Guest Writer Roz Ito Continues the Conversation about Online Presence

In response to the recent post “Digital Citizenship” writer Roz Ito contributed an incredibly thoughtful and enlightening comment that digs deeper into discussion about digital selves:

I’m glad you mentioned Pessoa and his heteronyms, the way they might or might not relate to our current-day world of digital avatars and alter egos and the notion of authenticity in identity in general. I might have a somewhat different take on online presence/community than many, maybe a more amateur-ish take you might say. I’m a writer who blogs and comments on other writers’ blogs in order to have sincere, authentic conversations about literature, art, philosophy, and the like. My primary interest is not self-promotion or professionalism, but simply this experience of authentic conversation, of connecting with others intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, aesthetically, ethically in a real way. There’s a vulnerability and openness that I’ve found I can have online that is hard to achieve in the physical world, where all the professional & personal facets of my life are interconnected and often collide in conflicting ways that demand necessary compromise. In other words, I feel I can rarely say what I really think or feel in my “real” life, I can rarely have meaningful conversations about topics that really matter. This feeling of dearth, lack of space/time for the meaningful, is what has motivated me to write fiction & poetry & essays in the first place. But I’ve been able to have conversations that matter through blogging and commentbox-conversing with other bloggers,
and this blog world has become a surprisingly important, nourishing, and authentic community for me.

Interactive blogging is like being both a writer & a reader at the same time. It’s like reading an ongoing book and being able to talk directly and personally to the author. It’s like writing and ongoing book and being able to talk directly and personally to your readers. I think this experience of intimacy through words, the connections that are formed through sharing and speaking about texts, is something that drives the literary impulse at the core.

I just finished reading Claudia Rankine’s “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely,” where she quotes Paul Celan comparing a poem to a handshake. He can’t see any difference between a poem and a handshake, he says. In others words, a poem is an act of personal exchange, a meeting & an agreement, a point of contact, an article of trust. Trust is a hard thing to sustain and foster in the “real” world, especially the real world of professional literary activities where there is much competition, self-serving, careerism, one-upmanship, back-stabbing, and the like.

A number of the bloggers I interact with blog under their real names, and some blog under pseudonyms. I belong to the latter group, although I’m still trying to figure out if I’m using a pseudonym or an actual alter ego. An alter ego that feels, in many ways, more authentic than my real-life self. My real-life self is a published author who exists quite fluently in the professional literary world. But in that professional mode of being, I cannot have the conversations that I have on my blog; in the professional mode of being, so much is about status & protocol & appearances & hierarchy. Under the polished veneer of “reputation,” there is very little room left over for the real. If I blogged under my professional name, it would be good publicity and help my career. But it would feel inauthentic to me, in the most soulfully damaging way possible. It would feel inauthentic to literature. At least for me. I am talking about my specific unique personal situation. I have seen others who are able to blend their professional and personal selves in a kind of public writing and public outreach that is true & authentic to all these facets of self. This blog is one example of such, and that is why I felt inspired to write this somewhat confessional comment. Hope this is okay, and that my comment contributes to the conversation.

Doesn’t the very act of becoming an author amount to the creation of a public persona apart from one’s personal self? And yet literature itself is where the truest things can be said. Fiction of fictions! We live in paradox…

Check out more of Roz Ito’s thoughts on her blog Supernumerary and please feel free to join the discussion.

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4 Comments

  1. Well, Roz Ito, I’ll be an amateur with you then…I came to blogging for mainly, the same reason–to have real conversations…not necessarily because of professional/personal life demands…but more because I find myself feeling increasingly isolated as a writerperson, a writer, and a person…
    there used to be time in my life and the lives of my writerfriends to have long talks, not just about writing but about everything…over time, those friends have moved away, died, given up on writing, had children, or been swallowed by their work-lives…not to mention that i no longer have the time to have coffee for hours or wander from reading to reading with two jobs, an adult dependent, and the desire to write/publish my next few books. yes, there are a few conferences/workshops i attend every now and then–but in the rush and exhilaration of all of it, there’s only so much time for those genuine conversations, those authentic connections…
    as many have said, facebook doesn’t encourage in-depth exchanges…the few times i tried, I was met with spur-of-the- moment reactions, platitudes, and non-expressive ‘likes’…
    it’s a strange thing–maybe not?–to find those real discussions, or at least the possibility of them, on blogs…or maybe it makes perfect sense that this is where we would end up…

    for myself, i decided to blog under my own name not because it was a marketing or commercial thing (of course, i’m a beginning writer, so it’s not like i have name recognition)….but because i’ve become deeply invested in a certain approach to this whole issue of personas, digital or otherwise…
    i don’t have the time or energy to deal with creating or maintaining a certain ‘desirable’ persona…maybe i’ve been too close to a few extreme cases…but i don’t want to be one of those writers that becomes tied to a certain public image and therefore, to a whole set of expectations…to me, it seemed that lack of freedom was toxic–especially as those writers matured and found themselves changing psychologically/spiritually/emotionally….
    i don’t want to be a rock star… i don’t need to make people love me…i don’t need to control every possible perception there is of me out there…yes, i google myself regularly to see what’s out there…yes, i try not to indulge my desire to whine too much on FB or elsewhere…yes. i do wonder what people think of me and i’m sure there are quite a few people out there who think i’m crazy and/or difficult or who just don’t like me…but i’ve decided that i’m committed to being the most authentic me i can be at every moment…no more schticks up on the stage, no more competing to be the loudest voice or to mark my territory….
    i like the idea of a poem–or any creative work– as a point of contact…that’s what i want to offer…
    i used to compartmentalize my life infinitely–chameleonizing for family, friends, work, readings, high-school-me, college-me, writing-me, etc…no more…all of those compartments are collapsing…and i’m freer for it…

  2. Salonierrealexis, thanks for starting this conversation, and thanks for welcoming me into it as a guest participant. I’ve been thinking about your question about what kinds of resources the digital world creates that we then wind up clamoring for. It’s a great question, I’ll try to fold in some of my thoughts about it below.

    Ire’ne, thanks for being an amateur here with me in the electrique world. Sometimes I feel the amateur spirit (root from Latin: to love) is the one thing that keeps me going in relation to writing.

    I love it that you are committed to showing who you are authentically in all areas of your life, to hell with compartmentalized expectations and highschool popularity contests. I really respect that and admire that you’ve decided to go this route with your writer persona and person persona from the get-go. I’ve definitely seen examples of writers who’ve made their public persona into a kind of character that works well initially for attracting attention from the media, but that they then spend years trying to revise or live down. I think part of the reason why I felt the need to blog under a different name was that as the “real” writer persona me I’d started out by presenting myself somewhat inauthentically. Okay maybe not quite inauthentically, just not “fully” authentic. Part of this was youth probably, and part of it had to do with the many constraints on the kinds of personas & kinds of conversations that were “allowed” in the little writing niche world that I was a part of. The short story is, I’ve found that it’s hard to switch from an inauthentic mode to an authentic mode on well-worn ground, only to discover that some people there just aren’t interested in the authentic mode and are actually more comfortable with the inauthentic mode, etc. So I made the turn to blogging in an effort to find other communities and other conversations that matter. Nowadays I find my various selves integrating a lot more into a coherent entity, maybe someday I’ll explore the possibility of being present under a single name. I think you’ve made a great decision to be who you are fearlessly, it’ll save you lots of anxiety & heartache in the long run and I’ll bet it’s totally vital to your writing.

    I really like the Audre Lorde quote you posted on your blog, BTW.

    This thing about blogs giving you the time/space to even have conversations about books & writing—I totally hear you. At this moment I’m typing this comment in a decoy email message window at my office day job and will post it into WordPress in a clandestine moment of workplace anarchy. It was easier when I was younger and a student to hang out for hours with friends & peers going from reading to livingroom floor to café to bar and having long, meaningful, rambling conversations about everything under the sun. Now I have a full-time job and most of the hours not spent at work are spent on personal commitments at home with my closest loved ones. Add to that the odd hour snatched here & there for the vital activities of reading and writing, and there’s hardly any time left over to actually attend a live reading or gallery opening and connect with other writers/artists in person. (Though I’ve found that real conversations rarely happen at or immediately after live readings, often there’s awkward silence followed by the exodus to the nearest favorite bar where people cope w/the awkwardness by talking about every possible subject except for the reading & text itself. Though a lot of this might be natural social awkwardness and doesn’t mean that people aren’t impacted by the reading, maybe that they can’t process it all immediately and instead later unpack their thoughts & feelings in emails or well, blogs.) Anyway, I’m really grateful to blogs & the digital world for opening up hidden resources of time & space in which to have these kinds of exchanges. So this is also a resource of attention, but a different, more lingering, more substantial form of attention than the spur-of-the-moment “likes” that corporations are all scrambling now to exploit in order to sell us more products through social media. This is the attention of reading and consideration. I really appreciate the fact that a blogpost can stay up for some time and accrete commentary over time. I can read a post, go away, come back and read it again, mull it over, come back and read the commentary and add my own comment at some point, which maybe then gets responded to. The conversation moment doesn’t just disappear, which is both great & scary at once. The result is this illusion of a conversation/symposium happening between people in the same time and same place, when in fact the pieces of conversation are coming from people in different geographies at different times. And yet the thread of the conversation is continuous. This is not unlike the activity of literature and culture as a whole, which develops attentively over time, over decades and generations. And I think of what Salonierrealexis said about digital commentary being like notes scribbled in the margins of a text, how we collaborate on this marginalia and all this eventually feeds back into the “main text” whatever that is. Which makes me think of traditions of collaborative commentary over the centuries like the Talmud or the Chinese Classics, and how both exhilarating and terrifying it feels to be a small part of something vast.

  3. Hi all

    I arrive here via Roz Ito’s Supernumerary, a place I contribute comments to regularly. Leaving comments around the internet is not something I do prolifically, & like Roz, I choose to engage in those settings which I intuit & observe to be conducive to authentic, respectful discourse amongst folk with a love of literature/art. Defining myself as somewhat of an outsider (class/race/addiction/mental health/esoteric sensibility/blahdy blah), I am also drawn to those individuals I detect to be speaking from a slightly subterranean, marginal viewpoint/sensibility. I guess I seek a certain identification.

    Hi Roz! I must say it has been interesting to follow your input on this site, having gotten to know you somewhat this year thru our mutual contributions & engagements on one-another’s blogs. Thanks for your honesty here. I am now most intrigued as to your identity! Also, it saddens me to hear you speak of the milieu in which you reside, where you feel unable to be congruent in your interactions. That sort of intense & stifling environment must be incredibly debilitating for the creative, freewheeling spirit, which you seem to me to be.

    I have no issue, per se, with people adopting alter egos & pseudonyms, as I have an almost Buddhist perception of the nature of persona constructs anyhow. In Roz’s comment she references the Celan quote which equates a poem with a handshake, & how this is a token or bond of trust. My only problem with this equation of a contract of trust between online presences, or gravatars, is where the disparity between the person typing the words into the keyboard, addressing me across this electric pavilion, then turns out to be a chasm to deep. For instance, if the person behind ‘Roz Ito’ is a WASP Male Republican Stock Broker, then that handshake wasn’t worth a light, & I’m gonna be a tad disappointed! (Just saying! Roz, please, tell me it ain’t so!)

    I’m not saying I wouldn’t enter discourse with a Republican Stock Broker, but not one who was operating behind an ethnic-sounding name of another gender! I got me limits!

    Anyway, whoever Roz is, she’s bloody great, one of my favourite online presences, & I really value our interactions. (Roz Ito, published author? Now I wanna read your books! But I don’t know who you are, dilemmas, dilemmas. . . sheesh.)

    I named my blog We Bleed Ink, as I wanted to state a position. I wanted to state that I am not of a class for whom the arts are an idle past-time. Writing saved my life. I started writing, or penning rabid doggerel, as it was back then, when I was living in a homeless persons unit in London, in the mid-90’s. I am a dual heritage Londoner, half English/Spanish, so for me I have had a fluid relationship to identity all my life, as any mixed race person will tell you! I have spent much of my life in a cultural milieu which expects that I negate or validate parts of my identity, to suit the occasion or purpose. My blog has been a way to counter all the editors that would rewrite & redefine me, both external & internal editors, & really meet the world on my own terms, under my own steam. I am currently ‘balls out’ on the internet (not literally, ahem) & it feels great. Shit, I’m even on youtube doing my thing!

    Go Miggy, go Miggy, go Miggy!

    I see the internet as a place to honestly discuss marginalised concerns. It is anti dominant-culture, in that sense. Look how many females have blogs. Most of the people I interact with on blogs are females, & I enjoy how the voices I encounter online are energised with the urgency of the unsung.

    I love this platform of the exiles.

    God bless & lots of love to all concerned on this site.

    Miggy x

  4. hey Miggy (et al),

    Just to set the record straight, b/c this is a totally valid ethical point you bring up about the correspondence btwn gravatar identity & identity in the physical/social world and the potential for being misleading (I’m glad you brought this up) — my gravatar matches my physical identity in terms of race & gender. I am yes in my 30s and live in California, and hope not to morph into a reactionary Tea Party stockbroker anytime soon! I had these issues in mind from the start and tried to adopt an avatar who matched myself closely in these sociological particulars and in general subterranean outlook. Hope this helps clear things up and I apologize if you’ve felt misled in any way. You are someone I very much respect and I don’t want to damage our online trust in one another! Re: my other writer self, I’m invested for now in keeping these two writer projects separate, for some of the reasons I described above and also b/c I (as Roz) feel like I am actually developing into a unique, distinct writer from that other self, in terms of creative work & style although our essayistic interests pretty much coincide 100%. Revealing the correspondence btwn the two would somehow wreck the creative magic that keeps me (RI) going, and risk turning into the kind of gross publicity stunt that I want to avoid. Maybe this will change someday, but for now hope you continue to enjoy the ongoing Rozproductions & Rozcommentary that spew forth from my keyboard weekly.

    Your story about writing saving your life when you were living as a homeless really struck a chord with me. Not b/c I’ve ever been truly homeless in the stark physical sense (spiritually, yes, and physically once almost so, though I was lucky enough to have help to keep me from having to sleep in the street), but b/c I feel I can relate to this condition of bleeding ink, of writing in blood. This condition of living so far out on the margins (waving or drowning?), being totally invisible to the greater dominant society, and knowing that I had absolutely nothing to fall back on except my own resources, my own art. And so, art is created to promote survival. I’m with Jacques Tati in that I think the individual is ever endangered in & by this so-called civilized world, pushed by necessity to the fringes where the neglected truth (as writing, music, art) can be spoken. Like what you said once (paraphrasing you here): art is a dispatch from the exile position. In the “official” art world there’s often too much emphasis on ornamentation over the vitals, on getting the ornaments just right. But the blog world seems to be one of the few autonomous zones left where we can pay attention to the vitals.

    best,
    Roz

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