When did you come out of the closet?

(Please note: The above title was supposed to be “When did you come out of the blog closet” but I am so irritated with the word “blog” and how it sounds, I have decided to stop using it.)

I get a lot of email from folks who take part in SPD asking me to change their name, or not say their name and where they live at the same time. Some folks have actually asked that I remove their information from our database altogether because, after some thought kicks in, they begin to fear the return of a long lost lurker, someone contacting them they no longer wish to speak with, or their employer finding out and firing them, Dooce-style. And each and every time I happily make the change without hesitation.

A few years ago, while Toby Joe and I were still living in D.C. a guy showed up down at the pool hall we used kick around in. I probably wrote about the place as much as we hung out there. For those of you who have been reading for that long, you will remember the place. And for those of you who have been reading for that long, my condolences to you and whatever sickness you have that keeps you coming back.

The first time the guy showed up at Bedrock, he said nothing. Instead, he stood there, at the bar, next to where we were all shooting pool and lurked. Come to think of it, I guess that was his thing, lurking. The next time he showed up at the pool hall he brought a friend for confidence. I was approached.

You’re mihow. You like Songs: Ohia. You work downtown. I know you.

I humored him with uncomfortable laughter and a few nods.

Yes, and how might you know all of this?

I asked him as if I didn’t already know the answer. I was probably drunk at the time. Who knows. What creeped me out the most about what he was saying, and the information he had was that it was coming from different places. He was mentioning things from here and Friendster. And that worried me because that put other friends at risk. (It’s like that HIV pyramid, only not nearly as life-threatening and serious.)

As he attempted to “get to know me” better, Toby Joe (who was standing right there each and every time) became more and more ruffled. This fella introduced me to his friend using another make-believe name. I greeted him, kindly enough, but not too kindly. Toby Joe, freaked out and annoyed by the whole thing, and rightly so, began to step forward. After a pool cue wielding sword fight, the guy finally got it and stopped showing his face.

A few weeks ago, a “real” friend of mine asked me some very strange questions.

Does having a blog ever creep you out? Do folks pretend to know you when they don’t? Do you get followed?

I was happy to answer “No” to all of her questions. There have only been a handful of times over the past three years where I could have felt “creeped out”. Off the top of my head, every time an Internet person has made contact, the relationship has ended with success. (It’s a really good thing I am not hot or at all popular.)

To be honest, I am more creeped out when I realize a tangible friend finds this site. There have been folks I know who have said things like, “I have been reading your Web site for months now.” or they hint about something I haven’t ever told them but they know because they lurk. That creeps me out a little bit, actually.

This morning I received an email from someone asking that I change his or her name slightly. I didn’t hesitate for a second. But it had me thinking about how things have changed around here over the course of three years. At first, I would use only mihow. I freaked out if someone mentioned my name at all. I remember getting upset with Toby a few times for using “Howley” in a sentence in the comments. He would have to delete it and correct it and all was safe again. And back then, boy did I ever bitch about work. I can’t believe the things I wrote about back then believing that no one could or ever would find me. Boy was I wrong. But that’s a story for another not so sunny New York day.

About six months ago, I started to come out of the closet. I began to use my full name and talk about my family members, friends and husband. While I’m still not sure this was a wise decision, it does keep me from stomping my angry ass up to the keyboard each and every day and writing about all the things in which I hate. Instead, I bitch about all the things I hate to Toby Joe every night. When your name is on something, you tend to think about it a bit more. Though, I’m not sure that’s a good thing or a bad thing. The jury is still out on that one.

My name is Michele. I live in Brooklyn. Toby is my husband. I started this Web site at 27 but I didn’t come out of the closet when I was 30. On March 23rd, this site will be three years old.

59 Comments

  1. i’ve had more and more anxiety lately about exactly this, and b/c of that have noticed how brave you’ve gotten. and for the record i also hate the word blog and go through these moments where i try to keep people i meet, new friends, from knowing i have one. one time i thoughtlessly used my last name on my site, it was indexed even though i changed the page within hours, and lots of people found me who i wouldn’t have wanted to find me.

    i am freaked out when ex boyfriends suddenly aim me, with a sort of smugness, because they think they have a clue about my life because of the blog when the blog covers about 1/10 of 1%, as anyone who actually has a blog knows. i’m freaked because my boss at my consulting gig, and his wife over his shoulder, found my blog after googling everyone in the office. along with my mother and who knows who else. i am always borderline terrified someone will decided they hate or love me, and run a who is on my domain. i wish there were ways to make things private, while still making entities accountable for the domains they buy.

    before recently there was a wider gap between ppl i knew who visited my domain, and friends whew knew i had a blog (and did or didn’t read it). i’m lucky that i’ve never had anyone physically find me like you have, and also that everyone i’ve met has been a good person. somehow it still doesn’t make me feel totally safe, if a lurker decided to go another way.

    i want people and friends to read it but i feel less and less able to actually write about anything going on, or about anything that i actually care about. mine’s only less than two years old. maybe over time i’ll feel more comfortable to come out of the closet as well. or think of interesting, neutral subjects to cover.

    whatever. my name is mia. and i have a blog.

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  2. I’m so glad I read this this morning. For a long time, my site was a big secret and I too, got totally freaked out by friends who would mention that they had found it, or talk about things I’ve written that I couldn’t possibly have mentioned to them. Kind of creepy but in a nice ‘you’re not stalking me’ kind of way.

    These past few weeks, a number of people who a year or two ago I wouldn’t have dreamed of letting know about ‘mintyfresh’ have all found out about it through me, or through one of the mutual friends I had just mentioned it to. And you know, the response I’ve gotten from those people I had always kept it from has been overwhelmingly positive. So positive that I can’t remember why I had ever decided not to mention it in the first place.

    Thank you for sharing this!

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  3. I just found out that a guy at work has a site. I found out on the sly and then he actually told me about it last week. I felt kind of bad already knowing that he had one. And now I feel kind of bad that he knows I know. He writes pretty freely about work. I don’t want him to think that he has to check his words now. I am not a whistle-blower (well, not in this case anyway… maybe if someone was embezzling or something).

    I also recently took up my own site again. I know he’s reading it so that makes me hestitant to write about just anything. To me it’s like a diary and I want it to be private a little bit. I need to get over that, I guess.

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  4. Oh no no no! Don’t get over that. I think there is a wonderful place for both! I love the online anonymous places as much as I like the people who put a name to it. Lord knows, there has been a number of times where I have considered creating a site and keeping it entirely anonymous, hiring a “broker” and everything. We’ll see if that happens. :]
    I love both avenues. I think the confusion and frustration happens when folks are half in and half out, you know?

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  5. But you are hot darlin’ you really are. Even more so for not realizing it.

    Now excuse me have an appointment w/ SPD

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  6. the bedrock guy does sound kinda creepy….and you wonder why I didn’t introduce myself to toby when I saw him that first time at the pottery studio. :)

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  7. Hm. Maybe I am going in the other direction. I don’t want any of my stuff published online ever, other than work related things. Even when I post pics on my flickr thing, I don’t even title them anymore. I have given up on my actual blog thing altogether. I remember that I used to be much more free with info, but have gradually grown more reclusive over the last couple of years.

    As far as creepiness, I remember those little forum-get-together-things that used to happen often (ie. dreamless), and you’d see pics afterwards of tons of people who were only lurkers. you don’t like to post or particpate in the actual forum, but you will show up to it’s events? weird.

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  8. Sometimes, I wonder what these words sounds like in the minds of other people. I just took a step aside for a minute and tried to reread what I wrote today as a person who is not me, and I think I sound like a big know-it-all, assclown. I assure you, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Sometimes, I write whatever comes to my head and I probably shouldn’t have written at all. I tend to do that, spew off at the brain. :]
    Andrea, I have to agree, there are days where I just want to say “ah, screw it.” and stop writing altogether. And someday, I am sure that is bound to happen. There is only so long one can keep at it, you know?
    Not sure where I’m going with this comment. Will. Stop. Now.

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  9. you’re nobody til somebody stalks you.

    now for the other side of the coin: i only read two blogs, yours and ptiza odelay’s. i read them because i am entertained by them. yet i still feel a sense of voyeurism that borders on creepy. now if i were reading your column in a newspaper, would i feel the same way? not at all. why? i think it must have to do with the breaking of the third wall. like i know that i can enter into dialog with you at any point in time.

    with mihow.com it is a little bit different because you and i know eachother from other arenas, so i feel a bit more at ease. with chickensoupforthevegansoul.com i often feel uncomfortable about posting a reply because of the fear of coming across as a creep.

    i know this is a thin and strange comparison to make, but i have a similarly feeling at times if i am alone on an elevator with a woman. i know, this sounds fucked up, but because i have friends who have worked rape hotlines, i am so concerned to the point of hypersensitivity that the woman may feel uncomfortable that i make myself uncomfortable.

    and, having left that long and creepy reply, i’m off to freak out someone else.

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  10. “i have a similarly feeling”.

    dammit.

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  11. You can talk to me on the lift.
    Even if your eyes do shift.
    You can comment on my site.
    As long as you know I’m always right.
    You can drive me in your jeep.
    And none of it deems you a creep.

    (I figure it this way, if I’m creepy enough, maybe people will feel less creepy by coming forward and saying hello. Hence, my über creepy poem.)

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  12. That was, by FAR, the most RIDICULOUS thing I have ever actually written.

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  13. haha. yes. it was. i think. though i may print out all of your archives and pore over them in a creepy manner to see if i can find anything more ridiculous.

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  14. Oh, rest assured, you will find hundreds of equals.

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  15. This has been an interesting thread and post. I’ve often thought about blogging. In fact, mihow, you have suggested it on many occasions. I enjoy writing and I have some funny stories, not to mention three very peculiar children who could easily provide me with enough fodder for one. My problem is not related to my concern for my privacy but to the fact that, ultimately, I’m a superficial person and I know it. I really don’t put the time and energy into recording my thoughts and feelings because I already share the things that I care about or are important to me with anybody who cares to (or can’t avoid) listening to/reading me. I’m beyond candid and frank: I am pretty much indiscreet. At the same time, I like to think I’m honest and sincere, so it’s pretty easy to size me up (or, I have found, to take advantage of me).

    Some bloggers, I think, are ironically more private people. The process of blogging is the work that they have to do to quietly and maybe unobtrusively give language and form (reality?) to things that they think/feel/believe. These writers (not all-but artists like you) take ideas seriously. Their blogs become places where ideas and thoughts can take on a life of their own. But not every posting is weighty, introspective, http-enabled navel gazing. The trivial and quotidian seeps in because you value them too-and it’s your way of giving thanks for them and establishing their worth to you. But what happens then is you are confronted by the fact that strangers/lurkers absorb those details too—as much as they do the bigger questions and ideas you address (if not moreso). And that’s what can be so creepy: they don’t get the point. You’re really not writing about yourself but rather trying to come to grips with things that are much larger than you. It must be shocking to realize how much of yourself you have revealed when that has not been your purpose.
    Or maybe there are just a lot of weirdos out there.

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  16. BTW, Henry will be 9 on March 23.

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  17. I think you’re right about some bloggers being more private in their own life and a bit more open when writing behind a keyboard. And I think it’s wonderful that they have some way to open up and at the same time be heard/read. I think, that for some, this medium has helped them in many ways.
    I think I began writing because I got tired of seeing people feel alone with their insecurities and thoughts. I guess, in an ideal mihow.com, I’d love it if folks would feel ok with admitting they are often frightened, or that they cry, that they’re lonely, bored, discontent, annoyed, happy, pleased with everything, smelly, ugly, fat, insecure, judgmental, etc. I guess I figured if we could all admit to these things we DO feel, then maybe we could become better people? That’s sort of what I hope to achieve. Because lord knows, I have some changing that needs to be done. I have some growing to do and some insecurities to work through.

    Man, I am rambling today. Sorry.

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  18. Ok, I’m a creepy lurker exboyfriend. But what you write is always interesting to read. Perhaps I should just find someone else who is interesting, but whom I never met or dated.
    Seriously.
    Volunteers?
    Seriously.

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  19. My birthday is March 23 too! But I’m a little older then your site!

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  20. Todd, you’re hilarious. And you ain’t no lurker. You had that revoked years ago. :] Also, Sorry we missed your Oscar party, nico and George told me it was Oscar Sunday about four hours before they began.
    Happy almost birthday, Lauren!

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  21. Mihow- I saw your mom last Thursday, and the first thing she said was “Did you read MiHow today?”.
    It struck me as odd but normal.
    Since I hadn’t, she told me what was on it.
    But last Thursday was newsworthy.

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  22. Yeah. :[ Last night Soung asked me to send some more pictures of Katrina to her. And as soon as I opened them up, I began to cry. This will take everyone some time. Especially those who saw her everyday.

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  23. Oh, and the OscarBash this year was nothin’ special. The thing gets bigger every year, and every year more people show up who don’t ‘get it’. This year I think we crossed the 50% threshold.
    It was just sad and lame.
    If (big if) I have it next year, invitations will be minimal.

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  24. Timely post – I signed up for a charity walk, and considered putting info about it on my blog to beg for pledges, but that would put my whole name out there, and I don’t know if I’m ready for that.

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  25. Can you set up a PayPal account? Or does it not work that way.

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  26. i’m laughing now. ian, you dear sweet person who i don’t know.. i’ve been stalked twice at the mall lol (and the 2nd time he followed me up the elevator and into the parking lot and pretened to leave me alone THEN pulled up fast in his amigo jeep lol). but yeah.

    i hate elevators and when men hold the door and expect me to brush past them and let them walk in behind me (where i can’t see them and it honestly scares me more than it should). it’s 99% irrational but i really hate the proximity and lack of exit.

    but you, you even thinking and worrying about making women nervous. you’re sweet and funny and somehow i feel so much better about what goes on in my head when i’m in elevators. you’re so awesome. and this is why i love mihow’s site.

    and p.s. mihow you are so beautiful and smart and hot that maria and i both got nonsexual girlie crushes on you when we started reading back in the day.

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  27. Non-sexual? GOD DAMMIT!

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  28. well… we were scared of toby…

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  29. Mihow you rock! Or I should say, you BEDROCK. I KNEW that pool hall in one of the photos of Katrina was Bedrock. I hang out there too and before any creepy lurkers get any ideas I have a boyfriend (Bartender Dude). Anyway, cool post.

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  30. Wait, are you dating a boy who works at Bedrock? Have we met? I wonder. This world gets smaller and smaller every day. Not that that’s a bad thing. Quite the contrary.

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  31. Happy B-word Birthday soon! I’m glad you came out of the closet, your B-word brings me much joy.

    Did the border table color change? If so I liiike it. If not, ummm…I have to go to the doctor now.

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  32. The background should now be clovers. You know, for St. Patrick’s Day. or something. But if that’s not what things look like out there, then I’m sort of not quite with it. What color is it, however?

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  33. It’s a very nice green with clovers. I’ve been ill for a couple of days, so I wasn’t sure. Ye ole brain is not processing currently. ;)

    It looks very nice! Me likey.

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  34. Very timely post and subject. I have made friends on the internet and all my “real life” friends think I am nuts. I would never want fame or recognition for my blog. 1) it’s not that good – i don’t really try to make it that good and 2) it would FREAK ME OUT if suddenly ppl were talking to me.

    But when my “internet friends” and I started emailing, etc. we all discovered each others’ real names. And for me, I love that. (I love knowing your real name. And I loved being able to email you a few days ago.) But I would never EVER reveal those names or what I know about my friends. To me, it’s a trust that you don’t break. And I love every minute of it!!

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  35. part-timer, you crack me up, lady.

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  36. i am presently, actively lurking.
    So sorry. Can’t help myself…
    I just love reading your writing, but I do feel totally guilty sometimes. It’s so one sided.

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  37. Y’know, I agree with Ian. I don’t read many people’s personal blogs, and I’m always completely freaked out by the comments that are left by complete strangers (“OMG your site is so cool and you’re such a hot funny lady. – Vlad) and of course there’s never just one. The idea that a complete stranger (inevitably a vaguely sinister man, possibly with poor personal hygiene and and an Everquest problem) is reading your thoughts, and thinking about you (…) is enough to make me cringe.

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  38. Hi, mihow—-really appreciate this topic. I can also relate to Charlie’s observations: I love my privacy, yet am so grateful for the opportunity to publically express myself “semi-anonymously” . In fact, you’ve all inspired me to finally begin writing the “why I blog” post I’ve been mulling over for months, now. Thanks.

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  39. I just told my wife about my blog about a week or two ago. She was a bit weirded out about it when she first saw pictures but then she started reading and realized that it was noting more than rants from her ADD afflicted hubby.

    I am a former MiHow lurker…but I would NEVER approach anyone that has a blog I read and just start naming shit about them…that is stalker times 100!!!

    I have a co-worker who has a pretty well named sports blog and he was the one who convinced me to re-start my little project. BUT he warned me before doing so…once you go public with something it is really hard to take it back so be careful. As a result you will never hear me rant about work…

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  40. I think lurking is A-O.K. actually. I happen to lurk on a number of Web sites, namely because the ones I read often are personal and I would feel silly pretending that I have anything poignant to say. I hope no one thinks of this as a plea to pull every reader from the closet. Because it’s not. Some folks leave comments, some just read, some email, and some call (I’M TALKING TO YOU, SCBOB).
    I was reflecting back on myself and how I have changed. When I first started this, I was barely Internet Ready. I had to ask Toby EVERYTHING. I didn’t know what IRC was, AIM, Blogs, I had no idea how to use HTML or make it so. :] I only knew Flash, just like a handful of other print designers who wanted to pretend to know the Web. Basically, I was still following the rule that everyone on line, outside of my circle of email friends, were either child molesters, 50 year old men pretending to be blond and young, and total nerds rambling about the latest level of SIMS (or whatever). Basically, I feared the Internet whole-heartedly. (Sometimes, I still do. But for other reasons entirely.)
    Now, I know that people are pretty much the same wherever you go. I mean, for every nut bag out there, there are hundreds of really innovative, funny, amazing people. SO I guess I figured, I might as well be me and sink into my skin a little bit more.
    I want to ask a question. Do you think those who are slightly out of the closet and slightly in (meaning, they want to tell folks about their sites and often do but then freak out while writing and suddenly stop because they think they’re giving off too much information and “what if this person reads it?” do you think this shows? Do you think the site becomes inflated and, for lack of a better phrase, eats itself?
    It’s happen to me while I was in that middle ground—the “blog” cocoon, if you will. :]

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  41. Steph – I’m thinking (…) about you right now, you dirty, dirty thing!

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  42. Steph, somehow, this site (at least not to my knowledge) has managed to escape too many weirdoes. I think many folks are aware of the fact that Toby Joe sort of plays the roll of James Caan in Dogville.

    You wouldn’t believe what he has done to some over the years. (Remembers the Goatse incident [or whatever it’s called]).

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  43. I have been very reluctant to tell any of my DC friends about my site…for no other reason that what if I put something up (pic, a line from a night out, something) that offends them and they get mad. I am an open book and there will always be people that will say something negative about a person just to do so…

    With that being said, if a friend of mine found the site…so be it…but I am not going out and telling them anything.

    I decided to do my site for the fun of it but I also wanted to learn in the process. I wanted to teach myself about photography (which I still suck ass at) and some basic internet stuff.

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  44. I have been working on a rant that is sort of based on all of this and has really put a bee in my bonnet as of late: my friends don’t bother to contact me or call because they can check my website for updates instead. Kind of an issue with lurking but different.

    As for coming out – I guess I haven’t really because most people that I know personally know about my website because my ‘sharbean’ persona is attached to most of my work. I have been using that name for years on the web and have come to accept that people know that nickname – and even call me that in person.

    Now that blogging is mainstream there is a whole new crowd of people stopping by who aren’t familiar with the sharbean that exists on the other side of the computer.

    For explanation sake: shar comes from Sharlene which is my name and the bean comes from my love of coffee.

    Beyond that I have a fear of identity theft which could be an irrational fear but it is still there—so my address isn’t attached to my domain or my site.

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  45. Sharbean: read this. It’s sort of similar to what you’re saying, at least in reference to friends/family not calling.

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  46. Wow, that didn’t come out right. And that post was from a long long time ago.

    Clearly, I am freaking out today due the fact that I have an interview this afternoon. My head is jumbled. Forgive.

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  47. Hmmm, I’m feeling conflicted. This was a very interesting post. Should Ohio lurkers, like myself, announce their presence immediately? What is the protocol? I do know that Nikki and I love reading your posts and pose no immediate threat. Being in Ohio and all. :)

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  48. No body needs to introduce themselves at all. :] Seriously. I might swallow my tongue should that happen.

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  49. Not to get off track, but is that even possible – swallowing your own tongue? Medical speaking. :) I should ask my brother. I’m thinking I should go under the title “Ohio Lurker” from now on. Thanks again. Good times.

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  50. I started my one-sided-commentary-journal-on-the-web last year so that I could keep people updated on where I was when I was travelling, instead of having to do mass-emails. When I stopped travelling and started living somewhere, it became more of a typical ‘blog’. I didn’t tell the new friends I had made about it until right before I moved away, 7 months later. I knew that there would be some of them who would read the entire thing to pick out bits about them. In some ways I understand this need; I’m not above it in any way. I’m always afraid to really write about my feelings about people and situations, unless they are positive, so my ‘blog’ becomes more of a running life-commentary. And I have a journal that lives under my bed that I write my feelings in. To my family and friends at home, my site has always been known, some of them choose to visit it, some of them don’t.

    Now that I’m home I have found it hard to find interesting things to write about, things that aren’t just mundane life stories. And I am fairly certain that I know 99% of the 10 readers that actually have found their way to my site.

    Finally, the last comment I’ll make is that it sure is a weird way of staying in touch with the friends I actually see sometimes (as opposed to web-friends), I feel like I know their life much better than I would in a non-web-updated friendship. I get a daily rundown. But it doesn’t have the same interaction as a phone conversation gets ya.

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  51. That post is excellent, Michele – and is exactly what I am feeling (I also have a fear of the telephone – and it kind of sucks being a project manager in that regard). Thanks.

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  52. Clearly, that post was written before I got my comma vaccination.

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  53. Interesting post and comment thread. It kind of gets into the whole “why I bl—” question. Which I ask myself, sometimes, and my husband does. He doesn’t understand why I would want to write about things online rather than talking to him or other people face-to-face. Not that I don’t talk with him, but as an introvert, conversation is a different animal than writing. It’s a hard question to answer, but for now, I enjoy it, and so be it. I did however leave my last name and city off of my site at husband’s request. Which was quite a reasonable request, really. So I guess I still have one foot in and one out of the closet, so to speak. But kudos to your bravery! I’d like to believe that people are basically good as well, and that has been my experience so far.

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  54. BTW, thanks for dropping me a line, mihow. I miss hearing from people when blogger’s all fugged up. Sorry to hear about your friend.

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  55. My preference for anonymity is because as a nobody, I don’t feel I have to live up to anyone else’s expectations of me as an author.

    Also, I can bitch about my boss. :)

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  56. I hate the world blog too. Its like the sound you make just as the vomit forces its way into your mouth. Go ahead, say blog slowly and with some force. See?

    Oh yeah, I am so gonna stalk you when/if I ever come to the “other” New York. You know, the city.

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  57. The word “Blog” is a wicked word indeed.
    I however don’t agree with the comment above me, i guess it’s only posted for the ghastly-ness of it..~

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  58. Crap. Is it St. Patrick’s day already?

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  59. On March 23rd, I will be 26. That makes your blog so young in comparison.

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