Public and Private Battle It Out
During the past 10 days, news outlets and social media were abuzz with stories about Israel and the Palestine militant group, Hamas, battling it out in the Gaza Strip, the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 by Russian military or rebel forces over eastern Ukraine with almost 300 innocent lives lost, a Taiwanese TransAsia airliner which crashed on Wednesday, killing 48 and injuring 10, and lastly the story of an Air Algerie jetliner with 116 people aboard that crashed Thursday in a rainstorm over northern Mali in Africa.
Also on Thursday, another gun violence story when a psychiatric outpatient opened fire inside a psychiatrist’s office at the Mercy Wellness Center of Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital near Philadelphia, killing his caseworker and slightly wounding the doctor, who shot the gunman with his personal firearm. These were just the headlines.
Last weekend and throughout the week, when I logged onto Facebook, I was surprised by the number of posts, not about the news of the day, but instead an abundance of stories and inter-species videos with babies and pets, predator and prey cavorting together, and quizzes which answer important questions of the day like, “What color is your aura?” or “What kind of dog breed are you?”
I must admit, I watched these videos, and took these quizzes, yet I found myself asking, “What purpose do they serve?” The answer for me is that they are distractions from the news of the public sphere, from the events I can’t control, and my response to the tragedies and suffering in the world. There are many ways to numb ourselves to the things that overwhelm us and to slip into denial, if even momentarily, from the reminder that the world can be a dangerous place.
The social media story that captured my attention and distracted me from the news of the week was the sex spreadsheet wars. For those of you who were not bingeing on the social media equivalent of consuming empty calories, I first read the story on Huffington Post online earlier in the week. A husband, upset with the number of rejections to his sexual overtures and invitations to his wife, began tracking the number of times he was rejected compared to the times they engaged in intercourse, and the reasons, no in his view, excuses, why is wife said no. In another example of lack of good judgment, as his wife was on the way to the airport for 10 day work trip, he emailed a sarcastic message to her work account and attached the Excel spreadsheet. The email was forwarded to her phone.
The wife’s response was understandable, though she too may not have shown good judgment. She posted it to Reddit and responses from both sides of the sex spreadsheet wars poured in and what for most of us is very private information now became public discourse and the debate raged on. She found it necessary to respond directly to her critics. Bloggers and social commentators now weighed in and soon were talking about the “orgasm gap” and questioned whether women were actually enjoying sex with their husbands. The battle of the sexes waged on.
As often is the case when a story goes viral, another sex spreadsheet appeared. This time from a wife chronicling her sexual frustration and the times and reasons her husband said no and her remedy and response. The 30-day diary was posted anonymously on the site Guyism and no surprise, their marriage ended in divorce. Now I was absolutely transfixed and distracted to a laugh out loud degree alone at home drinking my morning coffee and reading social media and online magazines.
Soon, a parody appeared when a man posted another sex spreadsheet on Reddit. This time the imaginary couple had sex for 19 days straight in July and then on the 20th day the wife said no. The fictional husband noted the wife’s reason for not having sex, “You made a fucking spreadsheet about it!”
As a blogger and writer I often ask myself when I write about my life and the people who inhabit it with me, “What information is public and what should remain private?” I’ve occasionally gotten in trouble with people I love, when I’ve shared stories about my life in relation to others. I have to ask myself the following questions, “How much of our shared experience is my story to tell, and what is not?” and “Do I need to gain permission first, or let them preview the story and give them censorship rights?”
Most often I remind myself of these wise words by Benjamin Franklin:
“Remember to not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.”
As a writer I need to be responsible, to stand in the shoes of the person I am writing about, and ask myself the following questions: “How would I feel if someone was sharing this story about me?” “Is it critical to the narrative, or theme to include this information?” “Will the story, hurt or damage someone’s reputation?” “Have I betrayed a confidence?” There are many other questions or moral judgments to make. One of the biggest issues is that when stories are told and shared on the internet, the writer or storyteller essentially gives up control. The separation between public and private grows smaller everyday and our ability to protect and manage our reputation and the perceptions of others diminishes daily.
I’ve made mistakes and have amends to make to people I care about, yet as a memoirist and storyteller, I’m not going to give someone else the ability to decide what stories I tell or not, by censoring me. I will do my best to respect the privacy of others, but not keep secrets that will hurt me or others.
I will remember to say the things often left unsaid, and to remain silent when I tempted to share something hurtful, unnecessary or gossip. And lastly, one Excel(lent) reminder: Don’t keep sex spreadsheets!
For those readers who like Excel spreadsheets and apps, while writing this post I discovered that sex apps exist. To learn more, click here.
Be careful what you share!
To read more, click on What Is Public? from Medium.com.