At this point, I’m far too old to say the internet is new to me, and anyway my opening premise here is more that I’m sort of new to the internet as a commodity to be consumed. I say this because I want to make it clear that I understand how easy it is to read someone in error when they haven’t given you much context to work with. So I’m not being defensive (although reactionary by definition) when I say that I’ve noticed The Internet forming the wrong idea about who I am. This is what the internet does, I know.
Getting-to-know-you posts and “about me” blurbs are sort of my worst internet nightmare. Part of this is because of good old-fashioned shyness and part of it is performance anxiety. As an unpublished author laboring under the oft-repeated mandate to “build my online presence,” and “establish my brand,” and all of that vaguely distasteful corporate speak we have to be familiar with in these times, I know that everything I say with this name is supposed to tell the reader something about me designed to interest them in buying my stories. So I get hung up on the expectation that anything I put into a space dedicated to the purpose of selling myself has to be not just interesting but clever. That’s why I usually choose to say nothing at all. Enigma is better than disappointment, right?
This has largely remained academic, since no one has really been paying attention to me or my online spaces anyway. No one who doesn’t already know me in “real life.” (And I always feel vaguely guilty for calling their attention to my online presence for some reason. Like I’m asking them to buy my Tupperware.) But somehow, through no legitimate effort on my part deserving of any praise, people have managed to start finding me online. Strangers. People whose reasons for reading what I have to say are a complete mystery to me, since it’s not like they’re mining for something to talk about the next time we find ourselves awkwardly standing across from each other at a party with nothing to say. It occurs to me belatedly that I’m a mystery to these strangers as well.
I say this admittedly in response to coming across some vigorous discussions about that piece I wrote that is now floating around the ether, and more strangely, about me the author in connection to it.
Seeing myself talked about by third parties who don’t know me, with their own reasons for invoking me in the conversation that have nothing to do with the actual Alyssa sitting behind this screen is, I have to say, an entirely new and disorienting experience. Something to get used to, since I do rather hope it’s a thing that will happen often when I’m published, but still kind of an out-of-body moment. Because I know they’re talking about me and my work, but it’s also not me. It’s a version of me that is taken out of context and reduced to salient talking points for the discussion in progress – the way we casually invoke long-dead historical figures as though they’re facts rather than people. Different from overhearing friends or family talk about me to each other, because they at least have some component of an observed reality based upon my whole on which to formulate their Alyssa. Or that’s just my perception of the difference. Since perception is reality, that’s all I have to go on.
And maybe this is a thing that’s actually no big deal for anyone else, or maybe it’s one of those things we’re supposed to pretend we don’t notice and I’m making one of those awkward autistic social blunders by talking about myself like this. But that sort of dovetails into the point that actually prompted me to begin this dialogue, which is that I don’t know how to be any version of myself other than the one I am.
If you want to know more about that Alyssa, the real one, you’re free to ask whatever it is you’re wondering. I might just answer. But whether I ever successfully portray a public version of myself that comes close to representing the private me, know that what you do see is never not real. I’m not pretending to be anything, and while some aspects of the online brand are of course meant to appeal, they’re displayed rather than crafted. I am not an affectation.
Now that that’s off my chest, I may just have a rant in me about the importance of story and character, and the reasons why humans have always made a practice of not just telling stories but mining them for meaning. How the purpose of story is to capture, examine, and reflect the human experience; how characters are built with the specific intent to be identified with; how empathy for fictional characters is not a quality to be avoided or ashamed of, no matter how deep the feelings go, because it means we’re doing what the story wanted us to do; how it’s okay to just be entertained but it’s also okay to look deeper, and the two things do not exclude one another. Because these are topics that are deeply important to the actual Alyssa.
Maybe another time.