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I Used to Have a Sibling: Thirteen Months (Part III)

Dear Living IRL readers,

What follows is a series of excerpts from a work in progress—a memoir about my experience living life in the world after the death of my sister. Because she and I both grew up online, technology plays a role in my grief. It has strong fingers, has managed to work its way into my endlessly tangled emotions.

I won’t explain much else, other than that this is what I am trying to give you: concrete examples of moments when my grief and technology have interacted. Sometimes this involves phone calls. Sometimes texts. Sometimes emails. Sometimes social media. It’s all always there.

Sincerely,
Becca Spiegel

 

Thirteen Months
Somewhere in New Zealand

Last night was the first night I’ve spent alone in the last six months. I read Open City and drank Pinot Noir in the back of the red campervan Jon and I have been living in and tried to catch the mouse that ran around the van and poked its head out next to a pack of AA batteries. For dinner I ate dark chocolate and plain Cheerios and before I fell asleep I pored over a year’s worth of text messages between me and my sister. Like doing a close reading of an ancient poem, analyzing what was said or not said and finding all of the parts where I could have been better. Mentally highlighting the repetition of “love” to show myself that it qualified as a theme. Realizing that there were patterns to our exchanges that I had never seen before.

The motif of medicine and whether or not it should be taken, was working, was worth it. My feelings of being stuck in my relationship; her feelings of isolation in places both full and empty of people. We used the word “poop” a lot. She was tired, low, and overwhelmed or happy, high, and overwhelming. I was busy, unsure, or going for a run, offering unasked-for advice or platitudes or plane tickets for a visit. We told one another we believed in each other. She was frightened first by how much weight she lost, then gained; I, by how much food I was eating. A list of grievances and love, neither one of us writing about particular happiness. Just being and grateful to be in it together.

I can see how it all adds up now in a sad way— can see on the screen of an iPhone all that I do and do not miss. Can see what I thought about then that I still think about now. Can see everything that has changed and will never change and how I couldn’t have done anything to change it.

 

Looking for more of this series? Find other installments HERE.


Antebellum to Beyonce: Black Erasure in the Time of Twitter Receipts

Photographs by the talented Danielle Webster.

The erasure of black people, black culture, blackness is a hallmark of American life.

About 2 years ago I started seeing Charleston, SC everywhere. It was all over Instagram, and multiple friends were taking trips there. It soon became clear that the city of Charleston was in the midst of a revitalization campaign, complete with a high dollar blogger singing its praises.

Every photo had a beautiful simplicity, an ease on the eye. I wanted to go to Charleston.

I wanted to go to White Charleston. I wanted to go to the unburdened version of a city that can only be achieved through burying its own history deep down and throwing a filter on it. I wanted a town whose plantation homes were simply a pinterest-worthy aesthetic. Cobblestone streets, magnolia trees, fried chicken — all part of the Southern “rebrand”.

Online Community exploring how millennials live authentically in an internet culture.

Online Community exploring how millennials live authentically in an internet culture.

The South that I know is greatly abridged — my time there was only a year and a half tip-to-toe — but in that time I became very familiar with the feeling of being a walking secret. The feeling that my very existence in my black body was an affront to the daily story that the white people around me were trying to tell about themselves. I also remember the feeling of disdain from my black academic peers, as though they could sense the lack of adversity in me. Sure, I had been to a very affluent white school, but I felt like they could tell I hadn’t truly lived under the cloud of a white retelling. They could tell I hadn’t yet struggled to form myself in a place with such a rich history of people trying to blot me out.

Online Community exploring how millennials live authentically in an internet culture.

Online Community exploring how millennials live authentically in an internet culture.

The Southern rebrand seeks to be wholly devoid of blackness. In that regard, it is really not a rebrand at all. Charleston, the only major antebellum American city to have a majority-enslaved population. Charleston, where nearly half of all Africans brought to America arrived. Charleston, a city that blackness built.

Black people built the South with blood, sweat and tears. An industrial revolution fueled by black horror, a thorough and sustained subjugation.

Online Community exploring how millennials live authentically in an internet culture.

Today, there is a version of the South that exists apart from, and yet layered directly on top of, the house that blackness built. In this version, Southern Living magazine calls Charleston “the most polite and hospitable city in America.” It’s noteworthy though, that the stories we tell ourselves today can also warp the past. It is quite nearly impossible to arrive at the most hospitable city in America on the scar tracks of whips.

It is in this culture of retelling that Sofia Coppola can make a movie like “The Beguiled”. A movie adaptation by a white woman, who erases the presence of a black character’s narrative in order to center the experience of a cabal of white women, set during a war fought by white men over the material worth of black bodies. A version that totally guts its black innards to make more room for the dominant whiteness.

Online Community exploring how millennials live authentically in an internet culture.

Online Community exploring how millennials live authentically in an internet culture.

And then there is Beyonce, a Southern woman, a black woman who thrusts blackness upon us even as she makes her own empirical points about womanhood. A woman who is processing and externalizing a South that made her, as much as her forefathers made it, producing new media that scribbles into the lines already drawn instead of rubbing them out, and somehow finding new uncharted places to go.

Online Community exploring how millennials live authentically in an internet culture.

But today, there is Twitter and there is Black Twitter, the way there is America and Black America. Run on the same systems, occupying the same space, one within the other. The black one creating and constantly churning out culture, a vibrant and kinetic processing of everything around it into memes, hashtags, and political movements. The larger one getting all the updates, the innovations, the room.

Online Community exploring how millennials live authentically in an internet culture.

Online Community exploring how millennials live authentically in an internet culture.

It is a tricky thing: to rob and rebrand, to claim with the intent to smother.

It’s a big game of catch & kill, like those news outlets that buy stories just to bury them.

It is not by accident that you do not see black people rejoicing on your television screen.

It is not by accident that black people are only excited on your screens when they are made into GIFs for others to use to express themselves, or when we are being positioned as too unruly to bear.

It is not by accident that you never see black people unburdened or free.

It is not by accident that you do not see black people in ownership of the things that they built.

It is not by accident that you never see black people in period pieces.

It is not by accident that you do not see black women in plantation homes.

But now you have.

And now you cannot unsee a version of history where blackness has ownership of the house that blackness built.

Online Community exploring how millennials live authentically in an internet culture.

Online Community exploring how millennials live authentically in an internet culture.

*Photos taken in a historic Georgia suburb, not Charleston.

Find more of Danielle Webster’s fascinating work at DanielleWebster.com


Group Text IRL

As the crow flies, my dear friend Ayo is 586 miles away from my home city. My other friend, Maggie, is more than triple that at 1,633 miles away. But thanks to our group text, named ‘Better Than You’ after an inside joke, we can cross that distance in milliseconds. It’s no modern marvel — we all are well acquainted with technology’s ability to connect us across the country. I like comparing it to something more fantastic though; like Madeleine L’Engle’s “Wrinkle in Time”, it’s as if we have pulled the ribbon of time and space together, and sent a telepathic thought across the void to the minds of two friends at once. But I digress.

Online Community exploring how millennials live authentically in an internet culture.

Texting across the nation is commonplace, but seeing one another’s faces in person is a rarity. This is why, in April, the three of us decided to take a road trip together through New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment.

Online Community exploring how millennials live authentically in an internet culture.

Online Community exploring how millennials live authentically in an internet culture.

Online Community exploring how millennials live authentically in an internet culture.

Online Community exploring how millennials live authentically in an internet culture. Online Community exploring how millennials live authentically in an internet culture.

It feels unfair to keep the secret splendor of New Mexico to myself, so I will tell you now, it’s one of the most unique, strange, mysterious, and beautiful states I have ever visited. It’s bloody ‘US’ history goes further back even than New England, thanks to the Spanish Conquistadors that invaded the area (we all know history precedes colonization, but bear with me). In more recent years, history took a turn for the weird, with alien crash sites, towns named after game shows, and in most recent years, the addition of the famed art experience, “MeowWolf.”

Online Community exploring how millennials live authentically in an internet culture.

Online Community exploring how millennials live authentically in an internet culture.

Online Community exploring how millennials live authentically in an internet culture.

Online Community exploring how millennials live authentically in an internet culture.

Online Community exploring how millennials live authentically in an internet culture.

Online Community exploring how millennials live authentically in an internet culture.

Online Community exploring how millennials live authentically in an internet culture. Online Community exploring how millennials live authentically in an internet culture.

The Land of Enchantment was the backdrop for our escapades in friendship. Text messages are great, but how about when your friends willingly follow you into a lukewarm hot spring off the Rio Grande with a muddy bottom and weird pond scum creatures skittering about? DMs on Instagram are fine, but how about walking through MeowWolf’s psychedelic maze backwards in the middle of the night, playing music for each other on the neon pink ribs of a fake dinosaur skeleton? Facebook Messenger is alright, but how about sledding down the dunes at White Sands, your dear friend’s figure serving as the sole mark on the expanse of pale ancient grains. Email is cool, but how about speculating on the shape of the clouds together, zooming down the interstate, while one person recaps the entire plot of a Gossip Girl?

Online Community exploring how millennials live authentically in an internet culture.

Online Community exploring how millennials live authentically in an internet culture.

Online Community exploring how millennials live authentically in an internet culture.

Online Community exploring how millennials live authentically in an internet culture.

Online Community exploring how millennials live authentically in an internet culture.

Online Community exploring how millennials live authentically in an internet culture.


I Used to Have a Sibling: Two Months (Part I)

Dear Living IRL readers,

What follows is a series of excerpts from a work in progress—a memoir about my experience living life in the world after the death of my sister. Because she and I both grew up online, technology plays a role in my grief. It has strong fingers, has managed to work its way into my endlessly tangled emotions.

I won’t explain much else, other than that this is what I am trying to give you: concrete examples of moments when my grief and technology have interacted. Sometimes this involves phone calls. Sometimes texts. Sometimes emails. Sometimes social media. It’s all always there.

Sincerely,
Becca Spiegel

Two Months
New Orleans, Louisiana

Online Community exploring how millennials live authentically in an internet culture.

There are times when I’m driving that feel so normal. The billboards outside stand intact, the skyline is unwavering, and the air hardly moves, heavy with humid, rose-gold light. Small birds sway on powerlines above the rush of traffic. Everything in the world is more or less okay.

I pick up the phone to call my sister, then remember that I can’t; I don’t know if it is real or if I’m imagining it.

I tell myself: no, this is not the time you sat on the red couch in your apartment and started crying—at first a little and then a lot—when Emily texted you two days after the Eagles-Saints playoff game saying that she did not think she wanted to live anymore. You tried to text-message listen and console and convince her to hang on—to leverage how much she trusted you to make her believe that she was going to get through this and it was going to be worth it. This is not the time that that happened and then—even though you were worried and scared—you couldn’t do much else besides keep your phone close and you had already made a plan and were running late, so you went to the Blind Pelican and ate 25 cent oysters with friends. We laughed because we were all carrying our old college ID cards in pursuit of student discounts at movie theaters and museums.

This is also not the time I sat on the steps outside of a dinner party, crying on the phone; when I went back inside I had to explain to the host that I was okay, just worried about my sister who has a long history of mental illness. He said something kind and kind of comforting like, “Hey that’s okay, I can relate—my brother went through (this) and (this) and (this) and now he has his shit together but yeah—it sucks, man.”

I only know it’s real when I pretend it’s not real, like when the man on the plane asks me about my siblings and I tell him about Noah, who’s 14 and just went to his eighth-grade formal dance, and Emily, who’s 21 and goes to the same college that I went to in Colorado. Yes, we’re very close; no, she didn’t go to the school because of me; okay sure, maybe you’re right, maybe she did want to follow me out there. It’s real then because I’m lying and I know it and you don’t. I’m describing my dead sister to you and I’m doing it to meet your overtures halfway but not to be honest, which is what I try to do.

 

 

Looking for more of this series? Find other installments HERE.