Monday, October 01, 2007

True stupid stories. Twice in one week, being a writer has fucked up my social life.

Last week, I got myself uninvited to a dinner because I couldn’t tell my host what he wanted to hear, namely that my job as a reporter would get left at the door. Later in the week, I found myself half-drunkenly proclaiming “I’ve written about everyone I’ve ever slept with” – effectively ending that night’s gambit. While the latter might sound like me just shooting off my mouth, it’s probably only fair to warn folks in advance.

Because people know I’m a writer – and especially a journalist – they keep that in mind. At least, I thought they did. But it’s blown up on me twice now. I’ll take the hint: I haven’t been sending clear messages.

In my journalistic life, I have pretty high expectations about access to information that’s in the public interest. Public interest meaning, on the one hand, stuff the public should be keeping tabs on (as in, it’s in the public’s best interest to get this information out) and, on the other hand, meaning a curious reader would want to know (as in, whatever factlets are of interest to the public.)

To that end, I ask a lot from people in my professional life. Sometimes, I ask people questions they would rather not answer – and I have difficulty letting them off the hook. That means I spend a little part of most days explaining over the phone or in person that readers expect a lot of transparency. If you don’t like being asked questions, I tell my sources, you should find a field where you’re less likely to get interviewed.

So, given my propensity for peaking into other people’s lives, I feel obligated to keep my personal ledgers open. As a sometime columnist and full-time editor for Capital Xtra, I’ve written about boyfriends, STIs, and the men I meet at parties. I think I’ve mostly done it in a way that’s respectful to both my social circle and my readers, but it’s always possible that something I did with you (for you? to you?) will end up in the pages of Capital Xtra some day. In my creative writing too, people from my real life pop in and out.

I realize that there are lots of writers (journalists and creative writers) who draw the lines differently, who negotiate their personal lives in other ways. But for me, I think a writer’s primary obligation is to her readers. It’s more than just a job; writers play an important role in the functioning of democracy and in the development of their social fabric. If I want people – readers or otherwise – to participate in the dialogue I offer (however humble that offering is) I can’t hedge my bets.

Which sorta sucks, doesn’t it?