The connection started with an email that a reader of Communicating Across Boundaries sent me. She would be in Boston for a conference with her husband. She is a good friend of Robynn’s. Could we meet?
I sent back an enthusiastic reply. Yes! That would be great.
We exchanged dates and phone numbers over email.
Meeting readers in ‘real life’ is a gift. That someone would like your writing, your blog enough to contact you and want coffee together? That is remarkable. In October I had another reader contact me. She’d been raised in Pakistan and, though years younger, had recently begun following the blog. We met over curry in a local Indian restaurant and talked for three hours. Last year another reader contacted me. Turned out she knew my brother, lived a block away, and had recently been to Egypt.
But before you meet them there is always a hesitation, an insecurity. What if they don’t like the real deal? What if I’m not who they think I am? What if their perception through my writing is all wrong? What if I’ve not given word pictures of my world authentically?
If I’m not careful I’ll get stuck on the ‘what ifs’, and if I get stuck I’ll back out, not meet them, and be the lesser for it.
Because meeting readers keeps me honest and alert. If I make up stuff about my community, my neighborhood, they’ll know, they’ll call me out. And that is a good thing. Meeting readers is simultaneously humbling and affirming.
Using our words in the public sphere is vulnerable and opens us up to criticism from strangers. Using our words in public also carries with it a responsibility. A responsibility to truth, to not write just to get an audience, to pray over what is posted, to grow through the process. And meeting readers in real life reminds me of this. Reminds me that what I write matters, that I can’t throw frivolous words out and expect them to be heard.
But there’s something more. When I meet readers, I get a chance to hear what’s important to them. They know what’s important to me, they read my words. But it’s not reciprocal. Meeting someone puts a face and personality to a comment. I learn that one reader is in school to be a physical therapist, that another is applying to medical school.
So Jill and I meet over coffee. I get to meet her husband as well. I hear just a bit about what is important to them, about an innovative program to help the homeless, those on the fringes of society who live on streets and vie for spaces at shelters. I get to see pictures of children and learn a bit about how they know Robynn. We share hot cider, laughter, and exchange written words for spoken. The time was short – I had to get back to an evening commitment. But I am the better for having met her.
So to all of you who I haven’t met – thank you that in a time where words are used too often, and not always well, you read the words put forward on this blog.
About the picture: I was in an artsy store in Atlanta, Georgia browsing through cards when I found the card above. I got to laughing so hard I could hardly speak. I took it to the cashier, a young, artsy person, and as I handed it to him, I said in a little voice: “I blog.” He didn’t get it at first, and then burst out laughing, and shook his head: “It would have been better if someone else had found it and given it to you!” So there you have it.