A Very Fine Pickle Indeed – Telling Tales Out of School

Hindsight is a funny thing.  The clarity that comes with it is elusive when you need it, but it never fails to show up and smirk when you don’t.

Last year, a Facebook acquaintance ambushed me at a retirement party and suggested that I pursue real writing rather than concentrating my creative energies on Facebook statuses.  Appealing to my vanity, he told me I had a “distinctive voice”.  Yeah…you know I just ate that up.  But after years of uninspired resume, application letter, and obituary writing for friends and family, it occurred to me that I needed an outlet.   I had tried blogging before, but it lacked a focus and I soon abandoned it.

In the spirit of “writing what you know”, I went and looked up autism parenting blogs.  I found Babble’s top autism blogs, checked out a few, and found that I suddenly had a lot to say.  And realized with chagrin that I had been saying it, but to people who weren’t particularly invested (friends and family not directly affected by autism).  I had been blabbering away about my experience without a willing audience and needed to give my poor friends a break.  After reading a few blogging tips, brainstorming a name, and creating Twitter and Facebook accounts to find some readers, I created an account on WordPress, wrote my first post, and timidly entered the autism blogosphere.  My goal was simple.  I wanted to build up a readership of about 75-100 people (similar to a friend of mine’s beer blog) and meet real people who have been in my shoes and were willing to talk autism.

Imagine my surprise – and I confess my delight – when, after four days of blogging, my “Apology” post took off.  Not like those hilarious treadmill blooper videos, mind you – they’re totally awesome.   But 56,000 hits in a single day.  Which, for a four-day old niche blog, is pretty viral.  A couple of weeks after that, “Dear Shopper” took off as well.  And, in almost surreal timing, the following day “11 Things” was “Freshly Pressed” on the WordPress.com homepage.

Suffice it to say, it was a most extraordinary experience for a newbie blogger.  Suddenly I had hundreds of comments and emails—encouraging me, sharing their own stories, wanting me to guest post, asking my opinion, or offering me an “opportunity” to sell their product.   Yep, my Warhol-allocated 15 minutes was something else.  Now that they’re over, I am relieved.  Statistically, it is unlikely I’ll get any more.  And mine were a good 15 minutes – unlike those unfortunate souls whose minutes came while dangling on a ski lift with their pants down.  One really must practice gratitude when one can.

Had that hindsight been present, I would have spent more time thinking about the implications of blogging than social networking or a name for my blog.  And I would have changed my name – not merely going by my maiden name, but changing it altogether.

You see, I’m in a very fine pickle indeed – of my own making – and there’s really nothing that can be done about it.    Well, I could dramatically post a notice from a relative that I had been hit on the head by an asteroid, but that would make me unhappy.  I happen to like blogging.  I love interacting with this community of parents – who understand the value of support so much as to offer it to strangers they will likely never lay eyes upon.  Every parent would walk through fire for their children.  But you guys-along with every parent of every child who has been vulnerable in an unforgiving world – have actually all gotten the call to suit up. We come from all walks of life, but we share this one thing in common.  Nope, I’m not giving it up.

But going by my own identity was probably a less than stellar idea.  Some might think I’m saying that due to the sinister nature of the internet.   They’d be wrong.  Because it isn’t that I don’t want any of you to have my name, it’s that I wish everyone I knew in real life didn’t!  In a large enough city, it wouldn’t be a problem.

But I live in a small one.  We have one high school.  I personally know all of our local candidates for superintendent. Almost all of our school level administrators were born and raised in this county.  And, having been employed here for 15 years, I have taught with, trained with, worked for, or attended high school with most of them.  You don’t have to play six degrees in this town.  Usually two will suffice.

My point is this:  the day will come when we have a concern or complaint.  It just will.  (And I am one of the least rock the boat natured women you’ll ever meet.)

And I will have to think about whether or not this teacher or that therapist or which administrator is related to somebody else and whether it might be a problem. We have awesome people in my school system, and I do have faith that most of my colleagues want the best for every child.  But if you work for the same people you might one day have to petition, you’d be a fool to be unaware.

All this would be bad enough for any special needs parent, but then I had to go and start blogging – using my real name.  It wasn’t that it was a secret really.  My friends and family knew. I just wasn’t making an effort to promote it to whole city.   But someone saw “Apology” on the Autism Speaks site and it got out.  Now some folks are interested and asking me about it.  Which is certainly no big deal.  But at some point, someone who works with him will see it as well.  And, considering how careful and sensitive teachers of special needs kids already have to be, imagine how thrilled they would be to hear the mom in the IEP is an autism blogger.  Add to that the abundance of lawyers in my family, and I’ll be surprised if meetings with me aren’t recorded and legally represented!

In short, there are many opportunities here to royally infuriate someone with the power to make my life miserable.  And, yes, I know the First Amendment (barring stupidity or slander) will protect me.  But that isn’t really the point, is it?  I have to live and work in this town.  I happen to like most of these people.   I need my job.  But, most importantly, I don’t want anyone resenting or avoiding my child because they fear I might go and raise a stink on my blog.  I’m not going to do that to anyone who works with my child period.  But I wouldn’t blame them for being a little leery about it.

If I had blogged about, say, stamp collecting, it would have been alright.   If that one post hadn’t taken off, it would have been okay.  But the internet is an unpredictable thing.  And I have recently learned it is a very small world after all.

So here I am, blogging away while attempting to analyze every possible consequence of each post.  Who might read this?  How might they interpret it?  Does it suggest anyone’s identity?  Will a family member or friend be inadvertently offended or affected?  Might the school system see this as criticism?  And – if I attempt to minimize negative ramifications – am I remaining true to me?  Censoring myself is hardly therapeutic.

So, yes, I’m going to continue what I’m doing.  (Mainly because I’m lazy and all other autism advocacy seems to involve running several miles in unflattering clothing.)  I’m still going to talk about what I need to talk about or say what I think needs to be said.  I’m simply going to continue to look very carefully at how I say it.

No, I didn’t think about any of this beforehand, and I should have.  So those of you who are thinking about writing your own blog, be forewarned.  You really have only three options when blogging: use a nom de plume, write pure fluff that will offend no one, or grow thicker skin.  The first two options won’t work for me.  So I’m working on that third one.  While repeatedly looking over my shoulder.  And maintaining possibly the largest unpublished drafts folder in the history of blogging.

Sometimes I am not so smart.  :/

“I always feel like somebody’s watchin me and I got no privacy. Oh oh oh…”  

-Rockwell

24 thoughts on “A Very Fine Pickle Indeed – Telling Tales Out of School

  1. Tammy Sandeen

    I ran into that with my son’s school (and I live in Detroit so we aren’t all that small) but it actually helped clear up an issue we were having with out me taking it to them in a mean way. I remain respectful of others (except a few that don’t need or deserve my respect) even when I disagree and it helps. Now if only I could get my blog to take off. LOL

  2. Leah Kelley

    Oh man!! I can totally relate to this post. Totally! Completely! I am opting for the thicker skin as well, and at the same time have a more than 2:1 ratio for unpublished vs published posts! I have no advice… just that I am walking the thin line with ya sista!

  3. Kaye Chastain

    Honey, you are not smart; you are brilliant…and gifted…and blessed…and honest. I love your blog, and I love the fact that it is YOU…warts and all, just as it should be. I understand your concern; I truly do. But to limit yourself through fear of offending is to put restraints on emotion and truth. Don’t do it. No one is forced to read what you write. If they’re offended, let them read something else. A large portion of the value of what you write is your ability to relate to others who share your thoughts and feelings. To be able to convey to others that they are not alone in this battle we share against autism is a priceless gift. I, for one, treasure that gift from you! (((More hugs!)))

    1. Profile photo of FlappinessIsFlappinessIs Post author

      Well, thanks for making me smile on only 3 hours of sleep! I’m not going to censor myself. I’m just going to be careful how I say it. And it should come as no surprise that I’m thinking about all this today because I’m getting ready to write a few posts on educational issues. 😉

  4. Katherine Gordy Levine

    When I wrote my first book–When Good Kids Do Bad Things, I disguised every story, but one. That was when my nearly thirteen year old son stole the family car. He crashed it, came home, confessed, paid for the repairs. I thought it a great story and lent authenticity to my stand as someone who has been in the trenches as well as who has some “expert” documentation. I asked my kid if I could use it. He was sixteen or seventeen by then. He said, “Yes.” But when his friends read it and laughed he was not happy. I’ve kept the story in the book’s electronic version which is coming out soon. But I did change the designation to one of my sons rather than name the culprit. He probably will never read it, but I still have some trepidation about using it. .

    Best to learn how not to get sued. My lawyer said to disguise people so the general public would not recognize the person. The person might know, and the those who know the person, but that is not enough for them to sue. Of course, people with money sue anyway and lawyers take it and then you have to get one and pay him.

    So one way to handle the local stuff is to claim it involves someone from a distant city. You could even find someone to write a question that would let you discuss the issue. You could also disguise some of the material, but keep the issues going.

    I would also add a disclaimer to the blog, that you sometimes combine or disguise stories to protect the innocent and readers can never be sure unless you admit it whether you are talking about your kid or someone else’s.

    I don’t know how functional your child will become. Hoping for the best, but also need to warn you that kids often don’t like what parents write about them. That said, being protective is not always as helpful as touted. As some wise person, probably any number of wise people have noted, you can’t please everybody and trying to do so leads to mediocrity. You help too many people to be silenced.

    I have been asked and have agreed to use a nom-de-plume for the writing of my heart, a novel–too racy and might detract from the parenting book. But had played around with that idea anyway. I also been asked to do some editing of my more out there political views and keep them confined to Facebook. Doing that as I do want the book to sell.

    Not sure if this is helpful, but my feeling is you should keep your name and figure out some strategies for self preservation. By the way, trouble will erupt at some point no matter what you do, so you might as well do what you want. Something I learned from my mother.

    1. Profile photo of FlappinessIsFlappinessIs Post author

      Thanks for that thoughtful reply, Katherine. My gut tells me you are correct and that I should keep my name. Truthfully, I have a dream where I am one day blogging/freelance writing in my jammies. So, I will keep my name. I really like the disclaimer idea. I’m going to work on that. Especially since I have been planning some posts on educational issues from a teacher’s perspective…

      Your advice about claiming stories come from distant places is a good one. My dad found something in one of my posts a while back that he suggested I rework – along those same lines. It didn’t name anyone, but locals might have guessed kind of thing. And, you’re right. People can sue to prove the sky is polka dotted. They’ll lose, but it is still a major inconvenience for the defendant!

  5. jennifer

    Or they could be the absolute best they ever could be because they know it might show up here. It really might work to your favor big time.

  6. Victoria Helen Maroney

    I’m glad you’re keeping going with the blog despite the issues because a similar thing happened to my husband where his identity was exposed. In his case though, he blogged on “local happenings” and politics where we live and even got mentioned on the local radio station more than once. Eventually though he managed to land himself in hot water because he was deliberately locking horns with local authority figures and nearly lost his job through things he’d said on the internet… Fortunately, he’s smart, so managed to find a way out of the trouble and so all is (fortunately) well. The point I’m making is that in his case, he no longer writes meaningfully apart from on very obscure and niche forums, which is sad because, like you, he is an excellent writer. In your case you know what the problems COULD be and are avoiding them. Keep up those posts which reach and help others affected by Autism please. It’s so good to know that someone is making the most of all the Internet can be at its best in order to reach and give hope to others; because when it comes to “Autism Parenting” it’s a case of “United we stand”! :o)

  7. E (The Third Glance)

    I’m sorry :( In my world, I lurked in the blogosphere for YEARS before starting my own blog. And then I did so, wiht every assumption that my parents could find it easily if I gave away anything… Hence, I go by “E” (and who’s to say that’s my real initial?) and I don’t discuss where I go to school or what I study or most of my hobbies. It’s hard to censor yourself, and really sadly shouldn’t be necessary. But I picked the “protect yourself first” route. Sometimes I wish I could grow a thicker skin and be more open.

  8. Cheryl

    You could go back and change all the names and such like Jess from Diary of a Mom did. And if you read her “rules”, one of them is that any reference to her children using their given names and not the pseudonym she assigned will be promptly removed. Time consuming? Yep. But spend the time and add the disclaimer about the combined stories and go from there. And enjoy keeping your locals on their toes. Nothing for them to be frightened of if they are fair and reasonable.

  9. Marlene

    You are a wonderful writer…not many are so talented. Much needs to be said about parenting a child with autism, not only from parent to parent, but by being a voice to those who are seated in places that are either administering to our children, or those in high places able to make decisions that effect children with autism and their families. With your expressive gift you are in a position to be a spokesperson for ‘change’ by speaking certain truths that others can’t possibly understand; those that have not experienced life with autism first hand. I, too, was somewhat shy as a young parent. Believe me, as you age it becomes less important what other’s think of you personally; it becomes more important that the word gets out, like it or not. If the greater system doesn’t work, speak out without fear. At first, the truth might turn a few noses, but it gets the wheels in motion. That’s advice from an oldie like me, and I’m sticking to it. Love your heart and your writing!

    1. Profile photo of FlappinessIsFlappinessIs Post author

      Thank you, Marlene. I’m not going to stop. This is a good fit for me and I happen to love it. I just find myself so very conscious of how I handle things now. I’ve already had a couple of people misrepresent something I said enough to concern someone else. Nothing to be done but keep an eye out for eggshells. :)

  10. Marnie

    I hope you keep blogging – your honesty really comes through, and I love sharing your work because often you have said just what I am thinking and it gives my friends a good window into this world.

  11. Angela

    You know one of the (numerous) things I have discovered over our family’s journey is that “You don’t always make friends when you are advocating for your child.” I know when my kids were much younger, I wanted everyone to like me and feel as passionate about my kids wellbeing and the way I presented things as I did…Well…they just don’t! I look back now at some of the well meaning teachers and administrators who I either really “peed” off or I made cry-YIKES!!!! Would I do it any differently? No-did it make any difference to the support and care my children got-I really don’t think so (it was me they didn’t like not the kids!) You just keep on blogging and sharing and being who you need to be for your family! I firmly believe that as long as you don’t go out of your way to be maliciously unkind to people, if they choose to take exception to you-it’s their problem ! Hugs to you from faraway.xxx

  12. Tessa

    I’m a teacher, and tons of my co-workers read my blog. The problem? My kids attend school where I work, so when the inevitable problem arrises, I’m faced with the age old question: to blog or not to blog. I’ve found that blogging actually gives me a better perspective. I’ve always been very careful to blog both sides of the issue when something has come up, and I’ve managed to avoid major problems, but it is difficult when the people you’re writing about know you. You have my sympathies.

  13. Stimey

    I don’t write something unless it is something I would be comfortable having the subject of the post read. That doesn’t mean it is always flattering, but if I wouldn’t want the school to know it, I don’t write it. If I don’t want the post read in a court of law someday, I don’t write it. If I think my kid will be mad at me for writing it, I don’t write it. I still have a lot of good material. But I live in a big city and I have had several people from the school find me through various avenues that never would have occurred to me. Every blogger has to find his or her own comfort zone, I think though. My answers won’t necessarily be your answers. But it’s smart to think about these things.

    1. Profile photo of FlappinessIsFlappinessIs Post author

      I agree. There are things I will never blog about with regard to my son. I can still find ways to discuss issues without anecdotes about him – if it is embarrassing. I have written about a specific person only once here – before I thought anybody would read it. lol Now I know better!

  14. Marita

    The thing is anonymous bloggers get revealed eventually, nothing is ever really a secret on the internet.

    I’m with Stimmy, I don’t blog something unless I would be comfortable saying it in public.

    It is tricky and I’ve had our paediatrician ring me in the past and say she would like me to remove a blog post about a discussion we’d had – which I happily did, I’d perceived the discussion differently to her.

    I’ve also had our school principal approach me in the playground and ask if I had a blog because I’d written about our decision to part time homeschool and from using my first name and my daughters name the dept of education had figured out who I was – they also wanted the post removed as they would prefer less people knew about the option to part time home school. That post is still up.

    We tell the truth as we see it on our blogs and as long as you would be comfortable speaking that truth to a person then blog away.

  15. Lizbeth

    I went in to this whole thing rather blind–literally went to blogger after our vacation on the beach, picked a name and went with it. Hindsight is 20/20. I did agree with my husband for a pen name for the sake of his family. Lets just say they’re better off not knowing I blog—they truly believe Autism can be cured with discipline and hard love. Sooooo not how we think. I tend to write only what I’m 100% comfortable telling another person or the school. I have come to realize that word DOES get out. A lot of my life does get left out but there is still plenty of fodder to go around without hurting anyone.

  16. dixieredmond

    Hmmmmm. You said, “So those of you who are thinking about writing your own blog, be forewarned. You really have only three options when blogging: use a nom de plume, write pure fluff that will offend no one, or grow thicker skin.”

    Oh, my word. I have to make a choice???? Actually, I started a blog about being a parent of an ASD child and used a nom de plume. But I found after a while, it wasn’t satifsfying to write it. It wasn’t authentc feeling. Plus no one was reading it. 😉 So I shut it down.

    I’m not sure why I came to this post today. It’s been a hard day and it’s 8:22 a.m. But after I came, I knew this was the reason – “But you guys-along with every parent of every child who has been vulnerable in an unforgiving world – have actually all gotten the call to suit up. We come from all walks of life, but we share this one thing in common. Nope, I’m not giving it up.”

    Not Giving Up.

    So thank you for writing. And thank you for writing honestly. Because often, you are writing what I can’t.

    Dixie

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