The other social network

I had a lovely conversation the other night with my friend Jennifer, who is a writer and a consultant. Jennifer, like me, is freelancing at something she’s good at, and we face some of the same situations and, yes, problems.

Talking to someone else who’s rowing in the same boat helps a lot. For one thing, each of you has different experiences to draw on, and often you can help one another out. Even if there aren’t practical things you can do or say to help each other, it’s just good not to feel alone. Freelancers, I believe, need to make special efforts to create a social network for themselves that doesn’t rely on a square screen and an internet connection. I’m talking about face-to-face time, or at least voice-to voice.

Jennifer and I have been friends since 1979. There was a time when we saw each other several times a year; now it’s been years since we’ve met face-to-face, and probably even years since we spoke. But the friendship endures; Jennifer was the first person who ever gave me a serious edit on a story and told me something other than “This is fantastic”. She’s trusted me with her writing, too. I still think of her as one of my best critics.

When I got off the phone, I felt bouyant, confident, and like I could do anything I set my mind to. This happens to me almost every time I make any effort at all to tap into my real-life network, people I have had, or could have, coffee with. I have friends I’ve never met face-to-face who probably know me almost as well (always assuming I’m not really a thirty-year old biker dude named Wayne with a shaved head and multiple tattoos), but somehow that phone talk or Kaffeeklatsch (look it up!) does something that the online chat just doesn’t.

It’s probably because we’re animals. We need to do the human equivalent of lick each other’s ears or pick each other’s fleas, neither of which is a real possibility over the internet. I think of Sky; when I’m away, and I talk to David on the phone, there’s always a silly moment when he offers the phone to Sky and I say “Hello, Sky! Who’s my good girl?” And she looks at the phone and then goes back to whatever she was doing, because it’s not me. Even if she recognized my voice on the phone – which she may not – it’s not really me, because if it were, I’d pet her ears or scratch her back, and I would certainly look into her eyes, and she into mine. And we’d both feel better for that contact.

I need to remember to get out of my little hermit-crab shell more often. It’s good for me, even if I don’t have fleas.

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