Confessions of a (Somewhat) New Facebook User

I first joined Facebook as a way to promote my book, The Orange Robe, and to inform people about book talks and signings I had coming up. Because my events didn’t take place all that often (well, not often in the world of FB posts, anyway), I found myself not posting all that often. I did, however, check out others people’s posts, and occasionally “liked” some of them. I started struggling with thoughts like, If I only post stuff about my book, will people think I’m narcissistic or overly self-absorbed? even though my primary purpose in being on FB was to do just that (post stuff about my book, not be narcissistic!). Concerned about this possible perception, I started branching out and putting up information about other topics (upcoming concerts of the choir I am in, for example) or sharing stories I think are important, inspiring, or funny.

I find myself feeling slightly disappointed when my posts (particularly those about my book) garner only a limited number of “likes” and comments. Why is this? I wonder. Why do my posts gets so few, and why does this make me feel disappointed? For one thing, I reason, I don’t have all that many Facebook friends. I have a reluctance to “friend” people I only know slightly, or the friends of friends that pop up all the time on FB. The one exception to this rule is my “friending” people in local media: columnists whose articles I particularly enjoy or producers of WHYY radio programs that I admire. (And truth be told, I harbor a secret hope that one of these local luminaries will see one of my posts about my book, get intrigued, read my book, and then . . . You get the picture.) The other thing is that I don’t “like” that many posts of others, even if I do, well, like them. You have to “like” others posts to get them to “like” yours, I figure. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. You like my posts, I’ll like yours, is the way I imagine it works.

A certain author friend recently posted information on his soon-to-be-published book. It garnered over 150 “likes” along with dozens of comments. Wow, I thought, if that could only be me! Well, it couldn’t, because I don’t have 150 FB friends. In addition, this author friend has written other books, and clearly has a following out there. I have no such following, at least not yet.

There is a certain feeling of importance and self-satisfaction to be gained from getting lots of “likes” and comments. When your cell phone starts pinging after a post, you get a jolt of something that can be compared to the Pavlovian response. A dog hears a bell that he has learned to associate with the appearance of food, and he salivates. You hear a ping from a FB posting, a sound that you’ve learned to associate with feeling important, and those feel-good hormones start coursing through your veins. You start to develop an addiction to those pings. You need more and more of them to keep you feeling good. When there are none, you feel a bit deflated . . . and disappointed. So you go on FB and post something, then go on again and post something else. You become a kind of FB junkie.

Despite laughing at myself for falling prey to such feelings, I do experience them, and I don’t let myself off lightly. (All those years doing meditation may have given me a far-too-acute awareness of my mental processes!) So will I remain on Facebook? Probably. I just need to put away my cell phone so I don’t check FB so often. What to do about those pings is another matter. I hear them even if my phone is buried deep in my handbag. Maybe I should disable them. Anyone know how?

A Piece of (Wedding) Cake: One More Tale of Re-entry

In 1993, one year after returning to the States, I met my husband, David. (How we met is in itself an interesting story, but not the one I’m to tell here.) Nine months after that, we got married.

Both of us having rather unusual spiritual backgrounds for the time (David, like me, practiced meditation and, no longer like me, followed a guru), so the wedding plans we carefully crafted were by no means run-of-the-mill. For one thing, we wrote our own vows (some traditional ones mixed with a smattering and rewording of some Ananda Marga ones); for another, instead of arranging a minister or rabbi, we lined up a friend licensed to perform weddings. And instead of a church or synagogue, we rented Laurel Hill Mansion, one of the lovely 18th- and 19th-century homes in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park. (The mansion, we were told, would come with two people, a man and a woman in period dress, who would lend color to our proceedings and would be on hand if we had any questions.) The back yard, enclosed with a white picket fence, was the perfect size for a relatively small outdoor wedding. But what to do if it were to rain on the big day? We briefly considered, then rejected, the idea of renting a large tent, deciding instead to count on our luck. If it did rain, we reasoned, we could all squeeze into the house which, despite being called a mansion, was actually quite small and would clearly not accommodate the 70 or so guests we’d invited.

We’d noticed a good deal of trash around the property, outside the fence and in the parking areas, so the day before the wedding, we decided to go to the site and clean it up a bit. As it was a surprisingly chilly morning for the beginning of June, we donned jackets, then grabbed some work gloves and a few large garbage bags, and headed out the door. Standing stock still on the street, we looked at each other, puzzled looks on our faces, for where was David’s car? A white Toyota Tercel that had seen better days, it had been parked just up the street, two or three doors away, the night before . . . so where was it now? We stared at the now vacant spot until the truth sunk in: Stolen!

We never even considered the idea that to have one’s car stolen the day before one’s wedding could be a bad omen. Thankfully, we still had my car, an equally old Dodge Omni, in which, after reporting the theft, we drove post haste to the wedding site. Two hours and two stuffed-to-overflowing garbage bags later, we were back home. No word on the car, as there never would be: we’d been told that thieves had likely taken it to one of the innumerable chop shops in the city.

Our wedding day dawned bright and sunny. It had warmed up considerably: our luck, notwithstanding the theft of David’s car, had held, and it promised to be a beautiful day.

And so it was. Things mostly went without a hitch–except for the moment when, after setting out with a friend in her car for Laurel Hill (David had left earlier in mine), I realized a few blocks away from the house that I’d forgotten the rings! My friend delivered me to the mansion just in time. With relatives and friends gathered round, a friend played guitar and sang a song, “One Hand, One Heart”; we said our vows, exchanged rings, and the ceremony was over. We received our guests, and then they lined up at the buffet tables, filled their plates, and made their way to the tables draped with lavender linens.

After the meal, we posed at the table with the wedding cake while cameras snapped, then began cutting up the cake. David placed a piece onto a plate, which I took with two hands and held out to David’s mother, Franna.

“No!” my new mother-in-law called out, along with close to 70 other voices, holding out her hands, palms forward, as if pushing my offering away. I looked up, startled.

“You’re supposed to feed each other first,” she explained.

“Oh!” I said, feeling my face grow red, then quickly stuffed some cake into David’s mouth. He then feed me some as the cameras resumed their clicking and snapping and everyone clapped. Then I gave a piece to Franna, which she accepted, before distributing the rest, piece by piece, to everyone else.

Both of us had been clueless. The only weddings I was familiar with were Ananda Marga ones. In those, the newly-married couple would offer sweets to others before partaking themselves. The only non-Ananda Marga wedding I had attended before all those years away had been my brother Barry’s when I’d been 15. I hadn’t remembered anything at all about any cake exchange. And David? He hadn’t attended any weddings recently, and hadn’t remembered anything about the cake thing, either.

“You guys!” Franna said later. We all had a good laugh over it.

Re-entry: Another Look Back

Thankfully, the fashion misstep at my first temp job didn’t result in my being banned for life from the temp agency. Not long after, they found me another position, at a place called Ascom Hasler in the Old City section of Philadelphia. Ascom Hasler made mailing systems, and my job was keeping in touch with the sales reps in the fields, typing up agreements, and doing other clerical tasks. My supervisor was a young girl who looked as if she couldn’t have been older than twenty or so, and dressed like it, too. But I noticed she wore heels, so I made sure to wear my toe-pinching shoes every day. At least by then I had gotten my license and a car (a used Dodge Omni) and could drive to work, thus saving my feet.

But I still continued to feel as if I had dropped off the face of the earth for nearly 18 years, as if I’d fallen asleep, Rip-Van-Winkle style, and had awoken years later, a big gap in my knowledge of the world, of my home country in particular. Nothing unusual, you might say, for someone to live abroad as an expatriate for a number of years and then return home and resume her life. But in most cases, the expat would have maintained contact with her family and friends, and been aware of political and cultural developments back home. She’d have seen some of the movies, kept up with new albums put out by her favorite musicians, kept up with new trends. None of that was true in my case. For one thing, we didis were discouraged from keeping in touch with family or friends. For another, it was against the rules to go to movie theaters, so most movies came and went without our knowledge. I remember making an exception for E.T. I was in American Samoa at the time, well out of the range of prying supervisors’ eyes, so opted to go to the movies for the first time since I’d left the U.S. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, though I did have to struggle through some feelings of guilt for having broken the “no movie theaters” rule. The only other film I remember seeing in all those years was Home Alone, which I’d viewed crowded around a small TV with a bunch of other didis in our center in Germany. We’d rented the video and watched it together. We weren’t in a theater, we told ourselves, and there was no sex in the movie, so what we were doing was okay.

So when I got back to the U.S., there was this big gap, a black hole, in my knowledge about American culture. I was firmly stuck in the early 70’s. I liked Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Simon and Garfunkel, Judy Collins, Carol King–but to me they were still singing what they’d been back when I was in college. And forget television and movies (besides E.T. and Home Alone). Just to give you an idea of how out of the loop I was, I had never heard of, let alone seen, Star Wars. This state of affairs was bound to trip me up at work sooner or later. And so it did, sooner rather than later.

One afternoon about a week after I’d started at Ascom Hasler, one of the sales reps came into the office and introduced herself. “You’re the new girl, right?” I assured her I was, thinking, Well, I’m no girl, I’m 43. A heavy-set woman with long black hair and lips prominently painted with red lipstick, she asked me my name. I told her, and then she smiled a big, big smile with her large red mouth and said, “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!” in a strange, singsongy voice, barking out a loud laugh, and looking at me as if she expected me to do something. I didn’t know what, so I just smiled. Then she went on her way, leaving me puzzled. The same thing happened a few days later. The woman came into the office, caught sight of me, and said, “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!” in the same strange voice, once again giving me a significant look. Finally, when this happened a third time and I failed to respond, she said, “You don’t know what I’m talking about, do you?”

“No, I don’t.”

“The Brady Bunch. I’m talking about the Brady Bunch.”

“The Brady Bunch?” I said. “What’s that?”

“You’ve never heard of the Brady Bunch? The TV show? How’s that possible?”

It was quite possible. I mumbled something about having lived outside of the country for a number of years but didn’t go into any details (something I avoided doing for quite a while after getting back).
She then took her leave, shaking her head, as if finding it the strangest thing that I had never heard of The Brady Bunch.

I still get the “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!” thing on occasion. Now, I laugh, as if I had watched The Brady Bunch all those years ago when it was on, instead of running around in orange robes in different lands intent on saving the world.