OXFORD, Ohio (ZP) -- In so many ways, I'm glad that I was completely shit-faced by the time the woman behind the "Incident" and I actually started talking in general about the ZenFo Pro persona. Probably would've been a lot more painful to hear some of the stuff had I been sober.
But there's only one true way to conduct any sort of user-needs analysis - one of the most important research tools of my profession requires a methodology more akin to a full-contact sport than the "circle jerk scholarship" so many other research disciplines have resorted to these days.
Figuring out how blog readers think is no different than trying to figure out how, say, a person approaches a research project or how various immigrant groups use public libraries...
Um...sure. I almost buy that justification. Almost.
* * * *The lurker who figured out that, yeah, I was her neighbor for two years wasn't really a "lurker," at least by my definition of a blog lurker.
A lurker, to me at least, is someone who reads a blog often enough to understand the writer's motive behind blogging, to at least have some curiosity, some basic understanding, of the nature of personal web commentary but for various reasons on the "reader" side of blogs chooses not to comment.
Those reasons include personal safety concerns, shyness, suspicion of false authenticity, or, well, lack of interest in the topics discussed. Some folks choose to lurk, often, because they are unfamiliar with a blog's particular interface, web anxiety, or information overload. Others may choose to not participate in online discussions because of the often brutal and unfriendly nature of the post or subsequent comments.
And some folks, of course, simply like to read in peace, without having to think about all of that baggage.
But "Britney" (not the woman's real name) doesn't fit that (way too-techie-sounding) model.
She found the blog, as most folks find blogs, completely by accident.
She'd gotten home from the bars one night. Her roomies had all found guys to "hook up with," but she'd found nothing of interest. She hopped online, started Facebook-stalking other students, then decided to start Googling random shit about Oxford.
And then she found my site. She read a few posts and thought I was funny. She bookmarked the blog on her laptop, then decided to start calling random friends to see if there was anybody else "not getting any" that evening.
Blogebrity? Please. Britney guessed she'd only visited the ZenFo Pro a whopping dozen or so times since she found it sometime in Fall Semester 2005.
She liked the Playlist posts. She found my political posts "out there," my library stuff boring, and didn't understand why I spent so much time whining about women problems when there were lots of women who'd be willing to "hook up with" me.
Everybody's a critic when your personal life can be ready-referenced online...
And then she quit reading. She got bored. Nothing interested her.
Oh yeah, that reminds me - have I ever mentioned how downright silly it is for bloggers to take this medium too seriously?
Who do you really think is reading on the other side of all those miles of fiber optics, with all those exabytes of information floating around out there in the world, the human beings who take the time to even stop by a web site, even for a fraction of a second?
See...this is the kind of stuff I think about while there's a very attractive woman sitting in my living room in a sports bra and jogging shorts, telling me about how she really wants me to burn her a copy of the underground hip-hop Mp3s we're listening to and how I'm not as much of a nerd as she thought I was.
Well, there's nothing I can do about all the sci-fi DVDs on my bookshelves. And yeah, I keep old copies of Green Lantern comics in my bathroom, and I've read Isaac Asimov's Book of Facts and Carl Sandburg's Chicago Poems at least a hundred times, cover to cover.
And then there's the fact that I use words like exabyte as comfortably as I use the word fuck.
It's not like I'm a geek in person or anything, right?
Thank the gods for cheap beer and Wild Turkey 101.
* * * *
Reading that last section, one might be inclined to believe I was left depressed, frustrated, angry, or hurt by the whole experience, distraught over the violation of personal space.
I guess unlike a lot of folks, I've had experience with this sort of thing before - starting at 18, when I worked as a part-time sportswriter for a newspaper in Colorado.
Let's see...there was the guy in this bullshit poetry-writing class who didn't think that my story on a local college baseball star's battle with learning disabilities was appropriate for the sports section. There was the high school coach's wife, who ran into me once in a grocery store - she told me I made her hubby look like an idiot for discussing "her" team's adoption of the nickname "Superfly White Lightning" to describe themselves.
Then there's the broadcasting career...the Bible Lady, a middle-aged woman who would call in to read the King James Version, Drunken Fat Bastard, the alcoholic fisherman from somewhere off the Central Coast who'd leave me messages about the high school girls he was dreaming about raping.
And, of course, who can forget my most infamous listener as a radio journalist? When he was first arrested, I was sent down to the courthouse by my news director for official confirmation.
I later learned that I, according to rumor, was one of his favorite radio personalities.
Blog critics? Please. In person or online, no critique will ever get under my skin as much as that bit of "fanfare." Sometimes, one should try not to guess what may be going through someone's mind (or what they may be doing) when they read, hear, or view another human being's ideas.
Hey, my personal life may be a melodramatic train wreck, but I learned a long time ago to take unwanted attention from the masses with a grain of salt.
And opinions are not, as the old saying goes, like assholes. Opinions are more akin to colonoscopies - they can be a pain in the ass, sure, but they're often needed to get the information one needs to better understand how things work in the places most folks never get to see.
* * * *
The reason "Britney" decided to move from online voyeur to offline visitor had almost nothing to do with the blog in general, or some burning desire to critique my writings, or even because, as I frequently see posted, the supposed "hotness" of yours truly. (Lord, I am so far from hot, it's not even funny.)
No, it had to do with a rather stupid local college "holiday," Oxford's infamous Green Beer Day. Pissed off from having to deal with thousands of overly-intoxicated undergrads all day, I went off on what has to be America's Dumbest College Tradition.
It all stems from a tiny little medicine bottle "Britney" found on a beer pong table the day after Green Beer Day.
The woman readily admitted, after smoking a pack of my cigarettes and drinking almost all of my beer, that she knew all about ketamine. She'd done lines of Special K before, in the bathrooms of bars here, a couple of times when she lived in the dorms.
It didn't shock her that the guys she'd been hanging out with had Special K in their house. The first time she'd used Kat, as well as most other narcotics, was with these guys. One of the guys even hooked her up with Kat whenever she didn't feel like partying.
Ketamine is one of those "fun" drugs, one of ones folks thought died on college campuses back in the 1990s. But going for that Kit Kat crunch didn't disappear; it simply went back to being a boutique narcotic. It went the way of cocaine, PCP, and LSD - because of government crackdowns and raids, the street price of said product is no longer affordable to your average, middle-class stoner.
But hey, rich kids are always an easy sell when it comes to designer club drugs, because nobody else can afford it.
"Britney" had never seen K in its veterinary (it's a horse tranquilizer), liquid form. And she'd found things online that claimed that it could be used as a date rape drug.
What she couldn't answer - what no online or print reference can answer - were several "why?" questions that had been bugging her.
Why did she find a bottle of liquid Special K floating in a beer pong cup at her (now-ex) boyfriend's house, and why was every guy she knew telling her to shut up about it?
Why is the culture surrounding the Local U. so fucked up for women? For working-class students? What about the Good Ol' Boy system that runs this community?
What the fuck is wrong with guys in this town? Why is being smart a turn-off for your average college boyfriend?
And why aren't people screaming from the rooftops in this goddamned town?
* * * *
Of course, "Britney" wasn't looking to me for answers to those questions. She wasn't asking me to run to the office or to log onto my library's proxy server to look up citations, she didn't knock on my door to fawn over me about a stupid profile pic, and she certainly didn't expect me to answer her "why?" questions for her.
She just needed somebody to listen.
Here is this young woman - a young, attractive woman set to graduate from college and enter the real world - who, for the first time in her self-described sheltered life, had been forced to do the right thing. Because she put her dignity ahead of the need to "go with the flow, she became a pariah.
Her friends admonished her and gossiped about her, all because she dumped a "popular" guy because he - GASP! - may have been slipping Special K into her drinks, or other women's drinks. Her best friend all through college, a woman I've never met who will forever be labeled in my mind as "that skanky bitch," had told her not to talk about it, to forget about the whole thing and settle for a guy who'd one day be a "good provider."
She tried taking their advice. She buried her feelings. She never talked to the boyfriend about her suspicions. Then one night, while out drinking with a bunch of the boyfriend's buddies, somebody made a joke about rape. "Britney" snapped. The boyfriend called her a whore.
Three-year relationship over. Along with most of her friendships.
And she felt good about it. Lonely, but proud for doing the right thing. But sometimes, having only your mom to listen and be supportive can take its toll on a person.
Lonely enough to look up from a computer in a library, see a librarian whose blog she'd been reading, who reminded her of her grandfather for some reason, and to decide that, well, if other people are doing it ...
* * * *
As we talked about it in my living room, I witnessed firsthand how that "Public Ivy" mask that so many folks around here wear like some sort of badge of honor is killing them inside, sucking the life and ambition out of their souls, feeding on the destruction of innocence like a horde of pompous academic vampires.
The only thing I could think to save, repeatedly, at least that I remember, was something along the lines of:
Chica, fuck this town. Fuck that college. Fuck your ex. Fuck all this shit. Get the fuck out, move on, and take what's yours.
At one point during our "date," I thought about telling "Britney" that I had to be at work early the next morning for a meeting, that we should probably just go out for coffee that weekend.
Instead, I logged onto my scheduling software from my laptop, let my boss and staff know I was taking a "mental health day," and cancelled all of my appointments for the following day.
"Britney" was sprawled out on my floor, digging through my CDs as we talked, merrily drunk and listening to the "random shit" I had in my CD collection - owning Tom Waits, Paul Westerberg, and Frank Black albums makes me weird?
This woman was having a good time, obviously for the first time in months. She'd been carrying around all of this baggage, and now she's getting drunk with a random stranger and venting, simply because she read a few posts and thought I was still some sort of Oxford Fucking Ohio version of Gawker...
I think I pissed a lot of folks off by canceling those meetings. I could care less. As a librarian, as a blogger, and as a person, I put user needs first. And this woman NEEDED somebody to listen, even if that person happened to be a guy she'd just met.
To any librarian who wishes to file a grievance over my putting "Britney's" needs ahead of professional development, well, feel free to kiss my pale ZenFo Pro ass and write another bullshit commentary in the professional literature about how being a librarian is oh so swell.
* * * *
TO BE CONCLUDED...
* NOTE - I received verbal approval from "Britney" a few months ago to post about our conversation. I offered the the opportunity to proof these posts beforehand; she declined, saying she "didn't give a rat's ass" what other students may think, but asked that I do not link to her web journal (she does have one, and no, it's not a Blogger account or one that's easy to find) and that I do not reveal her real name, major, or her hometown, online or off. So don't bother asking.