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.

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Lost

Trapped in cyberspace, where ideas are plentiful

More numerous than the fish in the sea

Each has a voice, a platform, a goal

All of them much louder than me

In many ways the world inside a computer

Is larger than the one outside

Though I work hard and persistently harder

I find myself falling by the wayside

So many people have more interesting things to say

Where do I fit in? How can I compete?

This was never a game I wanted to play

But to unplug now would be admitting defeat

“Follow others” “Be yourself” “Write what you know”

I do this week after week after week

Is there another secret? Everyone says, “No!

Do that and be patient; you’ll have what you seek.”

So I write and post and read and comment

All the while watching the number of views

Smiling despite the inner voice, crying out in lament

How long can I keep this up before I lose

Hope of ever making my mark?

Lost in the cacophony, am I alone?

 

On the subject of fame

My dreams as an author evolved over time.

When I was young and barely discovering my talents, I was very private about my writings. I only ever shared them with my sister because I trusted her opinion and I knew she shared my interest in fantasy. I knew I wanted to get better, though. I soaked up every piece of young adult fiction that engaged me, wishing to learn from successful authors. Of course, being published doesn’t make an author great or successful, and this I discovered from the mediocre books I stumbled upon in my search for knowledge. My teachers were J.K. Rowling, Sarah Dessen, Christopher Paolini, Cassandra Clare, Suzanne Collins, Patrick Ness, Brandon Sanderson, Kelley Armstrong, Rick Riordan, Kristen Cashore, and Marissa Rice. These were the authors who made me laugh and cry, made me fall in love with their characters, made me want to live in the worlds they created, made me believe that good always triumphed over evil in the end, made me anticipate long journeys and challenges because I knew I would be a better person after enduring them.

Without these authors and their stories, my writing wouldn’t be what it is today. And I realized something; I wanted to inspire and teach others too. I wanted to make other young people or young writers feel and believe what all these authors made me feel and believe. I wanted to reach as many people as I could and be able to live off of my writing if possible. In order to do that, I had to have a certain level of popularity. That scared me (still scares me if I think about it too much, to be honest.)

I’ve never been popular, not even a little. I had a small group of friends in elementary school, but those relationships didn’t last past my transfer to private school. My sister and her friends became my crowd throughout Jr. High. I couldn’t stand the drama, the gossip, and the incessant boy-talk of the other girls my age. I had acquaintances in high school, but nobody I would want to spend my weekends with. My older brother and sister let me tag along with them to a young adults Bible group in the next town over. The people in that group were my true friends, people I looked forward to seeing and hanging out with. But with time they all began to get married or move away or get jobs with taxing schedules that kept them away from our weekly meetings. And then I moved to Phoenix, Arizona, having developed none of the social skills necessary to make friends with ease. It took me a few years to fall in with the crowd I hang out with today, and even that crowd is small.

So I shied away from writing for others, and went with the more “practical” career choice. Still, the need for improvement has never dwindled. I’ve continued to work on my stories through the years, to the point where I live and breathe their words. And now I’m back to pursuing that full-time-inspiring-author goal. I’m facing this giant word again: popularity. AKA fame.

Uuuugh.

To me, to be famous means people follow you on social media and comment on everything you say. It means people know your opinions on life and love and politics and the Holy Ghost. It means reporters want to buy off your friends to find out juicy facts about you. It means strangers know where you’re going to spend Christmas, what stores you like to shop at, what you wore to that date with your husband last Friday, whether your kid is good in school or not. It means nothing is secret anymore, nothing is sacred. Maybe I’m exaggerating. I mean, there have been examples of famous people who managed to keep their personal lives personal. I never see Daniel Day-Lewis or Brandon Sanderson or Relient K on the front cover of a gossip magazine, but I have to wonder how much work it takes to be anonymous in a world where information is as important as air.

Just the thought of balancing being known with keeping certain things private is making me want to crawl under the covers and never come out. But I need people to read my work if I want to inspire them. I need people to buy my books if I want to be a full-time author and still help my husband provide for our family. I need to be known if people are going to support me. So I’ll be needing to call Daniel Day-Lewis sometime and ask him how he keeps the media away. I’ll be needing to find some coping mechanism if/when fans start knocking on my door. I’ll rehearse what I’m going to say before every interview so that my words won’t be used against me or my family. I’ll have to be willing to do whatever it takes if I’m to continue. And I must continue. I don’t think I would be able to live with myself if I gave up on my dream again.

So I finally cracked

I’m not a blogger. The cool authors blog and all the articles about becoming a cool author recommend blogging. But still…I wouldn’t know what to blog about, I always thought. My life is simple; I go to work, I do online school, I hang out with my husband, I go to church, I occasionally go out with friends, I watch my shows, I read books, I work on my manuscripts, and repeat. I’m not the kind of person who has strong opinions about too many important things. Who would want to read my thoughts on politics? They are few and far between. Would anyone care to know how I felt about the latest Star Wars movie? (It was sad but I kind of expected everyone to die because none of the new characters came out in A New Hope. If I just spoiled it for someone, I’m sorry but it is January and if you haven’t seen it yet there might be something wrong with you.) Despite all the reasons why I was sure I’d be the worst blogger in history, one thought kept resurfacing.

Nobody knows who you are.

I used to find comfort in this. As an extremely self-conscious introvert, I spent my teenage years trying to go unnoticed. I hid behind my books and my bangs, and thought an awful lot about what I was going to say before I spoke (if I spoke at all). I was terrified of sounding or looking stupid. My big sister tried to tell me that everyone sounded or looked stupid sometimes. “So long as you shake off the embarrassment and go with it, nobody will think less of you, Ted.” (More on the nickname later.) I didn’t start believing her until about four years ago, after I’d graduated from high school, moved away from home, and had dared to speak without thinking on more than one occasion. It turned out she was right. Nobody looked down on me for saying something silly or for being a klutz or for laughing at a really lame joke. I guess people thought I was genuine and sort of liked me for it.

The result of this was a simple but revolutionary discovery: I’m a semi-likable person with skills. A very short list of skills, but skills nonetheless.

This new thought made it suddenly okay to be noticed by other people. It was this thought that gave me the courage to join writer’s forums, enter my short stories into contests, surround myself with beta readers, and hunt for an internship at a publishing company. I’ve been given validation and harsh criticism. I’ve learned lots about the writing industry only to find out that I don’t know anything. But one thing has become very clear to me, especially in the last few weeks. I’ll never become a successful writer without building my readership and the only way to do that is by being known.

So here I am.

Starting a blog.

Attempting to join the cool authors.

Putting myself out there.

Wrestling with the teenager inside of me who still wants to hide.

Should I post this? Was I funny enough? I hope I didn’t offend anyone…EEK! THIS IS STRESSFUL! Forget it. I don’t have to become a published author. I’ll just keep my writings to myself and bury my head in the sand.

Take a chill pill and relax into the back seat, girl. It’s going to be a long ride.