Second Guessing

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.

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  1. I’m struggling with this too. I cringe at things I wrote six months ago. I worry about what future employers, future medical insurers, future clients might think of me if they ran across my sites. But I miss having the history written down for me to look back on.

    I’m mostly just writing little notes now, and I worry that I won’t remember what I was thinking in a year, a month.

    And I can’t go back to writing on paper. It makes my hands cramp.

  2. I just wanted to say: ME TOO! I’ve had the same conversation with myself about filtering and editing and enjoying writing and having nothing left to say. There is a balance somewhere and I’m still trying to find it.

  3. Beautifully said, as ever. Also: YES.

    I want to find a way of writing online that has some semblance of truth to it, too, but there’s a scary amount of value, for good or for ill (depending on whether you’re out for understanding or for finding a way to whittle down a job-search list), in the online-paper-trail these days.

  4. I totally get it, and I have no idea what the answer is. If I figure it out, I promise to tell you :-)

  5. Throughout our life, the main thing we’re after, is approval… first from our parents, then from our superiors, from our peers and from our partner (s)… if we succeed in this, we’re happy. If we don’t, we keep looking… we keep looking, because approval is the best form of gratification, among humans.
    You are a loving person and this blog is the tangible proof of this love for others than yourself… you freely offer truth, which is a remarkably honest first step, in your quest for meaningful relationship, but you also lament becoming more careful and controlled… some sort of farewell to the innocence of youth and a welcome to the age of wisdom.
    Most of us, scribblers of walls, FB and What-Not, are probably wiser and at the same time, less innocent already, but can only nod approvingly of what you say, mull your points deep inside and utter our admiration, as would be artists that know the trade, but are unable to reach your peaks…

  6. Glad that the meeting with the internet acquaintaince went well, I still remember our first meeting at Wellington Airport after many, many mails and a fair few phonecalls (hopefully another this weekend if you’re around!)… I still fondly remember our walk down to the sunny (but very windy!) beach, chatting all the way :)

    Interesting about the “filtering”, I know I’d do pretty much the same thing if I could find enough interesting things to write about in my life – but maybe it’s also worth considering who you don’t “filter” for, I’ve got a handful of friends who I can comfortably tell anything – completely “unfiltered” and I suspect these are the people whose approval, friendship and trust I value the most.