[I may come back and edit this a little bit for style.]
I’ve always had an unusual intimacy with the written word. I first started pouring my thoughts into journals when I was 8 or 9 years old — almost 22 years ago. And with my paper journal, I’ve always had perfect trust, because it’s just me and the ink and the page. I’ve written things that were foolish — happy thoughts and sad ones. Words I’d be chagrined to claim now, and others I might yet be proud of.
They fill two file boxes and half a bookshelf. I don’t open them much, except for a few of the recent ones, flagged with fiction to retype.
I write things down so I won’t forget, but sometimes I forget anyway. These boxes of thought and memory: are they a gift or a burden to the future?
* * *
In Sept. 1993, I bought my first computer and began my first electronic journal. It was a Word document — or a collection of them — in a folder on my hard drive. It was as intimate a thing as the paper journal that I filled in class instead of taking notes. THat fall was a trial — 19 years old and in over my head in so many ways — hours I spent hidden in my room at the top of the stairs, typing furiously.
On December 23, 1993, the rental house where I lived with three regular housemates and a rotating series of guests was robbed — my computer and the journal on it gone, never recovered.
I bought another computer with money from Mom’s homeowner’s insurance, but I didn’t start another electronic journal. Losing the first one had been too painful.
* * *
Typing words into a box in a browser looks a lot like typing those same words into a Word document on the hard drive, but they aren’t the same.
Ignore the technology, the feeds and $foo-blogging and the comment spamming. There are other people out there, reading and writing and thinking of us or _not_ thinking of us. The perfect (awful) circle of intimacy of me and my words and my medium is broken. Someone else might see these words, and think of me — how? — because of them. And I see the words of another, which influences my thoughts, my words.
* * *
You think you know people from their writing, but you don’t. I’m not talking about deliberate fictions. In those cases — when it matters — physical reality has a way of reasserting itself. But what I tell you — through the internet — what I tell myself, what you tell me — is filtered. It has no choice otherwise, because if you’ve done this for more than 10 minutes you know that it’s not just you, or even you and me (and the internet), but also — who else? We don’t know, and it’s not just mom/boss, but a sister, an ex, a neighbor, one of our other friends — a random stranger. And it’s best-foot/thought-forward vs. showing off, and which will bring the friendship of strangers.
I understand why people retreat to the insular world of LiveJournal, to the friends-locked entry. I’ve been trying it, lately; I’ve been in a funk, which is partially about my knee, and partially about the dark, and partially about what the hell am I doing with my life? That little lock in the corner of the post is reassuring.
But if I had more than two LJ friends, and they knew each other, what would it mean to say something about someone to someone else? A plural intimacy. I used to talk about “world-collide” moments with acquaintences from completely different circles. (There’s a funny story about that, with my husband, that I’m not really comfortable telling in this company, even in the context of this essay.)
* * *
Does everyone have limits in their writing? Names, names of the unwilling, the unaware: Joe Clark describes sexual encounters in striking emotional detail, but ellipitically, and with no names; Anita Rowland refers to her relatives by their initials, as I do with C.
This was all going someplace when I started, but I’ve written it in fragments — on paper! — so it’s lost momementum and now drifts off course, to an uneasy conclusion. (I was going to include stavros coming out with his “real” name, and the lovely/uneasy experience of talking to Shelly on the phone Christmas before last. But those threads haven’t woven into this cloth. Consider them tassels.)
Now all that’s left in my head is Justin Hall’s use of the word “intimacy” combined with his wide-eyed description of the internet as a kind of god.
A god in the aggregate, perhaps.