I’m lying on my couch at going-on-3AM on a Monday morning because I can’t even think about going to sleep. Not now. Not with what is whirling around in my mind. Half an hour ago I read the post from Renko’s wife. I tried to respond to it as well as I could, since I may be the only one awake at this ridiculous hour and if I were her I’d want a response ASAP, but I’m not at all the one best equipped for that job. Others, I’m sure, will add their thoughts later. But I’m lying here stuck with her frustration and Renko’s pain in my head, and to that I have added something of my own: helplessness.
We participate in these online “communities,” right? From them, we take what we need: entertainment (stories), conversation, maybe a dash of cyber friendship. If it is support community, we also take whatever support and advice we can glean from the other members who are, of course, there to seek the same from us. But does a community like this one, a forum that exists to provide a place to publish and critique stories, really act like a community? I ask that question without knowing the answer; I keep saying that I’ve been here only a short while, and reading the stories here for years is not the same as experiencing the forum as a member. So you’ll have to tell me: how much do we pay attention to each other? Do people here even “friend” each other? I don’t really know if that’s part of the board’s culture. I mean it doesn’t have to be, but how do we notice each other?
I don’t mean the obvious things like treating each other with respect; that’s a given. I’m talking about more complex things, like recognizing if someone is going over the edge. Do we? Did we? I don’t know: maybe several people made phone calls to check up on Renko in the last week. That would be a nice thing to know because right now I’m imagining someone very important to this forum falling apart right in front of our eyes and we, oblivious to her pain or failing to see her as more than a cartoon icon and a tech goddess with a quick wit and quick temper, sit here unable to do anything about it. I’ve seen it in support forums: suddenly someone is in serious trouble, posting something that smacks of finality, and you don’t know how to handle it: how do you deal with such things with someone you only know online? As a teacher, I knew what to do and handled such things quickly many times. This is territory I don’t understand, yet some inner voice is telling me that by sharing this space with all of you I should be aware, I should be conscious of such things should they pop up, even if they pop up between the lines. Hell, I’m an intuitive person; I should see these things. I should not need a map.
But it’s after 3 now and I lie here helpless. The post indicated that Renko will be fine, but what if she had not been? I don’t know her; we’ve exchanged PMs maybe three times. But I know she does a hell of a lot around here, and I know she’s a human being, and I know she certainly deserves more than to let this forum be the thing that drives her out of this world, especially if members of the forum don’t even realize it’s happening.
I’m rambling, I know. And maybe I’m wrong: maybe it’s not even possible to tell from someone’s posts what their emotional state is if they don’t discuss that issue. I just know what I told her wife: I sensed that something was amiss but didn’t know Renko well enough to know if I was imagining it or not, so I didn’t PM her about it. Now I’m wondering what would have happened if I had. Maybe that’s what is keeping me awake. Maybe that’s why I feel so helpless. Maybe ultimately we’re all helpless to really be there for someone we only know online. But I’m not sure I can live with that: I’m way too other-oriented for that. But what can we do? I don’t know what the answer is…but I’m asking the question.