PREFACE: So, I decided to write a year-end wrap-up, as usual. So, I started writing. And then I kept on writing. And then I kept on writing again. And then I was like, woah. That’s a lot of writing. So, because it’s a lot of writing, and because I am in an undisclosed location where the Internet is, like, terrible, and the couch is comfortable and there are a lot of channels on the television and at least one of them must be showing some kind of low-quality reality television marathon, I’ll probably post this in two parts. Here’s the first part. Also, here is the part where I wish you, dear reader, and all of yours, a happy and healthy New Year — because happy and healthy? That’s what’s important. Screw the rest.
I didn’t realize I was starting an experiment when I started out. I just knew that I wanted to see, in 2012, what would happen if I tried living my life more transparently. The Internet — with its social landscape and its capacity to grant every one who comes in contact with it the capacity to change who they are — is one of my academic interests (yes, I just typed that, because I AM A PROFESSOR and all) and I wanted to see what would happen if I lived my life more openly online, more transparently, more fully. I wanted to see what would happen if I put more of Me onto the Web; the one thing I never expected was to find a very different Emma preserved in cyberspace, living a 2012 that seems so completely different from my real 2012 that it seems like Cyberspace Emma is a complete stranger to IRL Emma (with some shared traits and interests, including extreme stubbornness, a tendency to make jokes that aren’t really funny to anyone other than IRL Emma and Cyberspace Emma, and interests in cats and sloths).
Here’s what I think happened: every time I begin to teach creative nonfiction (stay with me here), we always talk about different types of nonfiction and what can be classified as “creative.” There comes the moment when someone raises their hand and says “what about a diary” and I say “what about a diary” back, which is probably really annoying, but it’s also an important question. The students always work through the answer: a diary isn’t really creative nonfiction because it isn’t really art, in the traditional sense of the word, meaning that there isn’t a lot of artifice involved — unless, of course, you are me between the ages of 12 and 32 and decide periodically to rip pages from and/or burn and/or get Sharpie-happy with your diaries.
Which is probably beside the point.
What I mean by this is that a diary is a text written by yourself, for yourself, and so it doesn’t have the same kind of artificial structures necessary in a text written for someone else to read and understand. I mean, sure, you do make a story out of your life in a diary – that’s kind of the point of having a diary, I most-of-the-time think – but it’s a story for you, for your understanding, and not for someone else to understand.
Let me explain it this way: if I gave you my grocery list, you’d probably see “cat stuff” and “Coke” and “crackers” on it. You might return with Party Mix, Coke, and Saltines. I might (okay, WOULD) be livid with fury because clearly I meant cat litter (since Party Mix makes my cats vom), Schweppes Ginger Ale (because I am from Alabama and that is a Coke too), and those weird water crackers that don’t really taste like anything but that I love nonetheless.
Why? The grocery list was written just for me. It didn’t have the kind of artifice (like, for example, a definition of crackers as those weird water crackers that don’t really taste like anything but that I love nonetheless, probably because the packaging makes them look impressive and fancy). It involves the construction of some kind of narrative, one that explains and develops a certain kind of character with certain goals and wants and needs – and that character is you. In other words, you have to make yourself into a character to make the narrative clear — which is very much what happened when I tried to live transparently online.