There’s a joke on twitter about how dramatically over-important we think we are, yet here I am with 1200 words announcing I am TAKING a TEMPORARY BREAK from Twitter. I am doing it because I am taking my first real (isolated, away from others, still working) vacation in two years. I am doing it because I don’t know who I am anymore and it seems like there’s not a lot else to do but figure it out.
“Twitter is toxic!” a lot of people complain when they flounce off. A hellscape! A garbage fire! A gif of a garbage fire! A gif of a garbage fire ON a garbage fire! Things are bad with me and it’s Twitter’s fault. It’s society’s fault. It’s Trump’s fault. It’s the pandemic. It’s systemic collapse. It’s climate change. It’s probably Bill Maher. There’s always plenty to blame. And the blame isn’t inaccurate.
I am a woman who will die tired, and even I can say the tonnage of psychological weight and damage of the last six years is incomparable. If we could just get out, we think, the toxicity would dissipate. Out of our bad jobs, our stupid country, our phones, our planet. But we never ask, can we get far enough out? Twitter is toxic, but it isn’t radioactive. If we step away from it, will the tumors it creates in our brains and hearts and empathy keep developing over a dozen years, until eventually a doctor looks at us sympathetically and says, “how many times did you tweet when you were younger? Sometimes we don’t quit early enough.” Will it? Who knows? We are the very first of all of humankind exposed to this new way of life.
So I have plenty to blame, and that’s not solving my problem. For every curse there is a blessing on Twitter. I can point to the benefits it brings me; credibility in my industry, exposure for my work, money, literal money, to make a movie. A best friend and a group of close friends. Support in dark times. Celebrities saying hi to me. A few charming flirtations. So many jokes. It has upsides, or what passes for them — tiny dopamine hits delivered by microdose a thousand times a day. Is it enough to outweigh the toxic stew we soak in to get them? I saw a tweet once I think about a lot. Someone I’d never spoken to had retweeted me, derisively, and another person I’d never spoken to said “why is she always like this?” Let me tell you: she has no idea anymore.
The second half of the joke about people leaving Twitter goes like this “…and then three days later they’re back on.” It’s not a very good joke. It doesn’t feel good to see that breaking a pattern people disavow as toxic doesn’t last. Why are they always back, wading into the sludge, three days later? If you say “a pathological need for attention,” you could be right, but I hate it. Why do we demonize the things we all spend our lives looking for — validation, connection, and comfort? Why do we need so much attention, what is missing in us, if anything is, and maybe it isn’t in you, but it is in me.
The thing is, I just don’t feel like blaming anything anymore. I could; I could blame eleven years of drastically increasing health woes, a country that voted for Trump and then followed him up with a toothless moderate, a Covid response that, at best, was the bare minimum, and, at worst, is where we are now — no response at all. I could blame every single one of you I see complaining about “ how super safe” you’re being while posting photos at your indoor, unmasked brunch. I could blame the virus. I could blame Russia for starting a war. I blame Gavin Newsom a lot, but that’s personal; I’ve never seen a politician who looks more like a politician. I could blame Twitter. But none of it helps.
It hasn’t helped me at all to say, “I am sad, and lonely, and heartsick, and drained empty, BECAUSE of these things. DAMN these things. I’m LEAVING these things behind forever.” Because some of them I can’t leave, and some of them, I don’t want to, and some, I have a feeling, are the dirty bandage on a deeper wound.
But I’m hoping it might help to just stick to the first part. I have gotten so routinely invested in talking about what I blame, I’ve stop asking other questions. I’m pointedly not asking, in fact, I think I have been openly and brazenly refusing to ask, “I am sad, and lonely, and heartsick, and drained empty…of what?”
I have no idea. I have no idea why when I’m surrounded online by 60,000 people, a crowd larger than I’ve ever stood in, I feel alone. I have no idea why I think, why I am sure, despite that number, that I am barely tolerated by Twitter, annoying to most, the lateborn, unasked-for little sister I’ve always been. I have no idea why despite releasing a movie to critical acclaim, landing representation, getting rewrite gigs, I feel completely outcast in my work, a crazy lady being politely humored by genteel strangers. When I get a quiet moment to actually peer into myself and say: why do you feel so lost? Why do you think everyone hates you? All I see is rib cage and a scar across my defective heart. I don’t hear myself in there at all.
So I’m going away to the sea. Maybe it will just be a pleasant break. I’ll take Twitter off my phone, and stand knee deep in the water. I’ll let the sound of the waves rattle around in my empty ribs and see if it can shake me back into my own body, but if it doesn’t, at least the soundtrack is pleasant. I may be too radioactive with blame to save from eternal cynicism, but I have some gram of hope left. I once told a therapist I had intrusive thoughts of leaping off one of the cliffs into the ocean. Because you want to die? She asked. No, I said. Because I want to know if I could survive.
In Monterey in April, the beaches are full of newborn seals. Every day you see them in little pairs, mothers desperately trying to impart all the knowledge of the biggest ocean in the world into the brain of a two-day old baby, who mostly only knows that mother is warm and sand is bed. They’ve never heard of the orcas who patrol the waters on perfect spring days. It’s hard to believe any of them survive, but even in the darkest years, most of them do. Most of them learn to navigate dangerous waters. Maybe I’ll learn how, if I can listen.
But if I don’t, if I am back in three days and not a month, pity me before you roll your eyes and laugh. I did not think that I would be as lost at forty as I was at fourteen, and I could give you an endless list of why and how this came to be, but all I know is my one true desire right now is to remember what silence is like in my own mind, and find out if I can hear a soul in there if I finally stop asking who is to blame.