Thursday, January 22, 2015

Blessed and Stressed—The Facebook Birthday

            Yesterday was my birthday. It was a low-key affair as birthdays go—I put in a request with my family for a big, blazing cake and a pile of presents in a couple of days, when the weekend comes. My semester of teaching has just started, I had a job interview, and I had to take a kiddo to the doctor. By the end of the day, sitting on the couch felt like an awesome celebration to me.
But a celebration was going full force on Facebook, where throughout the day, some very dear friends—well over six hundred of them—posted personal notes, and not just the “Happy Birthday, Karen!” that Facebook generates automatically for you in the list of birthdays. There were birthday wishes mixed with good-luck messages for my interview, and there were personal memories and musical clips and videos.
The dearest of dear ones invited all of my friends to post pictures of fruits and vegetables that look like famous people, and several took up the challenge. There was a pepper that looked like Sylvester Stallone and an onion that resembled Whoopie Goldberg. There was a Nixon eggplant and a Kermit the Frog Brussels sprout. The sheer variety of vegetative lookalikes was sort of stunning. The images made me laugh, and they moved me—people I knew made an effort to make me happy.
Since I was focused on so many other things, it wasn’t until the end of the day that I sat down to reply to my messages, although I watched them arrive with utter delight all day long. Waiting to reply was a mistake.
My undergraduate college friends weighed in. I remember that I left college feeling shell-shocked and damaged. It was an emotional ride for many reasons. Yet on Facebook, my college friends are some of the people I love best—so smart and hilarious and giving, each one—a daily source of delight.
My high school friends sent their love. I went about twenty years feeling very disconnected from my hometown, a beautiful river town that has much to deal with—a disintegrating downtown (sometimes literally so—buildings have been known to collapse), unemployment that far exceeds the national average, poverty and the drugs that so often go with it. Something kept me from connecting with my town—I felt estranged from it, and from the people there. But on Facebook, there they are again—my indomitable friends, just as kind and friendly as they were in high school. For all of its flaws in academic offerings, I remember my school as a clique-free place, with jocks and Future Farmers members and musicians and academics all getting along—and often the jock was the musician or the scholar. It was fluid and worked the way all of life should.
I heard from friends from my former university, where I earned a creative writing degree and taught for a dozen years. Classmates and coworkers and union allies and, a uniquely precious group, former students all wrote to remind me of where I came from and how loved and accepted I once felt.
My present-day colleagues and students and friends, the ones I haven’t known long, chimed in, reminding me that I am valued and appreciated here and now.
Writing friends sent their wishes—poets, many of them, whom I’d gotten to know early in their careers, and some of whom I’d published for the very first time as editor of a distinguished journal. I even heard from a few of the poets who most influenced me—and some that I hold in such high esteem that I could barely believe they were celebrating with me.
I even heard from my sister.
It’s a big task, responding to correspondence. I have more sympathy for Parker Stevenson, who mailed me a machine-autographed picture and a mimeographed letter addressed to “Dear friend” after I sent him a heartfelt love letter at age eight. I get it now, Parker, although I felt only confusion and disappointment at the time. We can’t all be Davy Jones, dropping everything to take Marcia to the prom.
I am richly blessed. And while I will try to respond to the avalanche of kindness, one glittering, beautiful stone at a time, my gratitude and joy are written deep inside with a Sharpie—the kind Parker Stevenson really should have used to sign that headshot, don’t you think?


  1. i thought parker had sent you a happy bd pic. tee hee. you sound richer than one woman deserves...unless that woman happens to be you. carry on, keep gazing at the moon.

    1. Oh, my, wouldn't that be dreamy? Wonder what Parker is doing these days?

      Thanks for those kind words. :)