Tag Archives: Anonymity

Being The Story

Yesterday I ran into a friend. The last time we met, this friend visited me at a new home I was building. I was also newly engaged. So obviously, that would be the starting point of our conversation, a picking up where the thread dropped off. I rolled my eyes wryly and said,

“So much has happened since then. I don’t live there anymore. I’m not engaged anymore.”

My friend’s immediate, almost urgent reply was,

“My good friend is close to him so I will not comment.”

I have navigated hundreds of such conversations in the past six years.

I had a (somewhat) public relationship. Given that I write about relationships and the fact that they form such an important part of my existence, I found it hard not to. Shutting up about that would essentially mean to quit blogging, which would be akin to losing a kidney, a limb and maybe a few other vital organs. But my partner was not an open individual (quite the opposite) and I felt I had to respect his privacy too. So I have never mentioned him by name and I have only sparingly offered details of our relationship, while trying to be honest and open about my own feelings and thoughts (these are mine and I’ve never felt the need to have anyone else’s permission to share them). This has been the trickiest juggling I’ve done in all my adventures with anonymity since I began in 2004.

I didn’t have a chance to think about how this would turn out, if we parted ways. And given how suddenly everything crashed, I barely made it out alive, let alone with enough stability to think clearly. The thing with sudden disasters is that you don’t get time to stop and collect your thoughts. The world hits you with life, even as you’re still lying on the ground with your heart ripped open, bleeding from wounds you didn’t even realise had opened up and were being systematically poisoned. You just learn to cope and hope to heal on the fly, as you get carried along on the rollercoaster ride called life.

In six years, I have run into, got back in touch with and in some way reconnected with possibly hundreds of people. Most people in my world have some connection to my narrative through my blogs, my work and having interacted with me on digital. I have tried to keep my narrative as true to myself but it has to be a filtered, edited one, for reasons of safety and respecting the privacy of other people connected with me. This includes exes, even the ones who have behaved in very, very bad ways.

Last year a friend screenshotted something my ex had put up and sent it to me. I wish she hadn’t. I was not even thinking about him and seeing this forced me to remember his existence in an unnecessarily immediate and close way. She said she thought it would make me feel better but it didn’t.

A few months ago, somebody else told me about someone who liked my ex. They said they were concerned about this person and that they were making a terrible choice. I get that concern. But I don’t get what I am supposed to do in this. This story has nothing to do with me.

Now…

“My good friend is close to him so I will not comment.”

I felt knocked for a loop by my friend’s statement. Because I was starting a conversation and their response was a very clear iron-curtain style wall. The last thing that was called that was part of something the world knew as Cold War. Why did my friend feel the need to rush in with that statement when I had not even asked for comment? Possibly they thought I was seeking validation, asking for them to join me in bashing my ex. I wasn’t. I was just telling my story.

But, in the very act of writing this down, I feel my balance restore itself to normal. I cannot fault my friend for not thinking this through. After all, they haven’t seen me in years. I can also see the good intentions behind the actions of the other friends. They were offering commiseration in their own awkward ways. They were also trusting that I would act with sanity rather than viciousness and while that is overwhelming, it is also inspiring. Maybe I can be that person if people think I can be. I write a narrative that is one that inspires me. And I can only write it if I live it. I am so glad to be a writer.

 

The difficulty in writing your own story is having to explain every word and every edit. But maybe that is also the best thing about it. Remembering the story, that’s all that’s important. The story of me.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

 

An Edited Lifestory

Recently someone told me,

“I see you and you’re going everywhere. So many events and places.”

This is from someone who has met me maybe once before at a common friend’s home. She judges my life and me, based on my Facebook timeline and my Instagram feed. What do these say?

My Instagram feed runs a daily (as often as I can manage it) micropoem peppered with selfies and the occasional social situation with other people. I know most people don’t realise this but I would expect a writer to know that writing is done alone, and usually at home or in quiet, unassuming places. If 99% of my feed is writing, what does that say about my life?

My Facebook timeline is very similar and also has updates of my blogposts, an occasional video or two. There’s always the gazillion photos that one gets tagged in for going to one event. Then there are the unconnected updates/article shares by that one friend who will insist on tagging one in the digital equivalent of “Poke, poke, see what I saw RIGHT NOW”. And that feature I absolutely detest which is Facebook telling the whole world about any event that I Maybe showed some interest in. When I can manage it, I delete such updates but I haven’t yet figured out how to turn them off completely, if that’s even possible. And thus, even without my trying, Facebook projects me as someone who Does These Cool Things, Visits These Awesome Places, Knows These Wonderful Things, Ain’t It Awesome!

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The sea always makes me like this. So glad I live on an island. I'm waiting for @ishmeetnagpal and building up my courage to go up on stage at 8. Our @SexonomicsBand set today is called 'What will people say?' and satirises social approval and calls out the casual misogyny in everyday language. I want to have fun with it because I think that's best way to effect change, to inspire thought, to perform and well… to live. Thank you for giving me a place to speak and a sea to love. #poet #poetry #Poem #openmic #featureperformer #spokenword #liveperformance #performancepoetry #performance #shayar #shaayari #sher #ghazal #mehfil #maqta #verse #rhyme #poetryisnotdead #poetrycommunity #livepoetry

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I understand that a viewpoint on someone’s life based solely on their projected digital feed is naive. It is also the more common way people think since most do not like expending too much thought on other human beings. Since I need to spell that out (and I did to her), I reiterate,

IdeaSmith is a persona, a story I tell. It is not fake. But it is presented with bits taken from my life that suit that narrative. Nobody has an entire life like that.

This is not something people want to hear. Readers of my blog who meet me usually sound disappointed that I’m not scarier/prettier/younger/older/wiser/more X/less Y. And now, the stage brings its own joys and price to be paid. So people who saw one (grainily shot on phone) video or heard me perform someplace assume that I’m ANGRY, unfriendly, snooty or any number of other things all the time. To be honest, I don’t really mind what mostly-strangers think about me and the stories they slot me into my own head. Real Me would just like to be left alone and free from the punishments that they pile on when their illusion is destroyed.

I miss the days when I was anonymous, before Twitter and Facebook before IP address tracking became easy. I was just an odd little creature somewhere on the internet who wrote some interesting stuff maybe and some blah things. Nobody cared what my life choices were. No one bothered whether I was Strong Independent Woman Who Saves The World every minute or not. I know I sound ungrateful because this attention, this visibility is a privilege. I know it. I just wish it didn’t constantly demand that I stand accused of disappointing strangers 100% of the time.

I also thought about where Real Me sits, since I clearly don’t share it on Facebook or Instagram. Well, Real Me sits in my real life. Real Me is coping with the emotional violence that is a hallmark of everyday city life. Real Me is surviving (just about) the microaggressions that are heaped on any woman by people you wouldn’t suspect such as electricians, watchmen, waiters, fellow commuters. Real Me is clinging on desperately to self-esteem as the media and popular opinion everywhere tries to snatch it away from me with knives labelled body-shaming, slut-shaming, sanskari values and co-dependence. Real Me is dry-heaving from the breath getting knocked out by ghosting and betrayal by friends. Real Me is grappling with a monster called stage fright on a battleground called performance. Real Me is worrying about bills, about growing old, about that mysterious ache, about those strange sounds in the night. Real Me has had a very, very bad 2017 indeed and is just thankful it’s almost over and then scared that December is going to be a big whammy. Real Me has had a nightmare of a month (for some very dark personal reasons that won’t be gotten into) and sees no respite any time soon.

No, none of these are things anyone wants to hear about or even see. Why would an inherently contained person such as I, want to share that on social media? No, sharing is not therapy. Writing is not healing; it’s catharsis. And the catharsis of venting online is far outweighed by the dangers of trolls, digital footprints visible to future employers/relationships and the internet’s ability to actively misunderstand. Real Me has also been attacked so often and in some many vicious ways that keeping quiet seems easier. And after all this, Real Me is still somebody who doesn’t really like thinking of herself (myself?) as a victim in a sad story. Documenting something makes it real for beyond that minute that one experiences it. Why would Real Me want to extend this living nightmare beyond its run?

For what it’s worth, this blog still feels a lot more like Real Me than the other platforms, maybe because I still feel like Ramya-within-a-safe-space here rather than Brand IdeaSmith. So, if you’re human, please don’t be an asshole. Well, okay, be one if that’s all you’re capable of. Real Me and this blog have a spam filter. Real Me really does not have time to care about you if you won’t be kind.

And whichever you are, thank you for reading so far. That’s both IdeaSmith and Real Me speaking.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

I Miss…

I miss my anonymity. I miss the nondescriptness of a tacky, one-of-the-available-six templates of my blog. I miss the charm of, “So who is Ideasmith really?”-“I’m just a faceless voice. I’m just a statistic” conversations.

I miss the lightness of being unknown. I miss the comfort of merging into the masses. I miss being average. I miss having an unenviable life and one that people who do listen, are willing to commiserate with.

I miss the striving and the unawareness of drudgery. I miss the struggles from before they became stressful. I miss the gentleness of meaningless fantasies, cheap & plentiful like soap bubbles. Also just as pretty and joyful.

I miss being in my twenties. Come to think of it, I missed them the first time round too. Or maybe not. You don’t get to thirty-one (soon 32) without passing through 20, 21, 22…and so on. Even if you didn’t live them as you think you should have, even if you didn’t relish the meal, it did go down your throat, past your heart and right into you.

I wonder what 32 tastes like.

Lurker

I never said hi
Or so much as a may I
Before I read
The words that you’d bled
Onto the screen
The only go-between
From you to this reader unseen

I never offered praise
Or observation on your ways
Or shielded you
From barbs the others threw
No response, no judgment
No replies to the questions you sent
Out into ether, not even acknowledgment

I watch you
That’s what I do
You entertain, you amuse
You also provoke thought, when you so choose
Your missteps, your very frailty leaves me nothing to say
It’s also the reason I’ll never go away
Where your words go, my mind will follow
Unquestioning, silent every step of the way

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

A long, very long time since I rhymed. So long ago that I even heard creaks in my head when I was turning over each word. But many of them just happened so I didn’t agonize over the ones that didn’t.

As a blogger, I know the frustration, the maddening silence of the vast majority of my readers. The ones that never comment, never answer a poll or a question, never show me their existence except in the mysterious numbers on my stats charts. But oddly, I also know the side of me that clicks through every album visible to me on the social network, spends an entire night reading every post on a particular blog, ego-surfs the names of people I know slightly (or better)….and never mentions a word of it to the person it’s about.

I know that person, by nature, is never acknowledged publicly. There’s a heavy stigma around the word ‘lurker’ with associations of creepiness and stalking. But perhaps because the newfound title of writer gives me carte blanche to be curious, maybe because I can explain it away in the pretty sentence of “Every person has a story”, I acknowledge the lurker in me.

This post is for all those nameless people, you know who you are, who’ve kept me pondering and wondering and agonizing. But really, it’s also for the people whose lives I’ve vicariously lived, who’ve shared with such generosity, the important moments of their lives, in blogposts and photographs, the people in whose lives I lurk. Thank you for everything.

BlogAdda 11: Reader Devo Bhava!

My post on BlogAdda this week, talks about building a relationship with your reader community. This would seem a little odd to people who knew me 6 years ago, in my early blogging days. Yes, I used to be a touch-me-not blogger who wouldn’t respond to comments or any correspondence from my readers. But much has changed since then, my own attitude the least of them all.

This is the era of connections, of actively seeking them out and building on them. It benefits the people at both ends of the connection. Do read this post and let me know what you think!

Also, since this is a free WordPress domain and I don’t enjoy the benefit of the In Series plug-in anymore, here are the earlier articles for your reference.

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Other articles in this column:

  1. Checklist For A Blogger
  2. Building Access: Feeds & Link-sharing
  3. Protecting Your Privacy
  4. Is Your Blog Facebooked?
  5. The Twitter Birdie At Your Blog
  6. Dress Up Your Blog
  7. Dear Reader, Stay Awhile Longer
  8. Group Blogs: Becoming A Part Of The Online Community
  9. The Internet Undesirables
  10. Blogger Profiles: Creating An Identity For Your Blog
  11. Reader Devo Bhava!
  12. “This happened today…”: Blogging An Event

I believe that the audience is an integral part of any artist’s performance. In the case of a writer (or specifically, the blogger), the readers play this role. Any blogger who says that they don’t care about readers, has to be lying. If you didn’t care, you’d write in a private diary, not on a website visible to the whole connected world! So you can see why a blogger needs to establish a tangible connection with his/her readers. A good blogger ensures that his/her content is fresh, top-quality and recent. A great blogger goes the extra mile by thinking about how to make the blog, a real experience for the reader.

(Click here to read the full post on BlogAdda)

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BlogAdda 3: Protecting Your Privacy

My third post is up on BlogAdda. Last week I talked about how to build accessibility for a blog through feeds and link-sharing mechanisms. This week I take a look at the exact opposite.

While the internet opens you up to a broad range of people and experiences, it also leaves you open to a number of undesirable elements. Fortunately, filtering mechanisms are available that can help you tailor your online presence with the level of accessibility and privacy that suits you the best. Privacy is as relevant an issue as accessibility and I felt that after talking about how to make one’s blog visible, it was vital to know how to also protect oneself online.

(Click here to read the post)

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The Intrusive Internet

I promise you, I’m not going to preach, I’ll try not to editorialize and I’ll keep the ranting to a minimum. All I’m going to do, is tell you three stories, all of them based on fact.

Story no.1: A Twitter Tale

@randomstranger: I’m in XYZ location. Who is here?

@friendswhoshouldknowbetter: I’m here. And @ideasmithy is in this area too.

Just for the record, I don’t even know @randomstranger and from what I can see, the tweet wasn’t particularly inquiring about my location. As a subsidiary point, I checked out FourSquare earlier this year and deleted my account since I find it too privacy-intrusive.

Story no.2: The Date

I met my date in a very public place at an event. Understandably there were people I knew there. We shook hands all around, introductions were made, everyone mingled. We left later and went to a nearby restaurant that is known, if at all, for how quiet (decently so) and discreet it is.

Some of my friends turned up there as well. It’s not completely an unknown place after all. The sighting, the recognition, even the teasing faces from the nearby table were all normal and manageable.

What came as a unwelcome surprise the next morning was to see twitter updates of my evening as well as a photograph of my date and I. Thankfully, my date’s face is not visible. I say ‘thankfully’ only because it’s bad enough having my privacy invaded by my friends, imagine how mortifying to discover that they intruded on his as well!

Story no.3: It’s art, not life

A friend of mine is an artist and has shown me some of his sketches in the past for feedback. Recently he has also started sharing his work on Facebook for more feedback and conversation with his audience. One of them is a reworked sketch based on some of my comments.

I logged in to find myself tagged in one of his pictures. I clicked on the notification only to find myself looking at a slightly familiar sketch of a couple engaged in a hot clinch. It wasn’t till I saw his comment that I realized he was asking for my opinion on the revised sketch. The first thing that hit my eyes (and I suspect it will be the only one for the average viewer) was that I was the only one tagged in a picture of a hot couple.

Now all the people I’ve mentioned in these three stories are friends. They are intelligent, nice and not particularly insensitive. I know for a fact that each of their actions could be deemed thoughtless at worst but not worse than that. However, the consequences of each of these could be pretty drastic.

My long struggle with anonymity and open identity has been fraught with questions of this sort. It just seems like people will take extra care if you force them to, with an artificial construct like an anonymous handle or a vehement policy of no photographs. But in the more prevalent ways of the world, most people seem to be quite insensitive about such things.

I promised I wouldn’t editorialize and I won’t, mainly because I don’t know how to with this post. I can’t take my anonymity back. I can (and already have) requested said friends to rectify the situation. But I have no way of ensuring that such things don’t happen again. And I sure as hell can’t teach people to be sensitive to things that could affect me.

Thoughts?

Traveller’s Tales

A young man travels in search of adventure, in search of tales, tall if at all, to tell back home. It’s a quest for personal glory. There is also romance, the search for beautiful women, for the luxuries of life and for triumph over difficult situations.

Why do we travel?

A quest, a search for someone or something? But some of us just are running away. At the end of the travels, we find just what we were trying so hard to leave behind and we realize that we’ve been carrying it within us all along. That, indeed, we’re trying so very hard to hide from ourselves and finally, that the further we go, the nearer we come to ourselves. Because a traveler knows, no matter how light you travel, you always carry your mind with you.

In a new situation, where no one knows you, you can be whoever you want. Anonymity is the opportunity to create a new identity. And then comes along someone who knows you. Some titbit of news and the opening notes of a familiar song. With it, a growing feeling of panic and relief rolled into one.

Panic as the fear of being pulled back into whatever the old identity most threatened. Relief at finding out that, uncomfortable as it was, being you is the only home there is.

~O~O~O~O~O~

Epilogue: I read this at the Caferati Open Mic event at Prithvi today. Some pieces are better read than read out aloud and I realized mine probably fall in the former.

Those of you who have been following my blog-adventures will probably see in a minute that this piece was less to do with any tangible travel and more about my own personal journey from anonymity to…identity, perhaps?

For the record, two people showed some appreciation – a good friend and a stranger who kept looking at me before I read and then asked me out to coffee after I had finished. No further comment.

Write Like No One’s Reading

I read a book of short stories. A compilation of pieces by different people with little or no prior creative writing experience. The book had an introduction to each of them – a brief glossary of details, character sketches in a few lines. I also had a chance to meet one of the authors. I had thought that his story was autobiographical (and perhaps it was). But when I met him, I could only think…he was so unlike his story.

One of the other authors used a pen-name and his (her?) description stated that it was a pseudonym. No more said, nothing more required, I think. If I could, that’s the approach I would have chosen to adopt too. Tough enough to deal with people’s reactions to one’s story, who wants the added complication of reactions to one’s self?

I think that perhaps writers should not reveal their real selves to their readers, except through their craft. It is rather prentitious of me to think of what I will or will not do when I write, considering I’ve never really had anything major published outside my blog. In any case, my anonymity is a laugh now – a thin, cotten screen against a sunlit window that gives away even the pace of one’s breathing by its reverberations.

Anonymity once lost, can never be regained.

I am reminded of my mother drilling this into my head when I was about twelve. Except she was talking about a girl’s honour. Oh well, that which we treasure deeply is easily lost, irreplaceably so, no matter even if it is no use to anyone else. And I think perhaps there is too much curiosity in this world.

They also say that innocence once lost…the question is can one really write like no one’s reading, when one knows that everyone is? People who like what I write say that I write from the heart. And perhaps I have been, thus far. But when knowledge, the consciousness of an audience, their judgement, their values, their opinions, their feelings…all of that come into the picture, is it possible for writing to remain about what comes from the heart anymore?

I think it is a misnomer to say that a writer is unaffected by his/her readers. And I really believe that any blogger who says that they don’t care about their readers is lying. If you really didn’t care, you’d write a diary instead of a blog.

When you know you are being read and by people you know and that you may be asked to explain yourself, justify your emotions (unjustifiable as they may be), explain your thoughts (inexplicable as they may be) and elaborate on your words (as mundane as they may be), don’t you automatically move into either pandering to what you’re being asked to do – or – turn defensive and adopt the proverbial FO attitude? Either way it shows. And your writing is never the same again.

And then again, as your writing starts to become more important to you, the power balance shifts. Instead of you influencing your writing, what you write starts to influence you. So, as your writing gets bolder, smoother, more polished, you do as well. Sometimes you become a player and anonymity, just a game of shifting, transmuting identities.

I am lost in my own words
trapped in a world of my own making
where I am no more than a collage of other people’s impressions.

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