This is exactly the kind of post I hate reading.

What mask?
An unfinished painting from 2007 I’d forgotten about

As an angry teen and former Catholic, I liked the term “confessional poetry.” Reading this stuff was exactly like eavesdropping on someone’s self-indulgent and dirty therapy session. It inspired the kind of writing I’d hope to do someday.

Now that I can thumb through 200+ pages of words I’ve written in a form that doesn’t agree with me at all, I can see I tried too hard. Telling the story was annoying enough, I didn’t need to make it complicated. Whatever. It’s over.

So now I smile and frolic back here to my unassuming blog, to my needy journals, stretch my fingers, examine my favorite pens, think all my short-lived thoughts, highlight a magazine article, merrily jot out a sentence then… distracted – I click, I scroll.

On the social media, I scroll.

On the comments of articles, I scroll.

On the cheerfully filtered photos with deeply contrasted captions, I scroll.

On the emailed newsletters, I scroll.

People my age have had the opportunity to “grow up” on the internet. Our lives acclimated in pace to the advance of technology. We watched sex tapes launch celebrities. We marveled at glamorous eating disorders, blatant pedophilia, and dramatic addiction. Privacy and anonymity became a shore we felt more comfortable losing sight of. So we jumped on ships, took a bunch of photos with digital cameras, said a lot of words to the imagined masses and shared them. With others. Also on ships of self-indulgence.

We began to ride the waves of validation, buoyed by hearts and thumbs up reactions. Some people should work on their aesthetic but as a generation we collectively know the story we tell about….anything… can get us attention. In this economy, attention means money.

This is a boring and not-abnormal human behavior, I think. Something about the survival of the fittest, I’m sure. The self-revelation has just changed a bit. In today’s version of flash-“confessional poetry,” I think even Sylvia Plath would roll her eyes.

Over and over again, I see posts and comments of people baring their souls. Such troubled, broken, traumatized souls. [read: a human soul.] Look, see, I’m flawed. No, no applause, please. I’m just a human trying to “human” in all my self-deprecating glory for all the world to see. Thank you, I am strong, I’m glad you realized that. Nope, no gods or magic – this is all me.

We used to flaunt digital photos of nightclubs and oversized SUVs.

Now, we prostitute our humility.

This is me too, by the way. I enjoy the written challenge of having a reader feel as awful as I have felt. (“How do I describe overwhelming nausea that made swallowing my spit super challenging? Hmm… what’s another word for shamesosuffocatingIwannablowmybrainsout? I’ll check…“) But maybe, just maybe [insert wistful sigh and a dreamy distant look] they’ll walk away with a little hope. [insert eye twinkle]

But this has always been my habit. Even as a five-year-old with deep five-year-old thoughts, I’d scribble inspired markings on notepads and tell my mom I was writing a story and could she please leave me alone. Delusions of grandeur.

That is still me. It sounds pretentious to call it “writing” though. It is just me documenting the digestion of my thoughts and experiences. Actual scribbles. There isn’t an art to it at all, it’s just for record-keeping purposes. On the internet sometimes. In a journal usually.

It’s so weird how the bank teller was so nice to me last Friday but today, she didn’t even laugh at my frostbite joke. I should have checked her hands, made sure she wasn’t missing any fingers. No, if she was missing a finger, I would’ve noticed as I handed her the deposit slip. She lives in San Diego, where would she have gotten frostbite? I think toes are easier to lose than fingers… I can’t see her feet from the counter. Maybe my frostbite joke just wasn’t funny. This is why I can’t make female friends.

But, the internet.

It has inspired people newly acquainted with their thoughts to share them. Publicly. That is a dangerous thing.

It is dangerous because it’s a new party with new rules — this “honesty” vibe is a whole new scene. You show up and smile, everyone likes you enough especially if you’ve filtered your photos well. But now you’ve said something controversial and people are keeping an eye on you. This is when your dance begins.

Eyes can give supportive and interested glances. Eyes can also roll, very judgy. This new attention can be intoxicating so it is maneuvered in an effort to not lose balance. People hope to harness this energy into sponsorship from a treatment center, energy drink, or roll it into a podcast. Must. look. good. and. flawed. Keep dancing. The goal is to be real, relatable, genuine — authentic. The dirtier and grimier you can get, the better. But still maintain enough distance so people don’t think you are actually, still right now, gross and dirty. A delicate dance that when performed with rehearsed mistakes, will garner you admiration and there is always someone that’ll say, “OMG me too!” My generation loves these words. We don’t want any of that fake TV shit. We grew up on reality TV and we know it’s scripted.

“I’m going to share a deep dark secret, and I’m going to overdramatize every ounce of it so you know just how real it is. I’ll pretend to have grown from this secret but in truth, I just use it as a launching pad to excuse my incessant need for your validation. I need you to tell me, with likes and comments (absolutely do not under any circumstances actually reach out to me in a human capacity with a phone call or text message, keep it all on social media so people can see how important I am), that my content is marketable so I can become an influencer and live off that sweet internet cash and take glossy IG travel pics. If you don’t, I will act out and break the third wall, then go super meta with an apology about how all that just happened because I didn’t get enough validation. But don’t call me. Or text me. Keep your comments on social media.”

We’ve traded in strobe-lit nightclubs for early morning feed-the-homeless photo ops and replaced a gas-guzzling SUV for humble bicycle pics. Then there was the trading-in of our good intentions, privacy, and dignity. Those things were all fleeting anyway. We used to tease intimacy on the internet by providing a peek into everyday lives. Spark a little curiosity. If you wanted more, pay $7.99 for the Chinese lunch special to stumble a dance face-to-face with an awkward absurdity in knowing each other with the naked transparency we saw on the internet. Sometimes it works. Sometimes at least you got lunch.

But, no. Now, these days at an introduction, we throw the clothes off our souls for cheeseburgers. We don’t even care if the buns are gluten-free or moldy. Is the beef grass-fed or, you know what? If the soft calf is still bloody and smiling at us that’s great! At least it’s giving us attention.

Still, don’t forget that danger. If you haven’t previously mastered living a double-life in the past, like since the age of five, take it slow. Only once you’ve had both lives crash and burn will you be able to sort through the wreckage in order to reconcile the internet-you with the fleshy-you. Honestly, that’s the sweet spot though.

Now your oversharing is less a grotesque rotting meat market and more of a cute boutique deli.

To continue mixing bad metaphors, that dance of humility that you’ve been practicing and rehearsing? It’s like muscle memory now! Just in time, because people are scrolling while they’re sitting on the toilet or waiting for their drug dealer so they have a couple of seconds to spare.

Are you ready to perform your rehearsed confessional now? Make it a good comeback, extra humble — heck, it can go viral. Hey, with that kind of exposure, you can become a life coach. The internet is your oyster…

Anne Sexton wouldn’t necessarily be proud but what did she know, anyway? She didn’t even have any IG followers.

And we are magic talking to itself,
noisy and alone. I am queen of all my sins
forgotten. Am I still lost?
Once I was beautiful. Now I am myself…

-Anne Sexton