I’ve been doing this a long time. By this I mean attempting to communicate outside the “meatspace” world. Sometime around 1980 I bought my first “computer” in a toy store. A few years later, I was running a BBS [bulletin board system] which received visitors from several countries; this was all pre-internet. It was a frustrating headache mostly; I gave it up and went back to photography. What irritated me most was the resistance to disclosure. It’s hard to have a conversation with people when you have no idea who they are. Then, and now, I have little use for games. I taught myself how to program a little, but it was just too much work for the desired ends.

Around 1990 I bought a little subnotebook, mostly to track exhibition submissions and create slide labels. I got sucked in again, to the artists community on CompuServe (still pre-internet). I got involved in some e-mail groups, exchanging prints and such with other photographers. Somewhere around 1993 I fell in love with someone in a forum. During the years that the “Internet boom” happened, I was largely homeless, and seldom online.

The explosion of my life through non-“meatspace” interaction left me with choices to make. I could have withdrawn from contact with people around the world (obviously, a longstanding interest) or I could brace myself within a constructed identity to avoid further mishap, or I could do what I have always done, the one thing that I seem to be good at: be myself. The danger I feel in doing this is quite real; it’s not that I’m afraid of being fired, afraid of being misconstrued or misinterpreted: I am afraid that I will care too much for the people on the other end of the line. In fact, that is also one of the reasons that I ended up ceasing to pursue documentary photography: the problem of excessive empathy.

At first, I tentatively started to write to some listserve groups in 1997. I met some great people, and made a few “friends” of a sort. I created my first homepage in 1998. As time wore on, writing to the listserves seemed to be an imposition on people. I, obviously, have problems with brevity. While the feedback from a few people showed that they appreciated the writing I was doing, increasingly I found myself wanting to write about things that were hardly relevant in the context of a topical listserv. I wrote about literature on a music listserv, because the literary listserves were just too damn stuffy.

One of my favorite conversants on my favorite e-mail list, Luke Martin, started a blog. I followed it for a while with intrigue. In a “writing for the web” class where I learned HTML, I took the plunge and bought this domain. I started in February 2001 to hand code my own “blog.” About six months later, I started using Greymatter. I stopped writing to e-mail lists, though I do subscribe to a few. The reason why is that I felt, when writing for an audience of thousands (in some cases) that I was needlessly filling up their mailboxes with things that they had no care about. In blogging, users must make a choice to visit and read. If I get too boring, the readership may chose not to return, and unlike an e-mail list, most likely won’t flame me for being “off-topic”.

Why have I got the biographical introduction bug again? Because Luke has been dooced. He lost his job in London, and may be forced to move back to Australia. His blog may have been the excuse and not the primary cause, but the recent group of comments I have received reminds me that people are still bracing themselves against the repercussions of public writing. The danger is real.

So is the odd sense of trepidation I felt when people much smarter than me started reading my blog. I have soldiered on, hoping (perhaps vainly) that if I commit an outright error or fallacy in my writing someone might correct me. It is disconcerting when the “popular kids” start noticing you. But the utility of this thing far outweighs the downside, at least to me.

Blogging has brought me a great wealth of information. It has introduced me to some fine writers and people. Yes, I confess that I care about a few of them far too much, given the inaccuracy possible in reconstructing bracketed selves. But all the same, I do genuinely care about many of my longstanding “friends” which were discovered on the same mailing list, Badger, Johanna, Russ, and Kafkaesque, not to mention those like Shauny who I’ve been reading so long that I feel like I know them.

Blogarati? It took a long time for me to take the chip off my shoulder that made me refuse to link to the “popular kids” like Weinberger. Now, I don’t care. If I consistently read someone, I link to them. I don’t have to prove myself to be an outsider or brace myself against attack. Claiming “outsider” status is as much of a cliqueish behavior as joining a group. The only thing I’m consistently good at is being myself, inside or outside a group. There are several interlinked groups on my blogroll now, and I’m not as afraid of membership as I once was, largely due to my experience with the listserve group that brought me out of my shell and back to the worldwide conversation.

Mostly, I just want to hope that things will be well with Luke, and that whatever change happens will eventually be good. It takes a while for the ripples to settle. And I also wanted to give credit to the person most responsible for getting me started on this thing, with his link-oriented blog. I wish you nothing but the best.

1 thought on “bracing”

  1. well said 🙂 🙂
    You don’t have a problem with brevity; your writing is concise. You just have fairly long trains of thought! We can’t all be Dagmar Chili, but your writing is eloquent and sympathetic. Did I mention I’m a war hero?
    Thanks for the post, Jeff; once more, you nail what I can only flap gauzily at. I really appreciate all your good thoughts, and reiterate that there’s somewhere for you to stay when I get back to Oz. Should Shauny get involved, there’s some highfalutin’ debauchery to be had…

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