So Many Streets, So Many Connections

Photograph of Virginia Woolf , 1911 – 1912. Oil on board, by Vanessa Bell. In the public domain.

I have lost friends, some by death… others by sheer inability to cross the street. 
 Virginia Woolf

I just finished reading an essay, “Girlfriends,” in Anna Quindlen’s Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake. In her memoir Quindlen passes along Virginia Woolf’s wise words, above. Those words struck me hard. For, you see, I am at an age where I have lost friends to death, although you might say age has nothing to do with it, and that’s true. Friends, or God forbid, family, can be snatched from us at any age, at any time; witness the recent unspeakable event in Aurora, Colorado.

How Wide Is the Street?

Having gotten those morbid thoughts out of the way, I’d rather focus on the other part of Woolf’s quote. We lose friends, Woolf suggests, “by sheer inability to cross the street.” Those words stunned me. How many times have I let friendships languish out of inertia? How often have I been unable, or unwilling, to “cross the street”?

I thought immediately of a good friend–we used to be “besties,” as the young ones might say–whom I haven’t seen in months. We haven’t even talked on the phone or emailed. I’m mystified by this neglect of a long-time friendship. I’m afraid we’ve drifted away from each other because of political and religious differences, and there’s no way one of us can convince the other she’s wrong. Even though we have “agreed to disagree,” those differences have cast a pall on our friendship. And yet, why have I not crossed the street, called one more time, and suggested we get together? I have not, and it’s a shame.

Then there’s my dearest childhood friend who writes me long, lovely, handwritten letters occasionally, newsy notes about her and her husband and what’s going on in their lives.  When we do talk, maybe once a year (why not more often?), we always pick up where we left off, as though not one of the events of our later lives has intervened. We might as well be girls again, sleeping over and giggling–or crying–about boyfriends. That’s a rare friendship indeed. My response to those long letters she writes? She’s lucky if she gets an email in return. She deserves a better friend.

And there are the friends in my book group (we call it “the bookgroup,” as in the only one). Some of us “go way back”; others are relatively new friends with whom I share a great love of books. We don’t always agree; in fact, we have spirited discussions when we meet. But we respect each other. I think it’s safe to say we love each other. We would cross the street; indeed, we have. (One of those friends shared the Quindlen essay with me. Thanks, J—.)

Coffee cup

A Whole New World

And then there’s the new world of cyber-friends. Friends, you say? Are you skeptical? That’s all right. I was, too, in the beginning. Yes, I use Facebook to keep up with my dear ones. Otherwise, Facebook “relationships” seem superficial, at best. And yet, if you’re lucky, a comaraderie develops over time as acquaintances open to each other through common interests; as they sense when someone needs a good word; as they listen (figuratively, yes); as they offer themselves unselfishly, laugh together, and cry together.

This is particularly true of writers, I think. I’ve become associated with a group of writers  through Facebook and other social media. We may have started out with the goal of increasing our online presence and creating a “platform” so that as we publish and hopefully, someday, really need a platform, we’ll be ready with the website and the Facebook Writer’s Page and a Twitter account and a nice number of connections across the Web. But I believe, as we’ve gotten to know each other better, bonds have formed among us. We don’t all know each other equally well; we don’t all share the same goals; we might not recognize each other if we were all thrown into a crowded room together. But we are connected. What we care about—our writing, mostly, but also our successes, our failures, our significant life moments, both good and bad—we have come to expect to share with these other folks whom we may never see in the flesh.

Let’s Have a Cup of Coffee

Yet we are, in a real sense, capable of “crossing the street” for each other. It’s not the same as sitting across from that old friend I miss a lot, having a cup of coffee, and catching up, or writing that long overdue letter, or having a pithy book discussion that ends in good will and laughter. It’s not the same as showing up at the home of a friend when somebody is sick or there’s terrible news.

But give us time and technology! We may just get there.

How important are your friendships, “in the flesh” or otherwise? Let me know your thoughts!

“If I could write the beauty of your eyes” —William Shakespeare

A few days ago, I launched my Writer Page on Facebook.

Novel note card, April 2011

Over the last six weeks or so, I have gone places I’ve never gone before—on the Internet, that is. No, I have not been visiting naughty websites. I’ve been doing something the publishing industry calls “Building a Platform.” Note the caps, a signifier of importance. It seems a platform is important for writers. Even those of us without a published book are encouraged to go ahead and start putting ourselves “out there.” So that’s what I’ve been doing under the fabulous leadership of one Not-Bob, or Robert Lee Brewer, who led the My Name Is Not Bob April Platform Challenge.

April, you say? Yes, the challenge ended when April did, but the momentum continues.

I was already a Facebook person, and I “did” LinkedIn. I had signed up for Twitter, added Google+ and Red Room, and I’ve been visiting my fellow platformers’ blogs like crazy, with great admiration for their ability to write posts (daily, some of them; wow), juggle jobs and kids and lives and still write their novels or poetry or memoirs or whatever is dearest to their hearts.

My final goal was to create the Facebook Writer Page. Did I dare call myself a writer and make it a public declaration? When I finally held my nose and dived in, it wasn’t all that bad. In fact, it was fun, and many friends and fellow writers dropped by quickly and “liked” the page, so it’s gotten off to a good start.

Something interesting surfaced in the midst of all that. When I started to create the page, I had to choose a category from among businesses, organizations, nonprofits, brands, and such. I considered all the options and decided on Artist, Band, or Public Figure. I’m not an Artist (well, that one’s close; I like to think I am, with words); I’m not a Band; and I’m certainly not a Public Figure. (Notice those caps again.) The ah-ha moment came when I held my breath and clicked on Artist and saw I had choices there, too.

What kind of person am I? What’s my identity?

Two of the options were “author” and “writer.” Hmmm. Author sounds a little stilted, I thought, so instinctively, I went with writer. After all, that’s what I call myself these days.

It started me thinking. I’m a former English teacher. I should know the distinction between those two words. Writer is more generic? An author is someone . . . more established? I finally gave in and looked them up. Here’s some of what I found.

(If you hate it when people quote the dictionary, you should maybe stop here.)

According to Merriam Webster: an author is “one that originates or creates; the writer of a literary work (as a book). Author originates from the Middle English auctour, from Anglo-French auctor, autor, from Latin auctor promoter, originator, author, from augēre to increase.” The word dates from the 14th century.

A writer is “one that writes [refers to the definition of write] as a: author [one and the same? Really?] and b: one who writes stock options.”  The word traces to the 12th century.

So the word writer pre-dates author, but it doesn’t have the fancy pedigree.

My Dashboard dictionary on the Mac defines author as “someone who writes books as a profession” and writer as “a person who writes books, stories, or articles as a job or regular occupation.”

Are we splitting hairs here?

Let’s look at the word write. Merriam Webster begins with the simplest definition—to “form characters or symbols on a surface with an instrument (as a pen)”—and progresses  to “to set down in writing; to be the author of; to express in literary form.” Ah, getting closer. The example that follows is a line from Shakespeare: “if I could write the beauty of your eyes . . .”

So which am I? I think I’ll stick with writer.

A writer puts marks on a page, yes. She makes words, yes, and symbols, sentences, paragraphs, pages, chapters. Stories, memoirs, novels, poetry. She records the world as she sees it. She creates people and places and worlds that didn’t exist before.

A writer makes her mark on the world. That’s what I’d like to do. So call me writer, please. That’s the word for me.

Here’s a question for you: how do you see yourself? Do you call yourself a writer or an author? Is there a distinction in your mind? I expect there’ll be different opinions. I’d love to hear yours.

Passing It On: “Seven Out-of-the-Box Author Blogging Ideas” by Shari Stauch

Hop over to Writer Unboxed for this terrific guest post by Shari Stauch, CEO of Shark Marketing. Shari has been involved in publishing and marketing for many years, and it shows. She offers terrific advice for writing topics to take us out of the ordinary. To quote Shari:

Even if you believe your story is “small,” it’s not. There’s always a bigger picture/issue lurking around the corner. So think about widening your lens where your own work is concerned. Ask yourself these two questions: “To whom does my writing speak?” and “What can I share with those people that matters?”