Category Archives: privacy

How personal to get in a public blog?

My first blog, which I didn’t even know was a blog, was a series of essays that I sent to a list of friends and others who ended up on the list.  I started posting them on a website, putting the newest on the front page by hand, then creating an archive page for the previous one, with a link to it in a sidebar.  That enterprise came to an end when I started writing about my complicated relationship with my father.  A family friend, on the list, who was unaware of my father’s drinking problems and dark side, became quite upset with something I had posted about my feelings about him (which she had misinterpreted, anyway, in my view).  My father never figured out how to do email or surf the web, despite being extraordinarily intelligent, so I wasn’t worried he’d read it.  My mother wasn’t reading the essays, either.  Some people found the essays touching and inspiring (at least at times);  one wrote me that she thought I was too personally revelatory.  In any event, this lady, who only knew my father’s best, social, self, was upset, and worried that he would be upset if he read it.

While I was sure he’d never read it, the issue of the privacy of people in my life became a big one for me.  I started self-censoring and the creative flow was blocked, and that project came to an end.

Privacy–one’s own and those of others–is an issue for those who do personal blogging.  This site is a bit complicated, since it is both a personal blog and a professional website.  For a while, I had a blog and a separate Eric-the-cellist website.  How personal to be here is a question, especially when it comes to writing about experiences, including professional experiences, involving others.

Once I wrote a post about an incident that had happened in a class, where I’d chastised some students for using “that’s so gay” as a derogatory term, in front of a student I assumed was gay.  It had been unsettling to me.  I wondered how the student I thought was gay had felt about my handling of the situation, but I certainly wasn’t going to ask him (some students who are obviously gay aren’t out to themselves yet, and many years ago I learned the hard way not to make any assumptions).  In the post, I put the whole thing in the past tense, as if it had happened years before.

But the mother of another student read the post, called her child, best friend of the guy (whom I had neither named nor described in the post) I assumed was gay, and asked, “Is ____ gay?”  And then it became a big thing for some of the students.  The student whose mother had called wrote me to say that ____ (whom I hadn’t named) wasn’t gay, and was upset when people presumed he was.  But he didn’t want me to talk about it with him, at least according to his friend.  I felt awful that I triggered any pain or embarrassment for him, and took the post down. I regretted not being able to apologize.  (Now that it really is some years since that happened I feel safe in describing the incident.)

The answer, I suppose, is to put the most personal stuff, and stuff involving others, in an anonymous blog.  But there’s something about anonymous blogging that feels like hiding.  And after all those years in the closet, I hate hiding. I like being open.  I like sharing, including my inner life.  When we share our inner lives with each other, it can, sometimes, be of great help, to the writer, a reader, or both.

All this is a preamble to my next post, about my mother, who has dementia, and some recent experiences with her.  In a way, it will violate her privacy.  But it’s a story worth sharing, and I really think that my pre-dementia Mom would have given her blessing to me writing about post-dementia Mom.

[Edited slightly a few times, hopefully for clarity, perhaps just making the thing wordier.]

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