17 August, 2008

How it All Started, Part II

I'm scheduled to be on a panel called "Milblogging as Community" at the upcoming MilBlog Conference--I'm obviously the token civilian, haha! This has gotten me to thinking once again about how I ended up a civilian among milbloggers.

Here's where I left off the last time I tried to tell this story:

I scoffed (remember, this was January 2005; FbL hadn't even been "born," yet). I thought [Sgt. B] was kind but utterly absurd, especially for having based his comments on nothing more than my two emails. And yes, I told him he was. I didn't even know any soldiers outside the Internet and the letters I sent to units in Afghanistan and Iraq! How could an ignorant civilian like me with no direct connection to veterans possibly be part of a warfighter's emotional and physical recovery? As if a combat vet would even care to talk to me... Silly man.

Actually... Silly me.
In the coming months I continued to read milblogs with insatiable enthusiasm, learning everything I could--both in an effort to better support my adopted soldiers, and to understand what was being done in my name. Much to my surprise, bloggers and fellow commenters apparently took notice of me and not only stepped up to help me through some tough times, but let down their guard a bit and tried to explain ideas and experiences that were foreign to my sheltered civilian life. Letters started coming back from my adopted soldiers, and my heart was touched. I was supposed to be the one supporting them, but their warm responses to my letters and packages ministered to me... and like my blog correspondents, they also taught me.

I began to assemble a picture of the best and worst of military service, along with a sense of what made these warfighters different than me, what they needed, and what bound us together. I asked impudent questions and (for better or worse) dared to touch on potential sore spots. I learned how much I didn't know, and how that was another thing for which I should be grateful... and I was. My sense of indebtedness grew.

In February, Sgt B--who had been one of those educating me between bouts of his trademark sass and flirtation along with his fortifying friendship--encouraged me to visit one of his hangouts: the Castle. I resisted, for reasons both serious and silly, but he kept trying to draw me out. Having established myself among a few milblog friends as an earnest and serious sort, I didn't see how I could fit into the freewheeling comment parties of those days at the Castle, so I created a very silly sort of persona based on an inside joke... Fuzzybear Lioness. Appearing exclusively in Castle comment parties, FbL was a ridiculous little flirt who traded in largely-faux naivete and was apparently harmless enough that other veterans haunting those halls felt comfortable getting to know her, and my education continued. I found myself surprised and a tinge concerned to find that not only did John Donovan himself take note of me, but he was amazingly perceptive. Fortunately he was also soon a friend. Ditto with Castle blogger BillT Nagging English Teacher (among others), who continued my education while developing into a protector along the lines of Sgt. B.

I seemed to be collecting people, but for what purpose I couldn't imagine. In the few moments I actually thought of it, I figured they just liked the flirting... And I kept reading milblogs.

I stumbled across Chuck's blog not long after he deployed, and thoroughly enjoyed his wacky take on the world and his self-deprecating humor. By mid-June I had been in email conversation with him and and wondered why I never received a reply to my note of June 20. The idea that he'd been wounded briefly crossed my mind as I marveled at how creepy it would be if my latest email was just sitting in his Inbox while he was dead or fighting for his life... And so like all his readers/fans, my heart nearly stopped when I later read he'd been wounded that very day. I felt utterly helpless and way out of my depth. What to say to him, to his wife? How to fix what was unfixable, what had been suffered as he stood the line in my place?

That very week I had been toying with the idea of blogging, going so far as to have set up an as-yet-unpublished first post. A number of people I looked up to were gently pushing me to it, but I had dragged my heels. I refused to do a diary-style blog, but on an intellectual level, what could I possibly contribute to the community of amazing people I'd met online? I was a student; they were my teachers. I finally answered the siren call simply because I wanted to have a place of my own, a place to respond to Castle comment parties, to complete the memes I kept receiving, to say nice things about my favorite bloggers, etc. So I decided it would be largely fluff and it would be in my Fuzzybear persona, complete with a cute little Anime avator avatar. And I had a name to suit: Fuzzilicious Thinking.

Oh, if only I'd known... I might've been more circumspect...