When I accept a “friend” request on Facebook, I tend to say either “Thanks for connecting,” or “Thanks for reaching out.” Both my sadly neglected Live Journal account and my only slightly neglected blog are titled “Reaching Out,” and so is my author topic on a smaller forum administered by a writer couple in New Zealand. I was reaching out for online connections well before there were such things as Live Journal or MySpace or Facebook, even so long ago that few if any editors and publishers would accept submissions by e-mail, so everything had to go through land mail, generally accompanied by a stamped, self-addressed envelope if you wanted your manuscript returned, or a stamped, self-addressed post card if all you wanted back was a brief notice of acceptance or rejection. SSAE was the first writerly acronym I ever learned.
My first e-mail account wasn’t actually mine, but belonged to one of my sons, supplied by the university he attended. My first online group experience was on Genie, a site run by General Electric with “rooms” for shared-interest groups, in my case one occupied by readers and writers of science fiction and fantasy. It was intoxicating to be able to follow conversations between writers I admired and others I came to admire, and to even put in a comment of my own from time to time. Still more exciting was being able to post news of my own first few story acceptances, mostly to very new, very small presses, but one to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine, which was, in those times, very well-known. (Her rather acerbic rejection letters were legendary, and folks would compare them for fun, but I never got an unkind word from her.) GE dropped that service after a few years, but two other such forums run by science fiction writers sprang up, and one still exists, though a shadow of its former self. These days the SFWA web site (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) theoretically fills that function, but we crotchety old folk miss the informal collegiality of the old forums, and even the frequent flame wars.
Speaking of old folk, I once read an article saying that in the early days of the Internet, women in their fifties were among the most avid new users, and I believe it. Women have usually been the ones responsible for keeping up with family and social connections, but there’s more to it than that. Women of a certain age, especially those finally getting some respite from the energy-consuming aspects of raising a family, can be desperate to expand their horizons, take part in the discourses of a wider world, and find a place among others who share their interests. Even, often, to find new close friends.
I certainly felt that way. I wasn’t exactly isolated before that, living and working in a college town, even keeping up with the genre I hoped to write in through books and magazines and printed newsletters and frequent Science Fiction/Fantasy conventions—my kids were big SF/F fans, too. But to be able to reach out to people across the world! To converse in not-quite-real-time, with a brief chance to edit your comments before clicking on send! (I’ve never been all that comfortable with phone conversations, though I certainly did my share of tying up the phone line—they were all land lines—as an adolescent.)
And then, when I began to write erotica, I discovered the delights of online pseudonymity, even though I never made much effort to conceal my everyday identity. Writing erotica, especially lesbian erotica, also connected me with more like-minded people than I could ever have met otherwise. Quite a few of those fellow writers have become close friends, even those I’ve never met ITF (In the Flesh, in case you’ve missed that particular acronym.) A few that I’ve met (very much ITF) have even introduced me to worlds like BDSM that I don’t fit into entirely well, but the experience has been invaluable as research.
But there’s more to reaching out, yearning to connect, than I can explain even to myself. It’s not a matter of anything lacking in “real life,” just a sense of how much more there is in the world. Most of my online contacts these days are with people who are also writers, especially those who hope to write for my anthologies, and a much smaller group of readers who like my work, but we discuss and compare and rant and joke about an endless variety of subjects in and outside of our own lives. I have friends in Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Canada, Germany, Portugal, who feel closer than the neighbors on my (admittedly thinly settled) street. On public forums like Facebook I’m usually pretty careful not to get too personal in what I say about my family and myself, but when I really need to share my emotions—like when my granddaughter was born, or when my mother died—the outpouring of support warms something that might even be my soul. I support others in the same way when I can, and sometimes in other ways, when people I respect and value are having rough times.
Here at OGG, I find myself stretching beyond the limits I usually set for myself on public forums. I don’t quite know why, except that our topics tend to lead me in that direction, and I feel close to all of you who regularly post here. I know others read here, but unless they comment, they’re largely anonymous, so maybe I don’t think so much about what I should or shouldn’t say in front of them. Which isn’t to say that I don’t still have my areas of privacy, even minor secrecy, but this is a place where I reach out for connection more openly than anywhere else online, and I thank you all for being here for me.