Wednesday 2 December 2015

My Blogging Origins - A Decade Documenting Life

Earlier this month I was gratefully reunited with the most important friend of my teenage years.

We first met nearly ten years ago, which is as terrifying as it is awe-inspiring to contemplate. We were thirteen, permanently excited and so, so young. We'd each grown from a nest of magical fantasy franchises, YA novels, Disney Channel original movies and that incomparable, titanium bond teenage girlhood is built so indestructibly upon - swishy-haired boys in bands.

But back then in 2006, around the same time we became friends, I started doing something else, which would go on to shape the curvature of the rest of my existence. 

Without really even setting out to do so, I started documenting everything. 

Bizarrely, I never recognised I was doing so at the time. It was only when she reached out to me again that the focus of my mind singled out one specific point in time and space; the top drawer of the bedside table in the room I'd inhabited since my infancy.

A drawer that I knew was full of magic. 

The holy grail of reminiscence.

And sure enough, after living in seven different houses and two different continents, I returned home and in that drawer I discovered exactly what I was so hoping would still be there - six or seven diaries positively bursting with not only historical accuracy, but the most honest, unbroken and heartfelt account of what it meant to grow up as a teenage girl in the millennium.

There was the birth of our friendship, school trips, holiday's, family arguments, first kisses, wildest dreams, the earliest and most heart-breakingly naive experiences of depression, the first time I'd got drunk, sibling rivalry, the book we'd began writing together, losing our virginities, endless parties, SO much heartache and just so much detail, that when I took them along a showed her, the tears that fell from us as we read were as much of joy as they were a nostalgic, innocent kind of sorrow.

I don't even remember writing any of this, I'd said, wiping my eyes and marvelling at the little boxes crammed full of tiny, dedicated handwriting. Do you ever remember me mentioning a diary? 

Are you kidding? I don't think I ever saw you not writing, she'd laughed, and while I have no recollection of deciding to record my entire life, the thick, straining notebooks that span so many years seem to suggest otherwise.

The final sentence in the diaries, just before breaking up for summer in my first year of college, I'd written:

 I love my life, I love my life, I love my life!! 

And then... nothing.

Blank page after blank page, a stark contrast to the heavily populated pages that had come before it. But neither of us really needed to ask why, because we both remembered - and it was a stark contrast to the previous life written. It was the first, the greatest and the most horrifying downfall - something I only ever wrote about when I started this blog, (Trigger warning) in one of my first ever posts. 

I never ended up keeping a diary again after that, but not because I didn't write. We were the forefathers of the social media revolution - I'd moved on from pen and paper. And thus began the journey which would eventually make me a blogger.

I suppose I first began with making 'witty' facebook statuses, every day spending a good hour or so carefully phrasing a thought I'd had, or something I'd seen to give people a laugh. It seems so silly now, but statuses were a big deal pre-Twitter. After people seemed to enjoy these daily witticisms, I caught the online publishing bug, and simultaneously started writing dreadful teenage angst-ridden poetry on Deviantart, which I quickly grew tired of when I realised just how terrible they actually were. 

But the internet still excited me as a place to write and create, and it was around 2009 when I discovered a BBC3 documentary about a British schoolgirl by the name of 'Beckii Cruel'.

The documentary followed a normal-seeming 14 year old girl, who had become a fully-fledged celebrity icon in Japan after posting youtube videos of herself dancing to Japanese pop music. I probably watched that documentary about 15 times. This girl was leading a Hannah Montana-esque double life, where she could go about her daily life anonymously, then become her true self online and build a profitable career out of doing something she loved. It was the absolute dream, and soon after, I started my own youtube channel without telling a soul.

I made it as anonymous as possible, refusing to state so much as my first name, and named my channel 'KATIE T.L.A.T' - a perfect jingle-ready rhyme when read aloud, and an acronym for 'The Life And Times'. (I know, right.) 

In total I probably made about 30 videos just talking about my day-to-day life, verbal manifestations of those diary entries. These would now be considered as 'vlogs', a term which was completely unknown to me then. I don't think I ever got more than about 150 views on any of them, but I had this tiny little community of worldwide cyber-friends where we'd all comment on each others videos and I adored it. It's funny to think now, six years on, if I'd stuck with that, with the following explosion of vlogging success... who knows where I could be today? But after about two months of spilling intimate tales and secrets, it all came to a very abrupt end.

Because one day, I woke up, checking my channel as I did most mornings, and felt a burst of unbridled delight which quickly turned to sheer horror, as I realised my subscriber count had doubled overnight... with very, very familiar names.

Someone at school had found my channel and passed it around to everyone. As you can imagine, that gossip was gold dustI deleted every video and my channel, and I'm pretty sure I didn't go to school for the rest of the week. 

I didn't attempt anything online for a long time after that, but my need to write and publish could not be quelled. For lent the following year, I decided to deactivate my Facebook. This seems laughable now, but this was 2010, when Facebook was in it's absolute prime, when you could still write on someone's 'wall' and receiving a 'poke' from someone you fancied would be noteworthy conversation fodder for the next day at school. 

So I deleted my Facebook in a grand gesture, and started a blog for lent called 'The Cyber Celibacy of a Facebook Fiend.' - stories of all that I did with my life instead of sitting on Facebook. Again, I had no idea blogging was anything more than just a hobby then, and am pretty sure CCFF never got more than about 100 hits, but I updated it religiously anyway. It just felt good to send my words somewhere, like fixing my wisdom to a little candle and sending it off like a chinese lantern into the sky. 

After lent, I returned to Facebook and my blog came to a close. After some googling, it appears I just... deleted the blog. The thought stings me now, but then, my words had served their purpose. Around this time, I discovered Tumblr, and this held my musings for a while. After the trauma of school, I spent a lot of time in the library by myself, reading books, writing long sprawling pieces of fiction and unloading my thoughts into tumblr.

When I went to University a year later, however, any prior acknowledgement that I cared about books and writing vanished very suddenly and unfortunately. I became someone so awful and so unlike myself, and in the process, lost my greatest friend. Breaking point came apparently here, when Tumblr seemed to bring me back down to earth and I wrote this post.

The summer after my first year at University was my long-overdue rehab, my reintroduction into the world after a year of tunnel vision. 

I travelled, filled notebooks with thoughts about things loved and lost, like I always had, and went back to Uni for my second year with my head firmly screwed-on. You've changed, they all said as I shunned my previous ways and started to build a better life for myself. How could I explain to people who only ever knew one me, that I'd actually just changed back? 

My new attitude found me new friends, a tribe of intellectually-inspired and deeply philosophical renegades who suited me just perfectly. The second year of University was perhaps the greatest, most exciting year of my life - despite the rest of my experience there.

And then, finally came the winter of 2012. 

Over the years I felt like I'd been to hell and back, and had my fair share of tall tales for the road. I felt withered and exhausted, but weather-beaten and brave, and most of all, I had wisdom. But one thing still bothered me, something I'd written about endlessly in those early diaries. 

One snowy evening, I found myself sat on my bed with my friend Pete, him playing guitar and I writing some thoughts in my little orange notebook as was often the case.

When I was younger, I always thought by now I would have 'done something' with my life.

He'd looked up, still playing as I watched 11 year-old me scampering about my feet playfully, dreaming ten years into the future she'll become an Oscar-winning actress, a marine biologist living in Hawaii or be performing on her sold out worldwide stadium tour.

I really thought by 21 I'd have my shit together. I sighed. I've pushed away my dreams for so long, and now it's too late. 

I began to feel a lump trembling in my throat and I hugged my knees to my chest.

You know, you really are a melodramatic son of a bitch. Replied Pete. I couldn't help but smile. You actually think you've got to get your dream by 21 or it's lost forever? I nodded meekly. That's bullshit and you know it. There's ALWAYS a chance to turn it all around.

Anyway, if you're so caught up on this romanticised idea of achieving your dream by 21, newsflash for you... he returned to his guitar and began to strum. 

You're only 20.

And I swear to god, in that moment, I felt it happen. I felt this 'one last chance' vibe physically kick in and I cocked my head to one side as I truly processed his words, and what that meant. I'd had the name Scarphelia for a while, but I didn't know what I wanted to do with it, but that very night, as the winter snow drew in against our little orange glow, with the sound of Pete's guitar in the background and the candles flickering against the invading chill, I poised my fingers above the keyboard, and I typed:

I will forever remain curious, and I refuse to remain unremarkable. And this will be the log of how I'm going to do it.

This is the beginning of the rest of my life.

Welcome to Scarphelia.


Someone asked me the other day why I decided to start blogging.

But it was only when I sat with that friend, holding onto those diaries and reading over years and years of documenting my life, that I realised, in fact... I never really did decided to start at all.

In it's various forms, it's what I always have done, and it's what I always will do. I was born a writer and I'll die a writer, because right up until my end, just like I never really began, I know I'll never really be able to stop either.

Whether by hand or by keys, in diaries and blogs or notebooks and novels, for some reason, my role has always been the observer, the analyser, the recorder, and not even by obligation, but as a kind of... cosmic duty.

I've documented my life intricately for a decade now, and truthfully, I can't imagine any kind of future where I won't.

By any kind of means - perhaps one that hasn't even been invented yet - on that winters night in 2012 I became born again documentarian, and what I knew then, as much as I know now, is that from here on out, I'll never not be a writer.