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.

9 responses to “Hiding in Plain Sight”

  1. I totally feel the same way. A couple of my colleagues read my blog and they will often initiate a conversation with me as a result of something I’ve written. Even though they’ve all told me they’re reading, I’m still always surprised. I feel much more comfortable expressing myself via my blog than in person. It is really kind of odd.

  2. Another aspect to revealing/concealing : what does is mean that those readers who might know *you* better from your blog persona could be unknown to you ?

    What are the ramifications of using distancing mechanisms with those in your physical reality–who could more easily give back input, even unexpectedly, unwantedly (comments from the point of view of a non-blogger of the lurker type–I rarely leave messages, other than recently on your blog).

    In fact I sense another persona–the one that you show to those who know you in the non-virtual way and to whom you’ve given the Shit-key. How does this person/persona interact with the two others (and the rest…)

    I’m actually having a hard time putting down my thoughts, as I get different reactions to different parts of your post. When I reread the end part, I feel like we’re (you’re ?) talking about more intellectual, idea-oriented exhanges. On projects, writings and researches, etc.

    But at the start of the post, you recounted the reaction of others who feel they know you better by your blog. There I’m on another plane, and I’m thinking of intimacy and sharing–emotional, relational–but this could be from my mode of functioning. Perhaps this colleague considers knowing what someone is thinking to be knowing that person ?

    So I’m trying to figure out where all this intersects : what we are doing, what we are thinking about, what we are feeling (and then all of that in the past tense, too).

    And what particular configuration of all that is highlighted by blog-contacts ?

    And to return to my original impetus for this comment–what are the implications qualitatives for relationships via blogs ?

    (jeez I do so much better doing conversations in person, where it’s easier to interweave topics and to think things through while still making sense.)

  3. I know what you mean about the in-person conversations, Marcus — you and I have had enough of those super-late-night meaning-of-life braided conversations in which sense need not be made, but instead kind of grows organically. (As an aside: the amusing thing in your comment, for me, is not at all the difficulty of your attempts to recreate in writing that interwoven structure but the ways that your French is impinging on your English prose: “implications qualitatives,” I assume being “qualitative implications”?)

    But you raise a good question: has the need for this kind of revelation-through-blog (or perhaps character-creation-through-blog) developed in part because of the series of extremely intimate interpersonal relationships that I’ve left behind over the years — college friends, grad school friends, those few with the key — and because of the whole long-distance relationship situation? And, having developed, does this space for character-creation and connection lessen the need to find that kind of intimacy IRL?

    Perhaps. But is there a qualitative difference between that reticence and the much celebrated reclusiveness (or reserve) of writers or artists in other historical moments, working in other formats?

    I don’t want to over-blow the meaning of my distancing mechanisms. All this is just to say that sometimes they’re functional, and sometimes they get in the way.

    (See you in a few days. We’ll talk.)

  4. A blog isn’t you. it’s “you, edited you”

    Everything you write, thought out, edited, revised published, circular, cryptic — its the ‘you’ you’re willing to present. The meticulous arrangement of words and ideas to say one thing, and suggest another — offering a disclaimer, context, and subtext to every concept discussed.

    Because of the nature of this ‘arena’, some ‘personal’ things can never come out in a blog. BUT, as your friend/colleague pointed out, other things come out more easily (and perhaps only) in a blog, as you can handcraft the way the material is presented, and can go back and edit everything before anyone reads it.

  5. Re “you, edited you,” I¬¥d argue that the F2F KF (and the F2F meg, and the F2F Jonathan…) are edited too. It¬¥s just that some of us self-edit with the editing tool set to Blurt Mode.

    [FWIW, the same colleague/friend who made the comment to KF told me that my blog tells absolutely nothing about myself. So even a blurt like me can switch into Ice Princess Mode in certain venues.]

  6. My point exactly. And that, in my case, the f2f “me” is, if anything, more edited than is “KF” — given time to consider what I’m revealing, and to craft the nature of the revelation, I’m able to reveal more. Put on the spot, in some form of social interaction, what you get is a performance of something that bears some relationship to me, but remains fundamentally a performance…

  7. I think I circled around the point — I’m not suggesting that editing isn’t a method of excising/hiding a notion out of a statement, but instead one of intricately framing a conversation/statement into something that you are comfortably with revealing certain things with, or talking about certain subjects in.

    Essentially, I use the term ‘editing’ as a process in which people to clarify/rework statements without constraint, into a tone/dialogue they find satisfactory. I specifically don’t think of ‘editing’ in this context as a synonym for ‘restrained’ ( which I may have inadvertantly suggested), but the exact opposite.

  8. I take your point, Jonathan, but I think KF¬¥s right: Both online and F2F are performances — “into a tone/dialogue they find satisfactory,” to borrow your phrase — but the standards of satisfactoriness differ according to genre.

  9. This interestingly illuminates my own experience of your blog, KF. I find myself visiting less than regularly, and always wind up going back through the archives to “catch up.” So, one of the things that happens is that I get a ton of info –the equivalent of a long letter — every time I do.

    I suspect this is a different kind of experience than if I did what I inevitably berate myself for not having done, that is, followed along on a daily basis and read about things as you posted.

    This makes me think about the writing/blogged self as being different through its persistence as much as through the kind of performance it is (no argument with the notion that the F2F self is a performance, too). But I’m fascinated as well by that difference that results from the possibility of reading PO in big bites (big gulps?), whereby your posts about work, reading/writing, travel, health and personal demons come together like (food metaphor about to get out of control here) sticky rice — those glutens which pull the grains together making it a substance qualitatively different from the experience of having the rice grain by grain.

    It’s a bad metaphor in that it implies the superiority of the agglutinized KF, and of course I don’t mean that at all. Sticky rice isn’t good unless it’s sticky, but PO is certainly as fine if not better consumed grain by grain.

    OK, I’m stopping with the food metaphor. My point is that my own experience of knowing you through the blog (which vastly expands my grad-student-friend experience) is reflective of the persistence and (growing influence) of “the archived self” which seems to live and breathe on the Net in a way that continues to astonish me.

    And we often worry about that from the standpoint of privacy, or the persistence of a self-presentation we wish could be forgotten. But there’s a richness to experiencing it that I have kind of grown to like — so long as you’re still there to renew/deepen, and keep it growing.

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