I’ve taken a liking to Twitter.
It took me three years of pretending to like Twitter to finally like it. But I do.
And now I have fallen out of rank and file with the folks who spend all day commenting on friends’ kids’ photos on Facebook, but sneer and roll their eyes at Twitter thinking it’s still a social media application that sends 3,456 updates to your phone via SMS text all day. A platform reserved for pesky teenagers obsessed with Justin Bieber or smartasses talking in hipster jargon.
As a consumer of information and a lifelong community seeker, Twitter is a gift to me now that I know how to use it right. Rather than following 9,000 people with the words “wellness,” “green,” “eco,” or “holistic” in their name like I did three years ago when I signed up as The Wellness Bitch and was looking to build my blog readership, I decided to thoughtfully observe for a while when I registered a new account following my move to Israel in early 2011. Also, I logged in as “me” this time, and not as my brand, so I wanted to be cautious while figuring out who exactly I wanted to be in this new medium, and who I wanted to pay attention.
A year later, I’ve almost figured it out.
Well, let’s say, the 80% version of me that I’ve deemed acceptable for public consumption.
At first, I started following people I know personally. After all, I was a new expat in Israel, and it was essential for me to keep ties to the folks back in the States, as a reminder that there are folks in real life who know me and kinda love me.
Then, I started following other new olim: @onaliyah (who works for Nefesh B’Nefesh but also happens to be someone I know from the States), @LauraBenDavid (the social media guru for Nefesh B’Nefesh), and @carolw, (who I have never met in real life but who a friend of mine in New Jersey promised was really funny).
For a while, I didn’t post a thing. I just eavesdropped on other people’s conversations. And, when friends of friends said something funny, or retweeted an article that piqued my interest, I clicked through to the profiles of strangers. Sometimes I followed them. And slowly but surely I stopped stalking and started speaking. And my list of followers slowly grew.
And while most of my new followers weren’t people I knew in real life — I never shook their hands hello; I never caught their gaze; heck, I had no idea what their real voices even sounded like — I began to make friends in the same way I make friends in real life.
If you’re really funny, but have enough social skills to know when your crude has crossed the line, you can be my friend.
If you retweet me when I am trying to be funny, but don’t say things like “THAT’s the best you can do,” you can be my friend. (If you’re super sweet, I even give you a second chance when you cut me down.)
If you are a science geek, but are well-rounded enough to follow both NASA and quote Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you can be my friend. (NOTE: If you know the lyrics to every song in “Once More with Feeling,” and I am not following you, please Direct Message me immediately so we can be best friends.)
If you’re a blogger living in Israel, particularly the expat kind that knows “the trouble I’ve seen,” you can be my friend.
If you’re a celeb writer I wish I could be friends with in real life — someone I admire both for what you produce on the page and for how you engage with your readership — you can be my friend. (Good examples are @jenniferweiner, @margaretatwood, and @jaltucher).
Some of my imaginary friends don’t even live in Israel or the United States. Some live in their own little worlds. But as long as the law of the land in their worlds is fairly similar to mine — ie. rape is bad; rootbeer is good — I’m okay with widening my circle.
Some of my imaginary friends are out of my demographic. They’re not women or moms or married. They’re not Jewish. They’re not writers. And yet, we’ve accidentally found each other through a shared interest in archaeology or space or time travel or a dream to one day be Sarah Silverman.
My imaginary friends are not a substitute for my real friends — and I use “real” both loosely and lovingly, because otherwise we’re getting into a conversation far deeper than I had intended.
My imaginary friends complement my real life friends. My imaginary friends helped me bridge the gap between the semi-social butterfly I was in New Jersey and the awkward recluse I was when I first moved to Hannaton. Unintentionally, because our conversations are always in English, they helped soften the frustration I felt when I couldn’t properly articulate my thoughts and feelings to many of my new “real life” friends in Israel. And without knowing it, they supported me in my quest to remain tied and connected to my American self, while still figuring out what my Israeli self looked like.
And while imaginary friends can’t give you the kind of in-person intimate huggy kissy love and attention your real life friends can, and hopefully do, your imaginary friends can make you feel smart when you feel stupid and heard when you feel ignored or overlooked.
So, thank you imaginary friends of @JenMaidenberg, for being my “virtual kehillah” here in Israel while I still eagerly but cautiously grow my real-life one. You, my imaginary friends, with your double entendres and your <winks> are often accidentally my imaginary cheerleaders, too.
Jen Maidenberg is a writer, editor, activist and former assistant editor at the Arizona Jewish Post. Visit her website at http://jenmaidenberg.com/.This was first posted on her blog on July 5, 2012.