Mar 20, 2014

I'm A Writer. (My rant about online vs "real world" communication)

Recently I have had a few different people sort of pick at me for how much communication I do online vs face to face. To which I have a few very practical responses:

1) I am at home all day long taking care of eight children and writing 2000 words per day. If you want to talk to me... you're going to have to text me or message me, and then when I have a moment, I'll message or text you back.

2) I am a huge introvert. I don't like people randomly coming over to my house, I don't enjoy the first stages of getting to know someone, and I do not enjoy large crowds. Talking face-to-face, just alone, is much easier to me than talking with others around. This doesn't often take place face-to-face, because when you're talking to someone, there tend to be others around. But if you're messaging or texting someone, you are messaging or texting just that person, almost all the time.

3) Related to the above, in the first stages of getting to know someone, I am extremely awkward. I don't relax until I know someone well enough to trust that they'll love me in spite of any awkward things i might say, accidental implications my words might have, and strange facial expressions I might make. (Full disclosure here--I make weird faces when I'm nervous and I'm talking to people I don't know.) But writing, I don't have to worry as much in those beginning stages, because I am not making faces, I'm just typing words. I can go back and read what I wrote to make sure it says what I mean it to say. And, I can go back and *review* what I wrote and realize it was OK instead of rehashing in my mind every piece of the conversation and thinking I made a bunch of stupid mistakes or offensive implications.

4) I struggle with auditory processing. I have to concentrate really hard in order to understand spoken conversation. I've never been diagnosed, but I have a sister who has been diagnosed with auditory processing disorder. I have to ask people to repeat things a lot. When I watch movies with a lot of dialog, I need subtitles to read or else I do not understand about half of what is being said. Because of how hard I have to concentrate to understand something someone is saying to me, it is extremely draining to have long conversations, particularly where I'm worrying a great deal that I'm not understanding someone, or they are not understanding me/are liable to take offense at something I say when I don't mean it that way. Jeff says I have "about a three minute buffer" and then he can tell I'm starting to tune out/freak out/not be able to follow as well. And for conversation in general, my buffer level to complete exhaustion might be 30 minutes.

... this all means that written communication is far easier for me than spoken communication.

That does not mean that I think face-to-face interactions aren't for me. I think they are important. I just know that they will be extremely difficult and stressful until I get to know someone well enough, and I know they know me well enough, that they'll be able to understand what i'm trying to say to them and not take offense/infer something from what I said that I don't mean. And until I can relax enough to not care if I have some strange facial tics when i'm nervous... the person loves me anyway.

(In case you're curious, my strange facial tics usually involve eye contact/lack thereof, up to and including rolling of the eyes at strange moments.)

My online relationships are important to me. Because they are also mostly real-life relationships. I talk to my family on facebook. My mom, my dad, sisters and brothers who are all spread out all over the U.S. I talk to my friends on facebook--people I grew up with, people I've met and known at various points in my life, people who were there with me during important moments. I also talk to my colleagues on facebook and through email--writing friends,people with my publisher, bloggers, book reviewers.

I also tend to take care of church responsibilities mainly through group messaging, because I've found it's a good way for several busy people to have a conversation on their own schedule. It has made it so I don't have to have weekly meetings. Also so I don't have to make a phone call, wait for no answer, leave a message, and then miss their phone call, listen to their message, etc. Overall, I bless Facebook Messaging and credit to it my current levels of sanity.

I have also been able to promulgate relationships through online interaction where promulgation face to face would have been awkward to the point of nonexistent. Our friends the Lovelesses are a prime example. Jeff knew Dave well in college. But for couples to hang out together, all the members of the coupleship need to be comfortable with each other. Because Dave, Courtney and I all blog, that relationship was much more easily established--initially between me and Dave, then Courtney as well. And it lead to us all hanging out together, after having talked about more vulnerable stuff in a situation where I (and I suspect the both of them) felt safer. I am positive that we would not have become so close if we hadn't had online interactions to smooth over that initial rough patch of getting to know someone.

My relationship with my father has improved as well.
My Dad and I struggle to talk face to face. Whenever I have tried to talk about something vulnerable with him, with words and actual presence together in one room, it has been very difficult. He can't handle it, I can't handle it. I come away feeling terrible. But we can write to each other and it has opened my world up. Recently, that has been the case with my mother, too. There are several very difficult topics i have tried to address with her over the years, only it never worked out--it always devolved into bad results... usually a big fight, to be honest. But in communications that are written and in real time, we have been able to say things and understand each other. And she recently said something to me that sort of changed a whole lot about how I feel about myself, for the better. It's something I think she has been trying to say to me for a long time, but I just never really understood it, because I couldn't ingest it until she found just the right words to type, that I could read.

Does that make me pathetic? And strange? And dysfuctional?

I hope not, because it is the way Heavenly Father made me.

Once I get to know someone well, and trust them, I would much rather see them face to face than write them. I would much rather be present with them than talking at them through a computer screen. But until then, I struggle. But social media, email, blogging--that has really helped me with the initial struggle.

The way I have described it to people who have been lately frustrated by this is "I'm a writer."

I mean that in a way different, I think, from how people would usually take it. I'm a writer because I can claim that title because I have had things published, yes. But really, the title there is "author." I am a published author.

By, "I'm a writer," I mean... I'm not a talker. I'm a writer.

But if I know you really well, and trust you, then I'm a talker. For me, I think the act of having a real-time, face-to-face conversation about something vulnerable, especially, is perhaps one of the most deeply intimate acts. It means I am putting everything on the line. Judge me, laugh at me, hate me... watch me become emotional, watch me fumble with my words,be offended or disenchanted when you hear me say something accidentally wrong or awkward... I'm giving you that opportunity to "know" me that way because I trust you. And I only trust you that way if I Love you.

The internet has opened a lot of doors for me. I have strengthened almost every important relationship through the means of online communication. I have made acquaintances friends and friends good friends. I have been able to be confident talking to people who are experts in the things I also love, which would not happen in real life. I have been able to discuss difficult and very potentially volatile issues with the people closest to me, instead of shutting down.

I see it as a blessing.

I've had two different people say things to me lately that have really stung. One person said, when I was talking about my friends on facebook, "you know they're really not you're friends, right?"

... yeah. My mom, my dad, my sister. My fifth grade teacher. My old babysitters. Members of choir, seminary, ski team. People who were there in the ward where everything went down with my first marriage. People in my current ward. People I've worked with. People I've cried with. They're not my friends, huh.

The other was "you write all these things, but you know you'd never say them in real life!"

Well, yes I would. If I loved you enough, and trusted you enough, I would.

I feel like the overall message is sometimes "the online you is fake. What you write isn't real. It's fake."

No. It's not. What I write is often much realer than what I say, because when I write, I say what I mean, and when I talk I can't figure out how to say what I mean.

And that is what I think about that.