Monday, April 5, 2010

Twitter? Changed my life?

Bindu Wiles (@binduwiles) is collecting stories of "how Twitter changed my life." I thought I would be interested in reading them, but didn't think of myself as someone to whom the topic applied. Then, it nagged at me. I was not giving credit where it was due. I was actually feeling a bit silly and protective about my Twitter experience in light of the world's misunderstanding.

So, I wrote this:

Dear Bindu,

I have spent too much of my life force maintaining a precise level of acceptability at any given moment.

As a child, I ran innocently to strangers, insisting they come in for lunch. Gloriously happy, invitingly open. School killed that quickly. Confused, terrified, my spirit retreated. I gave up nothing more of myself than I had to; I became silent and solitary. I watched carefully. I decided very deliberately, by about eight years old, to never show any portion of myself before first feeling certain that portion would be acceptable. The pain of rejection felt so acute that I believed this was the only sane path. I devoted myself to developing skills to stay safely hidden while appearing to participate in the world. I became an exceptionally good reader of people, not just through traditional means, but by feeling the slightest change in their emotional state as they feel it. Since most people's expectations of me have been lower than my capabilities, I've combined this talent with adequate acting skills in order to be what people needed me to be. People like when you give them what they need. But that's not a meaningful relationship.

I had come to believe, at my core, that I was unacceptable. I believed that developing new relationships was pointless, since there will eventually come a point where I can't share any more of myself without becoming unacceptable. Intense is the word many acquaintances, co-workers, family and friends have used to describe me. THEY HAVE NO IDEA. Beyond my husband and my children, I have permitted only surface-level engagement of my spirit. I was making incremental steps, opening dialogues with other women, introducing myself, overcoming my fight-or-flight to stay present for a few moments before letting my gloss take over. But I felt I wasn't getting far. My spirit longs to be free; more, it longs for communion with others. I had stalled out on my ability to reach widely for love.

And then Twitter. I had opened an account for work, but felt constrained by my name as a community brand, so I created a pseudonymed home account. I mostly followed comedians and found it a pretty futile exercise. One day I started doing searches on random words, and came across @obsrvationalist . He followed me back and actually tweeted @ me, which had never happened before. I looked at his profile, followed his most interesting followers, and over the next month or two, I discovered myself building community with people across North America. Supporting each other, asking about each other's lives, even sharing real email. Jokes, inspiration, advice, and even agreements to disagree without any withdrawal of affection. I have been encouraged and supported to be me in ways that I never am in my daily life. The people who follow me, for the most part, don't know me in person, but there are a handful I'd want to share my good news with before anyone. There are a handful I would turn to if my heart were breaking.

Is it because they don't know me? Yes. I am not ready to build these kinds of relationships in real life, nor do I have time to be in regular contact with my real people in a way that allows this level of relationship. It's a limited partnership with very clear parameters. I can be entirely myself, and I don't have to worry about continuing to work with or socially address people who don't like me at any point in the revealing. They can just unfollow. What pressure that removes!

Building a small, trusted audience encouraged me to try blogging, where I'm really pushing my limits. I may lose some people, gain others, but I am communicating my experience honestly and clearly in a way that resonates with others. I am exploring themes that become a work of fiction that compels me. But here's the best part - it's translating to real life. Every day, out in the world, I'm building my tolerance for presence with others. I am pushing myself to reach out, and I've cleared the plateau. Since I started working with Twitter in June, I have made more progress than I had in the previous three years. The relatively small sting of unfollow has helped me build a thin callus against rejection. It's a starting place. I am finding my way with more courage and less fear, putting myself forward more than holding myself back. It's hard, and I'm clumsy, but practice helps. Twitter offers me daily practice on my home ground. A tremendous tool in my healing - the ability to find and connect with other real people in a supportive, loving way that fits my lifestyle, schedule and capabilities. I'm surprised to find myself saying: it's changed my life.