I've been working on a version of this for more than three months now; it is, by far, the hardest piece I've ever felt obliged to write.
The Zenformation Professional is probably the most popular blog in Oxford Fucking Ohio.Over the last six months, I've had a couple of dozen local readers, mostly college students from universities in southern Ohio and Indiana, share versions of that statement via IM or email. I've also had another dozen or so folks at the local U. tell me the same thing - offline and in person.
It sounds so absurd, so downright arrogant, to write those words. And that's so not me.
I don't blog to win popularity contests. Hell, I'm probably one of the only bloggers in America who's ever intentionally tried to chase away readers, simply by making the blog more difficult to find, by implementing a kinda-sorta controlled vocabulary to keep the ZenFo Pro operating under the local radar as much as possible.
To be honest, there are times when the attention makes me just a tad uncomfortable. So uncomfortable, in fact, that I debated taking this blog off into that good night.
I have a rather high-profile jobby-job that I enjoy (most of the time.) Because of my position, I'm often in the public eye.
Let me put it this way: there are local lurkers who've met me, in person, who are often shocked that they've seen the "ZenFo Pro's" offline self quoted in the local college newspaper.
It's one thing to discuss aspects of one's personal life online when there's at least an illusion of anonymity. However, it's a whole 'nother ballgame when one realizes that that anonymity is damned near impossible to maintain when a large chunk of one's blog readership apparently lives within a five-mile radius.
I've been very aware that there are now colleagues of mine who read the ZenFo Pro site. I'm probably one of the few bloggers who's ever had coworkers tease him about a silly "Big Guns" post on the job, or had colleagues "anonymously" post the most randomly silly comments, only to find out that, yes, I do indeed know how to use certain tools to track IP addresses to their office PCs (my policy for librarians and staff that I work with is the same for everybody else who comments on my blog - post anything too personal, and I delete the comment.)
I've had library patrons/blog lurkers approach me offline to talk not only about information resources but about their (or my) personal lives as well. One first-year student told me, while helping her track down resources via my library's online catalogue, that she asked for my help because the blog makes me look, at least online, like my institution's "fucking badass."
I still haven't figured out, exactly, why some folks are so fascinated with some of the things I write about.
Either way, I'm almost certain that I'm the only librarian blogger to be referenced by April MacIntyre at Monsters and Critics and Steven Cohen's Library Stuff - both in the same month.
But then there's the "incident."
I've been reluctant to post about it.
Reluctant, until now.
* * * *One Wednesday night in April, after dinner, I sat out on the back porch of the ol' ZenFo Fortress of Solitude, smoking a cigarette, drinking some cold beer, and watching the sun set.
At one point, I noticed a young woman staring at me from the parking lot of the adjacent student apartment complex.
I figured, hey, there's a cute brunette staring at me. That doesn't happen too often. Might as well wave and holla her way, right?
Yep, warm weather just does something to me sometimes.
I yelled something relatively harmless across the yard and adjacent asphalt, something like looking good there, chica.
The woman froze like a deer in headlights and nervously waved back. She hollered something back, but I couldn't make out the words (I have some minor hearing loss, a direct result of playing in a punk band and getting into too many fistfights as a kid.)
And then out came her cellphone.
I sat there and watched as the woman turned her back to me, occasionally looking over her shoulder, checking to see if I was still there, while talking on the phone.
Oh, for fuck's sake.
I headed back into the house to watch some baseball on TV and to pray to God she wasn't asking her boyfriend to beat up the creepy old man in the duplex across the way. I'd just sat down on the couch when I heard a faint knock at the same back door I'd just closed.
There stood the young woman, sans angry boyfriend or law enforcement, barely able to make eye contact.
Um hi. My name is _____. I'm sooo sorry to bother you, sir, but I was wondering if you're that zenformation guy...
That question sent a chill through me like an snowstorm in hell.
* * * *
Turns out the woman had figured out who I was when she literally looked up from a public computer in my library, only to see me standing there, in my building's lobby, talking to this "old guy in a turtleneck" (i.e., one of my institution's senior administrators).
The woman merely thought that the "redneck-looking guy" across the street from University Commons looked kinda like me.
The use of the word chica in my holla was a dead giveaway - hence, the sudden phone call, to a classmate.
Oh, for flying monkey fuck's sake...
* * * *
I don't remember much actually, besides the shock of it and a few chaotic thoughts. However, I remember that, rather than answer verbally, I simply stood in the doorway, bobbing my head up and down like an idiot.
After asking her question, and getting an uncharacteristically wordless answer from the offline zenformation guy, the woman stared at her feet and nervously rubbed her neck.
I guess the woman realized the sheer surrealness of our meeting, since she quickly began to apologize for intruding, for pestering me at home, and for just about everything else she could think of, simply to fill the awkward silence.
Oh man, this is too weird. I'd better go. I'm like so sorry...
For some reason, probably against any semblance of rational thought, I finally found something to say.
I said something like don't sweat it, invited her into the house, and asked her if she'd like a beer or something.
She smiled and said she was so embarrassed, she'd need at least two beers. Or maybe something stronger.
Tell me about it, chica. I'm hoping I still have some Wild Turkey in the cabinet.
For some reason, she thought that was funny.
* * * *
One beer begat a six-pack. One six-pack begat a midnight run to the U Shop (a local college convenience store, a la Clerks) for a case and some Marlboro No. 27s.
At the start of the night's conversation with this one particular lurker, I was certain that it was time for the ZenFo Pro to die, to fall onto that Delete-This-Blog? sword, with no goodbyes, apologies, or explanations.
By the end of our conversation, well, I wasn't so sure if that was the right thing to do.
The safe thing, sure.
Perhaps the most terrifying nightmare of any blogger's existence is the thought that, yes, what is posted online could creep into the offline world, or could be used against them. Hell, there are folks who've lost their jobs simply for expressing themselves online...and working in a tiny, tech-savvy industry, it's not like I've made many friends in the Library World...
But the right thing? I've spent most of the summer, since that conversation, debating that very concept.
An interesting side note...
Has anybody ever wondered about the "real" reason I went all paranoid and changed my Blogger "hometown" listing from Oxford to Cincinnati?
* * * *
TO BE CONTINUED...