Creating while being Native: Connecting from the boonies
"Hello? Hi, just a heads up before we start talking. Our phone here in the boonies of Alaska are bounced around through like 4 layers of satellites so there will be a noticeable delay. We also might get cut off and I will call you back right away. " I say, not knowing if it's actually true with the satellites, but it's an easy concept to digest for people especially if they haven't had to deal with rural communication systems in Alaska.
I have to start every phone conversation with a statement like this, the few calls I forget to mention this they later asked me if something was 'wrong' or a similar comment. Because I pause for a very long time after they talk. Or I don't respond at all while they are talking, not even a 'hmm' or a 'yeah'. And I guess it does sound like I might be angry or cold in someway... but in reality there is a several second delay in our conversation, so I have to wait till I know they are done talking (if we talk at the same time it just becomes a jumble of sounds and you can't understand anything) to respond and it takes a weird talent to time your talking and make it sounds anything close to natural.
Anyways. Talking on the phone is pretty hard in the the boonies of Northern Alaska. Even though technology has advanced pretty far we are usually about 10 years behind all the good stuff here. We still don't have decent internet, still too slow to video chat, and to top it off the best satellite internet available via a dish we purchased ourselves has a cap of how many mb's we can download during the day and once we hit that number (something like 400mb) it reverts to dial up speeds to punish you for being insolent. They do allow you to stream for free from 2am till 9am. So if you want to Netflix you are pretty much a vampire.
So most days I prefer if possible to communicate via e-mail. But email has it's drawbacks. You can't get a real sense of my personality and character and excitement over emails, especially when it's business stuff. There is no spontaneous conversation-like quality there. Even more so for me because I am super super visual, so it's hard for me to make every email amazing and responsive. Mostly I revert to just using an annoying amount of exclamation points. And honestly I don't try to most of the time, instead preferring to make emails succinct and brief to avoid confusion as much as possible. So even then my emails can make me look 'angry' or 'distant.'
Several times a year I toy with the idea of moving to a city to get better access to stuff. It's something that a lot of artists and writers and other content creators do, to make it easier in many different ways. But for me, and my family we have always accepted that it will be harder here, but for the moment we gain much more by living here. That might change eventually, but for now we shoulder the burden of coming off as 'off grid.'
My point of this post is though is to point out this barrier and then maybe throw some advice on how to navigate around this issue. I haven't 'perfected' this at all, and it changes constantly so if you have any tips or advice of your own please add to the comments!
1. Always let them know from the beginning if you are going to have any delays/disconnections in phone calls or if you will have delays in responding to emails and all that, and come up with a plan of what your going to do if it does happen. Don't leave people in the dark! It might be 'normal' to you but a ton of one on one connection confusion can be alleviated by a 'heads up.'
2. Respond to emails in a timely and predictable manner. Sometimes I wait a day or two to respond to emails if it has stuff I have to think about, but I don't let them go beyond that unless a larger time period is expected. Most times I tell them when I will get back to them. I know a lot of rural residents use public internet like at the school or your borough building of some sort, so let them know this ahead of time. Most people who do not live in the villages might not understand that internet access has a couple extra steps to it or time restrictions.
3. Do the social media thang. Instagram, twitter, blog, facebook, deviantart, reddit, whatever strikes your fancy. Though it's just another 'filter' of you, it can let people in so they can see your passion and personality and all that good stuff. BUT if you are the type of person that likes to use social media to air stuff that is not totally proffessional, you might consider making a separate account and keep your personal account private. So you have more control over who sees what. I know I use social media to keep in touch with family across the world, so it can get a bit muddy at times. Just remember that anything on the internet is permanent lol.
4. Meet with people face to face at least once or twice a year in your field. It's expensive to travel from the boonies yes. But by planning ahead you can sometimes eliminate or reduce the cost. There are sometimes funds available to you through your Native corporation or non-profits. There is no substitute for face to face time. By meeting with people once or twice a year you can make connections that are easier to maintain. And lots of times you get more opportunities available if they see your passion and commitment in person. I try and get out to do something/learn something in the farming community once a year, and now I am on the search to get out and find those connections with Native or POC writers in the YA industry. It not only lets other see you as a person and get to know you, you also get to soak up all the enthusiasm and excitement by being around people who have the same interests. I know it gets me pumped!
5. Take advantage of your rural status. Yes there are drawbacks but there are also perks. Roll around in those perks. We all live in certain places for many reasons, and we should not let those reasons keep us from achieving our dreams and goals. You rural view and experiences and access to different material is unique and the world is always looking for unique.
6. With that being said, don't beat yourself up if you do mess it all up or if something falls through. We are all just balls of human anxiety, trying to do some cool things. Some things don't always work out. Success or failure is not a judgment of your character or content. Sometimes it's just timing and chance, sometimes you got to get down the road a bit to see fruit. Everything usually happens in Alaska a little slower anyways.
Please feel free to add some comments on this topic! Agree? disagree? We want to hear it