Do we really know each other?

Until recently my refusal to see online life as part of “real” life was quite annoying to one of my dearest friends, she would often ask why I separate out the two. Like many I often thought well how can you really know “these” people? I mean can you really know someone that you have never sat down and broke bread with, or shared a hug of comfort with? Of course life being life, whenever I make such statements life generally comes back to bite me in the ass

Fast forward to this past year or so and I thought I knew people I called friends, friends meaning we know each other in the flesh, have known each other for years. Yet it took losing a so-called friend of 30 years to realize we don’t always know each other. Oh we may know details of each other’s lives, we may have shared experiences, a past and a present but in many cases we only know what we choose to share with one another. In other words there is plenty of gray area. In ending my friendship with my childhood friend, a woman I considered my sister who had logged so many hours with my family as a child, teen and young adult that to this day my father still considers her a daughter. I realized we didn’t know each other at all, turns out there was plenty she had hidden away, choosing to never share, things so fundamental that not sharing bordered on insanity. Add in losing a few people to suicide in the past decade, people know one ever in a million years would have imagined taking their lives, I realized that at least for me maybe I needed to reconsider how I define knowing people

It turns out that for me opening myself up on my blog and to lesser extent in other online venues like twitter has opened the door to new relationships taking form. Oh, some of these connections are fleeting and transient and others are like a young tree forming roots in that only time will tell if they stand the test of time and endure. The thing is in reflecting on connections that I once thought solid and even the work I have been doing this year in my own marriage, the question constantly comes up for me around do we really know anyone? Shit, my process of growth this year has had me mining the depths of my own being and realizing that at this stage of my life there are truths about my own self, that only now as I start the dance to middle aged, am I comfortable taking out and putting on the table

Truths that frankly have been a lot easier to share with people I don’t know very well or at all in real life. Last night while flitting away time on twitter (my virtual water cooler of sorts) I posed the question of how do other twitter users view the people they interact with on twitter. For some it was strictly as strangers or acquaintances but for others it seemed a seemingly nameless space actually served as the forming ground for actual relationships and friendships. Two people I know in real life have formed very real romantic connections thanks to twitter, I am taking people who have been to my house, broke bread with and vice versa now being in serious live in relationships with others they met through twitter.

An online buddy I have known over a decade and I were talking back and forth about twitter connections and she posed some great food for thought, that maybe venues like Twitter allow us to approach relationships and connecting from a backwards perspective. After all we can share tidbits about ourselves, some deep, some not before we have done the other lengthier pieces of connecting. As I went drifted towards sleep last night I found myself wondering is it so bad to approach things from a backwards perspective? Often in the dating advice world, women are often instructed to abstain from sexual relations with a potential partner until you know that the potential partner is willing to connect and commit on a deeper level. Well I will just say that I never followed that advice and 16 years later the man and I are still here. I most certainly didn’t think he was a cheap trick for giving up the goods very early in the dating process! Hell, there are times at least in the dating world, knowing what ya working with sexually early on is a good thing, versus some arcane rules of dating that say no sex until some arbitrary date. I think again this is where social media allows us to make targeted connections.

The older you get it’s pretty well known that it is harder to make friends, when we moved to Maine years ago we were already at the age where most folks are not trying to expand their pool of friends. The two people in Maine closest to me, I met thanks to a now defunct parenting board, both these connections are precious to me. Yet in my day to day life here while I know many people, very few of those connections are deep. Oh we may go to the same church, have kids at the same school, even take the same yoga class, but I don’t know them and they don’t know me. We know of each other. Yet I have spent times tweeting and talking with people online who probably have a better idea of who I really am then people who see me daily. Granted even then there are limits to what they know because I only choose to share so much of myself, which goes back to the question, do we really know anyone? How can we? Does time logged in over a certain amount of time really equate knowing someone? If so how? Just random questions floating around in my mind as I type this and try to delay working.

Woes of the First World, Woe is Me!

Lovely readers let me warn you upfront, I am operating on little sleep and a wicked case of PMS. So I fully admit in this state, I tend to operate on a maximum level of bitchiness. If that bothers you please leave this page at once and return when I am shooting unicorns and roses out of my asshole.

This is one of those weeks where I really do start to think maybe that rapture dude is on to something, maybe the good folks do need to be zapped up to a better place and the not so good folks can wait for the wild locusts or whatever it is that will take them away. Hell, maybe the big creator just needs to hit the re-start button and I am only half kidding.

In my offline life I often feel like I live between two worlds, there is my personal world which at least on the outside appears to be comfortably middle class and carefree. Of course we all know things aren’t what they appear to be, in the past two years I can think of at least 5 friends and or associates who officially left the middle class and now live smack on poverty row. Funny thing is they still look middle class, only reason I know is that they all shared with me, guess you don’t mind sharing about your financial descent when the person you are talking with openly talks about growing up poor. Then there is my professional world which to be blunt is often filled with folks who came up on the short end of the life lottery. Good people stuck in bad situations, in many cases generational poverty. Daily I see people barely 30 who look closer to 50 because when you lack dental care and lose your teeth early it ages you compounded by the fact that doing the poverty dance just sucks the life out of you. Anyone who thinks living on the financial edge is clearly smoking crack or plain just living in a bubble.

I admit my work often colors my views, but I feel like we are a disconnected people. After all, we do all we can to avoid connecting to others unless it’s in a nice controlled environment, the types of environments that social media foster. We can recreate ourselves and avoid the messy real shit that makes us authentic in many cases.

Which is why last night I was stunned to find out that people at least in the online world are quite upset about Netflix raising their prices by 50% which essentially means in real math, an almost $10 package to be entertained will now cost closer to $20. I tweeted on this issue and apparently my tweet caught the attention of Roger Ebert the film critic who retweeted whatever the fuck it was I said and next thing I know in less than 2 hours I had tons of response from people who clearly felt wronged by Netflix, I mean shit $20 to be entertained! Oh dear. I know, their streaming services are not all they can be, takes time to get new releases to you, at times it’s just not as convenient for you as you would like…believe me I heard it all. Last time I checked hitting an actual movie theater cost damn near $10 a person or more depending on location, add in a bucket of popcorn, some corn syrup and ice to wash it down and maybe some JuJu Beans and that’s a good $20 for one damn movie. But when it comes to our home entertainment we want it quick, fast and cheap. Never mind that there is a cost to get that entertainment to you…we the privileged aren’t trying to hear that noise.

Funny thing is this morning I got up and listened to a story about a town in Rhode Island that is on the brink of bankruptcy, they have already closed the library and the senior citizen center and if you think this is an isolated case, you need to come live in the real world. All across the USA, towns and municipalities are stripping services, last I heard the whole damn state of Minnesota was shut down but where are the tweets about that? In my community we are dealing with the very real needs of over 500 kids who need school supplies, in previous years my agency supplied school supplies to kids in need but the needs have grown to the point past supporters are just tapped out, yet it’s the loss of cheap entertainment that gets us riled up. Never mind that if the powers to be don’t come to consensus about this debt ceiling situation, we might all be feeling the pinch. Hell, I just went and bought a bag of potato chips that cost me damn near $5…when the hell did potato chips get so expensive? Soon I might be telling the PMS craving monster its home popped popcorn for you, screw those sour cream and cheddar chips!

Lastly there is this story, as a Mom it leaves me speechless. We live in a world where a kid finally is allowed one of the many rites of passage and ends up dead. Where is the outrage, where are the tweets, where is the passion?

I imagine some will read this and ask what does any of this matter? The fact is it matters, it matters a great deal that most of us are walking around in a daze where we don’t see our fellow humans, where we put more energy into things that at the end of the day are really pretty damn insignificant. Be bold, unplug from Netflix and frequent your library, take that $10 a month and donate it to the library, check out books and meet your neighbors and build community. Perhaps if we rebuild our communities we can worry a little less about monsters lurking in our midst.

It’s all about getting that cash

I have been using various forms of social media now for well over a decade now. In the late 1990’s  I discovered discussion boards, I was contemplating making some life changes and was in need of a supportive community and at that time the net was small enough that I hooked up with a couple of online communities that met my needs. Over a decade later, I have met some amazing women many who have become real life friends.

When I packed up my life in 2002 and left Chicago and landed in Maine, it was those same online communities and friendships that sustained me until I reached the point of having some local support in Maine. I guess what I am saying is I have been online for quite a while. My first husband was and still is a computer geek, back in 1991 when we married he was going online using BBS (bulletin board system) I remember back then thinking what the hell is he doing, little did I know how much that early exposure to making connections online was going to impact my life.

In the past 5-6 years we have literally seen social media go mainstream, I remember just a few years ago before sites like MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter became household names explaining my online activity to real life friends and being looked at like I was insane. After all who communicated on a computer with people they didn’t know? By the way this was in the early 2000’s…many of these same real life friends now use sites like Facebook and others as staples in their daily life.

I stumbled onto blogs probably about 4-5 years ago, many of the early blogs I read were true labors of love. Often folks sharing amazing tales of their life, awesome writing. Back than folks often just started blogs to have an audience, another way of making connections. Take bloggers like the very popular Pioneer Woman, she just wanted a way to stay connected to the folks in her life, she had no idea that one day she would be writing books and last I heard there is talk about a movie about the story of her life. I think many women particularly mothers gravitated to blogs as a way of making connections. In Maine we have Amanda Blake Soule of the blog Soule Mama. Her blog chronicles her life here in Maine with her 4 kids and their creative endeavors.  Her daily life and adventures became the basis for the 3 book deal she later landed but from what I have heard (Maine is small, while I don’t personally know Amanda, I have friends who do) she didn’t start blogging with the intent to land a book deal. She did something she liked with no expectations and well good shit happened.

 Initially when I started this blog, I had my eyes set on achieving some level of fame that would translate into a paycheck but over the two years I have been blogging, now it’s about my process. For me it’s about strengthening my skills as a writer but also having a voice, lastly as a woman of color its about connecting with others. This blog has allowed me to connect with folks in Maine as well as outside; I have met some fellow bloggers and readers that one day I would love to sit down with and share a cup of tea or a glass of wine.

I also think that when I let go of dreams of turning this blog into a cash cow, it allowed me to stay true to myself and my creative being. I also use social media such as Twitter to promote this blog but even Twitter allows me to connect with others especially some of the most creative and free thinking minds in Maine. Just yesterday I caught lunch with a young lady of color who recently moved to Maine. So yeah money might be nice, but making human connections is even better.

I say all this to say that as a long time user of social media in all its forms I see some disturbing trends developing. More and more I read blogs or see Twitter users turning themselves into a brand…the brand of me. Twitter for many is about promoting oneself, one’s business. Look there is nothing wrong with promotion if you have a legitimate product to promote but in many cases I see complete and utter bullshit being packaged in a slick glossy package and well its empty as hell.

The problem with this new trend of self promotion is that it takes away from authentic connections. How can we truly connect if at the end of the day you are more concerned about sealing a deal and getting paid? Look maybe that works with the youngsters but for an old head like myself its a huge turnoff. I think about some of my ex favorite blogs, ones that landed the book deal or through blogging landed a great job and then the original blog lost its spark.

There is a fashion blog I have followed for a while and when the blogger initially started off, it was great. You as the reader connected because you saw a regular person putting together articles of clothing that were accessible to the masses and rocking the hell out of that shit. Year down the road, this blogger blows up, to the point she quits her job, now she attends Fashion Week, has corporate sponsors up the wazoo and basically her blog reads like an advertisement, a glossy magazine.

Funny thing is this particular blogger is one of the biggest influence in my returning to my love of vintage clothes, she gave me some great ideas. Yet now I occasionally visit her blog and feel much the way I feel when I read a fashion magazine. That what she is hawking is inaccessible, furthermore as a follower of hers on Twitter, the constant promotion of herself as a brand is making me reevaluate whether or not I should even continue to follow her.

The thing is we have a zillion books and consultants who all for some cash will tell you how to market the brand of you, giving away so-called secrets that will make you into a social media superstar and of course earn you some cash. Look, and can I be frank most of what they are telling you is bullshit. You don’t need to have a brand called you because guess what? You are you! I admit as a graduate of a masters level organizational management program, I am well familiar with consultants and having even done a brief but successful stint as an organizational management consultant, I am here to tell you most of what these folks say is designed to earn them money and leave you wondering.

I admit occasionally they may give you a nugget of truth but I believe that much like real life relationships the only key you need is to be your authentic self in all that you do. Folks like The Pioneer Woman and Soule Mama achieved a high level of success in the social media world by simply being themselves, no gimmicks or special conferences needed. When we lose our authentic selves even in an electronic medium we risk becoming a mindless automaton who is programmed for one thing, getting that cash and really aren’t we more than that.