Making connections

I think this is my biggest problem as an author, blogger, person in general: I struggle to make connections with people. Once I make a connection, it’s there for a long time, thankfully. I have a handful of really close friends I’ve managed to make and hang onto over the years. But there’s so much going on in my head when I first meet someone (face to face or virtually) that I basically set myself up to fail at making a genuine connection.

The desire is there. So what’s the problem?

Well, first off, I’m an introvert. My ideal day off is staying home and reading, writing, painting Dungeons and Dragons miniatures, playing video games, or watching some TV show, all while sitting next to my husband. Sometimes we talk, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we run errands together or work around the house, and end up having a good time. But mostly, it’s in the quiet moments of simply being together that rejuvenates my soul, makes me take a big contented sigh and smile. Ninety percent of the time, I’m okay with this type of day or weekend. And then there is the ten percent of the time when I crave something different.

I get these spurts of adventurous cravings where I want to go try a new activity or do something I haven’t done in a really long time (like Escape a Room, go rock climbing, go hiking, drive out to the lake, go to the zoo, go to an amusement park, go mini-golfing, go swimming, go to a new restaurant, watch a comedian live, watch a play or a musical, drive until I run out of road). And I want to do these things with other people.

There’s something appealing about the idea of calling up my friends, being surrounded by a group of people I care about and am comfortable around, and striking out together. Going out on the town, hanging out somewhere public, goofing off, taking pictures, making memories. TV shows and books with large casts of lovable characters who treat each other like family (despite the fact that none of them are actually related) are my favorite. I love the interactions between everyone, the different relationships and personalities, how their strengths and weaknesses play off each other.

 

The closest thing I ever came to having something like that was when I was in high school. My cousin and her then-boyfriend, now-husband started a youth group at their church, located a town over from where I lived. There were ten to twelve of us at any given meeting, ranging from sixteen to twenty years old. I was the youngest and the outlier at fourteen, but I was “mature for my age.” Plus, my older brother and sister were kind enough to let their kid sister tag along. Some of us were related but distantly, while others were just friends. We’d get together for a time of Bible study but then we’d go on to do other things like play board games, go bowling, go to the movies, or to go to the county fair (when it was in town). I was even more shy back then than I am now so I didn’t participate very much, but I loved it. Simply being there, witnessing deep moments, listening to hilarious conversations, being included…it made my teenage years bearable. Then, of course, we all grew up and moved away or got married and the group was disbanded.

But I haven’t forgotten that group or the memories we made together.

Life is different in big city Phoenix, Arizona than it was in little town El Centro, California. (“Where is that?” you might ask, to which I would answer, “Exactly.”) As I mentioned earlier, I have a small group of friends I’m close to and hang out with as time allows but I’ve never managed to put them all together in the same room. I’ve never managed to recreate what I had with that youth group from my high school days. And maybe that’s a good thing. These friends aren’t the friends I had back then. I might have some unrealistic expectations for them, for people in general. And, as I also said earlier, most of the time I’m perfectly fine with hanging out with two to three people at a time and just doing what we always do.

The desire to be a part of a larger group of people still crops up when I least expect it. But I’ve never liked meeting new people. I hate small talk and I think strangers can pick up on that subconsciously.

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People generally ask about work, school, and family when they first meet me. Those conversations usually go something like this:

I’m a receptionist at my church. I’m currently finishing up a Creative Writing Program…Why? Oh, I’m an author. No, I haven’t written anything you’ve heard of, just a young adult romance novel called I Dare You to Love Me and a new adult paranormal fantasy about werewolves called In the Dark. No, that last one is not like Twilight. I have a new adult epic fantasy coming out in April called Asta and the Barbarians. Yes, that is interesting, thanks for saying so. What types of books do I like reading? Fantasy mostly. Books like Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series and Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series and…Oh, you’ve never heard of them? Well, they’re great. You should try reading them sometime! Yeah, those are basically my two past times. I’m kind of boring. *insert nervous laughter here* I’m currently married, have been for two years and nine months. No kids yet, soon though, maybe. I have a dog and a fat cat that I adore. They’re basically my children. What about you? Uh-huh…Oh, I see. That’s so cool! Yeah, I’ve always wondered about *insert career or job or major here.* What can you tell me about that? Ahh…

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Once we’ve exhausted these routes, the awkward silence descends. I flounder for other questions to ask or things to mention (the weather, the event we’re at, the location), all the while smiling and hoping they don’t notice how terrified and small I feel, or how boring I sound to myself. After that, it’s been my experience, they come up with a polite way to excuse themselves and then I’m left standing there alone, feeling like an idiot, psychoanalyzing every word that was said and whether it was positively received or whether I could’ve done something differently.

My sister, who is more extroverted than I am, once told me to simply talk about myself, maybe even make fun of myself a little. “It will help you loosen up,” she said. “And usually hearing about someone else will prompt a stranger to talk about themselves. Then the conversation gets going naturally.” Thing is, I hate talking about myself. I hate being in the spotlight. I’d rather talk about anything other than myself. I think about the friends I currently have, wondering what I did that could’ve made them stick around and whether I could do that again when trying to make new friends.

Honestly, I think I just got lucky with those guys…

It’s slightly different meeting people online, but not by much. Scrolling through my Facebook or Twitter news feeds, I click incessantly, liking or loving or laughing at posts. Then people post questions about writing, publishing, marketing, blogging. I’m tempted to answer but, what knowledge could I possibly share? I’m still learning! Reading other people’s blog posts is fun. Most of the time I just have to say, “Great piece!” or “I agree!” with two to three sentences on why that is. Some people respond with more than a “Thank you!” but not very many. And how do you continue a conversation that way without coming off as sketchy or weird?

Uuuuuuuuugggggggghhhhhhh.

When did making friends become so complicated? My first day of third grade there was a little girl sitting next to me who was crying because she didn’t want her mother to leave her. I was terrified too. Second grade had been hard enough; I wasn’t looking forward to third. I felt a connection to that girl. I was a little embarrassed for her to be honest, but I could understand how she was feeling. I don’t remember the conversation that followed, but I remember that her tears prompted me to talk to her. And we were friends from that day until sophomore year of high school.

I guess the moral of that story is don’t try, right? It’ll come naturally. Follow Kyoko Honda’s advice from Fruit Baskets.

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But sometimes that backfires and I end up pushing someone away with a careless word or phrase that wasn’t even intended to be offensive. So it’s kind of hard no to be paranoid.

How do the extroverts do it? No, seriously, how do you guys do it? I could use some tips here. I think it would help me become better at small talk.

Public Speaking

She sits in a circle with her coworkers

An informal meeting has been called

It’s a time of sharing positive experiences

Encouraging one another

Reminding each other why they do the work that they do

She feels like a child among them

Awkward and shy

They are wiser, stronger, more courageous

More adult-like than she

She’s afraid to speak and betray her immaturity

So she listens and smiles and nods

She’s touched that they thought to include her

Touched that they thought her worthy

Even as she doubts it herself

Always she’s felt like an outsider looking in

Now she sits among them

Does she truly belong?

The voice of a childhood bully still whispers at the back of her mind

It joins the voice of Insecurity, chants the same lies

“You’ll never fit in. You don’t matter. Nothing you say is important.”

She has been told the truth

She is loved

She is appreciated

She is important

Still, she wrestles with these deprecating voices in her head

There is a lull in the conversation

An idea forms in her mind

Presses against the back of her throat

Turns into words

They cry out to her, begging for release

Heat rises around her neck

Spreads across either side of her face

 

Her mouth is very dry

Her heart pounds painfully against her chest

She swallows and opens her mouth

The words spill out, tumbling over each other

In their haste to escape

She can hardly hear them

There is only the powerful rush of blood in her ears

Coworkers nod and hmm in support or agreement

At last the deed is done

Her words, once captives, drift across the room and dissipate

She closes her mouth, forces herself to breathe evenly

Waits for the criticism

It doesn’t come from them but from within herself

“You should’ve spoken more slowly.”

“You should’ve raised your voice.”

“You shouldn’t have spoken at all.”

Despite the thoughts that cut deep

She is relieved, elated, overjoyed

Because they didn’t laugh

Her coworkers smile at her

As if what she said mattered

As if they’re glad she spoke

She smiles back because they can’t know what they’ve done

They can’t know how much this means to her

That they would listen

That they would care

She is so thankful

She wants to remember this feeling

Maybe, next time, she’ll speak again

Promotion

It turns out there’s a lot more to book promotion than spamming social media with pictures of a book and the first few lines of a nice review.

While I’m waiting to hear back from my editor, I’ve been reading up on different ways to utilize social media. There’s a lot I didn’t know about! For example, there’s such a thing as book trailers? That blew my mind when I first heard about it. I’ve been dabbling in photo editing and making mock book covers. Surely, I thought, I can figure out how to make a short promotional trailer or GIF. 

Oh, I figured it out. It just took me five hours. (If interested, you can see the finished product here.) Finding the right royalty free pictures, editing them, applying filters and the right text took time. Finding an easy to use website that was also free took some time too. (I tried to make an actual movie clip but couldn’t find the right images for free, so I went with the GIF creator.) My incompetence frustrates me sometimes, but now that I know how to do it, I can do it again and much quicker! That’s the encouraging part.

While reading about all these different methods of book promotion, I started to feel overwhelmed. There’s so much information out there, so many different things to try. How am I supposed to keep track of it all? Plus, the concept that readers want to get to know me before they decide to give my book a try keeps popping up. It makes me want to run and hide. I’ve heard that before but I’ve somehow been able to convince myself that, if my book is amazing, it’ll sell itself. (That’s why we write, right? So that we don’t have to talk to people? The John Green quote on my home page says it so beautifully.) Starting a blog was hard enough. The idea of being interviewed is downright terrifying.

But things are changing, especially the way advertising works. I have to study up if I want to keep up. All of these different tactics might make my head spin now, but I have to believe that I’ll conquer it. I’ll learn, slowly but surely, what works for me and the book and what doesn’t. I’ll pick up a skill or two (might even get better at public speaking!) in the process and become a better person in the end. I have to see it that way, I have to be hopeful, otherwise I’ll spiral into an anxiety attack. This is what I wanted. This is what I’ve been dreaming about and praying about and working toward for all these years. Maybe I didn’t know what it was going to require of me then, but I do now. So let’s get started! (Before I lose my nerve…)

I’m not on a diet

I’m the only person I know who isn’t on a diet. (This doesn’t apply to women anymore. My brothers-in-law have been on special diets since the day I met them.) I’ve heard it said that people have always been like this, but I feel that it’s gotten worse in the last five years. I’ve overheard more conversations about Weight Watchers, calories, sugars, carbs, and work out routines now than I ever did in high school. I’m finding it increasingly harder not to care about these things, but I think it’s important that I continue to not care.

Let me explain.

As I went through high school, I suffered from low self-esteem and body image issues. (Big deal, some of you are thinking, Name a girl that hasn’t. Exactly my point! I’ll get to it in a bit). Mine is the kind of body type that doesn’t change. I’ve gone up 10 pounds and lost 10 pounds over and over again since I was thirteen years old. I tried my best in PE, I tried doing 30 minute workouts on my own, I cut my portion sizes (not by much but still, I made an effort), and I never seemed to weigh more or less than 10 pounds from my last recorded weight. It was very frustrating. Here was my older sister, all 130 pounds, 5 feet 9 inches of her, fitting into the cute pants and blouses without even trying. She could even pull off tight clothing without getting reprimanded by my parents because she had little to no curves. Man, I was jealous!

My parents would take one good look at me in the morning, point to my bedroom door, and say, “Change,” eight times out of ten. I didn’t dress provocatively or in an attention-seeking way. Half of the time, my clothes weren’t as tight as my sister’s. But because I had curves, I had to dress differently than she did. Now I don’t blame my parents. I know now that they were just trying to protect me, keep my body a mystery to everyone and teach me to dress conservatively. But it was hard enough finding something that I felt good while wearing, and to have them force me to change all those times, just made things worse.

It wasn’t until I was nineteen that I had an epiphany and realized that there was nothing wrong with me. My hair was curly and never seemed to fall straight. That was okay. I knew enough girls with straight hair by then to realize that most of them wished they had my hair. I had curves. That was okay, too. I learned that my sister was jealous of my body type and sometimes wished she could fill a pair of jeans the way I did! Slowly but surely, I put all the pieces together and came to the conclusion that God had intentionally made me this way. If I had turned out differently, I wouldn’t be me. (I’m pretty sure God also made me the way that He did so that I would be attractive to my husband. Just saying.) Finally, it seemed, I was starting to like myself.

So you can probably understand now why thinking about diets, work out routines, and scales is a negative thing for me. It’s just too easy to go back to that dark place, to looking at the things I don’t like about my body and feeling ugly. I don’t ever want to go back to that.

That’s not to say that I don’t care about being healthy, because I do. My husband and I are running together twice a week. I don’t drink coffee or soda very often and I never have energy drinks. Water is my favorite. I still try to watch my portion sizes, and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. My husband and I eat mostly chicken and lean beef, with shrimp and salmon dishes scattered in between. So I am trying; I’m just not working toward the goal of looking a particular way. My body looks like it belongs in a Renaissance painting instead of on the cover of Vogue, and that’s okay. I’m healthy. I’m happy. My husband thinks I’m hot. And I think that’s all that really matters. I’m not claiming that this attitude is easy. There are still times I glance at myself in the mirror and do a double take, eyes narrowing at that little bit of belly fat clinging to my hips and abdomen. But I can’t stay there. I know that now.

I wish there was some way I could spread this feeling, this certainty and confidence, to people all around the world. It’s not just single men and women or slightly larger men and women who suffer from this self-deprecating mentality. I know several married people, whose spouses love their bodies and tell them so, who still hate the way they look. There are smaller, thinner women I know who wish they could fill out their clothes a little more and just can’t gain weight. And I’m sure the taller, thinner men out there would love thick muscles and abs. Why? Where does this wishing-to-look-like-someone-else come from? What causes us to latch onto the lie that we’re ugly or not as attractive as so-and-so? When did looking-this-way become more important than being healthy? Who gave beautiful a definition, a body type? It’s 2017, the year of acceptance. Why is it still so hard to accept our own bodies?

It starts within us. No matter how many times my parents and family members told me I was beautiful, I just couldn’t believe it. (They loved me. They had to tell me that.) It took time and God’s gentle prodding to make me see myself the way He did; priceless, gorgeous, made on purpose. Stop looking at yourself in the mirror and obsessing about all the things you don’t like. Look for things you do like, accept the compliments people give you, try to see yourself through their eyes. Write notes to yourself, find inspirational quotes, encourage other people who are in the same boat you’re in. Continue eating the right foods and exercising, but be intentional about changing this negative mentality. It’s not good for you. Nothing can be gained by it, nothing except more internal criticism, dissatisfaction, and depression.

Remember…”You’re beautiful! You’re beautiful, it’s true!”