Pull Up a Chair
May 25, 2024

I am at a table with my dear friend Lauren and two empty seats. It is the July between our high school graduation and the first days of college. Sitting in this limbo, we are talking about the future, which is coming at a relentless pace. We left our communal academic home, St. Elizabeth High School, six weeks ago and in a month, Lauren will head south on I-95 for the quintessential college town of Newark. Many of our former classmates will be following her to attend the University of Delaware – joining thousands of other young adults from our home state and beyond, a fact I've heard on multiple tours.

But I will not be one of them. I'm heading north to a small city split by the Chemung River to attend Elmira College. There are more students in Lauren's freshmen class than on my entire campus. Wait: it's not quite mine yet. I've signed the paperwork and even slept overnight in a dorm, but it doesn't feel real. Later this month, I'll be visiting for Summer Orientation. During those few days, I'll register for the courses that I'll take in the fall, meet a portion of my class, and create the first true moments of my collegiate career.

But what about the moments I've had here over the past four years as a St. E's student? Having to take communion during school hours, raucous lunch periods full of debate and goofiness, late night Academic Bowl meets in nearly empty school buildings. Where will they go?

I am in a chair that James found on a sidewalk in Carlisle, Pennsylvania during his time at Dickinson College. This chair is where I read and write, acts of remembering the infinite existence that I've experienced. The sensations stitch together to become actions, actions align to become events, and events connect to become stories. The fun of creating narratives comes from deciding which of the building blocks are the pivotal ones. Move the fulcrum and I have a completely different story. Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing which moments will irrevocably change my life until I have lived through them. There's a sadness in that lack of knowing – how many times have I wanted to fast forward, wishing I could be living anywhen else? I wasn't aware of how important that moment was. It's only in retrospect, in reviewing the timeline, that the connection is made.

At a table in the kitchen of a house in a subdivision west of Wilmington, my friend Lauren begins telling me about a new website for college students: Thefacebook. It's slowly opening up access to campuses across the country, and with my newly acquired @elmira.edu email address, I can join and create a profile. Lauren shows me around. There are sections for listing my favorite bands, books, movies – perfect for a guy whose identity is forged by his artistic interests. Except for one photo, the profile is a wall of hyperlinks. Want to quickly see who else lives in your dorm or is taking your class? Who else likes They Might Be Giants or Bruce Springsteen? One click for the results!

But the critical element of the website's functionality is the ability to make a direct connection with another user. Two people connected are called Friends. I'm fascinated by the ramifications: every friend that I make at Elmira will be connected to someone at Elizabethtown College, two people at Virginia Tech, a bunch of people at the University of Delaware, including my best friend who herself will be making friends with every new course and semester. These people, in turn, connect through me to every person I'll know at Elmira College.

Chairs can be such fragile things. I've lost so many because they couldn't support the weight put upon them. A slight shift, a single fracture and it's never the same again. Why not make it more stable with six legs? or eight? Why not give it as many legs as possible?

Because then you're sitting on a log. That's fine around a campfire, but I live indoors. My chairs were intended to be chairs, and they function as intended. But that's the problem with Facebook, which attempted to become everything to everyone: news source, photo album, community center, printing press. It consumed me, tricked me into thinking that it was a real place where I should spend my time. When everything is squeezed together, there is no space to explore, no opportunity to create my own narrative from the gaps between material. It's just a dead fucking stump.

I left in 2017, and I thought that I'd never be back. What use could it have for me? Well: I have spent the past six months writing and reflecting, creating stories about the human beings whom I've met over the past 37 years. Now I realize that I have no way of reconnecting with them – except through Facebook. No longer a welcome packet of photos and names for college students, it's become the world's directory, a constantly revised and interactive Yellow Pages.

I don't want to remain unlisted. More directly: this is an open invitation to every person on the planet. Let's be Friends, and then let's be friends. I hope you accept.