22 February 2009


At some point in the last few years, I became someone who really values her privacy.  I don't know when this happened, but I suspect it was when I first got my job.  If you're an untenured member of an academic department, there is a way in which you have to be careful around everyone:  all these people will be voting on you eventually, so if you dislike someone, or disapprove of some departmental behaviour, it's in your best interest not to say anything. I think, too, that when I get the job I had exaggerated notions of how someone in that position ought to behave and appear to behave. I frequently have strict and exaggerated notions about behaviour, because that's the best way to cause myself anxiety and to view myself critically, two of my subconsciously favourite things to do. In this case, I think I decided that an Assistant Professor would be above reproach, and since in many ways I (like anyone) was not above reproach, I'd better keep those ways to myself.  

I find that this has continued now, but perhaps in a slightly different way. I can't bear to have people learn things about my emotional life; I can't bear the idea that they're making guesses or assumptions about my feelings or interactions with others. I think this is partially because I can't stand the idea that I'm being judged, which for me always means judged negatively, but it's also because if people make speculations about my private life and those speculations turn out to be wrong, or turn out to go wrong, it's doubly humiliating: I have to learn that people were thinking about me, and I have to make revelations about what was actually true. And that really bothers me. 

The irony here is that if I like someone - even just simply like them - I'm hopeless at hiding that. When I like people I like to make much of them, and I'm always incredibly happy to see them. I love liking people, and I'm totally transparent about it (as I always fear I am about disliking people). This is not a good attribute for someone who also prizes discretion.

What makes this all even odder is that in person I would appear to have absolutely no problem revealing everything to people. Everybody thinks I'm enormously frank and honest.  But of course I'm only frank about the stuff I'm frank about. Honesty is a bit like cooking a wonderful dinner (another Buddhist koan!): if you cook a dinner that is wonderful to someone, they never taste the parts that you think didn't work, or stop to think that perhaps you made three other dinners that didn't work out before you got this one right; if you tell people lots of stuff, it never occurs to them that you might be hiding all sorts of stuff, too. I think there's a moral there, but I'm not sure what it is.

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