Saturday, January 18, 2014

Eff right off, FML

When he's banging around the kitchen, my boyfriend will sometimes have a minor setback— a knife will drop from his hands and clatter across the kitchen floor, or the tap water will switch from temperate to unexpectedly hot. When this happens, I will hear, from elsewhere in the apartment, an exclamation of "Oh, fuck off" issue from the kitchen. And I'll grimace.

 There's this internet thing that has the same effect on me: the initials FML, which stands for Fuck My Life. FML is usually attached to a tweet or a Facebook status update complaining about the most domesticated species of annoyance (forgetting your gym towel at home, maybe, or missing a subway whose next train is arriving in a few minutes). It's weird to really think about FML in any seriousness. It's like, you couldn't get a seat on the GO train, so fuck your whole entire life? It's ruined? The whole thing? Okay then. I guess I'll just show myself out.

I hate FML and "Oh, fuck off," because they're unrelenting, aggressively negative. There's no room for positivity to peek in and be like, "Hello! I'm still here! I'm just in the bathroom right now, but I haven't left the building!" I'm frequently kind of a bummer—glass half empty people, put your hands up!—but I like to think that the big picture is usually pretty okay. Great, even. It's taken me a long time get there, and FML is a throwback to the days when things were actually pretty bleak, and for reasons that were completely unrelated to daily aggravations and stupidity. These were problems beyond the magnitude of running into an old friend with a sesame seed stuck in our teeth. These were real, life-fucking problems: relationships, health, and family. The trifecta.

I understand that, in the age of the internet, people are going to talk about themselves. Good and bad, lives are being lived, and often quite publicly. A few moody Facebook posts aren't going to make the world a worse place, and it can be cathartic to vent out the things that are bugging you so they don't fester. But if every Facebook update or tweet or email or text or thought or action is a moan/complaint/negative thought, then we have a problem. Focusing on negative thoughts or events can really hurt us: it sets up a cycle (which can feel more like a sinkhole) of pissy thoughts and can remake our minds into some pretty dark places. Climbing out that hole is a lot of work, and I can't help but think that the FML mindset is a like a fireman's pole to the bottom.

On the other end of the FML spectrum, The Guardian recently published a column that took cancer patient Lisa Adams to task for "oversharing" her life with the disease on Twitter. The backlash was swift and complete, with commentators asking if we've somehow broken the internet or ourselves when we engage with emotionally difficult things online. As if we're "doing the internet wrong" when dying women use it to show us what dying means. The offending column was eventually taken down, but the question remains: how F'ed does a particular L have to be before even looking at it is too distressing? And where is the space for the positive in that? In Adams's case, it might be in a post called "Cancer is not a gift," where she gives thanks for her time and her emotions but reserves a hearty and much-deserved fuck you to the cancer itself.

There's always some learning experience happening, even it's supremely annoying, and recognizing that life is full of misplaced keys, acne scars, blistered heels and forgotten ID is part of the fare you pay for riding, you know? FML is a little poison bomb of negativity that spread out through the few minutes after its expression, wrinkling the noses and souring the mood of the folks who hear it. It's the opposite of "get back on the horse" or "life goes on": it's a tiny pause that draws out the negative moment into something more, blowing it out of proportion until the ramifications of a simple mistake or accident can affect someone's whole life.

I realize that I sound overly sensitive, and it's not likely that someone saying FML has ever, you know, meant it. ("I burned this freezer pizza! FML!" [throws self out window, leaving behind a horrified pregnant wife, distraught parents, and bereft co-workers]) But I cringe every time I see it, because I want to take that person by the shoulders, give them a shake, and say, "Do you know how lucky you that you even have keys to lose? That you can afford to go to the university that gave you a B-? That you have a job to complain about?" I'm not asking for people to stop kvetching about their lives. But if you think your life is ruined by the crumbs in your bed or the lost umbrellas, you need to seriously recalibrate your negativity meter and start engaging in some serious, counterbalancing gratitude.