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Sonya Mann's active website is Sonya, Supposedly.

Confiding in the Void

We’ve reached the 11th month of 2018, so I can say that the theme of this year has been community. From my perspective.

What does the average specimen of Homo sapiens need to be satisfied with their group and their own prospects within it? What are we currently lacking, we atomized modern creatures? (Please read the whole Samzdat series.) I’ve been trying to figure that out, and although I’ve gained some insights, I can only speak authoritatively for myself.

The following is a personal account of anomie.

As young as I am at 24, I’m still astounded by the amount that I learn over relatively small timespans. Human nature has long fascinated me, but during the past year I have dealt with it more intimately and dwelled on it more deeply than in the past.

Notice that I use the word “it” and refer to human nature in general, rather than citing specific connections with individual people. I have deep emotional relationships with my fiancé and immediate family, but my friendships remain primarily intellectual. Even with my dear partner, I struggle to be raw and vulnerable when I’m not intoxicated. Alcohol loosens my tongue and enables me to express the sentiments that scare me.

I would say that I love my friends, and they greatly enrich my life. Yet I remain puzzled by the easy camaraderie and affection that people seem to share with each other. I don’t know how to put this into the right words, the words that would properly convey what I mean. It’s a discomfiting sensation because words are supposed to be my forte.

Over the past couple of years, I have become more familiar with that which I cannot articulate. I’ll try anyway.

Here’s what I want to tell you: I remember the profound closeness of my childhood and teenage years, when platonic intensity bound me to a handful of other girls. I didn’t fully appreciate those friendships at the time. I feel their absence acutely, and it hurts to remember, because I know what I’m missing. I still haven’t figured out how to make true intimacy part of my adult life.

I used that word earlier — I said that now I understand human nature “more intimately.” I wasn’t wrong, per se, but my peer-to-peer connections are anchored by shared curiosities rather than bare feeling. My friends and I have little bearing on each other’s hearts. If we hold more than that between us, it’s hard for me to see.

Again, I sincerely love my friends, but I don’t think that we know each other at the core. We rarely offer that level of exposure, although I suspect that most of us would readily accept it from someone else. Tossing around ideas is safer than revealing angst in less-than-sardonic terms.

I come across as an open person, as far as I can tell. People have commended me on it. I don’t think that I give the impression of being reserved. But I am; I have secrets that fill me with inexpressible shame. That’s normal. Usualness does not reduce the burden.

I think that my brethren — my fellow thinkers and discussers — tend to be afflicted in this way. We prize cleverness and abstraction to the extent that we suppress our yearnings for human-to-human communion.

On the other hand, I could be committing the typical-mind fallacy. (Is it ironic to include that caveat?)

I have a guess about why I’m pondering this subject, why I feel bereft of true connection beyond my partner and family. It’s probably because I’ve reduced my dose of psych meds. The underlying realities are the same, but how I weigh them has changed.

I’ve been taking venlafaxine for five or six years, since I was a teenager. The drug saved my life; I would be an addict on the streets or otherwise miserable without the boost that it gave me. At a time when I was mired in despair, venlafaxine restored my energy and optimism enough for me to drag myself toward adult functionality and eventually happiness.

Granted, the upgrade was accomplished with plenty of support. I still resent my parents for creating me without my consent, but the anger has lost its potency. I owe them an incalculable debt for helping to transform my life into a good one. My fiancé deserves gratitude as well.

Despite all of the complaints above, I am cheerful most days — often productive! I love my job, am thankful for my luck in finding it, and cherish the belief that I am helping to build a future where autonomy is paramount and accessible to all.

I hope that the trend will continue. I want to believe that my brain is going through some kind of chemical adjustment period and I’ll be able to come to terms with a self that has emotions surging under the skin. I want to feel what I feel without being overwhelmed.

It may turn out that I need to stop tapering. I may decide to jump back to 225mg daily instead of my current 150mg. I can’t pinpoint why I hope that my mental health won’t require a reversion.

As a transhumanist, in principle I see nothing wrong with relying on medical technology to feel okay. Apparently despite my beliefs I’ve been nursing a latent hope that venlafaxine actually “fixed” me over the past five years, as opposed to being a treatment that I will need… forever?

In conclusion: I’m glad that I wrote this blog post, but I’m slightly fearful of the reactions. Despite my trepidations (or perhaps because of them) I’m going to solicit thoughts from a few of the people I like and respect. It’s a way of being intimate — there’s that word again! — without addressing them directly.

Am I being cowardly or brave? I think the former. Laudable courage would be publishing the secrets that I mentioned before. Alas, that is more than I can offer, although I would readily accept such disclosures from others.

Communicational Pliancy

Men of the community of Pie Town, New Mexico eating at the barbeque (LOC)
1940 or thereabouts in Pie Town, New Mexico. Yes, Pie Town! Photo via the Library of Congress.

Today I had a conversation with someone to clear up a mild disagreement. The disagreement was only mild because we’re reasonable people — if either of us had handled things differently it could have been a friendship-ending incident. As it was, we reassessed each other’s communication expectations and figured out how to go forward. One way of framing this is that we informally negotiated a code of conduct to apply to the two of us.

This made me reflect on how useful it is to iterate my social techniques in response to feedback (whether explicit or implicit). What I mean is tweaking my attitude and approach depending on what works best in a given situation. People do this automatically to some extent, and it sounds banal when spelled out. But for me the practice of intentionally maintaining social flexibility has been a surprisingly radical change in how I deal with other human beings.

It’s more productive to meet people halfway as opposed to expecting them to accommodate you entirely. I wouldn’t say this is easy — I am a stubborn person and I have to be wary of the urge to dig in my heels — but so far I’ve found communicational pliancy to be worth the effort.

“If we want to understand what’s on the mind of another, the best our mortal senses can do may be to rely on our ears more than our inferences.” — Mindwise by Nicholas Epley

I cross-posted this on Facebook and two friends offered astute comments. Emily Peterson:

“But what about a situation in which you’re asking for something you think is reasonable, and the other party is asking for something you think is unreasonable? In such a case, both parties meeting halfway results in the generic You feeling cheated [sic]. Does this only work when people’s expectations of one another are already in synch?”

Loretta Carr:

“Sometimes my truth and another’s truth don’t coincide; they’re not even close. When I don’t trust that person’s words or actions, I can’t work with him/her. Toxic situation for me. Gotta move on.”

Fair enough. It definitely depends on the situation.

Reflections on My Low Friendship Bandwidth

I have X amount of energy. A “normal” level of friendship — talking and hanging out often — requires Y energy, and Y is more than I want to use. I’m happy to spend a lot of time with my immediate family and my partner, but beyond those four people I usually find social contact more taxing than fun.

I don’t know if this is an introvert thing or more specific than that, but I’m sure there are other people who don’t “get” friendship or want to participate in it. Alternately, I may have an unrealistic perception of other people’s social activity.

If we’re nominally friends, I probably like you and would enjoy hanging out every couple of months. My capacity for this has definitely increased; maybe it’ll keep going up. But mostly, I don’t want to talk beyond occasional texts or Facebook comments, and I don’t want to see you frequently. I just don’t want to. However, I can tell that I’m supposed to want to, and it’s frustrating both for me and my acquaintances.

The worst situation is when someone wants more from me than I want to give. This has happened in every single close, non-immediate-family, non-romantic relationship I’ve had. It’s been painful for people on the other side and puzzling/upsetting for me too. The mutual trauma probably could have been prevented if I had the chutzpah, vocabulary, or cultural training to be up-front with people about what I can and cannot give.

Occasionally the desired commitment is about emotional intimacy rather than time/energy allotment. This can be even harder. With rare exceptions, I don’t want to confide in you. I can commiserate and share jokes and disclose things that I disclose to most people, but I don’t want to tell secrets or “open up” to you. I almost never discuss my deepest hopes/fears/dreams/shames with my mom or my boyfriend or my goddam therapist! I hate discussing that stuff with friends.

I’m not sure how to handle this whole problem appropriately. The easiest way is to always stay distant, which doesn’t help anyone and isn’t feasible anyway. I do like people, after all. I could have an awkward “reality of Sonya” chat with every new person I get along with. That option doesn’t appeal to me either.

What do you think? What’s your experience of friendship? Hit me up on Facebook or Twitter or wherever. I genuinely want perspectives and suggestions on this.

Who Is Me Dot Com

On Sunday I’m going to meet a new friend from Twitter. That’s not bizarre — I have IRL Tumblr friends; I met my boyfriend via OkCupid; recently I landed an internship with a blogger I respect. However, this will be my first prospective friendship that feels adult, like it emerged from my professional life. I’m a little nervous.

My internet self is not particularly different from my “real” self — after all, people are multifaceted. And, to stretch the metaphor, we’re constantly rotating. Various circumstances lead me to present one side of my personality versus another.

online personas
Illustration by Surian Soosay.

Jamie Lauren Keiles wrote on Vice“We need not fully become our online personas in the future, but surely we can make space for them as something real and integral to the project of building a tangible life and an authentic self.” Keiles’ quote implies that separation is the dominant state of affairs, which doesn’t jive with my own experience of online discourse or my personal digital presence.

Internet me is just me. Physical me is also me. The separation between those two self-entities, although they are perceived as culturally distinct, is obviously artificial.

I think I’m trying to convince myself that meeting this new friend won’t be weird. I want to believe that I shouldn’t be worried because me = me = me, regardless of venue. Honestly, nothing else is realistic.

Arresting Quotes From The Blazing World

Last month my book club read The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt, which is about a frustrated woman artist. The novel is remarkable, but this is not a review. I want to discuss a couple of quotes that grabbed me.

On being best friends:

“We were a team of two against a hostile world of adolescent hierarchies.”

That resonates. Being a teenager sucks in myriad ways, one of which is the constant feeling of social alienation. I don’t know if that feeling is universal, but certainly a lot of people experience it. During middle school and high school my friendships were self-protection against the brutal clique-ism, against the shame of eating lunch alone. Manufactured terrors of teenhood. You’re nobody if you’re not surrounded. I didn’t submit to it entirely: I spent hours in the library watching My Little Pony on YouTube or surfing Know Your Meme, which is super embarrassing in retrospect. But I still think “How’d it get burned?!” is the funniest thing.

The friendships that I’ve kept, that I still maintain, are based on genuine connection. My best friend recently messaged me on Facebook, just to check in, and I felt a surge of affection. A warm glow arises whenever she gets in touch. Forgive the cliche, but we’re kindred spirits.

On the irrepressible subconscious:

“Mysterious feelings: ingrown, automatic, thoughtless. Before words. Under words.”

I love the idea of “before words”. It makes me think of HP Lovecraft. In his fiction, monsters destroy the people who glimpse them, even if the characters aren’t attacked directly. Every horrible creature he writes about is supposedly beyond description, beyond the power of reason and language.

It makes me think of Sylvia Plath and her Freudian obsessions.

“Before words” makes me think of the sensation when I wake up from a dream with a vague concept, more like an impulse, unable to remember exactly what was happening. But I wish I could act on it.

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