I have to stop. For awhile. I love doing this. It’s been unlike any other writing I’ve done. But I’m not good at doing this and doing my regular writing at the same time and I need to make a living. I was getting paid as a writer-in-residence for a month but after that I continued because I enjoy it. But it’s more demanding than it looks. Part of it is I think about what I post here much more than it would seem. And it’s not just my own writing; sometimes I wake up thinking about what people have commented, and what I’m going to reply, I chew thoughts over and over in my head. Which is in a way kind of great, because it’s a really interesting kind of engagement. Doing this has reminded me of how various people are, and also that there are people who won’t attack you if you don’t say exactly what you’re supposed to say. It’s been a place to express uncertainty and to be less exacting about my writing style which for me is a huge relief.
I’ve also learned something about why people sometimes prefer virtual communication to in-person, or at least like it as well. There is a different kind of etiquette and care when you can’t see the person. The conventional wisdom is that “not seeing” allows people to be insanely rude and to say things they wouldn’t dare say in person—we all know it can go that way. It seems there is a lot people don’t say in person now: in the 90s when I gave public readings sometimes people would confront me and get pretty blunt, for example “How can you write such filth?” More recently, when I’ve given readings of what I know are controversial subjects, I expect people to confront me—but no one does. The most anyone has ever said is that I made them “uncomfortable.” It’s kind of eerie. Maybe the people who would say blunt critical things now don’t know how to do it to your face?
However, I’ve discovered here that the reverse happens too, that not seeing the people you are communicating with creates a kind of mystery and uncertainty that can make you (me) be more reserved and more polite about what you are saying because you can’t rely on the normal physical cues and so you’re (I’m) very aware that you might be mistaken about who you are talking to and where they are coming from. Also—and for me this is really big—you have more time to respond than you do in person. In truth I can be very awkward socially and blurt out things because in person you’re expected to respond quickly and its sometimes based on a wrong idea of what the person in front of me has just said or meant. Many times when I’ve met someone, awkwardness or weirdness, either on my part or on the part of the other person or both of us has made it hard to connect when actually we probably would’ve liked each other.
I don’t think I’m alone in this. I think that’s why people like the simultaneous expansion/protection of “online.” You can’t see as much about others and they can’t see as much about you either and so if you are actually interested in connecting you have to proceed with care. At the same time you can dispense with the nuisance small talk that in real life you’re expected to perform to feel out the other person. I’ve had remarkably deep and direct conversations with some of you, in comments or via email that I never would’ve had if we’d met in a typical social setting and somebody got awkward because of a misread physical cue or a verbal misstep. It’s been great.
But it’s also been a lot to process. I need to figure out a way to create balance between this and writing stories, etc. Because I already have ideas for posts! But it might be a couple of weeks before I can suit up again.