"I'm not a dark writer," Crace told us with a straight face. In fact, he labels himself a "sentimental athiest."
Along with the book, Crace talked about his friendship with Frank Conroy, author of Stop Time (a phenomonal memoir if you haven't read it) and former director of the Iowa Writer's Workshop. Crace has been writing for 20 years, but Conroy had not read his work until a few years ago, when he read Quarantine, a retelling of Christ's 40 days in the desert. Conroy liked that book so much, he contacted Crace, and the two began a long-distance friendship: Conroy in Iowa, Crace in England. They found a common love of jazz as well as writing and sounded like two people who really enjoyed each other's company even if that company wasn't in person.
Sadly, in the years that they knew each other, they spent a mere hour in each other's presence. Conroy came down with cancer and was quite ill when Crace finally had a chance to visit him. Yet you would not have guessed that they had spent only 60 minutes together from the enthusiasm and energy in Crace's descriptions of their friendship.
The day after the reading, I saw that Blue Girl posted about the blurring of the line between her real-life friends and her virtual friends: other bloggers and people who comment on her blog.
Blogging is such a ingrained part of my life now that when I'm with real life friends I'll talk about my blog friends. Like they're real people I know. When I do this, my real life friends all look at me with the exact same expression that says, "Now you've done it. You've totally lost your last marble."I thought about this in light of what Jim Crace said about Frank Conroy. Obviously, you can never replace personal interaction. But I see no reason why you can't make friends--good friends, people who you love to hear from every day--on the phone, in a letter, or on a blog. Reading the comments and blogs of my virtual friends and real friends who post virtually makes my day. I especially enjoy making them laugh. Who cares if I can actually hear it?
This subject has weighed quite a bit on my mind lately because, as TLB mentioned a few weeks ago, we're leaving The IC for The UP of Michigan. The same place where even the Snow Meiser goes, "I'm freezing my icicles off here!" TLB got a great job offer, my great company said I could work from home, and those two things made it hard for us to not Say Yah to da UP, Eh?. We're already in the processes of selling our house and we'll probably be packing up and heading out in July. Just like that, our great Iowa adventure is coming to a close.
It's hard because we still have real friends here, people who have made a bigger impact on our lives than we could ever express. We're going to miss them something fierce, especially because our great little Big Ten town made it so easy to get together or run into each other randomly, bumping into them on the street and maybe deciding to have lunch or a drink or remind them of an upcoming reading. Despite natural disasters and infertility battles and the ups and downs of the writing life, there is no question these last six years have been the most fun that we've had since we've been married, including the incredible time we had in New York City. It's all because of the people we've met here. Which is what makes leaving so hard.
But if Frank Conroy and Jim Crace could have a meaningful friendship of several years despite meeting each other once for one hour, certainly I can maintain these meaninful friendships virtually. After all, I have a blog, a built-in mechanism for keeping those friendships going until we can see each other again. In fact, real friends who have moved away tell me they read the blog. Some comment, some don't, and some I can spot in Site Meter, but no matter what, I know they're there, and I hope they're laughing. And I hope that continues with the real folks we have to leave behind.
The beauty of my virtual friends is that moving doesn't really change anything. Michigan, Manitoba, Madagascar...a computer and an Internet connection are all I need to post Top Tens and laugh at comments and read their blogs. As long as we all keep commenting and posting, we get to keep interacting.
So while I'm really sorry to go, I'm happy that I have a way to stay in touch, to keep the noun "friend" even if I have to change the adjective in front of it for some folks.