Thursday, February 23, 2012

The person behind the pixels

So one of my friends has started a tumblr where she talks about the ongoing process of unfucking her life. It's not that her life is an exploded disaster area, it's just unsustainable, at least when health and happiness are considered. (This is not me being judgmental, this is me paraphrasing her first entry.) So she's trying to make changes. (And since one of her entries suggests that she's at least making a gesture towards anonymity with this, I am not outing her, so please forgive the pronouns on my part.)

And let me tell you, I read these entries, and I spent a good chunk of yesterday crying like a child. Because I felt like I wasn't alone. Because it was such a relief to see that someone I know and love and respect made mistakes and honestly, was human, like I am. Because the unfuck your life project? Is also something I am undertaking.

And we sent each other emails that were basically like, "OMG, you too? You seem so competent and together!"

Well, yes.

Here's the thing about the internet: it's public, and it's permanent. And if you are a professional, and you interact with other people on the internet, you need to do your best to remember those things always.

As of right now, there are 2,115 people following me on Twitter. Compared to some people I know, this is not very many. But it is ten times the number of people that were in the entire (K-8) elementary school I graduated from. It is over twice the number of people that were in my high school. Even if we assume that half of that number is made up of people who are bot accounts of some sort, that is still a lot of people who pay attention to the 140-character slices of my life and interests that I choose to share. People read this blog, and people read what I write over at Fantasy Matters. People do these things in numbers that, quite frankly, astound me.

And I am always, always aware that people can see me when I write something on the internet, even if it is an @ message to a friend. We've all seen what happens when someone forgets: the author who loses her shit over a bad review, or the one who writes something that is a form of RaceFail or GenderFail or CompassionFail, and then when this is pointed out, doesn't man up and apologize, and say "I'm sorry I said what I did. I was ignorant. I hurt people. Thank you for pointing that out, and I promise to do better in the future," but who goes on a rant about how he is being oppressed. These things happen so often they have their own memes. 

So I behave like I know that people are watching me, and most of the time that's fine. But sometimes I wonder what we lose by being so conscious all the time that people are watching, and we need to act like professionals. I remember about this time last year, when I'd made my third pro sale, and so was eligible to join SFWA, and calling my Mom to tell her, and making some throwaway remark about how that made up for the day earlier that month where I had gotten three rejections in one day (an event that, let me assure you, devastated my self-confidence). "Why didn't you tell me?" she asked. Well, we're professionals. We don't talk about the rejections. Everybody knows they happen, but we don't say so. And I'd ingrained that to the point where I didn't talk to anyone about it.

I don't talk about the bad days, personally or professionally, where people can see me, because I don't want to be perceived as whiny, or as a failure, but I wonder how much gets lost, with this perception that pros don't have bad days. 

I'm a survivor of sexual violence. Ending rape culture, and supporting other survivors are both critically important to me, but I don't talk about those issues nearly as often as I'd like to, because I don't want to be the girl who won't shut up about rape. I mean, come on - who wants to read about that all the time?

And I don't mean to whine and complain that "Oh, poor me, I can't put my pain on the internet." Because like the poisonous snake, I knew what it was when I picked it up. But I think of the relief I feel, when someone like my friend publicly says, "hey, my life? not so perfect as you might think." And I think of the rules that make us bind our imperfections so tightly down that we don't even dare show them to the people who love us, and I wonder if it's not just the public that we need to remind that there are people behind our avatars. I wonder if it is also ourselves that need those reminders.


  1. Well said. (I am also following said Tumblr, and even though I don't know her in person, I wanted to give her a hug, so I guess I should hug you, too, except I am not a huggy sort of person and, er, this is getting weird? It's meant supportively. Really.)

    It's a tension I feel all the time on the internet. I am a super-private sort of person, but it seems that it's only by making ourselves vulnerable that we really connect out here. Goes for any sort of writing, I suppose.

    Anyway, good luck with the unfucking (anyone want to start a campaign to make that the 2012 word of the year?).

    Also, best labels ever. :)

    1. Thanks. I accept your internet hug in the generous spirit in which it was given.

      And I'm glad you like the labels, and unfucking should be the word of 2012.

  2. Well, this left me in tears. The reasons are varied -- but I get this. There's a lot I leave off of the internet (the rejections, the personal troubles), because I'm conscious that it's The Internet. But it cuts a lot out of the equation. I'm not sure how I feel about it.

    But I plan on reading your friend's blog, tonight. And, soon, I might be brave enough to blog about my imperfections.

    As usual, Kat -- thank you for this post. Thank you for the reminder that we're all flawed, fumbling, and we suffer through our own crap. Sometimes, in silence.

  3. "How I'd love to hear a human voice, from any one of them.
    Confessing not to sins but to infamies,
    Speaking not of violent but of cowardly acts!
    But no, each one's a Paragon, to hear them tell it."

    Nobody confesses their infamies, unless they want to hide even worse ones. We all need to protect ourselves, and even more when we are online. Nobody walks on the streets shouting to strangers, "Hey, look at me, I'm a pathetic being and I'll tell you all the truth about the ridiculous things I've done".

    In the end, the sum of all those ups and downs we show or hide is the story we want to tell the world about ourselves. Like every story, it doesn't need to be 100% truth, but it has to be honest. And most of all, meaningful - in its bright moments as in its dark ones.

  4. [hugs] I hear you. Good points all around. For me, it's a tight rope walk, this internet thing. You need to be a touch vulnerable to be personable. Yet, not too much. Uggh. Boundaries can be tough to maintain once they've been violated by others -- particularly early in life. Some folks have trouble understanding them at all. So, my sympathy. Seriously.