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This is not Adrienne.

Remember when you took Art History 101 and they threw this slide up on the wall? The professor (or more likely some bonehead grad student with a seriously over-inflated sense of self-importance) said, “The French words on this painting by RenĂ© Magritte say ‘This is not a pipe.’ What did he mean by that?” And you were all, “Duh, you self-important grad student ass. He means you can’t smoke a painting.”

Or was that just me? I may have had some issues with some of the grad students that taught my college survey courses.

The same lesson had more meaning for me when I took my first course in creative nonfiction. (Not taught, incidentally, by a grad student, self-important or otherwise, but by a young professor who is as humble as she is brilliant.) The Adrienne you meet here in my writing is a representation of the live, flesh and blood human being. Not Adrienne the person, but Adrienne the character.

Does this mean I’m deceiving you? Absolutely not. Or at least not intentionally; human nature being what it is, I’m sure that I’m deceiving myself about a good many things and, therefore, deceiving you. But I put a great deal of effort into being genuine here, even at the expense of my pride, because I firmly believe in the healing power of Truth.

My point? Getting there, I promise.

I’ve been on the internet a long time. My dad gave me a computer and a 33k modem in 1995 and I’ve been talking to people via a succession of computers ever since. First UseNet, then email listservs, then message boards, and now the bazillion and twelve ways offered by Web 2.0. The people I’ve met online have offered me information and and advice through every major event of my life, from my divorce to remarriage, step-parenting to infertility, and health issues to parenting a high needs baby. The internet provided my first community of parents of children with special needs. Nothing can replace the love and support of people I can see and touch, but my ether people* have enhanced my life immeasurably.

In all these years of talking with people on the internet, often about sensitive and/or controversial things, I’ve seen battles. Fights, arguments, debates, wars, and more than a few total freak-outs by more than a few people. I’ve been fortunate never to be at the center of any of those (I’d like to think it’s because I’m a very nice person with excellent diplomacy skills, but it’s probably just luck.), but that doesn’t mean they haven’t affected me. To watch one’s community fracture, even when the fracture is timely and appropriate, is not fun.

I wonder how much of this heartache could be avoided if we all remembered that we are characters here in this placeless, spaceless world of the internet. No matter how honest we may strive to be, we are still characters, built of ones and zeros, presented for public view.

When someone attacks me on the internet, I know that they are removed from me, that they are attacking the character Adrienne, not the person Adrienne. That gives me some measure of emotional safety, something I sorely need as a writer who divulges a great deal of personal information for public consumption. I hope that I am open to the thoughtful opinions (positive and negative) that come my way, but for the mean-spirited attacks, I breathe deep and think to myself, “That person doesn’t know me.” Because that angry, bitter person who feel the need to call me names? Also a character, a representation.

In all of life, alone or in company, online or face-to-face, be kind. There is a real person behind every internet character you meet. Even when you disagree or someone treats you badly, show the world what it means to walk around wearing your dignity on the outside.

While you’re being kind, be strong. It never ceases to amaze me the number of people who think that being mean is just “expressing an opinion.” Not so. There’s a great deal of difference between, “I disagree with your decision and I think it will have bad consequences,” and “You’re an idiot, but you’ll get what’s coming to you when the shit hits the fan!”

OK? Go forth and be the best person you can, then come back and portray your online character as honestly as possible. Be kind. Be strong.

Next blog post: Surplus Transfer and the Birth of Capitalism**

*I started calling them (you) ether people because it seemed bizarre that all these people (people who I could actually talk to, unlike the people in books or on TV) could come to me through a computer that lived, back then, in a playpen in my kitchen. When we went to high speed cable internet and you came to me via ethernet cable, the term entrenched itself in the family vernacular.

**Totally kidding. I was thinking about college and self-important asses and the term paper I wrote with that title arrived at the front of my brain.

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9 comments to This is not Adrienne.

  • I’d like to say that I use a pseudonym entirely because I’d like to speak freely without worrying about consequences from my current or a future employer, but it’s really not the only reason.

    Without an “identity” to absorb the criticism and embarrassment of failed attempts at humor I know that I would self-censor to the point of paralysis. Maybe someday I’ll feel confident enough in my writing to assume an on-line identity that shares a name with IRL-me, but for now the anonymity actually helps me to *be* me online.

    OK, now back to the funny.

  • Love this post. As someone who writes about her past, but tries to bring the funny, I know exactly what you mean when you say that you are a character. It’s all true, but it’s from a chosen perspective and it’s presented to capture the reader’s attention.

    I always try to remember that the words on my screen are from another vulnerable sensitive genuine real person who is trusting me with his/her self-characterization. As I trust others with my “version” of myself.

    That’s why I am not unadulterated true, but instead “Pretty All True.”

  • I haven’t told many of my friends and none of my family of my blog. Isn’t it funny I don’t mind talking to people I don’t know, but I want to keep it from my family? If you knew my family you would understand. Thanks for the reminder that the world is a stage and I am merely a player.

  • I love this post. My family and friends all read my blog (well, at least I put it out there for them read if they like) and knowing that they read it makes me always be real.

    Luckily, I have not been invovled in any drama either. I like to think for the same reasons as you :).

  • Meg

    As you know, I’ve had many a hater lately on my site (the irony of which is that with most said people I have been on their sites for months now and been nothing but supportive of them so where the heck the bus turned I have no idea). I let the comments go through (well, most of them, I do delete some) because I feel they have something to say and they offer a different perspective. Why they feel the need to attack me and others on my site personally instead of just stating their opinion for the whole? I don’t know. I guess it gives them some satisfaction. Reading their comments you realize they have a great deal of anger. And I can take it to a point and then I’m done. While I think that one can separate themselves from the attacks there is also the idea of why should one have to? I don’t see many people that post the attacks that people throw at them and I’m guessing there is a reason for that. Why take it if you don’t have to? People that have a legitimate opposing view can say that without attacking me or my pseudonym personally. And that includes dark sarcasm. I am happy to hear opposing views but I can only take so much, if you know what I mean. And not all people are rational or safe. That’s something to keep in mind. I do know going forward that for the comments on my site a person can attack me and I’ll take what I can but if they attack anyone else that posts on my site the post will be deleted and the commenter will be banned. I’ve had enough of that part of it. I don’t see how it’s at all productive.

  • Meg, yes, the ugliness that was thrown at you was part of the reason I posted this. Communicating online has some significant advantages. Anyone can choose (as you have) to be completely anonymous. We can choose which parts of our lives are safe and appropriate to share.

    BUT we really have no idea with whom we are communicating. When I see people come apart and get downright nasty online, I always wonder, “Would I have seen that coming if I knew this person IRL?” And of course there’s no way to know if we would have known or not, but there are social cues IRL that don’t exist in this venue.

    There are many constructive ways to disagree and even argue. Even when I don’t change my mind as a result of such arguments, I learn. I never learned anything of value from someone who attacked me.

    And none of us have to put up with it, though it will occasionally happen before we have a chance to ban or delete, or it will happen in places where we can’t control it. I watched a mess unfold on Twitter where an angry person contacted a blogger in every way she could find, including email. So sometimes it’s going to be unavoidable. I consider it a significant advantage of blog ownership, though, that I’m in charge of deleting comments and banning people who are abusive. We can at least put a stop to the piling on before it gets out of hand.

  • Excellent post, and really the first clear way of looking at blogging/online personalities that makes complete sense to me. I am learning, sometimes my writing is too raw, sometimes too vague. It’s a mix of me, but definitely a virtual me.

    Thankfully, I have found that the people I am connecting with, chatting with, and reading their blogs aren’t the hurtful ones you have seen. And I hope that if that does happen to me, I’ll be blog-mature enough by then to decompartmentalize their spiteful comments.

    Thanks for the share, it was thoughtful and well done.

  • thenextmartha

    This character likes your character. That is all.

  • would you walk up to a stranger in the street and punch them in the face?

    because that is really the same thing.

    some people have so much pain they can’t wait to share it.

    some people do it constructively BLOG
    some people don’t know how to wield it HATE

    i am glad you have the right idea!
    LOVE!

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