I am very saddened by the recent death of Roger Ebert. He may have been famous for his movie reviews, but in my mind he was a blogger. When cancer stole his ability to speak he turned not just to writing, but to an internet community. There is a difference between putting your writing out there, and being willing to make that an interactive experience with your readers. It creates a connection that doesn't exist purely in a single direction. It's one thing to read an excerpt like the one he wrote about his love for his wife in his memoir, but another to have it posted on his blog where people can comment. My 'Happy Anniversary' wish may not have been memorable, but it was sincere, and there is something about knowing he saw it. I will miss his writing.
Mr Ebert certainly never read my blog, and I'm not pretending he had any real connection to me at all, but on a smaller scale I frequently connect to others through blogging in a more mutual way. There is a capacity to get to know people through this medium that to my mind is unique.
I read a post recently by one of my favorite bloggers that has stayed with me. She announced that she and the father of her children were breaking up. I am genuinely sad about it.
What surprises me a little, however, is that it hit me about as hard as similar announcements by people I actually know. I've never met this blogger, but I feel I know her through her writing. I know more details about her opinions and beliefs and what her kids are up to than I do about many people I see face to face who supposedly count as real friends by comparison.
I have met so many lovely people through blogging. People whose words inspired me, or made me cry or laugh or think. People who have contacted me based on what I wrote to offer helpful information or share a kind word when I needed it. I believe strongly some of the best writing happening today is being poured into personal blogs by people who might not otherwise do writing I would see. I love blogging. It's a medium that makes me comfortable, being able to share thoughts in a way that's personal but freely available. It's intimate yet not private.
But what are these relationships formed through blogging? They seem tenuous since they rely on such a fragile means of connection. When my internet is down certain people I think of as being in my life vanish like ghosts. I feel attached to individuals whose names and real life locations I don't even know, and yet I care about these people I've met online.
When I stop and think about it, however, I wonder when describing communication with fellow bloggers if 'met' is the right word. There are people whom I adore and email with extensively, or who have reached out to offer encouragement and support, but have technically never 'met.' Those virtual friendships are important to me even if I may never get to see those people in person. I worry for Jane's daughter battling cancer, and Peg's family dealing with complicated relationships, and am confident Rach would give me crafting advice if I ever need it. At what point does 'meeting' someone in a traditional sense even matter? I'm not sure.
In some ways it's easier to feel connected to my virtual friends since they are always as close as my laptop and the updates are so regular. I wish any of my relatives or friends from back home blogged because I would love to feel as in touch with the details of their lives as I do with the people I know online.
I get asked once in a while if it's weird talking with people I don't know who feel they know me because they read what I write in this space. And the truth is I find it a relief. I love not having to get new people up to speed. So much easier when they know the cast of characters in my life already, and I can tell them new things without having to fill in too much background. I wish more of the people I know personally read my blog because I wouldn't feel as if I were repeating myself in so many conversations.
I have one friend in particular who understandably does not have time in her crazy schedule for blogs, and every week when I meet up with her to team-teach a student, she enthusiastically asks about details of my life that I usually just posted about. I often tease her by saying, "You haven't read my blog, have you?" She always sheepishly admits no. I really should stop doing that even though it's hard to resist because she's cute when she's embarrassed. But it is surreal that a friend I see regularly generally knows less about what I'm thinking day to day than my regular readers in Canada, Israel, or the UK.
I wish I had more time face to face with people I like. Even local friends with whom it should be possible are simply easier to reach online most days. (We talk about getting together for a movie but have only managed it once in the last three years.) That has more to do with drowning in small children than anything else. Managing the intersection of five lives in a home is simply more involved than if I were only in charge of my own schedule. I'm grateful for my online life on the days when the offline one keeps me tethered to the house or work.
I read often how people fret that we are becoming less connected with so much technology in our lives, but I don't think that's the case. It's a tool like any other which can do harm or good as people choose to implement it. There is nothing I value more than time together with people I love, but that doesn't mean other kinds of connections aren't meaningful as well.
One of the most powerful pieces I think Roger Ebert ever wrote on his blog was one entitled All the Lonely People. The outpouring of comments from people for whom the internet is a lifeline was astonishing, and in a followup post Mr Ebert said he had no idea his words tapped into people so deeply.
But that's the beauty of connection. We don't always know whom we impact or why, but it all ties together. Sometimes it just takes a while for language that defines what those connections are to catch up.