Personal space is a strange thing.
And even stranger are our perceptions of it, and how we handle its being invaded.
I thought a lot about personal space this past week. Mine was invaded. I invaded the spaces of others. I didn't much like it.
I'm talking about the RWA national conference of course. 2500 women (mostly) jammed into one hotel (mostly) for a solid week.
Friends and neighbors, that's enough estrogen in one place to scare the muscles off Ahhhnold, Rocky, and the Italian hunks in yesterday's post, all at the same time.
Most of the Banditas have come home from conference bone tired and road weary.
I was so tired when I got off that airplane I was telling myself, "a few more steps and you can claim your checked bag. Steve will be there." Then, "a few more steps and we'll be to the van. You can sit down." Then, "One more hour and we'll be home. You can stop moving for a whole night. Maybe you can actually SLEEP HALLELUJAH!" I was pep-talking myself through the airport. That's unusual.
I generally attack life with a fair degree of energy. On Sunday evening, all the "attack" had been sucked right out of me. I can count on two hands the number of times I've been so tired that I wanted to lie down on the concrete sidewalk and sleep. Sunday night was one of them.
As I've thought about what, exactly, made me so bloody exhausted, I've come to the conclusion that it was, among other things, the loss of personal space involved in air travel, hotel stays, and the crowds at conference. While the keynote speakers are always fabulous and encouraging, the workshops are brilliant, and the meetings with professionals are uplifting, and a forward boost for a writing career, there is absolutely nowhere to get by yourself for any length of time at these events. It just doesn't happen. And even if it could happen, honestly, I wanted to be with my friends. The people I get to see only once per year. I wouldn't miss that for anything!
But it takes its toll.
See this hotel lobby? Looks rather Zen doesn't it? Okay, add a gazillion people to it. Poof. There goes the Zen and here comes the stress Baby!
I've recognized for a long while now that we create our own "personal space" using our own perceptions, and the need for "actual space" varies based on the situation. Or, maybe the NEED doesn't vary, but what we'll accept as okay certainly does vary.
As a rule, I need a lot of personal space. I can look out my front door and see fields. Soybeans this year--it'll be corn next year. And cows. Cows in the field don't intrude upon my personal space. Maybe it's the way they look up at me when I go outside. They lift their heads from grazing and stare in my direction, chewing their cud contendedly. Believe me, as a farm girl, I have no illusions about how cows actually are when one bothers them. But in the field right next door, they're okay. They chew their cud peacefully.
They're peaceful-feeling, those cows.
A conference is not a peaceful-feeling thing.
Of course, like everyone else, I have to adjust my need for personal space based on the situation. Still, long periods of space deprivation make me tired.
My roomie for this conference, Bandita Buddy Keira, did an outstanding job of dealing with infringements on personal space, as we had quite the party in our room on Wednesday evening. All the folks who've blogged with us over the past year were invited to this bash we threw, and poor Keira was trapped right in the middle of it and she handled it admirably well.
Any stay in a hotel room is, of course, infringement on everyone's personal space if the room is shared. The rooms are small, and I think even if you have one to yourself, living in that artificial environment makes a person tired.
But nothing makes a person as aware of personal space, or the lack thereof, as does travelling on shared transportation. Especially air travel.
I don't do that a whole lot. But this past week I did. I flew on a commercial airline. I hated it. I hate it so much that I usually work real hard to avoid it. I actually believe that this is at the root of Americans' addiction to their own automobiles. Inside your own car, you have a certan degree of personal space to expand--to just be. It takes a LOT more mental and emotional energy to use public transport.
Don't get me wrong--I have absolutely no fear of flying, but I HATE to fly on commercial airlines. First, there's something wonky for me about entrusting my safety to an entire group of people who neither know nor care about me, and any one of which may not care whether he or she does the job well.
You know. Little, insignificant jobs like putting the gas cap back on the airliner. Those jobs. It always gives me a bit of comfort to see the pilot out there, on the ground under the airliner, actually checking out the plane he's about to shove into the air under the power of jet engines, and hurl through the sky at a gazillion miles per hour and then...aim back at the ground and actually reconnect.
Time spent on an airliner is a long way--metaphorically speaking--from those cows in the field next door.
These days, flights tend to be full. One of the things I hate most about flying is being imprisoned in close quarters with a bunch of other folks.
I know. They don't like it any more than I do. And we've all developed a set of rules for how we behave in these circumstances.
The guy who rubs up against my butt as he tries to get down the aisle when we meet--he probably didn't mean to do that. If we were in a bar or an alley, he'd either back off fast or he might well get the back side of my fist to the side of his head. Or an elbow in the face. In the aisle of an airliner, we just say, "Oh, sorry." "Excuse me." And we move on, never actually meeting one another's eyes.
That's one way of maintaining personal space. Not looking at the other person.
I noticed that phenomenon in New York the second time I went there. The first time I went there, the people I met looked me right in the eye. But that wasn't The Big Apple in all its glory. That was an aberration. It was only a week after the attack on the World Trade Center. Everyone I met in New York City while I was there with my search dogs met my eyes, and they looked for hope in mine--and offered hope with theirs. Everyday New York City isn't like that. The second time I went, it was a bit closer to normal--everyone maintaining his "space" by simply imagining it to be there--by putting up an energetic wall and remaining inside it, somewhat oblivious to everything outside of it.
The whole process of shared transportation, and air travel in particular, is a fascinating study in how we adapt our personal space. This week I had to shrink it to almost nothing for periods of eight to twelve hours per day for two whole days while I flew across the country. Ugh. They shove you into two square feet of space for the flight, with no real choice as to who is in the two square feet next to you, and the "public" space--aisles and lavatories--has to be shared.
Even the waiting areas at the air terminal gates are studies in the need for space. People don't clump up. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, looks for the most open space--the most unoccupied chairs, and sits right down in the middle of them, preserving as much "personal space" as possible.
We shift our need for personal space based on who we're with and where we are I guess.
Have you noticed that when you're in line at the ATM, the people behind you (if they're smart) automatically give you a bunch more space than they would, say, in line for tickets to a concert? I appreciate that. But I've also noticed that some cultures don't place a high value on personal space, and when those cultures mix with others, it can be a little uncomfortable. Some folks will come right up to me in a shopping line, or wherever I'm standing, and get right inside my personal bubble, and I immediately back up. One time three guys were almost on top of me while I was using the self-checkout at the grocery. They put their stuff on the conveyor, it shoved up against my stuff, and they were standing almost against me where I was scanning my items. They were less than a foot from me and they were oblivious.
It was as though I wasn't even there. They were giving me NO space.
So I did something uncharacteristic for me. I put my arm against their items and shoved them all to the far end of the conveyor. Then I stared really hard at them and said, "excuse me, but I'll be finished in a minute, then you can have this station." The one sitting on the conveyor looked at me like I had three heads. They all got kinda quiet while the crazy lady finished checking out. I didn't care. They'd invaded my space bubble and darnit, I was defending it.
When we Banditas were together at conference--in our rooms or in the hotel bar, I didn't mind the space infringement at all. Because that was social time, with people I knew and trusted. Bandita Buddies would come up to the table and sit right down with us and start chatting and I loved that. We were shoulder to shoulder and I felt absolutely no sense of loss of space. Here's a picture of the gorgeous bar at the top of the Marriott. It was our Bandita hangout last week, and it does live up to its name. It's called "The View." That table with the yellow seats over on the far right? That was ours.
Imagine us jammed in there like sardines and you'll get the picture. I loved every minute of it. I was with people I trusted and wanted to mingle. To mix my energy with theirs and have us both be the better for it. I wanted to get close enough to really interact. No defense mechanisms with these ladies.
The bubble shrinks when you're with your lover too, doesn't it? Even more than with friends.
Y'all will get tired of this picture if I keep using it, but I'm not quite recovered from the week of having too little space, so I'm too tired to look for another. Besides, I love it. I think it's a perfect illustration of the trust between two people who are intimate, or moving in that direction.
When I studied photojournalism and portraiture, we studied how people act and how to show their relationship in a photo. One of the tools we used in our photos is the same one we writers use in our books. Having one person touch the other person's head. It is, perhaps, one of the most intimate gestures available to the human. Allowing another person to touch your head is a gesture of complete trust. And we don't give it automatically. This photo, of course, is staged. Those are professional models and they might not have known one another before this shoot. But that's not the impression we get from looking at it. They look open. Vulnerable.
Intimate.We Banditas write about relationships, primarily. And one of the best ways to study relationships is to watch how people handle their personal space bubbles. The closer you are to a person, the less space from that person you need.
See? Even the verbiage for our levels of intimacy mirrors that of our physical relationship. We want a person "close" or "far away". As we write the meeting for the hero and heroine, the way we have them interact, physically, is very different from the way they behave when we're getting ready to write a love scene. I think it's fascinating.
Now that I've had a few hours of sleep I even find my exhaustion fascinating. I think it was caused, among other things, by having to keep my personal space bubble so small for such a long time. Sucked the very life out of me.
That energy-sucking time in transit, and the time spent in close quarters in workshops and ballroom banquets, crowded elevators and constantly having to be "on" was a real drain. The entire time my personal bubble had to be small--sucked in--held close so I didn't infringe on the bubbles of others. This, as opposed to the type of relationship in the jeans ad above, and the time spent with my friends this past week, where a person invites another, or others, into her space. Those invasions are actually energizing in their own way. Tantalizing sometimes, even powerfully provocative when it's a lover or a potential lover opposite us.
I'm already missing the other Banditas. And the most fascinating thing of all is that most of the "space" I would have needed because we'd never met in person has been bridged during the past year by conversations typed on a keyboard--through emails, and through this blog. Though I'd never seen most of you until this past week, and some I've still never seen, this blog has brought an entire community of people together. It's brought us Banditas closer, and it's brought me closer to you, our readers and friends.
So what do you think about this idea of personal space?
If you travelled this week, did you find your space infringed upon?
Does it make you tired when you have to be in big crowds? Or do they make you feel energized?
Have you encountered other people who don't have the same sense of or need for space that you have?
And did you ever have to defend your personal space bubble the way I did at the grocery store?
Have you ever felt that you "knew" someone after reading her book? Do you feel that you know characters after a great read? That if you sat down with them, it would be like old friends meeting--and your space bubble would be welcoming?
Have you come to know a close friend without ever seeing or touching him/her--in this way--through cyberspace? And when you finally met, was your actual "space bubble"--the personal space you needed to feel safe-- smaller and more intimate because of it?