The Internet is a strange beast. We learn so much that is intimate about other people on sites of mutual interest, yet because of their specific focus we often learn only one area in depth and the rest, such as their personality, circumstances and society, is seen only by reference.
A fellow writer brought this to my attention this morning. We both post pieces on a well known writers’ forum. There, over the past few weeks, an occasional poem has popped up on the theme of lost love and broken hearts. (I can hear you snorting now – isn’t this what poetry is for? What’s so special about teenage angst? But bear with me.)
The writer in question is not an English speaker by birth. Her poetry is not yet good, but she must be bright because already she is trying to manipulate rhyme in this foreign language. Only, in this case, her poetic angst isn’t even teenage: she is twelve years old. It is worrying that already she writes of broken hearts and disappointment and berates her own stupidity. Is her "heartbreak" an abstract, playful testing of her own emotions, or is it concrete and based on actual experience? How can we know, from halfway round the world?
Posting only every few weeks, she evidently doesn’t get to use a computer all that easily. Her country of origin is in the Far East. What can she know of Western social standards, and what can we know of hers? We can guess, and what I guess is not comfortable, because I don’t like the idea of a bright twelve year old girl being in situations that her childish poetry seems to imply. Her poems have evoked firm responses, from kind, responsible British members, used to British social structures and British laws: they advise her, “enjoy your childhood, pursue your school studies and forget about men until you are an adult.”
My first instinct, though, is to worry: would she understand or be frightened by our advice? But given the nature of the medium, my second thoughts are less innocent: is this really a twelve year old girl posting? I remember looking up her profile and being jarred by the idea of a twelve year old describing herself as “cute” (I forget the exact term but it certainly had an odd connotation). Perhaps a childish knowledge of English uses terms without being aware of undertones. That makes me wonder, too: is her writing persona really a front adopted by someone quite different, possibly adult, perhaps not even female? Childish knowledge of English does not have to mean the writer is a child.
I'm only a little reassured by finding that another young foreign forum member says she is a classmate. I still wonder if her writing is sending a call for help, a message in a bottle bobbing on that great sea of anonymity, the lure and the danger of the Internet.