Tuesday, September 29, 2009

It's Time For a Non-Virtual Experience

(cross-posted with slight adaptation on ANWAFounder&Friends)

Last Sunday, as I was getting dressed for an early morning Church meeting, I had cranked up the sound to a BYU Devotional on TV to listen to while I dressed. Now, you must understand that the TV is some distance from my bedroom and bathroom where the bulk of my “getting ready for Church” takes place, so between running water for such things as brushing my teeth and the A/C cycling on and off (yes, even at that hour of the morning, for you non-Arizonans who may be blinking in dismay), I don’t generally catch a lot of words from these early morning devotionals. But I do remember that the speaker last week was a woman, and during one interim of relative silence on my and the house’s part, one comment broke through that caught my attention. Speaking to a college age audience, she was warning them about spending too much time in cyberspace. The comment went something like this (paraphrasing): “I’ve heard many students say that they feel closer to their cyberspace friends than they do to actual people they know on campus.”

What she said in follow-up escaped me, as the A/C cycled on again, but from her tone of voice, I suspected this was not something she particularly approved of.

Her words struck both a chord of guilt and justification in me. I freely admit that I spend a lot of time with “virtual friends” on the internet. Not all of them are completely “virtual” anymore, as many of them are members of the American Night Writers Association whom I have now met at writing conferences and retreats, so I can count many them as “real people”, rather than the “virtual friends” they were to me for so many years. Yet some of them I still have never met, and there are other writers I have connected with in cyberspace that have become good friends, as well. Why have I bonded with these people in cyberspace? Because we share a common interest—writing!—and to be honest, because of where I live, except for that annual conference and writers retreat, I don’t get a chance to associate with other writers outside of cyberspace. And so I admit, on many levels, I feel closer to many of them through cyberspace than I do to non-writer acquaintances within my town.

Keep in mind that I am also single, so I have no husband and children to associate with on a consistent basis. Even my siblings live in different states, reducing our contacts to phone calls and—yes—cyberspace exchanges!

Hence, my “justification” for the time I spend with my “virtual friends”.

When I found myself invited last week to a Stampin’ Up! party with some other women in my church, my initial reaction was hesitance, even though the party was being sponsored by a friend of mine who lives some distance away who was coming to town just to instruct us in the art of paper crafting—a very non-virtual friend whom I continue to love very much. But I’m also quite shy (though you might question that self-description if you get me started talking about writing ;-) ) and have never particularly felt comfortable in large social groups. Even though I wanted to see this friend of mine very much, it still was a struggle to convince myself to go. But the words of that BYU Devotional kept coming back to haunt (or more likely, prompt) me. “You need to go have a non-virtual experience, Joyce. You need to go be around some living, breathing people, even if just for a few hours.”

Don’t you hate it when you know you should go do something “because it’ll be good for you”, when you really don’t want to do it? But I couldn’t get that voice out of my head. “You need to go have a non-virtual experience.” And so I pushed myself into my car and drove down to the hostess’s house to learn how to Stamp Up some Christmas cards. If you knew what a complete craft klutz I am, even having been craft-humiliated to the point of tears on more than one occasion, you would understand why this non-virtual experience was a double challenge for me.

But you know what? I went, I was not humiliated (Stampin’ Up! must have been designed especially for craft klutzes like me—it’s like I couldn’t make this stuff look bad even if I tried!), and I had a good time! All the non-virtual women there were warm and welcoming, and one of them even said towards the end, “You need to come and play with us more often, Joyce.” And when she said that, I knew it was true. I need to “go play” with some non-virtual people sometimes, even if they aren’t writers.

This takes nothing away from my love for my writer friends, even if most of them remain “virtual” over most of the year. I’ll still spend time with them, because they nourish me and my writing in a way only other writers can do. But I will also try to remain more open to non-virtual experiences closer to home after this.

Hey! When is that next Stampin’ Up! party scheduled?