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Now that I’ve abandoned ship, (see Goodbye, hello!) I’m realising just how much communication now actually depends on being connected to facebook. Mild frustration has arisen at having to rely on people to pass me information by mouth, and at being excluded from certain founts of information, especially as I prepare to emigrate to South Korea (see posts in coming weeks).

And when I take photos of friends I think, ‘but who’s ever going to see these now??’

And after four years of compounding my life into a daily soundbite, my brain is only just starting to disengage from status-composition.

The overwhelming feeling that remains with me, though, is one of freedom. And I cannot emphasise enough how pleasant it is to open an inbox of messages from people with interesting things to say, and who know how to compose a proper sentence. Aaah…

A photo otherwise unseen…

I left Facebook last week.

It was something I’d been mulling over for a long time. I realised long ago that the thing was a total time succubus, and with my inclinations for procrastination it was quite a hindrance to productivity. But I’m a sentimental devil, and I couldn’t bring myself to part with my hard-earned friends, many in far places, with whom this was my sole connection. I also hoped that I could show some strength of will and be more disciplined about the time I spent gawping at it…

Alas, the gawping continued. And other, more pressing things began to niggle at me. The insidious advertising: sometimes blatantly there in the newsfeed, completely uninvited; but more often through ‘sponsored links’, things that friends ‘like’ showing up. (Note, the first thing on the drop-down menu at the top right-hand corner, before account or privacy settings, is ‘advertise’).

This was only an aspect of a newsfeed that was becoming ever more disinteresting, or rage-inducing, due to a growing accumulation of meaningless ‘friends’, some of whom were turning out to be racists, fascists, or just total blockheads (no Tories though, thank goodness). Even if they weren’t themselves posting racist/fascist/blockhead material, posts that they ‘liked’ would appear: “Dear British Goverment, i think our country z shite becuz u hav let in all the forein immigrint scum n they hav takin all tha houses and tha jobz and the money n they r the reason that i am a fat twat with no grammar or other skillz.”, “Dear Tayside Police, why were yooz out pure catchin me speedin when i seen on the news their wiz old ladies bein mugged n that?”…

Get your ignoramus beliefs and piss poor grammar out of my eyes.

Nonsense like that contributed to a growing unease about the way that Facebook leads you to accumulate people. I have no interest whatsoever in sharing my life with fascists, et al, and yet here they were, in my face every day. Not to mention countless posts about children I’ve never met, dogs whose existence I care nothing for, what people eat for all meals of the day, what time they go to bed, what time they get up, whether they took a shit that morning, what car they have, what phone they have, what fecking handbag they desire, when they’re drunk/hungover/high/bleeding/vomming/dying – oh wait, they’re not dying, just hungover, bleeding and vomming. (And I can’t deny having made such posts myself). But an irritating etiquette has emerged whereby you’re obliged to be ‘friends’ with co-workers, ex-classmates, ex-lovers, wives of distant cousins, friends of parents – a whole array of people you would never normally have communicated details of your personal life to. And people never move into the past… That’s a bit creepy…

A friend of a friend used an analogy I liked – normally in life you have a jar, and there’s a little hole in the bottom of that jar, and as people become less important to you they get smaller and shuffle down and eventually fall out the bottom of your jar. But with Facebook – there’s no hole in the jar! People just collect and collect until you’re drowning in amongst them.

I’m also, I think, augmenting the ‘grumpy old Scotswoman’ aspect of my personality. Conversely to communicating with people you wouldn’t normally communicate with, you also end up not communicating with the people you would want to communicate with. Increasingly, people can’t be bothered to call, or to write an email, or (proper old school, I know) to send anything in the post. ‘Liking’ a friend’s new profile picture has become all that’s needed to let people know you’re thinking of them, and that’s rubbish. I took the time a couple of weeks ago to write some proper emails, and it was wonderful. Wastebook-based communication, in contrast, is SO superficial, and vacuous, and narcissistic. Well, I unsubscribe from the enforced Facebook ephemera!

Just this week, reading about status anxiety in ‘The Spirit Level’ has confirmed to me that I’ve made the right decision. Worry about social status is something that has become a huge burden to people in economically rich countries, and Pusbook* totally exasperates this, plays and even depends upon it.  Whether you are willing to admit it or not, anyone that uses it regularly gets drawn into waiting for friends to like or comment on their posts. For some people, especially teenagers now, their social status truly lives and dies by the sword of Pusbook. So, I thought, why add to all the other anxieties already assaulting me in this post-modern century? Since deleting only days ago, I’ve felt a notable decline in anxiety, like I’ve been unburdened from a pernicious responsibility. I feel almost emancipated!

There are things I will miss. It is undeniably useful for organising events and keeping up with developments in my spheres of interest. I had a variety of pages I followed for aesthetic or literary fixes (Magnum Photos, Rumi, Beware of Images, for example), and for quality or leftfield news (Al Jazeera English, BBC World Service, Jezebel). I will miss having a network of knowledge and advice at my fingertips. And I will miss spying on people who I perhaps haven’t spoken to in a long time but like to check in on. Equally, perhaps, there are people who liked to spy on me from time to time and will miss me too…

But deleting my Facebook will be a pretty good indication of which friends are important to me: they are the ones that already have my email or phone number, or I have theirs. They are the ones that, when I posted that I would be leaving, got in touch. They are the ones that I made sure to let know, because I want to keep them… As for the others, it’s once more up to serendipity to bring us back together…

*Local slang name, from the Scots vulgar vernacular for ‘face’.

I saw Ashley today, working in the British Heart Foundation charity shop. She looked thin and pale – so pale it was almost a green – and sort of folding in on herself as she attended to a rack of clothing.

I can’t tell you much about Ashley, but we both went on a history department trip to Prague in 2004. I remember her vividly, perhaps because I have a fantastic photo of her – an actual photograph, before the transgression to digital.  She is sitting with my three good friends at a table in a pub, the three of them smiling (as is the custom), and Ashley on the end with a look of inexplicable surprise upon her face – eyes wide, mouth open.

She’d led a sheltered life. She didn’t drink or go out, had never owned a mobile phone (her parents didn’t believe in them), and had the socially inept manner of what we assumed could only be an indication of genius.

The mobile phone thing turned out to be a hindrance when she went AWOL the afternoon we were flying back to Scotland. Our bus departed for the airport, leaving behind a lone lecturer to look for her. We all worried. “She’s no savvy”, one of the guys commented. Somehow, she was found in time.

Having supposed all this time that she had been some sort of genius savant, I was taken aback today to find her in her charity shop guise, seemingly crumbling, though strangely and sadly congruous…

I don't think it would've been fair to post the picture of Ashley.

I’ve been to the cinema twice in the last couple of weeks, and in both films I felt I’d seen the supporting actresses in something else, that I had known and liked their characters in something else. But I hadn’t. They had reminded me of good friends, far away, and once I realised this the nostalgia was intense.

This happens to me often now. I started a new job a few months ago, and really warmed to one of my new co-workers even though we didn’t speak at length or have anything hugely in common. Every time she spoke I felt happy to hear her voice, and I soon realised it was because she spoke at the same pitch and tone as a friend who’d moved away to London not long before.

I’m in an odd place, friendship-wise at the moment. Living and working in my hometown for the first time in a decade, I’m no longer connected to anybody here. I never was of course, that’s why I left. Though I met my best friend ever at university – truly the other half of me – I’d only ever made a couple of genuinely good friends until I went travelling, when suddenly I discovered there are a whole plethora of misfits out there, all with one core virtue in common – our oddness.

Since then, I’ve largely chosen the people that I spend time around – leftfield, open-minded types for the most part – or been fortunate enough to move in circles where those sorts abound anyway. But now I’m back on the outside. Not that the people I work with aren’t great, they actually are! But we lead parallel lives, parallel thoughts… And so I miss those far-away friends all the more intensely. I’m not sure if the people I see on the screen or in the street really are like the people I know, or if its just wishful thinking, my brain in its sentimentality transposing what it wants to see…

There are two things I miss about life on the Island. One is without a shadow of a doubt the anarchy, but that’s a whole other thing. The other is having friends so close by. No matter what nonsense was going on, there was never a fellow misfit more than five minutes away with whom to unburden your woes, and indeed share some of those anarchic delights…

An article on The Guardian this week imparts The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, as described by a nurse who spent several years working in palliative care. Among them was not staying in touch with friends: “Everyone misses their friends when they are dying”. This statement grabbed me. Although I wasn’t dying, when I got shot and was lying in the clinic I found (to my guilt) that it wasn’t my family I wanted to see but certain friends that I wished, so bad, could be there…

Continued from The shooting

Lying face-down on the surgery table in Dr. John’s clinic, I was still insisting that I’d only been shot by a pellet gun. The room was filled with people I didn’t know – John’s team of first aiders who’d been summoned, mostly out of the bar. There was a hoard of nosy locals clammering outside, trying to get in or catch a glimpse of what was going on. Within a matter of minutes, Shelby the local TV guy arrived, wanting to shoot some film for the news. My alarmed response was an instant no, much to the disappointment of the publicity whore island doctor. I detest being centre of attention, to the point that I’d not show up to my own funeral if I thought I’d get away with it, but I was fast coming to realise that on a small island like this that’s exactly what I was about to be.

Jane arrived around the same time as the police. She’d got the news while closing up at work, but her manager had made it clear she was obliged to stay and pack away the bottles first. The police informed us the gunman had been arrested, took some details and asked some questions. There was a brief panic when they asked for my passport – it was currently in an unknown location off on some dodgy visa renewal – but thankfully just having the number was enough.

Though I think I did fuzzily request painkillers at some point, none were provided. The area around the wound was numbed with lidocaine so that John could operate, and an IV drip attached, but that was the only medication administered. This meant I was conscious throughout the entire intense and surreal process of the next few hours. I could see around me the faces of those I knew – Jane, Magenta, Steve – bound with pity, fear, affection, and was able to respond with good humour and reassurances: I was by far the calmest person in the room, making light conversation about the unfortunate absence of anaesthetic during the Napoleonic Wars and such.

I couldn’t see the faces of the two attendees plugging my wound, but knew their names were Errol and Ryan and that they kept having to swap over because the sight of the blood was making them faint. They were revived from their nausea and fatigue with some stimulatory bumps supplied, of course, by the inimitable Dr. J. Jane, on the other hand, was fascinated by proceedings and gazed on avidly. I was disappointed I couldn’t get a look myself.

I could feel the sensation of John poking about in my back, and after an hour or so the scraping of the bullet being slid out through my flesh. When I saw it I could not believe the size of it; um, not a pellet gun after all – try a .38. “Jesus fuck!” I think was my response. I was equally surprised to learn that it had travelled a full 21cm across my back, entering just below my left shoulder blade and stopping at the other side of my spine. I’d only felt the punching sensation in one spot, where the bullet had crossed my vertebrae.

Getting the bullet out was nowhere near the end of it– the wound had to be cleaned out to avoid infection, and John had to be sure there was no damage to my lungs or spine – if there was it would mean a cataclysmically expensive secondment to hospital on the mainland. John was aware of the fact that my travel insurance had expired and was doing all he could to avoid such an excursion.

After stitching up the tiny incision made to extract the bullet, I was transferred to another room with better light to get the wound cleaned out. The concern was for rust or dirt from the bullet, or cloth fragments from my t-shirt, being left inside the wound and causing infection, easily contracted and not so easily cured in the tropical climate. Due to its meticulous nature, this process actually took about twice as long as the bullet extraction, during which time I began to wane.

Manoeuvring me into a position so as to pull the bloody t-shirt off me, which up until this point had sat around my shoulders, was agonizingly painful. The adrenaline had worn off and I was sore and exhausted. The t-shirt made a thwack as it hit the floor, heavy with blood. My thoughts wondered more and people came to mind that I really, really wished I could see at that moment. For the first time that night tears leaked out of my eyes, and I pressed my face into the pillow to absorb them: seeing me suddenly crying would have been no good for team morale.

Through the course of the night I was filled in with the rest of the shocking details from Steve and Magenta. While I’d been crouched under the bar, shot and unmoving, the Barbecue Man had aimed right at their heads, one then the other. In a moment of amazing superman reaction Steve, the unassuming Welshman, picked up an empty ice box and deflected the shots – one of which still skiffed the top of his head. The crazed German then threw the gun at Steve and, as in some film noir melodrama, said “Kill me”. Killing was the furthest thing from Steve’s mind and he kicked the gun away. The shooter made a lunge to reclaim the weapon, and Steve intercepted him, in the ensuing brief scuffle kneeing the aggressor in the balls in his bid to get the madman out…

When Jane and I were hitch-hiking inCalifornia, we had a safety word if either of us felt we were in a car with a creep – ‘Steve’. We appointed the first Steve we met on the journey Safety Steve. Steve was a lovely bloke but being a stoner, a Deadhead, and a purveyor of LSD, he was not a particularly safety conscious fellow. Now our true Safety Steve had been unmasked!