Last night I went to see the amazing Neil Gaiman. I was prepared for him to be NOT WORTH IT, as huge events for celebrity-type-writers are often NOT WORTH IT. Celebrities can coast.
But this guy doesn’t. Really, he was gracious and honest and engaged with the audience. He’s a great great reader of his own work, and good on his feet. He seemed to be a truth-teller, fully reacting in the moment, and he played well to the hoards of clove-smoking college kids and the small children running around too. He’s a pro, and this was a performance for sure, but it wasn’t at all canned. Really, it was a stellar event.
Hurrah for Neil, and Hurrah for the nice folks at Little Shop of Stories, who regularly work magic!
But the thing I took away from the event, more than anything, was a thought about these here interwebs of ours. See, in the Q&A portion of the evening, someone asked Neil about “the line.” They wanted to know how he draws a line between his public (social networking) persona and his personal life.
His response (I’m paraphrasing) was that he can’t tell us what the line is, but that he knows it when he sees it. However, he added, his girlfriend (Amanda Palmer) draws the line 2.5 miles after he does. He joked about that a little, and then moved on…
But this got me thinking. What’s the line? For me, what’s the line?
See, in my own life I’m the Amanda Palmer (minus the sexy lingerie and hoards of fans). I only mean to say that I’m the one who draws the line 2.5 miles down he road. My first blog (back in 2001) was called Autobiography of Lost Loves, OR The Particular Boots I’ve Knocked (cringeworthy, I know…) It led to a lot of uncomfortable situations, and taught me a lot about what I wanted to reveal/conceal. In the radio commentaries I’ve done and the poems I’ve published, I’ve made these same missteps from time to time. But I try to learn from them. Because while I don’t seem to have any qualms about embarrassing myself, I do feel bad when I reveal secrets and stories about the people I love. Or even the people I loathe.
Plus, my husband is an especially private person. Which is why you don’t hear much about him here.
So I thought that I’d share with you the three things I consider before I reveal something online, through this blog, or on Twitter or Facebook:
1. Is it MY story? Obviously, people’s lives intersect, and we do share stories, but if I feel a story belongs more to someone else than to me, I tend to leave it out. Like, a story about how MY pants came off on the subway is MINE. But a story about how YOUR pants came off while I was standing next to you is YOUR story. If I use it, I’ll probably change names and places. I’ll obscure the details. (Which is hard with a husband or a sister. I can’t say, “One of my many husbands… but I won’t tell you which…”) If the tramp stamp above is MY new tattoo, I can tweet it. If it belongs to my best-friend-with-a-minister-daddy, I’d probably better not.
2. Is it a story I’d share with my pediatrician? With social networking, I tend to have a specific reader in mind. Jenny is pretty much my smartest, funniest, best online friend, and when I’m trying to be funny or clever, she’s who I have in mind as a reader. But she‘s not who I have to worry about, is she? She’s much less offendable than, say, my Grandmother’s neighbor, or my stodgy English lit professor from college. AND THEY ARE ALL READING BLOGS! Whoever it is that you least want to read your Twitter feed will be the person who does. So I find it’s helpful to think of someone I’m careful in front of, someone I hope thinks well of me, and ask if I want them reading my posts… (Hi, Dr. Herrmann!)
3. Is it funny or smart? This is a very basic rule of writing, but it REEEEEEALLY extends to blogland. If you are planning to offend someone by writing something dirty or naughty or secret, for God’s sake, do it well! It is one thing to tell the world about your mother’s underpants in your dark, brilliant novel, and quite another to get tipsy on Hot Damn and text all your friends about those same leather panties. If you win a Pulitzer, your mother will probably find a way to understand. If the text gets forwarded to her boss, who points out that you don’t know how to spell the word LETTHER or the word UNDERPANTZ, she is less likely to forgive you anytime soon.
Well, that’s it. Thats what I got. Be brilliant, be careful and be respectful of the line between your life and the lives of other people, who might not like to tell the word all their secrets.
But also, I’ll add that people do get easily offended, and if you’re doing your best to respect them, you can’t beat yourself up for every offense. As private as my husband is, when I get worried about whether I might have upset someone with something I’ve written, he reminds me, “Are they mad because you said it, or mad because it’s true?”
By this he means, I think, that if I’m respectfully telling the truth as I see it, I should stand behind what I’ve said.
This helps a lot when I’ve said something generally irritating to many people, and I’m getting floods of hatemail. It does!
Anyone have rules to add?