I know I promised you New York, but I hope you’ll forgive me when you realise the reason for the interruption. Long-term readers of this blog will know that one of my dear blogosphere friends is LitLove, the formidable intellect, prodigious reader, prolific writer and all round good egg behind Tales from the Reading Room. We have been reading each other’s blogs for several years now, becoming as firm as virtual friendship allows, and today – just now, in fact – we met in person. I’ve just returned to the British Library having escorted LitLove to her train; she made the ultimate sacrifice in chronic fatigue terms by making the trip to London from Cambridge, all to spend under two hours with me.
Originally I had planned to make the trip to Cambridge myself, but we’re in the midst of such a savagely exhausting battle with the Touring Toddler’s sleep patterns that the thought of going anywhere is enough to make me weepy, so when Litlove kindly offered to come to me, I leapt at the suggestion. And a good thing, too, as last night I was up until after 5 am – awake for the first birdsong of the day – and just travelling across London in time to meet Litlove felt epic.
Our faces simultaneously split into the widest grins when we came face to face for the first time. I had already done battle on the library’s restaurant floor, finally victorious in my bid for a booth overlooking the magnificent glass-enclosed collection, which rises through the centre of the building, a spectacular tower of knowledge starting below ground and disappearing through to the floors above. Litlove approached from behind, a thick pillar hiding me from view until she was suddenly there, standing beside me. We knew each other instantly as we’d each seen photos of the other, but it was still a psychic, aural scramble catching up to the unfamiliar sound of an otherwise totally familiar voice, for here was Litlove, someone whose writing voice I know so very well, whose speaking voice I was hearing for the very first time – wow! The same but still somehow different YOU!
I now have an urge to ask Litlove if she experienced the same pleasing, slight recalibration of identifiers – for voice is now an additional feature that I know her by – and if she thinks my voice in person matches my writing voice… don’t you think it’s interesting to wonder? I have met blogging friends in the past (hello Woo and Fugitive Pieces!), but I don’t think I thought to ask them about this aspect of the experience; perhaps it’s a conversation we can all have in person another day.
It’s really delightful and unusual to know someone so well when meeting them for the first time. I was able to articulate more to Litlove in under two hours than you’d think possible, I guess because we’ve already shared so much in writing. There are also conversations with friends that are specific to whatever pathologies you share, which underwrite the relationship in some fundamental way, so that in this instance, for example, I was able to talk easily to Litlove as another incurable scribbler, even though it’s a topic I instinctively tend to avoid with people who don’t write. When people are mad with it, whatever their own ‘it’ is – call it their heart’s desire – there tends to be a fear that other people won’t understand, blessed as they are in their freedom from affliction, so in the interests of passing for some version of normal, many of us keep the extent of our personal obsessions under wraps. But it is just wonderful to unburden oneself to someone dropped so irretrievably in the same ink-well. Things that I know sound bizarre or unbearably pretentious or melodramatic or absurd to others, I felt entirely comfortable saying aloud to Litlove, and I think she to me. It’s enormously soothing to have such a crazy-making, vexing enterprise in common, because sharing the sickness always makes me feel ever so slightly less insane – and much less alone with it.
So here I am, alone again but feeling much, much more buoyant than when I first dragged myself to the shower this morning, my feet leaden and my red raw eyeballs aching in my skull. Litlove and I hugged each other goodbye at the station with a warm affection that leaves me feeling full again. Looking across the mezzanine to all those antiquarian volumes displayed in the enclosed column is helping too. Books and book people. Damn, I love ’em. Thanks, Litlove.