Titles by Kij Johnson are available for purchase online

Locked Patreon post, here. Actually, I am trying to decide whether to unlock the Patreon post, since I am talking about my career as such, and the role Patreon plays in it.

I think the NYT did an article recently on how there was a glorious short era of connection, when we could use early social media transparently to stay in touch and in tune with our friends, wherever they were. Through my adult life, I moved about every two years, and each move brought new people I came to care about, while others would drop off the back of the wagon — sometimes because they were companions of the road rather than companions of the heart; but for others, it was just the fact we were living in a weird gap where letters had dropped out of popularity and phones still had roaming charges and were a high-stakes interaction.

Then came the sites like Livejournal, which for me at least changed everything. Most of my friends posted at and/or read LJ, and it became a clearinghouse where I could track down the Adrians and Ninas of my past life and follow along as they lived their lives. It worked both ways, of course. Old friends and acquaintances (and a creepy ex or two) started reading my posts and replying, often starting dialogues. So did people who were just discovering me as a writer, for whom these glimpses into my private life were insights into my fiction; some of those people went on to become friends. I came to rely on LJ and my friends there for moral and emotional support.

It wasn’t optimal, and not just because eventually LJ got overrun with bots and spyware. Friends-locks or no, social media like that so often became too confessional, asking for the wrong things from others, and becoming ever more performative. Am I sad? No, I am SAAAAAAADDD: witness my sadness, and despair. This tendency was even more invidious for those of us who made art in the public sphere: If I confess my feelings of depression or betrayal or joy, am I telling you because I actually want to share with friends I trust, all of you dear LJers? Or because maybe one of you can augment or change things? Or because, hey, my book’s coming out, and maybe you should buy it. For my part, I massively overshared on LJ and then spent the next decade trying to walk back from a place where everyone assumed I was broken, mostly because I had invested so much energy on LJ telling them I was.

And social media is now so much worse than it was. A week or two ago, I looked through my FB page and saw that 97% of the content (I counted) was NOT people I had friended or communities I was following: it was sponsored ads and random suggested friends and communities, some of them actively offensive to me. While lots of people I have friended are not regular posters (or even on FB these days). Of the ten or so people who DO post that I am closest to, only four of those were represented on the feed at all. When one of my best friends lost her mother, I didn’t see those posts.

Everyone knows that, though. We all love to complain about how terrible SM is these days, even though we usually maintain a presence somewhere or other. And technology is making some connections easier now: I FaceTime and message some friends all the time. and I’m on some Discord channels and such. But, I kept coming back to the way I had missed the death of my friend’s mother. And I realized, it was time for me to try letters. Not paper, though I do have friends who write letters by hand! With pens! — but if I set that as the boundary, my aperture through which intimacy slips gets very narrow indeed. But emails. Not every day or every week. Small clumps, three or four or five people who already like each other and share something, history or their stage of life or a major interest.

I’ve been experimenting, and so far so good. Not everybody wants to that I reach out to, but I have reconnected with some people I have loved a long time and lost sight of. And it’s worth it, just for that.

1 thought on “Pen pals and friends.

  1. How beautiful. I’ve found that I’ve been texting my childhood family as a group more instead of posting on social media since the pandemic arrived, while I still use social media for hobbies (Facebook is still the main forum for gardening interest groups). How wonderful that you are finding joy and comfort in writing letters now

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