photo by https://www.morguefile.com/creative/sarablu7
Some years ago I needed advice on a rather sensitive private matter. Unless you are in the web of family and friends I sought guidance from, I don’t really talk about it. I don’t need to; it is more or less resolved now.
I mention it because I also read a ton on the subject, mostly books and blogs, to figure it out what I needed to do. Reading is my therapy. Writing feels that way, but that is deceptive. Writing the sentences, structuring the argument, finding the flaws in my reasoning: those activities help me figure life out. But hitting the publish button? Eeeeeeeee, that is a different story. Then working out my issues becomes a social act. Then, get this, sometimes people READ IT, and then they know. Oh, they know. I love Anne Lamott, but the way the spotlight on her own life reflected onto her associates seemed too harsh to aim at anyone I know. Reading her books feels like inadvertently getting into her friends’ business and still feel like maybe I should not be there.
Other people did not necessarily have that inhibition, and fortunately for me, they were writing about that sensitive topic that I am still too bashful to discuss. They wrote their truths and self-published them on websites using their real names as the URLs. The wordsmithing was usually excellent and the content was desperately relevant. Wow, I thought. This is helpful. And you are bolder than me. In any case, thanks to all those writers out there: I needed to hear what you apparently needed to write.
Fast forward some years later. Most of those blogs are gone.
Let me explain something: there was an ad-hoc network of writers on these topics. They were religious for the most part. They hosted each other as guest-writers on each other’s websites and some of the bloggers got book deals. The books, alas, were disappointing as they read exactly as blogs did and often did not feel like anything new. But they were there. The writers had speaking gigs and conference addresses. I attended none of these. I just know they existed. I also was under the impression that everyone’s writing career was on the rise and I am surprised now to see how much of the work just vanished.
It is normal for fame to flash and fade, and I find myself wondering if the internet version is a spark of even quicker death. It is not just that the writers seem less prominent, but many of them took down their sites. Even a website that I wrote for disappeared, a fact that I discovered when I was looking for a particularly well-written extended metaphor that Tim Atkins wrote. I get it. I, too, have deleted most of what I wrote for the web. I have a kill clause on just about everything I put on the internet too. In 2018, this post will not be here.
They were good writers and the internet feels a bit emptier for their absence. This feels unexpected. Like how you know everyone is going to die eventually but are shocked to find out that an acquaintance’s day already passed. No, no, no: It is too soon. Everything is ephemeral, and while it feels like a death, it isn’t, it is just the world shifting and moving. The internet, in this mass-distribution form, is young. There is no reason to assume permanence except in the ways that it facilitates memory of the people using it. Unless, of course, it is incriminating, and then everyone screen-capped it.
Perhaps the writers deleted the websites when they too resolved that part of their life. Perhaps they fatigued of mentioning their troubles, and found the best way to move on was to cut ties with, and then delete, their art. The internet, and public discourse at large, has a nasty habit of transforming everyone and everything into two-dimensional cardboard cut-outs, and who wants theirs to be of intensely private and difficult matters? What happens when your public persona (as many of these writers were) is associated with a redemptive narrative around screwing up? Is it uplifting when it is fresh, only to feel like a tether later?
Some of the norms that people practice are informed by journalism, which act as if everything were still printed on paper and delivered on our front porch. If you consider writing art, then the internet can be more venue for performance than publishing house if one is liberal with the delete key.
I’ve come to consider blogs more a savored conversation at a café and less like a book on the shelf. Perhaps like a piece of discarded correspondence, only the opposite of Onegin’s letters to Tatiana Larina: the sender, not the recipient, determined they were too dangerous to keep and tore them apart, shoving the pieces in the stove*.
*Or so is done in a movie adaptation. There’s no such reference in the original versed novel.