At this point, my 'fan experience' is less about being a music fan than about a daily experience of friendship that I wouldn't give up for anything. I enjoy the music, I appreciate the art, and I devour the words when they come our way. It all gives me something to think about, to experience, and of course to blog about here when the mood strikes me ;-) But to me the most important aspect, the most personal and rewarding part, is the hardest part to share because it defies description and is incomprehensible to those who don't take part in something similar in their own life.
It's difficult to explain to some people the kind of closeness you can have with people thousands of miles away via the Internet, and how that can be a valuable and rewarding bond. In the past, people kept up lengthy correspondences with friends and family via the old fashioned letter, so why is it so hard for people to grasp that you can indeed forge true friendships online? I have somehow managed to express to family, friends and coworkers why the term 'online friends' does not equate to 'I am a total loser who doesn't have any real friends of my own, so I invest a lot of time creating the superficial semblance of friendship with people I will never meet and that makes me completely pathetic.' But some people automatically assume that you can't have a real friendship with people you meet online, and I just smile knowingly and leave it at that.
One of the reasons traveling to concerts is so addictive is that it's a chance to spend time with online friends in person. There is nothing like finally hearing someone's voice, being able to hug someone after so many years of only trading e-mails or forum posts, and finding out in real life that bond is just as strong or maybe even stronger than you realized. The concerts are almost secondary, they are the reason to be there and of course inspire much of the conversation and activities while we friends are together. But the best times I have had on these trips have not been at the concerts themselves, they have been the times when friendships and connections have evolved and generated something new.
When I went to Oslo and London last month, I was lucky enough to finally meet some people who are very dear to me. I was amused when someone I met for the first time told me I was nothing like what she expected - within ten minutes I could tell she had to revise many of her preconceived ideas about me, and I was of course doing the same thing too. It is a bit of a risk opening your 'real' self up to people like that, after all people can definitely be very different in person than you expected, but for the most part I have always found people to be fun and interesting and just *more* of who I already know.
Anyway, over the course of the week I got to spend time with some amazing friends and it is so hard to go back to regular life after that. We're all just kind of waiting for the next reason to get together - a tour announcement, some special gigs, we don't care, it's all the same to us. I doubt something like the triple-solo concert at RAH will ever happen again, it was pure magic how so many people converged on one place for such an amazing experience. So for that reason people will always be looking back with longing ;-) My trip to Edinburgh for Magne's exhibit and gig in 2004 was like that, I still consider that one of the best fan experiences ever because I made some good friendships there.
Not everything in the community is positive, of course. When I left for London, some old wounds had already started to heal, some of which I didn't even know I had. By the last day there, I was finally able to let go of some things I never wanted in my life. There were so many good things that happened to make this possible, but two of the specific things I will always remember happened after RAH on Saturday night.
A bunch of us met outside door 12 after the concert, for one last chance to connect before everyone traveled home the next day. Several friends presented me with a small gift, a beautiful Norwegian star necklace from a wonderful shop in Oslo called Juhl's. I had spent a lot of time with them the weekend before in Oslo, they shared the city with me and brought me into their circle and this thoughtful gift will always remind me of that fabulous time together and their friendship.
The other thing that I will never forget is when I hugged Caterina goodbye. As we had our arms around each other, she whispered in my ear the very words my heart whispers amidst the din of self-doubt and disappointment that sometimes overwhelms me. To hear those words from such a dear friend and know that she knew what was in my heart was absolutely amazing and touching. At that moment I felt so loved and understood. The words were not her own, but now they are ours. And I will always be grateful that those words were given to me and how and by whom.
It is not easy to be so far from good friends, the distance between everyone makes it hard to maintain closeness without some effort on both sides. Still somehow the bonds are there even with people who disappear for a while. I never thought 8 years ago when I signed up for a mailing list that I'd have so many great experiences as part of this community, and I don't know how many friendships will be with me lifelong. No matter what I have a lot of good to carry with me and ultimately it started with the music, so I am very grateful for that.