Monday, May 14, 2007

Not Tonight, Honey, I Can't Articulate

So last night I hung out with BFF and C. and C.'s husband G. and the Tasmanian Devil (who is 3, and who loves me with a love that is pure and true, a love which I return vigorously) and Wee Little Chill Baby, and it was fabulous. It's easy to forget, given the current configuration of my life, what it's like to hang out like normal people - in actual person - in a group of cool people just chilling - hanging with the kids, making dinner, talking into the night. That's because, in the current configuration of my life, many of the people with whom I spend the most time I do not actually "see" in person. Indeed, I have all of these relationships conducted over the phone.

This is not all bad. On the one hand, one might argue, it's actually quite great, especially for a person in this profession, which forces us to pull up stakes with such frequency. Rather than falling out of friendships based on distance, just dropping the occasional note or having the occasional timed phone call, it is now possible to stay in very good touch with one's nearest and dearest, to maintain those social networks across vast distances and competing schedules, etc. Between email, the phone, and IM, one really need never be out of touch with people, and one may even meet new people whom one has never actually "met" but with whom one gets along just swimmingly, to create new virtual social networks. All of this is good.

But I've been thinking a lot about what it means to conduct relationships only in language, without the benefit of face-to-face signals. Yes, we are all always already in discourse in all of our interactions, but what if discourse is all there is without more ephemeral physical cues and gestures? What is the effect of that? And what happens when you just don't have anything to say?

Now, this not having anything to say thing is rarely a problem for me, I must admit. I'm chatty. It's the fun of me. And my very best long-distance friends, with whom I talk pretty much daily, well, they are a chatty sort as well. Even when we've got nothing to say, we make up stuff to say. Even with BFF, who lives here, I spend hours on the phone. So the issue isn't that I'm not a phone-talker. I love talking on the phone (for I do love it, in the way of 14-year-old girls across these great United States), but really what I love is talking - it's just the phone is a convenient way to talk as much as I need to when people aren't actually around to whom to talk. And if nobody is available telephonically, well, then email will suffice, because as much as I love talking, I also really enjoy the sending of emails. And in a pinch (esp. with friends in England), IM will suffice as well. Conversations, in whatever medium, are fabulous, no?

But here's the thing. Sometimes one or the other person or even both people are all talked out. If one is in person, this is less of an issue. If you're in person, talking isn't necessarily the point. And as much as I love talking, I often think that talking can really fuck things up between people. Because this is the thing with talking (or emails, or whatever): with the talking comes the analysis. The thing here is that at a certain point all of this talk talk talk devolves into solipsism. It becomes all about one's self, and not at all about the other person. The person on the other end of the telephone line, the other end of the internet, becomes merely a projection of the speaker. One doesn't really need to deal with the other person as that person but rather one constructs that person for oneself depending on one's own needs.

Now, one might argue that this is an issue in in-person interactions as well. But I suppose I think that this tendency is intensified in these long-distance interactions. Yes, it is somewhat lessened if one has a solid real-life foundation on which to base one's telephonic and written correspondences, but even then, at a certain point the "real-life" fades into the background. At what point does not having seen someone more than once a year for a few hours at a pop overcome the years that one had been friends before-hand? At what point does the discourse overwhelm the memory of the physical person?

And what of these people whom one meets through all of this technology - with whom one has never had a real-life foundation? At a certain point, all of this talk becomes the real-life interaction with these people, and that's, frankly, bizarre. And in these interactions, at least for me, I feel like it's a lot more common to find myself having a difficult time making conversation, or to feel like the dumb conversation that I'd normally make is, well, dumb. I also notice that the people on the other end can seem to have the same problem. And so there are strange ebbs and flows, periods of intense presence and periods of total absence, that form.* I'm not sure how to bridge those gaps, those absences. I'm not sure whether one is meant to do so.

Is this a problem of articulation? I'm not sure. But it reminds me of one of my favorite ever lines from The Real World.** Once upon a time, Crazy had broken up with a guy (after Crazy saw him OUT ON A DATE WITH SOMEBODY ELSE ON THE VERY SAME DAY THAT HE HAD SUGGESTED SHE LEAVE A TOOTHBRUSH AT HIS HOUSE BECAUSE SHE WAS SLEEPING OVER SO OFTEN!) and so she and Medusa and their friend Ambiva hunkered down to a Real World Seattle Marathon and eating of Easter Candy. Or wait. Maybe this particular RW marathon happened the day after Halloween and it was with Halloween candy and has nothing to do with the aforementioned break-up? Maybe they did marathons on both occasions? It is hard to know. There was definitely candy. Of that I am certain. At any rate, it was the Real World Seattle. One of the "cast members" that season was this guy Brown-Eye/Green-Eye from Boston, and in one of his interviews, struggling to describe something, he said, "I can't articulate wit' words." Now, this is hilarious, as the definition of "articulate" distinctly depends on the use of words. But I suppose what I'm wondering now is whether that Brown-Eye/Green-Eye was stupidly on to something. Maybe the problem is that sometimes one needs to articulate without words?***

*Or perhaps what I'm really talking about is the present absence, Lacan's objet petit a? Perhaps these people are always both present and absent?

**Another favorite moment from the same season comes from an interview with (I think it was) Steven-the-Guy-Who-Slapped-Lyme-Disease-Girl. He was on the phone with a friend, talking about how he hated his roommates, and the friend suggested he "Kill them with kindness." His response? "What was that again? Let me write that down!" As if it was this brilliant and unbelievable phrase that he had never encountered. Oh, those Real Worlders. They may be pretty but they sure are dumb.

***Don't think that the irony of my writing about this all on a blog is lost on me. I find this particular irony immensely entertaining.

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