Sunday, March 13, 2005

IRL

This morning I read Kate’s post (3/12) about what happens when IRL people find your site. She’s even written The IRL Manifesto. I really related to her post because I recently had this happen to me…sort of.

For the first three years we lived in the tropics, I would compose long (sometimes semi-comical) "island update" emails about life here in all of its goofy glory. I sent those emails to about 50 relatives and friends on the mainland. It was a lot more efficient than having to rewrite it over and over in individual emails. The recipients seemed to enjoy them, but not that many of them would respond. Some would and I always appreciated hearing about news “back home"--whether that was in California or in Portland. But as the years wore on, I grew tired of feeling like I 'had' to write them, like they were expected. So I’d send them less and less frequently and often add at the bottom that it was likely to be the last "island update." And then suddenly I’d be flooded with emails in response. "Please don’t stop sending them! I love those! They’re so funny!" etc., etc. But it had long since stopped amusing me to have to live with the annoyances inherent in island life. And I had been going through a lot of changes in my inner life and wanted to focus more energy on that part of my life.

In 2003, the only blog I'd ever heard of was the one Kevin Sites' kept during the Iraq War, which CNN made him take down. ("Bastards!" in retrospect.) Several months later, I saw an online news article about blogs (can’t remember now where it was--nytimes.com?) and it must have mentioned Blogger. And it hit me: here was my out from those damn "island update" emails. I could start a blog, and if family and friends wanted to read it, they could. And if it didn‘t interest them, then they wouldn‘t have some silly island email showing up in their IN box. It seemed like a perfect solution…except, of course, the "perfect" solution would have been to not feel obligated to supply anyone with news in the first place. (Can you say codependent, boys and girls?)

So I started Island Fever, on Labor Day, 2003. I distinctly remember being sprawled out on the love seat, with the laptop next to me, looking across the room at the boyfriend and saying, "I’m bored. I think I’ll start a blog."

Keep in mind that 18 months ago, free Blogger blogs didn‘t have comments. The only readers (I imagined) that I would ever have would only be those I gave the URL to, and since the original intent was to use the blog to replace my "island update" dispatches, I gave the URL to some of the recipients of those emails. But a funny thing happened--none of them seemed to be reading the blog, as far as I could tell. Because whenever I would email back and forth with one of my old pals or a member of my family, there was never any mention of anything I’d written on the blog. I appeared to be writing simply for my own pleasure, and that was okay, too.

Blogger has a "featured blogs" section. On the day I created Island Fever, one of the featured blogs was Alex’s. It was a total stroke of luck, because when I checked out her blog, it led me to Another Girl at Play, which led me to the blogs of so many wonderfully creative women. But the blog I resonated with immediately off that site was Andrea’s. So I started reading Andrea’s site and began checking out sites I found on her links page. Many of the links that are on my Blogroll, and that I still enjoy reading today, are sites I initially discovered via Andrea‘s links. I don’t know if I’ve ever told her that, so I’m telling her now: A, you are my blogging Godmother! You are the queenpin in my blogging family tree! :)

There was this whole blogging WORLD out there that had been going on all these years and I’d had NO idea! I was absolutely thrilled to learn about it, particularly since I found myself living in a place where I had no friends.

My first eight months here (boyfriend came down two months earlier to set the stage), we lived at two "band houses" and played host to visiting musicians, many of whom were already friends of ours, so I was able to enjoy the company of others in that setting. But once we moved to the condo and were on our own--and boyfriend had stepped away from the club he’d helped to build up and where we’d both once worked--our lives grew very quiet. And we welcomed the quiet after the chaos of the club and the band house, but I suddenly felt very isolated. My life consisted of going to work and coming back home. We didn’t socialize--who would we socialize with? We didn’t have any friends here to speak of. It was just the two of us, and that was fine, to a degree. But I missed having girlfriends. I missed getting together with someone occasionally for coffee or breakfast. So on top of missing all of the conveniences and cultural wealth one experiences on the mainland, I felt like I was missing out on having a life. And it was a hard time for me. I struggled with some pretty serious depression during that time. And worst of all, I began to experience anxiety attacks again, and they’d been absent from my life since I’d stopped drinking 12 years before. And they were bad anxiety attacks, as they had been previously. And (as you all know) I was in a job that I detested. It was a dark time, not that anyone outside of my boyfriend and my mother would have ever known that. True to form, I kept up a kick-ass front.

But back to the blog… So I started Island Fever, telling myself that its purpose was to replace those "island update" emails. But in truth, I really just wanted to dive head first into the blogosphere (and that was long before I’d ever heard that word) and see what this whole blogging thing was about. I wanted to read what others were writing on their sites and to link to sites that I enjoyed. And I wanted to see how it would feel to write my own--maybe it would be a place I could document some of what was going on with me internally. I felt like a double agent, because I kept my blogging secret from everyone here (save the boyfriend, of course). And that‘s still true today. To my knowledge, not one single person in the Caribbean knows that I blog. And I honestly never knew if any of the people I’d originally given the URL to were even reading it, because if they were, they never indicated as such in their emails or correspondence or phone calls.

So I got a little braver. I began to be a bit more confessional. And I began to leave comments on other sites. And that took a lot of courage for me to do. Because like many of you, I suffer from "outsider-itis"--not quite fitting in anywhere, even though I ACT like I do. I’d read comments on others’ sites and was just SURE that they all knew each other and were members of some cool blogging club. I was convinced that if I left a comment, it would elicit some sort of ostracization. ("Who the hell is Marilyn at Island Fever and why is she trying to join our 'club'?") But I began to leave a few comments. And sometimes I’d get even braver--I’d send an email to someone who’d written something that had particularly moved or touched me. And a funny thing happened--they’d usually email back. And some of the bloggers I'd left comments for began to comment on my site. Oooooh, I get it, THIS is how you draw readers to your site. Okay, cool.

But then an even cooler thing happened. The more I began to reveal my warts--the more I exposed my less-than-desirable traits--my readers didn’t run away in abject horror, instead they wrote incredibly supportive and understanding comments and emails. What the hell?! Because it began to feel suspiciously like friendship. Genuine friendship. But how could that be? I’d never even MET these people! I’d never even spoken to them on the phone!

And then six months ago, we went through that hard time with H. Not with H. himself, but with his mother. And it was heartbreaking for the three of us (and I just realized I dreamed about H. last night) and the support I received from my blogging pals overwhelmed me. Many times it brought me to tears. How could I be so lucky to have such incredibly supportive friends that I’d never even met?! But I did and I do and you all rock my world in the biggest damn way.

Fast forward to about 10 days ago...I got a couple of comments from someone who clearly knew me IRL. I wasn’t sure at first who it was because the comments were signed with only initials and there was (I realized later) a typo in one of them. But I thought I knew who it was, and then she emailed me. She had come across the URL that I’d given her long ago (when I first started the site) and had started reading. She wrote how much she loved what I was writing and how much she was enjoying reading the site, so that she was reading through the archives. She left several subsequent comments on older entries--all very kind and supportive and flattering, and it was very sweet. But then it occurred to me that if she was enjoying it that much, she might want to tell other IRL people we have in common about the site. And I began to panic…because my blog had morphed into something other than what I had intended it to be when I started it. It was more of an online journal now, a diary of sorts, and I wanted to keep it that way. I wanted to be able to write without censoring myself based on the preconceived notions of what IRL people thought I was like (true or not). I wanted to be my own free self in the blogosphere.

So I wrote to my old (high school) friend and told her that I was glad that she was enjoying the blog and asked her to please keep the URL to herself. She wrote back that she only planned to tell a few people. I wrote again explaining much of what I’ve written here and told her that having an audience of IRL readers would take much of the enjoyment out of it for me, because then I’d revert to doing what I do in so many IRL situations (like that job I just finished)--I’d ACT like I was what they wanted me to be, rather than just being who I really am. I had given the URL to a handful of old pals and relatives when I first started the blog. If they eventually came across that information and decided to start reading the site, so be it. But I preferred to not be "outed" at this point. Whether or not that was her intention, that’s how it felt. She initially responded that she would agree to not share the URL, but then later sent me a brief, rather terse email to another email address (the one she’s used to using) and asked me to un-publish her comments.

So that’s where it stands. She may or may not be reading this post. I got the impression from her last email that she was angry over my request. Some would argue that if I’m going to self-publish on the web, then I should accept that anyone, anywhere can read it. And I do accept that. I would just prefer to not have someone give IRL folks a road map on how to reach it.

Unlike Kate, I don’t have to worry about when or if to reveal my site to men I’m dating. My boyfriend is well aware of my blogging life, but has no interest in reading my site. And that gives me even more freedom. He simply accepts that blogging has become an important part of my life. He sees things arrive in the mail and marvels over how I’ve somehow managed to make friends not just in the States, but in other countries, too. I simply tell him, it’s a wonderful thing. :)

I’m curious to know how all of you feel about the IRL issue. Comments welcome, if they're working! And if not, see "comment-ary" post below.

7 Comments:

Blogger Pam said...

Forgive the long rambling. I have thought about this so I have too much to say.

My darling husband does a lot of tech support for the computer harried in the little snowglobe town. And often to check connectivity or browser stuff, he calls up Nerd's Eye View. And then, when people ask him about it and they learn that it's my little project that documents their home town, they want to sit down and have a read. That means that people that invite us to dinner are reading my random accusations of racism, my whining homesickness, my critical analysis of their supermarkets, blah blah blah. At first, I felt really funny about this. Because hell, part of what my blog is for is to help me blow off about my frustrations around living there and I didn't want people who were always nice and civil to me to think I was just randomly criticizing them.

But I started writing share my experiences while living in a far away place with those that aren't there with me. And while lots of it is good, there's strudel and hand knitted socks at Christmas and oh my god, the scenery, it's a 3-D experience and there are bound to be some negatives. If I wanted to lock the whole thing down, I could make it private and just distribute the URL. But I decided that ultimately I don't care what those people think. After all, I find it interesting to see how people perceive my home country, so maybe they have the same reaction. Hell, Bill Bryson is always trashing some nation or other and he's a best selling author.

Still, some rules may apply. I don't blog about how I think X is a total moron for doing Y and can you believe she's going to ABC?! I don't bash my inlaws. I don't touch my moneymakers unless it's for something positive and funny that bears sharing. I don't hide my politics because I don't care if everyone knows I'm a heartbroken Kerry voter who worked for the campaign. I'm not gonna alienate anyone I need to deal with, even workwise. I don't think "who's gonna read this" but I do think "does this transcend just bitching?" It's not an easy line to walk because oh my god do I want to blog about how F is a total %&$# and it's not going to end well. But I save that stuff for email.

Why do I apply these limits? Because the Web is the town square and it's full of people wearing sandwich boards with their manifesto on it. And okay, there's about a jillion of them, but there remains the possiblity you'll lock eyes one day in the square with your boss from hell and they'll zero in on that one line where you totally trash them, and man, uh oh. I'm not of the "if you can't say something nice school." I'm of the if I wouldn't say it out loud in public schooL. Because that's what blogging is. Saying it out loud in public. Someone might be listening.

I think there's two choices, blog anonymously and only that way or open the gates. No profile, no clues, nothing. Because if you're NOT anonymous, someone's gonna find you. And while you can try, like Brad and Jen, to ask the media to respect your privacy during this difficult time, you can't guarantee that you won't end up photographed with a shopping cart full of Ben and Jerry's at your local market wearing those big glasses that won't fool anyone.

FWIW. .02. Don't spend it all in once place. And so forth.

11:22 AM  
Anonymous lizardek said...

I agree with Pam. Either it's total anonymity that you must protect like a she-bear and NEVER EVER let up in your vigilance, because one little chink in your armor usually means the floodgates open. It's HARD to stay anonymous when the confessional urge is upon us, and even harder when the blogging leads to such a supportive community such as you've got and I've got. :)

I've never been anonymous on my blog, and I'm not worried about it. For one thing, I DON'T rant or gossip about others, or talk about work in any way that might turn around and bite me later. I did it once with my husband and something that had happened between us and that was a good lesson learned the hard way.

I don't have any advice for you either way, but I think it's also easy to over-react and freak out that people you know IRL will find your blog and read it. When you consider that so many people you DON'T know have found your writing to be honest, interesting, moving and worth reading, why would it be any different really for the people who you've actually met?

3:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. I've been blogging for about 6 months now - started it as a way to avoid the group emails, just like you. And just this week I've been thinking a lot about how much I wish I had an anonymous one that no one who knows me IRL reads. Not that I want to trash my family or friends rather that some of the stuff that wants to come out in the blogarama isn't who my family and friends think I am or want me to be. In fact, I'm commenting anonymously just in case they followed me here. (I linked to you from Lizardek.) Thanks for writing what you wrote. It's good stuff.

6:26 PM  
Anonymous samantha said...

I remember when you started leaving comments, and what a gift you are to our corner of the blogosphere! There's so much I could say about my own world exploding when IRL folk find your blog - there's some people in this life that you can trust, and then there are those you can't - I know, how obvious, but it's true. I say, keep it as quiet as possible, but it's so hard. Blogging is something that you get incredibly excited about, it's a way to keep in touch with friends, and to build new relationships. You've found a happy medium so far, but I say you have to be ready for the real IRL'ers. I think you handled it well, and it's your blog, honey! I remember when I asked people not to link to me for a couple of months - there the majority who were completely understanding and a couple who I think it pissed off. All of this to say, it's a dilemma we all face, and you expressed it eloquently.

9:43 PM  
Blogger Michele said...

This was such a great post!
A question some of my other blogging friends and I ask is what is it that makes us cringe in horror at anyone IRL finding out what we openly share with total strangers?
I suppose its just easier to bare your soul to someone you don't have to face across the table at Thanksgiving every year.

10:35 AM  
Anonymous shelagh said...

Hi M,
That was such a good post. I think most of us feel the same way. My friends and family do not know about my online journal and I am happy to keep it that way. I think part of the enjoyment of this blogging stuff is the freedom we have to say what we want without anyone near to us judging or questioning us. Just like in a "real" diary, we can say what we want without fear of repercussion. It is an outlet. HAving said that I am still quite reserved on my posts.
The amazing thing about an internet diary is that it is interactive, peopled with characters that exist "only" in the blogosphere, almost like "imaginary friends". They understand the blogging compulsion and the rewards derived from it. We can exchange ideas, and sympathy, and friendship, and one day we might even meet them, but for now they safely stay put in the cyber realm accessed when we have the time and the need and desire for them unlike our IRL world which confronts us at whim daily.

10:32 AM  
Anonymous Chat Renard said...

Your bit about the problems inherent in island living having ceased to amuse you really hits home. I've just started posting a sort of memoir I've written over the years here in the islands, which is funny because I kind of feel like I'm at the end of my time here. Hope your new life in California is amusing the heck out of you! Will go check that blog out now. www.ChatRenard.com

1:22 AM  

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