January 09, 2007

Writing Yourself Real

First posted at BlogHer.org

In 2002, David Weinberger wrote a defining statement about what early blog settlers were doing:

The importance of the weblog phenomenon isn't so much that it enables people to publish their breakfast menus or even their genuine insights. It's that we now know what our "avatars" on the Net are going to be: not graphical cartoon representations but our body of writing. You are what you write. On the Web we are writing ourselves into existence. This introduces into the self the same issues of control, inspiration, invention, deception and play as have always been present in the relationship of authors to what they write."

When we came upon that line by David back then, most of us went, "Yes! That's it! We are writing ourselves real."

It may sound kind of corny now, as millions have come here in the mean time with new ideas and skilled debating skills. But David's early description of what our online journaling meant was right on: we really were writing ourselves into existence -- and just as important, we were reading one another into existence.


With my own online presence having grown from a single Google search result on "Jeneane Sessum" in 2000, to nearly half a million today, I am an example of someone who has been created in some parallel form online. And that has fascinated me.

When David first wrote those words, I jammed with him, adding my own thoughts on what the heck any of us were doing blogging:
As our fingers wind around the keyboard sketching our online selves--filling in the furrows, the wrinkles, the gleam, the raised eyebrow as we go--that avatar we create *recreates* us in the offline world. It is a circle of creation and recreation. That is the joy in it for me--not so much the voice, the self I have created through blogging, but how that unleashed voice is transforming me, the person, the flesh and the mind.

I have always believed that what we do here changes who we are out there. I don't know anyone who blogged back in 2001/2002 who has not been changed by the act of writing, and having been read, in public.

Ask yourself: Have you been shaped and changed by the conversations you have had in pixels? I have met my best friends here; I have been adopted family I never knew I had. I have never been more loved.

I know when you are lying to me. I scream alongside you when you tear off another layer of skin to show me who you are underneath it all.

Not all of this 'writing ourselves into existence' has been great fun, you see. Pain, lost relationships, tremendous hurt are all a part of the process.

I remember the first time I read Halley Suitt--before I ever knew her, emailed her, talked to her on the phone or met her. BEFORE she existed at all in my universe. I read her into existence with her post on her father's death. And I have never forgotten her first line:

"When my dad wakes up today, the first thing he will notice is that he is dead."


Posts like Halley's were what early blogging was about--and they are still what blogging should be about.

Before the conferences and the professionalization of the blogosphere, we were just people who hurt, celebrated, joked, goofed, wept, learned, and played. We did not intend to grow, but we grew. Some of us even grew up.

Beyond the 'journalism or not' debate. Above the mayhem of politics and academics. Aside from the technology and reviews. We were telling our stories to one another, and the stories mattered.

I'm not meaning to wax nostalgic here.

But I guess I am.

The point I set out to make -- I'm getting to it in a round about way -- is that David's notion of creating ourselves online -- something we are still doing at a frenetic pace -- is still important.

As a blogger, it's not necessarily what you write ABOUT that matters, but it is about where you write FROM. You can be a CEO in pain from the loss of a loved one and write from that pain and turn out the best writing you have ever done on growing your customer base. You can be a teacher overjoyed and in love and write the best post you have ever written about distance learning. Just go in, step down, and w-r-i-t-e.

That is how you begin to exist.


I believe in the multi-dimensional blog, where you can be CEO and be grieving your mother's death at the same time, where you can be soldier and poet, where you can mix AJAX with love, where you can fact check and sob, where you can be thicker than the words you type, where your substance is in your disparate parts, where your blog brings the pieces of you together.

As you continue to write yourself into existence, keep in mind how we wrote here before. How being real meant that a manager could write about how unmanageable loss is. Don't sacrifice the freedom you have to define yourself as MORE THAN you have been defined previously. Let your writing redefine who you are, write your way out, post your way through, because it's okay.

It's okay to not know the answer and write anyway; you are not less of a marketer. It's okay to walk on stage and fart outloud; you are not less of a mother. It's okay if you throw up--you are no less a technologist.

This is still the best chance you have for freedom.

Don't give up on love or lust for Alexa numbers. Don't silo for technorati. Don't sacrifice your heart for traffic.

Don't settle.

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