Amy Weinland Daughters is the author of the new book Dear Dana: That Time I Went Crazy and Wrote All 520 of My Facebook Friends a Handwritten Letter. She also has written the book You Cannot Mess This Up. She lives in Tomball, Texas.
Q: What inspired you to write this book, and how would you describe your friendship with Dana?
A: I lived this story and it fundamentally changed me. Now, after the fact, I feel compelled, as if it is one of the primary reasons for my actual existence, to share it with as many people as possible. The book is, 100 percent, a vehicle to share the story. I am on a mission!
Dana and I have gone from being camp pals in the 1980s, to doing 30 years of life completely apart, to reconnecting on Facebook, to sharing so much through the U.S. Mail as pen pals, to talking on the phone every single morning.
Our friendship is profound, perhaps because we trusted each other emotionally before we communicated electronically or met in person. And now, because we have a free space, where judgement is reserved and trust is deep, to share almost anything.
Q: How would you describe the variety of reactions you received when you wrote to your Facebook friends?
A: The initial reaction to the letters was shock, especially early in the project when nobody knew to expect a letter. Even after friends anticipated receiving something, they seemed to be surprised by it. That was true even though I communicated very clearly that I was writing everyone a letter.
Each recipient felt special, I believe, because they were being treated as an individual amid the backdrop of social media. While it’s beneficial, in many ways, that we can blast out a message to hundreds of people at the same time, it depersonalizes us in a way that can hurt us profoundly. Do we even matter as a person?
I was surprised at how deeply the letters touched people. This was illustrated in hundreds of ways: by people’s willingness to share very personal information in their replies, by the deep, often emotional, level of gratitude expressed and by the fact that so many people, to this day, tell me where they keep their letter, usually in a very special place.
There was also a lot of laughter and much catching up on where life had taken us since we last met.
Q: The writer Rivvy Neshama says of the book, “This is a book for anyone who wonders about the differences between a Facebook friend and a Real-Life friend and who yearns to see the real life behind a person's Facebook image.” How would you describe those differences, and did you change your mind in the course of writing the book?
A: Though our connections on social media are between actual individuals and therefore real, they are limited because they don’t require us to be deliberate.
While we can care about our online connections, we aren’t required to sacrifice our time, our patience, our goals, our privacy, etc. to invest in a relationship.
It’s not so much that we don’t want to do such things with our online connections, it’s that the surreal nature of social media makes doing so an impossibility. Investing happens only one-on-one, personally, in “real” life.
The process of writing the letters made me understand more clearly both sides of the equation.
First, I’m connected to actual people on social media – individuals with beautiful, flawed and complicated stories that I can’t even begin to grasp through looking at a profile or posts. I had made so many inaccurate assumptions about friends!
Next, I can’t be friends with 580 people. Again, while I can care, and certainly do, it’s humanly impossible to be truly present, in a one-on-one way, with hundreds of individuals.
For me personally, the most surprising takeaway from the process of writing the letters was guilt. While so much love was shared through the mail, I was opening hundreds of doors to relationships that I couldn’t foster.
I believe there is so much good, and harmful, in social media. Perhaps what it really provides us, in the world of human interaction, is a jump off point from which to participate in real relationship.
It’s also a reminder to draw a clear line between our real life and online connections. To be deliberate, and to invest, in those relationships we participate in during the course of our “real” lives.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?
A: I hope that anyone who reads Dear Dana walks away inspired and perhaps ready to go do something big – on their own terms. I also hope that they might come away with a different perspective on grief.
Most of all, my wish is that each reader comes away feeling hope - with a restored faith in humanity and overwhelmingly convinced that nothing can separate us.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Though I do have a third book idea waiting in the wings, and still have my foot in the door with my freelance work – primarily in college football – my main focus right now is launching Dear Dana into the world.
My goal is to do anything and everything I can to get it into as many hands, and hopefully hearts, as possible.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Thank you for the opportunity to share my story! I’m sincerely so grateful to have such a wonderful platform to connect with potential readers.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb