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From the Christmas Archives

QotD: Reminiscing about the Internet

Do you remember the things you did when you first started using the Web and how it has changed your life?

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The things I first did on the web did change my life, mostly for the better. I only used it now and then from about 1993 to 1996, when we got our first home computer and a sponsored CompuServe account. That's when I became merbelle, a name I kept and used for all internet dealings until Yahoo literally screwed it up. But that's another story. 

I joined two forums at first, a poetry forum, and one that talked about old music. The music one, populated with radio djs and music collectors, taught me so much. First, it was encouraging that the people I spoke with online were just people; I never had any of that fear people developed about how the web was full of evil or whatever. And the people of that forum, mostly men, were kind and generous with their time and knowledge. I owe a great deal of my current music interest and rediscovery of good old music to them. I hope that they enjoyed speaking with me as well, though I did not have as much to contribute. 

The poetry forum, I owe so much to that! I still talk with a couple of those people now and then, and peer into the forum they started elsewhere when CompuServe began to change. 

The man joined it first. And at the time I thought he was more literary than me, and talented in a way that I was not, so I was afraid to join in. (There were other reasons, but not relevant to this post.) I wanted to share a poem I'd written, though, with people who might tell me whether it was interesting and worth continuing effort in the medium. 

This is that poem. Okay, it's not actually a poem, and I knew it then, but I also knew it had poetic devices, and wanted to learn more about that kind of writing. 

if you teach a man to fish, 

when will arthritis prevent him from reeling in a catch?

you never cut your hands slicing potatoes, but the slices are thick and uneven 

and some of them fry up brown and crisp while others still seem cold in the middle.

you’re so thin i could rock you as easily as i rock my own children, 

but you’d never admit you need my touch just as you’d never let me buy you some fish as long as you can still cast your rusty hook into the water.

you don’t think i know that you eat those potatoes with nothing but store-brand cola to wash them down because it’s cheaper than coffee and you have no bait for that rusty hook of yours.

you proudly display that laminated name badge pocket protector wherever you go. 

but it’s yellow with age, and your once stiff canvas shirt is soft and rumpled; worn through at the elbows.

your myopic eyes, large and faded through those thick goggle-like spectacles, 

sort out the change for the generic antacid that food stamps won’t provide for.

i imagine you carefully wiping your dish dry after your meal, 

and i think of calling my dad.

So I dove in and shared it. You had to do it in just the right way; there were sections for people with a lot of experience and knowledge about poetry, and others for chatter, and some for just sharing poetry you didn't want feedback on, and of course there were developing rules for giving and receiving praise, etc. 

It went over well, I mean, of course it isn't very good, but it does have a sense of balance to it, and it's kind of touching. A couple of the experts were kind, and told me what they thought was worthwhile about it. So that encouraged me to write more, and get to know the people, make some friends, watch so much romantic drama being played out onscreen, which sometimes fueled more writing, etc. There were three men there I'll never forget, all wonderfully talented, all British, though two of them lived in other parts of the world. They each taught me something about how to read and write poetry, and occasionally took a personal interest in my efforts. 

There was another man I met there with whom I had an ongoing online and occasional phone call friendship from that time nearly to this, though we haven't spoken now in over a year. I will always remember him with more fondness than most other people I've ever known. 

Most of the women seemed kind of like they were on the make. And there was less talent among them. I do not believe this is because women are less talented at poetry, merely that the ones in that area were probably less focused on it. So I didn't really connect with any of them. But I learned to take poetry seriously, and learned so much about myself and my talents, how to develop different styles of writing and communication, and how to engage people for conversation. 

I wrote a sonnet to share there, my first one, that I was just so proud of, and now it is lost somewhere in the ether of the web. I don't know why it's not saved in my poetry files with all the others. But wow, realizing that I could write one gave me a real sense of power that I've never forgotten, and that I do try to remember to apply to my ongoing efforts. 

I was 31 when I began using the web to learn about writing and other subjects, and to make friends. Thinking about it that way, it seems like a lifetime ago. These past 13 years have been filled with a great deal of extraordinary pain that is still not resolved. But I have an awful lot of fond memories mixed in with all that, and I can thank access to the web for many of them.