I remember, vaguely, when we first got America Online (AOL) at my house. I remember the dial-up sound when I logged in, and I remember having to get off if mom needed to make a call. AOL came out in 1991 when I was 7. I remember that mom had a chance to buy stock in AOL back then when we first got it, but didn’t. It’s one of her bigger regrets.
AOL 3.0 was 1996, I was 12 and this was my real start in the world of AOL RP. In 1998 The Lion King 2: Simbas Pride came out. It was a huge influence on me, my art, my RP and my interests. I stumbled upon The Pridelands chat room on AOL and that was when my RP obsession really took off.
It was also around that time that the art website Elfwood was beginning, I think. People were doing amazing artwork, and I don’t know how (did they use mice or had wacom come out yet, I dunno) but people were making digital art. I would spend hours browsing the internet for dragon pictures, unicorn pictures, and Lion King fan art.
Way back then, in the mid to late 90s, is when my obsession with my own persona began. I would see these amazing RPers with their beautifully coded and designed AOL profiles for their characters. I would see them type their RP posts in specific font colors and sizes, some people using their own unique “action brackets” as they were called, which as standard were :: but some people would use things like: |x| or -: or ~ or even † for the truly gothic (I was guilty of using that one myself).
On Elfwood, and later DeviantART I would see these artists with their own unique art style that was noticeable. You could look at their artwork and recognize who did it just by looking. Sure, they probably had influences that created that style. For example one of my real-life friends has an artistic style that is heavily influenced by both medieval paintings and modern anime, and her pictures have a style that is a very unique blend of both. She actually still uses the same “persona” handle as she did back in the late 90s. It’s been her online handle for everything over 20 years or more now.
Mine constantly changes.
All of these things, from their username to their artwork, to their profile, their font, their personalities, they all went in to creating their persona. It was this…abstract image of them in my mind.
And ever since then, this abstract concept of persona (specifically online because I have no real offline life to speak of) has been an obsession of mine. More accurately, trying to find my own persona has been an obsession of mine. Because ever since those early days on AOL until even now, I’ve felt and still feel like I lack a persona.
I’ve been struggling to define myself, both in my own head, and as a series of online attributes such as username on various sites or my email, my artwork style, even the kinds of things I post on the ESO roleplaying forum. They all are meant to be a representative of my persona, and when I post something I regret or change my mind about how I want my arbitrary persona to be, I am filled with a regret that results in sometimes a clean slate.
I have 4 email addresses, 3 wordpress accounts, 3 enjin accounts, 3 elder scrolls online accounts, I had several AOL screen names, I had 2 world of warcraft accounts, I’ve had 3 different DeviantART accounts, 2 Elfwood accounts back in the day, 2 Etsy accounts, 3 Reddit accounts, and several personal .com websites that I regret often within weeks or months of getting them. I change my desktop wallpaper, my cell phone case, my facebook cover photo, constantly. I try new things, I drop $350 on a telescope I hardly use, $140 on a madolin I was sure I’d teach myself to play, $400 on an art pen tablet I’ve hardly touched… When I got obsessed with Tiny houses I went through all my stuff and trashed a bunch and gave a bunch to good will, so that not including furniture all my possessions could fit in the back of my tiny toyota yaris with room to spare.
But despite all that I’ve never found myself, and I struggle to define myself even today. I got into wicca and wanted to be seen as a witch, I dropped that. I was hardcore gothic for many years, dropped that (despite my claims that both were not fads or phases I was going through). I’ve come up with several ideas for books and never followed through.
I don’t know who I am, I don’t know who I want to be, and I don’t know how to find out.
At least now I understand this obsession of mine. I recognize it in myself. I just… don’t know what to do about it? Do I spend time planning out and crafting this persona, set it all down the way I want it, plan myself out like I would an RP character? Or do I try and let go of this obsession, to get over it, to try and forget? Could I even do that?