Like clowns, fear is a funny thing. Like clowns, fear is something that isn’t necessarily what it seems to be. Like clowns, fear sometimes sneaks in and bops you over the head with a rubber haddock, while other times it comes up flapping up on squeaky shoes. Even as fear approaches, you can’t always believe what you’re seeing. Fear and clowns have many similarities.
And then there’s this: in the end, fear, like clowns, often turns out to be not nearly as bad as you'd imagined. Such is the case of my college students finding out about my pretty dumb things, this blog that confesses everything from my predilection for spanking to my experiences of multiple abortions to my unabashed love of my previous dog, Spencer.
I started writing my pretty dumb things three years and a couple of months ago. At first, I wrote because I was motivated by spite; I felt the need to show this man who had a blog, who had publicly devoted himself to me on his blog, and then had quietly dumped me on it, that I could do what he did, but better. I wanted to spite him, and I guess I did.
Then I wrote because I had to. It felt as if there was this huge backlog of stuff I had to say, all these stories I had to tell, all these moments, thoughts and feelings I had to share, and share them I did. Catharsis is write, I’ve said before and will say again until I grow tired of the phrase. Without writing, I’d still be the monumentally fragmented and profoundly unhappy individual I used to be and not the relatively sane and oddly content individual I am now. Without writing, I’d still be stuck I a rut. I’ve given my gratitude to my readers more than once, for without you, I’d be not nothing, but a lot less.
My one fear in writing this blog was that my students would discover it. I didn’t worry about the administration of the school finding out, for I’d told my Department Chairs about it. I don’t keep my own secrets, though I do keep those of others, and so it wasn’t a big secret that I had a blog, that much of what I wrote was dirty, and that people were free to read it or not. It just didn’t matter to me because I knew that my need to write loomed larger than my fear of being discovered.
I could write about why much of the content of this blog has been explicitly sexual, especially at the beginning, and perhaps some day I shall, but today is not that day, that post is not this post, for this post is about the day that I realized that my students had discovered my blog. It was, actually, on Super Tuesday, the same day that I met with two editors from a large publishing house who were—and are still—interested in publishing my book. I went home from the lunch I’d had with these two editors and my friend who’d set the whole thing up, I signed into my stat-counter, and I discovered a thick handful of people with IP numbers from my college were avidly reading my blog. They were downing pages like M&Ms, that is to say, endlessly, quickly, and without much evident digestion. Though I couldn't know exactly the identity of each blip on the screen, I knew that only my students would be that interested in this blog.
My initial reaction was to completely effing freak the fuck out. I’d always maintained that I could deal with anyone discovering my blog—except my students. I imagined them hating me. I imagined them disrespecting me. I imagined them hijacking the classroom. I imagined my authority yanked out from underneath me like a tablecloth. I imagined me tumbling down to the floor, my sprawling limbs messy as broken plates, awash and red with shame. I imagined the worst.
So, apparently, did my stalkers, for it was their attempts to out me that led my students to my blog. On New Year’s Eve of 2006, my stalkers bombarded sites that college students use. I discovered my stalkers’ attempts very early after these stalkers had begun their attack.Despite my attempts to control the situation, eventually, these stalkers were successful. An ex-boyfriend found me this way. So did my biological father. And so, finally, a year after my stalkers first tried to out me, did my students.
On that Tuesday in February, after reading my stat-counter compulsively and discovering more and more of my college’s IP appearing, I freaked and did all that I could do. I spoke to friends, who reassured me. I took deep breaths and several shots of whiskey. I went to bed. The next day I was on campus, I went to my Department Chair and I told her the story. Then, bracing myself for the worst, I went to class. I taught. I taught again. And nothing happened.
No one said anything. Not word one. Nothing changed. Not a bit. Not an iota. No one said anything about anal. No one said anything about my love of being dirty-talked to. No one said anything about my history of depression. No one said anything. After a couple of classes, I exhaled, relaxed, and moved on. I did have one conversation with a former student who admitted he read my blog, but as bad as that was, it wasn’t that bad. At the end of our conversation, I realized that my fear had been a hundred gajillion times worse than the reality, for the reality was…nothing.
I must admit that knowing that my students were reading my blog absolutely colored my content for the past few months. Every time I felt like singing paeans to my raw pink pussy, I checked myself. Every time I felt like bemoaning my dearth of anal and my ambivalence about it, I stopped. Every time I felt I was saying something that I would not want brought up in class, I paused. Sometimes I wrote it anyway; other times I did not. I am profoundly glad that I’m no longer teaching and that I have the freedom to write freely. I’m the sort of person who believes that things happen when you’re ready for them to happen, and all of this—the meeting with the publishers, the students reading, my decision to bid adieu to academia—happened as I needed it to. (As ever, click to embiggen the pictures—if you dare.)
It’s all a lot like the Buffy episode of season 5 called “Fear, Itself.” It’s Halloween, Buffy and company get trapped in a frat party haunted house, and systematically, all their fears come true: Xander feels abandoned; Willow’s magic overcomes her; Oz turns into a werewolf; and Buffy finds herself alone. They each get funneled into the top room of the house, and there they discover that Gachnar, the Fear Demon, had been summoned. As they stare at the gaping floor boards pulsating with light, their fear grows.
Rising slowly up from the eldritch light, Gachnar appears, all helmeted, swathed in black leather and wrapped in wires. He is also about six inches tall. Buffy squashes him with her sneaker, and the metaphor is complete.
Fear is a lot bigger in our heads than it is in real life. In real life, it’s almost always not that bad. And here’s the other thing: those people who wanted to instill fear in me by attempting to out my blog identity to my students, they just wanted power over me. They succeeded; I was afraid. But then I saw the fear for what it was: puny, insignificant and meaningless. And the fear, like clowns, became something to laugh at.
I’m no longer afraid. I’m fearless, I’m powerful, and I’m strong. What’s even better? Soon, I’m going to be published.