In Madame Porges French class, in Burnsview Jr. High, I once eavesdropped on a conversation about The Who. The conversation was not conducted en français, as it really should have been, but the participants were two of the cool kids and thus it was infinitely more interesting to me than the belle vue that Henri and his wife were enjoying.
I was not one of the cool kids. I knew nothing about The Who, except that they were a band. I desperately wanted to be one of the cool kids.
When a gap opened in the conversation and Madame Porges was adequately distracted, I said to the cool kids, “I can get front row tickets to The Who”.
I said this in 1984. Those of you who are Who fans, may see where this is heading.
“Oh yeah?” said Cool Kid #1. “You can get tickets to The Who?”
I had their attention, I was in! Play it cool, Kristene.
“Yeah, my mom works for Eatons and all their full time employees can get up to four tickets for concerts and plays–any seats they want–one day before they go on sale for everyone else. If you guys want tickets, I can get them.”
Oh baby, this was it. I was going to be so popular!
Cool Kid #2 started to snicker. “So you like The Who?”
“I love them!” I said.
“And you don’t know they broke up?” Cool Kid #1 said.
“Oh… right…um, yeah, I totally forgot,” I said.
The Cool Kids laughed. I shrunk down to the size of mon stylo, while turning one hundred shades of red.
Embarrassment was a frequent companion of mine growing up. I know now that I was not alone, but it sure felt like it at the time. Ironically, on the stage, in front of a crowd focused entirely on me and my goofy antics, I was fine. Nothing I said and did in the spotlight made me feel anything but joyous. One-on-one, was a much different story.
I’m thinking about this because I thought I’d outgrown embarrassment. Not that I don’t make the occasional gaffe or social misstep, I do, but because I have learned to like myself and stop seeking the approval of others. This “not giving of fucks” has led to increased confidence and overall happiness.
But then it happened.
I googled my name. Not a vanity search (sure Kristene, sure). I was actually searching for something specific and the best I way I knew to track it down was through my name. Long story, you just have to trust me on this one. Deal?
Let’s go back in a time again, shall we?
Prior to the blog incarnation of these Coconut Chronicles, I did not spend much time on the internet. A bit of research here and there, some interaction on a Baja discussion board, the occasional review posted on Trip Advisor, that was about it. This is a long way of saying that I am not the most technologically savvy person out there. In 2007, we moved to Aitutaki in the Cook Islands, where “high speed” internet was only marginally faster than sending carrier pigeons. Another two years of minimal online engagement. Back in Canada in 2010, Josh and I spent every free moment writing the rough drafts of what would become Warpworld, through email exchanges—that was my life for almost two years.
It wasn’t until the Josh and I made the decision to indie publish that I dove into the online world. Like most newbies, I blundered my way through, offending and annoying people along way as I struggled to understand the many sub-cultures of the interwebz. This wasn’t about making friends (although that did happen), this was about being a diligent business person who at least appeared to know what she was doing (often I did not know, at all).
Most of my mistakes triggered only a momentary, inward cringe and an inaudible “Ugh” from yours truly. Hey, learning is tough. But one evening, exhausted and far from being on my A game—closer to my Q game or perhaps even my W game –I decided to write a comment on an author’s blog post that I had found inspiring. The comment was innocuous and hardly noteworthy but the comment system was new to me. All the other commenters had avatars. I wanted to have an avatar. I wanted to look as if I knew what I was doing.
At that time, the author photo I had been using on my blog was one of me in our “front yard” in Aitutaki. The “yard” was our beautiful white sand beach and the photo had been taken on one of those dream-like days where the water was almost too blue and calm to believe. The photo was taken from behind me, as I sat in my bikini, (AKA my work uniform) and gazed out at the lagoon. I love that photo because it puts me right back on that beach, in the sun, without a care in the world. I don’t see it as a sexual photo because bathing suits, as mentioned, were just what we wore every day during the so-hot-your-spine-melts summers in the South Pacific.
That was the photo I would use for my avatar!
Problem: I had no idea how to create my avatar on this comment platform. Half awake, I skimmed through a bunch of text and buttons, saw a camera icon, and clicked. There was no preview function and so I assumed I’d been successful and hit “enter”.
The photo did not come up as my avatar. My avatar remained a vague outline of a head. The photo did come up at the bottom of my comment. So, at the end of my comment, apropos to nothing, I’d posted a photo of myself in a bikini on a beach. That’s…awkward.
Delete. I would delete the whole thing!
Nope. The comment platform offered me no option to delete the photo or the comment.
I stared at it.
I tried to imagine what other people would think when they saw it.
I tried to imagine what the blog’s author would think when he saw it.
Would he think I was some crazy woman trying to solicit or stalk him? Would he think I was one of those porn spammers?
Shrinking, shrinking, shrinking…turning red.
Oh man, this was worse than my awful comment about The Who. This was permanent! And public!
At this point, all I could do was talk myself down. “No one reading this blog knows you. They will never know you. Stop making yourself crazy. Go to bed, stupid!”
It gets worse.
You see, less than two years later, I found myself at a literary event and I looked up and who did I see? Yep. The author. At one point I actually came face-to-face with him and it was everything I could do not to shout: “I’m not a stalker! I didn’t know how to make an avatar! That photo is not supposed to be sexual! I lived on a tropical island and it was really hot! I’m married! I’m not a porn person! Your stupid, confusing comment platform wouldn’t let me delete it!”
I don’t know if he recognized my name (thankfully you cannot see my face in the photo) or, if he did, he simply chose to politely not mention the photo. The photo which is still out there.
Yes, while conducting my non-vanity Google search, I ran smack into the embarrassing photo again. It sits there in the comment section, reminding me, “You haven’t come a long way, baby. You are still a dork.”
Even though I realized how small and irrelevant my tiny boo-boo was in the big picture, even though I have done things far more embarrassing than that, the physical reaction, the painful embarassment was just as strong, years later. So why I am I telling the world about this? Well, one of my online acquaintances had a bit of an “oops” moment on social media yesterday and was feeling all those awful feelings that I know so well. I wanted to reach through the computer and hug her and tell her we all have those moments now and then, that she didn’t do anything wrong.
I have a love/hate relationship with the internet and social media. My online interactions and friendships bring me untold joy, but also a good share of anxiety. For me, there is a constant struggle to balance my desire to be kind, and funny, and interesting with my desire to be genuine and true to the fires that burn in my soul. I always question my motives before I share anything publicly and try to weigh the pluses and minuses of putting myself out there—a hard learned lesson—and I also try not to pounce on “wrongdoers”, check my facts, join in a shame-fest, or say anything that could hurt me professionally. But, being human, I make mistakes.
I am lucky. My mistakes have not brought death or rape threats, I haven’t been doxxed or bullied, and I have not fallen victim to the dark side of the internet.
I am lucky.
I guess this is a very long way of saying: be kind.
That weird, stalker woman who posted a photo of herself in a bikini on your blog post for no discernible reason? Maybe she just didn’t know which buttons to click to make an avatar. That dorky girl in French class who bragged about getting tickets to a concert for a band who had broken up? Maybe she really wanted you to like her and just didn’t have the social skills to introduce herself like a normal person.
Be kind to those people.
We all make mistakes.
Be kind to yourself.