Removing the Names to Protect the Guilty

Apparently I’ve been on a hiatus. In general, if I don’t post for awhile, it probably means one of two things: either someone in my family has done something–possibly involving body art, sexual exploration, illicit substances, and/or the police– that I am absolutely forbidden to blog about, or paid work is taking precedence. Thankfully, in this case, it’s the latter.

But if it were the former, I wouldn’t tell you, now would I? After all, this blog is only as “unvarnished” as I allow it to be. Blogging about loved ones is a sensitive business. Family harmony, of course, is much more important than spilling secrets, venting, or entertaining readers, at least until the six-figure book contract comes through. (Any minute now, I’m sure.) From the beginning I have allowed my husband and children–at least the two older ones–to vet the entries specifically related to them. So far, only one entry has been nixed entirely (it involved “the authorities”) and in a handful of other posts, I have changed a few words or identifying details as requested. That’s it. My theory is that the tales I have to tell are not substantially different from what the kids have been saying about themselves for years on Facebook. Plus, they rather like the attention. (As one of my favorite SNL skits puts it, they’re “Twitter famous,” meaning “not famous.”) My 17-year-old has even threatened to launch an “unvarnished daughter” rebuttal blog to set the record straight.  As for my husband, he’s willing to put up with a lot in the service of the six-figure book deal.

Still, I have been accused of over-sharing. “My kids would kill me if I ever wrote that about them!” people have said to me. Or: “You’re so mean to your husband! Doesn’t he mind being called ‘Mr. 70 Percent’?” (Truth? Not really: he is both exceedingly secure and a very good sport. Plus, the 70 percent figure, which, in case you’ve forgotten, refers to his average rate of completion on household tasks, is definitely rounded up.) But with a few rare exceptions, I have made it a point to avoid using my family members’ names, in an effort to protect their privacy–or more accurately, to make sure it’s not my fault if they don’t get that dream job or acceptance letter in the future. Someone, somewhere down the road–whether it’s an admissions officer at Middlebury, a partner in a New York law firm, or a pair of prospective in-laws–is going to Google them, and the last thing they need to discover is my blog, detailing my son’s boyhood obsession with AirSoft guns or my daughter’s inappropriate  Variety Show dance.

I have been thinking about these boundary issues a lot: part of the “paid work” that has kept me from blogging is, ironically, teaching high school students about blogging and other forms of new media. Now, you may be thinking, as I do daily: “What could someone who still has an IBM Selectric in the attic and who grew up conducting research via card catalogue possibly teach the digital generation about digital media?” The answer is: not much, but also a lot. They may be “digital natives,” as John Palfrey calls them in his book  Born Digital, living, learning, and socializing online with unprecedented ease. But as a “digital settler,” I’ve got perspective. I’ve seen both the old world and the new, and I know what transcends both. And while I certainly understand the increased risks of over-sharing in the Internet age, I also believe that blogging one’s story, even slightly varnished, can make both the blogger and the reader feel less alone–in a way that an old-fashioned, hand-written journal never could.

My students will soon start blogging weekly, and I have every intention of joining them. But if I don’t post for awhile, it probably means that I’ve gotten bogged down in work again. Or possibly that someone in my family has been arrested in a crack house while getting a tattoo.

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About Susan H. Greenberg

Susan H. Greenberg spent 22 years as a journalist for Newsweek Magazine. She now works as a writer, editor, teacher, and parent of three children, with whom she strives always to maintain a varnish-free relationship.
This entry was posted in Blogging, Parenting, Reality check, Teenagers, Working motherhood and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Removing the Names to Protect the Guilty

  1. Olivia says:

    I would sooooo love to read Unvarnished Daughter.

  2. We started our blog in January and I have been amazed at the dynamic quality that exists in social media. I spent 20 years working in broadcast and cable TV and find it interesting to compare the two. Traditional media is competitive, social media is more about connections. Agreed that the boundary issue is a big one. Good luck with your class. Your students are lucky to have someone with your perspective.

    • Thanks, Lisa! I find I learn just as much from them as they do from me… we definitely need each other.
      Loving the new look of Grown and Flown–and I really appreciate the “off to college” posts, as we’re in the home stretch…

  3. Jack Ruderman says:

    Loved this one!

  4. Benita Herman says:

    Sue,
    I’m really interested in blogging and look forward to the time that I can read all of your interesting posts. I am trying it myself with cruising…I am cruisesthatmatter.com, also on WordPress .

    Thanks for the literary efforts. Great fun! And you will be giving me a good lesson in blogging.

    Benita Herman

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