One of the things I so enjoy about weblogs, is the soap opera quality. How the individual writing develops in a long, continuous stream, from a stranger into someone you have expectations to. A lot of those expectations are in your own mind, I know, but they are fed by something: the turn of a phrase, a described event, a slip of the fingers. One of the blogs I have read for years belongs to a brilliant writer who knows how to do just this: give us bits and pieces to maintain the suspense, just enough to make us return, not so much it gets tacky or boring.
First, he appeared to me like a character of fiction, slowly filling out. A wonderful, politically correct role, a homosexual American married to a Swede and living in Stockholm. There is a certain flash and daring to that, and framed by his brilliant writing and on the backdrop of a gallery of characters such as female priests, former models, television producers and published cooks, he became a steady read, tinged with a touch of urban envy here from way out beyond coffee-houses and theatres.
Suddenly this fictitious character stepped out of his frame and met with another character in Denmark. And so, not even six steps apart, it was confirmed, there was a flesh world person claiming the role of Francis Strand.
Then there was a period of small email exchanges. Personal, targeted messages, always sweet, always polite, and to my delight, signed "your fan, Francis." It tickled me no end, and pushed him into focus, made the edges sharper, and made him ever more real to me: An intelligent, considerate human being behind the lighthearted tone of his blog, and one who liked what I write - even if his own writing is so much more elegant, nothing of the heavy blundering, the crooked grammar, the stilted sentences and repetitions which my language suffers from.
Suddenly, after a couple of years of this, I could hear his voice. Scary, isn't it? A voice is not print, a voice is uniquely personal and almost impossible to fake. While print can be produced by any fingers, only one throath can produce one voice. While still abstract and disembodied through the peakers, it was a production of the flesh, vocal cords and breath passing them. Intimate, the voice is - body speaking to body, breath leaving mouth to create vibrations to reach the ear. As a moment of stalking, I imagine the voice has to be a breakthrough, a defining event. Me, I am an amateur at this stalking thing, and I still thought it was special
Now you can hear him at bloggforum 2.0 in Stockholm, see him, and perhaps, if you can fight your way through the fans, touch him. Me, I can't get there, but I did find a picture.
Does this mean I am done with my Francis-watch? Nah, I will not be satisfied until somewhere in the world our paths cross, and I can shake his hand, laugh, and add it all up, all those years of reading, sharing, slowly seeing a character expand into a person. And, most likely even then, if the flesh contains the brain that writes the tiny stories I like to read and all the rest I have come to enjoy, I hardly think it will be over. When I think of this writer of that other blog, there is nothing distant or disembodied about him. His voice, words and presence online is part of my network, like and not like colleagues, neighbours, friends and family. There is a space in this web for cyberneighbours and cyberfriends.