cygnoir.net

trashed

In less than two days, Karawynn will be arriving for her holiday visit to the balmy South, and I am behind on cleaning. Not because I’ve been particularly diligent; I really haven’t been. Not because I can’t break larger tasks into smaller tasks; I’ve done that already – I even have a list. I can’t actually do the smaller tasks once they’ve been listed.

Some of them have gotten done as incidentals. The bookshelf in the study gleams now, its proud inhabitants tucked neatly into size-coordinated rows. I dusted and reorganized the bookshelf while I was on the phone with Karawynn one night and actually had some motivation. Motivation. I can’t remember what it was like to be consistently motivated to get anything accomplished; I don’t think I’ve ever been that way. Only recently has it started to affect my capacity to function.

I want to keep goals in mind: getting to grad school, going to Europe for our much-belated honeymoon, publishing more poetry. I want to keep this in mind always, and to a certain extent, I do … only as signposts marked “Missed Deadline” and “Can’t Do This Until That Other Thing Is Finished”. It sickens me to think of how many experiences I have missed out on due to lack of motivation. How many people I have not met as a result of it all, really interesting people I would be the better for meeting.

Fear of failure, someone once prescribed to my lack of motivation. Fear you won’t be up to the task, fear that even the mere attempt will brand you as “not good enough” or worse.

I know I am up to it. I do; I’m not afraid. I just don’t know what I’ll do when I get there.

Goals, or any other fanciful notions to me these days, are endings of things. Endings of phases I struggled, cried, and cursed through. Phases I won’t get back. More years spent, and gone, and faded into spotty memory. Pieces of myself I won’t remember when they’re done.

In high school, I was part of the drama club/team called Forensics (having nothing to do with dead people at all, except their plays or poems). I competed in many events, but my favourite was Dramatic Duet Acting. In this event, two people performed a clipping of a scene or scenes from a previously-published play, within a seven-minute time limit, with only a table and two chairs as set. No props, no lights, no music. I still regard this kind of competition as dramatic competition in its purest form, and hope that all students of theatre have a chance to participate.

I was good. My partners were good. Our scenes were good. We did well at almost all of the events we competed in, and I still have some medals and trophies and plaques from that time. But I can’t remember them. I remember the dress I most frequently wore during one season when my partner and I were performing a scene from “Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean” – a plain, rayon number in some inconspicuous floral pattern on a black background. I remember yelping and hugging her as we placed second overall at one of the competitions. Pieces, pieces. Someone’s gone into my brain with an aluminum baseball bat and trashed the place. The pieces are as small as the fragments of dreams I wake from; watching them slip into the cracks in the floor, I wish over and over again I could have something to keep.

My memory has never been terrific, but it’s getting worse, and I’m afraid I will never be able to hold onto the bigger pieces.

Pieces of paper cover two-thirds of my desk. Old envelopes from paid bills, a flock of post-it notes, taped up funnies, printed pages I’ve never filed, photos, misplaced dustjackets of books. I can’t focus on anything other than the monitor and keyboard long enough to straighten it. If I’m at the desk, I’m typing or scrolling. My hands can’t fathom tidying up.

Junk mail bulges from a small trash can by the front door, so we don’t just drop it on the floor anymore. It is filled with useless pieces of paper that people send us. Coupons laze about the counters in the kitchen. More pieces we won’t trade in for other pieces. Mismatched socks inhabit a special corner of my closet, inside a teal milk-crate; I no longer wear socks.

I can’t turn my head without seeing more pieces I don’t need, and I can only see the pieces I want out of the corners of my eyes.

intimacy and a modern invention

BellSouth should try harder to sell me things. I would buy caller ID in a heartbeat. The only reason I haven’t so far is that Chad doesn’t believe in any phone toys that exist outside his computer. That answering machine has never worked, but telling him this only serves to encourage him working on it (read: downloading hundreds of sound-card patches, swearing profusely) and it doesn’t get fixed. So, that’s that.

Why caller ID? Because I am notoriously bad with phones. I don’t like talking on the phone to 99% of the people who call me. Unfortunately for me and for the people who call me or expect me to call them, I have only recently pinpointed why I am so bad with phones. A normal day at home before work is like this:

Halsted sits at her computer, typing away on some email/poem/icq conversation/muck conversation. {phone rings} Halsted winces – not just her face, her entire body actually shrinks from the phone. She stares at it. {phone rings} Halsted continues to stare at it, then gets up and goes downstairs. Paces a bit. Goes back upstairs. Stares at the phone some more. {this repeats for about twenty rings until the caller gets the idea} Halsted breathes a huge sigh of relief and goes back to her ‘puter.

It’s a shame when I get an unexpected call from someone I really do want to talk to. Nine times out of ten, I won’t pick up the phone at all when I’m at home; the other one is when I’m feeling unusually generous, or if I’m expecting a call, or if Chad’s home. Because you just don’t use the phone like that, in his mind. It’s weird.

Well, yes. It’s an idiosyncrasy I’m not proud of, but it’s one I’m at least dealing with these days. Especially since I have come to the understanding of why I do this.

Talking on the phone is an incredibly intimate act.

My parents separated when I was 11 years old. During the school year, when I lived with my mom in Chicago, I would get a phone call once a week from my dad, still back in Pennsylvania. I wish I could say that I remembered those conversations; I don’t. I remember feelings from them, and the safety and warmth they coated me with that would last for hours, sometimes days, sometimes nearly until the next call. These were pieces of Dad that I could have, just for me, and just at this specific time. As the phone call was our ritual, the phone itself became a ritual tool, and one I never got in the habit of using casually.

Later on, I would realize just how intimate the phone conversations themselves could become. As I started to meet people online, and we emailed a few times back and forth, phone conversations were the next step. In the early 90’s, I spoke with at least twenty people I will never meet “face-to-face.”

And I spoke to some I did meet, too. A few I more than met. Two I was engaged to. One I married.

Mac – the one I didn’t marry – had and still has, to my knowledge, an absolutely entrancing voice: soft and deep, articulate and lush in its Canadian accent. The first time we talked on the phone was the closest I’d ever come to a real-life swoon. Our conversations were a bridge between the vagaries of online interaction and the tangibles of “real life.” They were more than words exchanged; they were pieces of day-to-day things we couldn’t immediately share. I fell in love with his words, first, and then him. Even though words weren’t strong enough to make our relationship work, they were strong enough to help me through some incredibly difficult times. Without the phone, I’d have been … lost.

Nowadays, I spend more time on the phone than I have in several years, since Chad and I started living in the same place. But these are almost always prearranged calls with a few, very close friends – this group including my dad and my mom. Without realizing it, I’ve created solid levels of intimacy in my life, and if someone doesn’t fit into the ‘phone call intimacy’ bracket … well, chances are I won’t call them, and I’ll be pretty weirded out if they call me. I couldn’t begin to explain how certain people end up in the different levels. Just today, I ended up telling someone I really like that he was in a less-intimate level than we both had originally thought. Suppose the levels will be subjects for entries all their own, someday.

In the meantime, I’ll be in touch.

{taking the phone off the hook}

honesty with friends

At the time this topic was “assigned,” I had a dilemma. The way I saw it, I could either be honest with one of my closest friends, or I could go on hating who I was around her, and feeling awful about our friendship in general. You see, I had lost the ability to be honest with her. Due to some major problems she’s been having in her own life, I’ve been supportive and caring of her to a fault; meanwhile, my own needs in the friendship have been largely overlooked. And I’m not being honest with her about it.

One could say, “Well, if you can’t be honest with your friends, who can you be honest with?” (Now that I look at that, it seems like a blanket statement: “Well, if you can’t ____ your friends, who can you ____ with?“) I don’t know, I don’t know. I wanted to be, but … I was terrified of hurting her feelings.

I’m still terrified. But not terrified enough to live like this anymore. I wrote her a long letter, describing in detail how I have been feeling, what I think about her present situation, and why I’m distant from her these days. It didn’t feel good to write it. It didn’t feel good to “come clean,” to be honest. It felt like shit. I feel like shit. I feel like I’ve let her down by being this honest; like if I could just hang on one more week, things would improve on their own and this all would be unnecessary.

Yet I know they won’t improve on their own. I know it took my complete, uncensored honesty to make the first step towards fixing what’s been broken. That letter was the most honest I’ve been with her in … well, years. I’m glad I wrote it, but it was the worst letter I’ve ever had to write, and it churned my gut to send it. After all, that honesty may prove the end of our friendship.

My honesty with Chad is a sacred thing. We’ve been doing a lot of talking the past few weeks, and we’ve been more open than ever. This is not to say we’re not usually honest with each other; rather, we joke around a lot and test the waters, try to see if the other person is amenable to a topic, and then slide into it. These days, we’re trusting each other a lot more, and the communication has been wonderful. I tend to measure all my friendships against my relationship with Chad. I’m not sure if that’s good or not.

I want to be completely honest with my friends. I don’t want to censor anything at all from them. But the insecure, paranoid part of me is always calculating the repercussions of everything I say. The fear of hurting someone I care about outweighs the need to be honest.

I sent that letter. I’ve taken this risk. Whether or not the friendship improves, I know now that I need this openness and trust with each of my closest friends. Otherwise, I’m miserable, and not myself at all. I hope what I’ve learned from this can soothe some of the pain to come.

feminism

I’m going to reveal my Definite Uncoolness with this entry, I can already tell. I don’t like what the word feminism has come to mean. I don’t consider myself a feminist, by what the word means in everyday usage. I’m more of a humanist.

First off, I don’t believe in defeminizing (is that a word?) women in order for women and men to be equal in society. Androgyny, while an interesting concept, is not an ideal I strive towards. I don’t strive towards femininity, either; there should be a balance, rather than a neutralizing, of genders in each human being. I perceive the defeminization of women to be sexism of a sort. Women should be able to be as feminine or as masculine as they want to be, and still be considered female.

My thoughts are unclear on this issue, so this will be a jumbled entry at best. I don’t like the stereotype of a butch lesbian who hates men, or even the stereotype of the heterosexual female who refuses to shave her legs in protest of male oppression. Certainly we live in a lookist society, and certainly there are double-standards that women must strive to … what? Strive to cope with, eradicate, what? Not shaving my legs isn’t going to change anyone’s view of strong females. I actually enjoy shaving my legs, if I can remember to do it. Then again, I don’t hate myself when my leg-hair gets really long. Maybe that’s the difference.

When I was younger, I played with Barbies and I played with Matchbox cars; I collected Glamor Gal dolls and I collected baseball and football cards. My parents never encouraged me to do one over the other; they encouraged both equally. I grew up and was supposed to learn how to shave my legs and to wear a bra. Instead, my mom forbid me from shaving and she bought me a camibra. These things bothered me because I didn’t want to look dumb in front of the other girls, but it didn’t make me a feminist later on. It just made me less worried about body hair and boobs later on. Although I still admit to suffering the self-image woes from time to time.

I don’t know. I know I’m female, and I know females are equal to males, and that’s about it. I hate that Spice Girls “girl power” crap, because it’s just that: crap. That is anti-feminism, to me, just as bad as Rush Limbaugh and his feminazi idiocy. Male-bashing isn’t feminism either. I suppose I won’t be happy until I can be dealt with as a person first, and a woman second. My gender is important to me, and I’m proud to be female, but when I define myself, it’s as a human first, and then a female.

libraries

The Library Smell: what an incredible invention. There is something so innately comforting to me about the smell of an established library. New libraries smell funny, smell wrong yet. A library that’s been around, oh, let’s say ten years … now that’s a smell.

Of course my attraction to libraries is more than just an affection for a good, musty book-scent. It’s the calmness of a library, the lack of sudden movements (even moreso in the South, living up to that stereotype), the peace. I’ve loved libraries ever since my parents used to take me to the little Cambridge Springs library on the corner of the street we lived on. Libraries meant books, and I’ve never been able to get enough of those.

Since I started working in a library, they aren’t peaceful anymore. I can’t study in one, and I don’t linger in them. The irony of this entry is that the police were at my library today (police always meaning to me the disruption of peace, “disturbing the peace”) and I’m still boggling over it.

A man was jacking off upstairs today. One of the patrons came to the circulation desk to report it, but he had already left. In fact, I saw him leave. I remembered seeing him leave because I thought his shoes were funny-looking; he was wearing sandals with a jogging-suit type of top and shorts. Really nice brown leather sandals, too. It was very odd, so I looked, and remembered. And then a few minutes later, I found out that Sandal Man had been having a lovely old time on the second floor, much to the chagrin of the med students trying to immerse themselves in gastrointestinal disorders and the like. I thought I was going to experience my own gastrointestinal disorder when I found out about Sandal Man.

But I didn’t. That’s what is truly disturbing to me. Libraries are no longer peaceful places, and I was made fully aware of this when I failed to react to the news of Sandal Man’s exploits. Now, libraries are just places like any other places, any other places that can house bizarre situations like today’s. Well, jacking off isn’t so bizarre, I suppose, but in a public place it still is beyond the norm.

The library I work in is not beautiful. It’s not even austere and efficient. It’s just serviceable, and boring, and plain. It has a lobby on the ground floor that serves no purpose; you can’t get into or out of the actual building from the ground floor lobby. The library has really loud doors, and sounds carry horridly through the low rooms. The air conditioning is permanently stuck at 45 degrees.

And yet there was something endearing about the place. I know how to find things in it. I know where the back doors are, and how to open the basement door with one hand. But every day I work there, it makes all libraries seem less like magical places and more like … buildings. Barnes and Noble is more exciting than libraries are to me, these days.

Maybe that’s why I buy more books than I could ever possibly read. I’m making my own library, at home, where it always smells good and no one’s jacking off (inappropriately, anyway). There’s also a cat. If libraries exist in the future, they must all be equipped with cats. It might cut down on the Sandal Men, too. No one I know can get off with a cat staring them down.

slumber parties

I wish I could say that slumber parties taught me about life, or friendship, or sex, or even ouija boards. When it comes right down to it, I never liked slumber parties. During the course of the evening, something would always happen that would mark me as a party-pooper or as an uglier-than-(insert cutest girl in fifth grade here). The era of slambooks, those hideous little notebooks with “anonymous” entries about who you most despised or who was the most annoying person in the school, brought about more humiliation than I could stand. It was apparent I would always be “Nicest Girl.”

But I didn’t want to be nice. I wanted to be pretty, or funny, or scary, even. Anything but nice . Nice was the curse of boring people who always lent you a pencil or who didn’t complain when you traded them a sucky sandwich for their wonderful salami on Italian bread one. Nice was terrible. It was the worst fate my fifth-grade mind could conjure up.

The girls I hung out with in grade school were always trying to freeze each other’s bras. I was safe from this particularly weird punishment because I wore a camibra. A camibra is a cut-off undershirt with a scrawny lace flower sewn on it. It is the 90-pound weakling version of a training bra. I hated my camibra, but it was better than still wearing an undershirt. I think.

Anyway, I would always be the one who said, “Hey, that isn’t very nice,” when the other girls would start rifling through someone’s Cabbage Patch backpack. I would always be the one who was too afraid to kiss a classmate’s older brother on a dare. I never chose dare. I always told the truth, too.

Slumber parties were reminders of how uncool I was, and they continued to be until college. I can’t consider a bunch of drunken co-eds passing out in a 12’ by 12’ dorm room a real slumber party, but at least during those I wasn’t so obviously uncool. Then again, it’s nigh impossible to be obvious to an unconscious person.

My friend Kasey used to have me over to her house overnight a lot, in grade school. I can’t call it a slumber party, since it was just the two of us, but we really did have fun. We would put on talent shows, ride her horse, eat macaroni and cheese, stay up late, watch scary movies, tell ghost stories … those were some great times. With her, I was always cool, even though she wasn’t uncool. I was just comfortable, I suppose. She never dared me to do things I didn’t want to do, and she never called me “nice.”

I think every group of kids needs a nice one, a smart one, a cute one, a funny one, and so on. Slumber parties are tiny social paradigms, and to work properly, all the roles must be involved. I would have enjoyed them more if I hadn’t been the nice one. The nice one must fulfill her nice duties and must live up to her nice image. I just couldn’t freeze someone’s bra nicely.

procrastination

Odd that I should procrastinate while writing about procrastination. I suspect this was tied up with feelings of inadequacy after the trend of lame entries I’ve been writing, but still … I waited until the last possible moment to write this one. For shame.

I procrastinate to the point of utter, all-encompassing guilt, and then because I feel so guilty, I don’t want to think about it any more so I don’t just do the thing, I procrastinate further. Then it becomes this monumental task that can Never Be Completed because I’ve put it off so long. Why?

With writing, it is different. I don’t intentionally, consciously procrastinate writing. When I have something to write, I do it. Except for this journal entry, of course. I believe this has to do with not wanting to think about how much I procrastinate. I do it often. Embarrassed of that.

Chad often wonders, “Why don’t you just do it and get it over with?” He has the full-contact, mow-‘em-and-show-‘em philosophy of social interaction and personal achievement. I admire this. I cannot do this. I am truly incapable of getting things done the first time around. I’ve tried. Repeatedly.

It’s not that I’m incompetent, or lazy. I just create difficulties for myself. I put up obstacles because failing is so much easier than succeeding. Success scares me. I want to be really good at what I do, not just kind-of good. So it’s easier to be bad at things. Isn’t that pathetic? On the screen, it looks hopelessly pitiful.

And it is, dammit, I rally against myself. It makes no sense to procrastinate; things you have to do will still be there even if you don’t do them right away, so get them done. Things you don’t have to do but would like to do eventually will NEVER get done unless you do the things you have to do, right away. So it doesn’t even make sense to procrastinate.

I am easily distracted by sparklethings. Sparklethings are any objects, concepts, people, or places that emanate newness and spirit. The new TV card in Chad’s ‘puter distracts me. Distractions make it very easy for me to procrastinate. I can attack my to-do list with such excuses as, “Well, what if I get up from my chair to go clean the tub, trip and fall, crack my skull open on the bookcase, and die? I would have died for a stupid thing, cleaning the tub; instead I will sit here a while longer and enjoy my time with my friends and my toys.” Pathetic, isn’t it? Mm-hm.

It doesn’t help that I always have fifty or so projects going at any given time. I can’t stand to be only halfway busy. I must procrastinate on three, four different levels instead of just one. More productive that way (??).

[Author’s Note: I lost the rest of this entry due to an editor bug. If I ever get caught up, I might come back and write what I remember from that lost part. Otherwise, just assume it was startling and brilliant.]

maternal instinct

An acquaintance of mine, a med student, asks me, “Do you have any kids?” I laugh and say, no, no, not me, ha ha ha, very funny there, move along. Then he points to my wedding ring. “Well, that kind of goes to say you’ll be having them at some point, right?” I become self-righteous – or not self-righteous, but somebody-else-righteous – “No,” I explain carefully, “I didn’t get married to have children.”

But I want them. This terrifies me on a regular basis. Probably about three years ago I started noticing babies in that MUST HAVE BABY sense I had always heard about, always feared of. The all-powerful Biological Clock had started ticking for me. Only mine doesn’t seem to tick down; it’s ticking up, accumulating seconds and minutes and hours that I’ve felt this need, until finally my still-punkish twentysomething persona will give way to Donna Reed.

Or not. Maybe I can still be cool and be a mom. After all, my mom did it. She’s the coolest woman I know, and she had ME to deal with. Major points in her favour. Maybe I won’t have to succumb to the phases of annoying I see mothers going through on a regular basis: the “oh look, Johnny made a poopoo” phase, the “don’t touch that, don’t say that” phase, the “over my dead body, young lady” phase. No, I won’t. I will have to suffer through them all; that’s what mothers do, in the name of motherhood, and of propagation of the species.

I don’t want to propagate. I want an adventure. I want to experience the immense, jarring love for a child. Even the pain and the worry. I want it all. Sometimes I hate saying I want it; mostly, I’ve come to terms with it. It took a while. For a long time, I didn’t even think about it, since I would obviously never find anyone who would (a) be decent enough to brew genes with, and (b) stick around that long. Now that I’m married (still adjusting to this concept) and supposedly do have an automagic built-in sticker-arounder, and one whose genes are mighty fine indeed, the motherhood thing seems pretty okay. Someday. I mean, it’s a great idea right now, but I don’t want to do it yet.

“I still have a lot of growing up to do,” I grin at Mr. Med Student. He laughs and nods, “Yeah, I hear that. But are you ever ready, are you ever grown up enough to handle being a parent?” His face gets serious. I shrug, and smile, “I guess not, but someday I’ll definitely be less not-ready than I am right now.” And I will be. I hope we’ll have taken our honeymoon by then.

competition

“Why do you and Chad need separate computers?” my friend asked me the other day. “We wouldn’t be together without them,” I glibly replied. “But why?” Why indeed. The first thing that came to mind was competition. We are very, very competitive sometimes. This is also my answer to other questions, such as: “Why don’t you two play cards against each other?” and the like. We get along quite well, but there has always been an element of competition in our relationship, and frankly, I like it.

I compete with other people in my own mind, as well. I seem to be constantly striving towards “most interesting person so-and-so knows,” now that I don’t care to be the best dressed or the cutest. I don’t know if I would be crushed to find out that I am not the most interesting person someone knows; I’d probably (egocentrically) consider it a clerical error in the great ledger of the universe, and move on. I don’t compete to be the best darn liberry grrl at work anymore; I think my work ethic has gone on sabbatical. I don’t have many, if any, competitive feelings within my family; my parents always instilled in me a sense of uniqueness and importance, and they always seem to be proud of me no matter what I do.

I’ll be driving along, pretending to be a spy (as I’ve done since childhood) and peering at all the unsuspecting humans, and I don’t need to compete with them, either. I know I’m human, so that’s not it. So why Chad, my best friend, husband, and all-around companion and confidante? I think it has to do with admiration. I really admire many things about Chad: his charisma, his sense of humour, his talent, his way of dealing with random salespeople without going freakin’ nanners like I do. So many things. Things that I want to work on in myself.

Then there’s Kite. I compete with her regularly, although I pretend not to. When I first read her poetry, I was blown away. I read a lot of poetry, some published and some not, and most of it doesn’t do much for me. But hers – and her prose, as well – I was shaken after I read it. We had some friends in common when we first started talking regularly, and I sometimes had pangs of jealousy: did they think she was cooler, more interesting, funnier than I was? For a while I was angry. I didn’t want to hang out with those friends anymore, since they liked her too; I didn’t understand how they could like both of us at the same time, since I had made it into a “one or the other” issue in my own mind. I’m not sure when I realized that we were different people, with different strengths, different styles of poetry, and we didn’t have to compete. Maybe it was when she told me she thought I was a good writer. That also floored me. Anyway, something changed between us, and now the only competition left behind is the good kind, the kind I like in my relationship with Chad, the you-challenge-me-and-I-like-that kind. I’m often self-conscious about writing alongside her in this journal because her depth of emotion and experience seem so far beyond mine. So that, I compete with, and I know it makes me a better person.

And then, perhaps competition to me has to do with “not knowing where I stand” with someone. I had no idea where I stood with Kite for a long, long time, and it bothered me. We seemed to like each other in tides: one day, we were almost friends, and the next, we were cool and indifferent towards each other. I always wanted to ask her what she thought of me; instead of doing that, I hung out and did the best I could to “keep up” as I saw it. I have to compete with my friends so they’ll show me where I am on their personal coolness scale. Good, then it’s all tied up with self-affirmation and ego and all these things I already know about myself.

But maybe it’s not. Maybe I’m competing with other people, people I like a lot, so I really will try and be better than they are at something. I mean, if it’s something I absolutely cannot do, like swim, then I’m not going to try to be an Olympic swimmer. I don’t even feel bad when someone’s a good swimmer. But if it’s something that I can somewhat do, like write, then I’m in automatic competitive mode (at least with the writers I respect).

And being a woman – heh. I compete with just about every woman I know. I don’t mean competing with glossy airbrushed pictures in a magazine; I mean real women. And that’s not bad, either. It encourages self-examination, and pride. I don’t mean competing so far as attractiveness, either. The older I get, the less I worry about that. No time. No, competing with other women has to do with who’s more down-to-earth, or fun, or intelligent. Back to the traits I admire thing again. Well, this all makes sense. I’m glad.

I was beginning to think I was less rational than – er. Nevermind.

imaginary friends

“I can imagine how alluring an on-line relationship can be because of the safe little shield. But a rl relationship has to be so much more satisfying, in every way. On-line you really are (though I hate to say it) talking with an imaginary friend; this person says all the right things and can basically be anything you want them to be. In real-time you get to deal with a real-live person, individual and independent of all the things you’ve imagined about them. That’s so much more rewarding.” - excerpt from an e-mail
The safe little shield. I’m wondering what this means. Safe little shield on which side, the transmitter’s or the receiver’s? I have a shield nowadays, but I didn’t always. It was just as easy for someone online to get to me as it was for someone “in real life.” And it is sadly very easy to get to me. I’m working on that these days, but I guess the shield concept is lost on someone who takes to heart even the most casual of stranger’s comments.

Talking with imaginary friends. I can’t imagine talking to someone who said all the right things to me. Not even Chad said all the right things to me, when we first met online. He said a lot of right things, to be sure, but all the right things? I don’t even think I’d want to meet someone who said all the right things. That’s just as unreal to me offline as it is on.

Regardless of online or off, I still deal with people in conjunction with all the things I’ve imagined about them. The physical attraction element is definitely different; I agree with this much. But with the advent of jpgs, gifs, scanners, etcetera, you can even see what someone looks like (still-life, true) online. The mannerisms, no. Even if someone would try to type in every mannerism she knew she had, she would still be lacking in the ones she was unconscious of. And these sometimes make or break the bridge from “VR” to “RL” - I speak from experience on this.

Nothing could have prepared me for making this transition with Chad. He was from another world, another place in the ‘States entirely, somewhere I had never been, and was unlikely to visit without good reason. But he was bright, and funny, and utterly charming (unlike the character he was playing at the time, who was more dark and brooding than anything). I was in a RL relationship at the time. It was unsatisfying. And here was a friendship that bloomed online, first at a muck and then in e-mails, and letters, and phone calls. The friendship was very satisfying; we shared stories, jokes, roleplay, ideas, dreams.

And I know Chad better than I’ve ever known anyone. I knew his opinions on hundreds of topics we had discussed during the months online. I knew stories from his past he would recount in late-night phone calls. I knew how he would manage to stay up almost all night with me online, and somehow balance his time for education and for theatre. I wouldn’t advocate anyone deciding her future on an online relationship, but so far as meeting “prospective life-partners,” I don’t think it’s a wholly bad method. It speaks to me much more than any bar or club scene ever did. Interaction, pared down to the nitty-gritty, the words, the stuff, the things that can be taken the wrong way not because you said them in a different tone of voice, but because they were words and that’s all you had to go on.

I’m particularly biased in this realm of communication. Words have always fascinated, tantalized me. Outward appearances, while interesting, and definitely integral to sexual attraction, never “did much” for me. If someone can turn a phrase that intrigues me, I want to know them. Granted, I was blessed in the looks department, so far as being average in all respects: close to the norm so far as build, features, and health. I have been vaguely insecure about how I look ever since I can remember, but other people’s looks don’t seem to evoke much response in me.

The best part of online interaction is being myself. I think this is true for many people who like being online, as I do. I also think I have less of a problem with offline social interaction than most people; I am an attention-hound both online and off, and fairly graceful in most social settings. But there is a certain freedom to being myself so tangibly as through a set of words, of phrases, that Ichoose to describe myself .

Then there are the other people, the choice friends I have made, whom I could not have met if it were not for the internet. Kite is one, for example. I don’t think less of her, or think she is less real, because 99% of our interaction has taken place through mudding and e-mail. We’ve known of each other for years, probably, through different muds we had in common, but only in the past six months have we interacted regularly, and only in the past two have we passed the “friends” mark on my internal chart. I can’t tell you when it happened; we were acquaintances, and then we were friends, bloop, like that. Maybe when I realized she was sticking around “for the long haul,” as many people don’t, with me.

Mac didn’t. We met online and had three months of prolonged sexual tension, interrupted sporadically by deep conversations. I flew to the West Coast to meet him, and spend a couple weeks, a trial run of our relationship. And it was blissful, clear and sweet, like any romantic vacation should be. Every moment was tinged with a “I’ve always wanted to do this with you” feeling. We filled those few moments with memories, some I can even still recall. Then I went home, and it took no time at all for our relationship to fall apart. We were making plans to be together, deciding which of us would move to be with the other. One night I had to leave the computer lab at school at its closing time, and I told him I loved him, and he replied in kind. The next afternoon when I logged in, I received the infamous, “We have to talk,” line.

I don’t love you anymore, Mac said. I don’t know when it happened, but it did. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. There was never an utterance so pitiful as “I’m sorry” during a breakup. I knew exactly what had happened, of course. In the months following our meeting, we had grown increasingly short-tempered with each other. With the distance between us. With time, too long, too many weeks, or possibly months – or, god, years? – until we could be together, and be happy. Lashing out at time turned into lashing out at each other, hoarding the seconds we had online together turned into growling at any other life activities that might subtract, or detract, from them. It ended badly, to say the least.

And what if the distance hadn’t been there? Who knows. What if we had met offline instead of on? Who knows. I’ve done my speculating for now. I do know that the feelings I had for him were as real as any I had had before, or have had since. Did the distance kill the relationship, as it had borne it? Yes. So we lose as much as we gain, in the end; we break even. But at least we tried.

That what it boils down to, for me. I’m trying. I’m trying to learn more, to experience more, to interact more, by meeting new people online. This doesn’t mean that I shove my offline interests and friends to the background, like I used to do. Oh, no. I learned that the hard way. I do make time for both, because they’re important to me. And while very different, neither is more real than the other. My reality is big enough for both.

minus time

…I kicked the wall outside my mother’s door, shouting for her, while Paul shouted, too, trying to drown me out, and I pushed him aside, kicking and kicking the wooden frame of the door, but I did not touch the door.

She had to open the door. We had to make her open the door. Dusk was falling, but there were no lights on except the thin yellow line that shone through the space between her door and the door frame. We sat side by side on the wooden floor until the bottoms of my hands were aching, until our shouting became a chant. Come out. Come out. Come out.

A chair lurched. She pulled open the door. “Will you stop it?” she yelled. “I can’t stand it. I had two of you so you would keep each other company.”

She pressed her hand over her mouth. The lamp shone on the desk behind her. The room was filled with the low chatter of the radio, a thick, human smell. She slid down the door frame until she was crouched in front of us again. There were white finger-shaped indentations in her cheeks….

- from Minus Time by Catherine Bush

I realized today how little faith I have in the U.S. space program, in any space program, in space programs in general. I’m trying to find reasons for all of my faithlessness. I’m trying to name it all.

The biggest reason why, at 11:37 p.m., is that we’ve so completely decimated this planet with our garbage and our baggage, that it’s been irrevocably changed. And traipsing out into the starry something seems like running away. Like when lovers say, “I need my space.” We need our space.

I realize how totally unamerican this is of me. How unpatriotic, how godless commie heathen of me, how pagan, how left-wing, bleeding-heart liberal of me. How boring, how lame. How selfish.

I can’t help it, though. As one who has needed space before. I can’t do it again. I can’t justify it again.

Just let me hold you, my lover would beg. Just let me come over and I’ll hold you, and it’ll be all right. But it just wasn’t ever all right. It wasn’t even partially all right. That I could deal with. All of a sudden I was addicted and I had to be treated with caution, with care. I hated the jokes my friend’s boyfriend would make. I hated him, then. He thought it was the funniest damn thing, he would regale me with stories of how addicted he was once, he had been there. I wanted to push him out the window.

But of course I couldn’t do that. I just had to sit there and watch him, pretend to smile (anything for my friend), nod my head, listen to the stories of his pathetic life and compare it to mine. And you know, I wasn’t that far off from being that pathetic. I had only my good graces, my social skills, saving me from that very same fate. Thank goodness.

Weeks went by and I was up with the moon, down with the sun, unhealthy and unclean, addicted. At that time, internet addiction was something only computer programmers had to worry about. I never got to enter that geek clique; I was on the outside of that one, too.

I ate so much ramen I’m surprised I can still look at the neon pink packages in the stores without the bile rising into my throat. I wanted everyone to go away and leave me alone and only care about me on my own terms. My own terms. I wanted to be loved, to be liked, for my own reasons. Reasons I wouldn’t let anyone else in on, even.

I had a hermit crab. Two, actually, but one died the winter before. Chani remained alive. She was tiny, and lived in a glass terrarium I made up with a hollowed-out log for her to crawl in, and lots of soft husk on the bottom. I was terrified of being pinched, even by those miniscule claws, so I didn’t pick her up much. When I did, I would immediately set her on the quilt on my bed before she could start to waggle her eyestalks at me. Across the quilt she would limp, sometimes stopping and retreating into her shell for hours at a time. She always seemed content, although it is very difficult to read facial expressions on hermit crabs. Chani the hermit. We were both hermits that spring, but she was much better at it. She, at least, paced herself.

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I acknowledge that I live and work on stolen Cowlitz, Clackamas, Atfalati, and Kalapuya land.
I give respect and reverence to those who came before me.

∞