I’m Apparently an Inveterate Liar When It Comes to Blogging, but It’s a Hope-based Kind of Lying

I’m Apparently an Inveterate Liar When It Comes to Blogging, but It’s a Hope-based Kind of Lying

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I’ve slowly been going through all my drawers over the last couple of months, finding heaps of junk nobody every needed, and I came across this candle I got in a swag bag at a blogging conference a few years ago. Cue sweeping nostalgia and memories, oh the memories.

Heather Armstrong and I at BlogHer ‘08 in San Francisco. iPhone cameras sucked in the dark back then.

Heather Armstrong and I at BlogHer ‘08 in San Francisco. iPhone cameras sucked in the dark back then.

This old bit of swag was so weird to find, because it wasn’t until I dug this up that I really-for-real realized that I’m not the kind of blogger who goes to blogging conferences anymore. It’s been years since I went to a conference, but identity is a funny thing sometimes. I was once a blogger who went to blogging conferences and hung out with my friends from the internet, spoke across North America on a number of internetty things from iphoneography (yes, we used that word) to writing and creativity to the more technical aspects of having a blog, and I came home hopped up on inspiration and the internet-famous who miraculously knew who I was.

I felt like things had gone a lot sideways, though, in my community. By the time I quit all of the conference speaking and the expense of conferences around 2015, blogging had become, to a large extent, pretty aspirational and very commercial. I’m not opposed to making money through one’s website, because I’m not opposed to money — my inner granola anarchist is shouting Money is the root of most social evil!, but I’d also probably die under a system that required me to barter skilled labour — but a lot of conference stuff revolved around advertising through our generous swag bags, session names, booths shilling for vacuum cleaners and beauty brands and cars, and sponsors that commanded mainstage speaking spots. People understandably gravitated to the purported potential wealth that could be gained by connecting with the companies and writing about these things. A small few did make bank, a lot of people worked incrediby hard for little money to gain and appease sponsors with most of their work going unpaid (redesigns, courses, and ongoing content creation do not come free), and most people ended up with coffee money, if that.

a display at BlogHer ‘11 in San Diego

a display at BlogHer ‘11 in San Diego

I took a few offered sponsored gigs at the time, but the labour-to-pay ratio was usually depressing, if the companies wanted to pay at all — my inbox was filled with hi-res photos of training potties and cocktail weiners whose companies hinted I should be thrilled to be associated with them — and a pressure slowly crept in that I should keep the rest of my personal blog content clean of swear words and messy things like sex and politics to make my site more appealing for incoming money. We had to be sponsor-ready, squeaky and bright. For some — especially those with the right looks and enough money already handy to purchase better cameras, lighting, show-home quality environments, and sometimes assistants — this worked out very well for them.

And then there was also the shaming. Some blogs existed, and still do, for the sole purpose of criticizing largely women bloggers for doing their lives wrong, blogging wrong, selling out wrong, etc. It began to feel like no one could do right, whether you were a big time moneymaker or a small time parent blogger, and it was an extremely effective silencer. It still is. Every sentence felt like a potential bullet to our online social lives. I’m sure not everyone felt like that, but enough of us did. Enough of us still do.

business cards from BlogHer ‘11 in San Diego

business cards from BlogHer ‘11 in San Diego

Some of our blogs died due to natural causes like eventual loss of interest, but a lot of us quit when monetary pressures killed our mojo, our vulnerable posts were picked apart by vultures, less anonymity meant fear of what our employers might do, or social platforms like Facebook and Twitter became easier avenues than longform blogging. Not everyone who blogged did it because they necessarily liked writing or website maintenance; it was the social platform for many of us at the time, imperfect as it was. You could buck the trend and decide to keep at it, screw the money and the vultures and employers and the pull of easier communication, but the social atmonsphere that had existed in our once deeply interconnected web of personal bloggers had broken down.

I’m not always sad about this. All things change with time, and our connections online were built on a tenuous framework we’d organically cobbled together through comment sections, blogrolls, themed writing prompts, etc. Outside of Google Reader (RIP forever, sniffle), there were no notifications nagging you to look at one thing or another. We found each other where we found each other, inside the blogs we created. It was still very much word-of-mouth. This couldn’t last, of course, not in quite this same way. Social platforms like Facebook and Twitter and the death of Google Reader would take care of that less algorithmically-driven time. Automation for everything, including our social lives, feels like it was inevitable now. Developers could, so they did. It makes money. But I am sometimes sad about it, because, like automated assembly lines, we mostly do the inspecting now, not the building. There are a lot of people I’ve lost track of, because we didn’t know this could happen, and there is so much I never wrote here because some beastly nincompoop with nothing better to do might be mean to me. Yuck.

This is getting to be very long, but I’m writing this from bed with a fever because of a sinus situation I let get way too out of control by way of ignoring it and travelling, so you’ll have to bear with me. I don’t have the focus for too much restraint or brevity.

Aaaaanyway…

I started this blogging venture in the internet olden times of 2003. I’d been around chat rooms and BBSes and what felt like the 23 sites that existed in the mid- to late-1990s, but it wasn’t until Aidan got me hooked on people like Mimi Smartypants and Luvabeans and mcearstix, that I finally set up my own space online. I’ve gone over this history a thousand times here, but this is what sparked my deeper curiosity about different blogging platforms and social media and being a fuller human online. Before blogging, I adopted impersonal pseudonyms to evade gender stereotyping in temporary-for-me online spaces I never felt invested in for a variety of reasons in the late 1990s, one of which was poverty, which kept me largely offline when computers were far more expensive and internet dialup required a phone line I could barely afford without extra internet fees.

Me and Susan Goldberg at BlogHer ‘14 in San Jose

Me and Susan Goldberg at BlogHer ‘14 in San Jose

I cleaved to blogging like I’d found a new faith, and it was one of the best things to ever happen into my creative life. I learned HTML and CSS to avoid the ugly sameness of early aughts templates, I was able to tell the narrative of my own world for the first time in my life, which gave me the tools to see myself and advocate for myself in ways I’d never understood as being available to me before. I made new friends through the ready intimate access of so many lives laid out fairly bare. It all reminded me of the book authors I discovered on the bedside tables of women I babysat for — authors like Erma Bombeck and the author of a series of cancer memoirs whose name escapes me right now — and that kind of personal narrative added a fleshiness to the internal lives of people I hungered for. I had felt isolated pretty much since birth, and connection to the minds of others, however limited through print, was a fire to my mind. Maybe this is why Judy Blume held so much power over my preteen bookshelves. Her books felt like my own diaries, those embarrassingly shameful journals I kept hidden in a small suitcase at the back of my closet.

I loved these women’s narratives and how they owned them. These were their stories told by their hand in front of god and everybody, and here I was blogging, telling my own story by my own hand in front everybody, and it felt miraculous to see myself in this light. I did it under a pseudonym for 7.5 years, but that, too, was a gift, because under that assumed name (Schmutzie) I was able to be a braver, more courageous, funnier version of myself that I hadn’t felt free to grow before. I got to be bigger and louder online than I thought I could be offline, and that sense of boldness eventually spilled over into my offline life, and then — BAM — my whole life began to turn into a very different venture.

In the first few years after I started blogging, I came out as queer and nonbinary, got cervical cancer, had a hysterectomy, took time off work, decided I could no longer handle abusive coworkers, quit my job, got counselling, quit smoking, started working part-time to support myself while I grew a new career based on the skills I’d learning through blogging, quit drinking, started freelancing full time, and here I am. The steps I took in response to various parts of my life falling apart — cancer, alcoholism, job loss, to name a few — were directly related to what I’d learned about myself while blogging anonymously: I could kick ass if I needed to.

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Personal blogging, building my own life narrative outside the previous impediments of offline social expectations, let me discover a courage I didn’t ever believe I could possess before. That’s why I still have this particular blog running nearly 16 years later, I can’t let it go. I grew a second identity as Schmutzie in this space, and then Schmutzie moved themself into my offline persona more and more until we became each other, and here we are. This Schmutzie character and I have travelled across mutliple website platforms, spoken at conferences all over North America (including a TEDx), started a new career, and kicked some potentially deadly addictions and cancer together. We’re married for better or for worse.

And yet I’m still afraid to write here since our blogs became definitely more public and more capitalist spaces. The old fears instilled when blogging went commercial and the trolls gained traction still sit in my brain, tiny phlegmy homunculi finding every little hole where doubt can get in. I write about this in some form every year. I say I’ll write more. I say screw the haters. I say I’m taking this space back. I say blogging’s not dead. I believe all of it, but my homunculi don’t, the Lilliputian illegitimates, so here I am again, making the same claims. And I believe my claims, I really do, while I’m feeling brave about them.

I do miss the old blogging days. I miss the community and its people — many who had historically never been afforded a voice in public space before because they were women and/or people of colour and/or disabled and/or LGBTQIA+ — writing about their lives and desires. It was more letter-writing than the instantaneous rush of Facebook and Twitter. I paused more. I thought more. I was less incontinent in this respect. It’s easy to be reactive and spray whatever opinion is in my head at the moment onto Twitter. That’s not always terrible, but it’s often not balanced by more thoughtful, longform idea-making. That’s a mind I’d like to be more in possession of again. I’ve quit Facebook for the most part, so that’s a start, but it’s not enough for me.

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So, here I am again, swearing again that I will write more here, that I will be less anxious about personal essays, that I will, indeed, bring blogging back. I may not be the kind of blogger who goes to blogging conferences anymore, because those conferences aren’t even called blogging conferences anymore, but I’m still a blogger, and I still like it, even if I’m an anxious one who’s literally afraid that you’re here reading this thing I put on the public internet on purpose. (If anything, this medium is a constant, humbling face-palm.)

I’m seriously going to bring (at least my own) blogging back. I am apparently an inveterate liar in this regard, but it’s a hopeful kind of lying.

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