one of these things

19 October, 2007

I’m still sick and dopey on antibiotics, so this isn’t going to be a sophisticated post. Actually, maybe that’s appropriate because I think sometimes I try too hard to be sophisticated because I can, get some wordplay in, make my words slick. There’s fun in that, but I’m semi-intentionally limiting myself to people who get my jokes (and want to).

There have been times I’ve wanted to avoid that, though. When I was a tiny, shy nerd finishing high school, I made a vow to myself that by graduation I’d have had a substantive conversation with each of my classmates, knowing that otherwise I’d be cooped up with the same girls in all the advanced classes and I’d never have to push myself beyond it. Within four years I learned that I could find at least 145 different ways to connect with people, which is still really one of my biggest accomplishments. Then in college I had all the professors and visiting speakers to talk to, got to have the privilege of being out of my league, which excused any ignorance, while still well-read and excited enough to stand out as an undergrad. This complemented the time I spent as a student activist working with minority identity/affinity groups and sexual assault survivor support and education, and I found them rewarding in vastly different ways.

I’ve cut myself off a lot since then, and the internet has helped. I don’t have a lot in common socially or culturally with a lot of my coworkers, especially the ones closest to me in age. Living online lets me find people who are like me, connect with people only on the levels at which they’re like me and then get excited about other resonances. There are times I’ve fallen into entertainment masochism, following lifestyle threads on a roleplaying board full of idealistic geeks, reading comics blogs merely to mock them. Recently I’ve gotten the new experience of joining a messageboard for issues around natural African-American hair to get advice and support on styling A.’s hair. Here I’m not only racially a minority and someone whose personal hair, while natural in its way, doesn’t have any of the baggage or characteristics of the topic at hand and also in some ways someone stepping into a safe space as an outsider. Yet I’ve been totally welcomed and this weekend I think we’ll try yarn twists, something I’d never have imagined trying without seeing what fun other people have had with it and how long their styles have lasted.

What I’m saying is that I’m in a process of learning to connect with people, lots of people, and I’m trying to do it empathetically and in a way that’s still true to me and the awkward, hypersensitive nerd I am. This means that when people (well, men) at the football party A. and I attended Sunday complain that the Bengals are playing like women I still feel compelled to say teasingly, “Oh, they’re not THAT good” even though these are people who don’t worry the way I do about the implications of gender-expectation metaphors, people I don’t even really know well. So I’m still conflicted, even though I’m doing what I should and want to be doing.

I have a great inspiration for this in A., who can talk to and charm anyone anywhere, as far as I can tell. I know after we first met she’d convinced me I ought to let her coax me into having a social life and trust people enough to get to know them, which is just how things played out. But she can be in a bar and chat up some people who happen to be actors and thus score us deep-discount tickets to possibly the best play I’ve ever seen. But she’s just as comfortable talking to kids (to a point) and waiters and pilots and African sex workers. Everywhere we go, people recognize her (whether she remembers them or not) and it’s because she’s so amazingly personable and willing to meet them at their level, whatever that may be.

The reason this is on my mind is that I’m still obsessed with Samuel Delany’s Times Square Red, Times Square Blue about what’s lost in the gentrification of Times Square. The first part (blue, though it took me far too long to pick up on the color implications) is his memoir of his experiences and friendships and public (and non-public) sex in moviehouses over the course of something like 20 years. This was interesting just from the perspective of getting into the mindset of someone who’d do things so far out of my own range of interests, but I also liked the way it showed such a huge cross-section of society, maybe specifically a society that excludes people like me since basically the only women involved appeared onscreen (or at home while their menfolk strayed). But in the second, red, essay, Delany talks about how much is actually lost in terms of connectedness when sites of cross-class communication are closed.

Everyone talks about networking these days, but networking is just a way of talking to other people who are like you so they can eventually push you on to other people like you to your advantage, a basically closed system. More important in terms of true community is connection, the kind of conversation or interaction you can have at a bar or a downtown market (or a sex theater, if that’s your thing and they haven’t already been closed down) because people who are different are interacting on planes where they happen to intersect.

I’m not sure how I can use the internet like that, if I can use the internet like that, but I’ve been weaning myself off my internet dependence, following fewer blogs, trying to read more books on paper, even watching tv. I’m using my outside life to do a range of things, make connections with people unlike me but also meet people who share my values and vision (and, often, class and politics) to be friends in a sea of acquaintances. I feel so lucky to have so many opportunities, all the more because A. is helping me along and letting me hook myself into her existing nodes. I think I can get to know myself better by getting to know other people. I hope being on a path that could take me anywhere will eventually get me where I want to go.

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One Response to “one of these things”

  1. Erin Says:

    I feel very stalker-like posting this but I don’t have your current e-mail address. On a whim I decided to look you up. Feel free to e-mail me if you’d like. I’d love to catch up.


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