[above: Me, back in the day, flying from my dad to my uncle. That feeling of falling is almost as satisfying as writing, without the anxiety of the “post” button at the end. Although I don’t have to wear diapers now… so I’ve got that going for me.]
Back in the day, you know, the day when the internet still felt new and exotic, kind of steamy and humid with vining plants and faint monkey screeches echoing from somewhere remote… back in that day it was all IM’ing or chatting in private rooms and HTML pages that scrolled endlessly, filled with tables if you were lucky and <br />’s if you weren’t.
It wasn’t like a place you live, which for me is the way it feels now. It was a place you visted in a very deliberate way that involved a long, ululating modem screech heralding your arrival. The information on any given site was invariably presented in the awkward, stilted manner that tourists often adopt when trying to speak in their non-native tongue – a little too formal, a little uncertain of who’s listening.
In retrospect, there was a very short time between the time of internet-as-a-destination and internet-as-home mentality, and I didn’t give much thought to the transition. I jumped in with both feet to LiveJournal and then Facebook without much attention paid to the digital person I was creating or the IRL social implications of that. I just jumped, feeling only the ‘free’ aspect of the free fall. That she-of-the-cloud, the person that I was creating without worrying about reality, was the truest person I had ever been up until that point. Nevermind the fact that I had not given much thought at that point to the truth of myself. This internet self snuck that part up on me – surprise! there is something to you quite different than the person who you’re supposed to be and who you happen to be very good at pretending to be.
It can perhaps be entirely attributed to the duality of data versus flesh that set me spinning off course… I was about 10 years slow pushing off for a trip that most people start in their teens. While there is plenty to say about the Good Girl That Was, that girl-skin I’ve tried so hard to shed, I mention her here only to say that the initial freedom I felt was quickly replaced with terror. Terror at who might find that Cloud Person and connect her to my skin… terror at what that might mean for my safety, socially, emotionally, physically… terror at how the truth of her would impact people important to me.
It was so easy to slide into the filtered existence provided by Facebook privacy controls, by snapseed’s photo editing tools. Suddenly I was behaving in the cloud in the same way I’d been good-girling my way through real life before. In some ways it was a relief – the Cloud Person was doing the hard work of pretending instead of me; it’s way easier to look less fat and less tired through an Instagram filter. But it didn’t change my tendency towards isolation, it just displaced it. And that is what brings us together today.
The thing about not having a blog is that there were still places for me to hide. But lately I’ve recalled those brief moments of freedom I felt all those years ago – the ability to articulate things about myself that my voice never had (since I seem to be a throwback of the sort that can only do so in writing), the catharsis of feeling heard, the relief of not giving a damn if anyone liked it or not.
I do realize that there is often a difference between being honest and being kind… but lately I have been thinking hard about something Rich Cohen said, about writing as if everyone had died long ago.
The fact of the matter is, I am as often unkind as I am kind. I am, at turns, hard and bitter and resentful and angry and soft and thoughtful and caring. What I hope that will happen here is that it will allow me to be “agnostic about everything”. I do know I am most likely wrong… and I do want to be less wrong*. The only way I know to be less wrong is to write.