Is there any worse feeling online than being dropped from someone’s blogroll, unfriended on Facebook, or unfollowed on Twitter, and you have no idea why this has occurred and you are not sure if you said something wrong, or if you are now officially “dead to this person,” and you don’t know if it is proper etiquette to ask the person why or just leave it alone?
I sometimes get unfollowed on Twitter for saying something stupid about mommybloggers or the “hotness” of a woman’s avatar. I know this information now because I downloaded this iphone app called “Birdbrain,” which alerts me when I am unfollowed. It is a mean-spirited and relentlessly annoying iphone app. Opening this app each day is akin to dragging yourself through the city square in 18th Century Paris for a beheading.
Since I am a humorous type of guy, I wrote this comment on Twitter today, “The next person who unfollows me, will get a stern phone call… from my mother!”
I received this witty response from another blogger, “I’m almost tempted to unfollow you today just so I can chat with your mother. Your mother is so sassy!”
This reply gave me pause. This woman on Twitter was being nice and complimenting me on my mother but how does she know — or even assume — that my mother is SASSY?
Of course, the answer is that I have portrayed my mother as sassy in my blog and tweets. This made me angry at myself, and my own failure as a writer. After so many posts about my mother, is this what my artistry has produced? — that she is sassy? Have I used my mother to create a character from “The Golden Girls?” The insides of my stomach tightened and I had to turn off my laptop. I was upset not because I might have characterized her incorrectly, but because I can do better.
It is so easy to forget the power of our words. My writing may not have the ability to bring the Maytag Company to her knees, like Dooce’s, but I have the ability to create images in your mind about others Is my mother sassy? Well, maybe to YOU she might be, particularly if you have a prim and proper matriarch as a Mom, but that is not the first word that would come out of my mouth in describing her. I see “sassy” as closer to Esther Rolle in Good Times.
Is there anything more difficult than capturing the personality of someone close to you — in words? When it is a fictional characters, cliches can often be enough. But your own mother? She is sassy. She is shy. She is efficient. She is an unorganized mess. She is too complicated to make into a clear-cut fictional character. I can only give you a “taste” of her.
I have done an equally poor job in conveying the personality of Sophia. Probably my least developed online character is “myself.” The job of the writer is to focus on the narrative and delete unessential elements in order to tell a story. I am envious of all those who are writing memoirs about their lives, and are able to focus on a specific chapter of their life — overcoming a divorce, raising a child, or a road trip across the country. I get so lost in my own head, that I am not even sure how to describe my true character. I can be funny, and serious. I am neurotic, and confident. How am I supposed to tell you who I am, when I am full of contradictions to myself?
My biggest frustration with online life is the way it is both so extremely intimate, and at the same time, superficial in how we present ourselves, and interact with each other.
I met quite a few bloggers at BlogHer. Most bloggers were exactly as I pictured them from reading their blog. Others were different, as if the blog persona was in the deep recesses of the brain and only came out during the writing, like a Devil taking over the body. Some never said a word to me, and I didn’t speak to them. Most clearly emphasized only one element of their persona online — their parenting or their business side — and it was difficult to understand the real person behind the monitor.
However you view me, or my mother, or anyone I write about, you would be completely right. And wrong. And that is a frustrating thought. In the future, I am going to try harder to capture my real world and my own character on paper. Or is it ultimately impossible to bring the reality — in all its three-dimensional glory — into words?