I changed my social media bio recently to say, among other things, “I write about my life.” It’s a simple statement, but to me, a profound confession.
I’ve been writing about my life online, in one form or another, for more than twenty years. Many of the people who know me best (including my husband) first got to know me through words on a screen. In fact, if you follow me here and on Instagram and subscribe to my newsletter, chances are good that you know me better than some of the people I interact with face-to-face on a regular basis. You certainly know me better than my extended family.
In the mid-90s, fresh out of college and flush with excitement about the potential of the world wide web, I started an online journal. Back then, everyone had a pseudonym. Having just read Gregory Maguire’s Wicked, I chose “Elphaba.” My journal, “Elphaba, Diary of” was never salacious, but it was honest and open in a way that’s, perhaps not impossible, but certainly more difficult in the age of Facebook. There is value to owning your true identity online, but something was lost too. It’s somehow easier to be vulnerable in front of strangers than in front of your boss or your employees, your parents or children. Strangers either accept you or they don’t. The people you know are the ones who can hurt you most.
As pseudonyms gave way to names, online journals consequently gave way to blogs and blogs gave way to listicles, and I went through iteration after iteration of my online self. There was the me who spoke honestly about my medically-difficult pregnancy (and was berated for doing so), the me who tried to write chipper how-tos and gift guides, the me who posted cute kid photos and not much else, the me who became a brand and limited myself to business content, and the me who quit writing entirely because it hurt too much.
It was that first me, though, that felt the most real. I never really hid who Elphaba was, but I didn’t advertise it, either, and that gave me a level of freedom that I haven’t had on the internet since. And it’s that iteration of myself, the one who was 22 and semi-anonymous, who I most want to emulate now.
I’m not great at connecting in person. I’m an introvert. I’m not good at small talk. I come across as confident, but not warm. I’m physically imposing—tall and aloof (aloof isn’t my intent, but the tall part I can’t help.) My voice always seems too loud. I sometimes can’t help being an annoying know-it-all. In so many ways, the internet me is more me than the one you meet in person. What I write is who I am on the inside.
It is scary to be vulnerable online, but when you risk it, something magical happens. You say hello to an acquaintance and she holds her hand to her heart and says, “Your posts recently have meant so much to me!” You get a direct message from a stranger telling you, “I so relate to what you’re going through.” A casual friend chooses to confide in you, because he knows and trusts you in a way that you couldn’t ever have anticipated. Your life will be richer, your relationships deeper, because you’re able to say things that wouldn’t come up in a casual conversation.
And by you, I mean me. My life is richer for choosing to be vulnerable with you. Thank you for allowing it.
Now, go try it for yourself.