Well Met in the Real World

I don’t know if the current crop of kids know the term Pen Pal. They might think it’s a reference to the big hulk in the cellblock that everyone feels obliged to treat with deference, since most youth have little reason to have experienced letter-writing in its snail mail form with any regularity. Indeed, most of us who grew up in the pre-computer era have now also segued right on over to relying on the internet for our written correspondence.

So now, when I meet anyone from far away, we exchange email and LinkedIn and blog addresses. We even meet in cyberspace for the first time. I have a number of good friends I’ve never seen or spent time with offline, people I feel a connection with that, for all its ethereal qualities, is no less strong than that with friends and family I rarely see because we are separated by miles and schedules and other barriers of necessity. Indeed, the obvious advantage of having an entirely online relationship is that we rarely get exposed to each others’ major faults and minor flaws enough to grow seriously irritated or bored with them, thanks to Edit and Delete functions, and so we all maintain the polite fiction of perfection to a certain degree despite our knowledge that this is impossible. And of course it’s no surprise that those we already know and value would be happily met in the nebulous world of Skype and Pinterest, phone and Facebook, rather than lose contact altogether.

The reverse process is understandably rarer; just as it was unlikely for the paths of Pen Pals to cross physically in days of yore, it’s not often that cyber-friends can or will actually meet in person. So it was a great surprise to see on a blogging friend’s post that he and his wife were relocating from another state to the very town where I live. And, as I learned in the last couple of weeks, they were both brave enough to meet me in the real world.digital illustration from a photoIt turns out that these two are every bit as lovely in person as in the virtual world. Happily, their virtues are not virtual, and their fineness not fiction. I am honored that they were willing to take the leap and meet face to face and spend time together attending a concert of my husband’s, and humbled to find that even for a person who is usually inclined toward reticence and shyness and reserve when the safe remove of correspondence narrows down to a handshake or a hug, meeting and getting to know people even in the filtered world of the internet can still lead to good things in the dangerously beautiful real world. We may have changed a lot from the Pen Pal generations before us, but inside we still find our ways to connect, and that is a truly fine thing. Thanks, Heather and Ted!

Tools and Techniques, Ingredients and Inspirations

ink drawingSometimes the best way to get started with something new is to jump into something old and rethink it. Writing letters–really, reeeeeeally long and extravagantly detailed letters–to my friends and loved ones was a favored pastime for me in my youth, and only transmuted (rather than muted) over time. It’s not necessarily that I had so much to say, nor that it was terribly original, it was simply a pleasant way to keep my sense of the connection between us open and flowing freely. It was Relationship Anticoagulant for me, in its way. Most particularly because I happened to have friends and loved ones who indulged me by writing letters back in my direction.

Yes, the telephone had already been invented when I was young. (I heard that!) My letters weren’t even delivered by Pony Express, let alone chiseled on stone tablets, though those would’ve made nice doorstops, once read. But as I have never liked telephone chitchat overmuch and have always had a slight tendency toward commentary that could perhaps stand a little more editorial restraint, and most of all because I am so defined by my visual experiences, a written, tangible and yes, correctable medium like a letter suited my personality more.

I think it was at least partly that that led to my downhill slide into essays, poems, short stories and the various other Dark Magicks of creative writing. Maybe I thought that developing my fictional skills would make my long letters more entertaining and excuse their verbosity. But of course, when the mystical world of the internet appeared before me, it was inevitable that I should embrace its friendliness towards the mass production of verbiage and the speedy transport thereof unto all and sundry. “All” being my actual known connexions and “sundry” being anybody else who was incidentally caught in the overspray. The latter being people who, if they foolishly responded to my wildly flung words, were likely to get sucked right into the vast vacuum of joining my poor captive audience if I could manage it at all.

ink drawingWhen I figured out how to put visual images along with all of the wordy wonders, then Boy Howdy, I was off on a new tangent. And you’ve all seen just how tangential I can become. Why, just the other day . . . oh, see, there I go again. The additional enhancement of putting pictures with stories need not be examined here. You and I know that the telling of a tale not only frequently requires images for completeness and clarity but sometimes is enhanced and enriched by the presence of visual cues that lead the reader to start thinking about the stories tangentially as well.

I was of course drawn* in immediately by artists’, photographers’, designers’ and other visually rich websites and blogs (*this pun’s for you, yearstricken). Then I felt the magnetic, hypnotic pull of foodie blogs, with their perniciously gorgeous food photography. Glorious gardens and magnificent architectural edifices reached out of the ether to grasp at my ankles as I passed. Tripping, I dropped into the well of travelogues and vehicle- and furniture-restoration sites and aaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh! It was the beginning of the end for this visually obsessed fool. Pretty soon I was swapping recipes and anecdotes, recitations and antidotes with all of my new Old Friends. I almost made a Freudian typo there and wrote Fiends, because of course I have been enchanted and enslaved by you all and am now helplessly in thrall, thirsting after the goodies you dangle in front of me on your every post until I succumb and retaliate with posts of my own.

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So here we all are, the relatively new digital tools in hand, cooking up marvelous messes of every sort and, far from being penitent, diving ever deeper into the strange and cheerfully dangerous tangles of what we are collectively wreaking upon the unsuspecting of the world. What began as relatively innocent missives to sisters and schoolmates, great aunts and great mentors has evolved into a different sort of Post that explodes with the weird and whimsical, the frightening or florid or sometimes just plain fishy, and whether factual or fictional, wanders the globe and the magnificent bubble of nonsense surrounding it, and the old urge to write a letter is made new again.

Now, I’ll readily admit that it’s every bit as possible to create fodder for the dustbin as it was all those centuries ago when I began writing my small-world tall tales and detailing them with quaint and creaky little scratches of “art”, and I’m quite certain that there’s no more sense and treasure sneaking in the hidden corners of my productions than there ever was. But I do find that the wider range of correspondents who really do have something to say in return, and the pleasures of the process of learning and using new and different tools for the conversation, immensely entertaining, energizing and inspiring. And I’d say that’s a paint pot of a different color.

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