Thursday, October 23, 2008

My imaginary friends

I've been posting about what its like to raise a son on the autism spectrum for about a year now and in that time, I've made so many new online friends to whom I feel astonishingly close and connected.

Many of them write their own blogs and I follow their stories and the progress of their kids with rapt attention; cheering triumphs and eagerly awaiting news of how they are moving through their inevitable difficulties.

Many do the same for me and Ben, and I'm thoroughly grateful.

I've had the privilege of meeting some in the flesh, but so many more only exist for me in words and pictures, Facebook status messages, and Twitter feeds.

Yet, I feel more connected to many of them than I do to many people in my "real-life" social circles.

Especially those of you that I follow on Twitter; we keep tabs on each other, make wise cracks, know when we're having a bad day at work or car trouble, know what each other is cooking for dinner and what funny remarks our kids blurt out before bedtime.

But I've now gone a step further with my social networking friendships.

I've become dear, close friends with people who don't even know who I am.

Take John Dickerson, for example.

He is Slate Magazine's chief political correspondent. I read his online articles each week, listen to him (and David Plotz and Emily Bazelon) on the Slate Political Gabfest podcast every Friday, I occasionally read his blog and I follow him on Twitter.

So I know when John is traveling and following the Obama campaign. I know when he's back home with his wife and kids. I know when it's his daughter's birthday. I know that he enjoys playing guitar. I know what he thinks of his hotel room in Indianapolis and when he's put on standby at SFO.

And while I promise you that I am NOT stalking Mr. Dickerson, I think I spend more time with him than I do with people I consider my "real" best friends.

Probably because my "real" best friends are smart and funny like he is. But they are terribly busy - just like me - with their jobs, their kids and just getting through each day.

When I listen to the Gabfest each Friday, I honestly feel like I'm enjoying a regular weekly lunch date with good friends. We laugh, discuss the issues of the day and enjoy each other's company.

When David Plotz's wife and Atlantic contributor, Hanna Rosin, made a guest appearance week I found myself almost giddy, thinking, "Oh - I'm SO glad Hanna is here again this week!"

Except, I can't talk to them.

And they have no idea I even exist.

Then there are my other friends Stephen Metcalf, Julia Turner and Dana Stevens at the Slate Magazine Cultural Gabfest podcast. I have the same fantasy about being their friend, too. Except with them, we talk about movies and books and TV.

And there's Adam Davidson and Laura Conaway and David Kestenbaum and Alex Blumberg. Their new Planet Money podcast/blog/twitter feed gives me my daily jargon-free explanation of what's going on with the economy.

They're all smart. They say the kinds of insightful and witty things my "real" friends would say.

That is, if I was actually spending time with my real friends. But I'm sad to say that this rarely happens anymore.

When I do get together with friends, kids are normally around, and I'm either being vigilant for trouble or just unable to finish a sentence. No one talks on the phone any more - it's never a good time to call someone.

And when did email - beyond asking a quick question - become too much work?

Certainly there's no time for the kind of thoughtful and substantive conversation that I vicariously participate in when I listen to these podcasts.

So this is a way for me to experience meaningful adult conversation and connection in the throes of a very busy, special-needs-child-rearing life.

Feeling a connection to media personalities isn't new. But it might be amplified by the fact that unlike typical mass media figures, my imaginary friends mix their personal lives and personalities into their public work in a way that is natural and casual and unaffected and makes the public artifact BETTER.

Sure, everyone felt close to Walter Cronkite, but no one knew that he had rib eye for dinner or felt a little bit guilty about drinking Starbucks or who he was rooting for on Project Runway.

So, here's a toast to my wonderful imaginary friends: I've grown so terribly attached to you all. Thank you for filling the void until I have time to start that weekly salon with my real friends.

That is, if by that point, they even remember who I am.


Anonymous said...

Other than the part about not having time for 'flesh and blood' friends, this post may as well have been written in a foreign language.

When it comes to technology, I am a true late adopter. I'm not 100% sure what a podcast even is and how does one go about listening to it, and where does one find them...

I'm sure I'll figure it out just in time for the next version to come out.

Jordan said...

You won't be surprised to hear that this resonates with me, will you? As you said, especially those of us on Twitter end up catching the subtleties of one another's lives in a way that makes us feel as if we live next door. Hell, I even follow your *husband* on Twitter, and encouraged my husband to follow both of you because I knew how much he'd like you guys! That's pretty wild.

I love your podcast recommendations. I already subscribed to Planet Money recently thanks to you, and just now added Slate Gabfest. My problem is figuring out when to listen to them during the week. Maybe I'll start listening on my drive home from work on the iPhone, connecting it to my car stereo. I don't know, but I do want to hear them!

It was so great to meet in person last summer and I look forward to getting together again next time I'm in the Bay Area.