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.