In 2003, I was a freshman in high school. Up until that point, I’d used our shared family computer mainly to flirt with boys on IM chats when I should have been sleeping. I joined Xanga shortly after I had my first kiss. I know this because even though the website is now defunct, they made the archives available, and I downloaded mine. I had a Xanga long after it was acceptable – all through high school, all through college (mid-college was when it became embarrassing), and through several years of living in New York (by this point it was so past embarrassing that it actually felt like a character flaw. Fortunately, it was an easy secret to keep since no one else was on the site.) I suppose I have a hard time letting things die, and it took a company literally hemorrhaging funds for several years and collapsing into ether for me to give it up, by default.
By the end, I didn’t even like Xanga. When it died, it was a relief. Like finally having permission to let something out of its misery (me, or the journal itself). In the final years of my Xanga, every bitchy entry was me bitching about bitchy New Yorker things to essentially no one, like 1. how I didn’t know what I was doing with my life, 2. how other people seemed to know what they were doing with their lives, 3. smatterings of lyrics from feminist musicians or The Smiths that seemed important to copy and paste and post, and/or 4. me blabbing about how half the food in New York has ingredient names I can’t pronounce, then bitching about how I suck at cooking, then bitching about my rent, which somehow always feels tangentially related to every topic when you live here. The point being, it wasn’t fun anymore.
It’s easy to forget that creativity can be (should be?) fun, or at least, derivative of some form of joy. When I began my Xanga at age 14, I didn’t know what I wanted to do or be. The first entry is downright painful to read (dramatic, attention-seeking, and about some dbag senior who made out with me and said he liked me a lot but then didn’t really want to date!!!). As time went on, however, I began to look forward to coming home from school to write in my Xanga. Not just because I disliked a lot of my classes and thought eating microwavable Pizza Bagels and talking to my friends on a landline for six hours was what life was all about (not sure I was that far off, actually), but because I found a community and a voice on Xanga. And I felt autonomous over that voice.
I learned quickly that writing a self-piteous diatribe about a senior guy not liking me (totally over it by the way!!) did not get as good of a reaction as, say, me writing a story poking fun at a naive high school chick just trying to eat Pizza Bagels and talk to her friends and get over senior guys who were clearly using her. I began to craft, daily, some hybrid of journal writing and storytelling, that attempted to be funny or witty or maybe even beautiful on occasion, and have my peers (in its heyday, maybe 50), comment and react to it. And I got better based on their feedback, though none of this was a self-aware process. These were prehistoric likes and shares and comments. The whole thing was a natural occurrence. I didn’t have a goal to write daily and I had never even thought of becoming a writer.
Of course, the internet changed, and everyone left Xanga for the greener pastures of legit websites. I got older and wrote about things that were more serious and more elegant, but often less pure and joyous. As every writer knows (really anyone with an internet connection knows), you often have to write things in a censored way, or present yourself in a certain way, ever-aware that privacy is historic and what you post is public forever. There’s no moral compass or nostalgic value proposition I’m attaching to any of this, but when I got an invite to ello today, it made me remember what I used to think the internet was, and how much it helped me back when it was, perhaps, as naive as I was.