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  • Writer's pictureMary

Being Known

I don't pretend to have a big following on any social media platform. If you remember from the last post, I'm bad at updating things (my last Instagram post was from May 5th...). But I'm currently sitting at just a hair under 200 followers on Instagram, a little over 500 friends on Facebook, and around 50 on my largely inactive Twitter that I throw a retweet of some fanart up on every few months. Most of those are overlaps of each other. I don't have 750 unique people reading my posts or checking out my updates.

(I can't count my 240 Tumblr followers because Tumblr is anonymous, and the fact that 240 people follow me there for my random artwork reblogs and Star Wars commentary is wild to me)

I say this because it's weird writing about my life when so many people (to me, anyways) are watching it play out in real time. They're going to see this blog. They're going to read this post. They might know the people who I vaguely mention here and there. Those people I vaguely mention might realize I'm talking about them. And that's terrifying to think about.

I often wonder about writers who write memoirs, or are columnists. How many of them have their work published, sit down happily with their newly earned paycheck for their deep inner thoughts (or fairly shallow ones, no judgement), and then wait in anticipation for the inevitable phone calls and texts? They aren't an isolated person. There are people out there who know them and grew up with them. There are people out there who are proud of them. How do they handle the fact that someone they know might read their work and then immediately call them to tell them that they were wrong, or want to start a debate about their writing?

(There are many reasons that fiction always appealed to me more. One of them is that I don't have to really explain myself in a way that a non-fiction writer does. I built a world where portals to other worlds are normal. Politics are weird there. I made the rules. You don't get to debate me on it. It's mine.)

My sister Sarah and I have been joking for years about hosting a podcast about anime, where we can laugh and carry on and have "hot takes" about the Japanese animation that we like, dislike, and are obsessed over. Whenever we bring it up, and I say that we really could do that, she looks at me, hides her face in her delicate hands, and replies, "Only if no one listens to it."

That, of course, entirely defeats the purpose of a podcast, but I understand what she means.

Years ago, an old family friend messaged me on a social media site, asking if I could friend them, so they could "like" my picture, and leave a "really awesome comment!" on the picture as well. I did so, and they did indeed "like" the picture, and left a comment, which turned out to be "So random! <3". The picture was 2 years old at the time.

I don't know why that interaction bothered me, and still continues to do so. I think it was that while I generally knew that family friend off of that social media site, I hadn't spoken to them in probably 10 years. In my young age, that's the difference between me as a college aged young adult and a literal child. I knew the person through my family, but I didn't know them. and really, they don't know me. They know 10-year-old Mary, not 20-year-old Mary. And there's a big difference between the two.

And in some way, I didn't want them to know me, because I didn't know what I thought about them after this entirely innocuous interaction. I think I was uncomfortable with the idea that they thought they knew me personally, when they didn't. They assumed that we were close. We weren't, and still aren't.

In 2013, writer Tim Krieder published an opinion piece in the New York Times titled "I Know What You Think of Me", which talks about reading an accidental "reply all" message. It involves goats.

The context is that I had rented a herd of goats for reasons that aren’t relevant here and had sent out a mass e-mail with photographs of the goats attached to illustrate that a) I had goats, and b) it was good. Most of the responses I received expressed appropriate admiration and envy of my goats, but the message in question was intended not as a response to me but as an aside to some of the recipient’s co-workers, sighing over the kinds of expenditures on which I was frittering away my uncomfortable income. The word “oof” was used.

I bring up this quote and this article in general because it talks about the anxiety that comes with thinking about how other people perceive you. As evidence of this 2013 article, I'm hardly the first person to worry about how other people think about me, despite the fact that it is probably one of the main causes of my own anxiety. A solid portion of my day-to-day life is worrying about what other people think of me.

"If I unfollow this person on Facebook, will they figure out that I did it and get mad at me? I bet they'll message my Mom asking why I did it...she's gotten messages about people I've followed in the past..."

"If I turned up the A/C in the house because I'm sweating, will my roommates think I'm weird? I'm always warm and I know that I am, and my friends have been commenting on it since high school...but I'm so warm..."

"If I tell someone that it's been a hard week, will they just assume that I'm always like that? I'm not always like that...but will they think that I am? What will they do with that information? Will they judge me for it?"

To quote my favorite comedian, John Mulaney:

(I like using gifs in my writing)

But I also bring up the article, because it goes through the author's processing of this email. Tone is remarkably difficult to read in an email, he argues. His friend could have meant it to be more of an affectionate comment to another mutual friend, about how this person they love sometimes makes weird decisions but they love him anyways. The friend really could just be being mean; that's also a possibility. But at the end of the day, we are wildly complex creatures, and we say things to people all the time that are meant to be taken in different ways, and out of context, they can seem very strange and defamatory.

He closes off the article with a clever phrase. "If we want the rewards of being loved we have to submit to the mortifying ordeal of being known."

I love this line. It became a bit of a meme starting around 2018, and I think about it all the time. It's a funny turn of phrase, and it's also deeply, intensely true.

No matter what I write here in this blog, I am subjecting myself to that mortifying ordeal of being known. With every post I make, I'm opening something inside of me more and more and more, like a geode cracking open.

There are gems deep inside of me, and you may not like them, but they're there.

In fact, you probably won't like all the things I have to say. Some day, I will post something and someone I know is going to get mad. Or worse yet, the disappointment will ooze from every word in a very long private message. I'm expecting an onslaught of comments at some point from "concerned family friends" or possibly even relatives, here to tell me why I'm wrong or right or maybe even confused. Those comments might be replied to by others who follow me, starting discussions, and discussions on the internet can get very messy. That messiness is the thing that I truly fear: people who thought that they knew you trying to scope you out now, their perception of you changing. I never wanted it to change. But I'm also not 10 years old anymore. And alas, I now have Thoughts and Opinions.

You might see me there, standing amidst the battlefield, holding my flag with white-knuckled fingers, trying not to shake as I attempt to stand my ground. And that's the place that you'll really, truly, be able to see if you know me.

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