By mid-December, most New Years’ resolutions are long-forgotten. However, for Arlynn Leiber Presser, December sees her rushing to finish the resolution she made last January: to meet every one of her Facebook friends in a project that she calls Face to Facebook.
Presser and I had exchanged a few emails in the last twenty years, most of them about her grandfather, fantasist Fritz Leiber, whom I wrote my master’s thesis about, and mentioning in passing her father Justin Leiber. But, until yesterday, we had never actually met. Presser, her father, and I had leisurely drinks and dinner, then retired to their hotel suite, where I took the opportunity to interview her.
Face to Facebook began when Presser realized that she was feeling increasingly isolated, except for her contacts on Facebook. “I work at home,” Presser said. “My kids were gone, and my feeling was that I could stay in my house every single day without leaving as long as I could get the pizza delivery boy to stop by the liquor store on his way over to the house.”
At first, Presser found herself thinking that “It’s okay, I have a great social life – I have 325 friends on Facebook. I know what everybody is doing for dinner. I know what music they like, and what their problems are, and what goals they have.”
Yet on closer thought, Presser realized that she had never actually met about half of her Facebook friends, and that some of the meetings were years ago. “I thought, who are these people? So I woke up and said this is my New Year resolution: I’m going to find every one of those friends.”
Furthermore, Presser decided this was one resolution she would keep. “I’ve had New Years Resolutions where, yeah, I’m going to lose those five pounds, I’m going to give up drinking – and I don’t do any of those. But this one I have, although I’m not at the end of it.”
The resolution meant that Presser, who has written several dozen romance novels and worked in a variety of other jobs ranging from lawyer to waitress, would not be working for the year. Instead, she has been living off her savings, with financial assistance from her father and frequent flyer points from her ex-husband.
However, Presser remains philosophical about the lack of income. “Everyone’s losing money,” she says. “I’m just losing money in a different way. I’m losing it deliberately.”
Meeting her Facebook friends has required her to be constantly arranging and rearranging trips in order to meet everyone as efficiently as possible. “I can’t claim to be Napoleon,” she says. “I’m not good at this.”
All the same, she has kept on, always traveling with a chaperon for safety – often, her oldest son Joseph, and, on her most recent trip, her father. She has also gathered a support team around her. In addition to her father, two sons, and ex-husband (who house-sits for her), it includes a friend who makes her travel arrangements, and a cab driver named Murphy, who not only drives her to and from the airport and around Chicago, but arranges to meet her at the end of each visit. “Murphy and I will have an agreed-upon time, and then he will text and say, ‘Look out the window of the restaurant, or the hotel, or whatever,’ and he’ll be there.”
The actual visits have ranged from the disastrous to the unexpectedly magical. One woman promptly unfriended Presser when she refused to buy a Mac computer for her and carry it around the world to Ankara in Turkey.
Even worse, at Comic-Con in San Diego, a male friend said he couldn’t visit because he had walking pneumonia. Then, he added, “But I’d like to stop by the hotel and give you a hug.” He did so, and a few minutes later, “he sends me a text saying, ‘You are so sexy.’ The texts continued, with invitations to his house, which Presser refused.
Then, “Two months later, this dude texted, emailed, and used every communication device known to man to say, ‘Do not blog, do not admit that you know my name, because my girl friend doesn’t like it.’ Then about a week later, I got an email from a girl whom I didn’t know, saying, ‘Did you fuck John Smith? Because if you did, he’s a liar, and he says you’re not that sexy.’ Which I thought was hysterically funny, and I’m thinking, ‘Wow! This is fun!’”
However, the highlights are what seem to have touched Presser the most. For instance, she is especially grateful to her friend Brian Brethauer, who, realizing that his home outside Boise Idaho would require a special visit, arranged to meet her at Comic-Con, and then shepherded her through the experience.
Another memory Presser treasures is her time in Manila. She had hoped to visit a friend there, only to find out – too late to change her itinerary – that he was having his appendix out and would be unable to meet her. When she checked into her hotel, the front desk rang and said that a woman had been waiting to see her for three hours. The woman, who proved to be her friend’s wife, told her, “’I’m so sorry. My husband had his appendix taken out last night. He’s still not well, but can I take you to lunch?’ So I didn’t actually meet that Facebook friend, but I got to meet his wife, and I got to go out into Manila, and it was wonderful. When we were coming home in the cab, my son was still saying, ‘She was the best!'”
Presser still has a busy schedule if she is going to finish the project by December 31, but she already knows how she’ll be spending New Years Eve: “I’m going to be in my pajamas in my bedroom. There’s a little fireplace. I’m going to be there drinking champagne – by myself.”
After that, Presser plans to decide what to do with her blog and other notes. “There was someone who was doing a video,” she says. “But I don’t know, because my history has been to write books. So my mind thinks I’m going to write a book.”
Asked what she has learned from the past year, Presser responds, “I’m not as weird as I thought I was. I’m just very normal.”
But hearing her enthusiasm for the project, even while she is obviously jet-lagged, I suspect that life lessons are beside the point in Face to Facebook. What the project really seems to be is a series of small adventures, mishaps and all – and, if Presser hasn’t enjoyed every moment of travels, she obviously delights in all the stories she’s collected.