Our community of writers is growing exponentially lately. This summer, besides our lively and vital face to face sessions, I’ve reached beyond the tactile into the virtual world. We’ve had visitors to The Writers Circle blog from as far away as Istanbul and Australia! (You know how I love to experience “other worlds”, both real and imagined.) And I made a new friend, Maria Clara Paulino, who discovered me – and all of us – through the Internet. Here she writes about the value of our community and our fledgling personal connection. Clara, welcome. I am honored to have you join us.
Guest Blogger Maria Clara Paulino
A writer’s work does not blend easily with community building, yet community is vitally important, particularly one of peers who understand the conflicting need for loneliness in which to write, re-write, stare at the tree outside the window and at the blank page. Oh yes, the blank page, the space we fill as quickly as we can with characters connected in multiple configurations of relationship. So, even in the lonely writing process, we fulfill the primal human need to create bonds.
The communities we create on the page are virtual ones; they live only in our psyches and that of our readers. And, as I prepared to write this post, I found myself wondering whether they are fundamentally different from virtual communities like The Writers Circle.
Howard Rheingold asks us to “be careful to not mistake the tool for the task and think that just writing words on a screen is the same thing as real community.” Indeed, if the virtual world excludes the physicality of others, can any virtual community genuinely fulfill the need for relationship? But perhaps the question is misguided. Perhaps The Writers Circle is an environment generating what Todd May calls “relationships of consumption,” primarily dedicated to providing useful information – a worthy goal that I, for one, am very grateful for – but, is that the whole story?
Mitch Parsell writes about the dangers of “narrowly focused virtual communities,” yet I think of how SheWrites gave me a “place” to test my wings as a creative writer in English, a language that was not my own, as well as links to sites such as the one I am writing for at this very moment. On another very personal level, I am grateful for the technology that helped me keep “my” community of friends and family alive as I zigzagged between countries: Portugal and England as a student; then Portugal for a long time; and the US since 2003 (though I am writing this in Portugal, where I will be teaching for the coming academic year).
Every time I moved, even when I went back to my birth place after years away, I felt like a cultural orphan. Everything was “other,” and everything I had left behind was put to the test, relationships most of all. Technology and virtual communication – by phone, e-mail, Skype, and yes, Facebook – helped me in more ways than I usually give them credit for. Before these were available, other technological means of bonding, like pen and paper, came to the rescue, and some of my strongest friendships were forged through letter writing (yes, I am that old). Come to think of it, even soldiers were sometimes comforted by letters from strangers (though I suppose they get e-mails now). The question is, was all of that so different from online virtual communities and the possibilities they open up?
Possibility, I think, is what it is all about … which is why Judy and I tried to meet at Newark Airport while I waited for my connecting flight to Portugal. The now usual airport delays and shoe inspections stood in our way, though, and when I finally made it to the gate I was not a little upset that I was leaving just as I was beginning to make connections with other writers. But, why was I upset? Surely, Skype works fine anywhere in the world. Tucked in my narrow seat waiting for take off, I had plenty (and I mean PLENTY) of time to reflect on this. Here is what I thought: 1) there is generally hope, sometimes conscious, sometimes not, sometimes acted on, sometimes not, that virtual acquaintances will become three-dimensional relationships, more complex and more rewarding too; 2) our brains tend to connect such relationships with physical presence; and 3) an ocean is a rather large obstacle when it comes to meeting the people you’ve been e-mailing, Facebooking, and so on. So, in the meantime, and against distance, I hope virtual communities like The Writers Circle will keep its members going, keep connections strong.
Thank you, Judy.
Maria Clara Paulino is a writer and art historian. Her essays, articles and translations have been published frequently in her native Portugal. She teaches art history at Winthrop University, South Carolina and will be a Visiting Professor at the University of Porto in Portugal this coming year. Visit her blog, Writing In The Margins, to sample some of her first creative efforts written in English.