i have a prestigious blog, sir

prestigious blog

post title from Party Down, one of the best shows that ever got cancelled

Some of you newer people (are there any newer people? who knows) may not know this, but this website and I used to be kind of internet famous.

Don’t laugh, I’m serious. At its peak (2001-2006), bluishorange got 4,000 unique visitors a day. Blogs were a brand-new thing, I was writing almost every day, and it didn’t hurt that I was young and cute. Sometimes when I sat down to write I would picture all 4,000 people standing together in a room–this was encouraging at times, but other times all those imaginary people were just staring at me expectantly, which was nerve-wracking.

Lots of good things happened to me as a result of that traffic. I met a ton of amazing people (many of whom are now my closest friends), I was nominated for awards, I got to be on a panel at SXSW Interactive. An anonymous reader (and eventual friend) gifted me his used MacBook to take on my road trip in 2007.

But some bad things happened, too, and I’ll tell you about a few of them here.

***

In late 2000, I quit my job as a web designer to go back to university, and after I quit, a former coworker began to send me lots of emails. They were friendly at first: he wrote responses to things I’d written on my website, or notes about what was happening at my former workplace. Then he asked me out. I politely declined, but the emails kept coming–mostly he was trying to convince me that I should in fact go out with him. We had not been in the same department at work, and though we’d worked in the same room of cubicles, we had never actually spoken in person. But as best I could tell, reading my website had made him feel like he knew me in a way that was very real to him.

Westheimer Street FestivalOne day I made the mistake of mentioning on my website a band that I was going to see at a street festival. I had a few friends in the band, and I’d made their website for them, and I was really excited to see them perform.

You can see where this is going, right? He was there. Of course he was there, and I can’t believe I was surprised by it. He sat under a tree near the stage, and though he was wearing mirrored sunglasses, I could tell that he hardly took his eyes off me. He was a big guy, and to a 22-year-old 125-pound girl like me, he looked a bit menacing. I had come to the festival with a few friends who were enjoying the show, so I didn’t say anything to them or try to get them to leave with me, though I probably should have. When the show ended, he went up to the merchandise table, bought a CD, and then walked away.

I got home that night to another long, desperate email, and (I remember this like it was last week) it ended with, “Please help me, Alison. Please be my friend.”

I replied immediately with, “Please do not contact me ever again,” put all his emails and my responses into an archive folder so I wouldn’t have to look at them in my inbox, and called my father. He insisted we talk to a lawyer (a family friend), who advised me to keep all the emails in case they were needed later, and told me that I needed to take my website down.

I took it down for about two weeks, which was all I could take, but I never again said anything online about places I might be going. The guy emailed me one more time in response to my plea not to contact me. It was full of invective–I was a bitch, and a tease, and I had led him on, and he was just trying to be nice and what the fuck was wrong with me.

Sometimes in my dreams I can still see my reflection in his mirrored sunglasses.

***

It was mostly easy to not inform the internet of where I was going to be in the future, but harder to avoid everyone knowing that I would be attending a conference I went to at the same time every year.

In the months leading up to SXSW 2003 (or 2004? I can’t remember exactly), there was a guy who would leave lots of comments on my website. The comments were mostly harmless, but his own website was less so. It was more of a home page than a website–he had a lot of different little sections on the page with his favorite quotes, links, and a few of his opinions, most of which were about what races of girls he liked and didn’t like. Fully half of the quotes and links on that page were mine.

He had never emailed me personally, but his apparent level of interest in me reminded me enough of my former coworker that I was pretty freaked out by him.

In a comment a few weeks before SXSW, he informed me that he would be in town during the conference and wanted to meet me. I did not want to meet him, so I ignored the comment, but I worried about the conference itself. I didn’t know what he looked like; would he just come up and blindside me?

I spent most of the conference looking over my shoulder. Eventually my friend Ryan met him briefly outside the convention center, then ran inside to describe him to me and let me know he was nearby and asking where I was. I quickly left the convention center via an exit on the other side of the building, and was lucky enough not to encounter him for the rest of the conference.

This is where my memory gets a little fuzzy. After the conference I remember uploading a lengthy .htaccess file to block his many different IP addresses from accessing my website. Eventually I stopped hearing from him.

***

There are other stories. A woman from the U.K. used my blog posts and photos of me to construct a fictional online identity, and after she was caught, the guy who had fallen in love with her attempted to transfer his affections to me. I got emails from men telling me that they had seen me out at this concert or that bar or cafe, but they hadn’t worked up the nerve to say hello. I would comb through my memories of those nights, trying to remember having seen someone looking at me.

All of this gave me a constant feeling that I was being watched. The 4,000 people I pictured in the 4,000-person-sized room usually stared at me expectantly, waiting for me to write something good, but other times they just watched. I kept on writing, because I didn’t know how not to write, and 99% of my readers were nice sane people who appreciated what I had to say.

Here is where I remind you that I’ve almost never done any non-blog writing. My stint as a person who writes (I don’t like to say I’m a writer) began with blogging, and continued with blogging, and doesn’t really exist outside of that. People always tell me I should write things just for myself and not post them. But I don’t exactly know how to write something that won’t be shared immediately.

Eventually I did stop writing regularly. Weblogs stopped being the best and easiest way to meet and keep in touch with people, and my site traffic fell. Blog commenting technology improved, allowing me to delete comments I felt were inappropriate or scary, but those comments never really came.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss my internet fame from time to time, especially when it happens to my friends and I can see the looks on their faces when someone they’ve never met tells them they like their work. If I hadn’t stopped writing, would I be a professional writer right now? Would I have an agent? A book deal? (There’s an old, old message in my “Other” folder on Facebook from a publisher asking me if I’d be interested in writing a book. I never followed up.)

If I hadn’t stopped writing, would I be safe?

***

At the XOXOFest closing party, I was talking with my friend Casey about Anita Sarkeesian. She’d spoken at the festival despite the numerous threats to her life and family she’d received in response to her video series about women in gaming culture, and Casey and I were discussing how impressed we were by her work, her tenacity and fortitude. I told Casey that if I had to deal with what Sarkeesian has, I would just have curled up into a ball on my bathroom floor and stayed there forever. No way would I have been able to continue my work as she has.

And I guess I didn’t continue my work. Granted, that was more about my depression than my online creeps, and my online creeps were of a different caliber and much smaller magnitude than hers are, but I can still see the comparison.

I realized while talking with Casey that in not writing about my online creeps back in 2000-2004, I missed an opportunity to expand (start?) the discussion about What It’s Like For Women On The Interwebs. What it was like is that I wrote about myself, about being a college student and a waitress, about traveling, about living with depression and anxiety, and people (men) thought this meant that I owed them something. But I don’t owe anyone anything. I’m not sure what Sarkeesian’s harassers want from her (silence? an apology? I doubt they actually know what they want), but she doesn’t owe them anything either.

I’m glad that other people are now writing and talking about this issue and doing it better than I could have.

you poured one more highball then I had to go before my heart overflowed — on depression and making things

I went to XOXOfest again this year. Like last year, I didn’t go to the conference portion, just the festival part, but I still have some things to say about it. All the other pieces you’ll read about XOXO will mostly be about the conference talks, and you’re probably wondering, how can she write anything about a conference she didn’t attend?

Because that conference/festival is stacked full of smart people doing wonderful creative things for a living that they love, and I talked with a lot of them.

I talked with them while wearing clothing and accessories I made for myself, clothing and accessories I’ve spent years learning how to make. At this point I’m good enough at sewing that I never make anything from a sewing pattern I haven’t self-drafted or altered to fit me. I can look at a sewing pattern and see exactly where it won’t do what I want, or exactly where it won’t fit properly on my body, and if I can’t find the right sewing pattern to buy I will just make one myself. And of course I’ve been making jewelry professionally and personally for ten years.

Someone told me that in her XOXO talk this year, Erin McKean said that it’s really important for her to do something creative that she never has to show anyone. Most XOXO attendees know McKean from Wordnik, but I know her from her sewing blog, A Dress A Day, which I’ve been reading almost since its inception. She was, of course, referring to her sewing as the creative thing she doesn’t have to show anyone. She can throw out a dress muslin that doesn’t work, or she can take apart a piece she doesn’t like and correct her mistakes, or make it into something else entirely.

This is part of what sewing and jewelry-making represent for me as well. My fabric scraps bin is full of clothing parts that weren’t successful, my bulletin board is tangled with jewelry prototypes I’m not satisfied with, and I even have a little drawer labeled “failed experiments.” I didn’t start doing any crafts at all until 2004, but now I don’t know how I ever lived without them as part of my identity.

peoplegettinghi“Why haven’t you finished that book you were writing about your road trip?” a friend asked me at XOXOfest. We were sitting on the patio at another friend’s AirB&B, and I had just come down from climbing a huge ladder in the yard because I could (more on that later).

“Do you really want to know? I have a serious answer,” I said.

“Yeah.”

“Because living with depression and anxiety means that I can’t be a person who examines my life in that kind of detail. That road trip was a very emotional time for me, and it’s hard for me to function if I look at it too closely.”

You want to know how I function? I keep the TV on in the background. I make things out of fabric and metal. I read crafting blogs and good novels (but not too good or they’ll make me sad) and overly-deep online think pieces about TV. I avoid certain types of music. While I make things I keep episodes of “Bob’s Burgers” or “The X-Files” on a loop.

I exercise. Hard.

I sleep a lot.

I stay in the shallow end.

This routine is what makes me okay. This routine forms the covering on my nerves that keeps them from getting too raw.

At XOXOFest John Roderick and Sean Nelson did a show where they played a lot of their old Long Winters material. The Long Winters is/was one of my favorite bands, and I’ve always been disappointed that they haven’t put out an album in so long. I arrived at the show 20 minutes early to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

They opened with Carparts, and I cried. It wasn’t a balls-out sobbing, ugly kind of crying, but it was there. I hadn’t listened to that song in years, because it makes me think of one day of my road trip, of driving alone through falling snow from Rapid City to Mount Rushmore the day before Easter, and thinking about someone specific. Roderick and Nelson do such beautiful harmonies, and that plus seeing live music for the first time in forever plus being smacked in the face with that memory, and I was a goner.

They closed with a cover of “The Only Living Boy In New York,” and I cried again. Then I cried the day after I got home from XOXO. Then I cried again yesterday. My sleeping and exercise and carefully crafted non-thinking were not in place in Portland, and my nerves went raw.

I don’t really make things to show other people anymore, at least not on the internet. I make things to sell people, and I make gifts, and “hey, check out this dress I’m wearing! I made it!” is technically showing other people, I guess, but that’s not what I mean.

What I mean is that I used to make things for people to read, but I don’t know how to keep doing that without destroying myself.

Like I said, at XOXOfest I was surrounded by people who make things for other people, and it made me wish I still did. It made me miss that feeling of having said something out loud that I think is true, and hoping that someone else will think it’s true too.

I’ve said before that I feel like not writing in public is like lying to myself in some way, and I still think that’s true too.

Yesterday someone I don’t know said something on Twitter like, I don’t know why @bluishorange isn’t crushing it in a master’s creative writing program right now (I am paraphrasing because it was a nice thing to say and I don’t want anyone to go looking for the specific Tweet; if you find it please don’t say anything to them). My Twitter account is private, so I never get mentioned by people I don’t know. I had Twitter open in a tab, so the @bluishorange mention popped up right there in the window, and seeing it felt like my heart had dropped out of my body.

Why aren’t I out there crushing it in a master’s creative writing program right now? Why aren’t I making stuff for other people to see like my friends at XOXO?

I have had other people say things to me similar to that tweet. The best one was, “You don’t have any reason to have as much self-doubt as you do.” The second-worst one was, “Man, when I first read your blog I thought you were going to be a super famous writer.” The worst one of all was when someone came up to me in a coffeehouse in Austin and said, “Hey, didn’t you used to be bluishorange?”

I’ll admit that some of my sadness with regards to not crushing it in a master’s creative writing program or being a super famous writer or being bluishorange anymore has to do with missed opportunity. This site used to be awfully popular, and it isn’t anymore. The landscape of the web has changed, and so have I, and most of that isn’t my fault. But I don’t always remember that. What if staying in the shallow end means I’ve missed my chance to say things to a larger audience?

I’m told that a lot of the XOXO conference talks were about making things through bouts of depression, anxiety and uncertainty. I suppose maybe watching those talks online will help me some, but mostly I just want to ask those people, “Yeah, but how do you DO that?”

I’ve been wondering how I can combine my crafting skills with my desire to make things for other people and have those things say something I think is true, but I don’t know if that idea exists.

Over the past several months I’ve been taking trapeze lessons and doing circuit training, and I’m fitter and stronger than I’ve ever been in my life. I climbed the ladder in that yard because it was fun, and also because I knew it was something I would do that nobody else would. If I can’t be a strong person who writes, at least I can be a strong person who climbs things and does flips.

36

1540438_10151980970316512_7186835111739154299_oMaude is dead. I’m 36 today.

I’m 36 today, my best friend is dead, I am underemployed, broke, living paycheck to paycheck, borrowing money from family to make ends meet.

Sunday at a wedding I was sitting with two other friends of mine. One friend was describing her recent good fortune. “Good things seem to keep happening to me. I just wonder when it’s all going to stop.”

The other friend said, “Oh, come on. You’re a good person, and you deserve to be happy! You’ve got good karma. Good for you.”

I sat in silence, thinking, so I’m a bad person who doesn’t deserve to be happy? That’s why bad things keep happening to me?

Most of my friends are doing pretty well financially. They own houses and cars and have children and go on vacations both here and abroad. They buy things. I’m happy for them; they are, to borrow a phrase, good people who deserve to be happy. But sometimes I feel like if I hear another one of them say that something “only” costs $500, “only” costs $100, “only” costs $20, I will scream and throw something.

They do things together that cost too much money for me to be able to do. I am torn: do I want them to invite me so I can feel included and have the opportunity to say no? Or do I want them to not mention it at all so I don’t feel bad? Sometimes I still hear about it later.

I have my own jewelry business, but until I can make ends meet I can’t afford to market it properly, so there it sits, semi-dormant for now. I am mostly okay with this. I have other things to worry about, like paying as much of the electricity bill as it takes to keep the lights on.

I apply for jobs. I hear from interviewers, I dress in my job interview pants and blouse and go get interviewed. I send my usual “thank you for the interview” email, to which I never get a response.

To apply for jobs is to live a thousand different lives in one’s head. I interview for a job at a financial company in Northwest Austin, and I picture myself driving there, parking, working at one of the desks in their cubicle farm. I interview for a job downtown and imagine myself taking the bus so I don’t have to park. I interview for a job at the University of Texas, and picture myself working in one of the red-roofed stucco buildings near the tower. But those lives never happen.

I am broke; I have no savings or assets or prospects, but I am not poor. Poverty is not what this is. Poverty means not having family support. It means not having a college education or marketable job skills. It means not having friends who would intervene if I were unable to get food, or if I were to become homeless. It means not being able to apply for jobs or dress in job interview pants or go to interviews or send thank-you emails. It means having my depression go untreated, which luckily it doesn’t. And I know I am lucky to have the skills and support and tools I need to get by, however marginal my “getting by” is.

But if this isn’t poverty, what is it? I think I’m a victim of the eroding middle class, of income inequality, of job scarcity, of the trimming away of workers’ rights, of living in a growing tech city with low unemployment, high competition for jobs, and skyrocketing costs. I could move, but that would be much more complicated than it sounds.

So I am your anecdote. When you are with your friends or family and the economy comes up, you can say, “I have a friend who can’t find a job…” You can explain my situation and make your point that the economy still has a long way to go. You can make your point that sometimes even a college education and 15 years of work experience isn’t enough. Or you can joke about how an English degree isn’t good for anything. It’s up to you.

Maude died on April 15, nearly ten years to the day since I brought her home for the first time. It was recent enough that when it’s time to give Moki a treat, I still grab two treats from the canister without thinking. I can still remember what the fur felt like under Maude’s chin. I can still feel her wiggle her little head back and forth as she buried her face in my hair to sleep at night. I can still hear the little barks she made in her sleep sometimes. I can still picture the way she bounced around the room whenever I came home, so happy to see me.

I wrote those last four sentences in the present tense, and I had to go back and correct them.

So I’m 36 today, but you’ll forgive me, I hope, if I don’t feel like celebrating.