So, I wrote a tiny Observer piece in a bigger, and slightly doom-laden piece, about confessional blogging. Firstly, if you can find it online without using that link, give yourself a medal. I think a grand total of 8 people have come to the blog from it. It's a good thing I'm not some kind of attention hungry trollop, cravenly intent on building traffic by any means poss.. oh. Sssh.
Anyway. I had a terrible job writing so little: there was so much more I could have said, wanted to say. I'd have struggled with 3000 words, probably, because for the last year or so I have thought about these questions around online identity pretty much constantly, and without any satisfactory resolution.
The thing I found myself thinking mainly, once the deadline passed, and I had turned in something that was incomplete, partial, though true, was this: I think, really, I'm constitutionally unsuited to confessional blogging. If you want to write very candidly on line, you need to have a very robust sense of self, and of your own boundaries. You need, if not a thick skin, at least a slightly reinforced one. You have to know when to take criticism on board, and when to laugh it off as the frothing of lunatics. I have none of those things: I sway in the slightest breeze of disapproval, become completely uprooted by anything stronger. I'm weak and uncertain, I lack perspective and I want everyone to like me. Objectively speaking, I have no place on the internet; it's like I wandered off one day and found myself somewhere I wasn't really equipped for.
I didn't even know to be wary when I started ; there was no calculation, no cost benefit analysis when I wrote. It was a bit stupid, definitely naive. It wasn't like I was in the vanguard of blogging like some of the people mentioned in the Observer piece; I'm a pathetically late adopter and I could very well have known better, but I simply never thought in those terms. I did it for myself, I enjoyed the feedback, so I did it more. It was pretty raw, occasionally mean, entirely honest. Some of those entries make very uncomfortable reading for me, some got me into a heap of trouble. Even so, I haven't taken many down.
And I still write. I don't write quite as unguardedly as I used to: you never quite get over your HR manager quoting sections of your blog back to you, I think (mmmm happy days). But I write, and I have no intention of giving up and the reason (it's going to get a bit sappy here, you are warned)? I have been exceptionally, extraordinarily lucky with what this blog has brought me. I don't think that article as a whole gives a good sense of how very much blogging can confirm or restore your faith in human nature, and how that can be a driver to keep doing it. To the extent the piece sees an upside to blogging, it's as an adjunct to some kind of commercial venture, a brand building exercise or conceivably as a forum for intellectual synergies. That's not why most people write personal blogs, and the benefits they derive are not commercial or even necessarily intellectual; they are about belonging, exchanging, giving and getting comfort. I don't argue with the author's assertion, which is quite elegantly put, that:
"Our digital lives are interwoven at every point with the rest of our lives. When we pretend otherwise, we risk making appalling, life-wrecking mistakes".
Of course that's true. I've written about this, talked about it with experts in order to write about it, and felt and learnt the truth of it personally in all manner of ways. But if I had been as reticent as perhaps I should have been two, three years ago, I would have missed out on some extraordinary exchanges and experiences. I have, as I say, been lucky: every time I have said something revealing, or painful over the last three years, people responded with enormous compassion and kindness. That's not everyone's experience of personal blogging. I'm very conscious of my good fortune, of how lucky I have been to have the readers I have. It has given me hope, and optimism, and an extraordinary set of relationships: intimate friends I can barely imagine how I lived without, acquaintances, people I can occasionally get drunk with, correspondents, sharers of one off meetings, or fellow lovers of capybaras. This is a bit schmaltzy, I know, but when I have a dark night of the soul about the direction my life has taken in recent years, I think of M, of Mrs Trefusis, of B, of Trish, of Beatrice, Katy, Tom, L, F, and lots of others, I think of testing a magnetic penis ring on a goat with Antonia, or Fountain Pen Sue sending me a massive box of Pokémon cards and some knee vitamins, and I can't regret it, I just can't.
I was staying with an internet friend this weekend and we talked about this kind of thing. She mentioned this post - and this gives me a very clear sense of how things have evolved; I looked at it and winced, and wondered about not including the link. But dammit, that's how she came into my life, and I certainly wouldn't want to have not known her. I might not quite be able to publish and be damned any more, but remembering that, and all the other moments like that, reminds me of the value of still trying to publish and be brave, occasionally.