Saturday, June 28, 2014

Dinner With Friends: A Discussion About Art & Instagram

Morgan, Neal, Me & Matt at NYU, 2001
Last night, Mike and I carpooled with Morgan and Scott and their daughter, Dee, out of the valley and into the hills where we had dinner at Neal and Jodi's house and spent some time with their new baby. Aside from how amazing it is to watch friends become parents, it is damn near breathtaking to see the gorgeous little creations that they have put on this earth. I can't imagine how I will feel when it is our turn because I feel such instant love for my friends' kids. (And they are all kicking butt at this whole parenting thing.)

One of the things I have loved about coming back to LA is reconnecting with these dudes. (Well, not Matt just yet, but soon I hope!) It's not that we were ever disconnected. We were just living our lives and they were making people and I was making my way. But, like with any solid group of friends, the conversations never skip a beat and the years and time we weren't in touch as much don't really seem to matter, especially when you can connect over laughter and homemade berry crumble with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. We talked about blogs and writing, the horror that can be Facebook and the disconnect with Instagram. At this table were some of the smartest people I know, but their smarts are not what impress me. It is their ability to communicate their ideas and thoughts that impress me.

At one point Neal was talking about the problem with this idea of "curating the image." We talked about so many Instagram shots that focus on, lets say, a beautiful table setting with eggshell linen and porcelain dishes and glistening silver with glowing amber candles littering the table. He said something to the effect of Just because you have the ability to buy nice things doesn't make it art. This idea of "Instagram art" as classist is something I have both fallen for, engaged in, and been turned off by. But the clarity of that thought was what struck me. Yes! Instagram promotes classism, as LinkedIn promotes discrimination, as Facebook promotes false story as all of this constant "social" connection truly fosters loneliness under the guise of fostering friendships. Then again, having lived on the East Coast for six years away from my family, it was because of social media that I was able to watch my godsons win trophies and my father get engaged and my friends have children. Facebook has fostered friendships for me, just as Instagram has inspired me and Twitter has informed me. But it has come at a cost - the cost of disconnecting from the present moment by spreading my presence too thin. It has taken my need to hear "Good Job" and blended it with my fear of losing people, my fear of missing out, and my NYU-style ambition and turned into this adapted new piece of my personality.  I can't remember the last time I was with a big group of friends or family that I didn't feel the need to take a picture, to capture the moment, hang on to it for future proof, validation, memory or some deep-seated need to be relevant, liked, even loved. But, what I find so interesting is that because of the life I have curated and shared on social media, at least when I am with my family, there is also an assumption that I will take that picture, shoot that video, post that moment. And they are not wrong, I usually do. Sometimes more compulsively than others and yet those are the posts I respect even more because I don't think about editing or polishing them, I just hit "Share."

Jodi & Neal at my wedding in New York, 2012 Photo cred: @saramoe and @graceroth
I try to start my day with some meditations and prayer (if you will), one of which asks the universe to help me "divorce my thoughts from self-seeking motives." But what I am finding is that my thoughts and my actions are not even truly connected at this point. My brain has been rewired in the last six years. My actions untethered. My needs are not as secretive as I think they are. They are, in fact, somewhat transparent, as are everyone else's. What am I truly putting out in the world that is art? And what am I putting out there that is really a need? And the bigger question: so what if it is a need?

How do we continue to grow as artists and as people? Parents? Wives and husbands and friends? How do we separate the self from the masses? The art from the product? The moment from the Instagram feed? Hold onto the sacred while exploring the inescapable truth that in 2014, we live in public?

What I loved most about traveling was coming to a new place I had never seen. Not in books, not in movies, not on "Google image search." What I loved the most was truly experiencing something, whether it be a food or a place or a person, for the very first time with absolutely no knowledge about it. And then I loved to take a picture of it and share it with whoever was watching. I wanted to pass on that awe. Share the inspiration. Tell a story. Traveling gave me new eyes and one of the gifts I have taken home with me is seeing my hometown with these new eyes. It  has recently made me rethink about what I put up on my Instagram feed or post on Facebook or even write about on this blog. And yet still at the end of dinner tonight, I said, "Shoot! We should have taken a picture!"

I am so grateful to have smart, talented friends that have welcomed me back home with dinner parties and twilight summer nights sipping wine at a table overlooking pink skies and silhouetted palm trees. I am so grateful to have friends who have hooked me up with jobs and family who have put absolutely no pressure on me while they support me and my husband through this transitional time. I am so grateful that Jodi reads this blog and that she called me out on my sad "I miss New York" post telling me that it seemed like I was possibly in limbo and possibly headed back. (Thanks, Jodi!) And I'm so grateful that I have a full life in New York and here in LA, and out there in the world and its not because of where I am, but who is in my life. From the friend reading a short story on a porch in Vermont that texted me with a line from it that made her laugh out loud, to the other friend trying to put her baby down for bed while hosting a dinner party downstairs, to the friend in Philadelphia posting a picture of her daughter taking her first steps, to the friend I actually just had a phone conversation with in San Francisco, the world we live in now is not different from the one we nostalgically remember, its just the way we communicate it that is.  It's the way it keeps all of our touchstones right there before us so we are never just one feeling but all feelings sometimes in all the same minute - love, fear, envy, grief. I am heartbroken over leaving New York and grateful to be back in LA. I am terrified of my future and so envious of others' present. I miss the feeling I had with me everyday when traveling and also welcome the comfort of a soft bed, home-cooked food, and dinner with some amazing friends.

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