Monday, 18 March 2013

The Third Problem... and My Lesson

When people know you write in a public forum, it changes things. I realize now I actually have a third problem with being a writer (in my first post, I wrote about two problems). It is really the fact that what you write becomes public. I know, that sounds silly, it's kind of the point of being a writer, to have what you write printed or published. But maybe what has been holding me back is that I know some people will disagree or dislike what I write, and maybe some people I care about will misunderstand, or be hurt or disapointed. That might not be so if I was to write a fantasy novel or something, but that is not the way I write.

For example if I write a story like my last post, “I'll Help You With Dinner”, I'm under no obligation to tell the truth, but it will likely be based on my experiences and my knowledge, and people I know might recognize themselves in these situations (whether I intend it or not). If I am true to the style of writing that interests me, I may be expressing feelings and situations that I've never expressed before, that I would never actually tell certain people in real life, but it might now be out there in the public for anyone to read if they choose. I may be digging up stuff that could potentially cause harm where I don't mean to, but it also means that people may change how they interact with me in the future, since they think that interaction might become part of my writing. That is a change in my life that I may not want.

But it might already be too late, that change might already have happened for me.

I've had a couple stories printed in one of our local newspaper over the last year or so, and the editor has asked on a couple occasions if I would be interested in writing a column, or some sort of regular submission. I couldn't commit, because I was busy with other things, and because I didn't know what interested me enough. But over the past 2 years I have become more interested in local government, politics, and the things going on around me, and when the editor found out I was not currently working, she asked if I might be interested in looking into a few things. It turned out I was already interested and finding out about a couple of the issues, so I gave her a few more stories, and she printed them. I don't think that makes me a reporter, but some people seem to think it does. I guess that might just be a philosophical argument. Anyway, within the last few months, I've been told that I am free to come to the village office and ask questions, just as any citizen is, and staff will help me, provide copies of bylaws, etc. Suddenly last week, right after the stories were published, I was told that anything going to the paper must come from the Mayor, since he is the spokesperson for the Village.

Now of course, theoretically, if I am asking as a citizen, I should have the same rights and access as every other citizen; and theoretically, any Village staff person would be able to give me the same information that the Mayor would. But if it's for the paper, it has to come from (or be otherwise authorized) by the Mayor. So here is my issue – I am asking questions as a citizen, because I want to know and understand. But once I know, can I say for sure it won't become part of something I write, something that the editor will be interested in printing? So really, if I am to be truthful, then anything I learn may well become part of a story for the paper, so I can't really ask as a citizen any more (even though I am asking as a citizen). And even if I decide to never submit anything to the paper again, I am somehow already labeled.

The most ironic part is how this all played out for me. What I was currently trying to find out is whether the Village was working on a policy regarding an aspect of budgeting. I was told it was a conscious decision for the council to not be too concerned about policies, since there are more important issues that need to be dealt with (which is certainly true). I was then told that the policy that says a reporter has to talk to the Mayor is clear. My translation: budget policy, not important; policy that says reporters have to talk to the Mayor, very important. Not sure who decides which one is important, nor how it is determined who is a reporter. I guess that means I will be reading the community charter, but I wanted to do that eventually anyway.

Of course, the mayor's point (that there is a lot of work to be done, and sometimes creating policies is not the best use of one's time) is certainly a good point. There are a lot of stupid, useless and silly policies out there. And maybe I am a little over-sensitive to the issue of bad policies, or poorly enforced ones, there have certainly been times I've gotten screwed over by them. But it has really been bugging me, and I know I'm sometimes a little slow making the connections, but I've recognized my lesson. If I am going to be a writer, I have to put it all out there. I can't be scared of who I might offend, I can't hold back my opinions. There will be people who don't like it, and consequently don't like me. But we can't live our lives worried about that, now can we?? ;) Anyway, I expect it will be a decision I have to make each time I decide to publish something.  And I am just about to make the decision for this story.

This is an article I wrote that was printed in November:

And these are two of my recent articles that were published:

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