OpenDiary is where I cut my teeth writing for strangers. There were more adults there than on Diaryland, and a more entrenched community by the time I started writing there in 2000. It was in the site TOS that personally identifying information was never to be used on the site, so we all stuck to our pseudonyms with almost fetishistic fervor, each one encased in square brackets. And because of this--because of the anonymity the whole community held sacred--we let go. We wrote things we would never have told our families, our friends, anyone. They were not blogs, these accounts. (Blog. What a word. So harsh, so public. And LiveJournal! So big and flashy and full of teenagers.) They were us, transformed into words, with some of the ugliest, clumsiest web design you would ever find anywhere.
Maybe you have to understand what it was like for me at the time. I was teaching on the reservation. My brother had recently died and I had nuked my relationship to head west. I needed to do harder work than I had been doing. The students worked hard for me in exchange. When they lit up, I was able to as well. That was healing, and so was driving for an hour into a part of the world where there was absolutely nothing around but sky, earth, rock, and stray cows looking for something to eat. I needed to figure out what meaning there was in a world where teenage boys died in car crashes, and I learned that lesson over and over again because there I was, in a place where I met teenage boys and they drew motorcycle logos on their test papers and they died and they left empty chairs in my classroom.
We all brought our own "what it was like for me at that time." Few people bothered to create personae, which is not to say we didn't all have different writing voices. But there was no need to be fake or fabulous. We were safe in our dullness and trainwreckness and rawness and happiness, and our friendships were real. It was something that kept us coming back even when we had nothing to write about, because OD was where our friends were. At the same time, many of us kept our presence there completely hidden from people in our real lives. This made it awkward when we had to admit to husbands or mothers or non-wired friends that we were meeting someone from our "online writer's group" for lunch. There was nothing like reaching the point where you would breach anonymity to look another diarist in the face, eat a meal, ride a fucking Jet Boat, anything you could, to be with someone who knew you to that extent.
I started my first writing prompt project there. I called it "the third floor" after the place where I used to spend my time in college, sitting on the floor in the hallway, scribbling away. Two prompts every week, a rush of writing afterward, just another fun thing to do, another reason to spend more time on OD. I can say this now, looking back--it didn't feel wrong to spend that much time on the internet when we were, with every entry, sending out genuine tendrils of connection with each other. Those tendrils caught me and kept me tethered once my mother was gone. Diarists sent me CDs filled with music to keep me company in the days afterward. They talked about the loss of their own mothers. I tried to give back when I read about the tragedies and incalculable losses and pains of their lives. The exhaustion, frustration, and mundane pointlessness of parenting, all of which they took on gladly. And the glee, man, the fucking joy of simply writing down what had mattered that day, of dumping out a brainful of bother before bedtime.
By the time Heather and I started writing publicly together in 2010, I had already begun to withdraw from OD. People I loved had moved on; ten years had passed since I started writing online. I wanted to attach my own name to what I wrote. I wanted to limit myself to topics that weren't so personal and build in some kind of distance. By this point OD had already suffered a major hacking and long-term outages, and I wanted to be responsible for my own backups and my own layout. I wanted to take the risk of failing better, or at least bigger. I kept my account but rarely wrote. When I would come back with an update, the feedback was generous, instantaneous, and validating. A friend said "Sometimes, I can't breathe when I read you." I don't write things on kimperative that are designed to suffocate you. But in the back of my mind, I was always sure that I could.
Now the site is going to shut down. This is not a surprise. It barely clung to life the past few years and outages and failures were routine. I certainly considered myself Over OD for a long while. It's one thing to leave of your own volition, and another altogether to be told that someday (when? *shrug* TIIC won't say), before two weeks pass, it will all be gone.
And yet I'm okay that it's ending. OD taught me how to write as much as any workshop did. It taught me how much negative shit I could say about your boyfriend without crossing a line. It taught me, above all else, what it is to be human, and that means coming to terms with what you can keep and what you can't and being grateful down to your marrow for your enviable blessings. My time there was a blessing I never could have understood until I walked away from it. I downloaded all my entries and then wrote one more, which I ended like this:
I am writing this today and not downloading it, because I like that it will get swallowed up and will vanish along with so much else. I like that OD will become a black hole. I like being forced to let go of things; it's good for me. Otherwise my life is like that (maybe apocryphal?) DFW quote, everything I've ever let go of has claw marks on it. Without fail, I was always the one making those three dumb running lurches after something that was already gone. People, diaries, buses that came earlier than they should have. There is always mood music for those lurches. They are my favorite parts of everything.