’ve sung two lullabies to my girl- - “Down to the River to Pray” and a single verse of the Brahms lullaby. My Mom sang me to sleep with Brahms, never in her daily harsh judgmental tones, but with the sweet magic enabled by arcane words like “bedite” and the hard-to-decode “o’ersp’ead,” as much of a mystery as that “elemenohpee” two-thirds through the alphabet song.

Is every mother’s singing voice perfect and soothing? I can tell mine spins an oxytocin spell over Shortie, even with its strains and starts, even though I’ve such a limited repertoire.

It took me a while to wish to mix things up at lullaby time. Perhaps I’m respecting my girl’s new, strong opinions about music. (She’d make a fresh mix for the car every day if she could read.) Maybe I’m realizing that in my next career (which I haven’t discussed with y’all yet) my voice will have to lead. I do know that I’ve often been told I have a “good instrument” that could be trained for excellence, but since my huge mouth is usually what gets me into trouble, I’ve had no faith. Or been too scared.

Of course I wasn’t born like this. When I was a kid we sang in season: “Silent Night,” walking through the snowed-over West Village with candles sheathed in foil. “Go Where I Send Thee,” by the piano in a warm sweet-smelling loft on Second Avenue. “Star of Wonder” with incense in the local Episcopalian church (the one with the garden). And I loved singalongs at camp, if we were all together I couldn’t be picked on. But it was not permitted to be serious: music was my sister’s territory and in my “deep shadow” she needed it. (Art was my department.)

As a younger adult, when I made dozens of nativities starting every September, I spent hours singing the Roches versions of carols in my garret studio, the older and more religious, the better. Fortunately no one was listening.

It pulls a bit of the rug away from the self-conscious adult to know someone enjoys hearing me (though “NOT in the car, Mommy”). I can admit I really adore “Good King Wenceslaus” and that it’s fun to sing “Cielito Lindo.” Trying these a few nights ago, somehow, strangely, I shifted into a lower key. Wow: some weight in my throat disappeared. My voice opened up, stronger, even in lullaby hush-mode: maybe that word is “smoother.” All of a sudden I could choose my phrasing, instead of being forced into it. An occasional consonant dropped spontaneously, as it would have for Judy Garland, if I wanted a rounder note.

I’m growing comfortable with this voice. I’m moved to add “Dona Dona” and “Morning Has Broken” from camp; “Moonshadow,” “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” and “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep.” Christmas stuff, free to lose the Roches’ harmonies, which I obviously can’t fake, even for my kid. And from church, “Dodi Li,” “Come, Come, Whoever You Are,” “This Is My Song (Finlandia),” and others.

I’ve heard music is natural, the notes like numbers, inevitable, not made by man. But I didn’t believe it till now. Is this what it means to find your key?

Yeah, I bet I sound like a broken record… change, transformation, metamorphosis, reinvention.* Blah, blah, blah. I doubt I’d sound anywhere near “good” to less loving ears, but it’s a sign.


*Mr. Fresh wants me to write a post in the style of Don Marquis. So we’d add “transmogrification” to the list.

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The Posture of Grief and Recovery

During active grieving, most of the young widows I knew described their cars as perfect compartments for crying: soundproof, childless, portable, and stocked with Kleenex. I was fortunate enough to be held by a faith community instead. Every Sunday church was a refuge where I could cry in peace or on a shoulder, and sing brokenly as loud as I wanted to.

By instinct and feeling, over many months, I adapted my own posture. The position is a little like Eagle Pose: my upper and lower body twist to enclose the heart in a knot, but it’s smooth on the outside and every part plays a role.

The legs are crossed, right knee over left. Left elbow nests on the right inner elbow, resting on the lap. My back is bent but just enough to fit the puzzle together. Two fingers of my left hand pinch the earpiece of my splendid eyeglasses, which dangle out to the right to avoid harm. The chin tucks naturally. The right hand is all business, cradling the bridge of the nose, offering a span of Kleenex to both eyes at the same time. The tail of the Kleenex is ready to spread down to the two nostrils if they flare or bubble. A dozen more Kleenex wait on the blue cloth seat of the chair next to me.

Unlike other slouches, in this one the lower back pulls up and forward and the head can still float like an egg about to hatch. In this position, you can really feel the breath elevate and spread the spine. It’s a bow being slowly released. You’re free to cry, well protected, still available to hug and somehow, you can even provide your shoulder to someone else.

I wept at service a few weeks ago, at a song or a sorrow, and it came back to me. I remember that grieving is a physical process and one that uses your entire body.

Being unemployed and newlywed has changed my body, too: I’ve been lifting weights and feeling as that strength helps my hard, crushed chest to open up by slight turns. I’m using my hips more freely when I run, and the wonky alignment of my right knee seems to be gone.

But one morning about a month ago I woke up in hell. The weak spot in my right side middle back was throbbing, unstretchable. It’s happened before, and usually goes away after 3 or 4 days. I saw the allopath and got two Rx’es, which help, but mornings are almost unbearable. I can’t stay in bed and stretching is hard. Sometimes I just get up at 3 or whenever the pain wakes me and I stay up. It creates a constant present where I want only one thing: let the pain stop.

Boy, pain really has a way of focusing the mind. I remember all the pain that Gavin suffered when he had a metastasis eroding his spine all summer long. I empathize with his long-lost daily struggle and remember all the pain meds he took.

Even as the pain seems to be stepping back, slowly, it’s still hard not to look at the metaphors. At 42, after years of unbearable stress, I am waking up. What is my body trying to tell me?

Perhaps I am strong enough at last to confront some demons and kill some gremlins. Surely one of the new directions pointing at me is the right one. Maybe I could throw out about 1,000 pounds of STUFF. I'm sure it was impulsive to remarry so quickly, though I have no doubt Marshall is the best man for the job.

I am on the verge of insight in several areas of my life, if I may be forgiven for hubristic navel-gazing on my blog (what else, excuse me, is it for?). But I know it will hurt to pull all those band-aids off. I suppose I’m not doing it fast, but can I handle it at all? They’re flesh colored; I’m sure no one can see them.

I’m surrounded by loads of natural, situational stress. We’re in the process of moving (nearby), girl begins Kindergarten in a month, Marshall’s new job starts Monday. These things are hard to untangle.

The only way out is through. I guess I’m going to stretch out my legs, slowly, at 5 a.m. as I have been doing, and listen to my poor neglected muscles and nerves with brave ears.

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