smoke and mirrors

Today I found out about a friend’s death, and I’m so disoriented that I find my emotions swirling here and there. I might be able to leave impressions scrawled on the page, but at the moment I can barely have a conversation with those closest to me.

I regularly read about how unreal the friendships we make online are. That they’re ultimately superficial. Those of us who think we really know anyone from what they post on their blogs or sputter on about by way of various microblogging possibilities – the likes of us are questionable to the population at large.

‘This isn’t real life,’ I hear them admonishing us. ‘You’re wrapped up in a world of holograms. Make-believe.’

And in some ways, I suppose they’re right. It’s easy to forget that. That none of this is real. That we’re just avoiding life while we post photos of our children or dogs. Somehow we missed learning interpersonal skills, so we crawl into our caves and approximate a life with total strangers half a world away.

It’s not natural.

But here I am weeping over the death of a woman I’ve only gotten to know through electronic snippets of her life. A guest blogpost where she explained her fascination with all things British and how that came about. Photos of her new grandchild and the unmistakeable pride that someone she’d created had then created something so precious.

I know I don’t know her and she didn’t really know me. That we were just fooling ourselves. The way people do.

When I was visiting family stateside, she’d chirp that she was pleased we were in the same time zone. We could finally correspond in real time without having to do a bit of arithmetic to figure out competing clocks.

She liked my dogs. That’s the only reason she reached out to me early on. Saw a photo and thought, ‘Anyone who has such beautiful dogs, can’t be all bad.’ When she said it, I refrained from mentioning that anyone could purchase beautiful dogs. I mean really. Good thing we kept it all on the surface. Where things belong.

When her dog, Wellington, was gravely ill, I convinced her that I knew what that was like. And when he died, she was inconsolable. Somehow, I was able to create the impression that I knew what she was going through. Not really sure where that came from.

Something she found out about me became a recurring theme in our conversations. She was Anglican, or as it’s called over there Episcopalian, and found out that I have clergy in my family. She was curious and for some reason I talked about it with her.

Normally, the tone of the conversation was quite light and whimsical. Sometimes it went a bit deeper, but what was I thinking? She was just some lady on the computer screen. We didn’t even know one another.

There’s an odd sort of person – you’ve probably known one or two like this – who has an innate ability to make you think that you’re truly a friend. I’ve seen countless people online today, who were similarly hoodwinked into thinking they’d really known her.

Her make-believe tea trolley and her deft display of double entendre? All that was a ruse. To get us right where she wanted us. Believing we mattered to her. The trickster that she turned out to be.

Here’s the thing: it was worth it. All of it. Would I do it again? Of course I would. The fact of the matter is that I’d rather have that superficial, make-believe, whimsical friendship for just a few more moments than many of the day-to-day encounters I have with my neighbours.

Do I miss her? Of course I do. It’s inconceivable to me that she’s no longer there. But she never was there, right? Smoke and mirrors.

I’ll remember you Mildew. Your smoke and your mirrors.


  1. It is not avoiding life. It is life. It harkens back to our youth when the possibilities of friendship with anyone is not hampered by the skepticism of the grown-up version that we become.
    Reading about tea from a man in Munich. Talking about old movies with a woman from Australia. Hats in Oregon. Snark from Texas and California and New York. It is real. And as in this case you are talking about very real.

    1. Certainly John.

      That’s actually what I was getting at. Of course these relationships are real.

      I take the people in my life very seriously. I didn’t want to give the impression of the opposite.

      It’s just difficult to try describing feelings about someone you’ve never seen face to face.

  2. Lovely post. It made me cry, although probably not for the reason you might think. But, then again, we hardly know each other.

    1. I’m glad you come here (think I’ve seen you comment before), and I’m curious what touched you.

      Was it the tea trolley? Did you have a horrible tea trolley accident as a child?

  3. I’m so sorry about your friend.

    Internet relationships are as real to some of us as our “real” relationships; I like to think that people are able to love their friends, both near and far, both real and “imaginary,” with the same passion.

    I’m glad you can. I know I can, and do.

    I’m glad you’re one of my holograms.

    1. Oh Amy,

      Thanks for that. Yes, you’re a good hologram, as well.

      Aside from the unruly hair. And the dietary weirdness.

      If you’re going to have a hologram, why would you create such difficulties?

  4. Ken,
    Like you, I find all my tea friends are very real. As one half of a two person business, often the only people I speak to for days on end (aside from my better half who is also my business partner) are my on line friends. We share in their moments big and small.
    And judging by this experience, I’m far happier with the small.
    Milly was just plain wicked in a delightful way. Playful and engaging. She will be sorely missed; and yet, on Twitter and elsewhere today, she seems very much alive.
    When we get together in Paris later this year, we will raise a teacup to Milly

    1. Of course Robert.

      I get that. I didn’t want to just write a string of happy or funny memories. I thought, ‘How would an outsider respond if I told him I was so upset about the death of someone I’d never met in person?’ What if I were to agree at the outset that this was a very odd, uncommon situation. Which it most definitely is.

      What you said about her here, as well as on your teablog, are so true and relevant. I’m glad we’re taking the time to get those memories down while they’re still so fresh.

  5. Well said. And any relationship in which human beings have the privilege of comforting and amusing and challenging each other, is, I think, a real relationship. By the same token, it’s also tragically common for face to face relationships to be shallow and illusory. What you shared with your friend was clearly meaningful and by no means superficial.

  6. To all who “knew” Milly on twitter or elsewhere I send hugs. I have also been saddened today as so many of you are feeling her loss. We that are connected by the leaf have a very special connection an interest a lifestyle a love this is not a weak link, it is centuries old. I just recently lost someone I shared tea with and who supported me in my tea experience. It is a deep loss. Time to reflect on the special gifts we shared.

    1. Oh, I know exactly what you mean Jo.

      The funny thing about Millie was that she loved tea, but didn’t get all fussy about what sort. It was really comical when I tried to get specific about what sort of tea I was drinking. She often was pleased to share a cup of whatever was brewing.

  7. A poignant post and one that I empathise with as several of my online friends have died over the years and I’ve felt their loss just as deeply as if I’d known them in real life.

  8. Wonderful post which goes some way to illustrate how we can really get to know a person by reading their blog posts. There is no other way on the internet, no social network such as Facebook or Twitter et al, that can make you feel so close to a person who you have never met face to face and who resides on another continent.
    I also had a blogging friend who passed away, Aunty Jane ,she bred dogs and judged at dog shows. I still miss her and her blog posts.

    1. Oh wow Technograns,

      I’d like to hear more about Aunty Jane.

      This wasn’t originally intended to be a blog about dogs, but I got on a bit of a #DachshundBlog tear over the holidays. I think some people only come here to hear more about my dogs.

  9. Hmm. I’ve been so caught up in my little tea experiment that I haven’t even visited this blog, and now that I have I feel a little silly for bending your ear about it. Sorry to hear about your friend.

    Personal take. . . every first encounter is superficial, real or online. I find that internet relationships seem to progress faster than the real life ones. Walls are lower. Filters are removed. You might even argue you get a truer picture of who someone is from your online interaction than you do face-to-face because people find it easier to open up and find it less daunting to “be themselves”.

    Sorry for your loss.

  10. I’m very sorry to hear about the loss of your friend.

    I agree with the other commenters that internet relationships are as real as real life ones. After all, any relationship is based on communication and online interaction is all about communication. So we could even say that they are purer in a sense, as no other factors get in the way.

    I have only a vague idea of what most of my online friends look like, how old they are or if they speak with a particular accent or not. It doesn’t matter. What’s important is what they say, how they respond and how they make you feel.

    A friend is a friend, and the loss of a friend is a terrible thing. My thoughts are with you.

    1. Internet friendships based on blogging can be as real as life ones because over a period of time, you really get to know about that person via their blog posts, but internet friendships via social networks such as facebook or twitter or Google, no because those short missives made via those means are not as informative, or allow you to get to know the person making them.

      1. I tend to view the online experience as a whole, without separating it into different platforms. People I know from their blogs, I usually also know on Twitter or Facebook etc. The relationship is then the sum of Tweets, Facebook updates and blog posts, making it more complete.

        So yes, blog posts can be a more in depth insight into someones mind, but the rapid response and immediacy of micro-blogging like Twitter give you more of a real-time relationship. I wouldn’t want to miss out on either.

  11. What a lovely blog. I have many ‘real life’ friends who don’t know as much about me as many of my Twitter friends. It feels so comfortable sharing hopes and grumbles and various pieces of my life with people who I will probably never meet. At first they were all holograms but then, over the months many became real. And dear Milly was one of the ‘real’ ones, yes, most definitely ! She was as real as it gets ! I , too, am ridiculed by the ‘non-believers’ who tell me they are not ‘real friends’ and I always say ‘Try it and you will see how wrong you are ‘ !! God bless you Milly and all who read this. We are all real behind the smoke and mirrors.

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