Saturday, April 14, 2012

In which I piss off a Pulitzer Prize winner

Yesterday I wrote a short story. The first one I’ve written in ten years. It’s not very good, but it’s a start. The inspiration was hearing a story read by a novelist at the Clemson Literary Festival Thursday night. What a great night!
I reconnected with a professor I had in 1996, made some new friends, and snapped a photo with the headlining novelist at a bar sometime around 11 p.m. Thrilled and proud, I posted the picture to my timeline on my public Facebook page. And that, apparently, was not okay.
Or maybe telling him I had done so was the problem.
Today I received an email that said “Well, it would've been nice to ask me whether I wanted my picture on facebook."

Find the Error
At first I felt embarrassed. Certainly it was the wrong thing to do. Certainly I had made some kind of rookie error in judgment.
My best friend posted pictures of us dressed as the Spice Girls for karaoke night in Clemson in 1997. She’s the same angel that put up a picture of me in my shiny purple swim suit at age 17. I don’t know all of her friends, and so I could have been really, really mad. But I wasn’t.
I thought about my new-friend’s email for about two more minutes and decided this:
It’s not YOUR picture. It’s mine. You’re just in it.
Most of the people I know have come to accept, many even attempt to master, the very public life afforded and perpetuated by the internet, specifically Facebook. My mom regularly snaps pictures of HB and posts them. HB at the park, HB in a silly hat, HB petting some random dog. I haven’t forbade such things. I blog, I tweet, I Google+ and Facebook, I’m even on Pinterest, so I don’t mind sharing certain domains of my life, one of which is “mom of HB.”
Investigate Ownership
With Pinterest’s popularity there has been a lot of internet chatter over who owns the rights to original art, including photography. But most of that chatter does not address the persons in the photo and who has the right to use likenesses or in what way.
For a while news organizations were getting signed releases from the subjects of their pictures. Conferences I attend usually ask me to sign a release to use my photo to promote future events.
But for the most part, public events are considered to be public, and persons photographed attending them can expect their pictures will be shared with newspaper readers. My brother-in-law doesn’t want pictures of his son on the internet for fear of perverts and kidnappers. But the boy’s swim team posts their results with meet photos. His soccer league participants all have Facebook.
While most people I know expect their pictures could end up anywhere, they know those photos should not be used for any financial gain. That seems to be “the line.”
Define boundaries
I suppose I expected the photo was harmless, especially since the only references to the person I stood with were praise and awe. It may have even been a little free advertising for his new novel. It was a public place, a public event.
Had we crossed into some private relationship I was unaware of before the picture was snapped? Or afterward? Why does his rejection of the posting feel like I betrayed his trust?
Robert Lee Brewer’s April Platform Challenge suggested we Google ourselves to find out what images are associated with our names. Perhaps my new-friend-with-whom-I-am-now-in-our-first-fight should do the same. His picture is everywhere, free for the taking, just not with me beside him.
Since my Facebook entry didn’t even make the first page of search results, it’s unlikely any persons but those who occupy my small community will ever see it.
Still, if he doesn’t want it there, that’s fine. I took it down. I wasn’t looking to use him to get attention. I was just really proud of our new friendship and excited to share it with other writers and fans. But I am sorry it made him unhappy.
I have been inspired to write the life of ordinary people by the man who does it better than any other. I’ll find the story here, I’m sure. In the meantime, I’ll keep the photo for myself, a reminder that not everyone wants to participate in my public life.


  1. Gah! I hate it when I make a social gaffe and don't even know it. The internet complicates so many things -especially for those who like to keep their lives more private than us blogging/tweeting/FBing maniacs. :) I'm sorry your new friendship started off on such an uncomfortable note.

    I like your blog, btw. I started following you on Twitter through the #MNINB challenge and hadn't popped by your blogging corner of the internet universe yet. Very nice!

  2. Thanks, E.B. I have really enjoyed the MNINB challenge. He's definitely teaching rookies like me how to do this whole online universe thing. Only where was he with the don't-post-others'-pictures advice? LOL

  3. Oh, I am so glad I found your blog! What a great writing voice you have. So funny that we both just blogged about being in the public eye, and the effects of that openness. Your post made me laugh! Looking forward to reading more of your work.

  4. Most of us can relate to this, from both sides. I confess that finding myself on Facebook without knowing I was going to be there always throws me. Your story of this incident is enjoyable to read and your solution makes sense so you can put it to rest.

    1. Thanks for the note, Sharon. I have found some closure here. The initial embarassment was surprising to me, but that it persisted was even more so.

  5. when i started my current blog, which has my name in the url, and changed my twitter user name to my real name, i had to make a decision about privacy. i realized if i was going anywhere, it was going to require releasing a little bit of that privacy. i can't make writing my day job if i'm trying to keep my name and my face secret.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Kirra. I am also trying to make peace with putting my "real name" out there. But it has to be done if I am to really make a go at this writing thing.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Ouch! The rebuff hurts worse, I think, when it's for something you didn't mean to be "hurtful." Your tale is well told. I'm glad I found your blog (thru MNINB). I'll be thinking of this when I hear a major author speak in a couple of weeks. Guess I'll leave my camera at home.

    1. Thanks, Mary! Glad to know you through #MNINB, too!

  7. Thanks, Kasie. Always inspiring to hear how others handle these unintentionally awkward situations. In your case, with grace, humor and authenticity. I, too, found you through MNINB. Hasn't this been something, though?!!! Sarah W. Bartlett


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