July 19th, 2007

Warning: Entry May Be Rated R (okay, PG-13. Maybe not even that. You tell me)

Every time I write, I put on a different persona. Sometimes it’s formal, and sometimes it’s pious (I do a lot of writing for religious publications), and sometimes it’s informal, and sometimes it’s pretty much just me. This blog is pretty much just me—which, it occurred to me recently, could be problematic when a reader of another Elisabeth persona visits.


I first started thinking about this when I thought that one of my interview subjects had visited my blog—an interview subject I had recently written about here. (Luckily, I liked the interview subject a lot, so the entry was positive; also luckily, I’m slightly—slightly!—neurotic, and it’s pretty clear that the subject has never been to my blog.) I had not intended that person to be part of my audience!


Then I found out an editor had read my blog—an editor to whom I had not presented this persona, but another. And so then I worried that maybe she’d come across a snarky/ racy/ controversial entry that would make her wonder about my writing for her publication. (See the neurosis? Since when have I written anything racy here? Well, read on. Today could be the day!)


It’s all about writing for your audience. And if you have a few different audiences, well, you may have a problem.


Audience appropriateness can be a problem in real life, too. Just the other day, a female colleague asked a male colleague (I use the term very, very loosely. Colleague, I mean. I have no comment on the adjective) if he could meet with us. Sure, he said, before he asked if we had kneepads at the ready. Also rash guard.


This is the kind of guy sexual harassment laws were written for. This is also the kind of guy vomit bags were invented because of. Interestingly, he doesn’t ever, ever make comments like this to me (I guess he knows a non-receptive audience when he sees one), although it would be almost worthwhile just to see him self-immolate in defense against The Look I would surely give him. (Almost.)


Last night was another example. I was at a work dinner—one of those casual get-togethers designed to improve the sense of teamwork among colleagues, and also a sort of thank-you from the boss. (As a freelancer, I have been to very few of these. Unless you count the dinners I cook for myself. So it was quite a novelty.)


I had a lovely evening until the conversation turned in an unexpected direction.


There was a newlywed couple at our table. Everyone else had been married at least 10 years (well, not me. But everyone else else), and in fact one couple was celebrating a major anniversary that very night. One woman was teasing the newlywed wife about how cute she is when chatting with her husband—everything is “Honey” this and “Honey” that.


The newlywed husband said he’d learned a lot in his first year of marriage—notably how to apologize, how to promise never to repeat mistakes, and how to tell his wife that she's right. This comment was met with general derision on the part of the other husbands.


So far so good.


But then one of the wives said not to worry; that stage lasts about a year. Then she referenced a portion of the male anatomy that apparently, many newlywed husbands seem to misplace—viz., “After a year or so, the husband gets … them… back.” It was clear that she didn’t realize exactly where her sentence was leading until she got there. But by then it was too late. Yes, my friends, my dinner table was fully launched on a discussion of testicles.


Did I say that this was a work dinner? For a religious publication?


I mean, I just can’t remember the last time genitalia was a general topic of conversation during dinner. You know? A work dinner?


So maybe during these halcyon summer days, we should all give a little more thought to audience appropriateness. Also to editing. Also, maybe, to taking another piece of watermelon and just keeping our mouths shut. Just an idea.

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