I have always found it a bit funny when I see someone on Twitter saying, “No one is talking about…” and then offering their twenty thread thoughts on said subject. It’s funny because someone somewhere is talking about it, but because of the nature of Twitter, the people we’re listening to and the people we’re talking to are sometimes not at all the same people. It’s not a conversation unless we’re all in the same (metaphorical) room with one another and Twitter that is not.
On my sabbatical last winter, I checked out piles of books from the library and purchased even more. I wanted to read about flooding in Chicago and how to do nothing and how to disappear and why micro-dosing is appealing to some and what the sound of a wild snail eating sounds like and what a journalist had to say about breathing and about autism and Augustine. And I did. I read it all. By the time my nearly four months of forced rest ended, I’d finished about fifty books.
One was titled, No One is Talking About This, by Patricia Lockwood, who I’d never heard of but whose book was showing up on all the You Have to Read This lists at the end of 2021. I reserved at our library, read the first few pages and set it down. It annoyed the heck out of me. It felt like reading TikTok. Yes, you read that right. That’s what it felt like. Paragraphs were disjointed from one another with no segues, no seeming connections at all. One second a rant on socialism, the next on the latest tragedy, and the next on shaving her legs. It felt like whiplash to read.
I kept picking it up again, though, and setting it down. It was hard to get through more than five or six pages without feeling like I was right back in the social media world I’d stepped away from quite intentionally. Wasn’t this whiplash part of what I’d happily left behind during my sabbatical?
The best of lists kept taunting me though. There had to be a reason this book mattered to someone somewhere.
At about the halfway point, I realized what she was doing and it turned out to be one of the more memorable books I’ve read in recent years. I’m not going to give it away, not even a little bit because I think it’s actually an important book and one anyone who uses social media should read.
The brilliance of it is in its title, No One is Talking About This. For the first half of the book there is almost nothing that isn’t talked about. If you can think of a subject, the unnamed narrator (Although it’s a novel, it’s based heavily on Lockwood’s own life) hits on it. But the brilliance comes in the latter half when the narrator has to face how empty all these surface opinions and hot takes and echo-chamber threads really are, and she does it with stunning prose and staying power. If the first half feels like reading TikTok, the second half feels like plummeting the depths of one single human life.
Patricia Lockwood was holding a mirror up to her readers and saying, “Do you see what we’re missing when we think what we see is all there is?”
This is the irony of the title and of my observation from the first paragraph. Even if we all know there is so much more going on in the world and there are indeed people talking about the urgent burden we’re feeling right now, we can feel so alone in our urgency of today.
The things you’re facing today, the things I’m facing today—in our real lives, the flesh and blood ones—most of us aren’t talking about these online. We know the damage performing our pain does to our souls. We know the truncated healing it brings. At least I hope we know.
We know that the mama of littles who only posts perfect stills of her perfect house still cries sometimes when she’s beyond exhausted. We know the pastor who proclaims goodness and grace from the pulpit still wonders if they are worthy of the message themselves. We know the woman with the perfectly symmetrical face wonders sometimes if anyone cares about the perfectly broken heart that beats inside of her. We know all this.
And yet we still think, “No one is talking about this…”
I’ve quoted Diane Langberg on healing ten-thousand times and I always will. She says, “All healing takes time, tears, and talking,” and I always add truth because it’s true. We do need time. We do need tears. We do need to talk. But we also need to know what is true and what is not. We need to face our feelings that feel like facts and our God who sees them all.
What is the thing in you that feels like no one is talking about? What hurt? What suffering? What secret fear? What deep doubt? What belief about your season or your circumstance or your success? It could be that no one is talking about it, but the more important question is what is the thing beneath the thing?
Because that is the universal care. That is the thing we need to talk about.
So much of the ways we use social media is to talk around the thing by diverting our attention to the manageable bits, the tangible bits. Tips and how-tos, dance moves and bullet points, pretty pithy sayings that seem applicable to everyone but really…just…aren’t.
But what if we actually skip to the good part? The kind of good that God whispers over creation, over man and woman as he made them? The kind of good that beats within our broken and beaten hearts? The kind of good that means taking some good, hard looks in the mirror and asking, “What’s really going on in there? And am I brave enough to not look away?”
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So good, Lore. Sounds like Patricia Lockwood found a clever and effective way to tackle this issue! Grateful for writers who do the work of cultural analysis/excavation. Anyway, your review and discussion resonates with me because for the past few weeks, I’ve been working on an essay addressing “the thing beneath the thing” (one of the things, anyway) for me. It’s taking forever, of course.
I love how you dig beneath the easy surface and encourage us to do the same.