Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.

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Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Privacy

Ed has a fascinating post called "The Dangers of Confessional Writing." After a stalker turned up on his doorstep, he writes:

"I eventually decided to reveal aspects of myself only when I felt sufficiently informed or wise enough to translate my character into essays."

Privacy is oft on my mind, not only in the blogosphere but in my "real" life was well. A few years ago I experienced credit card fraud. I was forced to hire a lawyer to get the creditors off my back. It worked, but left me deeply frightened.

I have a few publishing credits on the internet using my real name. At the time I thought nothing of it--in fact I was pleased, thinking it might attract agent interest or somesuch (I was sooo naive...). And while I had lots of nice readers, I also received a couple of creepy emails. One was from a person who claimed to have attended high school with me. His questions indicated he did indeed know me. Only I'd never heard of him. Then came an email from a person who did not give a name, asking was I such and such from such and such high school? Maybe, I thought. But who the hell are you? I did not reply to either. To my relief, neither contacted me again.

When I decided to blog I could think of a few people I had no interest in hearing from. I also thought about all the crazies out there. Why tempt them? Hence Barking Kitten and her sidekick, Hockeyman.

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I have a few readers (thank you, kind, wonderful people for reading my blog) who know me. My name, where I live, where I work. But they knew those things before I began blogging. They are trusted friends, colleagues, family members. My mother is one of my biggest fans (thanks, Mom!) and claims I reveal more than I realize. Maybe I do, but she arguably has unique knowledge. I mean, she's my mother, right?

Which leads me to privacy. I give a good deal of thought to what I will divulge. One of the reasons I waited to write about the drug Alli going over the counter was I knew I could not discuss it without revealing more about my health problems. After much thought, I decided to go ahead with the piece. I rather doubt fellow sufferers are going to turn up at my door wanting to share gut stories. Nor is it information harboring damage potential. It will not shock my employers, attract legal attention, or hurt others. If anything, it might help other people, if only to let them know they are not alone in their suffering.

In terms of waiting until one is "sufficiently informed" or "wise enough," yes, sometimes, but check out Jade Park's blog. She is writing even as she recovers from a stroke. And the posts are stunning: lucid, cogent writing from a place most of us are fortunate enough never to inhabit. Those of us reading her work are the richer for it--coming away awed at her sheer guts, her talent, which the stroke left unharmed, and newly grateful for our own agile minds, which we so often take for granted.

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Interestingly, just last night I read this article, by Emily Nussbaum, in New York Magazine.

One comes away with the feeling that younger people--ranging from thirteen to thirty--have entirely different perceptions of privacy and its importance, or lack thereof. Many are nude on the net and happy about it. Or, like Anais Nin, do not feel they have experienced an event until it is documented. Unlike Anais, their document of choice is rapidly accessible to millions.

This leaves the Eds of the world on one pole, with people like me and Jade Park (both pseudonymous writers) clustering round him, with a long, long line stretching to the opposite end, inhabited by Ayelet Waldman and today's technolgically suave, fame-hungry children. Privacy is ultimately a personal decision, tied to personal dignity and self-respect for myself, my family, my husband, and my readers.

And what of John Freeman, the writer who sparked Ed's post? I read his Babble essay. I didn't find it overly personal or offensive. Insightful, sad, rueful. A hideous exposure? Nope. I could not access the Believer essays, as I am not a subscriber. The Islamic dustup? Shit, all one has to do these days is utter the word "muslim" and watch everybody freak out.

In then end, we all draw our lines in the sand, hoping we've used a sharp enough stick and the tide will stay out.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Jade Park said...

Hi BK
Spectacular--I read Ed's post on "Confessional Writing" and it totally pierced my psyche too. I came from one end of the spectrum where I was very public with my life and now I am very happy writing under my pseudonym. (And yes, i agree with your note on Ayelet Waldman and all the fame-hungry children of the internet).

Thank you also for your compliments--these days, with my writing almost to a halt bc of the stroke, I cherish all the encouragement I can get!

February 11, 2007 11:37 PM  
Blogger Frances said...

I thought Ed was wrong about John Freeman. He makes much ado about nothing. When Ed dosn't like someone, he can be unrelenting.

Now you, I read, and know nothing about. So you are a success on your own terms.

February 12, 2007 12:37 PM  
Blogger Barking Kitten said...

Hi Jade and Frances--

Hey, Jade, happy to help the cause.

Thanks for your comments...Frances, I agree Ed can be tough on people. I know him personally and can attest he is a kind soul. I also know I can be sharply judgemental in person and try to curtail this on the blog--whaling away at writers whilst safely hiding behind a pseudonym is cowardly....I also try to think how I'd feel if someone attacked me.

February 12, 2007 7:11 PM  
Anonymous ed said...

Frances: I have nothing against John Freeman. In fact, I acknowledged TWICE in my post that John Freeman was a good guy, and meant this in all truth. And in case it wasn't clear, I served myself up for the SAME criticisms. That you view this as me not liking John Freeman demonstrates that either I have failed in writing or you have failed in reading.

There's this terrible tendency to conflate the person with the writing, and the divide becomes even more troublesome when the writer injects himself in the work.

Did you even READ John's essay in THE BELIEVER? I did, and my own response, all 2,000 words, was informed by this. I wrote it out of empathy, not out of enmity. If you think this is "much ado about nothing," I would be happy to point out to you by email or by phone, with the Believer issue in front of me, precisely why I'm worried about John Freeman and why he reveals too much about himself in an unfamiliar manner. I believe you have my phone number. If not, it's listed in the book.

February 13, 2007 4:07 PM  
Blogger Frances said...

Ed, I guess I read John Freeman's piece, not in the Beliver, but in Babble. It didn't make me wince at all. It seemed like straightforward confessional article. I guess you see more in his work than I do. That's what I meant "much ado about nothing." You were much more alarmed than I. But I will take you up on your offer to have a direct chat...

February 13, 2007 9:56 PM  
Blogger Barking Kitten said...

Please leave your knives at home....

February 14, 2007 8:10 AM  

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