I can no longer deny it: something is changing.
Over the last few years, I feel as if my life is becoming increasingly public. Where I once went by a pseudonym in hacker and BBS communities, I now attach my real name to open source contributions. Where I once shared my thoughts on a friends-only LiveJournal, I now tweet on a daily basis. Twitter has also replaced instant messaging in my life: my day-to-day watercooler conversation, but unlike IM or ICQ, public for anyone to see.
And there is a part of me that loves that I have more of an audience now, a part of me that thrives on that feeling of connection. I have made friends by opening myself up this way, found opportunities I would never have found before. I still have a strong sense of community online, even if more and more of that community seems to take place in the public sphere.
But with that dissemination, that expansion, has come a sense of attenuation. My online presence feels scattered, with each thought feeling compelled to fit into a particular niche. I track books I’ve read on Goodreads, review films on Letterboxd, post photos to Smugmug. I post quite a bit on Twitter, occasionally even delving into more serious thoughts, but there’s only so much you can do with 140 characters.
Maybe I’m protecting myself, in a way, with all these separate windows into my life, none of them showing the whole picture. It’s this little dance where I invite someone closer and then shut them out.
I’ve always thought by writing. In my teens, I wrote incessantly, filled notebooks with poetry and song lyrics and cryptic journal entries. And then there was LiveJournal, where I kept an intensely emotional and personal journal for many, many years, sharing my innermost thoughts with a trusted circle of friends. Even today, I must write thousands of words every day — chatting on Twitter, posting and commenting on my work’s internal blogs, writing in email and SMS and notes to myself.
I’ve always thought by writing, but these days, I must think before I write. I must think of my audience — am I being sufficiently entertaining, am I saying something important? I must think of my future self — am I about to post something embarrassing, or something that might harm my career if a future employer found it on Google? I must think, increasingly, of my personal safety, which is one reason I’ve never used Foursquare.
There are so many of me, these days. My professional self, the coder who goes to conferences and solves technical problems and shares code snippets. My creative self, who delights in taking photographs and writing fiction and drawing bad comics. My consumer (or critic) self, watching films and playing games and reading and having opinions about all of it. My political self, the one who mentors women programmers and talks about the lack of diversity in tech and how that harms us. And my personal self, the things I don’t usually share online — health, moving, relationships, things I deem too mundane or too personal to find their way into public view.
I think we feel a lot of pressure to divide ourselves into our component parts, to cut ourselves into bite-sized chunks for easier consumption. After all, just because someone wants to read my technical posts doesn’t mean they also want to see pictures of my cats.
But it doesn’t work that way. We’re all messy, interconnected, more than the sum of our parts. We’re all works in progress and we don’t fit neatly into boxes.
More and more, I find myself craving some sort of synthesis. But can I really come back to blogging, now, in 2014? Should I have a technical blog and one for photos and one for fiction (and if I did that then where would this belong, where would my self be found)?
I, like many of my colleagues, have a serious case of blogging guilt. “We work for a blogging company!” we say, “We should be writing, we of all people!”
It’s not that the writing itself is a chore — I love writing. It really is the way I organize my own thoughts and understand the world.
Something about long-form writing feels self-indulgent, though, both for the egoism of thinking anyone else might want to read my maundering, and for the opportunity cost. Even as I write this, any number of neglected projects and task lists crowd into the corners of my mind, vying for my attention. To do anything at all, you must choose, decide which of your children you love the most, which is most deserving.
It’s been so long since I’ve kept a journal, any sort of journal, that it feels hard to pick up the threads, as if I should be filling you in on all the happenings of the past eight years. And maybe I will, one day.
“Whatever you write about, never apologize for not blogging,” Andrea said. So I won’t.
There are always so many things left undone, so many posts left unwritten. Resolutions made and then broken, promises unkept. The
//FIXME comments in the unmaintained corners of the code.
This is something I struggle with: Nothing is ever perfect, because nothing is ever finished.
And yet. What would my life be like if there were fewer unfinished things in it, fewer broken or worn-out objects piling up in the corners?
I feel I am always beginning, always starting afresh. Even so, it’s easier to scrawl something in a beat-up old notebook than to set my pen to the perfectly-clean pages of a brand-new journal.
I want to feel more like a maker, in my day-to-day life, to rebalance the equation of consuming versus creating.
I want to tell you all my secrets. I know — we’ve only just met, and we haven’t got all night.