what’s your secret?

I’ve been reading Jane Smiley’s 13 Ways of Looking at a Novel, and have just gotten to a long passage about the writer’s persona. One of Smiley’s points is that with living writers, you never meet them at the moment that they are writing in the persona that you fall in love with (or don’t, I guess). You might read their books out of order, sometimes years after they’ve moved on from being the person who wrote that book, and they can’t quite capture that exact persona again (or perhaps don’t want to). The real writer can never live up to the expectation that people have for her, and is constantly surprising people by having petty thoughts about the next door neighbor, or trying to remember to buy milk or diapers, and not thinking about the lofty ideals that she expresses in her work.

It made me think about the immediacy of blogging, and how I can read these blogs one day, and then meet the bloggers in person the next, and there still can be a disconnect between the person that I met and the person that I read. Okay, let’s be real here, what I actually thought about was, “I wonder what those women thought of me when they met me? Am I just a huge fraud on my blog, or do I have the same voice in real life? Is there a disconnect between what I write one day and the way I am the next?”

In some ways, it’s not a fair question. After all, the times that I’ve met other bloggers in person, we’ve both had our children with us, and nothing can keep you from having an honest and open conversation quite as well as mediating the toy-sharing of small kids. If I’d met these women for a drink, we’d have time to have a real conversation. Adding the complications of the kid playdate made that almost impossible.

I wonder, who were the first two people to meet in real life after they ‘met’ in print? The experience is not new to blogging, although blogging has ratcheted it up, I imagine. I was never the kind of person to have a pen pal, but people have had literary relationships with total strangers for years. The ability to have a print-only conversation has existed for centuries.

So what makes a total stranger, in such a world? If someone reads my blog everyday, they may know more about me than my co-workers do. That’s partly due to my weird work situation–it’s not like I’m sitting around in an office with a bunch of people that I hang out with in my off hours, exchanging life stories. All the same, my co-workers can’t be classified as total strangers. But can you? If I tell you that I spent the summer between my junior and senior years of college as an intern at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival in Boise, ID, and that I spent the first week in Boise wandering around wondering where all the black people were, you know something about me that 90% of the people in my real life today will never know.

It’s not because I want to keep it a secret from them–it’s because they’ll never know to ask.

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January 29, 2006. books for grown-ups, meta.

13 Comments

  1. Leggy replied:

    LOL- now I’m wondering what the disconnect was that you saw in me.

    In meeting you, I felt like I could see a lot of your personality come through your blog and a lot of your blog personality come through in person. I guess where it gets hard or awkward (and I’ve now met several bloggers IRL) is that its very hard to talk about intensely personal stuff in real life. Its one thing to write about it, its another thing to say it aloud. I know I’ve been in a few situations with bloggers where I feel like “I can’t believe they know that about me!”

    And trying to have a conversation with kids in tow- forget it! Next time, I vote for the drinks.

  2. Gry replied:

    I know what you mean – but for me it’s quite the opposite, as in there is so much I don’t bother to write down, so no people don’t know me just from reading my blog, there is SO much more in real life.. (and luckily for me, cause I suspect my blog is rather dull heh).

  3. Suzanne replied:

    Oh, yes, having young kids around does make any meaningul conversation close to impossible!

    I think it’s inevitable that one’s written representation of oneself varies from the actual version. In writing you have much more control of the situation — in the tone you adopt, in the topics you address, in what you choose not to disclose. I’m pretty dull in real life; whatever level of articulateness I can muster is usually channeled through the written word!

  4. fidget replied:

    I must say I understand where you are coming from. I had my 1st blogger play date and while everyone got along and things seemed rosy it’s odd having that “in person” conversation verses the edited for grammer and hilarity conversations you may have over your blog/ through email. I know I enjoyed myself, but did she? Was i not what she was expecting? Of course we too did it while mediating and wrangling small kids.

  5. MetroDad replied:

    I hear you loud and clear, LM. I’ve often wondered the same things myself. It’s interesting because I try to keep my blog related to things that either humor me or interest me. Most of it is related in some way to my thouughts on parenting. But on the rare times when I discuss highly personal issues like my relationship with my parents or my family, I feel that those are really the times that I’m allowing readers to get to know me. So instinctively, I think we’re all aware of how much we reveal about ourselves and what kind of identity we project. It’s a fascinating subject that I’ve been thinking about lately as I start to meet more people from the blogging world in real life.

    By the way, thanks for answering that Boise question. I was curious to know how a liberal intellectual ended up spending any time in Boise. (And for the record, I’ve never seen anybody but white people in Boise.)

    Also, how is that Jane Smiley book? I keep seeing it and wondering whether it’s worth a read.

  6. The Scarlett replied:

    That last line you wrote … powerful. I say things on my blog that no one thinks to ask about me. I think I will now always wonder what questions I should ask. In fact, that might be a good question to ask if you find yourself seated next to someone at a dinner party.

  7. kdubs replied:

    I’ve thought about this a lot lately as different situations have come up in blog land. I’m not sure if we’d all be the same. Some blog to be anohter type of person. Some blog to vent. Some blog to be happy. Some blog to just be themselves–but then there’s no blody language. You loose an eliment of self when that is absent. INteresting. Love it.

  8. Jessica replied:

    This is very interesting to me…

    I’ve only had one blogger meet up (have more scheduled) but I do have existing friends on my blogroll as well – I’ve always found my interaction with them to be very reminiscent of “who they are” on their blog. I can also say the same for my husband who I met online and corresponded with for several weeks before an actual face-to-face occured. I wonder if I’ll feel the same when I have more experiences with this.

  9. Jennifer replied:

    I live in a small town — Bend, OR; no black people here, either — and some of the local bloggers have started reading my blog regularly. One woman keeps mentioning how we’ve been to the same snowshoeing place on the same day but not met each other, and I’m waiting for her to suggest that we put big signs on our heads … but I’m nervous about it. I mean, what if we don’t like each other in person? What if she hates me & starts writing nasty comments? Or what if we do like each other, but only moderately; will she be mad if she reads that I went snowshoeing without her?

    Reading the first part of your post, I was thinking of couples in The Old Days who wouldn’t see each other for years at a time — like the first presidents, whose wives stayed home, or seafarers. Imagine the get-together! Would the lovers even recogize each other?

  10. Doppelganger replied:

    I’ve thought about this, too. I definitely feel like I put my best face forward in my blog. In real life, I think I’m kind of socially awkward and self-conscious. And inconsistent. Like, I’ll be rollicking along in conversation and everything will be going well, and then I’ll get into a solid storytelling groove and start to attract an audience, and then out of nowhere my uber-self-consciousness kicks in, I stumble and flail — frequently in mid-sentence — and don’t recover, much to the confusion (I think) of the people I’m talking to, who are suddenly faced with a woman who’s desperately wrapping things up and getting the hell out of Dodge. Or at least that’s how it always looks from my highly subjective perspective.

    The great thing about writing is that you can’t stumble. Or at least not in a way that people can see.

    I don’t flail with people who know me really, really well. My best friend reads my blog, and I think she enjoys it but also finds it slightly unsettling, because it’s a different “me” than the person she’s used to. She once referred to my persona as my “party” self, and that’s probably fairly accurate. It’s not to say that I’m being insincere or phony when I write, but I’m definitely representing myself through a specific filter.

    It is funny to talk to people in real life who also read my blog, because I’ll sometimes have this moment where I realize something like, “This person knows I peed my pants,” which is the kind of thing I’d write about but not necessarily the kind of thing I’d talk about “in real life.” It’s not that I’m ashamed of peeing my pants (who among us has not done some post-partum pantswetting?); it’s just that it’s not a topic that really comes up in conversation.

  11. Li replied:

    provocative thought line. anonymity is empowering I’m sure with professional and non’s. I’ve taken online courses in writing and it is liberating and at the same time you connect with people anywhere in the world on a very intimate level because when you write, you expose. And perhaps breaking that third wall is sad. I’ve had that experiece with famous people. Oddly it is usually quite the opposite with writers…I like them more.

  12. moonface replied:

    I’ve often thought about this too. I’ve never met any of my blogging friends in person. I would if I had the chance to, but I think I’d be a bit nervous about what the other person would think of me, whether I would live up to their expectations, etc.

  13. Phil replied:

    Go easy on Boise. There are black people, probably 150 or so. Boise is home to a very nice Black History in Idaho museum in Julia Davis Park.

    It’s also home to a lovely human rights Anne Frank Plaza near downtown.

    I lived there for thirteen years and was very happy to leave for North Idaho, but I do have fond memories of Boise. It’s a nice place to raise a family.

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