Online connections are a daily thing to me, but as much as possible, I try to seek out opportunities for online connections to cross over into real life. While meeting someone who's basically a stranger sometimes leads to awkwardness, I'm always amazed by how much deeper a connection can get when you add an in-person dimension - as if something in the in-room chemistry reinforces human solitude and interdependence simultaneously, and makes us want to connect more meaningfully, even if we have to reveal personal things we are most guarded about.
In October, I got what I thought was a spam message about blog advertising. The subject header read "kvetch bkr: true love." Reading on, I saw that the email was from Tal Soltz, founder of a San Francisco-based water bottle company called bkr. "Found you randomly, love your tagline. Think you'll love the Kvetch bkr. Hilarious and kindred. www.mybkr.com."
Looking at the website, I saw that bkr (pronounced "beaker") sold 16-oz glass water bottles, with a small mouth, encased in a silicone sleeve. They had bottles in 34 colors that I could see on the website (I'm assured that other colors, to match seasonal fashion trends, are coming), in color names ranging from whimsical (a grapefruity pink called "crush") to dangerous (a deep maroon called "bitten"), and one in chartreuse called "kvetch." I now understood - a Google search for "kvetch" must have brought us together. (And no, they don't yet have a "Kvell" color. I'm sure that's in the 2014 Collection.)
Tal offered to send me a kvetch bkr, and since I already had a trip to San Francisco planned, I offered to pick it up in person. As we talked about the founding of the company and how business was going (very well - the bkrs are popular among the celebrity and fashion-conscious set), we talked about my blogs, including the one I used to write, JDatersAnonymous, but which I (mostly) gave up around the time my mother passed away. She revealed that her father had also passed away, about a year before - within a week or two, she'd be traveling to Israel for the unveiling. She also told me about the house her father had built, about 85 miles east of Los Angeles. Because Tal lives in San Francisco and her brother Gil lives in Paris, they had thought about selling the house when their father died - but Gil had a better idea: to transform this secluded place in the mountains into a writers' retreat in their father's memory.
Just a few days after my visit to Tal, Gil launched a Kickstarter for Inspiration Drive, to raise funds to transform that house - called "Yefe Nof," Hebrew for "beautiful vistas/scenery" - into a creative residency, where "writers, researchers, and designers bring their projects for the final stage of execution, one resident at a time for six weeks each."
As someone who is writing a book about grief, loss and memory, I could relate both to the emotional and the practical side of this project. I knew I couldn't donate at the level that would earn me a week at this cabin (which I would LOVE), but suggested that in addition to funding from individuals via Kickstarter, he might want to seek out cultural foundations, institutions and nonprofit organizations (especially those based in LA or San Diego) for partnerships and retreats. (See video by Gil below: warning, he is very charming and you may just fall in love with him and this project a little.)
So from a blog and a bkr to creative projects in memory of a lost loved one, an online connection moved from virtual to real-life, illuminating that even virtual strangers may have stories that overlap and intersect, at points of tragedy or creativity, or emerging from the human condition itself. Our desire to connect can bring us out of our solitude, or grief, or isolation, or routine, into contact with those who may be quite similar to ourselves, even if we don't know it yet. And sometimes, it starts with a simple email.
To see the full line of bkrs (which are surprisingly light for glass and which sport an angled top that makes the bottle easy to carry), check out MyBKR.com.
To learn more about Inspiration Drive, visit the Kickstarter (the project is 21% funded, with 24 days to go).