January 06, 2017
I grew up playing with dolls, and with handicrafts made from pipe cleaners and paper bags. I grew up on swing sets and with skinned knees, on a banana seat bicycle with streamers. I grew up with books, with PBS, with local museums and libraries. But here’s a confession: I met most of my best friends on the internet, and I met most of those friends on LiveJournal.
I first encountered the internet at 14: ah, the sweet cacophony of dial up. I was not an unhappy teenager, nor an unpopular one, but I was, without a doubt, very confused, and held many secrets from my community. I didn’t know how to be genuine with people yet, for fear they’d dislike my intensity, or find me pretentious, or feel unsafe in my presence because of my sexuality.
I spent a lot of my time testing the waters with my real life friends online, under pseudonyms we lifted from Ani DiFranco or Tori Amos songs, or the Latin names of obscure butterflies. I also began fixating on the anonymous online journals of other young women, mostly on Angelfire. They were riot grrrls, early digital photographers, housebound agoraphobics, women who dressed in Victorian clothing and carried parasols on sunny days, and people who never showed their faces.
I began writing to them, and some of us pitched in to purchase our own domain: Coquette.org. I kept pages for quotes, poems, dramatic unsent letters, and a daily journal. I learned basic HTML skills and reveled in the persona I was building: a more deeply sensitive, obsessive, and queer one than I let on in real life. I checked my stats regularly.
Most of us left Coquette.org when LiveJournal appeared. It was free and allowed for lock-and-key anonymity. In its prime, LiveJournal back-burnered our elusive coquetry, creating instead a community of writers and thinkers that proved to be both more anonymous and more intimate than our previous attempts at connection. Through LiveJournal, I came to appreciate the richness of safe space, of full disclosure, and of facelessness. I learned that you can tell someone absolutely everything; it might just not be the human you expected. I learned that truth-telling is not a performance.
But even LiveJournal couldn’t last, and most of us have since abandoned our journals, or write, like me, only once every few months. The site is like a ghost town anymore, with a few dedicated stragglers still writing there. I admire them.
Periodically, I revisit my journal to see what I was doing on this day three, four, even 10 years ago. I read about falling in love, or out of it. Adopting a dog, moving to Ithaca (or the Bronx, or Colorado, or Philadelphia), learning to cook, getting a job and quitting it. I lament that I have lost track of my writing these past few years, knowing I will not have that resource in the future, nor that perspective.
Still, LiveJournal’s mark persists. After all, in a time before internet meet-ups were socially sanctioned, it led me to some of my favorite flesh-and-blood people, one of whom visited me just last week.
Soon after picking Joel up at the Savannah airport, a new, private community about LiveJournal cropped up on Facebook. The community’s wall is rife with missed connections: people searching for friends they lost touch with decades ago, remember vividly, and have not known how to find due to the cloak of the username. Some people are even finding one another.
LiveJournal was once a thriving intellectual community, full of depth and challenge and blind adoration of the human brain. I miss that community, and have long assumed it to be gone. Turns out I’m not the only one. <3