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Hiding in Plain Sight

So the summer has now really and truly begun: the freeway sprints are over, my students have graduated, my desk has been cleaned off, and I’ve split for the east coast. Things have been quiet and lazy so far, which is much needed; the end of the semester — a period during which the faculty undergoes what I like to refer to as “death by reception” — was accompanied this year by a bit too much jollity and mirth, or at least a bit more than my hangover-prone self could take.

During one of those last bouts of jollity, an extended champagne infusement, my three pals and I somehow ended up on the subject of me. (One of my favorite subjects, to be sure, but I’m still not quite clear how the topic came up.) One of these pals, someone I like quite intensely, admitted at a certain point to feeling like she knew me much better from my blog than any face-to-face interactions. Needless to say, I found this a little disturbing: I consider this woman to be a good friend, and yet I apparently tell the internet more than I tell her.

I’ve been pondering this for the last few days, trying to figure out, if I can, what it means. I default — perhaps with emphasis on the “fault” — toward a kind of reserve in my engagement with the folks around me, driven in part by a sort of professionalization (something I wrote about a while back when thinking about the danger I feel in mixing the professional and the personal), but also due to a terror I have of being exposed. Of being seen. Really seen.

This arises, and it probably wouldn’t be too difficult to guess this, from some Bad Shit that happened to me as a kid, stuff I haven’t talked about here, and won’t, likely ever. One of the effects of that Shit is a sense of safety in invisibility. Which is not to say that I work to avoid drawing attention to myself — I’m a complete whore for attention, of certain kinds, at least. But which is to say that the self that I’m drawing attention to is very rarely, in some deep sense, actually me. Or at least it gives the appearance of not being me, of not being authentic and engaged. The upside of such a detachment from the public persona that I wear in the world is that I can actually be in the world, in that persona, and still feel safe. The downside is that people I care about don’t feel like they know me.

And, if I’m being honest, they’re right. They can’t really know me, until they know the Shit. Once they know, the persona makes sense. But they can’t know unless I tell. And the idea — much less the fact — of telling produces that terror of being exposed.

If that seems circular, it’s meant to. If it seems cryptic, well, I mean that, too.

This all came up for me again today, while IMing with weez, who referred to the me on the blog as a three-dimensional character. weez is one of my purely-internet pals (as opposed to the internet-first pals, or the internet-added pals), and it suddenly occurred to me that she might nonetheless have a better picture of who I am and what I think and feel than many of the folks with whom I deal every day. Which just hammered the thing home for me: I feel safer talking about certain parts of my life with the internet than I do with my colleagues, or with many of my friends. It’s not that I have any illusion that this is some kind of private or anonymous communication — it’s the internet, for god’s sake, and I know my students are in and out of here all the time — but there’s something bearable for me in the distance it provides. I write something, contemplate it, revise it, and publish it. Sometime later, somebody reads it, and maybe they respond or maybe they don’t. There’s an invisibility to the whole process that just isn’t there in face-to-face communications: I can’t be seen while I’m writing, and I don’t have to watch for the look of horror on my listener’s face before they paper it over with a solicitous smile.

There’s perhaps something a bit perverse in being a morbidly shy exhibitionist. But hey — at least I’ve found my medium.


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