I’m looking back at old posts on Feministe and comparing them to the stuff I’m producing now, and there’s more refinement. I also remember just about having panic attacks every time I posted something.
I think the blogosphere is like Bela Karolyi.
I’m not exaggerating about the panic. I remember feeling this enormous amount of pressure around every word that I typed. I’m not sure what it related to–I felt like a public persona, I guess, and I knew that I had a readership who would respond immediately and in detail to everything I posted.
But I also knew that most of them would be supportive. I can count on one hand the number of times that someone I thought of as “my readership” had a negative response to something I wrote. Most of that bad opinion happened near the tail end of my career as a Big Blogger, and it all post-dated the abject terror I felt when I opened up the dashboard and started typing. Sometimes there was criticism, but it was generally respectful and fair: even when I didn’t agree, I thought the critique was justified. I never felt persecuted, and I hardly ever felt unsupported.
And yet I felt terrorized.
That’s a theme: Strong negative feelings of fear and self-loathing, particularly around my writing, particularly around any writing that centers my experience or presents itself as autobiographical or authoritative, and particularly around writing that was also a source of pride and joy.
I said earlier that my work on Feministe seemed more like finished product. One of the reasons I haven’t been posting this work on tumblr is that tumblr feels more like a comments roll than a blog where you create posts, as though it’s all response and no generation. That quality in my work–that quality of work–also creates phobia.
Where is all of this coming from? Why did the simple act of putting a short essay on the internet for a small, mostly friendly, mostly civil audience become such a guarantee of crippling anxiety?
I can say that it isn’t because of transphobic or bigoted responses. I was largely shielded from those reactions, I have to say, and I was also able to think of them as the work of anonymous yobbos. They affect you, no matter how stupid or illiterate or anonymous they are, but I never took them to heart. They had nothing to do with my sense that every post opened me up to disaster. I was officially protected from attack, and the commenters would have stepped up to defend me if someone had said something hateful. (They did back me up several times.)
I was terrified of a negative response from my friends–and that terror drove me into perfectionism. That perfectionism was good training, but it also applied to the subjects I felt comfortable writing about and the tone I grew to associate with my voice. My writing became highly specific, and thus quite limited.
I’m not sure what I mean by “negative response”–I can’t imagine what words I was afraid of hearing. I don’t seem to have been afraid to confess personal details, or to confess feelings that were embarrassing or intimate. I talked about the shape of my body. Those components to my writing might have appeared because of my felt obligation to my audience, rather than in spite of it. Either way, I can’t say what I thought I might hear.
I was also excited to read positive comments–and I have to say that the commenters usually offered thoughtful critique, and almost always had wonderful things to say about my work. People were laudatory. I was dependent on that.