Every time tragedy strikes or a person snaps, there is someone who will say, “I can’t believe it. He seemed like such a (fill in the blank: nice, normal, strange) person.” “Seemed” is the key. Time and again, I argue that no matter how well we think we know even our closest family or friends, we can’t possibly know them in their totality. To believe we do is to allow ourselves to be taken by surprise.
Seeming is believing.
"Seeming is Believing"
36" x 24"
Acrylic on Plexiglass
When you read a novel or an article in a magazine, newspaper or online, do you ever walk away from it and actually believe or think to yourself that you “know” the person who wrote it? It’s possible, but not likely. The writer is the carrier and transmitter of this material or information, even if it is sometimes conveyed from a first person point of view. We know the story, not the person. You have as much likelihood of saying you “know” the person who sat next to you on a long flight. You know what that person chose to share or give you.
How you perceive that person is entirely up to you.
A funny thing happened when blogging came along and especially so, at Open Salon.
Whether OS is a writer’s or social networking site has been debated to death and will continue to be argued ad nauseum. If seeming is in fact believing, make of it what you will, but don’t assume that yours is the only opinion or viewpoint that’s right or counts or matters. OS has and will continue to be a tool of creative exploration and freedom for some, a place to exercise writing muscle or take on the world as a troll. To others, it is a place to reveal, make sense of or exorcize the past, to engage in spirited debate. Maybe it’s just an ongoing party or coffee clatch.
It’s whatever you decide it might be on any given moment of any given day.
Like blogging, it is an experiment in your own sense and definition of reality.
But interestingly enough with blogging and OS in particular, people have tendencies to divulge information about themselves in bits and pieces and present a puzzle that readers can not see the entirety of, because there is no photo of what the big picture looks like in its finished glory.
We create the completed jigsaw from our own imagination.
60's Flashback Jigsaw
54" x 43"
Acrylic on Plexiglass
By purging demons, sharing heartbreaking challenges, tossing out ideas, presenting our perceptions and perspectives and mixing it up with snippets of life-changing events, the writer decides what he or she is willing to reveal or tell and perhaps does it for nothing more than the need to express or document aspects of one’s own life experience.
200 500 1000 blog posts does not an entire life story make.
And that’s where blogging on a platform such as Open Salon blurs the lines between black and white, introducing infinite shades of gray that will surely be grayer as people weigh in with their opinions.
When I saw Emily’s Open Call asking for stories about our “Online Selves”, I had to seriously consider whether or not to respond. I couldn’t help but be taken back to an event last year that created a flurry of activity and caused a minor disruption to life on OS as we had known it until then.
When I first joined OS in November 2008, I wrote strictly under the name of cartouche. I developed a following, had a voice and was an extremely active participant, (read: totally addicted to this place) often cheerleading many wonderful writers who were trying to get their feet wet in a sea of exquisite writing. Our numbers were much smaller then.
As time went on and I felt more at home, even though my sense of humor would shine through in certain posts or comments or open calls, another part of me was itching to explore my ability to be able to write strictly humor. I needed to see if I could successfully manage to write in a convincing “other” voice while maintaining my original identity.
Six months later, I created the identity of O’Really?
When I created her persona, I made sure that she didn’t become actively involved in the “back end” of OS. My PMs were always written in O’Really?’s voice and I consistently tried to develop and maintain the character I created in my posts and in comments. She was an older, heavier, twice married, sex-crazed version of myself who knew how to talk to both men and women about relationships. She was spunky, intuitive and searingly honest, especially in matters of sex. And she loved those strikethroughs because she recognized that many people say one thing and are often thinking something else.
Just like in real life. Just like on Open Salon.
Two things happened that I didn’t bargain for. About two months after O’Really’s debut, I (meaning me, Patricia, not cartouche or O’Really?) had a breast cancer scare. I knew that I didn’t want to reveal this publicly as cartouche, because of the many real-life friendships I had made on OS. I didn’t want this to become an “identity marker” of me or for it become something that would cause worry or involve many who “think they know me”. I kept the whole thing private for these reasons and more. As much as I may “seem” to reveal as cartouche, I’m a highly compartmentalized and extremely private person. Even if you have read my entire archive of both personas, you are still only scratching the surface.
48" x 48"
Acrylic on Canvas
The other part of me, the writer, knew that I wanted to document this frightful journey and to be able to share the story as a cautionary tale. I decided to write about the entire scare (after it had happened) as O’Really? My choice to do so under that identity was precisely for the reason that my “online friendships” as O’Really? were carefully created to keep people at arm’s length.
Without rehashing the whole ugly incident, several months later, my writing as two identities (which, a few people knew of) was leaked and became the source of someone’s anger. This person wanted to “out” me. I decided to out myself instead.
If you want to study something very interesting about online forums and personalities and you think you “know” someone by what they write in their blog posts, I would submit that one can learn much more about people by reading their comments, especially when there is a heated debate or judgments are being made without knowing the entire story. In those instances, people really tell you much more about who they are. Their words, comments, vulgarity, outrage, accusations and silence speak for themselves. I had 280 of them to absorb and they are still there as a reminder that what you write does follow you, even if you have forgotten. That I managed to successfully write under two identities was applauded by some and caused outrage in others. There was an interesting divide between how men reacted to this versus women.
Ultimately, I think it was the perceptions that people had about who they "thought" I was or should be that determined their reaction.
Because they "thought" they "knew" or "know" me.
So if I have learned anything from online personas, I will say what I’ve said before. The words we write are our tools (or weapons); the avatars are images and the stories we read (or write) are but splices of or parts of who we are, but nowhere near the total package.
If I know one thing for sure, it's that I don't know you any more than you think you know me.
We are all only voices inside each others’ hearts and heads.
I am but two of them.
The rest, is unknown.