“Why would I want to join Facebook? Who really cares what I’m thinking?”
That was my mom about 15 years ago, when Facebook became a platform that catered to everyone — not just college students and 20-somethings, and although my mother was wondering aloud about herself, I internalized the sentiment. Who would want to hear what I was thinking? I was already a professional writer, but I was writing other people’s stories for a newspaper. I belonged to social media before — Myspace and Friendster and a brief, anonymous stint on LiveJournal — but Facebook was a platform that thrived on status updates. Did people really care about my status?
I joined anyhow a couple years later. I did it out of heartbreak (a broken engagement) and boredom (I wasn’t planning a wedding anymore and all my upcoming plans were now canceled) and a desire to stalk my ex (who wasn’t on Facebook, so no dice). I did a lot of lurking. Most of my early statuses were brief — catching up with old friends and acquaintances, grousing about working another night meeting. But sometime in the next several months, something happened. I started to tell people what I was doing and thinking, and I started making jokes.
They weren’t good jokes, and this was back in the days when every status was a grade school complete-the-sentence prompt: “A.J. O’Connell is rich in cat fur.” “A.J. O’Connell needs music that’s neither Bjork nor bluegrass” “A.J. O’Connell has departed the Vogon hell of the DMV”
I started writing about the minutiae of my day, which included ridiculous things, like my Outlook trying to email a fictional character from one of my novels, my kitchen misadventures (I once made asparagus explode in a blender) and my new relationship with my now-husband, who once ran giggling through our kitchen with a lit cigarette and a pack of fireworks.
People started responding — “I love reading your statuses” said an acquaintance from college. Another friend told me she checked Facebook every day to see if I’d posted something. Someone else later told me that she read her statuses to her dad when he was sick to make him laugh.
All of a sudden, I had an audience.
Social media is a strange phenomenon, and I realize that it’s not always helpful to people’s self-esteem. I was once accused of having a “perfect Facebook life” because of my statuses (really? Exploding asparagus sounds perfect to you? Please don’t feel bad because you’re a better cook than I am.)
But Facebook helped my own self-esteem. It helped me find my inner class clown — the comedian I only let out when I was with people, I was really comfortable with. I love telling jokes, but I’m a little – I kept my mouth shut in school, and in groups of people I didn’t know. I love telling jokes, but the idea of stand-up terrifies me. As a kid, I used to do this thing where I’d murmur a joke, let someone repeat it and give them credit for it, just to see if people would laugh. Now, Facebook freed me up to be funny in public.
On Facebook, I could tell jokes to several people at a time — my aunts, my former co-workers, my roommate from college, other parents from my kid’s first grade class — and get feedback in real time. Now, not everyone thinks I’m funny. I’m sure some people think I’m a weirdo. But for the most part, they keep scrolling. And if someone heckles (“that was supposed to be funny? Bless your heart”) I can scroll on, too.
All of this was just a social outlet for me. When we moved to the country and away from my friends, I wanted to tell them about how I thought our home was besieged by Tuskan Raiders when it was really just the neighbor’s donkey braying, or about the time another neighbor’s goat escaped and tried to eat my sweater, or about the fact that my brain still refuses to see a bear without first interpreting it as an oddly shaped dog.
After a while, however, people started to tell me to do something with my Facebook feed.
“I’d sign on to a Patreon to read your statuses” said one follower. Another told me “you need to DO something with these.” Eventually, I was approached by a publisher who’d heard my Facebook was funny. My book, “A Perfect Facebook Life” came out this spring – all repurposed statuses and stories, turned into micro-memoir and poetry.
Facebook made me realize that yes, I am funny, and gave me a platform for my humor that didn’t involve me stammering in front of people. It also helped me understand that — no matter who you are – for every “bless your heart” you might get on a status, there are several people who do care what you think.
A.J. O’Connell is an author, journalist, and freelance writer. Her new book, “A Perfect Facebook Life,” a collection of poems, micro memoir and very short plays — all of which started as jokes on Facebook – was released on April 6, 2021 by Woodhall Press. A.J. worked at local newspapers for a decade, taught journalism at the college level, and now writes about edtech and security for a living. She has written about literature, women and gender issues, and geek cultures for publications including The Establishment, Electric Literature, GeekMom, BookRiot and The Mary Sue. She’s given presentations on women in Geek culture as well as on gaming with kids at various conventions. She’s published two political thriller novellas, “Beware the Hawk” and “The Eagle & The Arrow” as well as short stories in various markets. She was also a chapter editor for “Now What? The Creative Writer’s Guide to Success After the MFA”. She has one child and obtained her MFA in Creative Fiction from Fairfield University.