I just wanted to say a huge THANK YOU to everyone who has taken the time to follow my blog and/or leave a comment since it was featured on Discover. I’ve received many kind words about the featured post, On Anonymous Blogging, and also about other pieces of my writing. Thanks again everyone, I hope you enjoy reading my future posts, and I look forward to checking out your blogs too.
It’s the mid-noughties. I’m at university, London is blowing my mind, and I’m tapping away on my LiveJournal like my life depends on it. I’m documenting all of my experiences, preserving them through writing, and reading the blog posts of strangers around the world doing the same. I’m reading (and writing) about breakups, sex, mixtapes, road trips, family drama, and beautiful vignettes about places visited, or wild nights out, or a feeling.
I treated my LiveJournal as a kind of late night confessional, a place to process and unpick and get things off my chest. There was no Twitter, no Instagram, no Snapchat back then. Facebook was just taking off, the wifi connection in our halls of residence was patchy at best, and everyone still spent hours creating MySpace layouts. People didn’t think about ‘managing’ their online presence. Anonymity still had value on the internet, in fact it was the norm.
Skip to 2017 and almost all of that is gone. Reddit is the only mainstream site that springs to mind when I try to think of an online community that has anonymity at its core. Everywhere you look now people are creating glossy narratives about their lives on myriad social media accounts, and the kind of unfiltered ramblings that were the norm on sites like LiveJournal are just a dim memory. Selfie-consciousness reigns supreme.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what all this means for writers, and for me as a writer. My writing developed through the act of ‘journaling’, particularly online journaling; it’s the kind of writing I know best and am most comfortable with. As I’ve got older I’ve journaled less and less (something I’m trying to remedy with this blog), mostly, I suppose, because of time restraints and the fact that life becomes kind of routine with age. But the changing landscape of blogging and the relentless rise of social media has also had a huge impact.
The move from long-form writing to ‘micro-expression’ on sites like Twitter was the beginning of the end for the traditional personal blog. No one wanted to read a page of text anymore, why would you when everything can be neatly expressed in 140 characters? I fell into the habit of tweeting and found that I wrote – and wanted to write – less and less. After a while this left me feeling kind of empty. I can’t help but think that in the process of cutting down the amount we write we’re forgetting how to meaningfully write about ourselves and our lives.
Perhaps even more damaging than the micro-expression exodus has been the move towards almost total non-anonymity online, a change which has radically altered how people write about and present themselves on the internet. We have lost something in this merging of our online and offline selves. Anonymous blogs (even anonymous social media accounts, trolls aside) can be very engaging because there is less of a tendency to present yourself or your life as a ‘brand’. You’re completely free to be honest and vulnerable. This is what lies at the heart of good writing, and so by extension good blogging.
I miss the abundance of thoughtful, honest, creative writing that was around in those LiveJournal years. Yes, there was a lot of guff in the mix, a lot of badly written, ‘I’m bored so I guess I’ll write this post’ posts, but when it was good it was really good because people really opened up. The combination of anonymity and long-form writing being the norm created something beautiful and real. Thankfully, this fragile thing still exists in various corners of the internet, not least here on WordPress (LiveJournal has long since become a blog graveyard). For that, at least, I am grateful. I look forward to reading about your messy, imperfect lives soon.
Well, it’s been a few days since me and my OH got back from our trip to Cornwall and it already seems like a lifetime ago. We didn’t have the best weather but there were a few cracking (literally) thunderstorms that we enjoyed from the veranda of our cottage.
We did some excellent walks, including a fairly long one (by our standards) out to Gunnislake, which snaked along the Tamar. We also explored some of the old mines near the cottage – it’s amazing to see how nature is reclaiming the structures and the old industrial landscape.
One of the best days out we had was at Cothele, a formidable Tudor estate nestled in the woodland on the banks of the Tamar. It has miles of rural footpaths to explore, and a lovely cafe on the quay by the river when the walking gets too much and you just want a cheese scone.
It was all over too quickly and I’m already looking forward to our next break, on the coast this time…
Hip-hop and low buildings. Shifty men in parks, rude taxi drivers and long streets. Infinite churches of various denominations. Creepy hostel owners and strange shower set-ups. Late bus drivers with neutral expressions, and office blocks mixed with expensive restaurants. Friendly lawyers and funny Australians.
People’s faces when they’re asleep on buses. Sunsets with rock and roll playing through tinny speakers. British humour, travelling loners on the road to nowhere. Graffiti and poetry tattooed onto leather seats.
Lightning over Lake Michigan and hot, hot wind. Turning street corners and seeing rain lit by the sun falling from skyscraper heights. Mock British pubs. Glimpses of stormy sunsets down endless avenues. Elevated trains running over the rooftops. The whispers of jazz and the roaring twenties on every street corner.
Salt Lake Sleeper
We rode through the desert in the sleeper carriage, watching the stars burn a new sunrise into the Nevada sky.
Porn blows through the streets. Marilyn is on top of every seedy slot machine, and wannabe Rat Pack gamblers distill their whole life down to the queen of hearts. Welcome to fabulous Las Vegas.
I got into Leonard Cohen through my mother. She would play him while cooking, or when friends came over. She played him a lot while driving too. I have dim memories of listening to his vinyls on our 1970s record player (the size of a desk) in our lounge when I was little. He has been part of my life since I was too young to say his name (“Lemon Cohen”), and as I got older he was always there in the background – a reassuring constant, one of my many North Stars. His passing is bound up inextricably in my feelings about my parents, their lives, and their own mortality. It has felt deeply personal, and hard to bear.
But enough about that, let’s talk about those wonderful words. His poetry is both cerebral and raw – a heady brew of darkness, hope, spirituality, existentialism, love, and sensuality. The sensuality is probably what stands out most for me. He writes about women in a way that few men do – stripped of ego and expectation. Listening to his music is like stepping out of time, or walking a while with a stranger you feel you’ve known for years. He seemed to have always been an old, gentle soul, even when he was young. I’m so glad I got to share the world with him. As my mother said, it feels like I’ve lost an old friend.
Goodbye Leonard, enjoy the universe.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
My first poetry collection, Nothing but the Rain, is ready to be released into the wild. I have handmade each one, and will be leaving them in random places – both locally and further afield – for strangers to stumble upon. I hope someone, somewhere, enjoys it!
If you’ve found a copy I’d love to hear from you – you can leave a comment below.
If you’d like me to post a copy to you (free of charge) please send an email to email@example.com with your name and address.