Greg Bueno: In the Land of oZ
September 19, 1999, Sunday: And yet factual truth is not and should not be the cornerstone of great writing nor great storytelling. Truth lies in as much in experience as in fact. Ophelia did not exist, this a true thing. But her experiences did. If they didn't, then why did so many people feel emphatically for her? Why did people relate? Why did people e-mail her, saying "I know what you mean"?
Late in 1996, a woman named Kat, going under the Web alias Ophelia Z (oZ for short), contacted her fellow online diarists -- the small handful that was out there at the time -- to start a Webring, a chaining together of pages that allows surfers to tour the links in succession. It would be called "Open Pages," and its only requirements were that the participant keep a largely nonfictional online diary. The suggestion met with some resistance, as some of the early online diarists wanted to hold on to the uniqueness of what they were doing. Still, Ophelia/Kat managed to get enough takers to start the ring. "Open Pages" is still going strong today with almost 900 members.
As it was exposed in the great Scandal of 1998, not only was Ophelia Z not really a woman named Kat, she was a man named Ryan. During his University of Hawaii student-newspaper editorship, Ryan Ozawa had created her, photos and all, as a parody of a ditzy UH student who was putting her life online for the world to see.
One of the great ironies of the online diarist community -- which prides itself on openness and honesty -- is that it was first brought together by a fake person. If you read Ophelia's diaries (still online at www.geocities.com/Athens/6666/) you'll hear about her jovial relationship with one "ex-boyfriend" Greg Bueno, the UH student paper's managing editor, who broke her heart by coming out of the closet. But Mr. Bueno, though his name sounds like it could be made up, is very real.
"I've used my real name since day one," he says. "It goes back to the journalism training I've had. You don't write your news stories under a pseudonym, so why should you write anything else under a pseudonym? That forces me to be a lot more responsible about what I write."
Greg Bueno was there from the beginning. His friend Ryan, who eventually retired Ophelia and began writing a diary under his own name, egged him on to begin his own. Greg's Book of Days was born in Hawaii in September of 1996, and it moved with him when he came to Texas for an internship at Austin360.com. He kept an eye on Ophelia as a way of checking into what was going on back home. From afar, he watched her cover being blown, and he watched Ozawa's other creations -- Diarist.net and the Diary-L mailing list -- establish themselves as the forums for the ever-expanding population of online diarists.
Unlike Ozawa, however, Greg is on the other end of the spectrum when it comes to involvement in the myriad of community forums and mailing lists. He does, however, maintain a list of local online diarists ("Austin Stories"), and a list of diarists sorted by their musical tastes. He doesn't even read other diarists, he says, save those of whom he knows personally.
"Most of the people who write online journals -- who decide, oooh, this is cool, I'm going to start one -- don't think of the consequences of publishing. They don't think in terms of, well, more than three pairs of eyes see this, and you disdain someone, you could get sued. I think more along those terms. There's stuff in my journal that might get me sued, but I know the traps and I don't set myself up. There's too many people who learn all this the hard way."
Though Greg is hyper-aware of accountability issues, avoiding the subjects of work and family and password-protecting entries that he thinks reveal too much -- his diary is a very intimate, personal one, dealing with homesickness, relationships forged and gone sour, the break-in of his house, and the grueling schedules of dot-com jobs. His audience is modest but loyal, numbering in the 50-100 range and largely composed of his close friends and complete strangers, which frees him to be more forthcoming with his innermost thoughts.
Being openly gay on the Internet might open one to attacks from homophobes with too much time on their hands, but Greg says he has yet to receive any unwelcome e-mail, again attributing it to the scope of his site. In fact, one advantage of being open about his sexuality, he claims, is "[i]f a person has read enough entries from my journal to know my orientation, then that saves me the hassle of having to 'come out' to them."
When asked to point out his favorite entries, Greg lists the ones written during some of the most rotten times of his life. Now that he has begun a new job, started school again, and has generally "settled down," he claims the entries from the last half-year or so are boring (they're not), and that he spends at least as much time on reviews for his other passion, a music zine, that enjoys more prominence on Brokennews.net than the diary. But, he says, he'd rather have boring entries than a turmoil-filled life.
"I've actually expressed that. 'Yeah, it's another boring entry, but that's a good sign -- a really good sign.'"
Greg Bueno's many projects are at www.brokennews.net. Ryan Ozawa's In Medias Res is at www.lightfantastic.org/imr/.