Gilmore experiments with Facebook but still has “mixed feelings” about it.

by Hugh Gilmore

Looking back, I can’t believe how steeply I looked down my nose at the whole Facebook phenomenon and the trolls who use it. Such snobbery is so easy to come by when you don’t know a thing about what you’re snubbing.

I’ve seen it before with people who reject e-books and Kindles, and I’ve been a stubborn critic of Facebook since its inception. Now, however, after my exhausting weekend of trying it, I can say I have graduated all the way up to “mixed feelings.” I’m now the Internet version, I guess, of a mugging victim who’s health status has been changed to “guarded condition.”

Hemingway never had to go on Facebook. He simply journeyed to Paris carrying a letter of introduction written by Sherwood Anderson, and voilà’ed-it to Gertrude Stein and a few other choice people like Sylvia Beach and Adrienne Monnier at the Shakespeare & Co. Bookstore. Networking with the people who mattered followed.

Nowadays, if you’re a nobody (I’m one; who are you?), and you have a song, poem, novel, or knife-throwing act to pitch, you must go deep into the furze patch with a big stick and beat that gorse ’til the birds come flying. Oh my, you can probably tell from my tangled syntax and obsolete vocabulary that I’ve reverted to my vestigial state, like the overtaxed HAL 9000 in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” And why is that, you ask?

Going on Facebook for an entire weekend has been one of the most bewildering and exhilarating experiences I’ve had in years. I think I’ll tell the rest of you coots about it.

First, it’s free. That’s good, right? Next, you can’t play with the layout templates much, but you sure can personalize them. That’s fun. I tested the system by putting about five or six different photos up as illustrations of both my “identity” and as visual stimulations for my little “messages,” or statements, or essays, or whatever they’re called.

When you’re done, the page reflects your persona in the way that your clothes, house, personal library, and Pez collection do. There are filters that allow you to restrict the audience for your pix and texts – anything from writing only to yourself (“Dear Hugh, I love/hate you, Hugh, signed Hugh”) to just a few friends, to unrestricted. Thus if you want, you can rebirth yourself, as Meursault did in Camus’ “The Stranger,” and “open your heart to the benign indifference of the universe.” I chose the latter. My underwear, over-wear, and middle-wear are hanging out there in cyberspace. Though I’m not stupid.

What’s hard for me at this point is the hyper-stimulation that the Web page presents. To me, it looks like the control panel of a jumbo jet. Lots of side panels, lots of message-entry-points, lots of “comments,” “likes,” dislikes, eh’s. Every button you click opens an infinite hall of mirrors.

Just to prove how either gloriously adept or else inept I am, I somehow set up two pages. One is “Hugh Gilmore.” The other is “hgilmore.” And I must switch back and forth between the two of them to follow a message/reply theme like Lucy on the pie belt line.

Oh, yes, forgot to say: I’m doing all this to promote my new book, “Last Night on the Gorilla Tour,” a twisted romance/adventure tale that, with luck, will be available this week. Then next week, on Feb. 22, a Friday night, at 7 p.m., I’ll be enjoying a book-launch party/reading/signing hosted by Musehouse Center for the Literary Arts at 7924 Germantown Ave., here in Chestnut Hill.

And the reason for all this self promotion is that we live in an age where writing a book is not a noteworthy endeavor unless you, the author, put on a clown nose and walk around beating pie plates to get folks to stop what they’re doing and watch you juggle.

However, a totally unexpected – and exhilarating – source of genuine pleasure arose during my relentless self-promotion. A number of people I know, and genuinely like, stepped out of the wallpaper and greeted me, wished me well, and offered encouraging and kind words. Some of them were ex-students, who still remember me fondly. What a pleasure that is.

And then, late Saturday afternoon, I found an email that said, “Are you the same Hugh Gilmore who once dated _______ ? I am her daughter. I read something about you and your writing and wondered if you were the same person.”

My goodness. My first girlfriend, from 16 to 22. She died at the age of 42, but I didn’t know where, when, or how. I owed her and her parents much gratitude. They all bettered my life. I’d never even have gone to college if not for their encouragement. I often think of how different – and probably not for the better, given who I turned out to be – my life would have been.

And now, here was her daughter, writing to me. I wrote back at once and spent the rest of the afternoon shaken. That’s all I can say for now as I await her reply…

Note: If you like Hugh Gilmore’s writings, many more can be found on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats. His paperbacks are also available in leading bookstores everywhere. He blogs at his newly revived “Enemies of Reading.blogspot.com.” Many of his previous Local columns can be found there.