Blogging from life

Caroline Baum had an interesting piece in the Weekend Age dealing with the stresses fiction authors may place on personal relationships when they use thinly-disguised friends or acquaintances as fodder for a novel or short story. As a blogger who occasionally pens “vignettes” from real life, it’s a potential issue that I’ve pondered about, even though I’m yet to have the uncomfortable experience of a friend discovering and being outraged by something I’ve written about them. That no doubt flows from the “select” size of the Troppo Armadillo readership compared with Thomas Kenneally (the main focus of Baum’s article) and the fact that few of my readers live in Darwin (whereas most of my ‘factional’ characters do). I see that Gianna has already struck the problem, however, with some of her workmates becoming aware that she sometimes writes about them on her blog

It will probably happen to me one day, so it’s worth pondering when use of a personal relationship for creative purposes becomes abuse, and what ethics should apply.

My own view is that, as long as you’re essentially truthful and you disguise a casual acquaintance’s identity so that few if any readers would recognise them, it’s not a problem. Of course, no doubt the acquaintance would recognise themselves, but I don’t see that as either an ethical or practical problem as long as they’re mere distant acquaintances not friends. For example, if Billie-Jean and Alphonse were by some extraordinary chance to stumble across my recent post about them, I doubt they’d be very pleased because the portrayal is hardly flattering. However, to be quite frank, I couldn’t care less. I don’t see them often and I hold them in rather low regard.

Workmates or others in a position to make your life uncomfortable on an ongoing basis raise rather different problems. However, they’re issues of self-preservation rather than writerly ethics, so in that sense they’re not difficult to resolve either. It simply depends on how prepared you are to have all your workmates think you’re a complete prick (or rather know you are). If you intend being ruthlessly judgmental or sarcastic about real people you actually have to deal with frequently, you might need to consider becoming a pseudonymous blogger like Professor Bunyip (whose post this morning, incidentally, is a veritable masterpiece of distilled malevolence – a description intended as a compliment).

Family and close friends pose a much bigger problem. Using them as cannon fodder for a blog raises problems of ethics as well as self-preservation. With the benefit of reflection, for instance, I have to confess that I regret blogging on my daughter Rebecca’s breakup with a former boyfriend not so long ago, without clearing it with her first. It was a breach of trust, because it identified her and could have embarrassed her with her peer group if the post had ever become known to them. As events transpired it won’t, because it disappeared along with all the rest of the posts from the previous “cyberfuddle” manifestation of Troppo Armadillo.

As for my occasional posts about Suzy Kruhse, I always phone and tell her about them in advance, and send her an email copy of the post as well. Fortunately, she’s almost impossible to embarrass, and anything I write about her is likely to be rather less peculiar than the reality if anything.

PS – For anyone who might have been idly curious about my brother-in-law Adam, he now seems to be out of danger and slowly on the mend. He’s still having weekly (and very painful) operations to scrape the suppurating wounds on his legs and shoulders, however, and he’s lost about 2 stone in weight (and he wasn’t overweight to start with). They say Adam’s likely to remain in hospital for at least another month or so. Not nice at all. Still, at least he had “key man” insurance which is now starting to pay out, so my sister Sue no longer has to work double shifts at RNSH or enlist the assistance of the rest of the family to babysit their two kids while she does so.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

“It’s worth pondering when use of a personal relationship for creative purposes becomes abuse, and what ethics should apply.”

It’s occurred to me before now that Mrs Bunyip might well be best placed to deliver the definitive exposition on this question.

2022 years ago

I beleive it comes down to trust; there should be enough give and take in close personal relationships that, if some one is offended they can say so, and if the offender transgressed innocently and apologises that should be the end of it.

A problem may arise when the offence is deliberately malicious. From reading Gianna and the article about Kinnearly, it appears that sometimes an author can subconciously ascribe the nasty characteristics of his friends and aquaintances to his fictional beings. Frankly I don’t know how to handle that. Is saying sorry enough?

I’m sure you’ll recognise some of the people in Southern Pearl Ken, including yourself.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Speaking of Suzy (which I was in passing), she’s just emailed me a joke (as she frequently does):

A man returns from a trip to Shanghai and is feeling very ill. He goes to see his doctor and is immediately rushed to the hospital to undergo a series of tests.

The man wakes up after these tests in a private room at the hospital and the phone by his bed rings. “This is your doctor,” says the voice on the phone. “We have the results back from your tests. I’m sorry to report that you have an extremely contagious deadly disease known as G.A.S.H.”

“G.A.S.H?” replies the man. “What in the hell is that?” “It’s a combination of Gonorrhea, AIDS, SARS, and Herpes,” explains the doctor.

“My gosh, Doc!” screams the man in a panic, “what are you going to do?”

“Well, we’re going to put you on a strict diet of pizza, pancakes, quesadillas, and pita bread,” says the doctor matter-of-factly.

“Will that cure me?” “Well, no,” says the doctor, “but it’s the only food that will fit under the door.”

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

“But the good news is that I’ve secured a 5 million dollar research grant from Worldpharmadomination Corp to trial a new G.A.S.H. treatment. I’ll get back to you when we’re at Phase III. Enjoy!

2022 years ago

And sometimes they get their revenge. After I blogged the rather unflattering piece about my friend the Practice Group Leader (the guy who was obsessed with my punctuality, if you remember), he stood down from the role–there had been a lot of complaints about his behaviour, so it wasn’t just me. But as his last parting shot to me before leaving the position, he arranged for HR to spy on my internet usage. This resulted in me having my ass hauled down to HR again and being presented with a lovely little spreadsheet of my illicit usage.
It backfired on him though, as my own boss was merely outraged at the Big Brother nature of the spying. And HR just told me to perhaps close out of sites rather than leave them open in the background while I do legitimate work (as I had pointed out this would have distorted the stats). Anyway, the worst HR have done is bar my access to my Optusnet email, so can’t check personal email from work anymore.
The funny thing is, the new Practice Group Leader is an old colleague from our days at Andersen, and when I asked him the other day whether now he’d be the one rapping me over the knuckles all the time, he laughed and said, ‘Gianna, you know I’d never do that’. So bollocks to the old Group Leader.

(Just thought I’d vent over here, since I’ve hit on the solution – only talk about real people on other people’s blogs, where they’re even less likely to stumble across them.)

Incidentally there’s also the opposite problem – people thinking you’re writing about them when you aren’t. Someone I was dating very briefly insisted that I had been coding secret messages to him in my blog, perhaps subconsciously. It got to the point where I felt like saying, “Listen, it was actually intended for someone else”. But even I’m not that mean.

2022 years ago

I hope my work colleagues never read my blog.

Scott Wickstein
2022 years ago

I simply avoid the issue by not blogging about my personal life at all- at least so far as it relates to other people.

I figure ruminating about my future affects only me, but I wouldn’t write about work or home (and my personal life is kinda dull, it’s not like it would be rivetting reading.)

2022 years ago

Helen Garner has this to say about it:

“It’s impossible to write intimately about your own life without revealing something of the people who are close to you. This has always been an ethical problem for me, and it always will be. Scour and scourge my motives as I may, consciousness always lags behind action – sometimes by years. Self-awareness is studded by blind spots. Writing, it seems, like the bringing up of children, can’t be done without causing damage.”