December 07, 2005

Hedging against future uptightness

Secret websites, for secret words

Recently I made a password-protected website for my friends, on which we discuss music and things related to our Rock Club (like a book club, but with mixtapes). Suddenly my friends are online. They comment the pants off that website, with an enthusiasm none of them have ever really shown for other internet toys and tools I’ve tried to pass around. I’m pretty sure this is related to the semi-privacy of the new website.

A couple of days ago, Kottke started a discussion about secret blogs. Who maintains private or anonymous sites and why? Most people responded that they had secret websites for venting things they wanted to hide from their bosses, coworkers, spouses, or future dates.

That makes sense, but I'm sad that people build lives where they aren’t free to say certain things in daily life or in public. I spend a lot of time looking for ways to be more honest— learning to be honest without being mean, treating embarrassment as an indicator that I’ve realized my mistake and can move on, trusting people and forgiving people, accepting that not everyone will love me. Stuff like that.

I really like working on this, because feeling like I can say what I mean and do what I want is a major, major freedom. I think it’s worth the trouble.

The opposite of a secret website

I obviously don’t claim to have this honest living all figured out, but I’ve found that one of the fastest ways to learn about honesty to do something really embarrassing and then let the dust settle. Restrictive portions of my life will break, which sucks for a minute but then I can build better systems in their places.

This website, which I hereby nominate as the opposite of a secret website, has been very helpful as an embarrassment bomb. I’ve always put it on my resume, and it’s made obvious differences in my relationships with coworkers and bosses, especially in offices full of old guys in suits.

At first I expected it would ruin my life a little bit if my whole workplace was abuzz with rumours about how The Vagina Girl analyzed her discharge or sodomized her boyfriend, but it has been universally awesome. Even without reading the website, people understand a whole set of boundaries with me. It’s like my personal Terms of Service. “If you’re hiring me, you’re hiring a vagina lady and I’m going to act like one.” And they click “OK.”

I used to purposely do things that would incriminate me in the future if I ever tried to turn uptight. That was probably part of why I started this site: to prevent my ever running for office on a moralistic platform, and to keep jerky bosses and dates out of my life.

The creeping scope of secrets

It would do me good, I think, to remember how helpful my embarrassing website has been for me. More of my friends and family are reading this these days, and I really don’t churn out the embarrassing pages like I used to. I’m sure somewhere on the internet there is a graph showing the decreased sharing and debauchery on a website as it gets older. I’m due to mix it up over here, lest the whole site go barren.

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