Sunday, September 13, 2009

Virtual reality

The place where virtual reality rubs up against physical reality is really rather strange. I’ve been mostly off-line the last few weeks, finishing my paper and then jetting off to London. Mr D and I were competing for scarce internet resources at the hotel in Fitzrovia, so I mostly gave up my dilettantish online existence in favor of his businessman‘s (remunerative) one. And thus I also gave in to the recently mostly untasted pleasures which attach to living one’s life in the real world.

So I was off touring Buckingham Palace and later eating Japanese fare in Piccadilly, and soon after that, examining volume 18 of the complete human genome at the Wellcome Centre for the Medical Sciences, and then, still later, browsing through easel bins of aboriginal art in a gallery near Fitzroy Square. Getting up close, too close in the museum guards’ minds, to portraits at the National Portrait Gallery. Lying on the grass in the park by the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, watching the clouds scud by overhead, with all of London below, the Thames winding across the cityscape. All of this, experienced in real life, rather than seen on the 7 inch by 10 inch screen of my netbook. Having traded incipient carpal tunnel syndrome for seriously aching feet, I longed for a nice sit down and a chat. Thus I sent out a few invites to London bloggers I “know,” hoping for an in-person experience or two, once Mr D had left town.

The first? Belgian Waffling. Knowing, via her blog, that she’s terribly shy and awfully busy, I felt a bit stalkerish as I initiated contact. “Care to get together?” We arranged to meet for coffee at St. Pancras, just before her Eurostar train back to Brussels. As I trundled along through Tube tunnels, I wondered if I’d recognise her, or if she’d even show. I mean really, why bother?

And then there she was, raising an eyebrow. A slight wave of the hand. Glancing up from under her thick dark fringe. “It’s you, isn’t it?“ Sitting at a table at Pain Quotidian with her bags and suitcases arrayed around her. All in black, very elegant looking, and much more slight than I’d imagined. Who are these slim young things, anyway? She’s charming and witty in person, and she makes a very pretty pout when expressing dismay or embarrassment or alarm. Plenty of that to be had, to be sure. We covered a multitude of topics, assiduously avoiding fraught things like marital discord (presumably hers) and existential angst (always mine) and kept to the ordinary spheres of work, children, and writing blogs. After all, though we know “of” each other, we don’t know each other. It’s such a funny feeling, to be aware of so much of another person’s inner life, as expressed in written posts. Yet face to face, it’s awkward to broach those tender subjects. Not on, really.

She is very funny and sweet, and whilst laughing and enjoying the moment, I also felt sure that I was but one in a long string of old, dull, blank faces just like the ones she encounters all day long in her corridor of ennui. I so often feel like an extra in everyone else’s busy life, always at the edge of the scene, the shiny foil reflecting the star’s unique qualities. Too much superficial living and moving from place to place, never in one spot long enough to be the protagonist in any of life’s dramas. Sigh. That being said, when I create my own dramas, it’s not a particularly good thing, so perhaps standing at the periphery is better. Jury’s still out on that one.

She soon buzzed off for her train to Belgium, and I rejoined the lovely Mr D, armed only with a curiously inept and non-descript description of the blog meet.

“How was it? Okay?” he asked.

“Mmmm. Yeah, it was… it was fine. Nice, I guess. She‘s lovely. So fashionable. Clever. Very entertaining.”

He gave me a sharp glance. “You seem a bit distracted.”

“Oh, I don’t know. I just feel kind of odd. I’m not sure it was the right thing to do. Now I feel funny. I don‘t know if I like meeting people in real life. I feel kind of …weird.”

He rolled his eyes and laughed. “Oh, for God’s sake. You need some lunch. Come on, put your shoes back on and let’s get out of here. I‘m in the mood for Thai.”

A few nights later, it was a quaff with the lovely Pochyemu, of ItsMostlyAboutMe. We met at The Stag in Ascot. Miss T and I came bombing up to the tables outside the pub, thinking we were late. I almost didn’t recognise the luscious Danielle, hunched as she was over her mobile phone, Twittering. Which is entirely my fault, the tweeting, but we’ll get into that in a moment.

She looked up and simply beamed with delight. “Sit out here with me. I’m having an illicit fag. It‘s a fantastic night!” Her earrings sparkled, her lavender pashmina accentuated the roses in her cheeks, and her cloud of hair gave her the look of a modern-day pre-Raphaelite maiden. She’s quite the beauty, that girl is. We restrained ourselves, having only a pint each -- though I was so busy talking I didn’t notice that Miss T drained all of her Stella and most of mine. Good thing, in fact, as I was driving and didn‘t want a repeat of my night in Woking gaol, circa October ‘05. Danielle and I mutually reveled in the fact that I hadn’t actually slain Pochyemu at our last bloggy meet-up in February. Nor had I left her unconscious in a snow drift in Windsor Great Park, to be nibbled at by foxes as she tweeted her last. No, she left our winter evening unharmed, free to go on to finish her dissertation late in the spring. Free to write a paper that received the very highest mark in her class. Thank God I spared her, because the world needs an expert on the Baltic states’ security issues and Estonian national identity. Much more useful than what I’ve been faffing about with, but we can’t all be so prescient, can we?

I took her to task for abandoning blogging in favor of the 140-character pleasures of Twitter, and though she tried to look chastened, she didn’t make a very convincing job of it. She’s unrepentant, I think, and there’s only me to blame. Because I suggested on that fateful night seven months ago that she sign up for Twitter, so she could tweet from my car boot as I “abducted” her. She obliged at that very moment, logging on over pasta and salad, and the rest is history, albeit in 140-character installments. She did promise to make a stab at blogging more often, and I looked daggers at her, which I hope will terrify her into compliance.

All in all, a stupendous evening. We meet again in October, we hope.

Finally, the extremely interesting, entirely different than I was expecting, Mr London Street. What was I expecting? Frankly, I’m not sure. But I had dinner with an staggeringly witty guy who was -- shall I say it? -- even more opinionated than I could have imagined from his blog. Honestly, I’m not sure what I was thinking, but I kept being shocked and startled, uttering the dumbest things I’ve ever said. I might have been blonde for an evening.

“Goodness, you’re so much taller than I expected!”

“Gosh, you’re so much more three-dimensional than I imagined!”

“Gee, you’re very thin … compared to how you describe yourself in your posts.”

Then he mentioned Ricky Gervais (who‘s also from Reading, as it happens), and I was suddenly fixed upon the idea that he looks a bit like Gervais. Not to mention that he’s blindingly funny. I ended up toward the end of dinner alternately giggling and parroting on about God only knows what. This is how Americans get such a bad rap. Simply can’t keep up in conversation. Or maybe we really are just all a bit stupid, as every third Brit is so happy to tell you. Bastards.

So Mr London Street and I traded compliments back and forth, and ate delicious tarte tatin which set my diet back by a couple of years at least. Whatever he’s doing to lose weight and lower cholesterol seems to be working a treat for him, so if it’s tarte tatin, I say “Bring it on, baby.” And a most gentlemanly guy, making sure I got the last train of the evening out of the Reading station. Left to my own devices, I’d have wandered off toward Slough, most likely. What a ditz I am.

One more point for now. Interestingly, MrLondonStreet wasn’t shy about letting me know what really sets him off, in terms of faux pas in the blogosphere, and if you promise not to let him know I told you, here are the three biggies: txt spk, ALL CAPS, and too many exclamation marks!!!!! I mean, who knew??? So if you want to get a mention on his THE WEEK THAT BLOGGED, be sure that you don’t overuse the punctuation!!!

Srsly!! HE HATES IT!!

Otherwise? I’m still ruminating over the significance of meeting virtual personalities in person. Perhaps because I’ve kept in touch with so many real friends via the internet -- moving from the physical to the virtual realm -- I find that reversing the process feels a bit strange. How do you transition from flat, silent screen to living, breathing, (perhaps even pulsating, in MrLondonStreet’s case) flesh and blood?

I’m not really sure about it yet. I’ll let you know when I figure it out.



SkylersDad said...

I am very jealous of you for getting to meet other bloggers, I have met so few.

@eloh said...

It actually sounds like a very interesting thing to do. I'm sure you were pleasant company yourself.

Anonymous said...

It's great you met three bloggers and all were nice! And that Mr. Street wasn't an axe murderer. Not that night anyway. :)

justme said...

Fascinating. I have met one or two bloggers myself, and I agree that it a slightly weird experience. I also find it has kind of affected how I blog.
But I am sure that you were charming and delightful (very sure....I was told!) and I think I might be offended if you don't meet up with ME next time you are over! ( two exclamation marks too many? Will I upset Mr London Street?)

Tennyson ee Hemingway said...

Sounds like a great time. I've met a couple of bloggers from a different site I was once on....hrrrmph....and it's usually a little awkward until the talk begins. I think you'll be glad you did it.

Anonymous said...

My wife has a net-friend and the three of us met up when we were in Melbourne recently. It was definitely interesting to compare the person to the net persona.

What's more, our dessert sounds like it might have been on a par with the tarte tatin that you and MLS had in deepest darkest Reading.

Pochyemu said...

Ah, you really are too kind! Good thing I only drank a half of that pint, as by the time I got home I was *tttiippsssyy*!

SO great to see you again. Come back very very soon - we need to spend a day bombing around London, rather than only meeting up for a couple hours.

Hurry back! xx

Jaywalker said...

Uuurgh. I was all discombobulated and sad and hungover and obviously stupid and crap company. Sorry. I am quite shy and awkward really. We would be fine if there had been wine. Next time?

expateek said...

SkylersDad -- I'll just have to look you up next time I'm in the Rockies then, which sounds like a capital idea, now that I mention it!

eloh -- it was really fun. I just get all self-conscious and feel like such a bore sometimes. Everyone around me is so vibrant and unusual and there I sit. I go a bit quiet and then kick myself later for sounding like a dull as dishwater housewife.

vegetable assassin -- yes, I think he kept his "axe" hidden. (Whatever I'm insinuating with that, which is absolutely nothing!)

justme -- yes, let's do meet up. I'm curious about how meeting ppl has affected your blogging. Please elaborate? I think we should have a veritable throng of bloggers get together, obviously when I am there of course, or you'll all talk about me behind my back :-)

tennyson -- I am glad I did it. I find it interesting how people are both the same and also quite different from how they appear on their blogs. Basically, I just adore 3-D life!

matthew -- no, I swear our tarte tatin was better than yours. Really, I'm sure. Don't argue either, it's futile.

pochyemu -- it's a plan. You were tipsy? Gosh, no more full pints for you. I think laydeez are just supposed to order a "half" anyhow.

JW -- yes, wine at breakfast would probably be a good idea. No, you were fine, it's me feeling odd. I think you come across very elegantly, if that's a word (it's not). I was deeply regretting my sack-cloth coat and my unfortunate old-lady shoes. Style is not my forte, clearly. Next time, next time. I'll be thinner and younger, and you'll be a little older and a lot happier. I promise!

Mr London Street said...

It's a lovely post, and a flattering write up (of me, anyway).

But I suppose the frustration of reading it is that you somehow come across, while being the narrator, as a peripheral character in someone else's narrative when of course you're not. Your life has been much more interesting than mine. You don't need to be the shiny foil for anyone.

I remember saying something like this, although maybe you were too busy glugging the dessert wine to hear it. Although your excellent most recent post suggests that maybe you did after all.

Hannah Rose said...

Mr. London Street, you have missed my mother's brilliant reverse-psychology-type trick. You have exactly seized on her attempt to seem modestly on the outside while fiercely projecting herself front and center!

My mother IS charming, though. She is most easily recognized by her belly-laugh, that reverberates throughout stores, making her easy to locate, as well as (and I'm sure you experienced this) restaurants. Unfortunately, besides a significant portion of her writing personality, that is another thing I have pilfered from her.

Glad you got to meet her, though, and the same goes to all the ladies! She's a pretty grooving groovester.