Stories Told

On blogging and privacy

I have three sons. None of them feature on my blog.

While most of this blog’s posts are about photography and history, sometimes I tell stories from my life. I try to lay myself bare in them, to go right to the places where I struggle and am scared, because I think that’s interesting. I like to read stuff like that, and based on the comments you leave, so do you. And so I’ve told you about deep depression and a time I contemplated suicide, about resentment and pain after my divorce, about struggling to let go as my sons grow up and prepare to leave home, and even about the time I got fired.

Penelope Trunk

I model these posts after the blogs of Penelope Trunk and James Altucher, who tell startling things about themselves and the people close to them as a means of giving life and career advice. It’s usually interesting — and sometimes as compelling as a train wreck. Both hold radical positions that privacy is outmoded. Because all of us have broken places and messy lives, their thinking goes, to improve our lives we must first embrace who and where we are. We’re all bozos on this bus; we are only as sick as our secrets.

James Altucher

I have a lower need for privacy than the average person. But I can’t go as far as Trunk or Altucher. I have stories I won’t tell here, no matter how interesting.

I’ve told you a little bit about my sons and even my ex-wife, such as hereherehere, and here. But I never name them, never give details about them, never show photos of them. Well, you have seen the backs of my sons’ heads a few times in photos. But you know nothing important about these people from me.

Calling my older son a chip off the old block is no exaggeration. His personality is startlingly similar to mine. But there’s one crucial exception: he is deeply private. He recently cancelled his Facebook account because mom kept posting photos with him in them. Seems harmless to me, but he is clear: that’s over the line. So’s this paragraph, probably; I beg his pardon. Point is, my sons have a right to their privacy. So does my ex.

I wrote several times last year about the brutal time in my life after my wife said it was over. (Here, here, here, and here.) I deliberately framed those stories to focus on me and experiences only I had. There are so many more interesting, even shocking, stories to tell of some breathtakingly destructive things my ex … and I … did to bring our marriage down. I learned so much from those times in my life, and I could write some really compelling posts that would really reach you. But this is tricky territory, for three reasons.

First: I don’t want professional colleagues or someone who might want to hire me to read these stories. My co-workers sometimes find my blog and say something to me about what they read. Some things that happened don’t need to be part of any at-work conversation. Penelope Trunk and James Altucher arrange their lives and careers around their blogs, which I think frees them. That’s not where I am.

Second: I don’t want my sons to read these stories. I’ve told them what I feel is appropriate for them to know. I’ve been pretty open about my part in it, actually, but I’ve done little more than vaguely wave my hands past “bad stuff” their mom did. Those are her stories to tell. Regardless, the first place they hear these stories should not be from their dad’s blog.

Third, and most importantly: No matter how balanced I would be in telling these stories, they would be from my perspective. My ex’s reality was probably different. The truth probably lies in the middle more often than I’d like to admit. And I’m not going to drag anybody through the mud here, even if it is the truth from my perspective, no matter how interesting it might be to read.

Maybe one day, when we’re all a lot older and these stories are of antiquity, I’ll change my mind and tell them. I’d like to tell them. But not now.


13 thoughts on “On blogging and privacy

  1. George Denzinger says:

    Incredibly wise of you, Jim. One day the kids will want to know and that will be the time to tell them.

    • Even then, maybe not. You have to also weigh whether the full story would be of any real benefit to them. I’m not entirely convinced it would be.

  2. Jason Shafer says:

    George is so correct in what he says.

    As one who has participated in the car blog thing, I have often wondered if I have given too much detail about myself in trying to set the context of what I’m writing about. Like you, I have my boundaries as I’ve never used my wife’s name and long shied away from even stating the gender of my child. It can be a slippery slope.

    • Despite everything I said above, I think Internet privacy worries are slightly overblown. I name my girlfriend on here, with her permission. Nobody is ever going to be able to do her or me any harm just because they know her name by reading it on my blog. The same really is true of my ex and my sons. It’s not like I’m posting their ages, addresses, and Social Security numbers.

      Come back on Wednesday and Friday and I’ll share some stories (that I’ve told before here) that involve my youngest son and my ex, to show that it is possible to tell stories without sharing anything private.

      • George Denzinger says:

        I usually see your posts first thing in the morning. I get up around 05:30 to be at work at 07:00. Not that I always respond to your posts, but I do enjoy them, so keep that in mind. Sometimes I have little to add, so I really can’t reply. But always good posts.

  3. It’s a hard thing to do…open up and write about painful and personal things…while thoughtfully protecting people who are an integral part of the story. You’ve done it admirably.

  4. hmunro says:

    What a wonderful and wise post, Jim. I agree with Trunk and Altucher that privacy is outmoded and that the world would be better if we were all honest about how broken and messy our lives are. But that’s not the real world. In the real world, we can be fired and shunned and sued because of how people *perceive* our behavior. Plus, in revealing our private selves we must invariably also mention others — and here’s where it really gets sticky (as you’ve so deftly illustrated with your Case of the Very Private Son). He’s lucky to have such a respectful and thoughtful father. Just as your readers are lucky to have such thought-provoking posts as this one!

    • Why thank you, Heather! Man, the stories I’d like to tell. I keep thinking I should write them, just for me. Because sometimes through writing them, I gain new insights about myself and even accelerate my healing.

      • hmunro says:

        Yes! Yes, you *must* write your stories, Jim — just for yourself, for the very reasons you’ve listed. I’ve done the same with some of the more difficult chapters of my own life, and it’s been tremendously therapeutic. Plus, it’s wonderful to go back just two or three years later and see how far I’ve come in my healing. It’s been difficult to see progress as I’m working through stuff every day; but when I can go back to a written record of how I felt on a particular day, I can see more clearly how far I’ve come. And it gives me hope.

  5. Excellent post; one man’s take on privacy. I think your comment to George “You have to also weigh whether the full story would be of any real benefit to them” is very telling. Exhibits the level-headed wisdom you apply in your decision-making.

    I agree that the concerns for privacy tend to be somewhat overblown, but I also abhor the trend toward “letting it all hang out.” Not cool.

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