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.

© 2012, 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.“
    amy gut­man recently posted…Everything’s a (funny) storyMy Profile

  5. 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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