Can You Really Be You On the Internet Anymore?

On the internet, you are invisible and yet cannot hide from anyone. On the internet, you are both just a number and a unique entity. On the internet, everyone and no one is looking for you, all at the same time.

But are they really looking for you? And if so, are they finding the real you? Or are they merely finding the image you wish to share of yourself?

In late 2011, I lost my job. It was the first job I had out of grad school. I loved that job. I loved helping the people I got to interact with on a daily basis. I loved (most of) the people I worked with. I loved my short commute which let me drive home and eat lunch[1] if I wanted to. But between the company I worked for nearing shutting down and my relatively low “sales” numbers[2], I was an expendable cog in the machine.

I spent the better part of the next two months looking for a job. Between my own work and the help of a pair of staffing agencies, I had 8-10 interviews per month during the time I was unemployed. At the same time I was looking for a job, NaNoWriMo was going on. I took part in NaNoWriMo that year to provide myself a little bit of relief from the mental exhaustion that the job search caused me. Those two months I was unemployed was a pretty bleak time in my life — and my novel I wrote that November followed an even darker tone.

In early 2009, I was having a rough time adjusting to life out of college. I’d moved back home and started living with my grandparents. I took the first job I could find out of college[3], which meant I was working at a call center for less than a dollar an hour above the minimum wage. My then-girlfriend made it clear to me that I’d fallen much harder for her than she had for me. Couple that with some prejudices that I’d had formed in childhood that I still hadn’t moved on from[4], and that led to us breaking up quickly and extremely heatedly.

All of that combined together led to me seeing a psychologist for a few months. After our fourth or fifth appointment together, I had to tell the psychologist I couldn’t afford to keep coming to see her. Between my low paying job, working overnight hours, and not being able to afford health insurance[5], it just wasn’t realistic to keep getting professional help. The psychologist understood my plight and recommended that I try writing as a therapeutic technique. The goal was to get all of the thoughts and emotions I was struggling to cope with out of my head, if only to save myself the frustration of dealing with said thoughts.

So that’s what I did. And it worked. Writing allowed me to clear my head. It’s worked when I’ve written shitty 50 word posts online. It’s worked when I’ve turned those emotions into a much more creative endeavor. If it wasn’t for that advice — write to help my own psyche — I don’t know where I’d be in life today.

Yet as time as gone on, I’ve found myself more careful about what I write and talk about on the internet. Part of that is a natural fact of growing up and growing more mature in the process. But part of it is also this nagging feeling that somewhere, somehow, should I ever need a new job in the future, someone’s going to stumble on my work, see a post where I’m just venting off steam, and decide I’m a terrible human being. Job opportunity lost.

I know I’m not the only person that thinks this way. I follow more than a handful of people on Twitter who work as social media managers (or an equivalent role) for companies. A couple of them are actually promote themselves as their own brand. On one hand, it’s a brilliant ploy. In an increasingly digitized and interconnected world, who better than you to control the message that the media tells about you. It’s been the basis of American economics and politics for years now. Put yourself out there in the light you want other people to see you in.

On the other hand, only showing the happy, healthy, and hopeful sides of ourselves to the world is a foolish endeavor. We are complex individuals. We laugh and we cry. We do not do one or the other. To try to hide the fact that sometimes we fuck up is a failure in logic. Without mistakes, how can we learn how we need to improve ourselves?

I was asked recently when I was going to write a happy story. My short stories are generally pretty dark in nature, so why not try writing a happy one. Right? Most of me doesn’t want to. That’s not why I write. If a story ends up being happy, great. But I write in general — but especially my fiction — to help me process complex emotions, to release frustration, or just to be creative as I can be in turning an idea into something that I want to read. Generally, those stories end up being very dark.

Yet I find myself wondering if I’d be better received if I wrote happy stories. Would I be a better selling author? Would a book of upbeat stories I wrote be reviewed better than my collection of dark short stories[6]? Would a happy story enhance my brand and bring more eyes to my work?

That last question — that’s the one that frightens me. It’s the question that determines which side of the line I fall on. Am I a person or am I a commodity? That’s the power of the internet. It’s a terrifying power. Most people don’t even realize that power’s being exerted on them when it’s happening. Everyone can see everything and yet you’re all alone.

Kind of a dark idea, is it not? An entity that can completely change who you perceive yourself to be without you realizing it. It’s like you’re not even you anymore when you’re on the internet.

Meteors and Metronomes

Disclaimer: This post is part of this blog’s That Tiny Tirade series. It can (and likely will) contain harsh language, scenes and storylines not suitable for children, and not safe for Washington logic. This post may also contain strobe lighting effects.

“There’s a thin line between confidence and arrogance…it’s called humility.” -Unknown
“Blow me.” -Oscar Wilde (probably)

About a year ago, I had a discussion with an old friend in regards to career changes. Once upon a time, she and I worked at the same job, her on first shift and me on third. We’d cross paths for about two hours a day — since both of us were tasked for our shifts with walking the department floor and answering questions/taking angry calls — and had quite a bit of time to talk about whatever came up. Typically, we’d discuss mutual friends (as we’d attended school together), our significant others, or music and movies (as we have similar tastes in both). We’d spend the two hours talking intermittently as we worked, then both go on about our days, rarely interacting off the clock.

Part of why my friend and I didn’t talk outside of work was because of our differing ambitions in regards our employer. Since I was in grad school at the time, I saw that job as nothing more than that — a job meant to hold me over until I graduated. The pay was shit, the advancement opportunities were minimal, the hours weren’t great (give me third shift over first any day though), and the majority of people were jaded from 15-25 years of customer service work. My friend, however, saw it as a way to technically have a job, yet because of the lack of pay, make the argument that she didn’t make enough money to move out of her parents’ house.

All I remember about said house is that it was in the middle of nowhere and always had a freezer full of Jagermeister. Image credit to Beth Caskey on Deviant Art

What struck me as interesting about our career conversation was the grand disparity in our current employment situation versus that from when we worked together. It wasn’t as through grad school or that job was that long ago((I finished school and left that job both in the fall of 2010.)), however the gap made it feel longer. For me, I am celebrating my fourth promotion in the span of 20 months, landing at a company that I love working for. For her, she’s at her seventh different job in that span, and all but her current position were jobs that she hated.

That’s not to say all has been good luck for me and all has been bad luck for her. I held a job before this one, only to get let go for reasons that were never fully made clear at the time((Come to find out months later the company went under.)). She has a child who’s about to turn four((At the time we talked.))…and couldn’t be happier as a mom. I expressed my happiness for her motherhood, while she congratulated me on my coming marriage. You know, that annoying small talk type of stuff that you’re forced to do far more often than should be legally allowed.

Pictured: a visual representation of how small talk feels. Image credit: Imgur

What stuck with me most in our conversation was a single response to a question. Coming from her, it wasn’t all that unexpected, however the words held a greater meaning.

Me: We used to have the same level of senior and the same job. Why are you content with taking a step back?
Her: I’m sure I’ll get to the point where I was — or even where you are now — someday. I’d rather take five of the same job right in a row and not have to worry about learning a new job along the way. I know what I can do well and I know when it’s time to get out. There’s no need to try to be a hero and change the world.

The final line to her response was especially poignant, as it was the second time that week I’d been told that very line by someone. Think about that statement for a second. There’s no need to try to be a hero.

Remember kids, don’t be this douchebag. Image credit: joystiq.com

While heroes are always known for their bravery and ability to save the day, they’re reckless and fuck a lot of things up along the way. Think about all of the damage the Avengers caused when they were saving the city from whatever they were fighting (I stopped caring halfway in). Who’s going to pay to clean that up? Not the Avengers. And yet, superheroes are revered because the ends justify the means.

Yet, why wouldn’t I (or anyone else for that matter) want to be the hero? Not just be the hero, but to have consistent exceptional performance to the point where those tasks that others consider heroics we consider routine. Why shouldn’t I strive to be more, to change the lives of those around me, and to change the culture I’m immersed in along the way?

After all, it’s better than just keeping time.

In Self We Trust

Flying typically doesn’t bother me. While I didn’t make my first flight on an airplane until I was 19 (I did get to fly in a helicopter as a birthday present when I was 11), I’ve flown on average one round trip flight per year since.

For my first few flights, landing bothered the hell out of me. My first takeoff was a bit anxious, though I got over it nearly immediately. Yet it took four or five flights to fully become okay with landing. Even when there’s turbulence in the air, I’m rarely bothered beyond a bit of air sickness. There is one sentence, however, that I heard preceding a flight last year that bothered me just a touch.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve been delayed for takeoff just a touch. It would seem that one of our engines needs restarted. We’ll be getting someone out here in a few minutes, and as soon as it’s back running, we’ll be on our way.”

Really now? An engine stopped running? That doesn’t sound concerning at all. I mean, it’s not like the engine is the thing that keeps you in the air or anything, right?

Inconspicuously absent: friendship, magic. Imagecredit: howstuffworks.com

In high school, my then-girlfriend and I were both in the marching band. For the entirety of my junior year’s marching band season, I served as her ride to and from football games on Fridays, using my piece of shit van to take us to the game, then take her home, then take myself home. This typically meant a 10 minute drive from her place to school, 10 back, then a 35 minute drive to my dad’s apartment (or 20 minutes if I stayed with my grandparents). Other than the pregame drive, all of this was night driving on unlit roads in the middle of nowhere.

Following one game junior year, I was taking the then-girlfriend home when the serpentine belt on my van shredded mid drive. For those (like me mostly) unfamiliar with cars, the immediate problem this cause was that we lost all electronics on the car…including headlights and tail lights. When you live in the middle of nowhere, that’s a bad thing.

The then-girlfriend did what any sane human would do. She began to immediately and uncontrollably freak the fuck out. As she should. We were obviously about to die.

Permission to freak the fuck out granted. Image credit: soadhead.com

My reaction, on the other hand, was much calmer. I responded by placing my other hand back on the steering wheel, stopping talking, and just trusting my driving. I wish I could say that I said something badass like “Don’t worry babe, I got this” or “Where we’re going, we don’t need lights”, however I stayed quiet. I felt in control of the situation. There was no need to say anything.

Hearing that one of our airplane’s engines had stopped working pre-takeoff…well, that’s another story. I felt far less calm. Though there was nothing I could do to help the mechanics fix the engine, I still wanted the satisfaction of knowing I was in control of the situation. I mean, I knew everything was going to be alright. There’s a reason airplane mechanics were working on the plane and not me. But that didn’t stop me from wanting the satisfaction that all was as it should be by checking everything myself.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t know jack about airplane engines. What the fuck could I do to make sure everything was working? Still though, I was unnerved, seeking out control to ease my own mind.

I think that anytime we find ourselves in crisis, as humans we’ll look to find a way to try to take control of the situation to make things better. Even those who thrive off chaos tend to function better when they are the one controlling the chaos. But why do we do this? Why do we seek control? Why do we want to be the one flying the plane, even if we have no idea how to do so?

I believe it’s because we don’t want to be the person in the passenger seat flipping out because all the lights just went out. To avoid freaking out in that position, we must have a confidence — call it trust, call it faith, call it confidence, call it what you will — that everything is going to be alright. And in most cases, everything does end up alright. It’s those times when the world around us goes to hell in a hand basket that cause us to lose confidence when we don’t have control.

How do you cope with not being in control of a situation? Do you respond by wanting to take over the situation, or do you handle it in another way entirely? Sound off in the comments.

It’s Alright To Bleed

When I was a kid, my parents were both very hesitant of the thought of me playing sports. For my mom, her thought process was that if I played any sport that had the threat of contact, there was a 50% chance I’d die during a game. In my dad’s mind, he was okay with me playing sports, however he realized that sports meant there was a fairly good chance I was going to get hurt at some point during the year.

Since I lived with my dad, I got the opportunity to play sports. And of course, since I got the opportunity to play sports, I got hurt. I’ve broken bones, torn ligaments, sprained joints, as well as other injuries I’m sure I’m forgetting. I’ve busted myself open and bled more times in my life than I can count, both on the sports field and off. Pain is rarely a pleasant experience, however it’s fact of life.

Despite the fact that I knew there was a possibility that I might get injured (and considering how brittle I was at times), I had no fear of playing sports. I loved the excitement of competition and wasn’t about to let the thought that I might bring physical harm to myself get in the way of doing something that I enjoy. If anything, I knew that there was a really good chance that I was going to get hurt at some point during the sports season.

Pick a part of the knee. I’ve likely hurt it. Image credit: theknee.com

I’m not the only person to bleed. If you’re reading these words, you’ve bled too. While that may be a pretty obvious statement in a literal sense, if you think about it in a metaphorical sense, it’s just as clear. Would you stay out of the game just because there’s a chance you’ll get hurt? I wouldn’t. If you’re of the same mindset, why would you avoid an opportunity in life just because the situation could open an emotional wound and make you bleed?

You’re going to get hurt in life. If someone tries to tell you otherwise, that person is cancerous to your humanity and is actually hurting you by trying to fool you into thinking nothing will go wrong. Not everything works out for the best. Sorry. You know what, though? It’s okay.

It’s okay to be sad.

It’s okay to hurt.

It’s okay to not feel like everything is alright.

It’s okay to feel nothing at all.

It’s okay to be who you are…to be in pain…to be afraid…to be remorseful…to hurt like you’ve never hurt before. It’s okay to be all of those things. It’s okay to be human.

Image credit: tumblr.com

If your hurt makes you feel like you need help, seek that help out. My point here is not to discourage anyone from finding the help that they need when they need it. That said, I will reiterate again that no matter what the overly optimistic in the world say, it’s not a realistic expectation to assume that all will be well. For that matter, if it weren’t for the pain in the world, what would make happiness as wonderful as it is?

Take solace in the fact that you’re not the only one that hurts. No matter what level of pain you’re going through, there’s someone in the world who has gone through a very similar situation to what you have. In the end, we’re all going to die. While it’s not happy, it’s the truth. The least we can do is help each other out in helping one another cope with our pain — to heal the bloody wounds in our emotions — while we do our best to survive along the way.