I wouldn’t say I was a model employee in the law firm where I worked for nearly 10 years, but I was quietly reliable and kept out of trouble. That all changed when I was summoned to the office of the senior partner – a man I had never met – to face him, my distinctly sombre-looking boss, and a stony-faced HR rep. I was definitely in trouble: my employers knew about my anonymous blog.
The blog and work had been connected from the start. Trying to reconcile parenting two tiny children, intense hours and the demands of our terrifying clients as a solicitor in the City had proved impossible, so I had taken a backseat role in Brussels instead. It was not a job I particularly enjoyed, but it was easy and I never had to speak to bankers. The work was low-stress, but boring; inevitably, I spent those bored hours on the internet.
It was 2008, the heyday of blogging, and, in what we quaintly called the “blogosphere”, women were relating their lives in raw, unguarded, funny ways. It felt like a special moment and, looking back, I am even more conscious of how particular and short-lived, it was. Nothing was off limits: the bloggers I loved wrote about their minds, bodies and relationships (a Brussels acquaintance wrote a blog called My Boyfriend is a Twat) or the discombobulating experience of parenting, how it could be an alienating, exhausting bore as well as a joy. There were no “brand partnerships”, but blogging seemed to offer something even better: community and real connection.
I had always wanted to write, but with no experience, no contacts and no idea how to go about it, I had never tried. Stuck in my boring office, reading blog after blog, I thought: I could do that. I chose the simplest platform and a silly blog name that still haunts my professional life: Belgian Waffling (Belgian Waffle was taken).
Blogging made the impossible feel possible: I wrote voraciously, never short of material. A lot had happened over the previous few years: I’d had two babies, moved countries three times, lost a parent and lost my mind more than once. Sometimes I wrote about that; more often I reviewed snacks, related weird street encounters or explained Belgian supermarkets. The gentle absurdities of office life – unnecessary internal meetings, corporate jargon and bizarre office traditions – were also fruitful material and I made my colleagues into a cast of characters: the chic French junior in sky-high Louboutins; the outrageously un-PC boss; the disarmingly frank office mate.
Gradually, I found a few readers and, more gradually, that readership grew. It was a genuinely transformative time: to be finally writing, finally, felt exhilarating, and I forged real connections, making friends who remain woven deep into the fabric of my life, and enjoying a wealth of bizarre or moving one-off exchanges. My blog was not hugely popular, but a handful of “proper” writers also read and apparently liked it, which was how I found myself with an offer to appear in, and be photographed for, a Sunday Times article about blogging. Finally, it felt like something I actually wanted was happening in my life.
In hindsight, it is mindboggling that I didn’t realise by appearing in a national newspaper I was outing myself. I called my workplace “the corridor of ennui” online: surely I should have seen trouble coming? But I didn’t, until the night the article came out, when I realised with a lurch of dread that almost every visitor to the blog in the past few hours had my employers’ IP address.
Actually, that sombre panel of my bosses were quite gentle. I wasn’t sacked or asked to stop writing. I just had to delete any work-related posts and not write about work ever again. Even so, afterwards, I felt obscurely ashamed whenever I stepped into the office, knowing everything my colleagues had read about my life. I had written carelessly and freely, as if the internet were a protected fairy circle of trust in which nothing bad could happen. That was an illusion I could no longer sustain.
A few months later I was back in the same office, being made redundant. I can’t be sure the two events were linked, but if you have to let someone go, the person who wrote about how boring her job was might not be the worst choice. “Why are you still here if you hate it?” the HR manager had hissed at me one day in passing. It was a fair question, and unhappy as I was, my redundancy felt like a fair cop.
I didn’t try to find another legal job: my indiscretion had made me unemployable in the sector. That was terrifying, but also galvanising: I needed to find another way of earning my living, fast. Blogging had showed me that living could, just possibly, be writing: 12 years later, it turns out it is.
I still cringe when I think about the sloppy idiocy of writing about work online, something any 16-year-old knows not to do. I write differently now, agonising about any possible unfairness or inaccuracy, second-guessing the reaction it might get; I have done it writing this. I write, ironically, a bit like a lawyer. But if I hadn’t given myself that stupid, unlawyerly push, I might still be on the corridor of ennui.