Ghosts Of LiveJournal Past

Aw, remember LiveJournal? I still go back to check on old friends, though it feels like visiting a ghost town (and confronting unpleasant former versions of myself can be ... unpleasant).

Aug 31, 2013 at 11:00am | Leave a comment

image

Here I am (right) with my NYC friends, pulling a Miley tongue situation back in my prime LJ days.

Once a month or so, I spend a few hours bingeing.

Not on sugar (I do that, too, but that’s a different essay). Sadly not on sex (different essay I’d be too shy to write). Not even on Facebook or Twitter (I spend a few hours each week down the depressing rabbit-hole that is Facebook, but I’m remarkably non-obsessive about Twitter).

Nope, once a month I gorge myself on an extended voyeuristic peek inside the lives of my friends on the virtual community of LiveJournal.com. Some of these friends I’ve gotten drunk and cried in Chelsea bars with; some of them I’ve karaoked with -- terribly -- in the East Village; some of them I’ve met for sober coffee dates in San Francisco; and some I’ve known online for 10+ years but never met in person, instead settling for a vague sort of epistolary intimacy, safe behind the glow of our tiny pixilated photo icons.

Remember LiveJournal? Vaguely, sort of, a little? If not, I don’t blame you. It’s been around since 1999, and it’s not exactly sexy anymore; today it's all about Tumblr and Twitter and Instagram and whatever annoying other new social media things I'm not cool enough to care about.

LJ is still kicking, though: There are more than 16 million LiveJournals worldwide, and it’s super-popular overseas. Even here in the U.S., there’s a small but thriving underground of former die-hards -- like me -- popping by the site every couple months for a quick “hello” post and to catch up on our friends list.

Why are neurotics like me still hanging around the online equivalent of a ghost town, rereading our old journals, haunting the lives of our former “friends” and, perhaps more disturbingly, our former selves? Now that there are, seemingly, 65 trillion other Web platforms vying for our time-sucked, Adderall-addicted half-attention, what would compel anyone to frequent a passe site like LJ? For me, it’s largely nostalgia -- a longing for the “good old days” of the Internet, the early ‘00s, when blogging was still new and weird, and “twitter” was used as a verb.

I miss the days when it was still considered shocking, weird and edgy to keep a diary on the Internet.  Friends and acquaintances’ alarmed expressions when I told them I had one of said diaries on the Internet? Priceless. Around 2001, I remember my friend Meg’s eyes swelling with a mix of intrigue and concern when I first told her about my LiveJournal and one of my burgeoning friendships there. Hovering in the magazine racks of Barnes & Noble Union Square, Meg whisper-scolded me: “Wait. You know this dude FROM THE INTERNET?”

When I told her I was going to meet this new writer friend for real-life drinks at a real-life bar, she practically fell to her knees imploring me to “bring a friend with me.” The intrigue! The danger!

Back then, a woman meeting a male stranger “from the Internet” was still seen as sketchy. Maybe a tiny bit desperate, and more than a little bit dangerous. Which made the whole thing more alluring, of course -- the notion that my LJ compatriots and I were brave risk-takers at the forefront of a digital reckoning. Or something.

In 2013, keeping a blog, making friends, and even falling in love with someone you meet online is totally NBD. Nowadays, almost everyone documents their (endlessly fascinating) daily lives online in some fashion, even if it’s just posting a shot of your amazing gnocchi dinner on Instagram. The Internet isn’t edgy anymore; it’s infiltrated absolutely every nook of our lives, and it holds our hands through tasks both monumental and minute (paying a parking ticket; looking for a soul mate). Back in that golden Internet age I occasionally revisit via LiveJournal, the Web was part of our lives, yes -- Hotmail and AIM, anyone? -- but it wasn’t our ENTIRE LIVES like it is today.
 
Beyond my nostalgia for the glory days of yore, I revisit LiveJournal to stay in touch -- God knows why -- with the younger, more tortured 20-something me who flaunted her scars in a diary there. I guess some part of me misses that girl, with her drunken tantrums, empty flings, and excruciating hangovers. Still, our relationship is conflicted. I feel about her like a mom might feel about a wayward kid who keeps getting busted for smoking pot at boarding school -- a hint of amusement is there, but there’s mainly sadness and pity.

That younger me, the one who started her LJ in October of 2001, when she was 23? She was something of a wreck. I was struggling to build a life and a career in an NYC that I loved but that -- reeling from 9/11 -- suddenly terrified me. I’d moved to New York right after college and had been living there for about 2 years by then.

Having struggled with depression since high school, I was accustomed to inner turmoil. But that turmoil wasn’t usually about anything REAL, like anthrax in envelopes; hundreds of candles illuminating hundreds of homemade Missing Person posters; or that inescapable, indescribable sour smell that consumed the city, a hazy veil of charred metal and flesh. No, my usual angst was the byproduct of a faulty, depressive brain that liked to obsess and ruminate and tell itself self-denigrating lie after lie after lie.

Maybe that’s another part of the reason I grew so enamored with LiveJournal -- the site gave me a permission slip to be as “out” as I wanted about my struggles with depression. And alcohol. And men. It also gave me a built-in social circle (I was still trying to make friends in NYC) -- without really trying, I began amassing a modest collection of LJ buddies who read my posts and weighed in on my life. Some of the relationships I forged there felt genuine and solid, and more than a handful of them were with people around my age who also lived in New York. (See, Meg? You really CAN find decent people on the Internets!) This small gang of digital friends didn’t judge me or scold me for my depressed, boozy histrionics, which I appreciated.

I stumbled through that exciting, painful time in my life with my LiveJournal friends perched (in pixels) by my side. Sure, I turned to my “real” friends for support around life’s Bigger Stuff -- the job woes, the breakups -- but those LJ relationships were like a backup choir: not center-stage enough to steal the spotlight, but THERE, and important. And I liked the fact that my online buddies only saw what I showed them. They didn’t know me well enough to make informed assessments about my well-being, or to discern whether my drunken escapades were compulsive enough to warrant that I stop drinking (yes, eventually), or whether my frantic search for love was symptomatic of a larger issue (it was).

My LJ forays began slowing down when I moved to San Francisco at age 28.  I’m not sure why. Maturity? Increased levels of personal dullness? A shift to social media sites like MySpace (eughhh)? Or was LJ just not that cool or interesting anymore? Probably all of the above.

Like I said, I still stop in to LiveJournal every now and again for minor binges, to see what my friends are up to and to post something if I’m feeling inspired (or ‘00s nostalgic). I posted an entry a week or so after my dad died in 2010, and now, rereading the sweet, supportive responses there from my LJ friends, my heart warms with affection for the website and the unique breed of closeness it fostered for people like me.

Still, I don’t feel tempted to reread my own journal entries very often, even when I randomly start missing that old, crazy me-I-used-to-be. I love her, kind of, and I sympathize with her. But some things are best left buried deep in the recesses of the ever-expanding, ever-less-edgy Internet.

Anyone else have special feelings for LiveJournal?

You should follow me on Twitter.