Eight years ago, two writers got together to write outside their genres. They wrote a blog every day for a year talking about creating a fictional world that gave equal weight to romance as well as adventure. He wrote military thrillers. She wrote romantic comedy. Their collaboration was fascinating. People followed their journey, commented on it all - even the accidental blank post. Great friendships were born in those odd little comment blocks.
It started benign enough. "Oh, my dad was in the armed forces too." Moved up to "I'll be at the conference the week the book drops" and culminated in "Want to all meet at a hotel before the book signing?" It's not that unusual. People meet through the Internet all the time. Blogs, forums, Facebook and Twitter all unite people over a common theme. Sometimes, despite the kid's fear of you meeting people who would harvest your kidneys, they meet in person.
It's not a good idea to tell the border guards that's where you met your friend. It's inconceivable to them that Americans and Canadians can be friends. I'm not lying when I say I met them at a writer's conference. But I knew them all well long before we met. Now they are some of my closest friends. In fact, those friendships weren't without precedence. I met Elen through Joann Ross' writing group on Yahoo. And that turned out beautifully.
All of these wonderful people have enriched my life immeasurably. In the beginning, we were relentlessly silly. Then real life encroached and we shared all that entailed. When one of us bought her first house, twenty of us flew west, drove north (or south) and threw a big housewarming party. We even hung a picture over the fireplace, identified trees in the yard, bought a grill and cleaned up after ourselves before we left. We've attended funerals, cheered grandbabies, told silly stories and awful jokes as we took turnings by the bedside of one who had fallen ill. When one of us didn't show up virtually long past the usual routine, one of us even called the police from her home in the South to check on the friend in California. And that's how we found out one of our family had been rushed by ambulance to hospital. We made sure she didn't go home to an empty house but ensured she had food for her and the critters throughout her convalescence.
But the group is more than doing nice things for each other. Like any family we have our differences. We have agreed to disagree on many things but I love the amount of respect we have for each other's opinions. One of our big gatherings was around the time of a presidential election. There were some generalizations about opposing candidates and their supporters. But then we realized we had a microcosm of that in the room and the generalizations fell away. No one switched allegiance but understanding the why of choices and decisions went a long way towards working together on issues. It never ceases to amaze me how much common ground there is between all that opposition.
When we first met, we ranged from a high school student to an octogenarian. Our social spectrum has always been broad. Children grew up, went to school in foreign lands, got married, had babies of their own. New people still find us. We're not exclusive though it takes a bit of time to understand some of the jokes and how most of us got our call signs (or whatever you call your Internet name). A lot of our shorthand dates back to the early days from the original site.
As a group, we've moved twice. The authors disbanded their collaboration, their website no longer exists. Then we lost the ability to comment on the new home. It's also no longer online. Somehow the spam monkeys still managed. We gave them a band and found our current home. It suits us well. We built it ourselves with rooms for all the private conversations, the ones about meeting places, passages and plans. We have a barn for the menagerie filled with critters that have become part of our folklore. We have everything you could need to decorate a blog or throw a party. We are silly, kind and supportive.
They know how much I appreciate each and every one of them. I know that it is mutual. People have wandered off over the years but most of them come back. We're just too entertaining to leave behind forever. Those who have left through no choice of their own wrench a little piece of me. They leave a hole in our family.
One of the beauty's of the Internet is that things are rarely lost in cyberspace. So they live on not just in our hearts and minds but also the comments. We are left with her smile, his silliness, her recipe, his poetry. And the knowledge that they touched someone far outside their usual circle of friends. We may not have all met in person but their friendship was far from imaginary. It was real, tangible and treasured.
I know that most of you reading this have imaginary friends, people you've met on the Internet. People who fill your life with wisdom, gladness, advice, criticism, challenges, support and celebration.
Today I raise my glass in a toast to the people who created the Internet and those of us who have filled it with life.