I grew up as a geek before the internet. Which was pretty miserable, as I moved from one deep obsession to the next (Narnia, Swallows and Amazons, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Tolkein, Katherine Kurtz, the Chalet School, Doctor Who, Asimov, Anne McCaffery, Ursula Le Guin) in a world where no-one else even knew what I was talking about. Sometimes I managed to convince my friends to read the books I was obsessed with, but even when they liked them they never seemed to fall in love with them as I did. I discovered Doctor Who Magazine when I was about 12, so I knew that there were other Doctor Who fans out there, but I was pretty sure they were all grown up, and I was only 12. There were half a dozen other geeks in my year at school, and by fourth year, when the whole school year started being taught together for GCSEs, we found each other in the top sets for every subject and became friends, but although they were also geeks they weren’t necessarily geeky about the same things as I was; they tended to be more into epic fantasy and role-playing games, whereas for me it was Doctor Who and hard SF and history and Jane Austen and E M Forster. So, while it was nice to have people to sit with at break and lunchtime, they were fellow-travellers rather than soulmates. And then I went to university and concentrated on being an English literature and feminism geek. This worked quite well and I did meet a lot of like-minded people, but then when I left university I lost touch with everyone as people went travelling, moved to different cities, got caught up in building careers and adult lives and couldn’t find the time to answer letters. And I was back to being a geek alone, working in places where absolutely no-one understood the things I was interested in.
I’d discovered the internet in my last year at university, or what passed for the internet in 1995. I’d found Usenet, so I knew that the internet was full of people who were interested in the things I was interested in and wanted to discuss them, but I didn’t own a computer, let alone an internet connection. It wasn’t until a few years later, after I’d met T, that we finally got an internet connection in his flat. I didn’t have a lot of time online; we had a dialup connection on a single PC, and I was only there on the weekends anyway. I signed up to alt.fan.pratchett and mostly lurked, but unsubscribed after a few months because I was overwhelmed by new messages. I did better with uk.media.radio.archers, and was disappointed that by the time I got there alt.wesley.crusher.die.die.die was pretty much dead.
Where it really took off, though, was Buffy. I started watching the series mid-way through season 2, because I read an article about it in the Guardian that made it sound like exactly my kind of thing, and I was hooked. And by then, Usenet was being superseded by bulletin boards, which I found much easier to deal with, and I joined the Buffy UK board (which was subsequently replaced by Tangent 21). I met one of my best and oldest friends through those boards, and there are other people I still see around the internet fairly regularly. I even conquered my shyness and my fear of London and went to a couple of meetups. And then, in 2002, I decided to try out the new thing lots of people were talking about, called LiveJournal.
Livejournal is a blogging site, but it’s also a community site. It has the best commenting function of any blog site I’ve ever seen, making it really easy to have in depth discussions of posts, while the customisable security settings make it possible to talk about sensitive subjects without necessarily making them visible to the entire internet. And the “friending” functionality made it possible not only to find and read the blogs of interesting and like-minded people, but to show your interest by adding them to your friends list, hopefully prompting them to check out your journal and starting a dialogue that could lead to friendship. I met most of my friends through LJ. I started knitting because other people on LJ were knitting. I discovered SF fandom, which I would have adored if I’d found it when I was 15 but which, in my late 20s, didn’t quite suit the person I’d become. I felt like I really belonged, in a way I never had before.
I set up this blog in 2009, mostly to avoid boring the non-knitters on my LJ friends list with knitting posts. I’d set up other specialised blogs before, but somehow this one stuck. LJ has got very quiet now, though there are still people there and I value it as a space to discuss more private issues with my friends, but my social life has moved away from my space there on the fringes of SF fandom; thanks in a large part to Ravelry, the social space I now inhabit is made up of crafters: knitters, crocheters, spinners, weavers, sewers, jewellery makers, dyers. Fibre festivals, especially the independently organised ones like Glasgow School of Yarn or Unwind Brighton, are our equivalent of the fan-run conventions in SF circles; our chance to meet and talk nineteen to the dozen sharing our passions, to put faces to names, to admire each other’s handiwork.
Of course, just sharing a hobby isn’t enough. Our interest in making things was what brought us together, but what holds us is our shared interests in other things. My favourite Ravelry group is the Archers Listeners, where we discuss all manner of things only tangentially (if that!) related to The Archers; they were the people who inspired me to start running. Discussions at my knitting group often turn to SF books. There are knitting patterns inspired by Doctor Who, by Buffy, by Star Trek, by Terry Pratchett. We aren’t just crafters, we are people who craft.
I’m so glad I came back to my blog. I’m loving writing again (you might have worked this out from the sheer number of posts!). I enjoy talking about the things that interest me, wherever those conversations take place, but what I’ve missed since the LJ days is the chance to do what I’m doing here, now: to work out my thoughts at length, to put them up here and say to everyone out there, this is what I think. How about you?
(This post was written in reponse to Kate at A Playful Day‘s “Love Your Blog” challenge, on this week’s theme of community and interactions. To read other posts on this week’s theme, check out the links here.)