To Be (me) or Not To Be (me)?





Recently a friend articulated concern that my blog is not entirely anonymous. In many ways I regret that: forfeiting complete blanket obscurity. I was so desperate for readers, you see, that I doled out the blog address like sweeties to anyone who was prepared to write it down (actually … that’s not strictly true: I think I recall bombaring everybody on my contacts list with it when I sent a mail shot to alert them to my new email address, including my somewhat startled gynaecologist and equally perplexed bank manager).  And being a lazy correspondent (I know: an anomaly given the way I talk in cyberspace) I thought it’d be a handy way for anybody remotely interested in keeping vaguely in touch with this particular family’s movements at a – then, blog inception – precarious time in our lives, to do so.


But I wish I’d been more secretive.


Fellow bloggers, some despite creeping fame, manage to keep their identity firmly and warmly wrapped in the cloak of inscrutability.  Some bloggers guard their anonymity fiercely and are only called, and sign themselves off, Iota, or Potty Mummy. Some I have corresponded with outside the veil of blogland; they have sworn me to silence: don’t reveal my real name. I won’t, I promised.  I wonder if the bloggers whose notoriety has led to publishing deals and columns on broadsheets miss their anonymity?  The freedom that it lends to language and story telling? Some bloggers disguise themselves so well that readers are deceived even as to their gender.


My concerned friend wrote, somebody alerted me to blogger who posts as mzungu chick; she was getting absolutely hammered on her blog. Nasty nasty nasty stuff in the comments, You know I love that you, x and y talk about your lives so openly, but I worry about you and horrible people knowing about you and where you are, what you do etc.


I told her she was dear. And not to worry. I’m a housewife in the middle of nowhere in Africa; you’d have to really object to my fairly benign posts about pickling, dogs, kids, walks on dams and bread that won’t rise to come this far out to shut me up.  You’d have to really, really mind what I wrote about to make the journey worthwhile.


No, of course, I don’t wish I’d hung onto my anonymity because I fear for my life. Or my safety. Or even because I’m scared my feelings will be hurt.  Nor even so that I could rant unabated about the cows I rant inwardly about most of the time. No, I wish I’d hung onto it so that I could be a little more frank in my writing. Universal worries stalk us all: it would be liberating to throw some into the – usually very supportive and responsive – arena of a blog. But not when you know that some of the people who might read you absolutely know who you are. I don’t want to out my dilemmas or my failings as mine. I just want to out them as another invisible, un-named (at least not insofar as my own name) blogger’s.


There have been a few recently – of those universal worries, of those failings, of those dilemmas of keep-you-awake-at-night dimensions –  that I’d have loved to have described. To spin words about a worry usually helps to untangle it. And the unravelling is often hastened when you can throw it into the forum of blogsphere. Once, overcome by loneliness, I wrote a post which generated a – for this particular blog– huge response. Readers weren’t just kind; they proffered practical suggestions as to how to feel better. I couldn’t have told some friends and acquaintances how I felt that day. But some friends and acquaintances discovered anyway (because, foolishly, I’d handed out the blog address willy-nilly) and a heartfelt and overwhelming isolation was translated – a little bit smugly in the odd case – as ‘she’s not coping, you know’.  That I didn’t mind. What I minded was that my husband read my blog that day. And he knew it was me who felt lonely and sad and lost.


My friend Janelle says I must just write what I want, ‘Just write, man’, she urges, ‘who cares what people might think of you or what you say or how you say it, man!’ And she laughed and threw her arms open as if to gesture I ought not to care what anybody in the Whole Wide World might care what I blog/blab about. She’s like that: a cheerful two fingers up to stuffy conformity. But then my friend at Ngorobob House  admits a wee bit sheepishly and in mildly confessional tone, to owning a second blog. And she won’t give me that address …


 The thing is: it’s not what other people think about me that I mind. (I stopped caring about that sometime in 2001, when most of the people I knew had a view on an action I had taken and most felt at liberty to vocalize their disappointment and disgust vociferously). No. I don’t care what anybody thinks of me. But I’d hate anything I said about the lives of any of those I love most in the world to impinge upon them. I can spill my own secrets, that’s my prerogative and I’m big enough to cope with the fallout.


But not theirs. Never theirs. Because then they won’t be secret anymore.


They won’t be secret enough.


So. The question remains. To be (me)? Or not to be (me)?


Or you, for that matter?




30 Responses to “To Be (me) or Not To Be (me)?”

  1. ann Says:

    I’m with you, I give my blog name to all and sundry. As it turned out it has been a godsend for my husband because I can write about his cancer and friends and relatives can keep up without him having to go over the details with everyone. There again, I am much older than you and one of the benefits of age is that you don’t actually mind what people think of you anymore!

  2. Tom Says:

    Wait til you’ve done your “Harry Potter” books and your face is in bookstores everywhere. Then you can worry about privacy and nutbags.

    In the meantime please continue to shower us with the warmth of your life in that shimmering jewel called “The Outpost”.

  3. Den Says:

    Great blog!

  4. Expat Mum Says:

    I went about it the other way and linked my blog to my book’s web site (for obvious reasons). I knew from the outset that I can’t write about my family, or really say anything too bitchy about anyone – but as a writer it makes me have to think of more objective things to write about, which is good practice.
    I also make sure that I don’t blog when I’ve had a glass of wine or god knows what would come tumbling out!

  5. jen Says:

    you know, i read every word. i might not be saying it out loud, but if you stopped writing like you do, sadness would abound. oh wait, i’ve said it out loud.

  6. Potty Mummy Says:

    I’m not as anonymous as I used to be, RM; various members of my family are now in on the secret (though not the mother in law, never the mother in law!), and am not sure that anyone can really stay that way. Not if they’re human, and even the slightest bit proud of what they write.

    What I would say though is that I agree with the other comments that knowing you might be called to account for what you write is good discipline. Having a cyberspace record of all one’s tantrums and bitchiness rattling round in the ether for all eternity, anonymous or not, is probably not ideal. And not good karma, either. Personally I try not to write anything I think might upset the Boys in the distant future. (Not sure I deliver on this, but that’s my goal.)

    And finally, it’s a blog. A record of how you feel about something right now. And readers should bear in mind that by the time they get to it, you may have completely changed your point of view. So don’t tone it down – or disappear off into anonymity – because your blog is wonderful.

  7. daisyfae Says:

    Primum non nocere – “First do no harm”. While i am tempted to put every tortuous bit out there sometimes, i’ve got built in boundaries, as my children at university read my blog. As tempting as it can be to vent, or more frequently, toss my emotional salad in the ether, i have to be careful of sharing too much information.

    Also, as much as i’d like to unload fully on some of my work colleagues, i can’t. My right to self-medication in the interweb ends at their right to privacy. So i hold back a bit. To deal with this, however, i’ve taken to writing “phantom posts” – in MS Word, not drafting on the blog to prevent inadvertent release. i write these to help process an issue, or collect my thoughts, with no intention to publish… it’s helpful, but somehow not the same…

  8. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    ann – yes, i can absolutely see the value in that: in writing your blog so that people can keep up with your husband’s treatment without you having to repeat yourself endlessly on the phone or face to face. But it’s not that i mind what people think of me, it’s that i might inadvertently upset somebody. Recently i wrote about my mother’s depression on this. A friend of hers called her to say how sorry she was that Mum was ill again. How did you know? Mum asked (mum is incommunicado when ill), ”I read it on your daughter’s blog”. I am an orange box outer of mental illness. but then it’s not me who has to battle with the stigma. I tried to explain to mum that not writing about it rather went against the grain: keeping it secret reinforces the stigma. But i am not sure how reassured she was.

  9. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Oh Tom. I’m no JK. There won’t ever be books with my face in the back flap. But thanks for being so nice. And thanks especially for reading

  10. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thanks Den. And for dropping by

  11. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Hi Expat Mum; i agree – exercising some restraint can be a useful measure in objectivity: trying to consider a thing from potential reader’s view point. And absolutely ref the the wine. I’ve made that mistake!

  12. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Aw Jen, that’s so nice. Thank you. Thank you very much.

  13. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Hi Potty, thank you very much. And you’re right – of course. About the words hanging about in the ether indefinately. I spend no less time or effort on the words on my blog than i might do on the very few pieces of writing i get paid for. In fact I probably spend more. Editing, re-editing. Finding the word that fits. As you say, blog material is potentially here forever, cluttering up cyberspace. Anything in print is just wrapped around chips tomorrow! Or sliced up for a school collage.

  14. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    toss my emotional salad in the ether … daisyfae, what a brilliant, brilliant line. Phantom posts are a good idea. No, i agree, pehaps not quite the same thing, but the exercise of writing it out is satisfied. I’m with you: first do no harm. Not to me; I can cope with that. But to others. who mightn’t see a thing as i do. Or feel as i do. Or believe that its any of my business.

  15. Trailing Grouse Says:

    I’ve been pondering this too recently. First I was totally anonymous, then I told some people. Then a little bit later I told someone else. Then someone else. Now I can’t remember exactly who I’ve told and who I haven’t told. Blogging from Egypt has other problems (just pop “bloggers Egypt” into Google) so I have other reasons for not wanting to let my name loose. There are also a lot of nutters who frequent my blog and leave nasty, racially/religiously motivated comments (imagine! This is when I’m not writing provocatively!) which I delete immediately and I really don’t want them knowing where I live or what my name is. At the same time, it’s my blog, my thoughts and (mostly) my life that I write about (somewhat deliberately), and I feel somewhat irked that I can’t just say my name. Although, then again, not sure if I want to!

    Oops, that was rather longer than I intended. I do think that ‘do no harm’ should be the first blogging rule really. After that, I agree with your friend Janelle! Purely selfishly of course: I love reading it!

  16. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Gosh. Yes Trailing: I googled bloggers egypt … quite scary stuff. Google bloggers tanzania and it’s happily benign. I’m horrified that you get malicious comments even on posts that you wouldn’t imagine would inflame any kind of a heated response. i steer clear of opinion on politics now. I wrote some posts over the new year about the crisis in Kenya and got some very reactionary comments. in the end i deleted those posts. it wasn’t worth it.

    and thank you very much for reading.

  17. Iota Says:

    Aha! I love being anonymous locally, and do indeed guard my anonimity jealously. Like virginity, once you’ve lost it, you can’t get it back again. I have told some friends and family about the blog, though. I thought it would be a good way of keeping them in touch with my life in the Midwest, and stop me saying things that I might later regret putting into the blogosphere. If you imagine your mother-in-law reading something, it helps you decide whether to publish it or not!

    But for you, I can see it is a complicated one. You have to look after yourself and your loved ones first and foremost, and follow your gut instincts. They always seem pretty sound to me.

  18. wifey Says:

    Think the only solution is to run an ethics audit in your head as you go while blogging what seems important. I admit not always an easy thing to do. Re trailing grouse – moderate or block anonymous comments; if necessary, take the fight to them if they are complete pains in the arse and they have their own blogs.

  19. thegnukid Says:

    Beautiful, Memsahib… and timely. A commenter (Daisyfae) on today’s post on my post aimed me here. What you have so deftly written echoes the struggle i’m having with public vs. private.

    I’m struggling with issues not yet public, even to family, but need to fully process it in some way (hopefully garnering assistance from the rest of the ethernauts) before i can face the reality of what i need to do.

    Your post here gives me validation that i’m not alone in my mental machinations… nor am i alone in reaching out for help wherever i can find such. Karma? Luck? Matters not how, i’m just glad to be able to read your words that gave my soul some calm. Thank you.

  20. Mzungu Chick Says:

    Great post RM – I’m a bit slow and only just caught up with you this morning.
    I think I’ll write a post on the same and link back to you and save filling up your inbox with how I see it.
    I’ve been putting it off as I’m sure it’ll cause lots more abuse but hey, as they say in cybertalk – “WTF !!”

  21. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    i think that’s precisely the right approach Iota: If you imagine your mother-in-law reading something, it helps you decide whether to publish it or not!
    My dear M-i-L died several years ago (and mostly wouldn’t have cared less what I wrote) but i have my own censoring shadows which are handy: as you say, a moments reflection on the possiblity of any of those reading it and one employs, probably sensible, restraint in hitting Publish x

  22. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Wifey – thanks for reading. An ethics audit in your head … exactly. But as you say, not always easy so there’s this fine line between writing as you wish. And writing as you might like to be read. And i think your advice to trailing grouse is very sound: take the fight out of your own arena.

  23. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thanks for reading gnukid. And i am really, really glad that this piece of writing struck a useful chord. I think that’s the most gratifying thing about blogging: either writing something that elicits empathy when you need it, or reading something that you identify with. I don’t think I began blogging for these reasons. But its exactly why i keep blogging. Thank you x

  24. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Mzungu Chick: hi there, nice to see you. Wow you’ve certainly been weathering a storm. I think like trailing grouse you need to heed wifey’s advice: remove the scuffle from your own arena and place firmly in the antagonist’s? Do please write a post about how you feel – I would love to read it – particulary as inspiration for this piece came from concerned reader of your blog.

  25. gnovember Says:

    I think when we all begin to blog we find we want to maintain both the anonymity of it all and somehow have those we love also look at what we write about! I kept mine anonymous for almost five months and when I did give a “trusted few”, it got out to most whom I would have appreciated if they didnt know my very private thoughts- now I know better but even then, I still have a second blog that only I know about and it is a lot of work but given the circumstances, well worth it! Keep up the good writing! REGARDLESS

  26. nuttycow Says:

    Hey RM –

    Anonymity is a funny thing. I’ve always had some element of secrecy around my blog. People I know in real life don’t know I blog. I’ve tried hard to eradicate all elements of my “real” name off t’internet (when linked with my blog) so that random people googling me don’t find it. I quite like not being known. I think that if I knew people I knew (still with me?) were reading my blog, I’d feel a little bit more inhibited about what I said about whom. Obviously, I try and keep things as non-specific as I can but there’s always that chance that someone you know may recognise themselves.

    As you for you, in my head, you’re RM. You’ve always been RM and you always will. Even though I do know your real name, I’ve now forgotten it. So sorry, you’re stuck with RM. And, if I ever do my huge africa trip and pop in for a cuppa, I’ll probably call you RM then too.

  27. Primal Sneeze Says:

    I didn’t set out to be anonymous. I’m not – ask any Internet fundi (they don’t have to be a guru) and they will find my name, address, phone number etc. in two clicks.

    I come from the Usnet generation (and more pathetically, the CB one) where having a handle wasn’t just cool, it was a technical necessity. That mentality drifted along with me into blogland.

    That said, I’m happy it turned out that way. I have done stories about my neighbours and friends that they would recognise themselves in if they made the connection with me. This way, if they stumble across them, they will not see themselves.

  28. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    nuttycow: come for a cup of tea. or a glass of wine. or a bed for the night. but call me A. or my children will think i’m pottier than they are already certain i am! as for anonymity – i think you’re wise to have clung onto yours. Keep it. Like Iota says, its like virginity: once it’s gawn, it’s gawn honey and no getting it back, no matter how much your regret losing it. And to whom you might have lost it … another story? no chance: i’m definately not anonymous enough for one on that! x

  29. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    hiya Primal – and that, i think, is the clever bit: the writing so that others can’t actually recognise themselves in what you say. mind you – and here’s a thought – i suppose we rarely see ourselves as others do? Do we? x

  30. Kit Says:

    I have to confess that I’ve been reading your blog like a novel, in chapters only backwards and I’m really enjoying it – I love the way you write and you are much more open than I am on my blog, which makes it much better reading.

    I also gave my blog address out to all including my mother, thinking that it would help keep in touch and excuse me being such a rotten correspondant otherwise. The trouble is I now only write when I feel moderately upbeat, so if I’m down there are long silences on the blog front, and I’m probabaly annoyingly upbeat for the rest of the time. My one nod to privacy is not using my children’s names. I don’t know that it makes a difference but it makes me feel better about talking about them.

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