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More Words on the Screen

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I don’t remember when, exactly, but a few weeks ago I woke up in a funk, rolled over, grabbed my computer, opened it, and began typing. “I feel like I’ve reached the end of the tape. This is where I’m supposed to hit eject, turn it over, close the lid, and hit play again — only to go back over a magnetic strip that’s been played out already.”

There’s a troubling angle of writing that I’ve been wrestling with for the past year or so, and it’s been my inability to make sense of, digest, sort out, and empower written thoughts and feelings without making them public. So, if making words and thoughts public, on a blog or whatever, helps, then do it — what’s the problem? Because, in the past, making personal thoughts public has opened the door for me to carry them into an arena they’re not necessarily meant for — the world of social media.

I started my first blog in late-2004, where I dabbled with trying to sort out my feelings, who I was, and what I was struggling with. (I can’t remember why I wanted to do that through a public website, or whose writing might have inspired it.) Within months I began writing about music instead of myself, and before long I stopped writing about “personal stuff” altogether. In January 2012 I started writing about Me again, and did so with the intention of using the platform as a way to hold myself accountable for pursuing personal goals. Issues didn’t spring from sharing information in public, or using a blog to hold myself accountable… problems came from me taking that thing — whatever Me-blogging was — and trying to force it through the social web. Subconsciously I began weighing success on pageviews, tweets, and likes, and not on whether the writing was actually helping me.

Taking my limited understanding of The Rules of writing-in-public into account, I tried promoting these personal blog entries through Facebook and Twitter as though they were share-worthy, condensed gems of insight meant to actually be interesting to anyone but me. I had started writing as an exercise to keep my mind busy and myself on track, but had allowed that to warp into some kind of twisted content schedule, wrapped around my emotions and struggles, marketed as some sort of “personal brand.” This then began dictating the form of the writing. I thought I wanted to be a professional writer, and this felt like a necessary step toward gaining “an audience.” Things just got out of control.

This sort of thing went on for about a year. It’s not my proudest period, but I don’t feel embarrassed enough about the writing to keep the work hidden… despite the gross angle of sharing my struggles (and presumed forthcoming triumphs) as “content,” used to accumulate fans or engage readers. What makes my stomach churn isn’t the public naval-gazing, but that — like the drift toward “social” — many times I blogged with phantom readers or search engines in mind… hoping, for example, that properly meta-tagged pictures accompanying the articles (even if their connection was tenuous, or whether or not I had the rights to use them) would bring in stray readers through Google Image Search, as if someone looking for a Seinfeld screen-cap would be interested in a blog post about the consciousness of ego. (Because that makes sense.) Dollar store psychology and hacky motivational writing aside, it all still represents a reflection of who I was at the time. Despite a flawed understanding of personal branding, and what I wanted to gain from the process, there remains meaning in it and there is value in looking back and recognizing that it’s something that can be left in the past without being forgotten.

The thing I’ve most gained since going back and reclaiming those deleted blog posts (from archived and cached versions of past blogs) is an understanding of what’s needed to move forward. I can’t keep going to the Internet to feel important. I can’t come here, to this page, and add words, thinking that doing so in-and-of-itself accomplishes something. Ultimately my writing is a seclusive exercise, and sharing thoughts publicly so as to potentially find someone the words connect with (online) does not give the process credibility. (This means something. After all: just look at the words! I’m trying!) But someone might read them, or click on the blog, and more is better, and more clicks validates the words… Throwing ideas online as an act of connecting with others, and believing then that I’ve made progress, is insane. What makes the words important isn’t if people read them — or shares them, or likes them, or tweets them — it’s whether they encourage change. There’s far less resistance concerning myself with social metrics than confronting and challenging personal complacency.

Why do any of this in public then? I don’t know. It’s a lie to say writing publicly holds me entirely accountable. If that were true I wouldn’t have used the first week of a (self-imposed) 103 day challenge to isolate, eat junk food, and rebel against the self I’ve publicly proclaimed I want to become. And if all this writing is only for me, why do I bother referencing and linking my own ideas to one another? Why write in a tone meant for other people? Why edit? The what-ifs, I guess. Maybe the why-nots? Maybe just to document, writing to myself and no one at all in particular, simply for the sake of doing so. I don’t know. I really don’t.

Whatever the reason, I’m coming to accept that it’s alright for me to do this, so long as I recognize the extent of its value. Writing is not the end. It needs to be the kick in the ass that leads to something greater. Right now I’m searching for closure with parts of my identity that I’d like to leave in my past. Looking back, reading these words I’ve written just now, it feels good. It feels like I’ve made progress. I’m starting to learn something. Maybe I have learned something. But the real progress comes with accepting that the moment has already passed and now I have to act. The end goal here is personal change, not words on a screen.