Everything’s a (funny) story

Standoff with bad dog and cheese

Well, not everything. But this is: Back in Cambridge for a quick overnight visit, I’m heading down Mass Ave towards Harvard Square. As it happens, my trip coincided with Harvard graduation, and throngs of well-dressed celebrants are heading off to parties and dinners. But I have a different agenda: I’m on my way to a toney little grocery in hopes that some Boar’s Head turkey and Swiss will entice my friend Betsy’s bad dog to let me back in the house.

Wubby growls when I return. I toss her a slice of (fancy, expensive) cheese. She growls again. I back off. She gobbles up the cheese. We repeat this futile exercise another two times. Well futile for me, not for her. I beat a hasty retreat to my car to contemplate next steps.

Betsy’s at a meeting at a Boston law firm and won’t be home for another few hours. Her husband is out of town. I need to get back home to western Mass, but first I need to collect my stuff from the third-floor guest room.

I call our friend Jan, whose Eddie is the dog behind Cambridge Canine.

“Betsy’s dog won’t let me in the house,” I say. I explain the situation.

“I’d be scared too,” she says. “I wouldn’t try again.”

Not the answer I was hoping to hear. I try to look on the bright side. “Maybe I can get a blog post out of it,” I say reflectively. “Though I can’t really get any writing done. My computer is in the house.”

“That’s good for the blog post,” observes pragmatic Jan. She’s a blogger too.

So here’s the thing, the point behind this story: Even as I schlepped down Mass Ave, even as I brandished cold cuts to an inexplicably hostile dog—usually Wubby loves me!—I found myself framing the events as an amusing story. First as a Facebook status update, then as a little essay. And, as I see it, this is a very good thing.

In the pre-social media world, this would not have been my default mode. I would have been seething and stressing, not taking mental notes with an eye to writing a blog post. I would have been focused on the fact that I needed to get home and this shouldn’t be happening. There would have been no upside. There would have been lots of down.

In the wake of Facebook’s IPO, the debate over life online—pro and con—shows no sign of abating. The cover story in this month’s AtlanticIs Facebook Making Us Lonely?—has 18,000 Facebook recommends as of this writing. I, however, just don’t buy it. Take my trip to Cambridge: I was able to meet my California-based friend Marcia for coffee only because I knew—through Facebook!—that our visits would coincide.That Jan and I enjoyed a fantastic southern feast at Tupelo can be traced to the fact that my friend Jen’s husband is the chef there. I first met Jen (I know, it’s confusing Jan and Jen: two different people) on Twitter and often connect with her now via Facebook. And come to think of it, I actually first “met” Jan online as well—the strength of our real-life friendship is such that I can easily forget that.

As I once wrote on Huffington Post, there is no monolithic Facebook. Facebook is what we make it. One of the major critiques often levied at the social media giant is that it encourages a focus on self-presentation at the expense of authenticity. But I see it very differently. Is the funny story about me attempting to placate Wubby less real, less true to my experience than a narrative that would have had me frustrated, anxious, and on-edge? Absolutely not—because as I created the funny story, it became my experience. And, I would add, I am far the happier for that.

As for my story’s coda, I did finally get into the house. Betsy raced home to corral Wubby. I grabbed my stuff and got on the road. The whole episode delayed my travels for maybe 90 minutes. And now I have written this. And you are reading it.

Copyright © Amy Gutman. All rights reserved.

12 thoughts on “Everything’s a (funny) story

  1. I love this post! It’s so true! When we can look at our life experiences and figure out how to share them with others in the written word, it seems they inevitably take on a softer, gentler, and funnier tone than they would have felt, had they just continued to be thoughts (or frustrations) rolling around in our mind.

  2. Recently I was a passenger on a rainy day, careening down hairpin curves overlooking the Pacific coast of Australia. I found myself drafting my Facebook status in my head….something about roller coaster rides. My friend, the driver, was apparently doing the same thing, as he said out loud, “Spent the day scaring American tourist on Jan Juc curves.”

  3. That was my thought exactly as I was rinsing the cat food out of my mouth: “Maybe I can reconceptualize this experience as a funny post on Facebok”…

  4. Thanks for the comments, Laurie, Sarah, Matthew!

    One thing I didn’t include that I maybe should have is the idea of how Facebook can serve as what behavioral economists call “good choice architecture”–an external structure that supports us in acting in line with our own best interests. I’ve always known it’s better to tell a positive story than a negative one, but until the advent of social media–until the Facebook storytelling incentive–I still tended not to do it all that much. I do it a lot more now–because FB & blogging make it fun, not because I’m telling myself I “should.”

  5. I love this, Amy! Somehow you had me hanging on the edge of my seat wondering how you got past your friend’s dog, but really I love the idea that as we can alter the actual story by focusing on how we’re going to tell it. Need to marinate on this for a while… :-)

  6. Amy, I particularly enjoyed this post. Enjoying or not enjoying things in our lives has so much to do with how we frame it. And, I thought your comment about Facebook was particularly wise and relevant to the topic. Thanks for another great post.

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