Monday, August 07, 2006

HOW AN OFFLINE MEETING ALMOST KILLED THE ZENFO PRO, Pt. 1:
Of Popularity, Priorities, and the Cost of Going Gonzo on One Fucked Up College Town

OXFORD, Ohio (ZP) -- This will probably be a post I'll regret writing as soon as I hit the "publish" button.

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...

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?

Hmmm...

* * * *

TO BE CONTINUED...

14 comments:

My Music Highway Project said...

I have to say that maybe 4 people I truly know read my blog... and even if more read it... I don't think I would care. It's me... my thoughts, my life and if they know me... they already know everything I have written. :) :) :)

Although, it is a little creepy when people you don't know... approach you... that is kind of scary! :)

-shayna

--spared-- said...

Having a popular blog can be both a blessing and a burden. I decided to divorce myself a few months back from one that was literally generating more attention to myself than I could deal with. So, if you are that bothered by the attention, maybe you should bring it down. But... why do I get the feeling that won't happen any time soon?

The ZenFo Pro said...

Shayna:
Lol...My mistake, from Day 1, was inadvertantly emailing the blog URL to everybody in my Yahoo addressbook, instead of the few I meant to send it to (I went to grad school with Mike at the Waughblog and Clint at Bundesblog; Kevin Sites was an instructor of mine at Cal Poly, and Smurf, KFigment and Chewie were all college roomies, etc.) We're talking 500 or so people, many of whom worked in or around the media, public relations, politics, and, of course, libraries...the folks in the real world know, well, everything and more - I'm so not worried about them...

The "joy" of having a blog in Oxford is that the local U. offers at least three-five courses that have a "new web tech" module that deals with blogging and wikis. Couple that with the fact that,in Oxford, there's very little for 18-22 y.o.s to do, beyond binge drinking, playing cornhole, driving to Cincy, and hanging out, and I can't say I blame anybody for getting bored enough to start reading this thing. For the longest time, I couldn't figure out why, say, my profile views was going up almost exponentially - when I looked last, I was at more than 10,000 - or where the weird-ass emails were coming from.

I've met enough students now to realize that a lot of the stuff I write about touches on some pretty hot buttons locally. Eating disorders, drunk alumni abusing local working students, the lack of diversity, the blandness, the almost Nixon-Youth allegiances to what Mommy and Daddy want, the shellshock of too much technology, etc...

Honestly chica, I think everybody's going through their "mid-bloglife crises" and trying to figure out, well, what's the point of it all. I know I have, and after reading Pia's post last night, I'm certain it's not just me, either. That's actually reaffirming.

Spared:
You know, I'm almost certain I recognize that profile pic...no worries, though...not telling. There was a blog on my blogroll a few months ago that went dead...hmmmm.

Lol...that really did sound like a diva whine, huh? It's not so much the attention as the "not stopping to think about the rammifications" of said attention. It caused me a lot of grief, not because of the attention, but because of how I took it so...personally. It stirred up memories of the ol' broadcasting career and all the bullshit that went along with the end of that part of my life - the anguish from watching seasoned colleague after seasoned colleague downsized after a corporate takeover, to be asked to move from Talk Radio journalist to an FM Drive Time slot to play Britney Spears and play "hip, ubercool deejay" to a target demographic as opposed to simply playing good tunes and entertaining listeners.

And, oh yeah, I think I'm good now. Just needed to let that out :)

After all, about 99% of the Blogosphere is about venting, right? ;)

kendra said...

99% of the blogospher is venting.

it's always a little weird when people recognize you without actually knowing you. luckily the yay area is over populated with blogs, so i don't stand out much, but in weird little circles i'm close enough to minor celebrity to be a hanger on, which is weird. i know most of my friends won't read the blog, but lots of friends of friends do, which makes little sense. i hope nobody from work sees it.

it's not as creepy as people listening to you on the radio and then making you a mixtape to ask you for a date. that was creepy.

sassinak said...

damm dude, i'm glad the link trail rabbit hole dropped me here.

i wrestle with this dilemma myself because i teach pilates and thus work with doctors and physios and so on.

i need credibility.

then there's my blog where i discuss my weekend at a hippie music festival full of potheads and blissed out inability to speak. so it's hard to know where the line is and what to draw it on.

it's MY life, mine. but what about when it costs me money?

Miz BoheMia said...

I guess that one of the perks of living in internet unsavvy Spain is remaining anonymous. There are a few people who have my blog address and one that truly reads me... the others either have lives or, well, cannot handle my language I suppose! I do not know for they have said nothing! Dios mio!

Glad you were able to turn such an awkward situation into an interesting meeting of sorts but the worrisome thing is that this is quite potentially dangerous amigo mio... be careful for from what you write there is quite the wacko or two living close by and now you have me worried about you!

Kate said...

OMG!!!

You live in U. Commons?????

I LIVED in u commons last year and never saw you.
Wait are u saying its okay to come up to you when your in the library working but not a home or what? I'm so sorry and please don't take down the page. it really helps me feel not so alone sometimes

Miz BoheMia said...

Ha, ha, ha, haaa! Now you are giving away MORE! DIOS MIO JASON BE CAREFUL!

The ZenFo Pro said...

Kendra:
Lol, yeah...kinda like a pressure-relief valve on an old, cracked radiator, huh?

It's so funny, but I was just thinking about the "weird little circles" thing and suddenly became so nostalgic for my radio days. I miss working in independent college radio...

Dear lord! I had a similar thing happen when I was still on-air, save it involved Bible verses and Dodger scores (more next post)


Sassinak:
Hey, thanks for stopping by and joining in on the discussion.

It is indeed difficult to figure how much to discuss online and how much to withhold, to maintain personal safety and, yeah, the ol' source of income.


MizB:
Thanks so much for the concern, chica. I am indeed being very careful - already had the cyberstalker experience, and, lol, this was nowhere near as bad. I hope this doesn't sound sexist in any way, but I think if I weren't a guy, I probably would've shut the damned thing down.

But, well, it does get better... :)

Kate:
Um...no...never lived in University Commons, simply near there. But, yeah, this is a prime example of what happens when I don't edit better :)

Lol...and for the record, yeah, I know longer live in that neighborhood, so please don't disturb the folks who took over the lease last month...

(Whooo...there's a bit of mystery there, huh? Where did the Zenfo Pro move to, anyway?)

No worries, hon. The ZenFo Pro is here to stay for a bit longer. Thanks for taking the time to read and, well, you're never alone in this world.

;)


MizB:
Lol...like I said, there is a good side to this...promise :)

Read previous comment for hint...

G said...

At least you keep the blog far enough away from ranting about the job itself, and the institution, to be able to maintain your job. If it's just a personal life blog, there is little any employer can do ... it's like being fired for keeping a diary. Can't do it unless it promotes negative viewpoints or sensitive/classified info about the employer. So, from that standpoint, you should be okay.

Besides, the Zenfo Pro Mystery Stalker Fan Club (known in Japan as the Zenfo Pro Super Happy Fun Stalker Fan Club - sorry, too much anime lately) can actually be seen as a promotion of library services on campus.

Think about it: they come in because they've been reading the blog and want to find out who this guy is. And once they're in the library, *some* may actually realize there IS a library, and *some* of them may realize that it could be quite a useful building, when they may have never thought to enter it otherwise.

So there you go: the Zenfo Pro, unwitting (but not unwilling) Campus Library Promoter Extraordinaire. Pretty good title, if you ask me.

--spared-- said...

Good eye Zen...It didn't just go dead though. PL13, the site's main admin, lost his wife to a stroke. At the same time we were getting ridiculous emails and me being the only female in the mix was becoming cyber psychologist for people who needed more than a few Xanax. Let's just say I made a graceful exit for a few months because I have more important things going on. But the need to vent is still there. I just don't announce who I am, what I do and who I know anymore.

I'm glad you have a positive outlet now. I enjoy reading your rants and I must say, this venue has led me to make new friends, some of them very good friends. So... I won't be leaving any time soon. Just may take a few weeks off here and there.

Sar said...

Zen, that fear is what keeps me from posting my face and full name. There are many other bloggers in the Richmond area and some I wouldn't mind meeting, but some I'd be terrified to meet, and all I'd never want to find unannounced lurking in the area let alone on my doorstep unanounced or invited.

I'm glad it worked out for you in the end and that you're here to stay though. :)

The ZenFo Pro said...

G:
Oh hell yeah. I realized the potential for danger in that months ago. And...lol...I'll openly complain about work stuff AT work, if something's bothering me.

Lmao...actually, that's title's so much cooler than the acting one I have currently. Most folks think I'm a library cop...lol


Spared:
I was actually wondering where you dropped off to, chica. I understand completely. I haven't had to play web-shrink in a few months now, but I hear ya.

I'll leave it at that. Glad to have ya back!

Sar:
It's a common fear and, yeah, its terrifying. And, honestly, at first it was flattering when somebody would recognize me locally. And the "did you know there's a librarian dating this student from New York?" rumors I heard locally were pretty damned funny (since my "girlfriend" in question was apparently the so-way-outta-my-league blogger who LIVES in NYC during the school year)...for a while.

For the record, your asking me to be Brawl with ya in Sept actually helped me to make up my mind to stay. And the My Music Project. And encouraging words from Pia Savage and Miz Bohemia....lord, that could be a whole 'nother post.

I hope this doesn't come across as sexist, but, yeah, there are days I'm so glad I'm a male blogger in my late 20s, as opposed to a female blogger. There's risks, sure, and, I can more than hold my own in a fight, but female bloggers in heavily populated areas open themselves up to so many more risks than I can even begin to think about.

Given the fact that, yeah, the "lurker" in question isn't mad about these posts (lol...she quit reading after meeting me in person, oddly enough) and wasn't a complete loony-tune, I'm very, very lucky. During y cyberstalker experience, it was a woman who'd simply gone off her meds and her parents were more worried that I'd sue than about anything else - harmless crush stuff.

Lord...I'll shut up now :)

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