There’s a “rest of the story” on Motherlode today, and the picture it paints, in the words of the father and wife involved in the “dirty little secret” post from earlier this week, is heartbreaking, and very sympathy-inducing. Basically, the father was served with papers a few months into his marriage, telling him he was the father of a two-year old. The financial strain of paying back child support, the financial and emotional hardship of going to court 40 times hoping to gain visitation, etc, and the regular stresses of starting a family and career have put them in the current situation.
This post tells such a radically different story than the first essay did. I feel horrified for everyone involved. I understand why they have given up for now on making the boy a part of their family, because it sounds impossibly complicated (maybe, simply, “impossible”). I applaud them for continuing to honor the father’s financial obligation.
But this brings up a slew of interesting writer-audience issues. I can’t apologize for reacting the way I did to the first essay, because my feelings were based not on conjecture or gossip or the writing of a critical reporter, but on the facts and feelings that one of the principal characters shared. In telling a story, the onus is on the writer to present relevant facts, to tell the story, and if things are misunderstood (especially by such large numbers of people), the fault is the writer’s, not the audience’s. If the claims made in the second post are true, then the mother/writer is either a very unreliable narrator, a poor writer, or an irresponsible attention-seeker.
The mother/writer in the first piece sounded shallow, image-conscious, and materialistic. Perhaps (hopefully) she’s not. But that’s how she herself presented herself.
It’s like if Shakespeare came along and said, “Wait! You think Romeo was foolish and short-sighted and impulsive to kill himself when he found Juliet lying on the tomb? He wasn’t! He gathered the top five doctors in Verona and each one pronounced her dead! He waited three days as her body decomposed and THEN he drove the dagger into his heart! DUH! You don’t know anything! You’re so quick to come to conclusions about somebody. … Oh? What? You say I FORGOT to put that in Act 5? Well, shucks, that story is so familiar to me, I thought EVERYBODY knew about the multiple autopsies and the mirror-breath test. You readers are so dumb and quick to judge.”
Except it’s even worse, because to really be a parallel case, it would have to be Romeo who wrote the play and then got hurt, defensive, and morally superior when people came to the inevitable conclusion that he was a big boob.
Another issue is Lisa Belkin’s responsibility in all this. As the writer of the Motherlode blog, she frequently has guest posters, and they often explicitly or implicitly ask for advice. Several times guest posters have been criticized for decisions they have made. Perhaps this is an ugly part of blogging, but it is also, in fact, an intrinsic part of blogging: reader response is the WHOLE POINT OF BLOGGING.
If you write a post on a blog with comments, you ask for and expect responses. If those responses do not include the fawning congratulation or commiseratory sympathy you thought your story deserved, you can’t then say, “How rude! I didn’t ask you to intrude on my private life! How dare you presume to comment!” Because when you posted to a public blog which asks people to “join the discussion,” you ASKED FOR COMMENTS.
I think Lisa Belkin’s editorial policy bears some of the burden here. Since it was not her story (so she presumably at least wasn’t “forgetting” important details), what was the motive for publishing such a damaging, one-sided initial account? Controversy? Link-baiting? In not urging her guest poster to dig deeper for and include these mitigating circumstances, I think she has betrayed the trust of a writer she should have mentored, in favor of the publicity-loving instincts of sensationalistic journalism.
And that’s all I’m gonna say about that.
(Except to say that I hope things work out for the family and the boy. What a difficult situation with no easy answers.)