"The Skirt" is an ongoing series in which Four Pins' resident lady friend, Rachel Seville, becomes the most important woman in your life.
When I moved to New York in the summer of 2011, I fell hard for the Internet. I went to a college where people thought Twitter and Tumblr and having a blog were things that lame people did and cool people read, and as a result, I was a total neophyte when I arrived in New York and realized that a lot of really cool people were using the Internet. In fact, the more a person used the Internet, the cooler it seemed he or she was, even if only like 10 people read their blog about pudding recipes and lingerie.
So I started a fashion blog and began tweeting maniacally, and I bookmarked, like, a million blogs and spent at least an hour each morning when I woke up reading them. I got Spotify Premium and last.fm and signed up for every single “curated” online shopping experience. There was even a month when I checked in everywhere on FourSquare. When I wasn’t on the Internet, I was talking about the Internet, and how it is filled with weird nooks and crannies like crassly-named Tumblrs that specialize in gifs of video game monsters superimposed on treadmills, and you can find anything and anyone you want on the Internet—I could start this weird blog about making fun of myself and fashion while wearing cool outfits and people could find me through the Internet and be like “Chuch.”
You guys, I would have done anything for the Internet. And then I decided to build myself a website.
There was no reason for me to have a website, but I bought the domain of my name anyways. I didn’t know how to design or code and had nothing to put on a website. I couldn’t see any reason to put my resume online, and I wasn’t writing for any publications I could link to. I had a portfolio of writing samples, but they were all about, like, feelings, so I didn’t really want them online for anyone to see. The idea of putting a rambling satirical biography and horrible headshot with an Aleksey Vayner-type video resume appealed for the sheer fun of it, but I wondered if that kind of childish prank might sully the (albeit paltry) record that Google generated for me.
Then I realized: what did come up when you Googled my name? So out of curiosity, I typed it in.
And what I found, among some anodyne things I wrote in college and some very obvious editorials I’d written for my college city’s newspaper, was awful. What I found was This4Riches.
This4Riches had the design of the best-worst kind of Angelfire site, so I panicked immediately, at least aesthetically. It had a black background with white typeface and disjunctive sage and lavender accents. The font was Arial’s third-string quarterback. The only thing missing was a cursor that moved like shooting stars and a weird piano midi of Dashboard Confessional’s “Screaming Infidelities.” It was dated 2005, and it horrified me that this thing—whatever it was—had existed for so long without my knowing it. But what terrified me more was that I had no idea what this thing was or who had made it. The ominous header read, “YOU KNOW WHERE I AM,” while the one and only post was titled, “THIS IS MY ONE AND ONLY POST HERE.” I read on:
“This is my one and only post I will make for this blog and it’s for you Rachel. You need to read this. You need to see this.... I never said or did anything that I knew would upset you when you were with Kyle because I understood that you were gone and that you would find someone else. Except I FEEL THAT YOU WILL NEVER FIND ANYONE LIKE ME EVER…. I don't know what else to say except that this is for you, all of it was always fucking for you.”
Then came the header of a college paper, with the author, Chris’s, full name. I floated outside of my corporeal being for a minute to talk myself down: “Remember that guy who was in love with you when you were in high school? The one who would take a three hour train ride to come see you and you would sit there awkwardly while he stared longingly at you because you didn’t know how to be like, ‘Listen, it sort of seems like you’re a little too interested in me, and that’s sort of weird?’ Well! Your reticence has paid off dubiously in the form of a blog shrine to you.”
It began with a pretty depressing description of what an awful birthday this kid always had, and how it would never compare to the birthday he’d had the year he spent it with me. Sounds sweet enough, I guess, if it didn’t read like, say, this:
“I know she is the only person that will ever truly understand me and welcome all my eccentricities and that I am that same person for her. We are both unique people that usually find ourselves nervous and uncomfortable in the midst of people. Some how we were able to find each other through all of this and discover that our free spirits weren’t so much independent as they were interdependent on each other…. Yet she is the only person to know that I am not happy unless I’m with her or at least feeling as if I am.... She was the first woman I ever explained my life philosophy to. I told her that I didn’t think there was a meaning to life and that we should just experience it.”
It went on for over 2,000 more words, and to cap it all off, the whole thing was sprinkled with a chorus of “Chris and Rachel. Chris and Rachel.”
But the worst part was that I just came off as the worst kind of B-Team Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Apparently I cried when he told me his aforementioned life philosophy, and cried when he left and said, “Aww you’re crying, you’re so emo!” (which, OK, I really think this is exaggeration on his part, because I’ve cried like once, ever, and that was when I drove over a really nice bridge with my dad in Italy and he told me he was proud of me). This piece of “writing” describes me as “a free spirit who liked being loud, intellectual and who was never afraid to flaunt her eccentricity,” like I was an American Girl Doll for Juno fans. I drove this kid to a beach and talked about life—that was a cool thing to do when you were seventeen. You guys, I even gave him a Dr. Seuss book with a Ralph Waldo Emerson quotation written in it and a note that started “Hey Skank.”
I’m sure all of us were weird and embarrassing in high school in ways we’ve elected to forget, but they’re not all online for anyone to see and you to remember in excruciating detail. (Come to think of it, we’re probably the last generation for whom this is true.)
For a moment, I knew how the Olsen Twins must feel catching You’re Invited: Mary-Kate and Ashley’s Slumber Party on TV late at night.
Unlike an Olsen Twins video, however, a blog is not forever. Except for when it is. When I contacted him—for the first time in some four years—to ask him to take it down, he responded with this: “heeeey soooo, i tried really hard but unfortunately if you deleted an old account that was used to create the blog then it's their property. as a hastily passionate 18 year old i did not read the terms of service.” I understood, but it didn’t much change how I felt.
How I felt, though, was not angry at this kid. I could buy that he been a hasty and passionate 18 year old and I had probably been the first not-totally-normal girl he’d met and I’ll buy that at that age it didn’t occur to him that writing about me on the Internet to tell me he loves me might be the same thing as that old woman etching that horrible face onto the Ecce Homo mural to restore it.
No, I was mad at the Internet. I had loved and nurtured the Internet and it had forsaken me by making This4Riches the third entry to come up when you Googled me. Whenever I met someone from the Internet in real life, a small anxiety pinched me beforehand as I wondered if they’d Googled me and read it. As I sat in job interviews in this age of “Google everyone first,” I imagined all the interviewer could think was, “I can’t believe this loser put her head in that guy’s lap.”
Over time, however, my anger over the blog shrine has faded. We’re living in a world, after all, in which everyone will at some point have some dastardly thing about them on the internet that they can’t get removed. That thing will become a part of your Internet identity, which we have less and less control over as more of us move to New York and fall in love with the thing. The reality is that your Internet identity has far more to do with what other people read and write about you than anything you produce yourself.
So you know what? I am going to link to This4Riches. Yeah, this probably means it'll now be the first thing that comes up when you Google me. But to deprive you of this superior reading experience would be criminal. And if you’re going to love someone, even the Internet, you have to put up with the bad stuff. After all, nobody’s perfect.