This past Sunday I went for breakfast over at Scopa with an internet acquaintaince with whom I’ve been in touch for a couple of years, off and on. We’d already become Facebook friends and started following each other on Twitter so I was faaaaaaairly sure we were going to get on just fine, but even though I’ve met many many internet friends in real life since that fateful day I first stalked Linda back in 2002, there’s always that little bit of nervousness. I mean, you’ve been laughing and nodding along with the person that you read about on the blog, but what about the actual unfiltered-by-the-social-media person, the one who is sitting there with you at brunch instead of frowning into their laptop? Will you read their writing the same way, now that you’ve met? Are your illusions, no matter how tiny, going to be completely blown? And what if they think you’re the weird one?
Well, I’m happy to say that Jane and Jane’s partner and I found each other at the window table and ate some toast and talked about Wellington and about people we knew in common and fell very easily into the sort of shop talk that online writers get into sometimes. A lot has happened since 2002, when we all still had online journals and no one was getting paid to blog and we were all much younger and much stupider and didn’t mind writing about our love lives or our jobs or our difficulties with our families of origin, but a lot of the issues are still the same now that the internet isn’t just for geeks anymore, and it’s still nice to talk to someone who gets it. We talked a lot about filtering: if the only thing you know about, and hence the only thing you write about is your life, how do you present that life truthfully, if truth is something you’re after, and yet preserve some sort of privacy, if privacy is something you’re after?
I’m after both those things, and after all this time I still haven’t figured out how to balance them. I want to write about my life, still, publicly, where other people can see (but why?), and I also want to stay safe: physically and emotionally and in all other ways. Some things need airing and some things need hiding and generally I have a pretty good idea of what goes where; I have been doing this for a while now, and I have years and years and years of cringingly overemotional nonsense cluttering up the archives for anyone who cares to get into them. I don’t mind having all that old stuff still up but I have to say that in the past couple of years I’ve become a lot more careful. The list of things I want to write about but feel uncomfortable with is way longer, now, than the list of things I actually want to post. I’ve gone from second-guessing to third, fourth, and fifth-guessing. I’ve gone from posting to three or four times a week to posting every eight or nine days, if I’m lucky. Everything has become more careful and more controlled, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that everything has become sort of less interesting, and less real, further away from the core. I write online because I want to be known, I think, because I want someone to get, me, and I somehow believe that if I just keep telling and talking, if I just keep explaining, that someone will get me–but of course it’s impossible to be got if I’m always going to err on the side of being safe instead of on the side of being free.
I’m still not getting this right, after staring at this screen for an extra hour, re-writing that last couple of sentences so that I sound less ridiculous, when I need to be drinking tea and responding to emails and filling up my hot water bottles. All I want to say, really, is that I don’t write the way I want to anymore, and I can’t figure out whether it’s because I have nothing to say, or because I just feel weird about feeling the way I do, about being the way I am.