Have you ever met your hero?

Have you ever met your hero? The closest I ever came was sipping a Bloody Mary in Bar Hemingway at The Ritz, Paris, thinking, "Ernest Hemingway probably sat right here. He looked out of that window onto that almost-unchanged view." If only time could have compressed, turned back in on itself, or simply rolled backward Midnight in Paris-style, I would have been sharing the same space, breathing the same air, as my greatest literary hero. What would I have said to him? What would he have said to me? Anything at all? Would it have been a glorious moment to treasure forever, or a bitter disappointment?

On Friday I was privileged to be part of DPCON12, a massive blogger conference in Melbourne hosted by Digital Parents. But the program wasn't the least bit limited to parents: we covered topics from using blogs for social good (particularly by partnering with not-for-profit organisations) to the process of going from blog to book (with folks on the panel who had done just that), and workshops on how to use your blog to generate other paid writing work.

For me, this conference was also an amazing opportunity to meet new bloggers and, through them, to hear new voices. I haven't been part of the Digital Parents community, so it was all very new to me: they are a cohesive, self-supporting unit bonded through familiar experiences (and regular reading), with their own language and subtle morays and behavioural expectations.

It could have been intimidating and by the eve of the conference, I confess I was feeling the fear. However, the reality was that I was warmly accepted into this world, and my relatively different life experiences and blogging style did not stop this lovely group from making me feel part of their family. What really got me thinking was when a certain speaker would be called to the stage, or a certain blogger would stand up to ask a question, and the room would erupt with screams and cheers and applause.

Not having been part of this community, I rarely knew the one speaker or blogger from another. But almost everyone else seemed to, this close-knit family. And I realised that, for many people at this conference, they were meeting their heroes. Bloggers they had admired and sometimes even interacted with online were here in the flesh (or "IRL," an acronym that I learned stood for "in real life," but you probably knew that already).

And I thought, what if some of the big bloggers I'd known and admired in the past year had stood up there? People whose words I'd read and lives I'd watched through Internet windows, hearts that had opened to me, the anonymous stranger: how would I have felt if they then materialised, "IRL," as part of a panel? What if they had been there to chat with me later over cake and tea? I'm pretty sure I'd have been cheering like the room was on Friday, for people I didn't know. After all, it'd be a little bit like meeting my own heroes.

I guess that's the crossover that blogging, blogger conferences and meet-ups offer: we are no longer just reading words, as we would in a book. On a blog, we are reading words, glimpsing lives, being invited into hearts... yet all the while we remain strangers. But a blogging conference - something entirely new to me until Friday - means stepping over what remains of the "stranger" boundary and into "friend" or, in some cases, "family." It's pretty special.