Like the tragedies in public amphitheaters of Ancient Greece, we live in an age of the spectacle of public confession, in TV talk and reality shows, internet chat rooms, other evolving media sources, and in books. Whether this is a good or a bad thing, or a combination (likely) for individuals, families, communities, and our society is a matter of debate. Do we confess to gain a sense of catharsis, or as an attention-getting device to say “look world: I exist! I may be weird, but I exist!” Do we confess out of hope for fame and fortune? For the vicarious pleasure we get out of viewing train wrecks of people who are worse off than we are? And why is this a particularly American thing to do? (Because it is.) Reflecting back on the similarities with the tragedies of Ancient Greece, is it part of our version of democracy? These are questions I asked myself throughout the process of writing my first book—Catching Homelessness— as a way of informing and forming the content of my writing.
There are some events in my life that I’d rather not remember—and hope never to repeat—such as dips into deep depression and homelessness. In my book, I decided to discuss these episodes of my life, not as a seal of authenticity or to elicit pity or revulsion, but because they are essential for the story that I am telling, and for the policy issues I seek to illuminate. Other aspects of my life—details about certain significant events or people in my personal life, such as my early marriage, divorce and family life—I chose to allude to, briefly summarize, or leave out. For me, these were both aesthetic and ethical decisions that I stand by. They are not essential to the story that I am telling, to the main message of my book.
Note: The paragraphs above (with the exception of the final sentence) were originally included in earlier drafts of the “Author’s Note” section of my book manuscript. I don’t remember my rationale for having deleted them from the final version of my book. I think they are important issues, especially in light of our current national conversation on gender-based violence, power dynamics, and on who gets to tell their stories of trauma. Women need the freedom to be able to tell their stories in the ways they want to tell them. And to be listened to.