An Open Letter to the E2 Community

Are you there, E2...? It's me, Ashley. Have a drink. Some tea, maybe? There's beer in the fridge - help yourself. Just sit back and give me a few minutes. I have something to say.

Here's the thing: I am sad.

E2 was (and not so long ago) extremely important to me. Finding you guys (E2 is people, remember?) meant the world to me; I accessed E2 a scant 6 months into a brand-new, scary/wonderful marriage, and I found riches I'd never dreamed of. I received more unconditional support and love and affirmation from my E2 cuties (and that likely includes YOU, yes YOU) than I was getting from my own church family. My real family had just moved all the way across the continent, and I was essentially alone - except, of course, for my legendarily wonderful husband. But any of you who have ever been married know that it's dangerous and counter-productive to try to make one person the absolute center of your life, and I was desperately lonely much of the time. I was also recovering from a severe psychiatric crisis, and on E2 I found a shockingly large number of gentle, marvelously broken folks who knew exactly what I was going through. People like Rancid_Pickle and graceness (and countless others) took me under their fluffy wings, and in no time at all I went from tentative newbie to a part of the gorgeously flawed scenery on E2. I've learned the joys of helping new cuties, I've made some friendships that can only be described as transplendent, and I even started a usergroup for other bipolars that has grown into an incredible support network for People Like Me. Most of all, I had my mind and my heart opened by the writeups, poems, and chat that make up the bulk of the E2 experience. I mean, I'm not exactly a cosmopolitan girl, folks...I live in South Carolina! E2 introduced me to brand-new ideas as well as the beautiful people who housed them, and for that I will be forever and eternally grateful.

E2 is changing; on this we can all agree. And like all growing things, it's going to have to go through an awkward stage or several. I was bemused and a little annoyed by the whole "raising the bar" thing - I always looked at E2 as more of a loose dwelling place for ideas and open exchange of thought, but I can completely understand the admins' desire to up the quality of the content. I can even get behind such a desire. What grieves me now isn't the fact that E2 is changing. I wouldn't, for example, ever abandon a child just because she turned thirteen and overnight became contentious and sullen - but I would be sad that my child no longer exhibited feelings of warmth and love toward me. E2 seems to be harder, rougher, the playground a lot less friendly than it once was...but I am not out the door yet.

What may send me on my way, however, is cruelty.

Thoughtlessness I can understand - I mean, I owe sweet anemotis a letter and a goodie bag for sending me The! Best! Secret Santa! Gift! Ever!, and it's JUNE, for God's sake - but impoliteness, meanness, and petty bullshit just makes me feel as though I'm back in high school, and I don't need that. It hurts to watch my friends nip and tear at one another. It hurts to see people I dearly love leaving. It hurts to feel like a stranger most of the time when E2 was once a place where everyone knew my (nick)name. But what hurts the most is to see the E2 that sensei envisioned, the E2 that he nurtured and loved to pieces, unravelling. It isn't as simple as "can't we all just get along?" There seems to be a creeping sclerosis at the heart of what was once a warm, loving, affirming environment, and that pains me a great deal.

Now, lest you begin to think I labor under the delusion that E2 was at one time some kind of utopia, please understand that I am fully and completely aware that it never was any such thing. There have, and likely always will be, people who thrive on conflict and unkindness. There are people who have, on several occasions, picked up their toys and gone home. And there are many fine people here on E2 for whom this site is simply a convenient receptacle for their thoughts and writing exercises, and that's OK. All of that is OK, because you know - that's life, and there's no way to pad all the sharp corners. There actually shouldn't be a way to pad all of life's sharp corners, friends, because an enormous part of who we are is born out of healthy conflict - we learn to initiate conflict, we learn to handle criticism in a mature manner, we learn that we are not the center of the universe after all, and (gasp!) we learn that not every single person here on this big blue marble is going to love us. I am not advocating a hearts-and-flowers commune devoid of critical thought; far from it. One of the best things about - one of the primary functions of - E2 is the ability to give and receive criticism about our work.

What I am talking about here, though, what I am sorely missing and mourning and grieving for, is courtesy - the "gentle art" that some of our forerunners here took great pains to cultivate. Small kindnesses can be invaluable in any community, and in a community like E2 where we have ample opportunity to pretend that we are all anonymous, there can sometimes be the temptation to commit small acts of brutality on the assumption that no one will really get hurt. I'm guilty of this, too...I have snipped at people in the catbox, I have been less than kind to (even, at times, disparaging of) the occasional newbie. But I do try to be as helpful in my limited capacity here as I can be, and I know from experience that one need not be an editor to be welcoming and helpful to new people, and one certainly need not be a god to offer constructive criticism (emphasis on constructive, cuties) to confused and disoriented fellow creatures. You simply never know, especially in a place where we can't see one anothers' eyes, what sort of things a new person might be wrestling with. Conversely, you may never know how much a simple kindness could conceiveably make someone's day bearable.

You see, E2 was never just a website for me. It has been a lifeline on more than one has been a little refuge, a nook in the storm. I mean, seriously...if all I wanted was reader feedback on my writing, I'd be a writing group, perhaps, or aggressively pursuing publication. But I'm not A Writer - I am Ashley.

You know that fabulous feeling you get after a great meal with a small group of friends? You all sit around finishing off that last bottle of wine, maybe smoking a little, laughing at silly things, content and sated and half-drunk, comfortable enough with your buddies to maybe unbutton that pesky pinchy clasp on your jeans (ahhh...THAT'S better!). You're with people who want to hear your stories. Their eyes say "Please tell me everything...I am hungry and also..."

Also, they love you. Also, they have their own stories to tell, their own wounds to bare, their own treasures in their own dark places, and they want to share them all. And there's time, and more time, in which to relax and just visit, maybe move out to the screened-in porch and watch the velvet shadows make strange and lovely patterns on your friends' faces. Well, E2 was like that for me. It was a quiet porch with friends, and I guess it was too good to last...and I suppose I am almost OK with that. But this creeping meanness has got to stop, cuties. It really, really does. Because there are gentle people here who will take their goodness elsewhere, and we don't want that to happen.

Can we do this? Can we try to be mindful of one another while retaining our collective sense of humor and steely-eyed attention to content and detail?

Can we learn to chase excellence in a way that would make sensei smile?