I used to have a friend I interacted with mainly by internet. The mode of discourse changed the way I engaged with the world. It started off with my usual social trickery, digging around for funny links and pulling out trivia to make myself seem well rounded and fun. Eventually, I developed a big fat internet crush on this friend-of-a-friend who primarily existed as lines of hilarious, engaging text. Meeting him in real life made it worse, and I cultivated some habits in that mess, some good, some bad.
Bad: -Staying up till 2 am with 4 hour conversations; not good for the school or for the sleep.
-All sorts of navel gazing and armchair psychology.
-Many kinds of drama and uncertainty.
Good: Learning to observe.
My removed crushly buddy, whom I met in person a total of 5 times, liked analyzing people and situations. He had a journalist’s mind for detail. Words, facial expressions, tones. Usually he’d conjure up funny things that happened to him, sometimes significant things. His study of human behavior seemed fruitful to me. He knew exactly what to say to make me feel glad, self confident, or valued, even when he just had some text and pauses to suss out tone. I started doing it back. Everyday on the bus or at the mall or at school I’d pay close attention to my surroundings. If someone looked interesting or said something interesting, I learned to watch them closely without looking like I was. I would think of their intentions, their emotions, and I would amuse myself by thinking of beautiful analogies or metaphors. I would think of sarcastic comments . (For a man arguing with a Muay Thai instructor that “Asians can’t fight because their fists are smaller” I thought “do you understand the concept of a bullet?”) I would gather these impressions, repeat them for memory and wait gleefully all day to unload. They were a big, heavy sloshing bucket I’d carry around with me until I could talk to Guy, trying not to spill anything, ready for me to dump out and nourish our conversation. I’d tailor the stories to him, the snippets, edit them down, rephrase them all day until I knew I’d make him laugh or at least act impressed with my insight. I’d map out and rehearse imaginary conversations with him, perfecting pacing. I looked forward to his feedback for hours. “I have a lot of words today,” I’d tell Dude, on particularly successful occasions. I’d enjoy this end part a lot because it was tied to his approval and the associated crushiness.
What I found, however, was that I was starting to like the beginning part most of all, the going into the world with my bucket and collecting my words, and not just because I was getting gems for Chap. Growing up, I was a sullen little girl with bad posture. I didn’t like other people. I looked down at the ground and mumbled, wanting to curl up, wanting to disengage. My favourite part of the day would be disappearing under my bed covers with a book. I still get like that at times. It’s been a lifelong process shaking my shyness and moroseness off. The practice of getting words for Man did a lot to lift my forehead up, to look at the world and soak up its details, its people, to empathize. It got me out doing things and fully participating in them, ostensibly to impress Lad but I began to cherish the words and the details for myself.
Things went sour with Fella in ways that I don’t want to detail to all and sundry, but he has left me with my word gathering and handling process. I still write or interact in a very “˜instant messaging story for Gentleman’ way. I have a bunch of predetermined little stories or impressions or jokes or images to whip out at parties or to talk to friends. I have about eight sketchy bus stories. I have a man who does sit ups in his driveway with a giant erection. I have me driving through cornfields with a scubadiving buddy and her 26-year-old beardly fiancee in the backseat playing Yesterday on a recorder. It’s all very disjointed and short term. I don’t have many narratives that encompass more than two days. I have a hard time evaluating movies or books as a whole, I just think of them as a collection of individual scenes and the good ones stick out (That’s probably why I like Wes Anderson. I think if I was any sort of holistic, serious critic I’d probably hate him). I’m very open to changing the subsequent steps in my word-handling. That is shifting all the time and I wouldn’t mind a different end product. The first part, the gathering, that I refuse to let go. I don’t do it as often as my shmoopie isn’t long distance, so we don’t do daily phone calls, and also he’s with me for a lot of the time so telling him stories about things he’s been present for is redundant and silly. The impetus is blunted without a flesh-and-blood audience, or rather, a solid back and forth, a discussion with a real person. But sometimes I’ll go out and collect the words for myself and my journal. I have a little voice that will take in all my words, sort through them, and offer gentle criticism, if I work a bit to call it up. There’s a source of vigor and energy now, and it’s something I can draw from when I need it. Sometimes I’ll go out at 6 am to watch the world wake up and take pictures. Sometimes I’ll take the bus even if I don’t need to. Sometimes I’ll shut up and look at my conversation partners’ faces. A lot of the time I’ll feel trapped in my head, and my thoughts start to rip each other apart like battery hens driven insane by being packed too tightly to move. But sometimes I’ll be at peace.