Public vs. Private

This phrase of opposition has been going through my head a great deal lately, but not in one singular way or as a descriptor for one singular contest. For me, right now, it represents something both internal to me and external to the world, each at the most opposite extreme of life’s spectrum.

This may be the most free-flowing thing I’ve written yet, and though I rarely spend even an hour on the posts I write, this, I fear, will take a form with far less structure even than those which came before.

It wasn’t the break-in at the Watergate that undid Richard Nixon and his team; it was the cover-up of it which followed thereafter. Let’s start there. The break-in was private, the cover-up, both – an act of collusion between the perpetrator, his lawyers, and their cohorts. The downfall was public and historic and ended them all.

“Be nice,” he said. Be nice. What does that even mean? I think I’ve possibly written about it before, or if not, my close friends and family have certainly heard me say it plenty: ‘nice is an act you put on for the benefit of the perception of others; good is what you either are or are not inside. I’ll choose good.’ Putting on a fake smile, waving my hands, animating my emotions and contorting my face does not, to me, hold any modicum of ‘good.’  It’s fake, nothing else. “Nice” is public, ‘good’ is private. I have always chosen private.

When I started writing publicly more than 12 years ago, I chose to remain private, using the shared name of my two grandmothers, Belle. I even chose the last name of my maternal one because I feel it has grace and goodness, as did she; in fact, the photo icon on my Twitter profile is my grandmother Belle. It was my pen name and nothing more, though it did provide relief to me, an outlet by which I could say what I thought and felt away from the industry in which I worked, an industry itself still riddled with misogyny. Everyone close to me knew and knows; my sister, best friend, son and favorite uncle all follow me on Twitter. The NBA team I love does as well, and I’ve often gone back and forth with writers from large papers discussing aspects of my technical expertise in digital. So I’m sorry, but it was no real epiphany, Tiphany, and it certainly was and was never meant to be “inescapable” who I am. 

If we mediate it’s private, if we go to trial, it’s public. I am constantly surprised by how relieved I am that they have chosen for me, that they have chosen public. The inner voice in me, the rebel, the activist, the one who takes no shit wanted it from the outset but agreed to “follow the process” to see where it would lead. I knew, though, deep down where it would go. This is a board of 22 men in a company and industry dominated by men; an industry rife with sexual assault and abuse. They hired him, didn’t they, despite his history? He’s one of the most contrived of the ‘nice.’ I’ve stood there as he comes out of meetings with people he deceives and people he hates, “They LOVED me, LOVED me. I’ve got them ‘right here,’” lifting his little finger and gesturing as to indicate that those he feels he’s conquered are sufficiently wrapped. I’ve heard him say it about his bosses, his clients, his colleagues. Women over whom he obsessed, but then said it was they who were “in love” with him. I’m sure the female investigator – the “third party, independent” one who had previously been a shareholder in their counsel’s firm – was another of the gullible believers; just one more blonde who thought he was great, but who he knew he had wrapped. Just another victim of his many deceits; she must be so proud.

Though I had alluded in my writing to what had happened to me for over a year, they claimed I had come up with this suddenly, out of nowhere. Or, perhaps, that it was I who had pursued him. Do try that path, love muffins, as most people think I’m a lesbian. Some days, I wish I were. But that’s another thing about being private: in absence of talk or public proclamation of truth, people make up whatever they choose to believe. They fill the void, and usually with whatever narrative makes them most comfortable, the actual truth about you a casualty of their own insecurities, a sideline to their game, a bystander on the field of their preferred version of reality. If I respected any of them, maybe I would have cared to have shared, but I didn’t; I don’t. So here we are.

“Men and women range themselves into three classes or orders of intelligence; you can tell the lowest class by their habit of always talking about persons; the next by the fact that their habit is always to converse about things; the highest by their preference for the discussion of ideas.”

~ Charles H. Buckle, The History of Civilisation

The people in question know nothing of civility.

I did, along the way, have to tell some people close to me, for varying reasons from needing to ensure I was paid (my attorney ex-husband) to my doctor to help me sleep when it all became too much, my former boss who knows me well enough to have recognised something was wrong; of course, my immediate family and two best friends. And then, only two weeks ago, my uncle. The over-protective one who has stepped in and stepped up since my father passed away. The one has millions of his own. Someone has to bankroll me, after all, now that it’s going to be a protracted fight. Despite my fear of telling him, his support was immediate and unflinching, because that’s who we are.

I would say more about my family and friends because the more enlightened among you would like them and enjoy getting to know them, but I can’t. Not because anyone is stopping me, but because according to the myopic people for and with whom I worked, I and my family and friends are not supposed to exist. You are supposed to do one thing in life, and one thing only. You are never meant to aspire to anything great; only mediocrity. Nor are you meant to possess intellectual curiosity, love the outdoors, be fascinated by new cultures, have more than one talent, have been trained in multiple pursuits or speak anything other than American English. Because that, you see, makes you “eccentric,” or even my favorite label indicator of deep insecurity, “scary.”  In other words, you make them, in all of their manifest smallness, uncomfortable. It makes them reassess who and where they are. It moves the goalposts, raises the benchmark. And in our society today, that has somehow become my problem instead of theirs. It’s one of the big reasons I’ve always chosen private because the more I make public, the more threatened people feel and the more vitriol toward me they express.

The company who employed this man, who thought he was a “good investment,” are themselves private, in the literal sense of the word, privately held. They could never get away with the things they do were they public, so great would the scrutiny be from outside investors, individual, institutional and activist alike; don’t think for one second they do not know that. Do not believe for one moment that it is not a conscious and ongoing choice. They have a board of 22 white men, let’s not forget, in an industry run and dominated by men. What must they be thinking about all of this? I know what I’m thinking: when this goes public, their collective and individual lives will no longer remain private.

“Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”

~Louis D. Brandeis

So after years of privacy, toiling away in the shelter of relative anonymity, I now choose light, in any and all of its various forms. 

Update:  As of yesterday, we had received two separate letters from the attorneys retained by Land O’Lakes, Inc., threatening legal action for me exercising my First Amendment rights. If you would like to read more or keep up with my fight against Land O’Lakes, you can visit this page.