I thought to title this “The Feelings Factory”, but social media isn’t a feelings factory, exactly, in that feelings are manufactured in our minds and bodies. Social media is more a place you go to get something you don’t have or can’t make right now. A Feelings Cafeteria? Let’s go with The Feelings Cafeteria.
Here’s where this post is coming from:
The characteristic that best describes the difference between people at various points on the scale[*] is the degree to which they are able to distinguish between the feeling process and the intellectual process. Associated with the capacity to distinguish between feelings and thoughts is the ability to choose between having one’s functioning guided by feelings or by thoughts. The more entangled and intense the emotional atmosphere a person grows up in, the more their life becomes governed by their own and other people’s feeling responses.
It’s from a book on family psychology (Kerr & Bowen’s Family Evaluation) I’ve been reading for research, and the moment I came across it I could only think of Twitter—replacing, that is, one’s family of origin with one’s online “fam”.
The science of it may be wrong and off, in that one is not raised at formative stages over years by one’s Twitter fam, but the comparison feels apt to me. I would call social media an intense emotional atmosphere engineered to get one entangled. And opening Twitter while bored or between life events, I’ve very quickly felt that my life had become governed by other people’s feeling responses.
I’ve felt that people online are usually feeling and not thinking. I didn’t judge them for it. (Or I tried not to but I’m coming off a couple decades where judging others has been the only thing that makes me feel secure.) I saw that one of the gifts of social media, besides its manufacturing the feeling of social connections, is how amid the dull periods of one’s life it can provide some emotional simulation.
That emotion is usually rage or disgust, but it’s still a stimulation.
Like with certain books or activist language, I felt it wasn’t the right place for me to engage in the world—politically or otherwise—because I’m feeling dozens of things about the world already, and I’d like to think through some stuff to help. And while posts might link to places where thinking is happening, wading through the mess of social media to find those links is like looking for a sunny spot to read and heading to a protest rally.
Twitter is a place where I can’t think—where I think thinking is discouraged. I’ve felt this for months, and so what a discovery in my reading yesterday to see some psychology about why this is so.
Is one reason why more and more I can’t be there.
Footnotes (↵ returns to text)
i.e., the “scale of differentiation”, which is Bowen’s admittedly arbitrary way to measure the degree to which someone has emotionally separated from their family of origin (and therefore become a more distinct self).↵
In the Richmond airport, I watched an old, bald, overweight man who open-mouth chewed his gum heave himself up from his chair, waddle over to a man standing by the check-in counter, and give him a thumbs up, one he pressed-forward twice, and then, once he’d made eye contact, point up to the red MAGA hat the other guy was wearing.
The guy in the red MAGA hat was also wearing a black hoodie that said NRA on the back and NRA over the left breast. By the time I got on the plane I found this man sitting in the front row of first class, and while waiting to board I surreptitiously snapped a pic of him with my phone. In my head, I composed a Tweet, or maybe an Instagram caption. Glad to be leaving Richmond, I thought. Or maybe just, Richmond, Virginia. I got to my seat. I had Neal to text, and another friend who was updating me on his happenstance stay at the United Club at SFO, where I’d eventually land. I didn’t get a chance to post the pic before the door closed and we started taxiing.
I know you can still use your data plan after the door closes. I know it’s not a barrier.
My routine on flights now is, as we start taxiing toward the runway, to stop whatever music or movie that’s playing in my ears and close my eyes and clasp my hands together and pray to Jesus. What I do is I imagine I’m in the old library in the town I grew up in, the one that was in a two-room building, with old cracked tiles around the fireplaces and a damp, musty smell I’ll never forget. Jesus—a nerd among his peers, a kid who ditched his folks in the big city and spent all his time in the temple just to argue with the older nerds there—sits over by the microfiche machines, and I picture myself walking around the corner and finding him. He stands and says my name. I say, “Hi Jesus,” and we hug, and we stand there holding each other. Then I ask him, in so many words, to watch over everyone on the plane and get us to our destination safely. Jesus says, “I’ve got you, I’ve got you,” and I feel less anxious about the possibility of dying.
Probably somewhere in prayer did it hit me that I didn’t have to hate the men I saw at the gate, even if I felt that I did. And I didn’t have to post the pic. I could post it, and I could spend the next day or do reopening Instagram to see the likes rack up, all 35 of them maybe, reminding myself I’m not alone in what those men made me feel: anger, despair, and a portion of fear. I’m afraid that, as those of us who’ve had power, privileges, and rights kept from us, punishingly, for so long continue to speak up and demand equal treatment, men like those men are not going to share without a fight.
A fight, specifically, with guns. Like, this week, in Christchurch.
I could post, I could get my likes, and then what? I tried, holding on to Jesus, to think about what kind of love it would show. Love for my friends, surely? But even if sharing hate for our shared enemies is a form of love it didn’t seem to be a sort of love that would feel good. Jesus reminded me that I should try to love those men, and I tried to imagine what that would feel like.
It’s the part of Jesus I have the hardest time with: what do I gain from loving men who hate me, other than that Christian brand of smug righteousness that turns me off from being a Christian?
I was flying home from visiting my parents, and I was reminded of my dad, who displays at times a poor imagination for the lives of people unlike him. Which is to say he holds everyone—regardless of their background, upbringing, or social standing—to the same standards he holds himself to. We disagree often about poverty, its causes and effects.
We feel differently about people in poverty but probably exhibit similar forms of condescension. I feel unqualified to decide that a person’s homelessness or poverty is Their Fault. But mostly I walk around feeling that the poor should be Pitied and Helped. I feel a largesse when I buy the Street Sheet, say, or hand over change. I’ve been lucky and you haven’t been, so let me share a little tiny bit of it.
But not too much, of course.
But back to the NRA/MAGA guy, and his fan. I know that pity isn’t love, but the closest thing to love I could muster to feel for them was a pity at how stupid they’ve been allowed to become. Who neglected you so much for so long that you’ve lived this long on the planet and come to believe the stupid things you do? And why aren’t they the ones you’re mad at?
#MAGA people on Twitter like to say that liberalism is a mental disorder, but I’ve yet to meet an intelligent person who believes that the president has done good things for the country. And even though it feels good for a little while, amid this time of so much perpetual stress and fear, to hate-post to my friends, or for them, for the shared likes, I no longer feel it’s any kind of creative act.
This guy exists. You know he does and I know he does. Here’s proof:
He doesn’t deserve your pity, and I don’t imagine he wants it. Scared, stupid men are dangerous, but they are still scared and stupid. I may not yet know how to love these scared, stupid men, but I’m learning how not to be afraid of them, and why not to hate them.
There’s lots I feel ashamed of, maybe half of it sex and sexuality-related. I thought stepping out of the closet would mean stepping away from shame, but no. No no. That’s not how shame works.
For me, shame is a chorus of voices in my head that tell me I’m a bad person for what I just thought or wanted. Sometimes it’s for something I did, but usually it’s just for what I’ve imagined. The chorus is full of pristine, confident people with genius IQs and spotless records when it comes to their sexuality and moral behavior.
If you are a person I’ve met and spoken to face-to-face, odds are I’ve convinced myself you’re another one of these perfect choristers. Rationally, I know it’s not true. I know you’re not perfect, but I don’t yet truly believe that you’re not.
That’s how good shame is at making me stupid about the world.
Now: I’ve felt shame enough to know I shouldn’t feel it so much, and so when I do, I join the chorus of voices and tell myself I’m a bad person for being ashamed of myself. I feel ashamed of my shame. It’s a perfect trap, and I say “trap” because when I get in this shame spiral it’s very hard to do anything other than sit and hate myself for hating myself.
I didn’t use to have a way out, but one day, outside of a shame spiral, I came up with one I’m going to share with you, just in case you’re not a perfect person and might feel shame, too.
Step One: Say this out loud: “It’s okay that I’m feeling ashamed.”
Shame itself isn’t a bad thing. If I forget your birthday for the third year in a row, or make plans and then flake on you more than once, feeling ashamed can help me look more closely at what’s going on with me, what my commitments are, how I want to live my life, etc. (Some folks might quibble here that what I’d be feeling is guilt, not shame—because it’s about what I’ve done, not what I am—but after 2 years of thinking it over I can report back that discerning the differences between shame and guilt won’t help you conquer either.)
Step Two: Say this out loud: “I should be proud that I’m even capable of feelings.”
Optional if you’re a person who readily and easily feels your feelings, and has always at your fingertips the right name to put to those feelings. This is not me. So I like to congratulate myself when I do a good job in this regard.
Step Three: Acknowledge that you’re standing in a hall of mirrors and seeing only distortions of yourself.
This is the one that took a lot of time and work to realize. (Dr. Heisler, I salute you!) I used to think that a shame spiral felt like being in a dark hole, but you can’t see anything in a dark hole, whereas in a shame spiral I can see only myself, or rather, I can see only the parts of myself I’m unhappy about at the moment. Also: I can only see myself. There’s nothing else I’m capable of at the moment. It’s Narcissus in the classic scene, except he’s loathing the image that’s looking back. Once I saw that narcissistic image of myself staring at myself, I felt less shame and more disgust and annoyance, which are also strong emotions, leading me to…
Step Four: Smash the fuck out of those mirrors and find someone to ask questions to or otherwise engage your head and heart in.
Other people are a gift I keep forgetting the world got me last Christmas.
[This is going to be a useless and boring post for anyone not looking to nab a convenient Global Entry interview at the San Francisco International Airport. (Or not my mom.) But because the information on how to navigate these waters is (from official govt. sites) hidden or (from Yelp and other such places) wrong and misleading, I thought I’d do a public service here. You’ve been warned. Click away.]
On April 11, 2017, I got the notification that I was approved for Global Entry, and was invited to schedule an interview to complete my application. I logged onto the official system and the soonest appointment was in November. (I’m flying abroad in late May.) This is because Republicans have defunded the government, and we should all feel nationally disgusted.
Neal found online that SFO accepted walk-ins, meaning you didn’t have to wait until your official appointment. Here are some notions from the general wisdom online (all of these are false/no longer true, btw):
The SFO Global Entry office only takes 6 walk-ins a day.
Walk-ins are only accepted first-thing in the morning; or, similarly, to be accepted as a walk-in, you have to be there before the office opens (at 7am).
To ensure being seen, you should show up before 5am.
Again, ALL OF THIS IS WRONG. IT’S WRONG. DON’T LISTEN.
Here’s what happened with us, today, Thursday May 4, 2017:
Reading Yelp reviews of this, we decided to show up just before noon.
We parked, as folks suggested, in the G garage, but the G garage wasn’t initially visible. First you have to follow signs for International Terminal, then once you are heading there go to International Hourly Parking, and THEN you’ll see a sign for the A and G garage. You for sure want G (to the left).
We arrived at the Global Entry office (follow the clear signs) right at noon. There were maybe 20 people sitting and standing around. We were discouraged, having thought from online reading that we’d get seen within minutes.
Within ten minutes, an officer came out of the locked office with clipboards. He first asked if anyone had an appointment. A number of people did. They got checked in, and were thus at the top of the list.
Neal said we were walk-ins and asked if there was a signup sheet. The officer handed it over and Neal put our names in, along with the Program Membership numbers that were written on our Global Entry approval letters. (Print this out or screenshot it on your phone if you can’t print.)
We were in the middle of the second page of walk-in signups. There were 10 names ahead of us in line.
How It Goes I: Every 10 minutes, an officer comes out. They ask first “Anyone have an appointment?” If they have an appointment that day, they will get invited inside first. It doesn’t matter when their appointment is. If their appointment is 3 hours away, they will be ushered in. Always.
How It Goes II: If no one around has an appointment, they will announce the next name on the walk-in list. So: If you don’t get your name on the walk-in list you will never be seen.
Just before 1pm, an officer announced that they were taking no more names on the walk-in list until the 3pm shift started. How many total names were there on the list at that point? I don’t know. My guess if that 5 or 6 more walk-in folks showed up after us.
By 1:15/1:20 it was clear that all the appointment folks had all been seen. More and more folks from the walk-in list were being called. Also: many of those walk-in folks who’d shown up hours ago had given up and left.
Neal got called right before 1:30. I got called around 1:45, having to wait for a number of 1:30 appointment folks to show up and get seen. One guy had a 3:30 appointment, but still got to leap ahead of us all. So: If you have an appointment SHOW UP THAT DAY WHENEVER YOU’D LIKE and you’ll get ushered warmly inside.
We were back at the garage at 2pm. It cost $20 total to park, paid via our Fastrak.
Where our federal government is so visibly awful is when it comes to transportation. This is not a failure of Government as a concept, it is a function of post-80s life in the United States (i.e., the only life I’ve ever known). It’s unconscionable that we were told we had to wait six months to complete our application?our application not to be accosted in customs?when the truth of the matter is we just had to show up on any random afternoon and be seen in good time. But that’s the world we’ve chosen to live in.
To say nothing of how much money it cost to get a passport ($135) or to enroll in Global Entry ($100). To say nothing of how much time it cost to get these: 2 hours to prepare req’d materials and visit a post office to apply for a passport; 3+ hours to apply for and get interviewed for Global Entry. All this aside from the cost of traveling abroad. Leaving the country is now a privilege for the wealthy, which is another shame we should all nationally feel. The United States?in the name of, what…? national security??makes it extraordinarily difficult to leave the country and see how life is lived elsewhere.