Screenshots and Movies: Our View of Others, Our View of Self

No matter how much you limit your screen time on social media, you see it. You see the vacay pics, the laughing couple caught, seemingly, off-guard- some iconic landmark in the background, a lively social gathering that could have been taken right off the set of Friends. Many disagree, but, I believe we share moments almost entirely for that purpose, alone. To share moments. I don’t see the majority of posts as a bragging platform, but a way to connect in this age when, otherwise, offering that glimpse into our personal lives would be impossible. (And, certainly preferable to 300 individual texts) When scrolling through the feed, there’s always a place we pause. We take in the scene, the facial expressions, and even assign emotions to the subjects in the frame. We do it robotically. And, too often, I’ve found myself pausing at that screenshot, and in a split second, I’ve also created a split screen of my life to that image. It doesn’t compare. How can it? We should really have a day dedicated to realistic images, where we share the mundane, uninteresting, unenviable views of our micro-world. Here’s the dog hair on my couch. And, here’s a shot of my breakfast dishes from yesterday. Oh, and the pile of dirty towels that are next up for the wash cycle. Riveting. With rare exception, the human condition elicits a judgement based on that screenshot, that one photo, that the life of this person is worthy of a permanent camera crew, or at least, a reminder that SOME people are #LivingTheirBestLife. If you’ve ever edited a video, and pulled screenshots, you know how simple it is to manipulate an otherwise boring sequence of events so that it appears the person is having the time of their life, or they’re so deeply contemplative they seem to exist in sheer enlightenment, when, really, they were looking up to roll a kink out of their neck. Nobody’s movie is comprised of hundreds of thousands of deeply entertaining screenshots. We are most susceptible to “compare and despair” mode when we’re already feeling behind the power curve. We didn’t get the promotion we were certain was coming. We just experienced a break-up. We haven’t seen the surface of our work space for weeks. How in the hell are we supposed to go to Australia and strike a flawless yoga pose in front of Ayers Rock when we can’t even wash our hair, today? The self harm we subtly create from the mental “Must be nice” reactions is more real than the perfectly timed illusion of everyone living a grander life than you. If you’re not seeing it two-dimensionally, you can’t escape the occasional interaction where the “catch up” involves a recently graduated PhD friend or the buddy who got the big break and has a syndicated column in some whoop-tee-do magazine. No matter how it feels, deciding then and there to be genuinely happy WITH them, and let them shine in their moment with zero emphasis on the slightest twinge of jealousy flips the script. There’s enough. There’s more than enough for each of us to attain that often elusive measure of  low-level anxiety-free living. Abundance isn’t a thing we chase. It’s something we recognize. One of the most helpful things I do when I catch myself in that place of eyeing the pic of the car keys to a brand new exotic “You can’t afford it,” is to compare two aspects of my OWN life. I made the bold but adamant statement about a decade ago, that, one day, I would live on the beach, never experience another winter with snow or those awful “crisp, colorful, changing leaves,” piling up on the ground to rot, while adding yet another layer to avoid frostbite just to go outside and keep my face from hurting and my hands from going numb. Today, I am here. It took years to finish my life’s purpose in Colorado, but I escaped the brief summers and lengthy winters, the landlocked landscape and the ugliness of dirty slush lining the streets, day in, day out. Yesterday, was one of those perfect times to remind myself of exactly this. What sparked that momentary sense of  “must be nice” isn’t as important as what followed. There was a day, not so very long ago, that my Sunday’s were spent as a program manager in a level III prison. My weekend shift ended at 9pm. I loathed it. Not the role, but the logistics. The entering of 12 locked doors, the lack of natural light, the gloomy heaviness that comes with the environment. Yesterday, I immediately imagined being back in that role and someone walking in at 5pm on a snowy Sunday to relieve me, four hours early and handing me a ticket to the beach for the week. How I would have jumped around like a maniac, laughing and making a mad dash for the parking lot. Yet, here I am, today. I don’t have to leave in a week. I see the ocean when I open my shutters each morning. I don’t enter a locked down facility, and operate in bleak surroundings, anymore. My then and now is really the only business I have when it comes to comparing. I love my life, but a screenshot doesn’t show my movie. There’s sometimes trouble in paradise. There’s ALWAYS responsibilities, here. And, I’m still prone to wants. It doesn’t make me greedy, it makes me human, realizing I’m alive and aware of the abundance to be had. One of my favorite things about my travels to cultures that, on the surface, have far less than most Americans, is the insistence of sharing with you, whatever they have. There’s no hoarding for tomorrow. It isn’t here yet. But, today, there’s a plate of food and a chair at their table…a wide smile on their faces that there’s a friend in their midst, and that it calls for celebration. I love those screenshots of my life…the ones that make me grateful. Because, YOUR perfection while standing near a waterfall with your head tilted back and your hands in your hair makes me glance at my pile of dirty towels, remembering my unwashed hair pulled haphazardly on top of my head. My movie is not one I want to fast forward or channel surf to see what else is available. My screenshots are no more  indicative of my #BestLife than anyone else’s. Sometimes, that gentle reminder is enough to ground us and make it possible to celebrate not only our own life’s abundance, but other’s, also. If a professional photographer followed each of us for a day, sun up to sun down, he could photo-journal the deepest and most satisfying utopia we could conjure by pulling just the right screenshots. But, a videographer could capture raw footage of the very same day with yesterday’s dishes in the sink and hours of our own yawn-inducing movie. Love both. Celebrate your own Ayer’s Rock and your dental cleaning. Celebrate all you’ve overcome. Honor your good efforts. Abide in abundance. And, for goodness sake, chuckle at the ridiculousness we are all susceptible to when we’re tempted to hold as truth, that deceptive screenshot of others’ “best lives”. Peace, Warriors.

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