I’d called my mother expressly so that I could speak to someone in confidence. I had no intention of going around airing this particular problem to the world. But I was in my first tenure track job in a creative writing program because I wrote a lot of poems about the problems I confront and that confront the people I know. How was my mother to discern when I would or wouldn’t tell the whole world something she didn’t think they ought to know? My mother worries, quite simply, about my sense of discretion. In the case of my conflict with this colleague, her advice was probably sound. I needn’t air the details to the world. Even this pared down account would be too much in her eyes. No names, but there are hints, no specific details, but even the mention of such unpleasantness she would consider indiscrete.
In theory, she’s correct, though I don’t esteem the tensions I’ve relayed highly enough to guard their memory carefully. Isn’t it important to be able to reasonably establish what information should be secreted and what is not worthy of such care? There are silences guarded in my family that seem irrelevant, sometimes obsolete. Maybe it’s not so much that these silences are guarded, protected with some sort of vigilant care as it seems my grandmother protected the truth of her age, maybe it’s just that the silences are stored. Ask them no questions, and they’ll tell you no lies. That’s how my family deals with so many of its stories. People forget to mention things long enough that the facts of the stories, first closeted, and then dismissed, are no longer of concern. I’m not sure my grandmother actually knew her true age, she’d lied about it so long. We learned her real age when my uncle ordered her birth certificate, a document my grandmother could no longer locate. When it arrived, it seemed even she was surprised by the official year of her birth.