“Blog.” The word still irritates me, even though I have used it every day for a decade. It’s cheap, corpulent, crusty, soft-bellied. A first-world word, poorly thought out and deeply unattractive.
As somebody whose heart is printed in words, I’ve always found this ironic. That the ugliest word is the name of the most beautiful thing I’ve experienced in the 21st century.
It’s ten years today since I tapped out my first blog:
March 30, 2004 – Ahoy hoy. Soy la Hun. Welcome to my world of creation and distraction.
2004. I had graduated from U.C. Berkeley four years earlier with a degree in Linguistics, which naturally meant I had no life skills or plans. The world was in uproar, and I didn’t know how to fit into it. I was working as a secretary, moonlighting as a tutor, living in a crappy Oakland apartment with junkies for neighbors, and trying to figure out what to do with my overeducated head.
I had always been prone to word-vomiting huge chunks of my soul into email messages, which I sent to a long succession of patient yet mildly concerned friends.
Bless their hearts for putting up with it.
I was capable of writing a few thousand words a day, all about me and my real/imagined dramas. TMI: I was great at giving it. But most people really didn’t want to hear it. One by one, they just stopped responding, and I would need to find a new target.
I’d been hanging around the Internet for the past decade, dipping my toes in various social pools and chatrooms. I had already found that I was better online than I was in person: more confident, more secure, unconcerned with my weight or my frizzy hair. Unbound by the very strict social norms I had struggled with IRL. Online, I was just me, and it didn’t matter.
So when Blogspot showed up, offering free “blogs” to anybody who wanted them, I thought maybe I’d give it a shot. There were a few blogs out there on the Net, and the concept seemed like something I could get into: A free space where I could dump all those thoughts and feelings, anonymously, and to a potentially wider audience who might not tire of me as quickly.
So I joined, made up a new name for myself, and within a few days had puked out several longwinded posts about every facet of my life.
Back then, you have to remember, blogging was not a career you could have. That ugly word “blog” was a joke that “real writers” chuckled and snarked at each other over snooty glasses of classist wine, even though they all must have seen that the growing dungheap of weblogs would one day eclipse the ivory tower.
In 2004, though, definitely a joke, and a secret. Blogging was purely a personal pursuit, and anonymity was de rigueur. Everyone, but everyone used a fake name. We all understood. We were there to be real in a way we could not do in the real world. Anonymity was honesty and honesty was what we craved.
So I bared my bloody heart and smeared it all over my page, and all around me there were scores, maybe hundreds of people doing the same thing. We were separated by just a click: The “visit random blog” link on everyone’s Blogspot page. Eventually, every one of us clicked that link, and that’s how you found people in those days.
I pretty quickly started making friends, the same way I do it now: by visiting other people’s pages and reading what they had to say, and leaving a comment. Funny how that part hasn’t changed in ten years.
Before that time, though, friendship wasn’t currency. Nobody worried about whether it was better to have 100 friends or 1,000. Nobody counted comments, and there was no such thing as a “like.” Until that exact moment in time. 2004. When it all changed.
I remember exactly what it felt like, because it still feels the same way: The day I got a comment from somebody. When I looked at my page and instead of “No Comments” it said “Comments (1)”. And then “Comments (2).” And then “Comments (6).”
The numbers meant everything. They meant somebody cared. Somebody was looking for me. After so many years of pestering people with unsolicited emails, that endless string of gentle rejections—now somebody had actually sought me out, all on their own. They had read what I was writing, and liked it enough to say something.
The friends I made in those first couple of years are the ones that have defined my life in many ways: Paxgitmo. Pissyrabbit. Oheddi. Funksteena. TRUE*. Glitterforall. Kissyfur. Antidis. Bigtanky. So many more (and you know who you are, and most of us are still friends, and if we’re not, find me).
For a couple of glorious years, we burst forth with creativity and messy truth and darkness and light and love and companionship and about a million selfies. We painted the place black and blue. We experimented with art, language, ideas, photos, our bodies, our minds. We made stuff that nobody had ever made before. And people liked it. Our creativity became our purpose and our identity. By the time Web 2.0 took off in ’06 or so, we were somebodies. We had followers. We were in demand. New web communities sought us out as early adopters, and we felt like rock stars.
It was that moment in time before the actual rock stars figured out how to use the Internet, when there was nobody cooler than the creative underground, and that was us. We were it, man.
But the Web was growing, fast. Our real-life friends were starting to show up in what had always been a private space. Some of our extended crowd was starting to get Internet famous. Busblog had a book out. Gawker was making gossip into news. Raymi and Jeffree Star were leveraging their egos for fans. It was turning into a fame game, and we had choices to make. Our anonymity was up for negotiation. We could cash it in, or we could step back, or we could try to find other ways to navigate the expanding seas.
I dropped out in 2007. Stopped posting selfies. Changed my handle. Deleted most of my archives and wiped them off the Web. It wasn’t a bad thing; I was ready for a fresh start.
I had realized something: This could be my life. I could be unsecret, unhidden. I could, if I wanted to, stop sneaking around and start being open with my truth. One day, I could maybe even make a career out of it.
If I wanted that, though, it was going to have to be on my terms. I needed to start from scratch, and start from where I was at that moment. Not from where I had been on March 30, 2004.
What started as long-winded rants about the messy state of my insides had naturally evolved, as my insides straightened themselves out. I was starting to feel, if not emotionally healthy, at least a lot more self-aware and conscious of who I truly was. The strict white-girl norms that had imprisoned me for so long were starting to look pretty flimsy, almost transparent. This little light of mine was starting to burn down the bushel it had been hidden under.
From my current perspective in 2014, I can clearly see that this intense period of self-expression had given me all the emotional tools I had been lacking; I was preparing to use them to build the life I wanted.
At the time, it just seemed like I was less scared of myself: my power, my opinions, my voice.
I started using that voice, openly. Publishing my words, even getting paid for them. It was still frightening—I used to say that pressing “publish” felt like stabbing myself in the heart with a tiny knife—but the response was overwhelmingly positive. Even when I used my real name. So I kept doing it, and I still am doing it. It’s still scary, but it hurts a little less every time. Or maybe, ten years later, my skin is just thicker.
Or maybe, the joy of being me, of telling my truth, is strong enough to heal the pain.
How could I ever have known, as a timid, conflicted 25-year-old, that I had any power or talent? Without the ability to reach out anonymously, I would never have started expressing myself. I’d never have believed that I could be a writer someday. I’d still be working as a secretary, or a manager, in some formal office somewhere, spending my whole paycheck on rent and manicures and hair products.
My life would be so different.
BLOG. It’s a directive for me. I must do it. It defines who I am, what I want, how I get it. When I don’t blog, I forget. I grow rusty and insecure.
When I do it, and do it with all my heart, I feel magical.
I’ll never stop.
And in the end, that dumb ugly word “blog” is a metaphor for the whole experience. Warts and all, silliness and inconsequentiality taken for granted, the word is the tip of an iceberg whose great import lurks just underneath, invisible and indescribable.
We sense it, all of us, but few more than I do.
Let the word be ridiculous. Let my life be ridiculous. Who cares?
The soul expands and thrives. The currents roil. The tradewinds blow.
more than I ever understood
before that moment,
ten years ago RIGHT NOW,
when I pressed “publish” and gave myself up to the greater world.