Of Keynotes and Community: the Connections That Keep Us Going

10 years ago

Who is your family? Who is your community? And what would its keynote say?

The final question is more recent, but I've asked myself the first two questions a lot since I started writing in this topic area about a year ago, mostly because I like to make sure I'm not completely screwing it up, writing about, oh, say, Muppets and marching bands when something a bit more, oh, familial, is called for.

Lately, now that I've settled in, I ask it more. Sure, I'm more confident in why i'm here and what fits in the "extended family" realm (turns out, just about anything to do with connections and relationships with all of their accompanying good and not-so-much, maybe even Muppets if I reached a bit.) Still, it seems like an increasingly important question in a world where we're surrounded by everyone from our closest and most loving to the masses who rush by us on the street to, in the worst of circumstances, a stranger on a bus who is capable of doing something so unthinkable as to stab us, take off our head and hand it to the driver.

I've been stuck on that horrible story out of Manitoba, Canada. I can't get it out of my mind, the reports that boy who was killed smoked a cigarette beforehand with his eventual murderer, the fact that he was on his way home to Winnipeg, that he was just sitting there and a disturbed individual attacked him so unthinkably for who knows why. It stuck with me even more because when I left San Francisco last week, I got on an Amtrak bus that took me to Santa Barbara, where I caught a train to go to San Diego. I went straight from the company of so many flesh-and-blood friends I'd somehow managed to meet in the remote spaces of the Internet to a foggy, 6 a.m. bus terminal in a city I didn't know very well. The cab driver dropped me off - incorrectly - at the Greyhound terminal and sped away, leaving me to hike the remaining six city blocks in the dark - dodging street folk and freakishly early commuters with two suitcases and a laptop and tote bag toppling off of each - to the Ferry Building.

Overtired, overstimulated and lonely, I trusted on that first bus that, although the woman in front of me annoyed me to no end because she kept her seat fully reclined into my knees for every minute of the seven-hour journey, and that I therefore had no interest in being her friend, that she would not kill me. It was unthinkable that I could sit down next to someone on that bus, exchange pleasantries or not, and any number of stops later, horror would unfold, resulting not only in my death but the permanent psychological scarring of the other passengers who somehow escaped with their lives.

Extreme, sure, but somehow that very horror show happened, several thousand miles north. And what I come back to when I read these insane stories is the fact that we all bravely inhabit this world together. We have no idea, taken at face value, who the people sitting next to us are, where they come from, what their deal is. Still, there is something in us that enables us to travel alongside them - namely, for the most part, the fact that we need to get to wherever we need to go. We don't know the stories our fellow passengers carry, and they often do not ask us theirs (unless "they" are my mother, in which case she will find out everything about you whether you like it or not and I apologize in advance.) And whereas even though we can read stories like the Manitoba bus murder and the other recent horror show of the couple killed on their honeymoon in Antigua and think, "What kind of world is this? Who are these people?" the vast majority of us don't stop traveling, because we can't and we don't want to. We can't stop trusting on some basic level that we'll get where we're going.  

One trick of the matter is that sometimes the most innocuous and carefree of things like a honeymoon or a bus ride can result in tragedy, the things that cause us fear and anxiety can conversely result in joy. Life is random and either lucky or cruel that way, depending what side you're on.

A few days before that bus ride I stood backstage at the BlogHer Community Keynote, a new event for the four-year old conference, curated by Eden Marriott Kennedy of Fussy (who not only arguably has the coolest name I've ever heard, but is also one of the most spot-on writers, photographers and observers of people, places and things online.)  In an hour and a half, a small circle formed among the readers backstage and what had seemed impossible since I hit "send" on the e-mail submitting my post - taking my serious words written in the safety and obscurity of my living room and reading them aloud on a stage in front of hundreds of people - didn't seem so horrifying. The women and one man backstage - most of them strangers to me prior to that night, some of them writers who struck me embarrassingly fangirlish  - were nice. They were supportive. They were nervous too, but they didn't want you to be. Danielle from Foodmomiac sat quietly by just off-stage, watching as the readings went on. People I'd never met, like Polly from Lesbian Dad, blew me away.

At some point, I also had to go out there, open my mouth and read, nervous to death that I'd shake too much to make it through or read so fast it would all be garbled. But somehow, although I can't really explain it, the combination of the feeling that started back behind the curtains and Eden's tacit reassurance carried through, and I felt oddly calm.

When it was over, I cannot count the number of people who approached me for the rest of our time in San Francisco, most of them quietly, some with tears, even, to acknowledge my participation and my words. It was gratifying and moving on a level I've never experienced. It went beyond being a good or even adequate writer - and certainly had nothing to do with links or hits or any other measurements because those don't factor into my blogging life at all. It had to do with words and stories and how knowing them and sharing them can open up to all kinds of understanding, how it can change a life. 

This experience proved to me again, and quite strongly, that just because it is, but even moreso because of both the common sadnesses and the overwhelming tragedies of life, it is good to be kind. it is good to take the risks it often entails to be open and supportive, especially with strangers. Making connections when you can isn't just a good idea or a reasonable suggestion. It is a certain kind of food that a lot of us really don't know we need. And although it does not inoculate us entirely against or in any way prevent the horrible things that happen to and because of sad and damaged people all over the planet, it can help to stave off despair when the bad news is so thick and unmanageable. When the devils and the ghosts surround us, this kind of community can help us to go on, help us to trust on some basic level that we'll get where we're going, even if we have no way of knowing how it'll all turn out. 

Related blog posts:

Eden Kennedy's list of all the posts read at the keynote. 

Suebob says the keynote was good times. 

Fellow reader Schmutzie's excellent words-and-pictures wrap-up of the keynote experience. 

There was too much magic backstage for fainting, though, and I was
compelled to inhale all of it, every shaky knee returning from the
stage, speech through emotional throats, and anticipatory sighs. We
quickly fell into a natural community there. We comforted and
congratulated, hugged and held hands as we dealt with the rise and fall
of high emotions.

As a person who is used to a certain level of
detachment, this was a true oasis after great thirst. These were my
people in a way that I am not used to having people, even if only for
ninety minutes.

Keynote reflections from reader Jen Zug from This Pile I'm Standing In.

Gena Haskett at Out On the Stoop posted videos of several of the keynote readings. 

Jennifer at Jenguin felt good just being in the audience. 

Michele at Because No One Asked questions criticism of the other bus passengers in the Manitoba bus murder. 

No one on that bus was prepared for anything like what happened. No one
had thought about it even being a possibility. Who would have? The
passengers were relaxing, reading, watching movies, etc. The victim
might have been sleeping. There was no advance warning. What would you
have done?


Laurie White writes at LaurieWrites 

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