Tuesday, August 15, 2006

HOW AN OFFLINE MEETING ALMOST KILLED THE ZENFO PRO, Pt. 3:
Of Online and Offline Lives, Fruitcake Sex, and Why This Blog is Still Here


OXFORD, Ohio (ZP) -- So I get this very interesting voicemail a few nights ago, from some bar in an undisclosed city somewhere in the Eastern Time Zone.

A telephone call from Istanbul, if you will.

Apparently, it's okay for me to disclose a bit more personal information, since the caller in question had no idea I almost shut this damned thing down because of our "meeting"...

She promised she'd quit reading, if it made me uncomfortable. I called back to tell her that, well, it's just a stupid web log...

* * * *

So...

Shit happens.

I didn't almost shut down this blog because a woman walked across a parking lot, knocked on my kitchen door, and asked me if I was the zenformation guy. It had very little to do with the invasion of privacy, or strangers confessing their ketamine problems or discussing asshole ex-boyfriends in my living room.

This blog almost died because of boundaries. The boundaries between online and offline existence, boundaries between professional obligation to make myself accessible and a personal need to vent the frustrations with the world - and a very real need to be myself.

The blurring of boundaries almost killed the ZenFo Pro. And, because of those boundaries being blurred, almost irrevocably, I've had to readdress how I approach this thing called the "Blogosphere."

Sometimes, one just needs to take a stand for their right to express their opinions - the way they want, when they want. It is not my responsibility to play judge and jury for readers, and I will not let the fear of how others judge me affect how I blog.

Needless to say, either way, the ZenFo Pro is here to stay.

And a little encouragement goes a long way.

* * * *

"Britney" and I sat up talking long after the booze ran out. We were on our second pot of coffee by sunrise. At one point, she looked at the clock and realized that we'd spent the whole night talking about everything under the sun, that she had projects to work on before she hopped the bus to campus...

And that this had to be the most random-ass experience of her life. We'd been talking not like librarian/patron, not like reader/author, not even like people who'd just met.

Our paths, it turns out, had crossed before. She at least "knew of" a local ex of mine. Apparently, they'd shared a class or two. And I "knew of" her ex - a friend of a friend of a friend. And, after some discussion of my lack of a social life, we came to the conclusion that I was the guy she and a friend had made quite a few jokes about at a party in January, a "fratboy" they were sure had gone home with some emo girl (Um...not quite, but close.)

Oh, the joys of living, dying, and blogging in a small town. Unlike folks in large metropolitan markets, I live in a community so damned tiny, where so few people share any of my interests in life, that I'm now sure I've probably been in the same restaurants, coffee shop, and, well, library, as many of the people who read my web site, where random hot girls stop by your house because they saw your picture online and can make a comment like THAT was your ex? What the hell were you thinking, dude? without even batting an eye.

On the blog, I used to get annoyed by that. I felt like, well, I couldn't do anything. It made me paranoid every time someone left some anonymous comment about seeing me somewhere about town. And then it became the norm. I'd write something about something locally, have folks like Cooper, Wombat, MizB., Shayna, Pia, Crash, G., or the like leave comments, along with random folks who'd say they'd seen me at work, or I'd spoke to their class once, or that they'd witnessed me doing something stupid.

* * * *

The whole experience made very aware that I live - and blog - in a tiny fishbowl, where 17,000 students spend upwards of eight hours per day connected to the World Wide Web, via course management software, Facebook, tabloid web sites, and iTunes.

Instead of simply changing what I blogged about, and thus repressing my own burning desire to just get shit out of my system, I found myself changing how I lived. I quit exploring, quit testing my limits, quit trying to even build a life in this damned town. I'd go to the same bars, restaurants, and businesses, like clockwork, very public, places under-utilized by college students, like the local state park. In those places, I could be myself.

C'mon, somebody out there must've noticed that I tend to write more about non-local guests, tourists, and friends from other places. In Oxford, there are days I feel like a foreigner in my own country, so I tend to be attracted to, and attract, the company of other aliens to this strange part of the planet.

I was living like, well, a hermit. Sure, I'd go out and have a good time - occasionally. But, for some reason, I let something as random as a few people reading a web site get in the way of me being myself offline.

And that sucks. That's so not who I want to be in life.

I'm a balls-to-the-wall kinda guy, really.

* * * *

Since I was a child, I've been certain that I'm destined to be that continental drifter, that guy who moves from town to town, searching for the meaning of life until he finds it. I'm normally completely content, these days, to live alone and unattached, to live simply, to "live free or die" on my own terms, accumulating the least amount of baggage possible.

For some reason, however, after "Britney" and I said goodbye and the "thanks for the conversation" kinda stuff, as I slowly shut the door, I felt like the loneliest human being on the planet.

I don't know if it was the alcohol, or the weirdness, some planetary alignment, or what.

I looked around this humongous house I'd been renting, this monstrosity of a duplex on some bland street, a street named for some real estate developer's daughter. Three bedrooms. One guy. One and a half baths and platinum white walls, dotted with a few of my paintings, a couple of antiques, and a souvenirs from my broadcasting days.

My kitchen was pristine. I vacuumed once a week. I even managed to keep my antivirus software updated.

I realized that, well, I'd become domesticated.

And that bothered me to no end. I'm one of those folks who does better in life feral...

* * * *

I was in the middle of pondering the meaning of my life, reading the latest headlines about the Duke lacrosse clusterfuck, catching up on other blogs, and getting ready for a sunrise bedtime. I wrote a quick blog post before I went hit the sack, venting my frustrations over more senseless bullshit in yet another college community.

I crashed on the couch with CNN's feed lighting up my living room. I couldn't sleep - I was exhausted, but for some reason, I just stared at the ceiling.

* * * *

The phone rang. I answered, not even bothering to sound professional (my cell often starts ringing as early as 6:30, mainly from folks at work.)

"Britney" had forgotten to ask me if I'd like to hang out that weekend. She'd noticed I owned a copy of Heathers - one of those "old" Winona Rider flicks that she had yet to see, and her evil-ass roommates were having a party she didn't want to attend, and she'd understand if I was still freaked about the whole "I read your blog every once and a while when I get bored" thing and...

I agreed. I must've sounded like an idiot, but I agreed.

I hung up and fell right to sleep.

Blogging, yeah, wasn't important - or safe - anymore. I'd just let it die its own death, quit posting and let bloggers and readers drift off to their next read.

But hell, at least I can get a date out of it...

* * * *

So...yeah.

Shit happened.

It started out innocently enough - run out to Kona Bistro, grab some grub, hit the billiards tables at a local bar, back to the my place to watch Christian Slater go all homicidal and to hear classic 80s teen flick lines like fuck me gently with a chainsaw.

For some reason, the flick struck a chord with "Britney." Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the movie's set in Ohio, or the fact that she had a best friend in high school who was always threatening suicide for attention, or...

We ended up getting into a heated discussion about the pressure to fit in during those formative high school. Being the product of a poor, rural Brown-v.-Board school district, hearing what a person who'd attended an affluent suburban school that resembled the film's, sans the homicidal killing spree and/or histrionic hippy teachers.

The discussion grew more heated, more passionate, when it turned to comparisons of the "college experience." Having attended, frankly, a much more modern university for my undergraduate education, one unreliant on some silly red-brick-and-ivy decades stale, I probably let pride for the alma mater get in the way of good decision-making.

"Britney" sat on my couch, quiet, staring at me. It made me uncomfortable. So I just did what I usually do when I get nervous - I rambled on about nothing.

When I finally shut up (I'm known for almost soliloquy -length discourses on the most random shit offline), she just kept staring.

I asked what she was thinking. She told me, for some reason, that she was just listening, that she hadn't met anyone in four years who she could get into a deep discussion with, minus various club narcotics.

And that she wanted to kiss me so bad she could scream.

Apparently, most guys would've figured that out. Yeah, I'm pretty dense.

Shit happens. Might as well go with it...

* * * *

There was an unspoken understanding that, well, I was the rebound guy (a great explanation, here, by the way). The next morning sealed it, while in the shower, when she mentioned she'd be taking a job in a major metropolitan city in a few weeks and she didn't want to feel attached to anything in a town she'd come to almost hate. And she was swamped with all sorts of obligations. And she wasn't exactly looking to date anyone, really.

And then there was the age thing. I don't think I look younger than 27-28. When I had to actually show I.D., I thought "Britney's" jaw was permanently mounted to the floor. She thought I was 23, maybe 24. And she thought the "librarian" thing meant I was merely a grad student who worked at the Local U.'s library.

Quite understandable, really.

I wasn't exactly digging the idea of having to go through the whole dating thing, either. Courtship is a hassle, really, especially given the fact that I'm putting in long hours at work, and, well, trying to explain the whole "I met this girl through my friggin' blog" sounded dorkier than telling someone I'd met someone at a D&D tournament or a Linux-based gamer conference.

Add in the fact that, well, the relationships between the recently narcotic-free (at the time, I think "Britney" was at two months) and the long-time clean (Aug. 15, 2006, marks my ninth year) tend to be rather short and volatile. Relationships are not built upon a foundation of shared former vices, gripe sessions, and the like.

There's a term I coined years ago for arrangements like this:

Fruitcake sex (n.) - the exchanging of sexual aggression like a certain holiday gift, exchanged only when situations require that something, anything, be exchanged.

"Britney" and I spent the weekend together, promised to stay in touch, and just left it at that. During the day, we'd do our own thing. The nights, five nights in all, were ours.

And neither of us slept a wink. I even had to replace a shower curtain rod in somebody else's apartment.

That's all the details I'm comfortable sharing, thank you very much.

* * * *

My online behavior changed that weekend. I so wanted to write one of those "I got laid" posts I see so many guys write,guys without my hit count, to spill my guts in a paragraph or two, turn off the comments, and no offense to readers, but to scream "fuck you and whatever you think" to just about everyone in Cyberspace.

But I couldn't. It didn't feel, well, right. I even had permission to write about it - I asked, just in case.

So I wrote about other stuff, when I had the time. No pressure. I even worked up the courage to post about another "lurker" I'd met that week.

I live in one of the tiniest fishbowls in the Blogosphere Aquarium.

Did I really want to deal with the ramifications of random-ass people stopping me on the street or at work to ask how the sex was?

And did I really want to disrespect another fish in that fishbowl by posting offline stuff - that she may read?

More importantly, why did I suddenly bother to care?

* * * *

Somehow, not wanting to blog about one silly fling with a woman who occasionally read my online journal drove me to want to blog again, to find creative ways to express my feelings, offline and online.

I started reading some of my favorite authors again, rather than spend so much time online. Sandburg. Whitman. Ginsberg. Wilfred Owen. I wrote my first poem in months. I started experimenting with my artistic side, wanting to paint again, to work with my hands again. My blatant, Devil-May-Care attitude returned.

I started, for the first time, to understand the alchemy behind my blogging, behind the blogging behaviors of quite a few of the bloggers I read. Navigating the often choppy waters of the Blogosphere is an art,just as real and inventive, just as passionate, exotic, and thought-provoking as a Baudelaire's Fleurs du Mal, as vivid and chaotic as a Jackson Pollock, just as emotionally appealing as sex in the bed of a beat-up truck in the badlands of Wyoming (if you haven't tried that, well, I'd highly recommend it.)

Blogging is, well, the first truly new art form of the 21st Century. It is the art of the human experience, the medium of the now, painted in HTML and CSS, a mosaic of Jpegs and Gifs, and ASCII text encoding...


* * * *

The last time I ran into "Britney," our only real-world contact between the fling and her voicemail, happened towards the end of May.

She called me at work, asked if I'd be up for having lunch before she kissed Oxford Fucking Ohio goodbye. I was expecting, well, just the two of us.

Instead, she'd invited me to dine with her mom.

She introduced me not as Jason, the librarian, or as some local guy, or even (thank God) as some nonexistent phantom called the "ZenFo Pro."

"Mom, this is my friend, Jason, the writer I was telling you about.

"The gonzo guy. Like Hunter S. Thompson. He's pretty hardcore."

And her mom told me she was pleased to meet me. She'd heard so much about me, and she found my web site rather intense and not to her tastes. But, well, if women like her daughter read it, well, I must be doing something right.

Yup. Somebody's mom has read my web site. I have no clue about what else was shared concerning my private life - not sure I want to know.

We spent two and a half hours discussing online publishing, the dangers of information overload, Internet security, cyberstalkers, the underreporting of sexual assault, the culture of eating disorders, and some of the other so-fucked-up aspects of college life in this goddamned town.

Apparently, there aren't a whole hell of a lot of guys in this place willing to talk about witnessing some of the carnage firsthand.

And there aren't too many librarians, bloggers, or anyone in between brave enough to explain to the mother of a recent college graduate that, yeah, in Oxford Fucking Ohio, its quite common for arrogant, drunk male undergrads to walk up to an attractive middle-aged woman enjoying a cocktail with her daughter in a bar, called her a "MILF," and ask her, point-blank, if she'd like some "young meat," then stagger away without an answer.

Do you know how hard it is to explain the concept of a "MILF" to someone who has no clue what's been going on in this "perfect" college community for years, or in other college communities for that matter?

* * * *

This is, well, sort of an explanation as to why this blog almost went away and why it's still here.

Maybe, one day, I'll have the cajones to post something more when my web traffic is higher, when those local students are back in town and stuck online, bored to tears in some general education cattle class, looking for something to read while some TA rattles on about something they could care less about.

I've moved the ZenFo Pro's directory listing back into Oxford Fucking Ohio. I've decided to be a little more open, in public, when somebody asks me if I'm the "zenformation guy."

Until then, well, I guess this will have to do.

And I'm so hoping "Britney's" mom isn't reading this.

# # #

19 comments:

Dances With Books said...

Well, you asked for encouragement at the beginning of your post, so here you have it. May you continue blogging, and may it be on your terms.

kT said...

It is interesting to read someone else's take on blogging in a fishbowl -- because I live in one, too.

Blogging is another media in which to explore how much of me I want to be made publically-accessible. I'm learning answers to questions I never thought I'd ask. I gather you are, too.

I agree with dances: may you keep blogging on your own terms.

EsotericWombat said...

To paraphrase the Good Doctor, Only those with true grit can fully understand what it means to live as a salute to the fantastic posibilites of life in this country, and what comes along with it. You touch an crucial nerve with your blog, and that makes it of import whether thirty or thiry thousand people read it.

And dude. Woah.

Joanna said...

Well, I can say that I'm glad that you made the decision not to bring the blog to an end, selfish though it may be. The majority of the other blogs that I read are military bloggers and don't get me wrong I absolutely LOVE each and every one of them. But it is a great change to get to read someone who has more to talk about than the most recent outside the wire patrol or rantings on the current situation in the middle east. So kudos to you and to your blog and keep on writing. I'm also from a small town, although in the deep south, and no where near a college town. Luckily I doubt that anyone here has any clue that what I write exists or could connect it to me if they did!

Smurf said...

Wow. You tend to have such interesting interactions with people. I can think of countless things throughout time that have been so interesting and out of the norm. I am sorry you have struggled so much, but you know what? The determination you came up with is the best one.

My ex-in-laws were being ridiculously invasive of any lines and one time Mr Smurf and I got into an argument on the phone. HIS MOM CALLED BACK and I refused to talk to her. My dad said, "Don't be afraid of words, tell them how you feel." I say that to you as well... what they think is their reality... its their words, but you deserve a space and a way to express your own. Go for it man. NO matter where you go and what you do, someone will find a problem with it... life is to short to care about everyone's opinion. If it jives with how you feel inside.. cool, listen, but if not... be like a duck and let it slide off your back.

*hugs* I actually miss you man.

uptown bitch said...

um hey

you me this year.

it would so be a shame for you to spend another night alone in oxford.

yeah youre the hot guy from the library. get over it

see ya at kofenya ;)

Anonymous said...

My neice attended Miami two years ago, and from what I have heard you may be the last honorable and decent man in Oxford.

I'm glad to see that you will continue blogging, because I've found your peek inside a place so few people understand, especially my generation. College was a different experience for me!

I don't know how confidential this is, but because of my job I can't post my name. I would email you but I can't find a link.

Thank you,
Doris

sassinak said...

i love when you read a few posts in a row and end up commenting on the old one. cause yeah, it makes you feel all smart like and stuff.

and although i read this whole post also and could comment on lots of it including my shared desire that you continue blogging i really just want to say that the idea of explaining what a milf is TO a milf almost made me spit my drink. lucky me i wasn't drinking at the time.

:)

shayna said...

Sometimes it's fun living in a fish bowl, ya know... :)

We tiny fish... make up this great little blogosphere... and thus we rule it... :)

PS... glad you got laid... hehehe! :)

Anonymous said...

Hi. Glad you posted and you didn't shut the blog down. I'd feel bad.

Get the fuck out of that fucking place Jason seriously.

You were the best part of college for me hand's down and i'm so sorry i made you awkward. my suit mates are still mad we lost the deposit. WE NEVER FIXED THE SHOWER!!!!

Kisses and it's good to here from you.

Me

The ZenFo Pro said...

DWB:
Thanks! I appreciate that.

Kt:
Yeah, blogging from a fishbowl isn't exactly as anonymous as I once thought. A few months ago, I discovered that there are at least three classes at the Local U that have sections dealing with blogs and wikis - I was apparently passed around like a collection plate at one point. Interesting, too, since most of the local undergrads I..um...met were female and are close to graduating or have graduated.

And yeah, it is certainly a learning experience ;)


Wombat:
I touch something with the blog, I guess. I've been answering emails since last Thursday :)

And whoa is right...and you got a sneak preview last weekend ;)

Joanna:
Thank you! Having lived in the deep south for two and a half years (Louisiana), yeah, I'm beginning to miss that digital divide, as much as I think it's a modern evil.

Smurf:
Interactions? Hmmm...interesting way of putting it ;)

Yeah, I think I'm done with the whole "don't say anything that may upset the locals" approach to the blog. I'm at the point where, yeah, when I write, I'm gonna write. Being compared to Hunter Thompson was the highlight of my Spring, believe it or not. I realized a while ago that there were some folks who were mistaking my blog for a type of reverse-Gawker. And, well, you know a bit more about some of the offline rumors I've dealt with locally...

Uptown:
Possibly. But, well, you'd kinda have to introduce yourself :)

Anon/Doris:
Thanks so much. I've actually heard from a lot of students who've heard stories about this place, from students at other nearby universities (OSU, UK, OU, CWRU, etc.)

And no worries about anyone figuring out where you work. That's the main reason I leave the Anon./Other option open (plus wordpress/typepad/etc bloggers need to be able to comment). The e-mail tab is right beneath the profile pic (my face) in the right-hand column, under the Mail heading.

The ZenFo Pro said...

Sass:
I do that ALL the time, so no worries :)

Yeah, explaining to a woman that, yeah, that's a sexual advance - a woman you'd just met - isn't an easy task.


Shayna:
Oh, it's definitely fun...sometimes ;)

As for us tiny fish...this is so true. While the "city mouse" bloggers get most of the traffic, they do so mainly because they live in areas with the highest teledensity and fiber-optic infrastructure. "Country mouse" bloggers, all over the world, in rural communities, probably do make up the majority. I love the fact that, for instance, there are a lot of new blogs, in Spanish, coming from tiny towns all along the Southwest, and that kids are using the medium instead of, well, wasting away in front of a game consol.

PS-- Lol on the PS.

Anon./ME
Speaking of the previous PS...

See, I told you...I've never physically met most of these people ;)

And it's not about you really; it had a lot to do with, um, ya know, not wanting to actually complicate things with technology :)

Tell your suitemates to fuck off and, lol, I'm not the one who said the shower curtain could hold the weight ;)

Thanks, "Me" (wink-wink, nudge-nudge)

cooper said...

The fishbowl sometimes gets confining but it is your fishbowl.

The ZenFo Pro said...

Cooper:
Lol. Actually, it's not so bad, I guess. Just a matter of making some minor changes to how I approach blogging and, well, life.

Actually, because of your, er, ties to the Local U., I've even debated deleting some comments and editing old posts to remove references to your link here, but, well, it's your call, chica.

And lol...guess I was too slow getting that Darfur tale up (Stupid job, cuts into research.)

pia said...

Three bedrooms? Make me jealous

And please explain the blogosphere to me
Am at a total loss--have written enough about it. but need to get immersed in other things

The ZenFo Pro said...

Pia:
Lol...yeah, nothing like small town living ;)

Lord, you and me both, chica. At this point, I'm at a near loss.

Cowgirl said...

Fruitcake sex (n.) - the exchanging of sexual aggression like a certain holiday gift, exchanged only when situations require that something, anything, be exchanged.

Yep. What you said.

Shit happens. I think alcohol makes a nice partner with every bite of fruitcake.

Oops, did I say that?

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