I have been blogging on and off for 16 years. Before settling on this WordPress site, I cycled through Xanga, Livejournal, Tumblr, and Blogger, among other blogging platforms. Reading and writing have always been my window into the greater world & my way of finding community.
The first poem I remember writing was a persona poem in response to a piece in National Geographic about forced prostitution in India. I don’t have that poem anymore, but I will never forget the photo of women in cages. As I approached adolescence, I became outspoken about the war in Iraq, LGBT rights, and other injustices. As a young adult, which is more recent than I’d like to acknowledge, I wrote painfully honest and sometimes cringe-worthy blogs about gender, culture, mental health, and of course, my personal trials and tribulations. That was a freedom that I didn’t yet appreciate—to write with such honesty about controversial and sensitive topics without fear or even any sort of self-consciousness.
Of course, it helped that my blogs were largely anonymous, though I didn’t try to hide who I was—I’ve never been particularly adept at maintaining a long-term parallel persona. I relied on blogging throughout my late teens and early 20s to deal with my embarrassing and overwhelming emotions and, most of all, my intense grief and isolation when my mother died. As an anonymous nobody, I could send it all out into the void of the Internet, and sometimes strangers reached back and sent a bit of comfort and encouragement.
Some years ago, one of my completely unpolished writing exercises (another persona poem) went low-key viral on Tumblr, and that was my first encounter with trolling and what we now call cancel culture. It took me by complete surprise, because I wasn’t and continue to be not at all famous, and no one actually read that blog. Afterward, I erased or made private any identifying information, and I became a little spooked by the idea of writing publicly at all.
But I was also ashamed that it had happened and ashamed of being affected by other people’s criticism and ashamed of not being a more private person, and I’d spent so much of my life trying to seem tough and hide my shame that it took me years to admit any of this, even to my partner.
Not too long after this incident, still in my early 20s (read: brain not yet fully developed), I published my first pieces in truly public outlets. I was able to brush off the few negative comments I received in response to my essays, since in general anyone criticizing someone mourning their dead mom comes across as a total troll. I later also received some criticism on this blog that I, as a person living in America, would dwell at all on my family’s cultural background and the complexities of my life straddling these cultures. While I didn’t take any of this criticism too personally, I did feel less safe in my online spaces.
Between these consequences of publishing, the grief-turned-depression that worsened midway through grad school and seemed invisible to everyone else, and trying to build and maintain some sort of professional persona after graduating, I stopped updating or writing very much at all for the last few years.
In retrospect, it’s astonishing that I, anonymous or not, managed to bumble along the Internet for over 10 years without encountering trolls. For that, I’m truly grateful. I can’t imagine what that does to a teenager or younger person or frankly, what a greater level of public vitriol would do to someone at any age. I’m thinking, in particular, of an incident last year, in which a YA writer was criticized so harshly for some detail in her book that she withdrew the book and changed the ending. What made this situation even more frustrating was that she was a young author of color being torn down in what was possibly the greatest moment of her life by other young writers of color. And then, she was criticized by yet more people for not having the gumption to stand up to the people criticizing her. I won’t get into all of it, but what a lack of empathy all around and what a mess that whole thing was.
Anyway, TL;DR I needed some time away. In this last year, I finally feel that I’ve emerged from the fog, I’ve started to find my way in the local literary community and build my creative life, I’m moving on in my non-literary professional life, and it’s about to be a new decade. I’m resolving to continue building on this new life, to write more prose again, to work on letting the light in instead of burying my tiny bits of shame until they grow into something insurmountable.
Until next time, good luck out there.