Data Points: 1x Instagram Saturn return.
I’m good at talking to strangers. Can one be bad at it? Yessir. Colossally so. I’ve seen people ask for directions like they’re holding a meat cleaver in their bra at a crowded intersection. Does this road lead to the f**king metro station? Does it? Helloooooo! Is anybody in there?
It’s a shame, really.
I prefer the soft approach. Take note:
Step 1 A shy smile.
Step 2 A shoulder shrug.
Step 3 A self-deprecating comment, depending on how Steps 1 and 2 shape up. If the stranger smiles back, skip Step 3 altogether.
Step 4 Look ‘em in the eye. It’s awkward, but it’s the only way to jump straight to deep cuts.
Step 5 Ask away.
I used this very method last week during a lighting conversation with a man who had an airline pilot look about him.
Step 1 A shy smile.
Step 2 A shoulder shrug.
Step 3 Can I ask you a question?
Step 4 Eye contact.
Step 5 Where did you just come from? He said Chicago. Did you just fly a plane? He said as a matter of fact he had.
He asked me what my plans for the evening were. I told him I planned to watch a movie with my boyfriend. He said that sounded like a perfect Friday.
I’m usually no good at celebrating my own skills, mostly because I was unaware until a year ago that some of the things I do without thinking are lucrative at the seams. Talking to strangers is one of those things. It’s right up there with reading the internet, writing about it, and being in on the Myth of Digital Dualism. Who knew? A lot of people, apparently. Deep cut encounters with I-Don’t-Even-Know-Yous plus a thing for the Web makes me a natural tweeter. I’ve even been paid (not very much) to do it and teach others how to find their own 140-character flow.
If facebook is like going to a bar with your six closest friends and hundreds of other people who suck but they’re buying, twitter is like being in an elevator with a rotating cast of regulars you see in the coffee line in the mornings; the guy with the navy New Balance, the girl who DJs at that one place on Thursdays, Paulo Coelho’s doppelganger, rappers. Sometimes a good friend stops gets on, too, but they always seem to get off before you can get a real word in. I haven’t had a facebook account in a while now because the bar got too loud and I mixed whiskey with red wine and nobody was into the idea of shutting our like buttons off and dancing. I am, however, sewn to my twitter feed. The elevator is equal parts plexiglass and skinny mirror. I’m comfortable asking Dream Hampton about blogging; it’s distant wedding photos and snapshots from last week’s junk boat I can’t wrap my mind around. Instagram was something inbetween to the two feuding networks for me; a busy lobby in a humble building. I ran away, though, when I realized that the photograph at reception was a picture of someone whose love I lost last October. I took the damn picture. How did I miss that? #AccountDeleted. Lucky for me, facebook purchased instagram right around the time I bid farewell. Where did my instagram account go? Ask Zuckerberg.
My twitter feed never stops ticking, which is invaluable at 3am when I’m lying on my back, missing the way my mom shuffles about the house in silence. But I found myself longing to see a friend’s face after I received an email from her asking why we always seem to fall off, her and I. She lives on an island and makes curry goat and pina colada pancakes. I knew years ago when she lead a group of four women through a field of wild horses in the dark that I’d encountered a gifted person. I used to look forward to photographs of her new life on instagram, like I was watching through a window. She’d post pictures of porches and coastlines; seemed close. Like a stereotype, though, I deleted my account shortly after breaking up with my boyfriend of three and a half years and lost countless pictures of farmers’ market bounty and Italian trips to the beach. Being reminded of how friendships can often press the mute button on
themselves nudged me back to the window this weekend: I signed up for a new Instagram account and slowly began searching for the people I haven’t seen online in nine months and “in real life” in more than five years. And it’s great to see everyone. Facebook made me shun social graph networks, but returning to instagram (I’m now following 28 friends; easy does it). I still have a few anxieties about rejoining a network that surfaces people’s lives over links to what they’re reading, writing o listening to:
Like facebook, it’s easy to get stuck paging through what seems like endless ribbons of photographs.
It’s also easy to compare the filtered dream snippets on your smartphone screen to your own life.
Hopefully I’ll remember what it was like to be shut off completely if I find myself knee-deep in gluttony. I’ll always lean on my elevator, but something about instagram feels like a Sunday barbecue. *I just put some corn on the grill and got two IPAs out of the fridge — one for me, and one for a good old friend.