The other day I came across a clever aphorism so of course I did it up pretty and posted it on my Facebook timeline as “Quote of the Day:
“Dance like nobody’s watching. Email like it may one day be read aloud in a deposition.”
To me this is common sense, cleverly put and topical too, given the number of emails, text messages, and photos that are winding up in courts and congressional hearings these days. But one FB friend thought it was “sad,” and another regretted that “privacy was a thing of the past.”
This prompted my (loaded) question: “What is this privacy of which you speak?” Which I of course then answered, more or less as follows:
I, like most of us, started off as a kid. Most kids have zero privacy. What privacy they have is at the discretion of adults.
As an antiwar activist (and undergrad at Georgetown University, which at the time was big into in loco parentis, especially for women), I learned to assume that anything I did, wrote, or said on the phone might be seen or overheard by someone who did not wish me well.
As a feminist, ditto, plus as a lesbian I was careful about what I wrote in a postcard or on the outside of an envelope.
Since 1985 I’ve lived on Martha’s Vineyard, an island of small towns. Long before social media, we had the grapevine. Before long I knew — or at least had heard — plenty of stuff about people I didn’t know, and (as an out lesbian who’d come from “away”) I was pretty sure that many people had me pegged without the benefit of firsthand information.
At the same time the grapevine helped me find “my people”, mainly through theater and music (surprise surprise — in every time and place “misfits” tend to congregate in these areas).
So I’m curious. Are some people not aware of this, or are they just leading such unexceptional lives that they don’t realize they’re being noticed, such solitary lives that they aren’t being noticed, or such privileged lives that they don’t have to worry?
I could have gone on. Working at D.C.’s feminist bookstore was a bit like living in a fishbowl, but I never had to worry about losing my job because of what someone overheard me say or because they noticed I was reading, say, Lesbian Fiction or, heaven forbid, Lesbian Sex. People in other places or with other jobs had to be continually vigilant, even, in some cases, at home.
Such vigilance isn’t unique to lesbians and gay men either. Not by a long shot. The phrase “in the closet” didn’t take long to move from lesbian and gay subcultures into the straight world because so many of us have things about ourselves that we have to keep quiet about for fear of repercussions from the outside world.
So back to the original aphorism, and why I don’t find it sad at all. The idea is to dance like nobody’s watching even when someone is watching, and to be able to stand by the words and images you send out into the world, whether by email or social media or blog post. For most of us, it’s highly unlikely they’ll end up in a deposition, or going viral on Twitter, but what if they did? Could you stand by them, or would you say “Oops” and start back-pedaling?
Agree with you Susanna, not sad at all. Something I learned in life long before social media was around.
Nurses train to document as if you are going to court and I applied it to my life.
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Interesting! And full of pithy observations, thank you. Every life has moments you would prefer to keep secret but some people are more anxious about this than others. It doesn’t help. I have always been open about my daughter’s mental health struggles partly to counter the stigma and partly to try to counter all the rumors and innuendo. It doesn’t always work but at least some of the time people feel they can ask me for the truth when they hear something outrageous. I also think it gives some people courage to deal with their own situations when they know they are not alone, even if no one else knows. It’s difficult but I think it makes us all better and stronger to confront the hard issues honestly. And a few times when I had thought I would be embarrassed I have found tremendous support. So no back peddling for me… But then I don’t have a job at risk. One of the blessings of getting older. Only wish I had had more of the courage of my convictions when I was younger. But those were different times with the illusion/delusion of both privacy and the possibility of perfection. It was impossible to live up to, and such a relief to let go and stop trying. For those who told me they were disappointed in me or that I let them down: that’s their problem!
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Ellen, what you wrote about being open about your daughter’s struggles reminds me of a line from Adrienne Rich’s “Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying”: “When a woman tells the truth she is creating the possibility for more truth around her.”
And from a slightly different angle: “Women have often felt insane when cleaving to the truth of our experience. Our future depends on the sanity of each of us, and we have a profound stake, beyond the personal, in the project of describing our reality as candidly and fully as we can to each other.”
“Women and Honor” is the closest thing I’ve got to a bible.
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