I keep secrets. I think most of us do. It’s an interesting paradox in this increasingly connected twitter-facebook-blogging-here-is-what-was-in-my-breakfast world. Turns out there is a whole world of private writing that is going on all around us by people we know. There have always been many that keep a paper diary or journal. What I’m fascinated by is all the various methods being employed, especially the traditionally public digital tools, that now allow this kind of private or semi-private confession.
I recently became a little obsessed with this topic and put out a call to folks I know to ask them the hows and whys behind the private blogs and accounts they keep. I’ve asked if I could post their answers here, with the promise of anonymity. I’ve done all I can to strip out any identifiable information. Therefore, some of the wording has changed from the originals provided. Without further ado…
In deference my seemingly outgoing, say anything to anyone, personality – I actually share very little. People who know me would likely describe me as an extrovert. In fact, I find strength in solitude and privacy. If I spend to much time around people, even people I love, I tire easily and need to retreat for a few days or even weeks. There are things that I think and express daily that even those closest to me will never know. It’s part of who I am.
I think there are many reasons I am compelled to do this. If I write that I feel down, or sad, or lonely, to myself, getting it out there – putting a name on it – actually helps me overcome it. Same thing with how I feel about someone, if I express it it helps me deal with those feelings in a way I can’t internally.
For instance, I have had a practice for years of writing letters to people that I never plan on sending. Everything from things I wished I could say to the crushes I’ve had, things I’ve wanted to say to people close to me that I feared might ruin our relationship or cause ill will, and very mean things to people I’ve been angry with. I write these letters in text files and I keep them in an encrypted and passworded archive.
I also tweet things into Birdhouse on my iPhone that I never plan on actually sending out. I’m tempted to make a separate secret twitter account just to separate that stuff from the stuff I actually tweet from there just in case. That said, it’s built in “are you sure” feature keeps me from making a mistake.
I recently started to wonder if I was the only person doing this. Even someone who enjoys solitude is often comforted by not feeling “alone”.
I keep a bunch of things — draft blog posts that I’ve never published, emails I’ve sent to myself, text files on my computer. I don’t really have a definitive place for them. Most of them are long-ish pieces that remind me of something I figured out and really don’t want to forget. For instance, I recently realized that this weird obsession I’ve always had with wanting to be a “celebrity” (I know, that sounds really lame — guess why it was always private thing) was actually an obsession with wanting to be happy being a creative person. It was just a co-incidence that, up until recently, all the creative people I looked up to happened to be really famous. I’ve now found a whole bunch of people who aren’t really famous by any real-world metric but are successful on their own level and whose work I find really inspiring. One of the things I wrote down is that I don’t have to have that traditional “fame” to be happy being a creative person. I just want to find my niche, find that thing I’m great at, do that thing and don’t worry about what other people think — the right people will get it, and who cares about the rest.
Why write that kind of stuff down? I find that by writing it down, I know exactly what I think about something, rather than have it swish-swashing around in my head with all of the other semi-opinions about half-topics. At the end of writing, I have a concise piece of writing that describes exactly how I feel about a certain topic.
Another reason I write those things is kind of the converse of the first reason — sometimes I’ll start writing something to myself, forming an argument or something, only to find that my opinion is totally wrong (maybe the premise was off-base, maybe I was making some assumptions that were too far-fetched, maybe I can’t find a way to justify something I just wrote). Writing down what I think is a great way for me to make sure that what I think is actually true and right and/or find out if it’s totally wrong.
Long ago, I used to try to write in a notebook every day. A couple years ago, I went back and read through that notebook, and it was interesting to see what I was doing/thinking 10 years ago. It occurred to me that blogging software would be perfect for that kind of thing; it would even be searchable, etc. So as an experiment, I set up Apache, MySQL, PHP, and wordpress on my laptop. It was perfect. I had my own blog, but it was local to my laptop.
A couple years ago, I took a trip far away. I wanted to be able to communicate with my family while I was gone, so I moved my blog online, where it still is today. The catch is that I block search engines, so anyone can read it if they know where to find it, but it doesn’t show up in any online searches. As far as I know, only my wife, daughter, and a few of my siblings ever read it.
So it’s not that I’m writing super secret private things. I just find that writing helps me organize my thoughts; that’s why I do it. So unlike most blogs, I’m not advertising or looking for more subscribers. I don’t mind if a few people read it, but I also don’t care if nobody does.
I use Expression Engine to run a members-only site. I also use robot.txt files to block it from search engines, and the domain is privately registered. I will be writing a PHP script, too that redirects anyone who might find it through a search engine back to the referring search engine. Nope, not paranoid. At all.
I use a locked down twitter account as well under a name that most people would never guess. Just in case they search for me…
I keep the most private, venty type things in a Moleskine, because somethings REALLY don’t need to be on teh interwebs. *grin*
I use a secret wordpress blog which i protected through several password systems in which i post kind of a private journal to collect my thoughts and my very private ups and downs in life. I use it every end of the year to have kind of a backview of my passing life and to hand it over to my kinds once i will have to die. It will be a very private present for them.
Additionally, I use a second blog just for my close friends which is also password protected, so that they can follow me while i am traveling. I came up with this idea because i have a lot of international friends and so i can keep in touch with them on a special way.
I started an “anonymous” blog on Blogger in 2002. Created a self-deprecating pen name and blogged about my depression, anger and ADD to no one in particular. I figured eventually I would find an audience of people who would read me, even if they did not agree with me.
I was driven to anonymity from being so bold (or stupid) as to write openly, online, about feelings as myself. This lead to trouble in my primary relationship and of course curious parents with web browsers could also find and read the same things—which lead to awkward conversations. In my online travels I noted people who were writing things I suspected or things I had been thinking, but doing so freely under assumed names. I decided I wanted that for myself.
Currently I own a domain name, a TypePad account, Tumblr blog, a Gmail address, and a Twitter account for this alter-ego. My domain registrar has identity obfuscation tools, allegedly for security, but through which I can remain compliant with ICANN without revealing to any WHOIS request who I really am. But I am not so foolish as to think anything I do can’t be found out. I assume most people in my life don’t know, but I also assume more people know than will tell me.
I don’t mind telling people that I write under a pen-name, but there are very few circles in which I would reveal my topics of interest let alone the alias I use. I revealed my identity to one old friend, left a breadcrumb trail for another, and I would not have been engaged to the woman I am engaged to without it. But it is risky. The one person who I most did not want to find out about it did ultimately find out, though my own mis-steps. An alter-ego is not to be taken lightly. I have created and destroyed relationships directly and indirectly as a result.
That said, on the same token that alter-ego has opened doors, revealed new worlds, and lead to much deeper understanding of myself than would have been possible without it. It gave me the chance to take risks that I would never have before, and, dare I say it, the bonds I forged through it buoyed me during some of the darkest times of my life.
I apologize if this is particularly cagey, but I am still protective.
A final thought is that I suspect many technical and web-savvy people have donned alter-egos at least once. I know some who have had many identities, simultaneously or serially. Most “anonymous” blogs have a shelf life of 6 to 9 months. Either the raison d’etre disappears, they are found out, or they realize it’s a lot of work. And it is.
For me, it’s a labor of love. I relish the sense of risk, the clandestine, and the other-worldly or under-worldly aspects. And, ultimately, I do it for the feedback that I am not alone, that in the world there are people who think in feel in many ways the same as I. No matter how frank I am, no matter the topic, I am encouraged for the honesty and the willingness to put it into words. Rarely does anyone troll or flame me.
I’m pretty grateful for that.