Can I go back to the topic of imaginary friends? Back to Sonly and your Lulu who lives in a tree and your invisible mice who speak in an unusually high voice?
I spend a lot of time wondering what sort of people the Wolvog and ChickieNob will create. Will it be a collective friend they share as they do toys, spoons, and stuffed animals? Or separate friends that are gender-specific? Will their imaginary friend fill the gaps left by their sibling or will they simply not need one? Will a flesh-and-blood constant playmate trump the lure of an invisible one?
What does it say about the fact that I had so many imaginary friends? An inner circle of four, a larger mass of undetectable acquaintances who came with me on road trips or sat with me at the lunch table? Was I lonelier than most? More creative that the average six-year-old?
The New Yorker published an essay about five years ago about Charlie Ravioli, the imaginary friend of Adam Gopnik's daughter, a harried New Yorker who never had time for his creator. Olivia regaled her family with stories of Charlie Ravioli, forever blowing her off to jump into taxis, skip coffee dates, and not return calls. What does she gain from an imaginary friend who is too busy for her? And on that end, I should berate myself for not making poor Sonly suffer from premature ovarian failure so she could keep me company in the waiting room while I wait to be called back for blood work and a wanding.
And then there is the Internet--bulletin boards, chat rooms, and blogs--that have created liminal friends. You're not imaginary because you truly exist. But you're not entirely flesh-and-blood because--with the exception of a few bloggers--I never meet you. You're this liminal friend, somewhere between the real world of people I can hug and the imaginary world of people I create. And stranger still is when the real world and Internet world collide in the case of meeting bloggers or having real friends start writing.
You know that you're not imaginary, but the reality is that unless people meet you and can vouch for you, you could be a creation. Meaning, you could be a 14-year-old boy living in Kansas simply pretending to be an infertile 30-year-old woman living in New Mexico. The choice for creation is built into the medium of blogs--I go into each story with a lot of trust, especially if you are discussing things that I don't think the average 14-year-old boy would know (hormone levels can be looked up on a number of sites, but unless you've had an internal ultrasound, you probably wouldn't know that the sonographer slaps on a little condom-like thing on the wand. Unless you're the 14-year-old son of a sonographer). But I also know there is a chance that you could turn out to be a hairy man hot to discuss FSH with infertile women (ooooh, oooooh, tell me how high it was, Mel. Oooooooh).
Which makes you liminal--that state between two places.
Josh comes home at night and asks me about my day and our ensuing discussion includes the usual--what I did, who I saw, what I ate. Funny stories from the Wolvog and ChickieNob. A grand idea I have to convert the basement into a classroom and hold my own informal preschool in the house. The usual. And then, as I'm chopping vegetables for a salad, I tell him about the real people in our life as well as all of you. What's happening with Julie at work. So-and-so got a positive last week and her betas are doubling. This chickie is miscarrying and I couldn't stop crying when I read the post. That girl bought a camper and it totally made me want one.
On one hand, you are so real that you are lumped in with my discussion of the flesh-and-blood friends who pass through our house. But on the other hand, we don't really know you.
Along with celebrity gawking, is this the grown-up equivalent of the imaginary friend? With celebrities, you read a story about them in People and you think you know what sort of person they are based on twenty paragraphs. In the blogosphere, we have scraps of information about a person and fill out a whole life in the holes and spaces. You look kind in your picture and you say the right things when I'm down and you write so emotionally about your own journey that I fill in the blanks. I think I can imagine how you'd act when placed in certain situations (oh, she'd be so quiet--or--she'd kick his ass twelve ways to Sunday), but the truth is that we can barely predict the actions of close friends.
I think these ideas come to a head when you meet the blogger you've been conversing with for months. Or when I posted my picture last month and suddenly, you have a face to put with the words. Perhaps, I'm not how you imagined me and of course I feared that seeing me would be a disappointment. I've met about twenty bloggers by this point and none of them are how I imagined them either (though it was never a disappointment). What does this universal discrepancy say about the state of these friendships?
And at the same time, why are these liminal friendships easier and more fulfilling sometimes than the ones we have with the face-to-face people in our lives? They are the poor woman's equivalent to the 24/7 therapist. We see therapists not just because they are excellent in pointing out patterns or helping us make sense of our emotions, but because they are the one person that we can speak to without worrying about how our words are affecting them emotionally.
I'm not talking about being thoughtless in your speech (saying, for instance, "I just hate all blond-haired people" to a light-haired therapist); but when I went to a therapist, one of the first things she told me was that her office was the space to discuss everything that I felt too guilty to lay on Josh or my friends or my family. She didn't take my words home with her as my friends did and beyond that, she didn't take my feelings personally as a friend is liable to do. If you say to a friend, "I'm lonely" it is also a statement about their performance as a friend. Or, they take it that way. But a therapist can hear "I'm lonely" and keep it simply as a statement of loneliness.
And that is what the liminal friends of the blogosphere absorb--the words and thoughts that are too large, too messy, too emotional to share with those actually around us. They're not more valuable than face-to-face friends any more than therapists are more valuable than family. But they serve a different role. At least, until you meet them and they become a weekly coffee date (as well as someone you drag vacuum shopping) and then end up on a strange new plane between reality and the ether.
It is this constantly moving spectrum from imaginary friends to partner/spouse, with the
internal blocks--the real-life friends, the blogosphere friends, the ones you meet, the ones who remain faceless--constantly shifting in status, moving closer or farther away from the ethereal quality of imagination to the solidification of the well-known partner/spouse.
I talk about wishing that Sonly was in the waiting room with me, but the reality is that you are that circle I will carry with me into the office next week, the ones who will sit with me in the waiting room, sigh with me as the feet goes into the stirrups, tsk at my unshaven legs (seriously, Melissa, it's winter but still...), remind me to jot down my hormone levels. And I hope when you are sitting in the waiting room, that I can sit beside you--at least in imaginary form, at least in a liminal state between imaginary friend and someone that you can email when you get home. I hope I can be good company.