I’ve just had the most intense “meta” experience I’ve had in two years-plus of blogging. I’m gonna post some on it now, but I’m still a long way from having all my thoughts on this in order, so this might end up breaking off in mid-thought or something. Anyway, I guess I should start at the beginning.
Not long after I began blogging, I was perusing Page’s blog when she mentioned, in glowing terms, a blog I’d never heard of. So I checked it out.
It was some chick named Layne, writing about her life. Ho-hum snooze, right?
Only Layne had some things going for her that most bloggers don’t. For one thing, she had more writing game than most professional writers. I read a lot of blogs, some of them by quite famous people, and post for post hers was far and away the best-written of the bunch. For another, she let everything — and I mean everything — hang out on her blog: not, I don’t think, to be titillating (although I’d be lying if I said none of her posts were), but to be as brutally honest as she could be within the limits of her own lack of limits and what she called her Superpower of Denial. Or, as another frequent visitor to that blog, David Grenier, put it:
I’m guessing this is what the journalers used to call a “trainwreck journal” i.e., one where the person’s life is constantly filled with drama that you almost feel guilty about reading but you just can’t stop.Trainwreck it might be, but the best written trainwreck I’ve ever seen. Layne has a mastery of language and description that makes even the most mundane details seem interesting or funny.
I left the odd comment on her blog, becoming kind of a fringe member of the online community that developed around her blog — or, as another visitor called us, “the people who live in Layne’s comment box.” In turn, Layne started visiting my blog and leaving the odd comment. I felt kind of honored that she’d noticed.
During the year-plus that I read the blog, named Plain Layne, she underwent numerous crises. Most recently, she took the blog down entirely and abandoned the domain name, precipitating an effort by some of the leading “people who live in Layne’s comment box” to preserve the domain name as a gathering place for the online community that had developed, even if Layne, the person who had been responsible for the development of the community, would no longer be participating in it.
But that effort ended when Layne came forward and asked the group to stop.
Or, rather, the creator of “Layne” came forward. Because Layne? Doesn’t exist and never did. She was a fictional character, created by a guy.
(Let’s pause for a moment out of sympathy for, or to mock, some of the guys who read that blog for titillation more than I did and are shivering right now and going, “Ewwwwww.”)
The guy in question is named Odin Soli. He has reclaimed the Plain Layne URL, where you can find a summary of the facts about the Plain Layne blog. He apparently has started a blog under his real name here, where, among other things, he talks about how and why he created the Plain Layne blog.
I’ll be honest: He had me fooled. I suspected the name “Layne Johnson” might be fake, given the contents and the my-boss-could-read-this-blog danger inherent in them. But I honestly thought Layne Johnson was a real, if pseudonymous, person: The writing was too consistently good, the stories hung together too well, for it all to be fake. I’ll grant you that “Layne” blogged much more often and voluminously than anyone who worked as many hours as she claimed to would probably have the time for. But she was, or claimed to be, 26, an age at which I still could get by for extended periods on 4 hours’ sleep a night (and often did, having to start work before 6 most mornings while living through the only portion of my life that ever remotely approached promiscuity). So I thought it was at least barely plausible that she would write so prolifically.
So this has been a learning experience.
Do I feel deceived? Cheated? Well, yes and no.
Whatever else “Plain Layne” was and wasn’t, it was a hell of an ongoing story. You always had to wonder what was going to come next, and you seldom, if ever, left the blog thinking that your visit had been a waste of time. I can’t say that about my own blog.
The writing frequently verged on poetry. It was often funny. (In particular, this post is without question the funniest thing I’ve ever read about corporate meetings. For best results, read it to yourself as if the dialogue were badly dubbed English in an old martial-arts film.) And although some of the experiences recounted were just bizarre, others were universal, sometimes touchingly so.
And as I said, I enjoyed some of the more titillating posts, but titillation was never high on my list of reasons for reading the blog.
Let’s say I’m disappointed. I wanted Layne to be real because I wanted to believe that there was someone out there who really was that honest, who wrote that well, whose tackling some of her strongest demons in public was helping me tackle some of my own in private.
Plain Layne also raises some questions, which I do not now have time to ponder, about the nature of reality. Layne Johnson wasn’t real, and yet she was as real to many of her frequent readers as the people they see at work everyday — more so, in some ways. So how do I know whether I am real? (To borrow a line from Jim Capo: Because I blog, duh.) I didn’t take much philosophy in college — it was one of the few liberal-arts subjects I didn’t take at least three swings at — so I’m not well equipped to address some of this stuff. (Help me out here, Tony?)
But aside from whatever conclusions I can wrestle to the ground on the nature of reality as illustrated by the Plain Layne phenomenon, I think I’m done with Plain Layne. I won’t be participating in the ongoing online community of the people who (used to) live in Layne’s comment box. They’re perfectly fine people, don’t get me wrong. But the ongoing crisis that was the life of Layne Johnson gave me a feeling akin to that you might get when you and six strangers happen to be standing around when the levee springs a leak: You need to fill and place the sandbags first, get acquainted later. And what with all the crises, for me, at least, “later” never came. Whether that’s a good or bad thing, I have no idea.