This month’s theme is Together, but this letter is about a breakup. I have weighed the tackiness of writing about this kind of thing on the internet, and concluded that what I have to say about it is not that much more personal from the other stuff I’ve been sharing online for what is now a third of my life: the relationships I have to my favorite books/movies/bands, my ever-evolving beliefs, my most precious memories. I’m also motivated by the hope that drives most of what we humans do—that by putting this stuff out into the world, I will feel connected to another earthling for a handful of minutes (and I don’t just mean through wifi, hyuk hyuk), which is ultimately what Together is about, and which becomes a much more urgent need once you no longer have someone to spoil you with kisses.
Good Thing About Breakups #1: The urgency of the aforementioned need for connection causes you to discover love and beauty in places you might not have otherwise, what with the easy happiness provided by a healthy relationship. (Not that there is ANYTHING to be romanticized about an unhealthy relationship. I mean that sometimes when shit in your life is going really well in traditional ways, you forget to stop and smell the roses [-scented perfume, Glow by J.Lo].)
Real Live Diary-Entry Proof:
Before the breakup, when everything was going effortlessly well, I was talking with Allyssa and Shriya, and they told me about the way the sky looked on a bus ride home recently, and how it was so beautiful that it made them both cry. I had so much trouble relating to that. I knew that I would have related at one point, but that piece of my heart had been hibernating, the one that used to so determinedly seek out such small golden secrets as, like, an act of rebellion against sadness (sadness of my own, but also some gray idea of it as a looming sky presence, killing us all slowly with TV dinners and the like).
That is one thing I have valued dearly about being a teenager: hating everything so much that love becomes a means of survival. Not romantic love, but general life-love. This has come back to me since the breakup, despite the expectation of girls and women going through heartache to lash out at any forms of romantic love that surround them in their time of mourning, to yell at strangers seen kissing in public or throw Nilla wafers at the TV when a commercial for a dating website comes on. Granted, there was nothing bitter about my own separation—we’re both moving at the end of the summer and just decided to rip off the Band-Aid instead of drowning in anxiousness about how to enjoy our remaining time together—but I have found little truth to this cliché.
Good Thing About Breakups #2: Going through heartache makes you genuinely happy to encounter love somewhere on this godforsaken planet, whether or not it is one you are directly experiencing.
Real Live Diary-Entry Proof:
Rivkah pulled me onto the first car of the subway and stood me at the front window, where we both watched the oncoming tracks disappear beneath our feet. At one point a little boy got on with his dad and his brother and watched with us. Sitting to our left was a middle-aged couple, the woman taking forever to get a steady photo of the man but smiling the whole time, just beaming at him, and he was shy-looking, but the opposite of annoyed, more like psyched that they were so happy to be with each other. It didn’t make me sad, because it did not have to be a breakup thing; it was a human/life thing.
See: Britney’s diary entry from last summer about aspiring to an all-encompassing general life-love.
See: that time I walked down the street into a gust of wind and it felt, legit, like a hug.
See: the other day when a guy asked a girl to prom in French class, and it didn’t have to feel like a personal attack on my current emotional state; it felt like, yay, more positivity in the world: General Love, 1; General Bad Stuff, 0.
It takes a bit of effort to feel this hippie-dippy confidence that the world and I are generally on the same team, but Good Thing About Breakups #3: They offer access to heartbreak, one of the most universal experiences ever, one that ultimately makes you feel more like an alive human who is part of something and less like a bitter ghost who hates everything.
Real Live Letter-I-Once-Wrote-Claire Proof:
The world is a lot bigger than Oak Park, our high school, or the stupid people currently in your life. I’m not talking about the art world or the community you’ll find at college. I’m talking about the entire planet Earth, I’m talking about the movie you told me about that made you cry, where it just showed a bunch of clips of life in different forms, babies crying and insects mating and stuff. That’s the world that you’re a part of.
Lots of people like to express concern for us younguns that by staying connected through phones and other robots invented by our generation’s greatest minds (Jimmy Neutron and T.J. Henderson), we are missing out on the human Together described above. I’m not one to indulge pointless arguments about the internet, but I will say that, as somebody who has spent a good chunk of her time on earth documenting and sharing it for the WWW to see, I don’t feel robbed of privacy or purity, because once I got out of middle school and over myself, I stopped seeing the idea of other people in general as innately gross/bad. The sociologist Richard Sennett, who wrote The Fall of Public Man, said in an interview with the CBC, “We take it for granted that when we are really present, when we’re really alive, really there for someone else, we’re going to be hidden from a crowd rather than in the midst of it.” I read this in Let’s Talk About Love by Carl Wilson, who then summarizes the rest of the interview:
He traces this viewpoint to the second half of the 19th century, when the public cultures that had been evolving in cosmopolitan cities went into retreat, due to elite paranoia about crowds (mobs) and the rise of bourgeois family life and psychology. Exteriors became suspect; the interior, inwardness, became the wellspring of truth. And that’s the onramp en route to the gated community.
So while I am an avid journaler and all-around fan of solitude, I don’t think there has to be anything particularly vile about the fact that the internet has often been, and will more often be, the onramp en route to a feeling of Together. I get that something feels less sincere about sharing stuff on a site with “likes” and “reblogs” than on a typewriter, or in the sand, or using tiny twigs like a Wes Anderson credits sequence, but there was a time when even novels were conceived of as tacky and dangerous to society. And now everyone wants to save the printed word! If you have nothing to lose and nothing to prove, and don’t think being in public is necessarily a performance, then the way I and many people reading this have grown up—typing out our feelings to friends we’ve never met, sharing life’s minutiae when it seems to have some value—does not seem intrinsically dirty, or like some kind of loss, or less truthful than the way our parents did it.
There are, of course, armpits of the internet that should never be crossed—I have Comment Block installed for a reason. But I love the internet’s excitement when an artist we love drops a new album the way I love a power pop ballad, or the way I’m actually sad that I missed what would have been my last-ever school spirit assembly. Sometimes this desire to be part of a whole is FOMO, sometimes it’s the disturbing dopamine rush from seeing new Instagram notifications, but often it’s just the itch to learn from and share with other people, and what could be more pure, human, and/or earnest than that?
When I see a film and I like it, I want to share my enthusiasm for it with others. There is so little in this modern commercial world that is really and truly exciting…that it’s very important for me that those little fragments of beauty, of Paradise, are brought to the attention of friends and strangers equally.
Lester Bangs’s character in Almost Famous (the real Lester died 32 years ago today):
The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.
Accounting for this currency makes me feel as wealthy as the Wolf of Wall Street guy, minus all the sociopathy. We all feel a little uncool, we have all known pain, and this commonality serves as the basis for so many kinds of Together that my heart feels more ready for than ever.
Real Live Diary-Entry Proof:
I read Liz Armstrong’s article “Breaking in a Broken Heart” in the car this morning and started crying when she said, “You are loved.” It was extremely special to get to read Rookie to feel better. Like, I have a much greater understanding now of…I guess what we can mean to people and how incredible this connection is and how crucial it is that these spaces exist, not, like, to Journalism and Media, but just in making people feel better.
I’ve always felt a little too inside it or maybe a little too happy, more recently, to understand how badly some people love it and relate to it and hold it close on an emotional, not just an intellectual, level. But now I fully understand the immense comfort of knowing that something like this exists, that people care, that we’re all feeling everything. I’m crying! I love what I do so much, and I love everyone I get to work with and for. This is really good fuel now for finishing the Yearbook work I’ve been too sad to tackle. It’s no longer just “I want to make something that’ll blow people’s minds,” but more: I want to make something beautiful, safe and scary in all the right ways, loving and there for people. It’s not just about killing it 24/7 and Coming For Yr Job and being, like, empowering and kick-ass, or about wanting people to find that they are strong in simply a Robyn/CEO way, but letting people be strong human beings who can fully know and love themselves enough to extend that feeling to the world and populate our earth with good friendships, meaningful art, and stuff to make us all laugh.
I have had this mission since the beginning, but it’s been easy as of late to feel like more of a “career woman” than like an often-lonely high-schooler. But when I finished Liz’s article, I just didn’t care, from a job standpoint, if that piece (or any other) got enough traction or whatever, because it helped me so much, and if it can do that for just one other person, that’s enough for me. There are so many different kinds of love, and I can’t believe my luck in feeling this kind so strongly.
This month’s theme is Together. This letter started with a breakup, and it ends with a new beginning. As with writing about my relationship, I have weighed the tackiness of including a diary entry so blatantly self-serving and Rookie-complimenting, but as I turn 18 and graduate high school into a series of unknowns, one thing is very clear: Rookie has a life of its own, comprising and nurtured by so many voices outside of mine. Thank you for that. I can’t say it enough.