There’s a sour taste floating around in the mouths of personal bloggers right now because of a recent article in the New York Times. I don’t want to add to the negative criticism of the article; I want to join the positive backlash. I want to tell you why I write about my life on the Internet.

Last week something kind of amazing happened. I put out a casual request for people who have a certain kind of personality and lifestyle to poke me and say hi, and 46 people responded over the course of two days. It sparked a bunch of conversations about language and identity, and pulled some people together in a way that none of us expected. Even more surprising were the private conversations I had with people who wanted to raise their hands, but didn’t want other people to know about it. There were a lot of these, and they completely floored me.

I write about my life on the Internet because it creates a space for these connections. What else could make a complete stranger feel safe emailing me to say, “I’m queer, and I can’t tell anyone, but I wanted to tell you“?

I’ve been writing about my life on the Internet for about nine years now. I’ve learned by trial-and-error what works and what doesn’t, and I manage my presence in a way that nourishes me. Sometimes I make mistakes and have to face negative consequences, but they’ve never come anywhere close to outweighing the benefits.

In January, I bought a car almost entirely on advice from my online social networks, which I got in response to my blog posts about how confused I was. Someone even found my dream car for me online and sent me the link. Someone else saw that I couldn’t get to the dealership and offered to drive me. Some of these people (like the guy who gave me a ride) are meatspace friends, while others (like the guy who sent me the link) are people I only know online — I met them by blogging. (And by the way, the car is still perfect.)

I write about my life on the Internet because it changes the way I connect with my own experiences. In order to write down a story, I have to sort through all of the details and focus on the ones that made it significant for me. I believe our stories shape us — the way we remember something affects who we are and how we relate to the world. Writing things down empowers me to consciously decide how I want to remember something, and to me, that’s an act of personal revolution. Then, when details get echoed back to me in someone else’s words — either through a comment or another blog post — my way of seeing things gets a little big stronger, and my voice gets a little bit more steady.

I also write about my life on the Internet because I like to spend time alone. I can spend entire days in physical solitude — writing or working or scheming or exploring — and the Internet gives me a way to stay accountable and honest without breaking the creativity spell. It’s a kind of safety net — if I stopped writing for a day or two and didn’t tell anyone where I was, people would start looking for me (I know this because it’s happened). It’s also a sanity check — I can’t escape too far off into my own little world because I’m still bouncing my thoughts off a network of real people. When I start talking crazy talk, people tell me. (And they seem to love that part of their job, too…)

I’ve worked through some very hard stuff through blogging, and I’ve made some powerful connections in the process. People have thanked me for telling stories that opened doors in their own lives that they didn’t know they were missing out on. Other bloggers have done the same for me.

I believe in telling stories, I believe we’re more powerful when we’re connected, and I believe in telling fear to f*ck off.

It started with a conversation about dating. I tried define my dating class to a friend, and quickly came up with a string of words that sortakinda summed it all up: intelligent independent creative queer professional. This class includes me, and I had to acknowledge that we’re sometimes hard to date.

Another friend-in-this-category, sfslim, quickly noted that we’re also a hard class to find. I decided to take this as a challenge, and put out the following request to the Internet:

quick poll: would all the self-identifying “intelligent indie creative queer professionals” pls raise their hand via @ reply, dm, or email? May 19, 2008

I wasn’t really expecting the results. So far, over the course of a day, 25 people have raised their hands. They’ve come through public replies, private direct messages, email, facebook messages, and IM. More than a quarter of them have come from strangers. A handful of them have been unsure if they really fit, so let me describe what I’m talking about here:

Intelligent – Do you notice change? Are you witty? Do you see patterns in what’s going on around you? Do you critically analyze the opinions that come your way and consciously decide which ones to accept? Can you usually find the information you’re looking for on the Internet?

Independent – (I didn’t really mean indie in the label-free musician sense. I was just working with limited character space.) Do you insist on keeping a flexible schedule? Do you create interesting projects to work on? Do you define yourself by your skills and passions instead of by the name of your workplace? Do you enjoy time alone? Do you (at least try to) examine any sentence that includes the word “should” to make sure it’s right for you before accepting it?

Creative – Do you come up with new ideas when you’re in the shower or taking a walk? Do you have a form of self-expression that feels satisfying and allows you to be playful? Do you enjoy brainstorming? Do you like to make things better? Do you value the time you spend thinking and experimenting? Do you believe your perspective matters?

Queer – Does your gender or sexuality just not quite fit the traditional binary categories (man or woman; straight or gay)? Do you feel excited when you see people playing with or challenging those traditional roles? Are you hopeful that things are shifting in a direction that will better encourage you to be yourself? (This category is big and complicated, and I’m not gonna get into its subtleties here. You pretty much get belong as soon as you say you do… even if you’re not fond of the word.)

Professional – Do you make (at least some of) your living doing things you’re personally passionate about? Did you intentionally choose your line of work? Do you bring unique value to your work? Do you feel a sense of ownership and responsibility for your career path? Do you have a strong sense of personal integrity about your work?

These descriptions are my own perspectives, and none of these categories have clear boundaries to them. To me, this combination of traits is gold, and I want to know as many “identity revolutionaries” (to use sfslim’s term) as possible who share them.

I’m not putting out a call for people to date (although, hey, if the shoe fits…). I’m putting out a call for community. Rally up, folks! Tell me where you are! I believe we’re more powerful when we’re connected, and I know we each have a lot of work to do.

As a side note, to answer a question someone asked: No, I’m not going to publish this list anywhere. Many people are raising their hands privately, and it’s not my place to share their identities, even with each other. I believe you have the right to tell and curate your own story.

If you’re part of this fantastic class of people (which I’m now just calling the IICQP folks) and haven’t already raised your hand, please do so. Leave me a comment, send me an email, shoot me a twitter reply, find me on facebook… whatever you prefer.

Just raise your hand.

Edit: As of 9pm 5/20/08, the total number of hand-raisers is 41. Hot damn, people! I love you guys!

Edit: It’s June 9th, and we’re totally up to 53, oh-yes-we-are.

“Artist” was my first identity on the web. From 1998 – 2003, I scribbled poetry incessantly and read my work at open mics and poetry slams whenever I had the chance. I was honored with a handful of feature performance gigs and a place on the 2003 NH poetry slam team. I’ve been the Editor-in-Chief of two different literary magazines, and heavily involved in local writer communities. I learned to build websites so I could share my poetry, tell my stories, and visually express myself. I’ve built a lot of websites for poetry. Most of them are gone now. One is still fighting to stay alive.

Also in 2003, I made the decision to become self-employed as a website developer. This changed my relationship to the Internet pretty dramatically. My identity became “Consultant” and my work became my art. I set poetry aside, stopped performing, and threw myself into the tech industry. It was exciting and satisfying in a different way. I still love it.

sarahdopp-reading.jpgAnd now the art is back. And it turns out, it never really left — it just went quiet for awhile. My dirty, dirty secret is that I’ve been writing new stuff and performing it at microphones for the last year and a half, and not telling people about it. I was trying to keep my web presence simple.

But the problem with art is that it doesn’t like to stay quiet. It creates community, encourages conversation, and finds ways to grow. It’s challenging and evocative and compelling. It evolves in a direction that forces disclosure.

So this is me coming out of yet another closet (heh…): I’m a poet.

I write about my life. Like this blog and my twitter stream, I spend a lot of time telling my own story. My story is messy and beautiful. It’s full of joy and fear, crisis and heartache, identity and adventure, sex and relationships, family and spirituality, and lots of different kinds of exploration. Most of the stuff I write is so deeply personal that I have a responsibility to keep it away from Google’s prying eyes. But there are other ways to share.

And like my “Queer” post, this isn’t meant to be a surprise. I expect that you already know I float toward written art like a moth under a streetlight. But I need to make a statement of intention: This is who I am, and I’m walking in a direction that honors me.

On that note, I invite you to check out my new page, which I’ve linked to from my blog header. It’s called My Art.

Hope to see you from the microphone soon…

credit: photo by emchy, who also provided the microphone.

Running to the warm night beach before the sky loses all of its pink and the water fades from sapphire to black. 8:52pm

I found magic, and its tide is up. 8:53pm

Standing here alone. I’ve never seen the SF ocean so gorgeous. Want to share it. It smells like sushi. I have no camera. You’re missing it. 8:59pm

Right now, I get it. We’re building all these tools so we can connect everything because connection is the only way anything feels right. 9:02pm

I’m standing feet firm in the sand, dumbstruck that i’m talking to people who have no idea how this air feels, and that I can’t change that. 9:09pm

And at the same time, this conversation puts this experience into my narrative. Because you’re listening, I will remember this. 9:11pm

Our stories are stronger when others interact with them. I can spend entire days alone because I’ve created an audience that isn’t here. 9:17pm

I feel like my reality is changing in a direction I have too much control over. If my experience is so explicitly narrated, my ego owns me. 9:26pm

The sky and the water are both dark grey blue now, both highlighted with specks and streaks of white. But you only know cuz i’m telling you. 9:32pm

If I stand on my tiptoes and sink my feet in deep, the sand is still warm from the heat today. Even tho my head is getting cold from wet air 9:43pm

I’m still here. If you were here, you’d stay, too. But maybe only cuz I’d tell you why you should. I live-narrate meaning in meatspace, too. 10:00pm

Ok, so I don’t have more control. I just have a stronger filter on my perceptions because I have more tools to narrate and frame experience. 10:03pm

And I’ve totally disregarded my self-censoring limits on reasonable twitter frequency and intimacy tonight… making this even more surreal. 10:10pm

Before I walk away, you should know that the waves are moving like that nylon parachute you stood around in gym class and made ripples with. 10:14pm

That’s all. 10:14pm

Have you seen this man?

He stole my new Nokia N95 — the one the nice word-of-mouth marketing people sent me for free to play with and chatter about. I was gonna poke it and prod it and take pictures with it and compare it to the Treo and the iPhone and try to break it.

But now I can’t, because a crazy road raging maniac with mad scientist hair* stole it from me.

Fortunately, he’s willing to discuss the matter with me openly on the Internet.

So I give you a new blog: iwantmyN95back.blogspot.com

*The guy who stole my phone’s name is Mark Resch. Coincidentally, he also works in my office. So he’s walking around with the phone in front of me, and not letting me touch it. It’s not very nice.

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The following article will appear in Riseup.net‘s upcoming educational publication about safety and security in online organizing. You get to have the sneak peak here.

Blogging with Split Personalities:
How I Created and Reconciled My Separate Spaces On the Web

by Sarah Dopp

Hi, my name is Sarah, and I’m a compulsive blogger. It all started in high school when I created a website under a pseudonym and used it to tell stories about my love life. It was a thrilling and introspective project that resulted in a lot of great writing. Unfortunately, though, I was so terrified someone would connect it to me that I never saved a backup copy. That website has since expired, and those words are now lost forever in the murky underbelly of the Internet. First lesson learned: If I’m not going to claim something, I can’t hold onto it.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Twitter is addictive for a lot of reasons.

  • You can do it from your cell phone.
  • You’re required to be brief (140 characters max).
  • You can stay aware of what’s going on in lots of peoples’ lives with very little time investment.
  • You can customize your experience by using 3rd party apps that meet your quirky specific needs.

Email, on the other hand, isn’t impressing me so much these days. Why? Because its etiquette is outdated. The following behaviors are still considered rude in the land of email:

  • Not responding
  • Taking more than 24 hours to respond
  • Expecting an immediate response
  • Not responding to every point in an email
  • Responding to a long email with a very brief email
  • Not including friendly small talk at the beginning and end of a message

Email is still trying to be a cross between phone calls and handwritten letters, and we don’t need that anymore. We need to replace Email Culture with a new set of tools and etiquette that helps us convey information and strengthen relationships in less time.

Twitter is showing us how it’s done, other social networking websites aren’t far behind, and SMS text messaging has exploded like a pack of Mentos in a bottle of Diet Coke. We’re craving lightweight communication and embracing it however we can. But there’s one lingering problem: Email is still our default form of communication. I might favor Twitter above all else, but I can only use Twitter to talk to other Twitter users. Email, on the other hand, is still the center of everyone’s universe.

So that’s why I’m calling you out, Email. It’s time to change.

  • We want email clients that visually cue us to write shorter messages.
  • We want really short emails to show up our cell phones as text messages.
  • We want threaded message views that take Gmail’s interface a step further and look like iChat.
  • We want the same freedom and flexibility that we’ve always had with email, but with tools that reward us for being brief.
  • We want long messages to be special again.
  • We want guilt-free communication.
  • We want to be able to respond to more quickly, and therefore, to respond more.

What’s it gonna take to make this happen?

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I’m a huge fan of BlogHer. Their conferences, community, and resources have changed my relationship to the Internet and grounded in me in a sense of belonging. Seriously — I went a really long stretch of my life thinking that women’s issues, technology, and writing didn’t belong in the same room with one another, and that I was just a fragmented oddball for being passionate about all of those things at once.

But one magic day, I met Liz Henry at a literary reading, and she told me I needed to go to WoolfCamp. Then everyone at WoolfCamp told me I needed to go to BlogHer. And my life has been on the upward spiral of awesomeness ever since.

That’s why I’m overjoyed to be speaking on a panel this summer at BlogHer 2008. This is the community that took me in as a misfit internet duckling and told me I would turn into a beautiful blogger swan. Being invited to speak is a huge honor to me.

Here’s the panel description:

Who We Are: “Coming Out” via Blog

“No, this doesn’t only apply to the most common meaning of “coming out”, but rather to taking the brave step to reveal and address something highly personal to your blog community. The risks are real, but what about the rewards? Susan Mernit will moderate a discussion with some very brave bloggers. Stephanie Quilao blogs about health and a positive body image. Making the decision to blog a bulimia relapse risked losing a core audience who counted on her to be a voice of body image reason. How did they react? JenB has been up front about both mental and physical health issues on her blog. Does she feel supported…or judged? Finally, Sarah Dopp did launch a new project about being gender queer. At first she used a pseudonym, although she shared the site with people she knew. Eventually she came out and associated her real name with the site. Was there fallout? Or none at all. Find out how coming out via blog turned out for these women, and share your own story.”

I’m going to be up there with some incredible people talking about deeply personal stuff, and I hope you’ll come (you know, so I can turn bright red when we make eye contact from across the room). This particular panel is on Day 2 at 1:45 pm.

And if you’ve never been to BlogHer before, I sincerely hope you get off your butt and come this year. It’s in San Francisco from July 18-20 (that’s a weekend). In the past, they’ve sold out out of full conference badges way before the event, so REGISTER RIGHT THIS MINUTE.  Go.  Now.  I’m serious.  Don’t give me that look.  Just do it.

And if the idea of paying for an expensive hotel room is the reason you’re hesitating, talk to me. San Francisco is my home turf. I might be able to hook you up. ;)

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sarah-chris.jpgOn the last day of adventuring, my dopp juice gave to me…

Twelve days of traveling,

Eleven kinds of sushi,

Ten poems unchallenged,

Nine missing work days,

Eight beds and couches.

Seven artists scheming

chris-sarah.jpgSix different airports,

Five grandparents!

Four different states,

Three major cities,

Two stage performances,

And a spontaneous convergence of ukuleles in a taqueria!

(photos include my brother, Chris Dopp, who is graduating from college this year! w00t!)

sarah-bday.jpgAge is a silly thing. I work with someone who claims to play with his age the same way I play with my gender, and I think it’s a fair analogy. Age is a biologically-based number with lots of social constructions built up around it. I don’t really get to change my age. But I get to play with it.

Today I turn 25, and I’m not being quiet about it. Thanks to the beauty of social networking websites, hundreds of people are aware that it’s my birthday and are taking the 30 seconds out of their day to congratulate me on it. I’m being ambushed with text messages, emails, direct messages, and facebook wall notes. (Thank god I’m not getting that many phone calls.) I’m over the phase of trying to pretend it’s not my birthday and feeling neglected when people don’t magically remember it. I have no problem telling you. IT’S MY BIRTHDAY TODAY. I don’t want gifts. Just acknowledgment. Just jump up and down with me for a second. Help me make it a little more real. Help me convince my subconscious to make a shift in self-image. Help me close the door on age 24.

What’s the difference between today and yesterday? Not a year, that’s for sure. The difference is a social construction. “25” means something different than “24”. It means a quarter of a century. It means I can rent a car without paying the Irresponsible Driver Penalty. It means I’m in my “mid-twenties” instead of my “early twenties.” It means I’m three years older than the average age of college graduation, which means I could, legitimately, based on mainstream standards, reasonably do the jobs I do now.

At some point in my life, I fell under the impression that I wouldn’t be taken seriously until I turned 25. I called bullshit on that notion a long time ago, but I still noticed the raised eyebrows. Now that I’ve hit the number, I’m done with the eyebrows.

I’m 25 years old with 11 years experience building websites and reading poetry at microphones, and four years of self-employment in the tech industry. I’ve never lied about my age, but I’m done with trying to walk like I’m older than I am. I get to be 25 now. And all of the middle fingers I’ve been giving social constructions for the last handful of years can relax. I made it. So there.