Friday, November 20, 2009

Shades of Gray

“I keep a close watch on this heart of mine

I keep my eyes wide open all the time

I keep the ends out for the tie that binds

Because you're mine, I walk the line”

Johnny Cash, Song, “I Walk the Line”

Deciding what’s appropriate to post is getting murkier of late. I need to balance private versus public. One example is from a day I subbed, when I worked with a teacher who made some disparaging remarks about some students. Now and again, all teachers blow off steam and joke about various characters, but this came across as much more sinister:

“She’s a piece of shit.”

“She’s a lazy fuck.”

“He’s nice, but he’s an idiot.”

“I can’t stand him.”

This was hard to hear because it reduced children to caricatures. I have never disliked a student, no matter how trying they've been. There is almost always a redeeming quality, with the exception of my first year as an instructional aide in the seventh-grade at my old school. Speak to anyone who worked with this student and you’ll most likely hear him described as, “disturbed.” Ask what he will be when he grows up, and everyone says one; “serial killer” or the other; “rapist”. He should’ve graduated high school last year, and I fear for what he’s become. But he had a hard life – with a mother who walked on him, his brother, and his father. And at the time, the boy's father was disabled, spending his days couch-ridden, limited in the work he could do anyway, only able to speak Spanish. The last part is ironic, because this student failed Spanish class, swearing he couldn’t speak the language, and his delivery of Spanish sentences was halted and without an authentic accent. How he was able to accomplish this, I have no idea. There were many instances of him taunting teachers and students. Looking in his eyes, I saw a void. Other than this student, I’ve always uncovered something special about each child, by getting to know him or her as a person, rather than simply as a behavior problem.

If I had posted the above quotes, along with details about a specific day, and if someone from the district saw my blog, it might be obvious which teacher I was writing about. But I know this individual is a decent teacher, so I wouldn’t want to put this person's job in jeopardy. When I had posted remarks from another substitute teacher in “Adaptation”, I had no such qualms because nothing about his behavior gave me faith that he was an asset to the district. As it was, I was close to telling someone at the school how he’d behaved. In general, I strive to be vague about which school I’m working at on any particular day.

But it’s not just providing details about sub work, which makes me apprehensive. Mentioning people in my personal life is also fraught with complexity. While I’m on this quest to reflect on various aspects of my life, I have to be respectful of people’s privacy. Not revealing names in my posts is part of it, but content is also key. While I don’t want to self-censor, there’s a line I don’t want to cross, although I’m not always sure where it is. Will changing one word or deleting one sentence protect privacy or alter public perception? Even if my public may be small now, it doesn’t mean it always will be. Once content is on the web, its reach is limitless.

Several people who know my history have suggested that I write a memoir about my childhood, but this idea makes me uneasy. To do that would paint each member of my family in an unflattering way. And it wouldn’t be fair to any of us to have our private pains out on display. I could wait until most or all the people involved are dead, but I still would hesitate. There are some authors who have spilled their secrets, and were then granted financial success, with books like, Angela’s Ashes and, A Child Called It. But I’m less concerned with success than hurting the people close to me, to whom I feel no animosity. I’d rather use my treasure trove of memories to inspire my fiction manuscripts. I’ve used bits and pieces in such a way that no one character or situation is a carbon copy of anyone in my life.

But my blog has become trickier in maintaining privacy. When I write something that has questionable content, I have to think long and hard about whether to post it. Few things in this world are white and black, but rather, shades of gray. I’ll keep walking that line.


  1. I think you've done an amazing job so far - you've been honest &thoughtful about what you've chosen to share.

  2. I was always told, never put it in writing, but that isn't good advice for a writer.