Friday, June 27, 2014

Thoughts About Friendship in the Digital Age

Spencer Dryden

I describe myself as a gregarious loner. In this realm, many things only exist in contrast, so an oxymoron seems appropriate as a self label. If you met me—and it's unlikely, given my reticence about people—you'd probably find me to be a witty, engaging and delightful person. I am, to a point, but I am not comfortable around people, less and less so as I get older. I especially avoid crowded places. I have that figure/ground hearing thing. Hello, is anybody in there?

I think it would be odd to meet a writer who is a glad handing extrovert. Our craft involves introspection, observation, the creation of other realities. We need separation. A touch of melancholy serves me well.

To paraphrase the professional golfer, Fred Couples, I hate the sound of my phone ringing. Inevitably, there is someone at the other end and they want something from me. I like texts. Send me a text anytime.

My standard of friendship is my partner in failed business ventures, John Young. Among his many talents, he was (too disabled now) a skilled DIY'er, having restored several turn of the century homes. He loved them and loved the craftsmanship. When my wife and I bought a Victorian home sadly in need of repair, John loaded his tools and drove all the way across the country to help me and infect me with the DIY bug. A friend knows what you need without you asking, and shares what they have without diminishing themselves. While we failed in business, John's gift to me has been a great source of security for my wife and I, and  part-time cash to support my writing jones. I am Homo Habilis Rex (The Handyman King) You should have a friend like me. I can fix stuff. I have shared my partner's gift to me by always making time for widows and single moms who don't have anyone for those annoying household repairs.

Facebook has distorted the meaning of friendship. I embraced Facebook at first, as a way to connect with long lost family and friends. Lately, in the real world,  I've been unfriending as much as friending. I'm really not interested in your latest rant on guns, abortion, or your definition of a patriot. You're not my friend, you're just someone who has my address. Go away.

As an emerging author however, under a pen name, I have frequently wished I had 50,000 friends who could be urged to read my book and pass it along to ten friends, qualifying them for the blessing of angels, fairies, or what ever—and don't break the chain. Not.  I hope you don't want that kind of friend either, no matter what dimension you occupy.

For all my grumbling, the web has brought me the opportunity to participate in a community of writers, that is both engaging and helpful. Writing is a solitary craft. I'm happy with that. I write my best stuff when I am simply entertaining myself like a kid in a sandbox— piles of dirt become castles, sticks are spaceships, ants are invading armies. My wife is kind enough to let me play there. She only requires that I wash my hands before eating. She doesn't particularly like my stuff, she prefers the bodice ripping romance of Bertrice Small. But I knew I was getting somewhere when I had her down on the floor laughing at my send off to the undead, "The DVLZ Do". She's not much use as a critic or editor.

Then the day comes when you get this absurd idea that you'd like to try to publish. That's when you realize you need lots of people—people who can see the blatant errors in spelling, grammar and construction. More people who can tell you if your characters and plot are working. Still more people to offer suggestions on how to achieve your dream.

When I finally admitted to myself that I wanted to write erotica, I went searching for resources. The Erotic Readers and Writers Association was the first or second item returned in the search. I clicked the button and like Alice falling into the rabbit hole, I fell into a different reality, full of helpful and supportive people, many mad as the Mad Hatter, dedicated to advancement in the art of storytelling. There are many days when I don't want to return to the real world.

I don't know what it's like to be an addict, but I got a whiff of the experience the first time an editor said 'yes' to my anthology submission. The idea that someone, a professional no-less, was entertained by something I wrote, had me as high as I've been in many years.

Today, Spencer Dryden has more Facebook fiends than the guy who adopted the pen name of the first drummer for the Jefferson Airplane. Many have been friends in the truest sense—people who have helped me without expectation of repayment, people who have listened without judging, people who have rejoiced in my success and patted my hand during disappointment. If there was more of that in the real world, maybe I wouldn't be such a misanthrope.

So please feel free to  'like' Spencer Dryden and pass it along to your ten thousand closest friends, then angels, unicorns, fairies, mermaids, shape shifters, even zombies will shower you with blessings.


  1. You'd be surprised to meet an author who was also "a glad handing extrovert"? As Boris Badenov says to Rocky and Bullwinkle, "Allow me to be introducink myself." That's the way many people would describe me. I was a shy kid until I was about 12, then I had my epiphany and realized that my discomfort in social situations was equal to everyone elses'. We all just wanted someone to help us to focus on anything other than how awkward we felt. So I decided to become that person: the one who talks first, who babbles on, giving everyone else the security to just listen, or (ideally) laugh, or jump in to comment when they feel moved. Slowly I became known as the friendliest person around, instead of "the girl who almost passed out in 3rd grade when she had to give a speech in front of the class and the entire room spun then went dark."

    When I met my husband I told him once, over dinner, when his eyes glazed over slightly, "You know, I do stop to breathe now and then. That's your chance to leap in and make a comment or change the subject. If you don't, I'll figure you don't mind listening and I'll just keep going. Nature abhors a vacuum...I don't like silence much."

    And much later on, I explained to our kids who were commenting on how different we are, that if I was ever magically dropped into the middle of a crowded room of people, I'd start working my way to the outside of the the time I got there, I'd have shaken hands with a whole lotta people and have a bunch of business cards with phone numbers, though I'd probably have forgotten everyone's name (a personal flaw), but they'd all remember mine. But if you dropped my husband in the middle of that same room, he'd quietly watch everyone around him, waiting for me to make my way to him, secure in the knowledge that wherever he heard loud laughter, I was probably there, so I'd be rescuing him soon.

    Don't get me wrong, I love to study human nature. That's why I read so many psychology and cultural anthropology books. What I learn from studying other people is what I use in my books. They're erotic romance, yes, but I always try to create realistic people, with actual motivations and foibles.

    So hello, Spencer. I have no idea who the first drummer for Jefferson Airplane was, but I'm sure my husband knows. I took him to a show a few years ago that featured guitarists, and he was thrilled that Yuri Kokonan (sp?) was there.

    1. Fioan:
      Fantastic. I guess there is always one. Good for you that you did it to overcome your shyness. I love cultural anthropology and especially paleoanthropology.

      Spencer Dryden was the original drummer for the Jefferson Airplane. He died penniless a few years ago. The name sounded so classy. I decided since he couldn't use it anymore, I would.

    2. I do hope to meet you some time, Fiona!

  2. I'm okay with people I know, and I can hold forth all too long on any subject I know anything about, but in a group of strangers--even strangers with whom I know I have a lot in common--I'm adrift. And I much prefer e-mail to phone conversations (texting is beyond the scope of my barebones Tracphone, or at least too hard for me.) I joke that I like text more than speech because I have at least a brief chance to edit what I've written, but it's also a matter of having time to think out what I have to say.

    1. Sacchi:
      I have millennial children, texting is my main way of communicating with them. Once Thing 2 was home sick and he texted me from the bedroom not ten feet away from my desk to ask for some water.

  3. Thing 2? Too funny! Dr. Seuss reference and way to number the children. Husband was 2nd of 7 and parents used to yell out numbers when they'd be yelling and call out the wrong names. We did that too.

    There was a comic in the Sunday Trib on Father's Day that has the Dad telling his wife how cute it is that he got Father's Day greetings from all 3 kids and asking is there some way he can reply to all of them...then the last panel shows that he's sitting at the kitchen table with all of the kids, and the wife turns from the stove to ask, "You're kidding, right?"

  4. The best of friends leave us with something. They contribute to our lives in uncountable and sometimes subtle ways. Your friend gave you a way to make your life better in a very tangible sense.

    I consider myself lucky to be gregarious for most of my life, and remain open to new people. But, over the last few years, Momma and I *have* become more and more insular.

    And what you've said about the writing community at ERWA hit me the same when I found it. Like I wanted to believe there were others who thought like I did, and then they were there!
    How hard is it to get an honest opinion on your work, especially writing erotica? Your friends don't want to hurt your feelings, so that's often no help. The rest won't speak to you any more. :>)

  5. I'm very shy. Nobody believes it when they meet me, but as Sacchi said, being in a room full of strangers is near-agony. I detest making phone calls. However, I've compensated to the point that if you did run into me in person, you'd never realize how socially inept I still feel, at the age of sixty one.

    ERWA is a very special place. I'm closer to some of the people I know from the community than to most of the people I grew up and went to school with, even though in most cases I've never met them in person or even talked to them on the phone. In fact, I'm a bit in love with a few of them! They are a community of spirit for me. I count myself extremely lucky to belong.

  6. Daddy and Lisabet. Everyone at ERWA needs to send some love your way. Daddy for the helpful crits and Lisabet for all you do behind the scenes to created excitement and opportunity for aspiring writers. You're both the kind of friends I'm talking about.

  7. "A friend knows what you need without you asking, and shares what they have without diminishing themselves." -- This is a lovely summation.

    I'm often fascinated by the differences in inner feeling/F2F presentation/online presentation. As others have said, I've had to train myself to appear less shy than I am, but what I note is that it takes a huge toll on me and I need lots of rest and recovery.


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