~ Part One ~
My WIERd Life
Mrs S. our librarian with my Young Authors, May - 1998
I would think most people I've known have grown from their experiences. Especially those sad, twist of fate, totally undeserved awful experiences which consume one's optimistic nature and faith, love, hope - basic values, in general. I know sisters and kindred spirits, who, after being loved, worshiped and put on a pedestal - have been betrayed, mocked, ridiculed and abandoned for an upgrade. Temporarily - until a new, richer model comes.
I would think most people are cautious about hiding their real identity and not leaving crumbs that could be pecked right to their doorstep. And that most do not speak their truths or wear their hearts on their sleeves, lest that makes them more vulnerable in this unfamiliar cyber world, where one often steps through what's real or unreal. Unless one is a predator.
I would also think, that being a fairly intelligent, private, cautious, decent and reasonably mature person myself, I should be among this group I mentioned.
And I would be right.
Only Time and a most incredible encounter - through a PM from an unknown entity on Open Salon - after a post in last June proved me that I could not be more wrong. The rest of the story, as they say, is history, but I will tell it in a few sections. This is the very beginning.
My on-line experience started in 1997 as academic moderator for the “Writers In Electronic Residence” program, or WEIR, for short, by York University, Toronto. The program connected well-known Canadian authors and secondary school students on-line via Internet to discuss and critique creative writing. Students were not only advised by authors such as Carolyn Smart, Susan Musgrave, Trevor Ferguson, Guillermo Verdecchia, but they also exchanged feedback , critiqued and edited each other's writing across Canada.
I was at the start of technology's infiltration into the classroom in a meaningful way. Internet was being used more than a means of Googling geographic locations or downloading Wikipedia pages. Or even typing an assignment. The interactivity, instant email communication with authors, their suggestions and evaluations of students, keeping track of schools and making sure Internet etiquette was adhered to among students were just some of the reasons of my 20 hour a day high those years.
As part of the WEIR team, I had my university email account which contained my real name. That was my first e-mail account – ever ! Yes, we had computers and Internet connection in my modern school, but not for e-mail ! I had a special account set up to which only I had a password to connect my students into York University's system. (Just in case you are wondering – My students held weekly bake sales (of what I baked) and sold raffle tickets to raise half of the cost of this program. For the other half, I danced and sang to convince the school board of the innovations and the benefits of such a program.)
We had scheduled class times, when our assigned authors would be on-line with us. Students posted their revised work – poems, short stories, novel chapters, whatever they wanted to work on. They did the similar exchange with other students from assigned schools from different Canadian provinces. In the process, not only was there a marked difference in the ownership of their work, but I noted that even the most reluctant boy or girl came forward when s/he received a personal reply from an author who had sent in signed copies of her books.
In Quebec, convenience stores are called “depanneur” or "couche tard" - they are the equivalent of Seven-Elevens out in the West, or Mac's in Ontario, and Convenience Stores down East. Simple things such as that made students aware of each others' life styles and dialect differences, geographical proximity as opposed to the immediacy of their email connection. We discussed these observations and more during what I called reflection classes.
My young writers' enthusiasm led them to writing, illustrating and binding their own books with forewords, table of contents and dedications – often to (grand)parents or younger siblings. I asked our librarian if we could display these books for the rest of the school. The program and my students work were noticed and we were invited as speaking guests on CJAD-800, the largest English speaking radio station in Montreal. I remember the date well. It was rainy May 12th – Mothers' Day.
As we were waiting to meet our program host, Royal Orr, I apologized for the timing to the parents of the young man and the young girl who were going to be part of the discussion panel. Their mothers' reply – almost in unison – was, “Please, this is the best Mothers' Day present for us.”
Those were very good days for me, being myself and on-line. They laid the foundation- rather reinforced my faith in mankind, honesty and truth. I was already raised in a cocoon unaware of the corruption, deceit and evil lurking out in the world. This successful, euphoric experience, the creativity and goodwill, cooperation and success only cemented my cynicism of my mother's mistrust in humanity – especially in her non-native land.
This is how my on-line story started. I have been myself right from the beginning, without any secret agenda, or a plan. I did not advertise my attributes, nor had any self photos on the web. An unlisted phone number kept me off the address listings. More importantly, on the calming aftermath of surviving the disassembly of a twenty year marriage, and at the footsteps of a new millennium, I could not even fathom the power of the cyber world, nor imagine why or how anyone would use it for evil ends. I did not question my safety or knew that safety could be jeopardized with kindness, love and trust.
Little did I know then what was in store for me just within the next decade. . .
(To be continued)
My Wier'd Young Authors and their Books 1997 - 98
Füsun Atalay ~ Copyright © Will of my Own -2011