You know how people say the Internet is forever? As in, once it's on there, you can't remove it?
One day about a year ago I sat down in front of my blog with a deep purging impulse. The essays I'd posted during the preceding years sat there like clothes I'd worn to parties in the 80's when I had feathered hair. To get rid of those clothes, I would not even have to drive to Goodwill. Blip.
There was a certain frisson, like when you burn a photograph of someone you loved that you want to forget. But I felt, deep down, that it wasn't really burned. Teenagers (of which we have two) are always being warned that naked/drunken pictures of themselves will never, ever go away from the Internet. Don't post anything you don't want people to see forever! This is the kind of alarmism I can get behind; plus, in my experience, you can delete your Instagram in a why-am-I-taking pictures-instead-of-writing funk, and then, when you realize you miss seeing a friend's gorgeous baby, you can resurrect it in five seconds.
A few months later, I went looking for my thoughts in the cemetery of the Internet, thinking, hey, maybe I could shorten the hems a little, and I was reminded of a documentary I watched long ago about an attempt in 2001 to identify three victims of the Titanic:
The disinterments began as
scheduled with bodies #240 and
#281, located in adjacent lots at the
lower end of the Titanic section. Following
prayers by Browning, workers
began to open the side-by-side
graves. As they did so, they encountered
large amounts of water, due to
the low elevation of these graves and
the high level of water table. Though
they examined the graves carefully,
they found no remains at all.
This development shocked the team, causing
them to ask themselves, in Parr’s
words, “What are we going to do?”
It's a shocking thing to dig up a grave that's only 86 years old and find nothing. The whole principle of a grave is to preserve the idea of ourselves as a physical presence. We may say "dust to dust," but we don't believe it. The resurrection, the apocalypse, zombie movies, those whirling, waltzing, skeleton-ghosts in Disneyland's Haunted Mansion--they are all based on the belief that if you dig up a grave, you will find the remains of a person, not loam. And as much as we may complain about the everlasting permanence of the worst picture of ourselves ever taken (usually as the #4 image on the Google search page, where my hair looks like Rosalynn Carter's) there's something compelling and deeply comforting about a collective repository that is so invincible.
But it isn't. I'm sure that if I were to become a terrorist, someone in the FBI could find my old blog. Barring that (and I am unequivocally promising you that I'm only going to kill the fleas in my house, on my dog, in the sofa cushions, in the back of the garage--wait, there's one on my thigh I KILL YOU WITH MY TWO SHARP FINGERNAILS), it's not even loam.
This doesn't matter except as a small warning to any of you out there who have, as I do, a certain Camille Claudel tendency, an overwhelming, episodic urge, when you look at your work and it isn't what you wanted it to be, to smash every statue in the whole atelier. Every badly lit picture of you where you have Aqua Net hair or you are naked or you are holding a bong will live until the apocalypse on the Internet, but you can destroy your own work pretty easily.
This is a photograph of Tom and me looking like we're buried up to our heads under something called the Thomas Hardy tree in London. The headstones mark the graves of bodies that had to be exhumed and relocated during the construction of St. Pancras Station, a project Thomas Hardy was forced to supervise when he was an architect's apprentice. His poem "The Levelled Churchyard" can be read here.
Books by Tom and Laura McNeal