Several years ago, my car died in the turn lane of a busy intersection. I got out to push it, hoping that some good Samaritans would join me, but instead some guy in a red Firebird behind me started to honk. Apparently, I wasn’t pushing my car through four lanes of traffic fast enough for him.
Not long after that, my roommate Nancy had her car die on the freeway. Three men came to a screeching halt on the shoulder of the road to help her. “Well,” she said as some sort of peace offering, “you really do look self-sufficient.” I’m brunette, Nancy was blonde. I’m 5’6″, she was 5’2″. I weighed 150, she was 115 even with PMS. In other words, compared to her I was an Amazon. The funny thing is she was a lot more handy than I was. She knew how to change flat tires, hang ceiling fans, and program the remote. I didn’t even own a hammer or screwdriver before she moved in — the heel of a shoe and a butter knife sufficed for the few things I knew how to do.
I tell this story not to repeat the didactic message that looks can be deceiving (although they often are) but to say that sometimes the internet makes me feel like a Nancy. I write a blog post and snap, like magic, some people pull over on the information superhighway and respond. Blog posts and responses sometimes lead to other interactions, and bonds are formed. . .and this, in conjunction with encouraging and enthusiastic comments, often leaves me feeling like a cute cyber waif rather than a burly, self-sufficient Amazon.
And then, of course, some people have to go and honk. It’s inevitable.
I was thinking about this the other day when I made my 4800th tweet on Twitter. Someone I regularly chatted with was offended that I wouldn’t turn my avatar green in support of Iran’s protesters, and it took him one second to unfollow me. My feelings weren’t hurt — I thought it was funny, and something that could really only happen on the internet. Face-to-face, people tend not to X people out based on one comment (or opinion) out of thousands, but it happens often in cyber-space.
Also, in face-to-face life, praise tends to be much more subtle and not nearly as effusive or glowing. No one I know in the flesh has ever called me “one of the most important female voices of our time“, or said that my writing blew their mind. Anyone who’s ever attended writer’s groups or visited poetry sites, where even the most wretched work is met with enthusiastic kudos, knows not to take high praise too seriously, but there’s no denying it feels good in the short-term. In my day-to-day life, friends and relatives don’t even read my writing unless I ask them to and consider it a nuisance.
That alone would keep me humble, but there are also the fly-by readers who drop by my blog party, leave some tasty desert, and never return. I’m always certain it’s something I did or said, because I’m inherently guilty and insecure. If a security guard looks at me in a store, I check my pockets to make sure I didn’t steal something. And when that guy honked? Yes, pumped up with some kind of adrenaline born of incredulity and guilt for being in the way, I totally pushed my car faster. I know. I should have gone slower and told him to fuck off, but that wasn’t my first instinct.
Obviously, I have issues. Guilt, insecurity, fear of offending people, fear of insincerity, fear of abandonment, self-doubt, and the inability to wield household tools properly — just to name a few. The transitory nature of the internet stokes my doubts and fears, and makes me confront them in a different way than I do in my “real life”.
Face-to-face, when I form even a bond with someone, even a loose one, they don’t usually disappear, never to be seen or heard from again. When people have actually met, locked eyes, and connected, one errant comment or disagreement doesn’t usually spell the end. And — barring the very rare nasty or snarky comment posted to blogs like mine — even dislike or annoyance is more readily apparent face-to-face, where there are visual cues that emoticons and exclamation points just can’t capture.
In three years of blogging, I’ve met and communicated with some incredible people. Some were good-incredible and some were OMFG-are-they-for-real-incredible, especially in my first year. I was happy when most of the OMFG’s disappeared, but prompted by the Twitter incident the other night I started thinking about how many people I once liked, and had personal interactions with, that have disappeared.
It felt weird. Not necessarily sad, but strange. As if I’d walked into a random AA meeting, spilled my heart, listened to some stories, shared some hugs and coffee, and then just left. It felt weirder still when I looked back at some of words used while bonds were being formed. . .words like love, and favorite, and friend.
It may be naive of me, but I think sometimes those words were really meant. Fleetingly maybe, but in the moment, sincerely. At other times, I think they were a matter of custom or convenience — like a Hollywood air kiss on the cheek.
I try not to take the fly-bys so personally, but somehow I don’t feel like me when I do that. Instead, I worry that with enough repeat abandonments I might become the kind of jaded, calloused jerk that honks and yells at someone instead of getting out to help. I don’t ever want to be that kind of person.
I also don’t want to be the kind of writer who ties the value of her writing to the number and type of responses received, or whose regular readers feel obliged to respond so they don’t hurt my feelings, so I’ve shut comments off for now. We’ll see how it goes — so far, it feels like there’s less pressure for both me and for those who read. (And anyone who wants to is always welcome to email me. I love getting mail!)
With all that said, I really appreciate those who have stuck around, who check my blog regularly (even though I’m posting much less these days), and who have become genuine friends instead of the air-kiss variety. You’re the ones who encourage me to try new things, rise above my fears, and expand my personal horizons. I hope I do the same for you, and that you all know that if I ever see you stranded on some busy road, I’ll get out to help — no matter how burly and self-sufficient you might look.