People think I’m nice, but as my daughter knows, I’m a terrible shit-talker. Quakers call it “speaking truth to power,” which is really about standing up for what you believe is morally right. I don’t always take a reading on my moral compass before I open my mouth, though. I have an opinion about everything, and I don’t hesitate to express it. And, sadly, I don’t judge my audience carefully either.
When I first moved to Charlotte, I misjudged how small a community it really was. The mother of one of my students was very interfering and was hard on her daughter. At a party I was telling a small group of people I didn’t know about this woman. Cocktail in hand, I described at length the annoying behavior of this woman, calling her by name. A woman I didn’t know sniffed imperiously and said, “Bunny is my cousin, and I resent you speaking ill of her.”
I was scared my big mouth would cost me dearly. You would think I’d have learned my lesson, as embarrassed as I was, but I did not. I still open up my mouth and tell anyone who will listen my biased views on anything. A couple just came into the shop asking me, “What’s going on in downtown Black Mountain?”
I launched into a rant about someone’s outrageous attempt to turn a storefront on Cherry Street into an Air B&B. Then I went on and on about the number of vacation rentals in Black Mountain (someone told me there are 1000) and how that has created a shortage of monthly rentals and how they should be limited. You guessed it. They own several vacation rentals and left the store in a huff. “It’s a free country”…and all that.
Earlier today I got into it with a woman who introduced herself as the sister-in-law of a friend from Charlotte. I am a much better friend of the husband of that person, and I feel that his wife is really mean to him. I said so to the customer. I added, “Why don’t you say you are the sister of my friend Jim? His wife is awful to him.”
She blushed and said, “I do not want to have this conversation with you.”
She left quickly and instead of worrying that I had just lost a customer, I thought, what does she know that she’s not telling me? She left too soon!
When I first moved to the South in 1969, I heard my friend Loretta tell her daughter, “Don’t tell everything you know.” The only time I can feel good about telling everything I know is when I wrote a year-long blog about the abuses of the Juvenile Justice system when I taught in one of its schools. I could not seem to grow my readership and wished I could reach a wider audience as I reported how horrible the conditions were in the school and how the system worked towards keeping youth in the corrections industry. Then one day my readership jumped from about 100 to about 1000. I had written that if the Governor, whom I had named, knew how badly run the department was, she would fire everyone.
What I didn’t know was that when you name a public figure, they have programs to catch what you have written. The Governor read that entry, and launched an investigation…into my behavior! I was suspended and investigated by the SBI. The agent was a pretty nice guy and a lot smarter than the head of the department and found no serious misconduct on my part and told me that Governor had read my whole blog. “What did she say?” I asked, wondering if she was as appalled as I was.
“She says you are a good writer,” he replied enigmatically. I was not fired, even though I was suspended for several months before the school closed (not because of me!) and everyone was laid off. I even got a severance package.