E-INTIMACY & THE SOCIAL NETWORK PART II: A Naked Gchat with Stephen Elliott, Blake Butler & Christina Kingston
DEALING WITH HATERS
Blake: Do you guys then operate out of a kind of remove? Like, when people attack and it seems wrong, have you learned to write it off? It used to get to me.
JesusAngelGarcia: I learned recently on The Rumpus to take the high road.
Stephen: The high road is a beautiful road. It rarely gets to me when people attack and it seems wrong. It happens to me all the time. Half the time it’s my father.
CtKscribe: My haters often try to be friends with me later. I never understand it, but find the whole thing amusing. Laughter cures most of my ills.
Blake: I refer to those people as “dad” in my mind too. You have to learn to let it go, or you’ll just lose your mind.
Stephen: There’s a difference between arguments and discussions. In an argument, people are trying to win. In a discussion, people are trying to find points of agreement and learn from each other, which happens online a lot, I think. Though it doesn’t take much rosemary to ruin a soup.
Blake: There is plenty of positive conversation. It’s just that furor and hype happens more around the shit throwing.
Stephen: We have this book club on the Rumpus. And the discussions are amazing. We have our own email group for bookclub members and there’s like 100 emails a day. And it’s a hugely productive discussion. But these are people paying $25 a month.
JesusAngelGarcia: Any thoughts on why some people in online communities approach dialogue as an offensive and others as a place to learn and grow and share and dig into complex spaces?
CtKscribe: A large portion of the population loves aggression and to watch train wrecks. It’s like a drug.
JesusAngelGarcia: So it’s not about creating intimate spaces. It’s about fucking shit up.
CtKscribe: I’m not trying to “fuck shit up,” but there are many in the masses who love when “shit is getting fucked up.” They flock to it, with popcorn.
Stephen: I think the comments on the Rumpus, over all, are very positive. But we do filter out mean, anonymous comments. Usually.
Blake: I wish I had the energy to do that, though I also like a mess.
JesusAngelGarcia: What do you like about the mess?
Blake: I like that people can say whatever they want. I think even a messy argument can have some kind of center. And the ability to say whatever affords a kind of discussion that can go anywhere. It can be frustrating, and it’s also frustrating that there is so much positive that gets overruled by the loudest ones, which are the minority.
CtKscribe: I’ve never had closed comments and have never had a problem, even though I have numerous people who absolutely despise me.
JesusAngelGarcia: Not on your blog, Tina, but haven’t you had problems on Twitter with so-called “followers” acting a fool?
CtKscribe: What I have is people “lifting” my content from tweets, Facebook wall posts and my blog, then using it as their own.
JesusAngelGarcia: I’m sure you call them out, no? And that makes another hothot post?
CtKscribe: No, I do not call them out anymore. Too much negative energy spent. If someone is desperate enough to take words and thoughts I said in a thread on a wall post and turn it into a blog, well… sad for them. And nothing I can do or should. It’s too pathetic to sully my hands over.
LOVE, HATE & FEAR
JesusAngelGarcia: Based on my own experience and many conversations with friends, it seems like most people have a love/hate relationship with the online social networks. Can you recount your most intimate online experience and, perhaps, one that you initially felt was authentic, but later it seemed otherwise, like you felt betrayed or you saw the experience in, say, a more bitter light?
Stephen: That’s a tough one. I had a long email correspondence with someone in early 1997 after I’d left my fiancé. When I finally met her there was no energy at all. Though she was plenty nice. Now, if I like someone I meet online, I try to meet them in person as quickly as possible. If that doesn’t happen, I cut the rope. Though I have friends I only know online.
CtKscribe: I’ve been a blogger since 1995. Anybody remember GeoCities? And I’m always very interactive with my readers and those I bump into along the Internet highway. So, regarding intimate online experiences that initially felt authentic but later turned into something ugly-YES, it’s happened countless times. But I refuse to put up a force field. I keep meeting people, just not as many.
Stephen: But there’s a limit to how close we can be.
JesusAngelGarcia: Yeah, I’ve had some online “dating” network experiences that felt authentic-deeply connected, not just passionate and flirty, but in that peeling-off-the-layers way where we were really getting into feelings-and then, poof! It was gone as quickly as it arrived.
Stephen: I don’t think I can ever connect as well with someone online as in person. And a long-distance relationship is often fueled by fantasy that I won’t live up to and they won’t either. It’s very easy to end an online relationship. There’s not as much commitment. That’s part of the problem.
CtKscribe: Men view online relationships differently than women do. Everything you just said Stephen is what every man I’ve ever discussed the topic with says. And women say the opposite.
JesusAngelGarcia: Like you mentioned, Stephen, people think they can’t live up to fantasy, so they bail before “perfect” zeroes and ones become imperfect flesh and blood.
CtKscribe: Most women actually don’t mind if the face-to-face isn’t exactly what they fantasized. THIS is where the massive gap, between men and women in general, gets even more massive.
JesusAngelGarcia: But I’ve experienced what Stephen indicated, I believe, Tina-with women. And they vanished before making the IRL connect. I tend to think the reason was fear. And I met them on Craig’s List, so…
Stephen: If a person can’t make an IRL connection, there’s a problem. If they’re aware of it and open about whatever that problem is (maybe they’re crippled?) then that is one thing.
JesusAngelGarcia: How about you, Blake? Any experience with making it IRL with online relationships?
Blake: I usually talk to people for a long time before I ever meet them. Then it feels when I meet them as if they are a person I have known for a long time. Even if it’s only been a month or something. It feels tighter than people you meet in real life. But that’s because I communicate better online I think. I have at least 10 friends I’ve maybe met 3-5 times in real life and yet trust them as much or more than people I know at home.
JesusAngelGarcia: Does the online “intimacy” transcend? For them? For you?
Stephen: I have seen, with the book club, a group of people achieve an intimacy that’s remarkable. These people would have been too far away to find each other before.
JesusAngelGarcia: Or are you less capable of being intimate or… I dunno… emotionally open/honest/connected IRL?
Blake: I think, yes, I am more open and easy to talk to online.
ONLINE FANTASY v. IRL
Blake: I think the Internet is interesting because it allows you to fantasize in a different way than in flesh. Meeting in real life can kill that. I don’t need another Earth online.
Stephen: I’m post-fantasy.
JesusAngelGarcia: It’s complicated, I think, because fantasizing can be fun or enticing in some ways, but don’t we want to try to be as engaged with who we’re with and what’s happening in the moment as much as possible? For intimacy, that is, don’t we have to be post-fantasy, or as authentic in-the-moment as possible?
Blake: I don’t know what a moment is.
Stephen: I lack connection, overall. I know so many people, but I don’t know enough of them deeply.
JesusAngelGarcia: Online, I sometimes can’t tell what’s “real” (authentic) and what’s other. Anyone else have that problem?
Stephen: I think you can only have so many deep relationships. But they take time, and the Internet enables us to spread ourselves thin.
Blake: I think I restrict myself inside my body supremely. Maybe that’s my problem. I think I’ve fallen into a void.
Stephen: Maybe it’s my problem too. Maybe we’re in the same void. But there’s no cafe here. We need a void cafe, so we can hang out and play chess.
Blake: Do you feel much better when you shift those online moments to the body?
Stephen: I feel really good when I connect in real life.
LONELINESS v. ALONE
JesusAngelGarcia: Stephen mentioned previously something about having to already have the sickness of loneliness to feel lonely online. So no one feels like e-culture has exacerbated or created this condition? Does e-culture bring solace because the real world is too… body-essential?
Blake: My last girlfriend and I met online. We were together 4 years. Ultimately, the relationship started to break down because in my body I was going stilled off, sort of, verbally. I wasn’t talking. And yet online I was spewing all this shit. And I think it caused a conflict in her and made her think I was hiding something, when really it was just that I was realizing that I communicate better in silence. The more I talk out of my mouth, the more wrong it feels. I think I have fallen into this void where I feel incorrect if I am not alone. Removed. It is fucked up, I think.
CtKscribe: E-culture is my solace for sure because my misanthropy gets in the way of outdoor activity. I prefer to be alone. Not “lonely,” but alone. However, when I do go out, I’m out/out/out-a social butterfly. I’d much rather be home with books, pen and paper, dipping in online.
Blake: I wish I could get back. I think I broke her when I said I don’t believe in loneliness. And now that she is gone I do. But there was a mirage.
CtKscribe: Alone and lonely are different.
Stephen: True. You can be lonely in a crowd.
Stephen: I funnel all my creativity into the Internet, but on some fundamental level I don’t believe in it.
Blake: Yes. Do any of you see your online life impinging too much or exerting pressure on your real life?
JesusAngelGarcia: My question, too.
Stephen: There’s a pipe on the table, and you can take a hit, but you have to reach for the pipe. You can go online in perfectly healthy ways and you can also be unhealthy about it.
JesusAngelGarcia: Has your activity with online networks changed the way you move through “real life”? I mean… have you ever found yourself experiencing something amazing, which you take yourself out of by thinking about how you’ll post a status update or blog about it later, or you even find yourself interrupting your presence in the moment of some activity by Tweeting of FB-ing during the experience?
Stephen: If you missed some really important event with loved ones because you were playing cards in a Yahoo game room, then it’s problematic.
JesusAngelGarcia: I wonder about how we take ourselves out of the moment. Blake, you said you don’t know what a moment is. Really? Presence? Embodied presence?
Blake: I think everything is the same thing
CtKscribe: I hardly ever, almost never use my phone when with friends or anyone. It’s off for good. But I find I’m always in the minority when it comes to that.
JesusAngelGarcia: I don’t even have a cellphone. Talk about minority.
Stephen: I just got a text: “Tell them goodbye! You have a city and a girl to enjoy.” True story.
CtKscribe: As a girl, without a phone, I feel I’d wind up on Law&Order SVU.
Stephen: I used to date a girl and Wednesday was our day. It was “sleepover” night because she was married, etc. I wrote a book about this person. But the point is that for 24 hours I didn’t get online, or check my phone or anything. Anything. I was totally present with this person.
JesusAngelGarcia: That’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout.
Stephen: Wednesday was like a Sabbath. We met online.
JesusAngelGarcia: Wish I could do that more often, but I can’t often limit my time online, even when I set those limits. Blake, you really believe “living” online or “being” online is the same as IRL, so-called?
Blake: No, it’s not the same. But I think the void I feel is present in both. And it doesn’t matter anymore.
JesusAngelGarcia: What doesn’t matter anymore?
Blake: I feel removed from both.
JesusAngelGarcia: Removed from both, and yet you spend 8 hours a day at least online? And at night when you can’t sleep you get on FB to… reach out and connect?
Blake: No, I don’t see the connect anymore. It began that way. But now there are lines. Now it just seems a state. I feel really inside myself.
JesusAngelGarcia: But if you’re inside yourself, then why are you… reaching out online?
Blake: I’m not. I’m reaching out at myself or something. I don’t know. I can’t explain it.
JesusAngelGarcia: Can you remember who you were before you got involved in online social networks v. who you are now as a frequent participant on multiple networks?
Stephen: I have a story. When I met the girl who would become my fiancé who would become my ex-fiancé, she left for Europe. And I sent her letters post restante, waiting for her in every town. The letters brought us together, but she wasn’t a letter writer herself. Some of the letters were 40 pages long, written by hand. At some point she came back, and we made it 2.5 years. At another time, I would write letters on my word processor and send the same letter out to a dozen people or more. That’s what I was doing before the Internet.
JesusAngelGarcia: So you were always reaching out… digging into yourself and sending out that self to a select group of intimates, only now that group contains multitudes.
Blake: I like the idea of that shift. I see it in your Daily Rumpus emails, for sure.
Stephen: Yeah, I’ve always been writing letters… and I have all these readers now and connection. The daily emails feel new and I’m excited about them.
JesusAngelGarcia: Blake? Tina? Are you a different person post-Internet?
Blake: I don’t feel that different now, except I just feel, like I said, in a void, though I think it was always there. I’m just more pronounced. I am thankful for the people I have met and know online. I feel like I have true friends in many places. And that is really exciting and refreshing. And it gives me hope outside of anything that writing is. I don’t really care about being a writer. I like books. And I like people that are good people.
JesusAngelGarcia: You like? Man, you DEVOUR books.
Blake: Books are something I do because I am here.
JesusAngelGarcia: You just do? You don’t feel like you have to do?
CtKscribe: Writing is miserable. If I was given a choice I’d do something else, but I feel I have no choice.
Blake: It is an exercise. No, I don’t have to do anything. Or at least, I don’t have to show anyone.
JesusAngelGarcia: Tina? You feel like you have no choice but to write, so has access to an audience via the Internet changed you? Were you a different person before you started blogging?
CtKscribe: I feel as if writing has always been there for me, with me, inside me, and when I ignore it, an emptiness creeps in. The Internet audience is decent but too ephemeral. My hope is to have a longer lasting readership in the future. I began blogging as a kid, a long time ago on different sites, starting with GeoCities, as I mentioned. Since then, there have been numerous places. I don’t feel it’s changed me, but I’ve always been grateful to have a place to post if I need one.
Photo courtesy of hanspoldoja
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