A few weeks ago, I wrote a post that explored the subject of how I take criticism, but also treaded—ever-so-lightly—on how I give it. I didn’t get very far. The post ended with how I might view and critique my creative writing students’ manuscripts and it felt, well, uncomfortable to say the least. “What do you think?” I asked Josh. He shrugged. I read each sentence over repeatedly, just to make sure I wasn’t saying anything that might be taken the wrong way. Landing on a title that wasn’t completely inappropriate proved to be a challenge, too.
As a community college professor, it’s 100% in my best interest to scrutinize every public phrase I write that is associated with my job, which is one reason why I don’t really write about it (the other is because no one wants to read about what college professors do except maybe other college professors). I’ve seen the fallout. Remember that Bucks County high school English teacher who called her students “dunderheads” and “lazy whiners” on her blog? Well she was fired for it. Seems like a minor indiscretion to me, though her blog upset many parents (how dare a teacher think those unkind thoughts about their children?). I can’t help but think it sounds pretty normal for a high school English teacher to become frustrated with her students now and then. Blogging those thoughts off your chest? Probably not the smartest way to vent in the media age, but it’s a shame she lost her job. And as a mom and a wife, I would think twice before posting something that could harm or embarrass my kid or my husband. My story doesn’t need to be their problem. I love my job. I love my family. I’d be super bummed if an offhand comment ruined my life as I now know it.
I feel strongly, though, that we should be able to tell our own stories, even if some take offense, even if these stories might hurt other peoples’ feelings, even if our own truth does not square with someone else’s who might have even played a role in the experience. It can come at a cost, though. It’s up to the writer to decide if the risk is worth the perceived reward of getting the story out there. But not me. Sharing my mad love of coffee and complaining about winter are pretty low stakes. I can’t imagine I’ll be any more forthcoming in the future because frankly, I’m too afraid. A tell-all memoir is probably not in my future.