I Overshare

“You overshare,” she said.

She was a fairly recent acquaintance, someone I’d met through work. Although she was outwardly reserved, I’d hoped we were kindred spirits under the surface, but it turned out I was wrong. We’d met for coffee and I’d asked her for help dealing with a difficult situation with another work colleague. And that’s when she said it.

It turns out my issue with the other work colleague probably has something to do with my oversharing, too. “It’s not professional,” I can picture her saying, perhaps wagging a finger.

Over the past year, I can think of at least six people who’ve been unhappy with my level of personal disclosure online. Strangely enough, every single one of those people is from an English or Scottish background.

I’m Irish. In my childhood home, arguments were normal. One of my dearest memories of my parents is of me storming off to my room in the middle of an argument, and them gently knocking a few minutes later. They didn’t let me run away from my feelings. We sorted stuff out, sometimes messily, but in the present.

We’re often told not to “bottle up” our emotions, that it might lead to “explosions” of feeling, or maybe violence. But I think I have a better metaphor. Sinkholes are formed when water accumulates under a land surface and the soil underneath erodes, leading to a sudden collapse.

A sinkhole is a good representation of what happened to my marriage, I think.

I’ve always needed an outlet for my emotions. I don’t consider myself an extravert, so often I’ve dealt with things by writing about them. When personal online publishing became a reality in the late 1990s, the issue of oversharing became inevitable, although not many people would have foreseen it at the time. As someone who began keeping a homepage in those days, and then starting a personal blog, I’m bound to be stuck in my idealistic, perhaps naive, way of thinking. We didn’t do it for “hits” or traffic. We did it to find connection, to make some friends who might understand us, even though we didn’t live near each other.

Fourteen years ago this week, I attended my very first SXSW Interactive conference in Austin, Texas. The personal weblog I’d started the previous year, the one you’re reading this on right now, had led to the establishment of a few tentative friendships. As I got off the plane in Austin, I was nervous. Would these people like me in real life? Would we be the same people we portrayed ourselves as online? It was a real concern. Imagine my relief when people I’d only known as text on a screen came up to me and hugged me. We’d found our “tribe,” we’d say, and years later, many of those people are still very dear to me.

So when my life began to come apart last year, I turned to a group of people who are spread out all over the world. I don’t see many of them often, we don’t even speak on the phone very much. This is the new reality of connection. I shared my life struggles with these people, on this blog, on Facebook, on Twitter, wherever else my real friends might be. Sure, lots of other people can see what I’m writing. I’m not ashamed. I wear my heart on my sleeve whenever possible, and I’m freer because of it.

I may lose people who don’t like that. I won’t say friends because how could they be friends if they’re embarrassed by me? I may lose potential jobs or work opportunities because of that. To that, I’d offer that my online presence was formed in the years before “social media” was something for my resume, when it was a way for me and millions of others to find our voices and use them. When the web was more about personalities and less about commerce. I’m not using a bullhorn to talk about myself, but I won’t be shushed, either.

In an age when the notion of “privacy” is under attack, I overshare. My government and several other governments, along with most of the world’s largest corporations, know so much about me already. What I buy, what I read, how I vote, where I go, what websites I visit, what I search for. Why not show them and the rest of the world the real me? I’m so much more than my data points. I’m a glorious ball of contradictions, stumbling through this life making mistakes and finding joy and enduring pain and loving and being loved, being misunderstood and ignored, and maybe hated, too.

I’m a human being. And I overshare.

A Decade of Blogging

Late last night, I realized that it was the tenth anniversary (birthday?) of Consolation Champs. Although I’d started reading blogs in late 1999, and had actually been manually updating a page I called now.html for a few months before, it was on July 7, 2000 that I started my first real blog, thanks to the good folks at Blogger.com.

Back then, there were probably a few hundred blogs in existence, and I could link to all the ones I followed on one page. It was before the days of punditry, so there were no business blogs or political blogs. They grew out of people’s personal “home pages” and so were a form of self-expression. After reading about the first blogger meet-up at South by Southwest 2000, I became determined to meet some of my heroes and heroines, and the next spring, I did. I’ve returned each March to Austin and SXSW because some of the friendships I’ve made online and cemented there are very valuable to me. And I’ve stubbornly kept this blog going as a mostly personal blog, although I don’t post nearly as regularly as I used to. That’s partially due to laziness, but also because we have so many other online tools for keeping people updated about our lives (Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, etc.).

But I’m proud of Consolation Champs for other reasons, too. By working with several different blogging platforms (first Blogger, then Movable Type, now WordPress), I’ve increased my knowledge of how the web works. In the early days, I did much more of the coding and design of my pages, but even now, blogging helps to keep me sharp on the latest web technologies. And all that writing (1,335 posts over ten years!) has sharpened my skills immeasurably. In fact, without rambling on here for so long, I would never have started my other blog, Toronto Screen Shots. Blogging has led to friendships and to work, and has expanded my view of the world over the past decade. I hope it will always be a part of my life.

Now, just for fun, here are some of the things I was talking about way back in the year 2000:

And that’s just from July and August of 2000! Feel free to read all 1,335 posts and I’d be delighted if you left a comment, too!

My Diary

I have had a file on my computer since 2001 entitled “I am beginning to write a novel.” It starts like this:

I am beginning to write a novel. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Just to begin something with no end in sight. To follow some path until it comes to an end, and then look back on where I’ve been. It won’t be a screenplay, or a play, although I’ve wanted to try my hand at those, too. The forms would be too constricting, I think, for me right now. I just want to get out there and run.

Of course, I’ve had to transfer this file from computer to computer in the almost-decade since I started writing it. It began as a sort of scratch pad for my thoughts during a period of unemployment (when I actually thought of trying to write a novel) and I’ve added to it on and off ever since. Well, truthfully, the last time I wrote in it was 2005, but I opened it up again today and added a whole bunch of new stuff.

When I first started this blog in 2000, I expected that I’d be able to use it as a sort of semi-public diary. I wanted to explore my thoughts about important issues like faith, politics, work, relationships. But it hasn’t really worked out that way. Sadly, along with many others, I’ve begun to contract my onine self just a bit over the past few years. I’ve talked a little bit about it here, this fragmentation of the blogging self into the personal and the professional, for instance. And now there are microblogging services like Twitter and self-contained social networks like Facebook. Between all of them, some have said, they’ve killed the personal blog.

I wish I could use this space to air out my thoughts a bit more, but I realize that it’s probably not going to happen again. In the meantime, I have a text file on my computer called “I am beginning to write a novel.” It’s becoming a novel, alright (currently at almost 60,000 words!). Except it’s where I tell the truth.

Terry Fallis Wins Leacock Medal

Here’s a wonderful story. Terry Fallis is one of the founders of Thornley-Fallis Public Relations, one of the most social media-savvy PR firms around. Terry wrote and self-published a political satire last year called The Best Laid Plans. Not only did he publish it himself, but he used the book’s web site to market and promote it. As befits an innovative PR practitioner, he used all the social media tools at his disposal, making the whole endeavour a truly DIY affair.

About a month ago, Terry was nominated for the 2008 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, in the company of such literary luminaries as Douglas Coupland and Will Ferguson. The happy ending came this morning, when he found out that he had won. Bravo, Terry!

RSS Woes

UPDATE: All fixed now. Pay no mind.

My friend Neil just let me know that my RSS feed is, in his parlance, “borked.” The problem is that it seems to have happened just over a month ago, at the confluence of a few different events. First, I added the Disqus plugin, changing my entire commenting system. Second, I upgraded to WordPress 2.5. And last, but not least, I was the target of a Distributed Denial of Service attack, seemingly as part of a strange hacker SEO contest.

So, as brilliant as I am (!), I’m having a hard time figuring out what’s happening. The feeds all validate fine, it’s just that they’re completely empty.

My feeling is that the culprit might be the upgrade, since a few other people have experienced this over on the WordPress forums (or is that fora?). But no one seems to have a definitive answer as to how to fix it.

Any suggestions? Of course, anyone subscribed to my feed won’t actually see this, but I’m hoping there are at least a few of you still coming to look at the pretty pictures.