This Thing I Do

No official Holidailies this year, but it's such an ingrained habit by now that, come December, I'm overtaken by the urge to write a few journal entries. At this point, I associate the month with writing (and guilt about my inevitable failure to update regularly) as much as I do with the holidays.

So, I'm writing. Again.

The Internet has changed so much since this journal first began. Back then, most people did their coding by hand, and there was definitely some looking down on those of us who relied on software for assistance. (Thankfully, I did move past the horrible FrontPage. These days I'm a DreamWeaver kind of girl.) The only way to communicate with a journaler was through email, so most correspondence was with other journalers--there was a greater comfort level between people who were both sharing stuff about their lives online, compared to people who knew a lot about you, but without offering reciprocal access. I did connect with a few non-journaling readers, though they were definitely the minority. A lot of the people I still consider good friends were the people I met back then, in this space. For a span of several years, between this journal and a few other haunts where I used the same pseudonym, the number of people who knew me as Plin vastly outnumbered those who (primarily) called me by my given name. I'd say it's only in the last couple of years that I've made enough professional and personal connections offline to tip the balance in the other direction.

Back then, I would occasionally have conversations with my Italian friends, who knew I had this strange hobby. OLJers know what conversations I'm talking about. The "why on earth do you do this thing?" conversations. I tried to explain how I enjoyed finding connections with people all over, sharing mundane details that highlighted both individual personalities and the surprising things we had in common. As an expat, I also enjoyed the chance to practice writing in English in my own voice, and getting a glimpse at what daily life was like for various people back in the ol' native land. But I struggled to find an answer that would really explain it. Ultimately, I decided that there were those who "got it," and those who didn't, and rarely the twain would meet. Something still niggled at me, though. I became fascinated with (and sometimes overwhelmed by) the process of deciding what to post publicly, what not to post, and how different ways of framing the same event (large or small) could dramatically affect the interpretation. A lot of my entries, looking back, turned out to be about self-presentation and constructing ongoing narratives.

Now, it's safe to say that most people who have online access also share personal information online. It may be in shorter bursts, and limited to a more or less select group of people rather than open to the public, but it's not considered weird. Well, not at the societal level. I still have conversations with those who ask why "some people" feel compelled to share a lot of their daily details with the world, and even though the askers of those questions aren't usually referring to me, I face the same difficulties in responding. How to explain that drive to express oneself and to relate to (hopefully, soon-to-be-no-longer) strangers? I have yet to come up with a satisfying answer--even one that could satisfy people who, themselves, engage in at least some small degree of online communication. "Why?" is still a mystery.

Meanwhile, it wasn't until I was in the middle of writing this entry that I realized how much of my current life is the result of this space. Not just because of the people I've met, but also the way I think about the world has been strongly affected by my experiences writing here. A lot of my current work just happens to be about those very topics that so fascinated me back when I was doing them on a daily (okay, few-times-a-weekly) basis. I have learned a lot about myself, my life, other people, and the world at large from this hard-to-justify practice. It's shaped both my personal and my professional directions. I can look back and see where I came from, even though I have different interpretations of some of those things now (that whole hindsight thing, and also being allegedly wiser along with most assuredly older).

So, even though for most of the year this tiny corner of the web lies dormant, in December I write. It's a part of who I am, who I was, and who I will be. Including the part where I get overwhelmed and stop updating... until next December. It's just a thing I do.