A Missing Link
Linkblogging on its own can’t be a form of self-expression. Or can it?
I was a late bloomer in life and on the internet. It wasn’t until my early twenties that I got a serious boyfriend and a home connection. Stalling with the former, I used the latter to make up for lost time.
Too late for Livejournal and too early for MySpace, I cut my teeth on Australia’s oddly-pioneering Vogue forum. Discussions centred on fashion, shopping, or how to get a job in either fashion or shopping; the unspoken rules were to guard your privacy intently and always put on a good face. Fine with me; I was so coupled-up that my life didn’t feel like it was mine to share. To post about the good things would make for dull reading, and it would be dishonourable to talk about the bad. In theory, I knew how easy the internet made self-expression. But not if the self that would be expressed was mine.
Then it was 2007, and like the rest of my world I started my day with Gawker. One morning I read that two New Yorkers in love had started a blog to tell their story. The blog, like their relationship, was short-lived. But after checking their tumblr every day those three fascinating weeks, I decided – on a whim - to start my own blog.
The problem was that Jakob and Julia’s experience confirmed all my fears. Jakob was mocked, but Julia was savaged; bewildered and brave, she continued to lifestream, even though she was universally reviled for doing so. No thanks, I thought. Whatever I’d put on my new tumblr, I knew it wouldn’t be my life. But nor could it be my opinions - I never had an innate knack for writing argumentatively, explaining then defending my point of view. Then as now I’m cursed with strong emotions about what matters to me that I’m mostly unable to express. And mostly I just felt like my own writing was far too private to share.
So what could I put on my tumblr? My own life, thoughts and work were off-limits. What was left were other people’s thoughts and lives and work – at least until I could figure out how to write about my own. I named it after my favourite Pulp song, and started to curate.
As a linkblogger I had a specific set of goals. I wanted to write better by reading good writers, to understand people better, and to understand how the internet changes us. I wanted to work out why I love something when I love what I see. On good days, I see my tumblr as an archive, a worthy adjunct to my offline reading and notebooks, an external hard drive for my brain. On bad days I wonder if it’s pointless busy work - something I do to tell myself I’m working when really I’m just wasting time.
Either way, I’d never regretted my decision to obscure the details of my self and life, my loves and dreams, my achievements and mistakes. At least, not until recently.
Last year, on a new blog, I began a weekly linkblog feature called READ.LOOK.THINK. Over time, almost without my realizing it, it’s become my space for collecting first person writing on the web. Writing like:
The tension of my thirties | The vulnerability hangover. | The lift. | Why I write like a girl. | “When I try to explain to people what happened to me last summer when I went insane…” | I don’t feel bad about my body. | Pit hair, don’t care. | “Is there a failure more immediately public than trying to look beautiful and falling short?” | “Maybe there are periods in life when that’s the most you can hope for–– the absence of select failures, rather than solid accomplishments.” | Now this chapter of our lives is shut. | “I’d like to start again, with the brain of a cheerleader.” | The homebirth of Alba Joy Firebrace. | The hardest two months of my life. | I’ve been keeping a journal. | “…instead of a wife, or lover, or mother or master, I imagined myself a reader.” | The things we’re most afraid of are rarely the ones that end up taking the biggest bite out of us. | “Rejection, in many shapes and colours.”
These pieces are mainly by women, and they’re often incredibly powerful and revealing. It’s everything I wish I wrote myself. Women living openly, feeling and writing, unphotoshopped — that’s not new. What’s new, what feels remarkable to me, is how mainstream it seems. There’s Girls now, and Rookie. They’re not enjoyed by all, but they are enjoyed by many, and allowed, at least, to exist. I collect what I hope will be a new history’s primary sources: life stories and small braveries, imperfect but really just right.
A revolution is happening, it’s obvious; my blogs are full of the proof. But while combing through primary sources like a white-gloved archivist, I notice that this is a change in which I don’t fully take part. Would I have started a different kind of blog back then if I’d read then what I’ve read now? Reminiscing about hippies and free love, a time of social ferment, my friend’s mother once said, with regret: “Just because I was alive in the sixties doesn’t mean I was alive in the sixties.” We live in a time like that now. I don’t want to be not alive in it.
Jessica Stanley is a freelance writer living in London.