Getting there

Getting there

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Public Eye Roller Coaster

Well, dear friends, it's been quite the roller coaster ride recently in my world. A few months ago when I began my new writing project, a blog about life in my community, I had no idea where it would lead. I thought I'd write a quiet little blog, hone my writing skills, and start submitting freelance articles to magazines. Instead that quiet little blog took on a life of it's own. It started to attract followers. It started to attract attention. It started to require work, it started to open doors of opportunity, and it started to become something I'd never anticipated.

You see, when I began writing it I under-estimated the level of interest I would find. I had no plan, no path, no goal, and no clue. So, this past weekend when things took a couple of unexpected turns, I was caught unaware, and I had to stop and re-evaluate things a bit.

The unexpected turns involved two things. One was an unsolicited radio interview. There is a reason I write, dear friends. I am quite camera and microphone shy, and I am uncomfortable "performing". When I write I can go over it time and time again, refining it carefully before unleashing it on the world. Not so with the spoken word. I cannot change those words or take them back if I find they do not please me. I fear embarrassing myself, or saying the wrong thing. Surprisingly the interview went well. I had been so nervous about it because before-hand a rather big deal was being made of it - and I felt some pressure  to perform well. I felt I was representing not just myself but my entire community, and I didn't want to let them down. I had some severe performance anxiety the night before, and a few friends and my family witnessed it as I fell apart a bit at the seams. The morning of the interview, though, my beautiful daughter got up extra early to accompany me to the radio studio, and she was my rock. She made sure I got coffee, she chatted with me, and she grounded me by telling me she was proud of me. After that I knew I'd be fine regardless of the outcome of the interview.

So, the interview and the ensuing congratulations were the high point of that roller coaster ride. As everyone knows, though, what goes up must come down - and I did, with a thump. You see, I got embroiled in a discussion on Twitter that went sideways.

I didn't even see it as an argument, but some people did. I was pointing out to someone in my community, someone that I think could be a tremendous voice for good, that they were being seen as consistently negative and that it was not conducive to change. I suppose I was a bit overwhelmed still by all the stress from the radio interview, and I got into it a bit deeper than I should have. I still believe what I said, though, which is that being chronically negative means that people ignore it when you bring up real issues. It's like crying wolf again and again and again - eventually people stop listening, even when the wolf is eating you.

It wasn't until the next day that I even learned this had become an issue. I received a message from someone telling me that as a community role model I needed to behave better. I got spanked, and I was startled for many reasons, dear friends - the most significant being that I didn't see myself as a role model.

I am a writer. I am a blogger. When I began writing it was never my intent to seek attention, notoriety, or "role model" status. In fact I toyed with the idea of anonymity, but realized it would never work if I wanted to do interviews and attend community events. I settled instead on "low profile", or as low as possible. What I hadn't really considered was what being in the public eye meant, or what it was to become a "public figure". I wasn't a politician or celebrity or community leader, so I was exempt from this attention, right?

Wrong. I learned this weekend that what I am doing, whether it is my intent or not, has put me in the public eye. I learned that I will have expectations placed upon me, and some of those will come from strangers who know me only through what I have written. It's hard enough to meet the expectations of those you know and love, but of strangers? I must admit I had to take a deep breath, and think about what I really want.

I admit I considered what it would mean to walk away from it all. To stop writing about the community, to simply pursue the paying jobs it had led to, and to remove myself from that public eye - to stop putting myself in a place where anything was expected of me. My favourite line about my community blog has been "no one hired me, no one can fire me" - and while that is still true I learned that I do answer to someone other than myself. I answer to those people who have put their faith and belief in me. I don't take that responsibility lightly, dear friends. It weighs a bit heavy, actually, and thus I found my new favourite word - balance.

I can never meet all the expectations, and I'm bound to disappoint some. I will never meet all my own expectations, either, and I accept that. What I can do, though, is learn from these experiences and move on. I can still be me, but a "me" who considers what my actions and words will mean to others. I've never had to consider that past my immediate family and friends - but now it seems I play to a wider audience. Now I have to consider them, too. I will make mistakes, certainly, and I doubt this roller coaster has levelled out for good. There will be highs and lows, although hopefully not again all on the same weekend. I am hoping, however, to find balance. I am hoping to find a way to continue to be me, to write the way I do, unrestrained and unfettered (and unpaid!). I am hoping that I do not disappoint too many when I falter, because I will. I am hoping that those who choose to see me as a role model realize that "role models" are people who make mistakes, do dumb things, get into disagreements on Twitter, and ride the same roller coaster everyone else does. I am seeking, and achieving, balance, dear friends. And if I can do that when I am both at the top and the bottom of this roller coaster ride then I think I just might be onto something.

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