Where do you make friendships? At work or class. In church, around the neighborhood, at your kid’s school. Perhaps at common interest gatherings or reoccurring events such as a pottery firing, an AA meeting or Saturday romp in the dog park with Rockford. But ever since the social networking age morphed out of an AOL chat room, online friendships have been stigmatized. A virtual friendship is labeled as strange, just an entertainment, certainly not real. When I mention my online friends to people, I get that what’s-wrong-with-you look. I know what they are thinking. Don’t you know crazy people stalk other crazy people who are only online because they have such incompetent social skills development that they live in little houses with the curtains drawn only to emerge from behind the glow of the computer screen to feed their 27 cats and go to the mailbox to collect their monthly social insecurity check. Losers.
So when I mentioned I was attending a virtual baby shower this past Sunday I got a few side glances and raised eyebrows. To make things far stranger and more difficult to explain was the attendees were people I met through Twitter postings made by my cat. The logic gets lost on those who are not on social media or limit their online contacts to school mates they have not seen in 30 years.
My cat, Diablo, goes by SouthBoundCat on Twitter has blogged since 2006. That never has been met with any reservations. (Oh, how cute.) As long as Diablo conversed with Phoenix, my other cat, on the blog everything was acceptable. But when Diablo reached out to the world and gathered over 3500 followers, well, that challenged the safe realm of plausibility. (Oh, how weird.) Opinions shifted from hilariously entertaining acceptance to concern for my mental stability. Seriously my cat tweets.
Explain a virtual baby shower for a person I have never met, but who has a cat that twitters with my cat about a feline world takeover once the cats acquire opposable thumbs from another person I have never met who has two cats converted to the dark side of tyranny and mayhem. It raises doubts of one’s social acumen. To be polite some respond, “You have too much time on your hands.” Less polite is the observation, “You don’t have a job, do you?” What is left unsaid I don’t know, but I've watched the listener slowly back away while looking around for sharp objects within my reach.
I am perfectly sane, not in therapy and have good social skills. I know the difference between right and wrong, alive and dead, pretend and real. Sort of.
Virtual means existing in the mind, especially as a product of the imagination. Make believe. I can be guilty of that. After all, I am a writer. In Computer Science virtual means created, simulated or carried on by a computer or computer network. Blame this on technology, making connections with others across 24 times zones and latitudes from pole to pole. Virtual also means existing or resulting in essence or effect though not in actual fact. This applies to literacy criticism. A writer pens with fire and cuts with ice to get people to lose their moments in prose. Very real never discredited and readily accepted when done well.
Those who know me know I am not a party person, much less a person who likes baby showers. Not my style. It began with my first ever shower and reiterated by my last experience. The first was for a sorority sister. I belonged to Mu Rho Sigma. We were all married. Get it? MRS. Anyway, as a rookie I didn’t know the rules and I always played to win. So after winning some lame game someone politely took me aside and told me the prizes where given to the guest of honor. What? But I won! Right there was confirmation that I didn’t like baby showers. If you can’t play for keeps, why play? The last baby shower was a few years ago. I had been church shopping when I stumbled upon a church whose entire female membership was throwing the minister’s wife a shower after the morning service. Oh brother. The overly friendly congregation invited me for cake, games, gifts and laughs. Well, what the hell. Game time and I had no clue what the baby’s room theme was much less what the mother-to-be’s middle initial stood for. Her best friend won that game and gracefully relinquished the prize. Predictable.
I don’t know if this was the first ever virtual baby shower, but it should be the beginnings of a positive trend. There certainly are a few advantages. Armed with webcams and the google+ platform, eight women from Newfoundland to the sunny California coast gathered around their monitors to surprise their soon-to-be-new-mom friend. No driving instructions needed although I was a bit concerned about some technical difficulties. I never used google+. Easy as pie. The only trouble I had was not understanding that the hangout time was on the central time zone. I was an hour early.
I had painted all day. I had paint on my hands, elbows, jeans, even my hair. I can’t paint anything without having it in my hair. I took off my paint shirt, donned a head set and never gave my attire a second thought. No shower, no second thoughts about dress, no uncomfortable shoes. Since I was at my sister’s house (known for low thermostat settings) I wore three shirts, a sweatshirt and slipper socks.
There was no fret about what to bring. Something sweet, finger food, dips, chips or pickles? While we had links to pictures of punch, snacks and drinks to share, a virtual shower entails whatever can be found in the frig and toted into the den or wherever the computer is set up. Could be leftover Chinese, or a chicken leg. Bring a favorite beverage. Either a bottle of wine for personal consumption or in my case a mug of hot chocolate. Don’t worry about the three bean salad you had for lunch, if you get my drift.
Gift giving is easy too since online shopping became as common as Cyber Monday. Pick, click, ship. No wrapping, bows or lame cards with leggy storks and play-it-safe yellow. Sixteen key strokes of a credit card number and done. During the shower everyone opened shared links to view the gifts. Oohs and aahs unleash a montage of video frames bouncing from one participant to another capturing the delight of all.
In the comfy of home, stories were shared about anything and everything. That's no change from a real baby shower. But with a few key strokes sharing a picture made the story even better. Do that at a baby shower! We wanted a peanut cake and within four seconds we had a peanut cake. Virtual magic! Since I met all these friends because of my twittering cat, we used the web cams to see our feline fur balls. Try taking your cat to the next baby shower.
I heard my friends' voices for the first time. There were some faces I saw for the first time too. I even met a new friend. We "talked story" like real friends. We laughed like real friends. Laughed so much that my face hurt and the expecting mom nearly peed her pants. She was very surprised and touched.
Virtual my ass. This was very real. Highly recommended.