Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Real and the Rare -- The Phenomenon of the Equaintance

Breakfast in Berlin
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I'm a bit hungover. Yes, there was wine, but I'm really talking about the intoxicating events of the past weeks and months. After more than two years of getting to know each other online, sometimes on the phone and a few times infamously via Skype, I finally met Marcus Speh Birkenkrahe (interviews--one in English, one in German--to follow later this month) and his wonderful family. We met at a café for breakfast in Berlin and could have talked all day. I tucked into my breakfast before taking a picture. Oops.

Because I'm always off somewhere, I have the opportunity to meet so many of my equaintances in person. At the KGB reading in NYC (June) I was happily bombarded with so many bodies to go along with around 20 thumbnail faces I'd become equainted with over the years. Everyone was either taller or shorter, older or younger than I'd expected. But they were all so real. And so sweet.

Walking in NYC
Why on earth do people say online friendships aren't real? I'm constantly challenged by people when I say I have thousands of "friends" on Facebook and Twitter (and Stumbleupon and Travelblogexchange and, um, Goodreads and Fictionaut): "Those aren't real friends," they say. Sure, most of these people wouldn't send me cash if I needed it--but then I'm not sure who in my "real" world would do that either. I don't need cash, by the way, so please don't send it. It will only be stolen in the mail. Send wine.

Last night I had the rare opportunity to meet a person with whom I've worked online for two years. This type of sighting is so rare that it's almost like spotting a snow leopard in Munich. But this person was here, and this person is real. This person met me by the fish fountain on Marienplatz in Munich, much like Dorothee Lang (also very real) and a friend from Israel did last year. This person knows what I look like (adorable, aging teenager), but I of course had never seen this person (didn't even know if this person was male or female). Later that night, this person told me that some people actually think we are the same person. We are not. Unless there was some serious Black Swan business going on yesterday.

A Rare Sighting on Marienplatz in Munich
I was fifteen minutes early to the fish fountain because I wanted to scope out the crowd, place my bet on who Frank Hinton could be. An Asian woman? A young, blonde hipster? A fat guy, the type that lives at his computer, eating bag after bag of Kettle Chips? Another online presence using Frank Hinton as a second avatar? Roxane Gay? Just as I was sure I'd picked the right person, someone approached me (also a bit early).

"Excuse me," the person said, "Do you speak English?" The person had a map, spoke with an accent--Italian? Romanian? Moldavian?--and seemed genuinely confused.

"Yes," I said.

"The station?"

If I had a euro for every time someone asked me for directions in the center of Munich, I'd be a richer man. "It's just down that street there," I said. "It's a long way, so if you're in a hurry you could take the S-Bahn just two stations." I pointed to S-Bahn entrance.

"Ah," the person said and hesitated. "Thank you. And are you the famous Christopher Allen?" After that I can't remember what Frank said because we were hugging and laughing. Frank really got me with the (silly) accent. I'm now fairly sure that Frank has some Moldavian blood in, um, Frank's veins, but after hours of talking I have to say that Frank Hinton is still a mystery. Male? Female? Did it matter? With equaintances, should it matter? Did I get to know the "real" Frank Hinton, or have I known the real Frank Hinton all along? I think the answer lies in the fact that when we said good-bye, I still called Frank, well, Frank.

So now, after my meetings with Frank Hinton and Marcus Speh, as well as Julie Innis earlier this year, I've met the editors who started with me at Metazen and Frank Hinton, the mysterious creator of Metazen, in person--and I have to say all of these sweet people were exactly as I'd imagined. I've had the wonderful luck to share some laughs with Julie Innis, whose book Three Squares a Day with Occasional Torture I reviewed HERE, several times this year, and I plan to share more.

So who says these friendships are any less real than the "real" people in my life? What are your online friendships like? Who would you like to meet in person? Are you more comfortable talking to people online or face-to-face? Do you like blog posts that end in questions?

I must be off,
Christopher

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Christopher Allen is the author of the absurdist satire Conversations with S. Teri O'Type.

10 comments:

  1. I am in an online writer's group. There are 11 of us from four different countries. We've been writing together for four years and I actually know more about these people (thru our writing as well as conversations) than some of my family members. It's true. And I consider them friend. And last summer I was lucky enough to meet two of them. They were exactly as I thought and it was more like meeting old friends than meeting someone for the first time. I also had the opportunity to meet another online friend and it has only deepened our friendship.

    Sure. Not ever online connection will lead to more, nor should it in all cases. Some are strictly professional. Others acquaintances. But one cannot claim it is impossible to share true friendship online.

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    1. Hi, Linda! Thank you for stopping by! I agree wholeheartedly. I've met so many people through online writers' groups. I think writers get to know one another more deeply since we share our thoughts and our art.

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  2. Hands down, meeting you has been one of the best things to come out of my online experiences as a writer-person. Love this post, love you!

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  3. Well that made my day, Julie. The feeling is certainly mutual.

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  4. Too much love! And too little face time for me! I can't believe that I haven't met either Julie or Frank in person! I can't believe that Frank, the coolest person between Hanover in Halifax, chose Munich over Berlin! I can't believe how much we ate at that breakfast and Beakers, and how much we talked! It'll be a while until I can eat or talk again! I can't wait to see my own interviews on this marvelous blog! I can't remember what I said! I can't believe that I'm unable to finish a sentence without an exclamation mark!

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  5. I love these sentences! And I loved spending time with you and your two sweet ladies, which makes you sound like a polygamist. Your wife and your remarkable daughter. There.

    What's wrong with Munich? For your information, Frank LOVES Munich. LOVE with a capital LOVE. Yay! Go, team MUC!

    I'm in Berlin at least four or five times a year. We will repeat the Beakers experience. That breakfast was excellent. I'm so glad I took a picture. And next time es geht auf meine Rechnung!

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  6. Right now I could really go for a bite of that breakfast.

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  7. It was delicious. Thanks for stopping by, Susan!

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  8. Your blog posts are great! Enjoy reading about your travels a lot!

    Is there a way I can have new updates notified by mail?

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  9. Hi, Berit! Sadly I don't have a widget for that, but I tweet/facebook/Google every post. Hope you're doing well! Can't wait to read your book. :)

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