“How am I?” is the sarcastic caption to a GIF my 17-year-old neighbor Lena texted me yesterday. Lena isn’t her name and she’s never seen Broad City but, as with most things, she doesn’t need to experience a source to repurpose it for something new and irreverent.
Lena is “a young 17” as her parents, my best friends, like to say. Back in April Lena and I discovered that we both have a tattoo of a bee on our left arm, which is to say we became friends during a pandemic and after Lena had already been taking high school courses online for twice as long than teens who went “remote” in March, which is a longer story.
These days Lena DMs me through Instagram from two houses away with ideas about future career paths and articles about the environmental issues she thinks her parents don’t care about. Her parents do care. Lena is lonely and I am 31. All of us are healthy. All of her friends exist online.
I spent my 17th summer in Iowa drinking keg beer and watching the heirs to the local construction company shoot rockets at a lake. I did a lot of touching. This summer Lena is often up until 3am drinking coffee, finishing homework, and “acting” online with her friends. When I texted “You mean ‘acting out’?” Lena sent me the cry-laughing emoji.
“What kind of acting?”
“Science, or we just do the news.”
“You act the news? Like how?”
“One person will say like, ‘Breaking News: UFO crash witnessed east of Cleveland.’ And the others will do at-home reactions like, “What!!!” ‘We’re gunna die’ or ‘Take me with u”.
How am I? In May 2020 I am living between two houses and the grocery store and my friend Lena is “playing the news” on a platform built for sharing filtered images. I spend my days teaching, going to meetings, and looking at my grandmother’s garden on screen. Yesterday Lena invited me to join a chatroom full of teens and I had to tactfully decline. Twice, at the end of a day she has sent me “*hug*,” which made me cry.
I’m allowed to see Lena and my closest friends (her parents) on the weekend, but we don’t touch. Lena has only met her acting friends in person a handful of times, but since March, over DMs, Lena’s friends also meet to *cuddle* or *scratch your back* online. Sometimes, in group chats, two friends *spoon.* Sometimes everyone roleplays *at a café* *holding hands.* Anyone who pushes *action* into sexual territory is kicked out.
The vast digital spaces where Lena “hangs out” are full of explicit content. But in physical isolation, she’s rejected the hours of video her parents and I experience daily and created the exact thing video lacks—a visceral referent. Lena’s parents and I call it *platonica.* (FYI, Lena says that sending a smoochy face to a person who isn’t your boyfriend or girlfriend is now considered cheating?)
How am I? I’m trying to remember what it felt like—those spatial constraints that made conversation easy before COVID (patio table, “conference,” whisper-distance in a crowded room). I’m thinking about the proximity my generation feels ashamed to need. I’m trying to define our associations between digital space and sex that force everyone into sterile video chambers and prevent us from *holding hands.* I’m wondering how *platonica* might help us stay put longer.
Cinderella locks up her stepmother and kidnaps the prince :D
And then the prince saves the stepmother and they fall in love
*looks into your face*
*touches your hand*