Face to Face Encounters: The Very Best Kind

Author Kathy Pooler invites her readers to gather “around her kitchen table” for weekly discussions on her blog post. Readers of Laurie Buchanan’s blog know she usually posts on “Tuesdays with Laurie.” Most bloggers publish posts on specific days of the week which their subscribers have come to anticipate. It is a call for intimacy among kindred spirits in the often impersonal environment of cyberspace.

Yes, there are helpful forums available online that attempt to add sight and sound to the interaction. For example, author/writing coach Sonia Marsh and writing organizations like NAMW (National Association of Memoir Writers) frequently schedule Google Hangouts and tele-seminars that combine live voice and Skype-inspired imagery, adding another layer of intimacy to enhance the exchange of ideas.

Social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterist all allow postings of photos with text. Facebook often seems like a picnic with “likes” for yes’s, and sometimes offers back and forth conversation like a game of ping-pong. And I think of Twitter as a kind of hors d’oeuvre party with guests flitting like bees from one cluster of flowers to another, sipping nectar here and there.

Flickr Image
Flickr Image

Yet it’s true. Without the internet, I would never have even met writers whose friendships have been cultivated from countries all over this planet– Australia, Canada, Sweden, South Africa, or the Philippines. And unfortunately the chances of meeting these fine folks for coffee or tea any time soon seems pretty remote. When possible though, face to face encounters add a three-dimensional quality that is hard to duplicate online.

This past October, I was invited to share breakfast with Shirley Showalter, famous for her memoir BLUSH, in her home overlooking the Shenandoah Valley near Harrisonburg, VA during Homecoming at EMU.

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This past Saturday in June I met blogger Traci Carver, teacher and writer extraordinaire, as she breezed through Jacksonville on her way further south, meeting for lunch at Cozy Tea in the Riverside area of Jacksonville. Though a generation apart, we found common ground discussing teaching English, Downton Abbey, European travels, our families, other shared interests. Her award-winning blog claims she is from the cotton pickin’ South, yet she has an international world view having lived in Southeast Asia for several years. A story-teller extraordinaire, she spin tales from the cotton of everyday life into pure gold.

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In each case, the encounter was only an hour or two in length, but a level of intimacy develops in face to face encounters that online encounters are hard-pressed to duplicate. Obviously, non-verbal cues and nuances of personality and facial expression are often masked by the limitations of tiny pixels on posts.

Despite claims by science fiction writers, the phenomenon of transmogrification seems a long way off, probably a good thing! Thus, many writers find writing conferences in glamorous cities a great way to meet, greet, and even bond over coffee or lunch.

In the meantime, we can hope for serendipitous encounters along the way with our fans and fellow writers. I know I do!

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Have you had a face-to-face encounter with someone you have known only through the internet?

Someone whom you’ve known for a long time, but haven’t seen again until recently? Any other special encounter?

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Blog Tour

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Here is my study. When the magic happens, it happens here. Actually, it might happen in the flower garden just outside my window in the form of a thought or image which gets transferred from my head to my fingers at my desk. . . .

Every once in a while, fellow bloggers alert me to a writing challenge, many of which I pass over for lack of time or interest. This time, Traci Carver invited me to participate in a Blog Tour. I couldn’t turn her down. Why, just last week we had lunch together. Besides the “tour” is an intriguing way to play tag and learn about other writers’ habits and sources of inspiration while sharing my own. So, a big shout out goes to Traci, story-teller extraordinaire, who turns the cotton of her everyday experience as an English teacher into pure gold. A true Southern belle, Traci is a master of the anecdote. Her stories derive from the small Georgia town she grew up in, the fishing villages of Southeast Asia where she lived for 7-8 years, or from European travel. Now to the questions:

1. What am I working on now?

Three unrelated things at the moment: Preparing for a trip to Pennsylvania soon where I will mine more stories for this blog, purging clothes from the spare bedroom closet to make space for a long-term guest, and writing every single day. My blog has taken shape from 8-9 journal scribblings along with a set of paired stories written with my friend Professor Carolyn Phanstiel before we both retired from teaching.

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There is a .doc on my computer desktop where my memoir is taking shape. Right now, it doesn’t have enough structure to “roll it through a printing press,” as Traci wisely observes.

2. How does my work differ from others in the genre?

According to Jerry Waxler, a Memoir Revolution is in full swing. Each year thousands of new memoirs pour onto the shelves. Millions are writing memoir right now. Even in the Mennonite sub-culture, hundreds of memoirs have been published since Canadian Mennonite Katie Funk Wiebe’s publication of Good Times with Old Times, touted as “an egg with a double yolk” because it is part memoir, part how-to-write-your-own-story book.

So how is my writing different? Well, my world view has been tempered by time and place. No longer a Mennonite, I still identify with many aspects of an Anabaptist vision. Also, I was transplanted to Florida as a newly wed which would affect my perspective. Then too, I have a large set of artifacts and some living relatives that connect me firmly to my past. Like other memoirists, especially of the academic variety, I tend to weave the literary with the familiar. Sometimes readers say they can detect humor in my writing voice, which I hope makes my writing appealing, if not unique.

3. Why do I write what I do? 

What motivates me to write is my compulsion to leave a legacy for those who follow, particularly my family. Beyond that, I write what I know and to find out what I don’t know. Many stories are nostalgic, some reflect strong feelings of embarrassment, surprise, endearment (Search the “Moments of Extreme Emotion”); others are historical or hysterical.

4. How does my writing process work?

I was asked that question a few months ago, and the answer turned into a post on the blog of Kathy Pooler, whose memoir launches in this July. A legal-size pad, colored sticky notes, WORD docs, and photos are often part of the process.

Like Traci, I will tag two innocent bystanders, Merril Smith of Yesterday and Today: Merril’s Historical Musings, and Judy Berman of earthriderdotcom.

A published author of encyclopedic proportions (and I mean that literally) Merril’s blog posts frequently become meditations on the mundane, for example “Airing Out Some Thoughts on Laundry.”  Her About page describes her as writer, editor, independent scholar, focusing on the history of women, sexuality, and culture. She has published consistently since 1997 with a forthcoming book with the titillating title: Cultural Encyclopedia of the Breast.

Judy invites you to travel down the corridors of her mind as she narrates stories she heard growing up, from her travels, her family, and experiences in various jobs as radio and newspaper reporter and English teacher. Judy has received numerous blog awards, including The Versatile Blogger Award and The Sunshine Blog Award. In a Father’s Day tribute, Judy included a photo of Dad and her stranded alongside the road trying to fix an over-heated motor.

Merril and Judy: You’re “it”!