Wednesday, 19 September 2012


I grew up talking first and thinking later, so it took me a long time to discover that although I often regretted saying things, I never regretted keeping my mouth shut.

I am not talking about theological and political beliefs here. One of my few treasured memories of my PhD years is my mad rant about sin. It was awesome. Someone in a seminar class--we were all seated around a table--asserted that Catholicism was too obsessed with sin. There must have been some right-on murmurs of assent because I totally lost it and said the problem was not an obsession with real sin but an obsession with demonizing things that weren't really sins, like eating meat, smoking and voting for the Republican Party.

Was there a shudder of horror before my hearers realized I could not, as a Canadian, myself vote for the Republican Party? I cannot tell you, peeps, as I was a theology student on the edge of a nervous breakdown. But I can tell you that today--writing from my bed under the eaves of a Georgian mansion in Scotland--I cherish every moment I was a total pain in the posterior of the powers and potentialities that control American academic theology. Heretics. Where was I?

Oh, yes, keeping my mouth shut.

Right. The stuff I do my best to keep my mouth shut about, since I realized I never regret keeping my mouth shut*, is super-personal stuff.

I am reminded of the poor Duchess of Cambridge, so much in the news this week for having taken off her bikini top when she thought she was completely alone with her husband on the balcony of a French chateau owned by her husband's cousin. She thought she was completely out of view of any other person but her husband, and indeed she would have been, had not a third person been looking through a telephoto lens from a kilometre away.

What happened to the Duchess of Cambridge was a complete violation of privacy, and I am horrified not just as a woman but as a married woman because what happened to the Duchess of Cambridge was also a violation of a private moment with her husband. Indeed, the French magazine responsible for publishing the photos emphasized the marriage aspect in its drooling caption. There she was, feeling safe and happy, all alone with her husband, enjoying the sun, her proximity to him and an aspect of married sexuality. And some time later, while visiting a Muslim-majority country, BAM! The revelation that someone had been watching them, and now the whole world could see that too.

The photographer is disgusting. The editors of the French, IRISH (!!!) and Italian magazines running the photos are disgusting. Whoever ogled those photos is disgusting. The photographer should go to jail, the editors fired and the oglers screamed at by their mothers. But the damage to the Duchess of Cambridge's dignity has been done all the same, and if I were her, I would be wailing, "Oh, if only I hadn't taken my top off!"

(I realize, while I write this, that you people write me personal stuff. If it is super-personal, I wipe it from my email, and no matter what I always do my best to forget who told me what, which is not difficult, given the number of emails I've had.)

As I have said many times before, there is no law that you have to tell people your business, either to "keep it real" or to prove that you are a friendly person. You might chose to reveal something private to a suffering person, if you can rely on their discretion and you are sure it would help--and not oppress--them.

But if its a situation of desperately needing to share, do consider if this is because you are having cocktails with the girls or because you feel like you are going crazy. If it is the first situation, suppress the urge with the same discipline you employ to suppress the urge to eat another doughnut. If it is the second, pick your confidante wisely.

*I did regret keeping my mouth shut when I sat through three writers' club meetings without saying something about the nasty anti-Catholic stuff. But I don't regret it now because A) I discussed the problem with the organizer and B) I only yesterday hit on the exact wording for what should have been said.

It wasn't that I was offended--because as a freedom of speech advocate I shouldn't be using "I'm offended" as an argument--it was that anyone who wants to talk or write about Catholic should actually know something real about Catholics, otherwise they aren't being the thinkers and writers they could be. It took me two weeks to figure out the most charitable response, and so now I don't regret keeping my mouth shut.

Update: I would like to stress that this is advice for women. I have been reading up on suicide (Lithuania is number one) and it would appear that one reason why so many men (compared to women) commit suicide is that they have trouble confiding their emotions in anybody. Hmm.


Domestic Diva said...

Three comments about this post:

1) As someone who is coming more & more in contact with PhDs (especially in Theology), and who is contemplating (with trepidation) entering PhD Theology studies, I cannot thank you enough for being "a total pain in the posterior of the powers and potentialities that control American academic theology." Perfectly stated. As was your response to their not-remotely-rooted-in-reality pontifications on sin.

2) Agreed about the Duchess of Cambridge. I actually thought there had been a truce of sorts between royals and media, royals agreeing to all the public photo ops the media wanted, media allowing royals to have their private space be private. Naively (perhaps too much time listening to above-mentioned PhDs in Theology?) I forgot that the allure of making a sensation, to say nothing of the money that could be made on the black market if nowhere else, would override professional ethics. Anyway, her situation is vastly different from Harry's. I hope people realize that.

3) I often kick myself for not being able to think of the right response to the situation, during the time of the situation. It's good to know that a writer such as yourself, who makes her living off responding to situations she sees, sometimes has the same struggle.

Tommie Gold said...

I know this is a little off topic but...who is today's swashbuckler protector? Is a real person whom you know?

April said...

Look at that beautiful CAT! You other ladies can have the Swashbuckler Protector if only I get to keep his cat.

(Hm... troubling stereotypes rise like spectres in the background...) :-D

Tommie Gold said...

I'll take the nerdy (I use that in a complimentary way) protector--you take the cat!

Nzie (theRosyGardener) said...

Discretion is often the better path in many situations. I also was indiscrete as a kid on stuff, sometimes personal info, sometimes opinions (mine or family members) -but I got a decent lesson when we had a difficult family situation and I personally didn't want it spread around. Waiting a bit before sharing something personal is only rarely a bad idea - and I agree, never leads to regrets (I definitely regret being a childhood blabbermouth).

The situation with the poor Duchess is best evaluated by looking at where the photo was taken from and a map/overview. I kept hearing "private home" and "viewable from public road" (admittedly I didn't think that view would be so clear - she wouldn't just bare all if she thought it could be viewed, I'm sure). Well, if you see a normal photo of the lookout spot, you can see how someone would not think they were going to be photographed on the balcony. It's actually quite creepy how they had to be lying in wait with a massive telephoto lens, etc., to get that photo.


Seraphic said...

The Young Fogey is a real person whom I know, and the young cat is a real cat with which I am acquainted. The cat belongs to my husband's boss, but the Young Fogey is unattached.

Seraphic said...

He is not up for auction, however, so behave yourselves.

Anonymous said...

The worst is being asked personal questions, especially by a man, especially in somewhat vulnerable situation like if you like him or vice versa. It's a bit different with women because we exchange information to bond, but even then it's good to be alert that someone might just be nosy. And men, in my experience, ask questions when they have an agenda of some kind and NOT to bond, but that's not usually obvious till later, and women often feel obliged to answer because we're afraid of looking rude. I mean questions about things like money and dating history and not casual stuff like what book you're reading. I used to be really bad about answering nosy questions but am getting better about deflecting them or sometimes just saying "that's a personal question" or "I don't feel comfortable talking about it." Sometimes guys will ask questions more than once after I've ignored or pretended not to hear them. Then I tend to get a bit blunt but stupidly feel guilty I was the one being rude and not them. Society really conditions women to think that everything about us up for grabs.

Oh and...sort of related. Twice yesterday I got asked point-blank at a store register for my email address. Not even a sales pitch was almost like it was part of the transaction. That really annoys me, especially since I was already giving them my business and my money and didn't want to sign up for endless spam emails. I just told them I never give it out but I think if it happens again I'll complain to the manager or something. It's just bad customer service.

Okay rant over. I'm all in favor of private information being kept private.

CD from a phone.

Anonymous said...

Also related: A guy I've been seeing asked if I wanted to go to a certain place. I said yes even though it's where a different guy I did NOT want to run into hangs out a lot. I thought it over and said "Actually, can we not go there?" And my date, although he seemed a bit puzzled, agreed very nicely and didn't ask why. I wouldn't even have been surprised or offended if he had asked..but he didn't, which saved me the trouble of coming up with some awkward, evasive explanation. Needless to say I was very impressed by his gentlemanliness.

CD from a phone.

Andrea said...

I definitely need to practice discretion when it comes to discussing crushes with either gender. I mean really, there is nothing so disheartening as discussing too broadly in great excitement, only for it to end and then you have way too many people asking you about "how it's going." Sigh.
Double sigh for a longstanding male friend being in town for a visit just now, flirting with me hopelessly because we really do have such good chemistry, and then going his merry way, because he is not actually interested in me. I have learned this over the years of our friendship.
Triple sigh for the cold I just got, which is making me feel mopey. I am generally upbeat! Not today.
Off to make tea and feel sorry for myself now.

Seraphic said...

Oh dear, Andrea!I hope you're feeling better now.