Friday, July 16, 2010

Staying Connected -- A.J. Larrieu

Talking to a three-year-old on Skype is a good way to understand the limitations of the medium. Since I live in California and most of my family doesn’t, I end up having a lot of conversations over the internet, and it works much better with the adults in my life. “Talking” to my nephew usually involves him running by in a blur, waving a toy truck. I’m glad I get to see how much he grows every year, but it’s not the same as taking him to the park in person.

If there’s a spirit of our times, I think it must be this: the paradox of families being hyper-connected but spread thin across the world. There are so many ways for us to get in touch with people we love, but none of them ever feel complete compared to being in the same room. I’m not saying all the social networking we do is bad: I love it! But it’s no substitute for the real thing, and I think the popularity of facebook, twitter, facetime, etc. etc. etc .is linked to the fact that none of these things is quite enough.

It’s a disturbing talent of mine to link everything back to writing—sort of a self-centered six-degrees-of-separation—but this one’s easy. What are stories, if not ways for us to connect with each other? My nephew tells me complicated, made-up stories about the adventures of his tiny toy cars. Having dinner with a couple of new friends, my husband and I told old stories we’ve heard a hundred times, taking a different kind of comfortable pleasure in hearing them again. (Like the one about him almost getting hit by a train: funny now, not funny at the time.) Stories aren’t just a nice way to connect, they’re the only way to connect. Publishing a book, well, that’s a way to tell a story to thousands of people, whether it’s a true story or one that only feels true.

Every so often, an agent or publishing professional will post a blog entry about the explosion of unsolicited submissions, wondering aloud why they keep increasing. (Here’s an example from literary agent and writer Nathan Bransford.) Is it the economy? The fact that anybody with a computer can write a book? I think those things are probably part of it, but I also think there’s something more societal and systemic at work. Now more than ever, people are moving away from their families and trying to forge new lives in strange cities, strange countries. It’s what I’ve done. My husband and I have become part of a community of other “orphans” out here in San Francisco, but sometimes it can feel sad, being cut off from your roots and trying to grow news ones. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way, and I’m betting I’m not the only one writing stories as a way of understanding it, as a way of connecting with the huge, scary rest-of-the-world. Anybody else want to confess?


A. J. Larrieu writes urban fantasy set in southern Louisiana and the San Francisco Bay Area. She is represented by Sarah LaPolla at Curtis Brown, Ltd., and her first novel is on submission. Visit her at www.ajlarrieu.com.

12 comments:

Mario said...

Your author's website looks great. Your page For Writers is one of the best advice references I've seen and I'm going to steal from it. (Already bookmarked it) Good job and best wishes getting to the bestsellers list.

Juliet Blackwell said...

Hello AJ,
Welcome to the Pens! I love this post -- you're right, telling stories is a wonderful, uniquely human way for us to teach, remember, and connect with one another. Anyone who's spent time around children knows that there's a powerful drive towards creating and re-creating tales from the moment we start spewing words. Thanks for the reminder!
--juliet

Sophie Littlefield said...

What a wonderful post. And so very true. I haven't made the leap to skype yet, but my connections with my family are all over distance. My neice and nephew grow a foot between visits. For a long time my sister and i tried to convince the rest of the family to move here but i have finally accepted that as much as we love our california, the rest of our family loves the east coast.

And i also loved the "community of orphans" - - I do love mine...

So glad you've visited and I bet you'll be a regular around pens in the future....

AJ Larrieu said...

@ Mario: Steal away! I'm glad you like the site, and thanks for the good wishes. (I loved X-Rated Bloodsuckers!)

@ Juliet & Sophie: Thanks for having me on the pens! I'm so happy to be hanging out with you ladies! Sophie, I'm trying to convince my friends and family to move to CA, too. So far it's only worked once...

Hard Boiled Mysti said...

AJ, thanks for the great post! There's no substitute for face time -- social media is a band-aid on absence, not a replacement for 1:1 :)

As a deeply rooted Californian (oxymoron?), let me say on behalf the state that we are grateful for all the orphans, they are part of what makes this area so fabulous.

Rachael Herron said...

I finally got both my sisters to Oakland, and Lala got her brother and his wife (and now nephew!) to Oakland from Idaho, and we still communicate via technology much of the time.... great post!

Gigi Pandian said...

This is so true, AJ! My family is spread out across the US and Canada, as well as India and the Middle East. Whenever I feel something is missing by communicating electronically, one of the things I love to do is send cards in the mail to family and friends (hand-made, whenever possible).

Adrienne Miller said...

Thank you for this great post, AJ.

It's funny. I'm have the exact opposite situation. All of my family-parents, siblings, in-laws- all live within a 15 mile radius to us, so email and social media has become a nice kind of buffer. People can send me a little fb message instead of calling every hour when they want to remind me of something. Email can be a lot nicer than some one showing up at your door every other day. I think social media keeps us from driving each other crazy.

AJ Larrieu said...

Thanks everybody!
@Mysti: I love it out here! Even though I miss my roots, the longer I live in California, the more I think I'll end up staying.

@Rachael: That's a good record. What's your secret?

@Gigi: There's nothing like real mail. A few months ago I started exchanging handwritten letters with an old friend, and it's been great. I'd forgotten how cool it was to get something in the mailbox.

@Adrienne: What a great point. This flip side to talking to kids via Skype is that when they have a tantrum, I don't have to deal with it. A little distance is good...

Thanks again to all the Pens!

Lisa Hughey said...

AJ--I'm a little behind. We are orphans too...family in IL, GA, MI, AR, PA, MD, CT, OR but no one here. I wish they'd had skype when my kids were little--somehow I don't think G'ma and G'pa are all that interested in me yelling at them to pick up their dirty socks and do their homework :)

Thanks for visiting!! Great post and go on bringing everything back to writing...I'm working on that but don't have it quite nailed. :)

AJ Larrieu said...

Thanks, Lisa--I was thrilled to visit the Pens!

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