Retracing forgotten identities through the blogs I’ve left behind

Header by Ina Jacobe

I quit Tumblr in 2015.

I’d maintained two primary URLs on it: my “main,” which I used as a mood board, fan account, and way to interact with others, and a personal blog, on which I would post my writing as well as long, rambling accounts of what I’d been up to and what I’d been obsessed with at the time.

The personal blog came two years after the mood board. Its very first post was written on the day I saw the movie Prom in the cinema, whereupon I had the whole theater to myself. As in: every other seat had been empty except my own. I was 16, a sheltered freshman in college, and the experience — both exhilarating and just a tad creepy — convinced me that I had many more extraordinary days to write about.

So I decided to keep a new blog about my daily life. (“Today in lit class we discussed Rashomon, and I liked it,” I’d written in that inaugural post.) Loneliness and pop culture would continue to be recurring themes for me.

In 2015, I went back to Blogger. Blogger had a DIY appeal about it, this old-web charm that still felt personal.

Even with the dawn of Twitter, Instagram, TinyLetter, and whatever else, the personal blog remains one of my favorite mediums online. I love knowing what my friends are up to. I love that people can be so earnest writing their entries, unfiltered and unedited, typing over a thousand words on something small but important to them (for the moment, anyway) — and that other people may agree. I love the amateur coding, the About pages, the raw creativity of it all. Where else can you find a hyper-detailed rundown of Sunday morning at the park followed by an academic-level analysis of and reflection on, say, suburban ennui and escapism with footnotes and perfect MLA citation, just because?

But by 2015, Tumblr had changed too much. It had gotten too complicated and exhausting. Everything I liked about it was disappearing.

I did what any washed-up young adult would do: I went home. Back to Blogger, that is. Tumblr had become a nightmare to customize and format. WordPress was too shiny. Blogger had a DIY appeal about it, this old-web charm that still felt personal. It was just what I needed to start over.

And I have started over on Blogger, many times before. It was the platform to be on when I was a kid and blogging was the cool new thing to try. All of the blogs I started then were products of summer boredom, which I would often forget about after a few weeks. When I got back to them, I’d feel like too much of a different person, so I would abandon them and start again.

There’s a sense of now-ness to forgotten blogs that can’t be found in old diaries. Questionable HTML-based designs aside — think a giant, glittering Blingee-esque butterfly graphic in magenta — web pages don’t age the way paper does.

I kept my personal Tumblr for four years. It was the first thing I turned to when something monumental happened: finding my new favorite book, exploring an abandoned house, going to a One Direction concert. I met some of my best friends through it. It was the official document of my coming-of-age.

It’s weird to think that it, too, has become a former haven for me, a thing of the past. Some version of me remains, introducing herself on the sidebar: She’s Fiel. She lives in Manila. She’s still 20 years old, and she might always be.

There’s a sense of now-ness to forgotten blogs that can’t be found in old diaries. Questionable HTML-based designs aside — think a giant, glittering Blingee-esque butterfly graphic in magenta — web pages don’t age the way paper does. They don’t yellow, the writing doesn’t start to fade, the leaves don’t curl at the edges. Even after 10 or 15 years, they still don’t get lost or deleted. They stand the test of time, for better or worse, embarrassment be damned.

Recently I checked back on Tumblr and found that I had a bunch of messages, one of them being, “Are you the Fiel Estrella who wrote [this]?” referring to an essay I’d published when I had started writing for a living.

And it struck me as very strange, because in my mind, Tumblr user fi-el is stuck in 2015, and so she’s never been that Fiel Estrella. She and the person who wrote that essay are practically two different people.

As I got older, I began to turn my blogs’ themes into little projects that showed what I was obsessed with or who I felt I was at the time, like this Ghost World-inspired layout with the hand-drawn logo.

There’s a version of me who just joined the Writer’s Guild at school, asking her nonexistent readers to add her on Neopets and email her at cyberwitch2005@as-if.com. (I would kill to have that email back.) There’s a version of me on her first out-of-country trip to Taiwan, living across the street from a movie theater plastered with promotional material for Iron Man, The X-Files: I Want to Believe, and Speed Racer. There’s a version of me who just went to prom, a version of me who wishes she could be Peyton Sawyer, a version of me who thought she should shift to business school.

I map them out, how they evolve and transform into one another, how they make room for each other: several iterations of me, coexisting on the internet, forever in the present tense.

And then I think: So that’s how I got here.

It reminds of something David Levithan wrote in “Skipping the Prom,” one of the pieces in How They Met, and Other Stories: “Let me hold on to this the way it was, before I knew anything else.”

And it sounds nice, for sure. But if there’s anything my present self knows, it’s that it’s not always so bad, either, to find out what comes next.

Tags:
#books #culture #self #technology

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