friday, the twenty-third of february, two thousand one
the almost famous edition
I would just like to state for the record that I will never,
ever complain again about not having anything to write about.
It has been a fairly slow week at work. I've just been wrapping up some projects, and stretching other projects out for lack of anything else to do, and spending a little more time than usual surfing and e-mailing, and some decidedly non-essential paperwork has been suffering for it.
So on my way to work today, I decided that I was going to be all productive. I would check my e-mail when I got there, both my regular work e-mail and my journal-based netaddress e-mail, then tell my usual daily correspondents that I would be incommunicado, shut everything off, and focus on getting all my non-priority work done.
I'm plowing through the usual spam of my netaddress mail, and the usual notifies, and there's one from a name I don't recognize with "oscar pool" as a subject. I'm thinking this is probably a potential entrant with a question about it, so I click it open.
It reads, in pertinent part, as follows:
So I read it once, twice, three times. I get up and close the office door, thanking God and everything else that is holy that my officemate is out of town today. I sit back down, read it once more, and start to hyperventilate.
Let me explain something. I run a relatively small-time operation here. I have a readership that hovers around 100, as it has for some time, and that is just fine with me.
I have also run a relatively anonymous operation, although I am not as careful about it as I once was. When Gracefully Yours became Abeyance, I began using my real first name. And everyone on my notify list knows my last name, and you know what I do, and you know which city I live in. But you have to delve into the journal just a little to learn all that, and anyone who puts my full name into a search engine will never come up with this site. Exactly two people in my real life know about this, and that is because I chose to tell them. In two and a half years, there have been no accidental discoveries.
And I'd like to keep it that way.
I have actually been thinking about this very subject a lot this week, due to a particularly introspective e-mail entry from Dora. She wrote about the place of her journal in her life and how it may or may not have affected her real-life relationships.
So I thought about that, too. About the purpose of my journal, why I do it, why I keep it secret from the people who know me in my day-to-day life, what would change if those people did know about it.
I am thinking about the answers to those questions. But I do know that I need this, and I need it to stay separate, secret. This is the only part of my life that feels entirely my own.
I need to keep it that way.
I immediately e-mail a bunch of people whose opinions I value, with a copy of the e-mail from the reporter and many, many expletives on my part, intermingled with pleas for advice on what to do.
Then, because I would go crazy simply staring at the screen waiting for people to answer, I decide that what I most need at that point is a whole lot of caffeine and sugar, so I head to the Starbucks across the street from my building and get a Venti (that's Starbuckian for large) Cafe Mocha. I return to the office and proceed to splash it all over my door because I'm apparently not coordinated enough to actually wait until I've turned the knob all the way over before I push on the door.
Okay. I admit it. I was a little distracted. The possibility of being mentioned in the Big Important National Newspaper had me distracted. Just a little.
I have wondered, from time to time, exactly what my life would be like if I had never read the Salon article in early 1998 that introduced me to the world of online journaling. What if I hadn't seen it? I haven't come across any other mentions of this community in other publications, unless I have been looking for it, specifically. I might still be oblivious to the fact that it even exists. What would be different about my life? Would it have been better, or worse?
I know the answer to this, without a doubt. You all know that the friendships I have made through this medium are unspeakably important to me, and they are friends I know I will have forever. I have learned so much, shared so much, found so much that would have been lost to me without this. Even I cannot wrap my mind around the depth of gratitude I have for you. Though I feebly attempt otherwise from time to time, I will never be able to express what you mean to me.
And what if I had made the journal public from the very beginning? What if I had told everyone about it, my parents, my law school classmates? How would my life be different then? Would it have been better?
I know the answer to this as well.
The responses from my friends start to trickle in. I have to have decompressing phone conversations with some of them, one of them for the first time (which was so very, very cool), and the consensus is that I should call the reporter, find out what exactly she wants to do, and agree to talk to her on the condition that only my first name be used in any eventual article.
By this time it's around noon, and the last thing I want to do is call when she's at lunch and have to wait on pins and needles for her to call back, so I decide to wait until 1:00, which is 2:00 where she is.
I breathe deeply for the next hour, reading recaps on Mighty Big TV and then searching for information about this reporter, then wondering how she found me, which is rather obvious, because if you search for "online Oscar pool," you'll get me.
Finally, it's 1:00. I have to start over three times dialing the numbers on my calling card, then finally get through.
To her voicemail. I surprise myself by not hanging up. Instead, I leave a very detailed message with my work number but expressing the fact that I can only speak to her from my office today, because my officemate is gone, and what she wants to talk to me about is a secret, so if I don't hear from her by the end of the day, I will call back with my home number and we can make arrangements to speak from there.
I hang up. And I wait.
What would happen? What would happen if the BINN ran an article discussing online Oscar pools with a quote from Elizabeth, a lawyer in Kansas City?
Everyone would know. Everyone, my parents, my employers, they would all find out about it. Someone in the firm would say, "Hey, an Elizabeth lawyer in Kansas City, I wonder if it's any of our Elizabeths?" And he or she would type in the URL, read a few entries, see the word "tobacco," and track me down. And some old business associate of my father's would pop off an e-mail saying, "Hey, your daughter doesn't keep an online journal, does she? And does she like movies?"
So that's no good. What about using my whole name, first and last, and just talk about the pool, without mentioning that it is attached to a journal? And then what if I just moved the pool to a different domain and made an actual "thanks for entering" page instead of sending successful entrants back to the journal, and take out the 3rd Annual part?
My full name in the BINN. Exciting, but then everybody would definitely know. And they would say, "Hey, why didn't you tell me you had an online pool? And how the hell do people find it if you're not telling anyone about it? And since when did you learn HTML, anyway?"
Okay, so that's no good either. It becomes clear to me that the only way this will work is if I am just Elizabeth, no occupation, no city.
The potential for discovery is there, but considerably less than any other option. As Corina said today, this isn't an article about the Pardon Scandal, it's the fucking Oscars, for crying out loud. People aren't going to dwell on it, and they aren't going to look it up on the off chance that the Elizabeth they know is the one being quoted. I would take out all specific references to my job and location and welcome all BINN readers who want a free shot at $50.
About a half hour after I leave the message, the phone rings, the ominous double outside-call ring. I take a deep breath and answer it. "This is Elizabeth."
It's her. She introduces herself, we exchange pleasantries, and the first thing she asks is my last name.
I tell her I'll be happy to give it to her, but I won't want it being used in whatever article she is working on.
She clearly isn't thrilled by this. She tells me that her editors insist on full names, because they want real people, particularly for internet-related stories. I understand this, because like the saying goes, on the internet, no one knows you're a dog.
But my last name in the article is just not an option. I explain this to her, saying that the journal to which the pool is attached is a secret, and I just can't have it exposed like that. She then asks if she can quote me without putting in a link. I ask her how much time she has for this story, and she says a few weeks, so I tell her I will think about it. She asks if she can ask me some other questions just as background, and I say yes.
How many times have you done this? This is my third year. How many entrants do you have? About 70. (This is impressing the hell out of me, but it probably sounded kind of lame to her.) Do you charge people? No, I say, I'm a lawyer, and that's getting into a very sketchy area as far as gambling is concerned.
Ah. You might be off the hook, she says. Apparently, the angle for the story is actually gambling, and since I'm not gambling, she might not need to have anything to do with me. Do I know of any online pools that charge people to enter? No. I actually don't. I honestly never thought to look for any other online pools.
She thanks me for my time, says that she's really working on the gambling angle, but she has my number and she'll give me a call if anything changes. We hang up.
And I collapse in my chair, absolutely exhausted, and I'm serious. It was too much for me. At 2:30, I packed up, cleaned the mocha off my office door, and went home, wondering if this reporter has any idea of the reactions people have when she says she wants to talk to them. (Or -- scary -- if it's just me.)
So there will be no moment in the spotlight for this somewhat anonymous journaler.
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a teensy bit disappointed. Anyone who says they don't want a little recognition isn't being honest with themselves, especially people who decide it's a good idea to have a journal that anyone with a modem can read. Of course it would have been exciting to be quoted in this newspaper, to have one or two of my fifteen minutes of fame.
But at the end of the day, on the reporter's terms, the price would have been too high. Exposing this journal to the world at large would mean the end of it. Well, it would mean the end of it as it exists today, and I don't want the way it exists to change. It's not worth a quote in the paper.
The fact is, I need the security that the secrecy brings me. I need to know that I can write about whatever I want, free from any concern about what my parents, friends, co-workers will think of me. I feel safe with you, and so I discuss my fears about being alone forever and my bizarre crush on a cross-dressing comedian and my complete and utter financial irresponsibility. And I write about all those things because I am protected by the knowledge that you will not judge me, or lecture me, or try to fix me. I depend on you for that, cherish you for it.
And I simply don't want to share you with everyone else.