Thursday, 19 March 2015
A few years ago—at least three—I was talking to a friend who said he felt great embarrassment about his past: the things he used to say, the things he used to believe, the person he used to be. He felt uncomfortable running into people he met back then, because it always reminded him of that gap. Even though I had changed a lot, I couldn’t say I shared the feeling. I felt comfortable attributing my foolishness to youth; that is the price of maturing.
I am taking a course in social media as part of my last term in university. It’s been an interesting course; we’ve discussed identity-creation through social media, the role Twitter plays in professional discourse, and the similarities between content curation and library curation. At the beginning of class we were asked to give a brief history of our social media use. I mentioned Facebook and Tumblr, of course; I mentioned the research I’m doing on YouTube comments; I mentioned my defunct DeviantArt and Flickr accounts. I also mentioned that I had a blog for a long time and frequented the comments of some blogs, since that was relevant to the course blogs and course discussion board components of the class. I did not, however, share the link. To my knowledge, exactly one person who I met in Vancouver knows this blog exists.
In a management course I took in the second term of this program, the instructor spoke with us about job interviews. What sorts of things might make an interviewer think twice about hiring you? Pregnancy? Partying? Strong and … specific political opinions? Should you mention these things on your Facebook profile? Whether or not employers should check candidates’ Facebook profiles, they do; they also Google candidates’ names. Of course, one of the other things that might make an interviewer think twice is a history with mental illness.
Last night I was reading posts in which bloggers reveal the search terms that brought the most people to their blog. Of course, as with my own, the terms are largely pornographic. So I decided to check my current stats and see what search terms bring people in. Planarians are a common theme, including at least two people who wanted to know if cutting a planarian in half hurts it. (I don’t know for sure, but I’m going to have to go with yes.) Sidney’s sonnets have been replaced by Addison’s essay on wit for the subject of undergraduate plagiarism. No one looks for Disney songs in church more than a few times a month, but that’s still keeping regular. One search string in particular caught my attention: “christian h full name thinking grounds.”
I assume you’re getting a sense of where this is going.
The gap between myself and “Christian H,” as a particular construct or persona or avatar, has long been tenuous. The first time I ever got something published, I mentioned it here; the first time I worked on an online project for an employer, with my name attached, I also mentioned it here. From then on, anonymity was only likely; a person could in theory get from this blog to my real name if they tried hard enough.
In the meantime, though, I’ve published other things, and I did not mention them. A big part of this silence is that I’m actually more concerned about people getting from my real name to this blog than the other way around. Googling my full name does not yet get you to this blog (within the number of pages that most people are willing to look through). If I mentioned a publication, there’d be another search term. What I felt in the first anecdote is no longer true: I am plenty embarrassed by this blog’s archives. Maybe I shouldn’t be embarrassed; it’s nearly a truism that all writers hate their older work. But I am. I won’t talk much about it; the most important things, I think, are that I realize that I was unfair, defensive, and blind to my own privileges.
When I first started blogging about depression, I spent a lot of time thinking about whether I wanted to do so. I knew that my anonymity was precarious at best. As I framed it to myself, my choice was between blogging about depression and no longer blogging at all, maybe even to the point of burying the Thinking Grounds, if I could. I’ve been unsure about this blog for a while, but it offers a chance to think in a particular way about things; I value this way of thinking. So the only way I’d keep blogging was if I could use it to think about depression. You know what I chose.
But I am headed for the job market in less than a month. I even made a LinkedIn account! Soon I will be co-presenting a paper at a major conference. While the novel I’m currently writing will probably never see the light of day, I am sending out poems and short stories, and someone may publish one of them sometime or another. Furthermore, I have a few ideas for novels to write after the one I’m writing now; one of those might go somewhere. I hope one of them does. Don’t get me wrong: I doubt I’ll be a quote-unquote public figure in the near future, and I may never be one at all. But I need to start worrying a lot more about online reputation.
What does this mean?
First, over the next few weeks, I will be combing the archives and taking down those posts which I think I really need to take down. There are a few places where I think I was pretty unprofessional. Mostly I disapprove of taking down posts to prevent embarrassment, but in a few cases I think it’s necessary. (Provided there’s a point in taking it down; the Wayback Machine has archived some, but not all, of my blog.) For any opinion-pieces I can no longer stand behind, I’ll write a generic disclaimer and post it to the top. This task seems a little silly, but I’d rather be safe than sorry.
Second, I will be retiring this blog soon. I may post here a few more times, but I won’t be here past April 15. Except, possibly, to re-direct you to my new blog. If there is one.
I do value blogging. It gives me a place and a chance to think through things with an audience (even if mostly imagined) beyond whoever will indulge me in real life. I can keep track of where I am with things. I’m having trouble articulating I find so valuable in blogging, but those are close enough. I don’t like blogging here anymore, though. I can’t bury this blog, and I don’t want to; I feel I’ve done some good writing here in the last few years, and I’d like to be able to link back to it if the occasion comes. What I want is to a signal a break of some kind; I want a fresh-ish start.
I need time to think about what shape that new blog would take, though, or if I do want to go ahead with it. I don’t know what my life will be like in the second half of April, let alone after that. I do know that I’m having trouble finding time (or energy, motivation, etc.) to write the fiction and poetry I want to write, and blogging takes up some of those resources. There might be good reasons to stop blogging entirely for a while, or scaling back, or changing my approach. I don’t know yet; I need to think about it. But I’ve been meaning to think about it for over two years now, and I never really do. I decided I need to commit publicly to ending this blog in order to seriously think about something new.
If I do start something new, though, there will be an important change: I’ll be using my full name. The Christian H persona has taken on the brunt of context collapse so I don’t have to—I don’t think I’ve looked to avoid accountability so much as avoid social awkwardness—but that strategy has a shelf life and I’ve pushed it past reasonable limits.
In the meantime, the Weekly Wonders tumblr will still run at least until late May. I started late last May and since the start I planned to take a hiatus at the anniversary. I’m not the only wonder-monger, though, so it may continue without me; I’m also sure to pick it up again before too long.
I’ll still have my other tumblr, too, though it’s devolved into a reblog tumblr and I have no intention to make it very much more than that.
You could also follow me around on Disqus. I’m going to be seriously re-thinking my commenting practice, too, but I likely won’t stop entirely.
I would really appreciate suggestions for a new blog, on any aspect of it; suggestions can go in the comments or through e-mail, if you have an address. In particular, I'm thinking about what platform to use: Blogger, WordPress, and Tumblr all have advantages and disadvantages. Also, while I can look at the stats and see what kind of content gets traffic, I'd prefer to hear more qualitative assessments: what worked for you, what mattered to you, what you didn't understand. I can’t guarantee I’ll take your advice, of course, but certainly I welcome input.
Posted by Christian H at 00:44