A collection of essays, outdoor adventure stories, ruminations, wordplay, parental angst, and blatant omphaloskepsis, generated in all seasons and for many reasons at 64.8 degrees north latitude

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Birds and the Bees



[Sample personal ads from those who benefited from a more traditionally-minded health class curriculum during their impressionable youth]
(F seeking M) Do you love snowy winters, long walks, dark starry skies, swimming, and fishing?  Are you hoping for children, and willing to commit to being a dedicated father?  Do you agree that relationships should include long-distance travel and plenty of time apart?  Do you enjoy long nights spent hanging out with the guys and watching the Aurora Australis?  You’re in luck!  Heavy/chubby strongly preferred. Densely feathered underbelly a must. 
(M seeking F)  Are you a connoisseur of the arts? I’d love the opportunity to show you some of my dance moves and sing you my signature song.  I know you’ll love it.  You’re into bright colors, I’m guessing.  Who isn’t?  I mean, not on you, of course.  Only on me.  My colors are very bright.  The brightest.  And did I mention my dance moves?  I want to wow you when I shake my tail.  But I will stop dancing once there are eggs.  Obviously.  I’m great with eggs.
(F seeking M) Looking for that one special guy to share my busy and fulfilling life.  I recently took over the family business from my mom, and I’m looking to settle down and start a large family.  If you enjoy luxurious and spacious apartment living, plenty of female company, hexagonal architecture, and organic locally-sourced honey, you might be my match.  Employment is not necessary.  Getting along with my hard-working sisters is crucial.
(M and M seeking F)  The two of us have been bros for a while, and we agree it’s time to find the right lovely lady to raise twins with.  He’ll piggyback one and I’ll carry the other one, natch -- and you’ll be free to enjoy as much fruit as you need to produce milk for those fast-growing kiddos!  Heck, we can even help you find some tasty arthropods to snack on – all while staying on alert for snakes!  If the thought fluffs your cottontop, just give us a wave with those cute little hands of yours.
(M seeking M)  Are you fond of strolling through fields of wildflowers and lush grass, with occasional adventures to windswept crags and mountaintops?  Are you a vegetarian who is into cuddling up in warm natural wool on cold winter days?  I’m a down-to-earth outdoorsy guy, but I get a haircut once a year, whether I need it or not!  If you, too, are among the 8-10%, then you understand why I’d prefer you to ewe.
(F seeking M)  My hobbies include hunting, napping, rending the limbs from zebras with my massive jaws, more napping, and having sex every twenty minutes for three solid days.  You don’t have to come along for the hunting part.
(F seeking M) There’s no time like the present!  And by the present I mean right now.  Immediately.  As soon as possible. Extra-fluffy tail a plus, but not required.  Must be willing to return to own territory before nightfall without even thinking about touching my collection of spruce cones.  Seeking up to 16 guys for leaping, running, acrobatics, loud chittering, and hot NSA action.
(F or M seeking M or F)  I’m a bonobo.  You’re a bonobo.  Enough said.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

What you learn when you are unable to walk for a quarter of a year, and also happen to be me


  • Living in a rustic unplumbed cabin in the woods outside of Fairbanks -- accessible only via several hundred yards of snowy trail and narrow, gappy, and uneven boardwalk – is a really great idea, until it isn’t.
  • Procrastinating about your need to use the outhouse while on crutches definitely does not improve the situation.
  • The fold-down ice spikes on the crutches work pretty well, but they are not designed for durability over many miles. 
  • Those spiky things collect snow.  If you try to use the same crutches indoors, with the spikes folded up, the snow will melt out and make the floor cold and wet and extremely slippery, which is bad in so many ways.  So, so many ways. 
  • Life is full of this kind of super-obvious design flaw. 
  • You need a second set of indoor-only crutches. 
  • Put a hat over the open toe of your leg brace.  Then put a plastic bag over that.  That’s it. That’s all you need, even at thirty below.  Those brace things are sweltering. 
  • Briefly pause to contemplate whether it’s actually better to have this injury occur in December in Fairbanks, for this reason alone.  Review all the above issues.  Tough call.
  • Your fear that you will become a weakened couch potato while injured is unwarranted.  Everything, including getting off said couch, takes four times the effort it used to. The amount of sweat generated by crutching half a mile uphill in the snow is epic. 
  • Now you have weird shoulder muscles that you didn’t even know could happen. 
  • All this muscle tissue has migrated directly from your injured leg, which now resembles linguini.
  • You find yourself staring at the alien linguini in the shower, once you can take showers again, which you’re grateful for.  You are especially grateful for the accessible shower stall in your office basement, the one with the fold-down bench and hand rails. 
  • You recall dim childhood memories of people complaining that making everything ADA accessible would be expensive and inconvenient, and you wonder about those people, who are now elderly.
  • You wonder whether such rumination is a form of schadenfreude.
  • No matter how strong you become on crutches they still suck because you are a tool-using ape who is really used to having hands to do things and make things and just carry this one stupid mug of coffee, and now you need another set, but growing another set is unlikely, and why can’t you get ANYTHING done?
  • You can put the coffee in a Thermos in a backpack.

  • Talking to your upbeat and helpful coworker who had this same thing happen to him two years ago is, literally, the best therapy.  Because, look, he’s fine now.  Athletic, even.  His calves are normal. 
  • You are not in the habit of looking at everyone’s calves, but now you are.  Stop looking at his calves, because even though your intent is not weird, that’s still sort of weird.
  • If there’s anything better than positive and pragmatic advice from your coworker, it’s the orthopedic stuff he loans you.  Specifically, the pirate leg.  It’s really called an “i-Walk” but it’s definitely a pirate leg.  Why don’t all temporarily one-legged people use these things?  They are amazing.  Aaaargh!
  • Getting through TSA with crutches, a metal leg brace, and a pirate leg -- in four different cities, because  you got really good deals on fares by planning your trip way back when all of this was most definitely not on your radar -- is a royal pain, but faster than you would think it would be. 
  • You get a lot of tight, pitying smiles.
  • You’re going to have to set the tone on this.  Our culture is hella awkward.  Crack jokes about your pirate leg. 
  • Everyone wants to help you.  Punk-looking teenagers and old ladies and people of all races and walks of life want to hold the door for you, just like they did when you were a week shy of giving birth to twins and looked like a cartoon dirigible. 
  • Even if you don’t really need that stuff with the door or whatever, this restores some of your faith in humanity, especially if you’ve ever made the mistake of reading the NewsMiner comments section. Or any comments section.
  • People you barely know – the kind of people you run into near the bulk bins at Fred Meyer -- and whose names you only recall half way through your three minutes of chit-chat about the price of pecans – are genuinely concerned, and seem to understand more than you would expect them to about your particular, peculiar lifestyle and frustrations.
  • Being intensely visible can be exhausting -- but feeling known and understood is not so bad.
  • Everyone has a story about their cousin’s neighbor who also busted an Achilles, or their own time on crutches after they had bunion surgery. 
  • These stories aren’t useful the way your coworker’s advice is useful, but let these stories be told.  It’s not about the particular story.  Every single story really has the same plot, which is, hey, wow, we’re all human! 
  • It’s a good plot. 
  • The people who help you the most aren’t necessarily the ones you would have expected. 
  • This might be because you’re the kind of pig-headedly insecure person who is pretty much never going to respond to “Tell me if you need help with anything”. 
  • Your pride and obstinacy will only allow you to take up offers from the person who says, “You are drugged to the gills, post-surgery, so I will walk beside you along the boardwalk, to make sure you don’t fall,” or the person who says, “You can’t drive, bike, walk or run to work, to the store, to anywhere – so, what time should I pick you up?” 
  • You resolve in the future to be one of those people.
  • All this kindness makes you realize that if you told people about all the pain and fear and insecurity and loss in your life that they can’t see, they might actually care about that, too. 
  • You still aren’t telling. 
  • You vow to try to remember that other people aren’t always telling, either.

  • Your nearest and dearest – particularly your children, who are definitely old enough to help out a lot with the chores that are now insanely difficult for you – suffer from a deep crisis of ambivalence, guilt, and resentment. 
  • They want to help out.  Totally.  That would, clearly, be the Very Right Thing to Do, and they want to do Very Right Things. 
  • They do help. Some.
  • But they also want you to be exactly the same as you always have been, which means doing All the Things. 
  • One of the things is taking care of them. 
  • Actually, many, many of the things are taking care of them. 
  • You do the things.  You hop up a ladder to kiss your big children good night in their loft bunks.  Every night.  For three months. 
  • Sometimes love builds fortitude, muscles, and calluses. 

  • Your surgeon told you that you’d run a marathon again. 
  • Your physical therapist told you that you’d run a marathon again. 
  • You tell yourself that you will run a marathon again.
  • You run a marathon again.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Thirteen


As kids get older, it becomes less and less okay to blog about them.  Their lives are interesting, complex, and sometimes hilarious -- but, fundamentally, their own.  
I am, as of yesterday, the parent of two teenagers.  I've been thinking about that a lot -- not just from a parenting perspective, but from the point of view of how we, as a society, treat teenagers. 

I started writing the kids a letter.  It turned into a hefty essay.  I gave it to them anyhow, along with several less pedantic gifts.  The version they received included some personal details that I've omitted from this blog version, in adherence to the above rationale, but the more generalized gist is maintained herein. 

Happy thirteenth birthday to you! 
I’m so glad, as always, to be your mom.  I love the good stuff: biking to Hot Licks, reading aloud James Herriot while cuddled together on the couch, baking skull-shaped cakes, hiking over the crest of the Tors trail, puzzling over GAMES magazine, discussing the periodic table of the elements.   I also, in a way, appreciate the bad stuff, because helping you through it is part of being a parent.
I’m genuinely glad to have two teenagers in my home.  One of the many great things about being thirteen – and there are many -- is that you fully understand irony and sarcasm.  Thus, I can clarify that none is intended herein.  I’m really looking forward to the coming years, and I hope you are, too. 
I know, I know.  Some adults give people your age a lot of shit.  They do the same to their parents, as in, “Oh, geez, you poor thing.  You’re going to have two teenagers…” 
I want to tell those people to stop it.  Just, seriously, stop it.  For one thing, it’s a prime example of the type of dismissive, bullying, insolent behavior of which adults accuse teenagers – and how ironic is that?  For another thing, it’s simply wrong; it’s more a reflection of stereotypes and insecurities than reality.  And perhaps most importantly, like all stereotypes, it attempts to erase your individuality. 
That individuality is crucial, and it’s amazing.  Indeed, I originally set out to write you two different letters, because – well, obviously.  You are two unique humans. But I realized that not knowing what I’d said to your sister would make you crazy, and I really do try not to make you crazy.  Still, rest assured that I know who you are, individually.  I know your uncertainties, your perfectionist streaks, your stubborn spots, your pet peeves, your weird habits, your embarrassments, and your fears.  Being so well known can be maddening, I know.  But it can also be comforting.  You don’t have to pretend.  There are no questions you can’t ask.  And I also know the things that make each of you fascinating, kind, brilliant, and incredible.
In writing to you now, at this particular age, I don’t mean to exaggerate the supposed divide between being “children” and being “teens”.  There are no sharp boundaries. In fact, the “teen years” only exists as a concept because of the way our counting system and our language are set up.  In binary, you’re 1101, and you’ll turn a nice round 10,000 when you’re sixteen.  You aren’t a different person at thirteen than you were at twelve.  You’re still children.  You’re also starting – and have already started -- not to be children. 
Don’t let that scare you, though. I get it.  I felt that way, too.  It’s not wrong to hold onto who you’ve been. The coolest adults are still a little bit child, and not afraid to show it.  Think about the grownups you like best, and the ones you understand best.  You can keep whatever you want to keep – stuffed animals, tree climbing, lollipops, Harry Potter, forts, Swallows and Amazons, Rice Krispy treats, Winnie the Pooh. 
It’s also not wrong to reach forward toward who you are longing to become.  Keep going!  Keep trying! The most intriguing children offer up sparks of adulthood.  Both of you do this.  I don’t mean that you act old.  I mean that you persevere, and that you think.  You can learn about whatever you want to learn about – human evolution, neural networks, apartheid, long-distance running, Buddhism, Einstein’s theory of general relativity.
Being a teenager shouldn’t force you forward, and is shouldn’t hold you back. Nor does it need to be a separate state, rejecting of childhood and aloof from adulthood, focused only on specifically “teen” music, clothes, shows, makeup, books, movies, sports, whatever.  But given that our society has decided that being a teenager is a real thing, this is a good age to talk to write down my thoughts – my thoughts about growing up, and my thoughts about dealing with grownups.
You’ll hear some adults implying that you – the teenagers of this world -- are all a bunch of screen-addicted, lazy, entitled, whining uneducated punks.  This is rude, offensive, and incorrect.  It’s also hilarious, because it’s pretty much what every generation has said about every younger generation forever.  Not the part about screens, but the part about being useless and lazy and prone to being ruined by… whatever.  In the 1700s and 1800s, writers earnestly complained about how young people were being corrupted by useless and indecent activities such as reading novels, playing chess, and dancing the waltz.  In the Book III of Odes, around 20 BC, Horace wrote: “Our sires' age was worse than our grandsires'. We, their sons, are more worthless than they; so in our turn we shall give the world a progeny yet more corrupt.” 
Well, okay, Horace, you dead old fart, but there have been a lot of generations over the past two thousand years, and I don’t think we’ve reached rock bottom.  Yet many adults still shake their heads in horror at the idea of a human being having the temerity to commit the monstrous act of… turning thirteen.   This is silly because it’s erroneous, and it’s silly because all of us adults were thirteen once, albeit at different times.  This means that we all have advice to offer, all of which is slightly wrong, but in different ways.  I turned thirteen in 1985.  Sony Walkmans were cool.  The things that are cool change, but the feeling of trying to figure out who you want to be, and who you don’t want to be pressured into being?  That’s universal. 
Being inundated by outdated wrong-in-different-ways advice is irritating for teenagers.  Nonetheless, I won’t promise not to give you advice.  In fact, I’m totally going to give you tons of advice over the next few years.  Some of it will end up being wrong.  But I promise that I’ll at least try to put it in context for the 2020’s.  I’ll also try not to make a pun here about good eyesight, but I’ll fail.  Sorry.
Conversely, offering up hard-earned advice only to have it be ignored by teenagers is hard for adults. We sometimes get defensive.  We often sound patronizing. Indeed, a lot of adults, were they to read this, might think that I’m not really talking to you, my kids, because I refer to Horace and use words like “shit” and “temerity”.  And that’s part of the problem.  Some adults will underestimate you, and some will intentionally talk down to you, and some will overprotect you.  You know the word “shit”.  You even know that the correct past tense is “shat”.  You know the word “temerity” – or if you didn’t, you do now.  You learn things fast.  Like, really fast.  Much faster than we adults do.  We know more than you do, because we’re older, but you can learn more, on any given day.  That’s how it works. 
Apparently a lot of adults find this threatening – and have been finding this threatening since the time of Horace, or possibly since the time of Homo habilis (“Look, Mom!  If I bang rocks together, they break and get sharp! How come YOU never figured that out?”).  Sure, it’s hard when a mere kid can find the right website faster than you can, or absconds with your Dremel tool and becomes much better than you are at using it, or can thread the damn sewing machine needle that you now have to squint at through reading glasses.  It’s hard when your kid can beat you running in a 5k or playing a game of Set – but it’s also kind of great. 
Your new skills, your new knowledge, and your victories make me happy – but not because I own your victories in any way.  That mentality is weird.  When I say I’m proud of you, I really mean I’m proud FOR you.  I’m happy about your happiness, but I don’t own you.  I don’t want to live my life through you.  I want to have my own victories, and I want you to have yours.  They will sometimes overlap.  Either one of you may decide to run a marathon.  Or not. Either one of you may one day earn a PhD.  Or not.  Your successes will sometimes be utterly different from each other, and from mine.  You may someday succeed at a task I have yet to even imagine, and that the world has yet to imagine.  We adults need to avoid being so threatened by this that we give your tastes and your technologies a bad rap.
Teenagers also get a bad rap for being sexual.  So hypocritical.  Adults have had way more time to get used to it, figure it out, and calm down about it, yet they still get wrapped up in all kind of drama and make all kinds of mistakes.  Biology is a fact, not a moral onus.  Hormones are challenging.  Sexual relationships are super-challenging, because they add another layer to social/friendship relationships, which are already tricky.  I know these things feel awkward.  Our society makes them extra-awkward.  Don’t buy into it.  Your bodies aren’t shameful, and neither are your minds, your brains.
You’ve been studying a lot about the brain, lately. We’ve talked about the development of the frontal lobe of the cerebral cortex, and how this is the last part of the brain to fully mature.   I wish I’d known this when I was a kid.  I got scared when I realized that I was able to do adult-level math and read adult-level books, because I thought that meant that I had an adult brain -- and yet the idea of living alone and doing things like holding down a job, writing checks, and paying taxes sounded overwhelming.   The least adults can do, with their fully developed prefrontal cortices, is listen without judging, and provide help and information when needed.  I promise I’ll do that. 
You’ll hear other adults saying that the teen years sucked for them, and therefore must inevitably suck.  I get it.  My own teen years weren’t the best.  Still, this argument seems defeatist.  Even the people who wince when they recall their teens probably enjoyed at least part of that time period, and learned a ton. Besides, I think you will do better in your teens, for several reasons.  First, you already seem to have a pretty good grip on which cool and popular things are a waste of time and money, and which are actually pretty cool.  Second, your generation is less conformist than mine, and less hung up on gender and sexual identity than mine.  I don’t think I’m imagining this.  You’ve told me so yourselves. 
You both do well with friendships, each in your own very different way.  You’re both discerning, faithful, thoughtful, and caring.   You don’t play mind games with other kids, or pass shallow judgements, or change best friends every week.  You can be proud of that.  I think, when the time comes, you’ll both be loving, careful, and successful with romantic and sexual relationships, Still, there will likely be some heartbreak and anguish along the way.  Love is complicated.  Sex is complicated. It’s hard for me to know that.  I don’t want you to ever, ever, get hurt.  Nobody can live life in a protective cocoon – but do know that I am here to protect you, if needed. 
I’ll inevitably make mistakes in listening, advising, and understanding.  But please tell me when I do.  Please tell me when something truly matters to you, even if you think I won’t get why.  Please tell me, too, if something is worrisome, or anxiety-provoking, or downright terrifying.  Tell me even if you’re pretty sure that the thing is silly, or is scary, or is incredibly embarrassing, or is totally your fault.  This is important.  Really.  So important.  Tell me if you end up somewhere you really shouldn’t be, doing something you really shouldn’t be doing.  Tell me if you need rescuing.  Tell me if something bad needs fixing, even if you think it’s unfixable or unforgivable or that you’ve utterly screwed up everything.  I’m your mom.  Even if you grow to be taller than me, I’ll still be your mom.  Even when you get your own drivers’ licenses and your own dates and that kind of stuff?  Yup, still your mom.
This still being your mom thing goes both ways, I know.  The older you get, the harder it will be to accept that you still need parents, and that parents might be right about a lot of things.  Already, for the past few years, you’ve been figuring out that adults don’t know everything, and don’t do everything right, and have done some things hideously wrong.  Adults can’t even find the right app to download.  Adults have, at one time or another, built societies that condoned slavery and gave power to Nazis.  Adults elected Donald Trump – who is, himself, an adult.  Ugh.  You now see exactly how dorky we are, and how downright scary-stupid at times.  So it becomes hard to take us seriously.  And it can be hard to trust us. So, yeah.  Don’t trust every adult out there.  And definitely question authority – even my authority, sublime and uncorrupted as it is.  Call out hypocrisy.  Wait… you’re already really good at this.  Okay, continue to call out hypocrisy.  But pick your battles.  And recognize that even when you are pretty sure you’re smarter than the grownup in charge (and this will happen a lot), there are multiple types of intelligence. 
A lot of aspects of the world probably seem kind of overwhelming to you right now.  I haven’t forgotten what that feels like.  Those people who say, oh, you have it so great, with no responsibilities and no real worries?  Those people have forgotten.  They’re forgotten that life doesn’t look easy at all, from your vantage point – and your future doesn’t look simple.  No way in hell could you go to college yet, even though you could probably pass a college-level physics class if you studied hard.  You also aren’t very good at making Major Life Decisions yet.  That’s normal. That prefrontal cortex is responsible for weighing outcomes, understanding complex social situations, implementing long-term planning, and controlling impulsive behavior – all things that teenagers get a bad rap for not being good at.  How unfair is that? 
But at the same time, there’s so much that you’re good at, and so much that you’re learning.  From rock climbing to beading to snowshoeing, from Rummikub to MathCounts to recessive genes, from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to The Lord of the Rings to The Man who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, I’m learning and revisiting it with you, and I’m having a blast.
You’re getting older, and that’s fantastic.  You’re still kids, and that’s fantastic, too.  Happy thirteenth birthday.  I love you. 
--Mom

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

What's Not to Like?



I’ve been on Facebook for a decade.  I’ve hated it for the entire time.
But the conundrum is, I’ve also loved it.  Without Facebook, I might never have known about friends’ fascinating accomplishments (Plays! Novels! Ironman triathlons!) and moves to other continents (all seven of them, although the Antarctica folks do also spend time in less penguin-y places).  I might have missed hundreds of thought-provoking conversations and hundreds more genuine laugh-out-loud snort-fests. I might never have reconnected with a couple of individuals so remarkable that they willingly tolerate my Scrabble habits.   I might have drifted irrevocably away from dozens of long-ago friends– and as a result, I might never have enjoyed some real-world paths-crossing fun at a coffee shop, a museum, a whale watch, a beach, or the ruins of Barnard Castle on a sunny summer day in Yorkshire, England.
I’ve long since reconciled myself to the fact that I’m probably not going to quit Facebook.  I thought I’d also decided not bother to try to parse all the things about it that bug the hell out of me.  But recently I realized that there might be some math involved.  Math!  That, of course, made the question irresistible.
Everyone seems to agree that a Facebook “friend” is not the same as a real friend.  But what does that distinction really mean, and why does it matter?  How many friends do we want or need?  What do we really want from our friends?  When does Facebook supply that, where does it fall short, and when does it actually undermine us?
Intrigued by these questions, I delved into the research literature. (Of course I did).   I read about two different set of numbers: one quantifying the number and closeness of friendships, and one quantifying the amount of time that friendships require to develop.  I found this fascinating.  Bear with me.
Dunbar’s number was proposed in the 1990s (by someone named Robin Dunbar, naturally) as the upper limit to the number of people a human can really know, and thus the upper limit on “real” friendships.  The number was derived based solely on the size of the human neocortex, as compared to that of other social monkeys and apes.  But the idea caught hold when it became apparent that many social groupings – Roman legions!  Hunter-gatherer bands! -- do fall remarkably close to this number. 
Dunbar later expanded his theory to suggest a series of layers or concentric circles.  Those 150 friends are part of a larger circle of 500 acquaintances, and beyond that an even larger circle of vague acquaintances.  Moving inward, 50 of the 150 are your core of good friends.  Of those, fifteen or so are really close friends, or “best friends”.  At the very center, five of the fifteen are the most important people in your life – often the family members you live with. 
These numbers aren’t exact, of course.  Some people flat-out don’t want this many connections. Friends drift in and out of the loose outer layers.  Researchers have quibbled over the sizes of the circles.  But a remarkable body of research upholds the general idea of their existence – as well as their importance, in terms of health and happiness, and the relative amount of time that people prefer to spend nurturing the bonds within each layer. According to Dunbar, most people assign about 40 percent of their available social-interaction time to their inner circle of five, 20 percent to the next ten people, and the remaining 40 percent to everyone else. 
How much time per person does this actually translate to? 
I did a few quick calculations.  (Of course I did.) The answer depends on what fraction of your waking hours you spend in the company of other humans in at least a semi-voluntary sort of way. (Work doesn’t count, but washing the dishes together does.)  If we assume a very rough estimate of about one third, and apply Dunbar’s percentages (assuming all layers are “full”), the per-person totals come out to three hours per person per week in the innermost layer, just under an hour per person for the next ten people, and six minutes per person for everyone else, assuming you don’t “waste” time on any mere acquaintances.
Of course, these numbers look a lot higher when you spend time with more than one person at once.  If those inner five are your family, you have 15 hours per week to spend with them en masse.  If you can fit ten friends in your living room, you and your gang could spend almost eight hours every week watching a trilogy or having a D&D marathon.  Still, there’s not a lot of time left for the 150 – or for making new friends.
This gets us to more recent research by someone named Jeff Hall.  Dr. Hall wanted to know just how much time people need to spend hanging out together in order to start thinking of each other as friends, close friends, or best friends.  He came up with numbers (numbers!) averaging out to 50 hours, 90 hours, and 200 hours, respectively.  Interestingly, Hall confirmed that the joint activity barely mattered, but that the time only “counted” if it was intentional.
Hall didn’t investigate romantic relationships or familial ones, and he didn’t directly equate his definitions of friendship levels to Dunbar’s layers. Nor did he quantify over how long a period this friend-making investment can occur -- but the friendship-formations he examined all took place within the space of six months or less, suggesting that the basic level “friends” were averaging at least two hours per week together, and the “best friends” more than eight hours per week – a high bar indeed. 
And that is where we get back to Facebook. Facebook is time-efficient – much more so than reading my wordy blog posts -- and that efficiency is immensely appealing, in the face of the daunting standards set by Hall’s numbers.  But for all its convenience and appeal, Facebook is really bad at Dunbar layers.
Oh, it tries.  That algorithm that controls how much you see from people?  Yeah, that makes sense.  If you “like” every single one of your mom’s posts, even if she’s just posting photos of the house plants, then you’ll continue to see them all – because she’s your MOM.  If you ignore that one friend who feels he has to announce every cup of coffee, then those posts will diminish from your feed.  Cool. 
But the algorithm isn’t imperfect.  It gets it wrong.  I think this is in part because there are too many variables at play: closeness, frequency of posting, frequency of response, total number of posts you want to see, and type of posts you want to see.  Some people use Facebook as a place to repost and link tons of impersonal stuff – politics, science, humor, sports.  I think of it more as a place to offer up my own happenings, or my obviously-oh-so-cogent-and-witty personal take on current events.  Some people care about my dogs/kids/hiking trips more than others do, and the friendship-math gets funky.
I have Facebook “friends” who definitely aren’t in my circle of 150.  I also have a “friend” who is the man I’m married to -- and friends in every layer in between.  Some of these people don’t post at all.  Some post a couple of times a year, some once a month, some eight times a day.  And about half the real-world people I care about, at every level, are not members of Facebook at all.  All this is utterly unrelated to how interested I am in the person, of course. 
Outer-circle intrusion from people who are, presumably, gearing their participation toward their nearest and dearest can be solved by unfollowing, if necessary.   Inner-circle exclusion can be dealt with by closing Facebook for one hot moment and texting, emailing, or standing on a mountaintop and waving semaphore flags.  Then there’s the problem of mid-circle exclusion: when a bunch of your friends post a group photo of the gang of them having a Really Great Time at the party you weren’t invited to.  I guess I can deal with this by reminding myself to be a big girl.  What took me longer to pinpoint as a source of emotional Facebook discomfort is a slightly more subtle problem: inner-circle alienation.  More about that in a moment.
Facebook, to me, is an absolutely fabulous way to maintain ties with your 150.  You care about these people.  You want to know what’s up with them.  You want to cheer for their victories, buy a copy of the book they wrote, cogitate about their political opinions, and laugh when their kid does something genuinely hilarious.  If disaster strikes one of them, you want to help out – even though you can’t really help them on the regular.  Recently, when I snapped one of my Achilles tendons and ended up on crutches for seven weeks, many friends with whom I usually only exchange a smile or a hello came through for me with acts of kindness, heartfelt words of support, and nifty second-hand orthopedic devices.  In short, these people are pretty awesome.  They’re important. They are real friends, but they are nonetheless friends of convenience, and that’s okay. 
Even the fifty, the “good friends”, are, ultimately, friends of convenience, too – and sometimes that hurts.  You WANT to make plans.  You even say so: “We should hang out!”  Then you don’t.  Because you’re a grownup, and you’re busy, and you need to call the plumber and the babysitter and the vet and who the hell knows what.  It’s just life – and math. 
But no matter how important the outer circles are, it’s the inner circles – the fifteen and the five – who really, really matter.  You don’t need that many of them, of course, but you do need SOME. These are the people who love you, in the active-verb heels-dug-in sense of the word.  These are the people who are, at least ideally, a permanent and relatively consistent part of your life.  They’re woven into your fabric.  They’re part of your identity.  They know you for who you really are, and (miraculously!) still like you. 
Mind-blowingly, it turns out that these people are also literally keeping you alive.  An extremely long-term studies of human lives (the Harvard Study of Adult Development) reached the startling conclusion that the single-most important determinant of whether someone is alive, healthy, and happy at age 80 has nothing to do with weight, exercise, or even cigarette smoking.  It is whether they say “yes” or “no” to the question of whether there is someone to whom they could pour out their woes at three o’clock in the morning.
Getting back to my point about inner-circle alienation, Facebook is useless with these close-to-the-heart folks – and sometimes downright painful.  It’s obvious why, if you think of hypothetical extremes: your parents are divorcing and your best friend is marrying your twin brother, and you find out… on Facebook.  Um, nope.
I realized that I gear my own Facebook posts toward the 50 and the 150, in terms of both content and frequency.  I tend to post once or twice a week, and I tend to focus on what feels particularly important, entertaining, and personal – but not TOO personal. 
I’m not trying to claim that I do Facebook “right”.  In fact, several people have strongly suggested that I do it wrong, in various ways.  I don’t often use it as a platform for my expertise in climate change science, and am therefore missing an opportunity to educate the world.  I don’t post enough that is thought-provokingly controversial; I’m too bland.  I’m too positive, which sets others up to feel like failures if their lives don’t feel that upbeat.  I’m too boastful, with my posts about achievements and accolades. All of these critiques hit home.  Blandness, political apathy, and boastfulness are… not my goals.  So maybe I need to adjust my posting.  But even if I do so, I’m still going to aim my posts toward the “middle” layers of friendship. 
Ultimately, I’ll accept that Facebook is, like so much in life, what you make of it.  Face to face interactions are always going to be the best, but I have friends scattered around the world.  Real conversations are always going to be more personal that shouting to the masses, but we all have limited time.  The math is real, and the numbers add up.
So… Facebook it is.  But know, my friends, that in my heart I’d rather being exploring the ruins of a castle with you.