I’ve always liked to ride in the first car of the subway, and watch the rush of the tracks swallowed beneath the train, and the scattering of garbage and the flash of rat tails. I didn’t even mind looking like a tourist when I took this photo.
Innocent baby bagels, about to be born in Montreal — with no notion of the trouble they’d soon cause me. As a native New Yorker, I spent much of my life pretty smug in my sense of the city’s superiority. Then I started traveling.
Today, one of my students raised issue of the tension between blogging about her life, versus the need to maintain some semblance of privacy.
It’s a great question, and one that comes up all the time, when I teach and among my fellow writers.
It’s certainly an odd business, putting one’s life out there for public consumption, but it is the business of anyone who writes in the first person. (And arguably, with greater or lesser degrees of veiling, for anyone who writes anything at all — including a Facebook status update.) My early discomfort with this business of self-revelation is evident on this blog, since I choose to name the category under which I file personal posts On Too Much Information.
Here are the things that I tend to say about this issue to students:
- You can always decide how much you want to reveal, but that it’s a decision to make after you’ve written a draft, not before.
- You can start small, by revealing small intimacies before you launch into your deepest darkests. See how you feel, then drop another veil.
- You will never know how anyone will take anything you’ve written, especially when it’s about them. The things you think they’ll hate, they don’t even notice. The things you thought were no big deal reliably provoke the hissy fit. (My grandfather, who was as bald as bald can be for my entire life, seemingly beyond any controversy, did not like that I’d described him that way in an essay that I wrote about him. But he didn’t at all mind that I’d written that he’d spent most of his life thinking about how to find a great parking space.)
- What you write can have real consequences on your relationships. Sometimes good — my grandfather loved that I wrote about him, despite being outed as a bald man — and sometimes not. I have had very close relationships that have ended as a result of my writing. That’s not to say you shouldn’t do it, or that I won’t do it again. But writing is powerful and we all need to acknowledge that.
So that’s what I say when I’m teaching. But I have something new to add to this, since the issue of privacy versus self-disclosure was something that I personally grappled with a lot this year, as I went through my divorce.
It wasn’t that I was worried about writing about the divorce itself – obviously I went right for it. And I wasn’t worried about what my ex-husband thought about what I wrote on the topic — nothing I had to say should have been any surprise to him.
But I was concerned about how my writing would impact my dating life. It was quickly obvious to me that one oughtn’t share the gory details of one’s unexpected and frankly fucking awful divorce on an early date.
But anyone who knew my name could do a simple Google search, which would reveal oh-so-much of my all.
Also, since I started dating very early into my separation, I wasn’t only worried about what I’d written about the divorce itself. Over the years, I had written plenty on this very blog about my life, which of course included my then-husband. A remotely observant Google stalker would notice that I’d been married essentially just a few moments before I was making all of those charming bon mots over a glass of malbec.
You won’t find many of those posts about my former wife life on this site now, because my anxiety over dating image management was so high that I did something I now regret: I deleted posts. Wholesale.
In retrospect, the fact that I realized that the recency of my divorce made me essentially undateable at that moment should have led to me hanging up the push-up bra for a little while — instead of deleting the written evidence of the timeline of my life like some crooked politician. (As a sidenote, eventually, I did declare a dating hiatus. But that did not restore the posts I deleted, which are gone forever.)
So, here’s a theory I’m working on: if there’s a taboo subject that you’re afraid of writing truthfully about, and you find yourself cloaking that concern in a conversation about privacy, perhaps it means that you need to address that issue in your actual life. In other words, the writing might be more of a symptom than the problem.
I have noticed that as I get older, I become more profane. Specifically, I include the words fuck, fucking, and — most satisfying — fucker more frequently in my daily speech.
I thought of this earlier today when reading this email from a Delta Gamma executive board member that is making the internet rounds via Gawker today.
Frankly, I think this girl has a bright future in politics. She understands the point of being a sorority — fucking fraternity boys and finding other ways to make them making them happy — and she’s not afraid to use the word fuck for emphasis.
For even more fucking fun, I give you the Wiki entry on the derivation of the word fuck.
I had a lot of fun researching A Presidential Tour of Austin, a travel story that uses President Lyndon B. Johnson as an inspiration for touring the Texas capital. The photo above, from the archives of the LBJ Library, shows the president’s interpersonal political style in action with the tiny Supreme Court Justice, Abe Fortas.
Whatever you think of his legacy, Johnson was at the least a political deity. And I think he knew it. I’m sorry I couldn’t figure out a way to fit in this of-told, possibly apocryphal story: Johnson was once stopped for speeding near his Stonewall, Texas ranch. “My God!” the policeman said, when he recognized LBJ. The president replied ”And don’t you forget it!”
I’ve been following the immigration policy debate with interest, especially the emphasis on “border security” — which is itself a code for rather unpleasant conversations about Mexicans.
It’s code because here in the world governed by facts, a little place that I like to call “reality,” we actually don’t have a problem with our border. Net migration from Mexico is zero — perhaps even reversed, meaning that at least as many Mexicans are crossing the border in a southerly direction as are coming north.
Still, the idea endures that we, the people of the United States, are under some sort of attack by hordes of brown skinned people who are determined to turn this into a Spanish-speaking country and destroy our American way of life. They will do this because they want what we have, and their covetous desire will necessarily destroy all that we have because these invaders are essentially uneducated, unsophisticated, untrustworthy children.
These ugly ideas are nothing new, and are in themselves distinctly American. Throughout U.S. history, anti-immigrant sentiment has accompanied each successive wave of migration. And these are not especially enlightened times: since the 1990s, anti-immigrant xenophobia has climbed to levels not seen since the 1920s, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
In Perceptive Travel this week, I posit that current concerns over traveling in Mexico are are related to these old stereotypes.