Heads up, this content is 16 years old. Please keep its age in mind while reading.

There’s a sour taste floating around in the mouths of personal bloggers right now because of a recent article in the New York Times. I don’t want to add to the negative criticism of the article; I want to join the positive backlash. I want to tell you why I write about my life on the Internet.

Last week something kind of amazing happened. I put out a casual request for people who have a certain kind of personality and lifestyle to poke me and say hi, and 46 people responded over the course of two days. It sparked a bunch of conversations about language and identity, and pulled some people together in a way that none of us expected. Even more surprising were the private conversations I had with people who wanted to raise their hands, but didn’t want other people to know about it. There were a lot of these, and they completely floored me.

I write about my life on the Internet because it creates a space for these connections. What else could make a complete stranger feel safe emailing me to say, “I’m queer, and I can’t tell anyone, but I wanted to tell you“?

I’ve been writing about my life on the Internet for about nine years now. I’ve learned by trial-and-error what works and what doesn’t, and I manage my presence in a way that nourishes me. Sometimes I make mistakes and have to face negative consequences, but they’ve never come anywhere close to outweighing the benefits.

In January, I bought a car almost entirely on advice from my online social networks, which I got in response to my blog posts about how confused I was. Someone even found my dream car for me online and sent me the link. Someone else saw that I couldn’t get to the dealership and offered to drive me. Some of these people (like the guy who gave me a ride) are meatspace friends, while others (like the guy who sent me the link) are people I only know online — I met them by blogging. (And by the way, the car is still perfect.)

I write about my life on the Internet because it changes the way I connect with my own experiences. In order to write down a story, I have to sort through all of the details and focus on the ones that made it significant for me. I believe our stories shape us — the way we remember something affects who we are and how we relate to the world. Writing things down empowers me to consciously decide how I want to remember something, and to me, that’s an act of personal revolution. Then, when details get echoed back to me in someone else’s words — either through a comment or another blog post — my way of seeing things gets a little big stronger, and my voice gets a little bit more steady.

I also write about my life on the Internet because I like to spend time alone. I can spend entire days in physical solitude — writing or working or scheming or exploring — and the Internet gives me a way to stay accountable and honest without breaking the creativity spell. It’s a kind of safety net — if I stopped writing for a day or two and didn’t tell anyone where I was, people would start looking for me (I know this because it’s happened). It’s also a sanity check — I can’t escape too far off into my own little world because I’m still bouncing my thoughts off a network of real people. When I start talking crazy talk, people tell me. (And they seem to love that part of their job, too…)

I’ve worked through some very hard stuff through blogging, and I’ve made some powerful connections in the process. People have thanked me for telling stories that opened doors in their own lives that they didn’t know they were missing out on. Other bloggers have done the same for me.

I believe in telling stories, I believe we’re more powerful when we’re connected, and I believe in telling fear to f*ck off.

Heads up, this content is 16 years old. Please keep its age in mind while reading.

It started with a conversation about dating. I tried define my dating class to a friend, and quickly came up with a string of words that sortakinda summed it all up: intelligent independent creative queer professional. This class includes me, and I had to acknowledge that we’re sometimes hard to date.

Another friend-in-this-category, sfslim, quickly noted that we’re also a hard class to find. I decided to take this as a challenge, and put out the following request to the Internet:

quick poll: would all the self-identifying “intelligent indie creative queer professionals” pls raise their hand via @ reply, dm, or email? May 19, 2008

I wasn’t really expecting the results. So far, over the course of a day, 25 people have raised their hands. They’ve come through public replies, private direct messages, email, facebook messages, and IM. More than a quarter of them have come from strangers. A handful of them have been unsure if they really fit, so let me describe what I’m talking about here:

Intelligent – Do you notice change? Are you witty? Do you see patterns in what’s going on around you? Do you critically analyze the opinions that come your way and consciously decide which ones to accept? Can you usually find the information you’re looking for on the Internet?

Independent – (I didn’t really mean indie in the label-free musician sense. I was just working with limited character space.) Do you insist on keeping a flexible schedule? Do you create interesting projects to work on? Do you define yourself by your skills and passions instead of by the name of your workplace? Do you enjoy time alone? Do you (at least try to) examine any sentence that includes the word “should” to make sure it’s right for you before accepting it?

Creative – Do you come up with new ideas when you’re in the shower or taking a walk? Do you have a form of self-expression that feels satisfying and allows you to be playful? Do you enjoy brainstorming? Do you like to make things better? Do you value the time you spend thinking and experimenting? Do you believe your perspective matters?

Queer – Does your gender or sexuality just not quite fit the traditional binary categories (man or woman; straight or gay)? Do you feel excited when you see people playing with or challenging those traditional roles? Are you hopeful that things are shifting in a direction that will better encourage you to be yourself? (This category is big and complicated, and I’m not gonna get into its subtleties here. You pretty much get belong as soon as you say you do… even if you’re not fond of the word.)

Professional – Do you make (at least some of) your living doing things you’re personally passionate about? Did you intentionally choose your line of work? Do you bring unique value to your work? Do you feel a sense of ownership and responsibility for your career path? Do you have a strong sense of personal integrity about your work?

These descriptions are my own perspectives, and none of these categories have clear boundaries to them. To me, this combination of traits is gold, and I want to know as many “identity revolutionaries” (to use sfslim’s term) as possible who share them.

I’m not putting out a call for people to date (although, hey, if the shoe fits…). I’m putting out a call for community. Rally up, folks! Tell me where you are! I believe we’re more powerful when we’re connected, and I know we each have a lot of work to do.

As a side note, to answer a question someone asked: No, I’m not going to publish this list anywhere. Many people are raising their hands privately, and it’s not my place to share their identities, even with each other. I believe you have the right to tell and curate your own story.

If you’re part of this fantastic class of people (which I’m now just calling the IICQP folks) and haven’t already raised your hand, please do so. Leave me a comment, send me an email, shoot me a twitter reply, find me on facebook… whatever you prefer.

Just raise your hand.

Edit: As of 9pm 5/20/08, the total number of hand-raisers is 41. Hot damn, people! I love you guys!

Edit: It’s June 9th, and we’re totally up to 53, oh-yes-we-are.

Heads up, this content is 16 years old. Please keep its age in mind while reading.

“Artist” was my first identity on the web. From 1998 – 2003, I scribbled poetry incessantly and read my work at open mics and poetry slams whenever I had the chance. I was honored with a handful of feature performance gigs and a place on the 2003 NH poetry slam team. I’ve been the Editor-in-Chief of two different literary magazines, and heavily involved in local writer communities. I learned to build websites so I could share my poetry, tell my stories, and visually express myself. I’ve built a lot of websites for poetry. Most of them are gone now. One is still fighting to stay alive.

Also in 2003, I made the decision to become self-employed as a website developer. This changed my relationship to the Internet pretty dramatically. My identity became “Consultant” and my work became my art. I set poetry aside, stopped performing, and threw myself into the tech industry. It was exciting and satisfying in a different way. I still love it.

sarahdopp-reading.jpgAnd now the art is back. And it turns out, it never really left — it just went quiet for awhile. My dirty, dirty secret is that I’ve been writing new stuff and performing it at microphones for the last year and a half, and not telling people about it. I was trying to keep my web presence simple.

But the problem with art is that it doesn’t like to stay quiet. It creates community, encourages conversation, and finds ways to grow. It’s challenging and evocative and compelling. It evolves in a direction that forces disclosure.

So this is me coming out of yet another closet (heh…): I’m a poet.

I write about my life. Like this blog and my twitter stream, I spend a lot of time telling my own story. My story is messy and beautiful. It’s full of joy and fear, crisis and heartache, identity and adventure, sex and relationships, family and spirituality, and lots of different kinds of exploration. Most of the stuff I write is so deeply personal that I have a responsibility to keep it away from Google’s prying eyes. But there are other ways to share.

And like my “Queer” post, this isn’t meant to be a surprise. I expect that you already know I float toward written art like a moth under a streetlight. But I need to make a statement of intention: This is who I am, and I’m walking in a direction that honors me.

On that note, I invite you to check out my new page, which I’ve linked to from my blog header. It’s called My Art.

Hope to see you from the microphone soon…

credit: photo by emchy, who also provided the microphone.