I attended a virtual event this evening that reminded me why I like virtual events….
Because I hated it.
I mean… I had fun. I learned how to do a bunch of new shit. I caught up with an old acquaintance and I even made a new virtual friend. I also kind of experienced what it’s like to throw a ball without arms.
But I hated it. I hated it in that deep dark 13-year-old-self part of me. The one that ensures I never enter a bar without a friend by my side, or these days, at least my phone. The part of me that hates going as a plus one to work parties or weddings filled with people who don’t know me.
Looking back on it… I should have done what most self respecting, not-in-recovery, adults do to ease the unpleasantness of trying to impress people with a skillset I don’t possess…
I should have had a drink. (Hence the eerily familiar 13-year-old awkwardness).
This is who I am. A bubbly, fairly high-strung, white woman who does awkward things at bars like turning around too fast and scaring the person chilling out next to me (translated in this virtual world as running into a participant with my avatar and giggling about it loudly when no one else cared or even noticed). I’m the girl who stands at the bar with a big smile on my face and dollar bills out, and still somehow… doesn’t get served by the female (or even the male or trans) bartender until finally I turn into Karen and say too loudly, “Excuse me!”
But that was then… Now, I’m a grown-ass woman with 3 teenagers, a second husband who I actually like, a thriving business, and best friends who feel more like family at times than my own parents… I don’t typically entertain feelings of insecurity. (Especially since COVID got rid of the need for anyone, ever, to make small talk at a conference, attend a party they don’t absolutely want to be at, or even show their face in a crowd if they don’t want to, thank you masks).
So how did I end up here… feeling like this?
The event was run by Mibo.com. I pressed a small blue oval that beckoned me to “Join” and dropped myself into a 3 dimensional drawing. It was basically a virtual reality video game (if reality looked like a preschool cartoon and people dressed up like baby crayons by choice). I had my very own Teletubbie-ish avatar operated by regular gaming keyboard controls (Side note: when I first arrived at the “party” I overheard participants discussing these four controls, which happen to be the same first 4 letters of my maiden name. So I’m already, justifiably, thinking like, “how the fuck are they talking about me?”)
Once I got my bearings, I could see other Teletubbie/crayon people with face-screens I recognized from the day’s (normal) Zoom event. Everyone was vaguely gliding around. It took video game know-how to move and not run into each other.
I recognized the thoughts immediately. “Who do I talk to?” “Do I even feel like talking to anyone?” “I should network…” “Shit, I’m so annoying at this stuff…”
And one new thought…
“How am I trapped in a cartoon TV body… and yet so, so ME?!”
I’ve never feel like THIS on Zoom, not even in a room full of strangers, not even when I have to speak! And I have a theory why. It makes me both love and hate this new virtual world. Mostly, it just helps me understand it.
The hallmark of virtual events are the tiny rectangular tiles, the virtual body of each participant. Even this event had those. (Anything else would be just fucking wierd… like those action dolls they make of movie stars, uncanny valley on steroids). But this Mibo party was missing one…
I couldn’t see myself. I couldn’t constantly make those micro adjustments that give me confidence when I know I don’t look half crazed. I couldn’t adjust my demeanor to calm and attentive. I couldn’t see how wild my laughter looks. I couldn’t see how HARD I am trying. I just had to BE me. I had to look at everyone else, or the fucking sky, or run off and play with walking on water and running into walls. I had to awkwardly introduce myself, try and yell over the music, start talking, interrupt and negotiate, “no you go ahead…” I had to show up or go home.
As unpleasant as the insecurity is, the unexpected is fun. The risk is satisfying. I hung with a group and talked about European architecture and history, and desensitizing ourselves to horror films and heavy metal music and why Bjork is an acquired taste.
It turns out… even in this virtual world of controlled backgrounds, a socially acceptable mute option, and an ever present mirror… I’m still me. Uncool, a tendency to overshare, talkative and shy at the same time.
And it also turns out… people like me when I’m me. It’s actually the only likable thing about me.
Tomorrow night there is another one of these parties… I’m kinda, definitely looking forward to it.
emails from the writer…
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