Monday, August 06, 2007

Bra-less in the Dairy Aisle: Musings on anonymity online and in real life.

Anonymity. Some people thrive on it. They lurk, post comments without attribution, and send less-than-friendly emails with the subject line “Listen, bitch,” which they do not sign, and assume I have neither the time or energy to go about hunting down IP addresses and narrowing down culprits. (They’re right, btw.)

And while I’ve never sent an anonymous email in my life, and don’t see the point in commenting on blogs or message boards without leaving my name, I understand and sympathize with wanting to hide your real-life identity. I’ve never made any bones about the fact that ‘Selah March’ is a pseudonym. I took the name at the request of my husband, heretofore known as ‘Dr. March,’ after it became clear that my writing was going to be heavy on the kiss-kiss, bang-bang. If not for his worries regarding the safety of our children and his professional reputation, I’d be writing under my own name. So I don’t consider my use of a pseudonym to be either cowardly or hypocritical, but merely a concession to the concerns of someone I love and someone who, incidentally, makes it possible for me to spend hours writing each week in the first place.

But anonymity and I have a strained relationship. I want to be who I am, in front of God and everybody. Along these lines of discussion, I meant to write about THIS three months ago when it was fresh and exciting.

What? You mean not everyone finds the study of world demographics as thrilling as I do? Pfffffffft. I find it fascinating that more people live in cities than in the country worldwide. With the exception of one long, dark year right after college graduation, I’ve never lived in a city. Doubt I’d survive the experience, were I to try it today. Almost didn’t survive it the first time, and that “city” had a population that scarcely topped 25,000. Kudos to those who negotiate urban and suburban life with grace and aplomb. Sadly, it’s not within my natural skill set. I suspect I'd end up on the evening news in a report that concludes, "...before turning the gun on herself."

As I’ve mentioned before, I live in a small town -- a village, in fact -- with a population of less than 2,000 souls. There are a handful of tiny cities -- populations of less than 300,000 -- within easy driving distance, but the Big Apple, Philly, Pittsburgh and Boston are all so distant that if you plan a trip to any of those teeming hives of human activity, you have to tack on one day just for travel time. In addition, the region’s second largest industry is agriculture -- and we’re not talking big, feed-the-nation-sized farms, here. It’s all Mom-and-Pop-and-maybe-the-kids-if-they’re-interested dairy farms, running a sideline in roadside produce stands and stalls at the local farmers’ markets. Rural. VERY rural. To the point where some folks -- not a lot, mind you, but a few -- still keep and use outhouses on their properties.

What makes this area unique is that the first largest industry happens to be education. With an Ivy League university just twelve miles from my village and a cluster of smaller private schools within an hour’s drive, plus arguably the best state university system in the country, we’ve cornered the market on learnin’ as a business. This makes for a fascinating mix of folks, especially in my little town, where you’re more likely than not to stand in line at the bank between a multi-published and nationally revered expert on ancient Roman culture and a guy in overalls and a gimme cap with cow shit on his boots. And make conversation with both of them. At the same time. About local or national politics. And discover, much to your bemusement, that you all basically agree.

I never feel more blessed to be part of this community as when the dog days of summer roll around.* It’s invariably humid here, and a relative few of the homes tend to be centrally air-conditioned (for we are thrifty Yankees who don’t go in for such nonsense when spring and summer only last five months altogether) and you can always take a running jump into The Lake (note capitalization) if you feel the urge. But no matter how miserably sticky we get as a population, there is ever time and energy to stop on the street and inquire after another’s spouse, children, dogs, cows, corn crop. I’ve lived in a number of towns as small and smaller than this one, and I have to say that I’ve never encountered people as interested in others’ lives as I’ve found here.

In other words, we’re a nosy bunch who can’t mind our own business. But somehow, it works for us. You’ll note I’m saying this NOW when, to my knowledge, no one has a clue that when Mrs. March isn’t shopping, cooking, cleaning and attending PTA meetings, she’s writing dirty stories. We’ll see how I feel when that news ever breaks. I doubt it’ll take more than another five years or so. By then, I’ll have prepped the spouse and spawn on how to deal with nasty questions along the lines of, “Why does your wife/mother write that trash?” With any luck, they'll be able to answer something along the lines of, "Because that trash is putting me/my kids through college."

Right now, the purple loosestrife and yellow Indian paintbrush are blooming, the corn is as high as an elephant’s eye, and my dogs are panting too hard to bark at the squirrel sitting outside my office window chattering at me. When I drive into the heart of the village for groceries later, the store manager will mention that he noticed my older son is home for the summer, and ask why the lazy-good-for-nothin’-brat -- said with a huge smile so I know for sure he’s joking -- didn’t apply at the front desk for a job. The cashier will want to know if the new Bentley Little I bought last week was any good, and was it really gory or just a little gory because she’s been having bad dreams lately and did she tell me about her poor daughter who might need to go on medication for her migraines? I’ll meet at least two of my husband’s patients between the produce aisle and dairy case, and if I’m lucky, neither of them will ask me to ask him to fill a prescription. And everybody -- EVERYBODY -- will know exactly who I am.

Pain in the ass? You know it. Especially on days I'd rather not bother with panties, much less a bra, but know I have to lest someone notice my wayward jiggle and use it to embarrass my kids. And still, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

*unless it’s when the snow is hip-deep and the guy across the street comes over and cleans out my driveway without being asked because he’s been watching and knows my husband is often gone eighteen hours at a time. - Romance of Dubious Virtue


Anonymous azteclady said...

Your life--and your community--sound amazingly great. But what to do when the need to hide is so great you can barely make yourself go outside with your poor dogs, who really really REALLY gotta go, mom, before a mess develops all over your kitchen floor?


(and the guy clearing snow off your driveway? good people!)

8/06/2007 11:52 AM  
Blogger FerfeLaBat said...

Sounds like Doc Hollywood North. I think my town is smaller and everyone went to HS together, and our kids and probably our grandkids. Everyone knows pretty much everything there is to know about us and even stuff WE didn't know that they made up one day when they were all bored - waiting for hurricanes will do that to people. I don't think I could keep a secret like a pseudonym even if I wanted to where I live. Kids will "out" you every time so I've never bothered. Someday I will explain a method called "Hiding in plain sight" were-in people think they know so much about you when in fact they know virtually nothing at all.

8/06/2007 4:35 PM  
Anonymous Barb said...

You know, and here I thought I was living the small town, village life when I was in Hudson, with its 22,000 people.

And that Miami, when my family moved there, was a "small" city of 250,000 and now, of course, it's an actual urban, cultural crossroads which I navigate cheerfully and with a fair amount of ease.

And that Jacksonville is a "small-market" town at just under 1 million population. The lovely sprawling subdivision where I'm living now (six thousand homes, I think) is like a small town unto itself and it's weirding me out a little that after just two months, I can walk into the Publix and the cashiers and produce guys recognize me.

Yet at the same time, I'm not a terribly urban creature, or at least, I don't think I am. I don't know what I am, actually-- I do know that I love how you revel in your small village and see all the good and not-so-good to it.

8/06/2007 5:21 PM  
Blogger Eva Gale said...

Weird, why two sets of comments?

Town I'm moving to *crosses fingers* has 7k. I would prefer smaller, but thems the chips.

I think it's easier to hide in larger #'s. You can be a nobody and blend. But I freak amidst that many people, I prefer commumity.

8/06/2007 7:47 PM  
Blogger Selah March said...

Ah, azteclady, I've been there too. And yes, the snow-clearing guy is the best kind of good - useful!

Would love to hear about your hiding in plain sight method, Ferfe.

Barb - compared to me? You're urban. Seriously.

Blending has its advantages, Eva. But my ego enjoys being a big fish in a small pond. :p

8/13/2007 5:42 AM  

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