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Posts Tagged ‘privacy’

Writers aren’t circus bears!

In art, behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, entertainment, journalism, life, Media, work on February 23, 2013 at 12:32 am
Canada Reads 2013

Canada Reads 2013 (Photo credit: gorbould)

Here’s a thoughtful recent essay from Canada’s National Post:

There is a clause on page five of my book contract that states, “The Author must make herself available to the media to promote the work.”…Not only does literary life seem to require a new kind of written personal transparency, the obligations that follow publication seem to have become increasingly more invasive.

How is “available” defined when we can reveal our private lives in real time via a variety of different digital outlets? When accessing almost any author with immediate, unfiltered comment and criticism is a click away? How much does the media, and the public, want, need or even deserve?

As writers feel more and more pressure to be 24/7, real-time public figures, we need to consider those who are disclosure-averse, who prefer to hide away and let their work stand as they have constructed it.

Writing is a solitary act, while publishing is a shared one, and skill at being a likable public figure who gives great readings and interviews is in no way a quality of producing quality literature.

It’s certainly not news that the Internet is not exactly a bastion of thoughtful dialogue and critique — it’s a vile, abusive place that no amount of “haters gonna hate” can ease the blow of. The result of putting oneself “out there” is commonly getting badly beat up, shattering your confidence in yourself and your work…

Exposure can be a terrifying and exhausting process, the demand for the author to step well out into the fray constant…

Being good at self-exposure and promotion doesn’t make you a better writer, it makes you a more popular one.

This resonated deeply for me.

As you read this, I’m at an assisted-living facility about 10 minutes’ drive from my home, doing another public event for my retail memoir, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail.”

I’m not being paid for it, which I sometimes am, (usually $50 to $250 for a small, local event.) A local indie bookseller will be there with a box of my books and a credit card machine. (If I sell them, they don’t count for royalties, i.e. lowering the initial advance payment with every sale, albeit a tiny fraction of the cover price the publisher actually pays the author.)

It’s showtime, folks!

This, my second book, came out April 2011 in hardcover, July 2012 in paperback, but  — like many authors — I’m still out there selling it to the public and press when possible. If it doesn’t keep selling, it will disappear from bookstores, go out of print and die. Staying silent and invisible seems unwise.

Before almost every event I have no idea, really, how many people will show up, or in what mood, or with what level of interest in me or my topic. Someone in the crowd might get nasty. I might fill the room — and not sell a single book. (My book discusses low-wage labor, and both times this has happened was after addressing library audiences in two very wealthy towns, Scarsdale, NY and Westport, CT.)

Frankly, it’s stressful.

The last event I did was in January at a local library on a bitterly cold night. I was suffering terrible bronchitis, my barking cough frequent and loud. To my delight, a friend came, as did a woman who had heard me months earlier, and she brought two friends. One man blurted “I love your book! I stayed up til 1:30 last night reading it.” Which was, of course, all lovely.

Then I asked one audience member, working retail, what she sells: “Clothing, to women your size.”

Holy shit. That hurt! I smiled my usual bland, friendly, I-didn’t-feel-a-thing smile. But her impertinent and bizarrely personal remark still hurts, weeks later.

Writers are hungry to be read, to communicate our ideas and passions, but we’re not schooled or trained — nor eager for, or desirous of, sustained public attention and unsolicited, often anonymous, commentary.

We do this public song-and-dance because we have to, because we’re proud of and love our books and want them to be read as widely as possible. But many writers are ambivalent about, even resentful of, the misleading and false sense of intimacy our public appearances create with audiences.

You don’t know us.

You just know what we wrote. 

When doing public and press events, no matter how stung or annoyed you feel, you have to react quickly and calmly, as I did on live radio with 2 million listeners on The Diane Rehm Show.

And I won’t rant here about the public, permanent and often anonymous “reviews” on amazon, some so vicious they’ve left me shaking: “Bitter, pretentious and lazy, lazy, lazy” wrote one.

Many writers are desperate to be published, and would kill for the chance to garner lots of media and/or public attention. For their work, yes, of course!

But you personally ? To have your looks, personality, clothing, diction, mannerisms and family discussed (and quite possibly dissed) by curious strangers?

Maybe not so much.

If you’re interested in writing-as-process, here’s a two-part interview I gave recently to fellow writer Nancy Christie, whose many questions were intelligent and thought-provoking.

Mystery Versus Celebrity

In behavior, entertainment, Media on July 24, 2010 at 10:37 pm
Greta Garbo.

Greta Garbo. Image via Wikipedia

I liked this piece in The New York Times, on the loss of mystery that is the concomitant cost of 24/7 visibility:

Garbo couldn’t exist in the 21st century. I mean Garbo the lady of mystery, not the rather dull, stingy woman who is reported to have resided behind the persona. And it’s not just because she was the product of an ancient Hollywood studio system that insisted on keeping its stars fixed in a distant firmament. (A photographic publicity image from the 1920s grafted Garbo’s head, I swear, onto the body of a sphinx.)

Today’s democracy of technology would, of course, conspire to put a fast and brutal end to the tantalizing demi-invisibility that Garbo sustained so well. Everyone who possesses a cellphone now is a potential member of the paparazzi. Let a latter-day Garbo poke her head into a cheese shop, or slip out to pick up a toothbrush at the drugstore, and you can bet her image will be all over the Internet in a matter of minutes.

The romance of people discussing their Garbo sightings in hushed voices, as if they had seen a ghost or an indigo bunting out of season, would be replaced by the diminishing boasting of trophy hunters comparing shots. Disgruntled friends of Garbo’s, whom she’d stuck with the check perhaps or cut out of her life, would start anonymously posting unflattering tidbits on the Web about the size of her feet and her infantile sense of humor.

“Oh, her again,” you’d say, when her face popped up on Gawker or TMZ.com. And were the divine Greta (oh, perish the thought) reduced to posting desperately, “I vant to be alone,” we would all snicker in knowing contempt. “Yeah,” we’d snarl, “you and Lindsay Lohan, baby.”

The world, you see, no longer has any tolerance for — let alone fascination with — people who aren’t willing to publicize themselves. Figures swathed in shadows are démodé in a culture in which the watchword is transparency.

The current obsession with “knowing” a lot about total strangers — (the utility is…?) — strikes me as bizarre. I have been ordered, albeit nicely, to start Tweeting asap about my new book, which is still a work in progress, so as to build an audience, which, of course takes time. Gotta sow the field now to harvest the crop of fame and fortune next year.

I will do it because I am occasionally obedient, certainly eager for my book to succeed, but it runs totally against my principles and values. The thought of bleating into the ether on a regular basis….who has that much (interesting) to say? I find blogging challenging enough in this respect.

Being modest, whether about one’s body or spirit, is now seen as the mark of a rube. I love modesty and prize it in my friends and loved ones.  I like the idea, and the reality, of slowly discovering a new friend or partner at their speed, learning new things about them over months or years, maybe even decades. There are still many things I don’t know about my partner of a decade, and vice versa.

I think this is a good thing.

It took two friends more than a year to get up the nerve to each tell me they’re gay, which I’d suspected all along. Trust takes time. I hate it when someone I barely know tells me a lot about themselves, and that includes celebrities. When it comes to my own relationships, if I’m interested, I’ll ask, or more likely assume they’ll share intimacies when ready.

Maybe never.

That’s the delight of mystery.

Do you value it? What are we losing by denying it?

A Little Solitude Is A Powerful Thing: A Room Of One's Own, Even For A Week

In behavior, women on January 8, 2010 at 8:01 am
Portrait of Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)

Viginia Woolf, one of my favorite writers. Image via Wikipedia

Silence. Solitude. Space.

These are three of the most prized commodities anyone creative — hell, anyone — can enjoy. In a culture packed with buzzing, beeping distractions, one that races all the time at top speed and scoffs at those slowpokes who dawdle, having a calm, quiet, private physical space to oneself, with only the hum of the fridge, the rumble (in New York today) of the snowplow or the wind in the trees is a great luxury.

We tend to pity those who live alone, imagining them sad and dreary, pining for company and amusement. Many who live solo, in fact, deeply prize their privacy and quiet.

I’ve been on my own for a whole week, my partner away on business. I’ll join him tomorrow, but oooooh the luxury of not having to clean up or cook or tidy up or be civilized for a while. Feels good to be feral.

Last night I devoured an entire book, “Drive”, by Daniel Pink. Turned off the TV, wasn’t enjoying lively conversation, wasn’t worried about dinner. Just read non-stop, gulping it down.

As many know, it was Virginia Woolf, lecturing to university women, who suggested that every woman needs her own money and a room of her own in order to create.

She’s right. A woman seen to be ignoring the needs of her loved ones is often considered a selfish, wretched demon, no matter how divided she feels between what new work she needs to create and what she has already chosen — family — to create. It’s no wonder some of the world’s most highly creative women eschew marriage and motherhood to get on with their own work, uninterrupted, unharried, undistracted by the jammy hands and dirty socks of people they might adore but whose relentless needs also take up a lot of time and energy.

One of my favorite women creators, whose invention — ironically — helps check the health of newborn babies, was someone who never married, Columbia University physician Dr. Virginia Apgar, for whom the test is named. Her dream, as a devoted amateur aviatrix, was to fly under the George Washington Bridge.

Read any issue of any women’s magazine aimed at those with partners and children, and you’ll find an article on carving out a bit of time and space for yourself. A woman wanting to be alone, like Greta Garbo, is seen as a little odd.

Maybe she’s just…thinking.

Has Your Cube Shrunk? Employers Are Downsizing Space, Too

In business, design on December 8, 2009 at 8:22 am
Cubicle Panorama

Image by Kyle and Kelly Adams via Flickr

Great, if depressing, story in The Wall Street Journal about how employers are shrinking their office spaces to save cash. Makes sense — rent is a huge fixed cost and, hey, who needs privacy?

“The majority of our clients are moving in the direction of reducing the amount of personal, or what we like to call ‘me’ space,” says Tom Polucci, group vice president and director of interior design for HOK Group Inc., a global architecture and design firm.

He says new workstations designed by HOK average 48 square feet, down from 64 square feet about five years ago. Partitions between cubicles also are shrinking, to 4 feet high or less, from 5 feet high.

Rivals Stantec Inc., DEGW, Mancini Duffy and M. Arthur Gensler Jr. & Associates Inc. report similar findings. They say companies of varying sizes in multiple industries are reducing per-employee office space by as much as 50%, and their total footprint by as much as 25%.

Some companies are removing cubicle walls to create open floor plans. Others are eliminating assigned workspaces for employees who primarily work off campus or spend most of their time in meetings. At any given time, Gensler estimates that 60% of employees are away from their desks.

I’ve worked in big open newsrooms with no cubicles — the Montreal Gazette and the New York Daily News — and in one with cubes, The Globe and Mail. I’ve twice, heaven!, had an office with a door, both times as a magazine editor in Manhattan. One afternoon, I got such a migraine (extremely rare for me) I couldn’t even make it to the elevator, so I lay down underneath my desk and slept for a while. Try that in an open-plan office.

Everyone who chooses journalism knows that newsroom noise and distraction are a part of the game; every newsroom always has several TVs on all the time. You learn early, or leave, how to do interviews, think and write with as many as 3 or 4 people sitting feet away, each of them talking. But for many employees, hearing your cubemate chew or make doctor’s appointments is gross and annoying. We had a guy at the News who spent much of his day talking on the phone really loudly.

That’s one good thing about working alone at home. Right now, the only sound I hear — loud and clear — is my neighbor’s laughter and phone conversation. I’m not sure, short of a cabin in the woods, you can escape noise or other people and get your work done.

Has your cube shrunk? Or do you head to a cafe to work on your laptop, preferring the background buzz of others?

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