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Something they don't know


On a couple of occasions recently, I've been in (or narrowly avoided) situations at work where each member of a group is supposed to tell the group something the rest of the group doesn't know about them.

I hate that kind of thing. Most of the things that aren't public knowledge about me are things I don't want people to know. And then, too, there are plenty of things that are public knowledge about me that my coworkers don't know (unless they Googled for my name), 'cause work didn't seem like the right environment in which to talk about those things. And really, in that context they're not asking "Tell us something personal that we don't know about you so we can get to know you better as a person"; they're asking "Tell us something mildly entertaining or interesting and not too personal that we don't know about you, so that we can add a factoid about you to our list of things we know about you."

'Cause it would be a real downer for me to say, in response to that question, "My mother died when I was twelve." And it would probably be thoroughly inappropriate for me to say, "I'm a published erotica author." I could have said, "I'm a published fiction author," but then they might've asked me what I'd published, and I could mention the zeppelin story but I'd have had to think about whether to mention the erotica, and I didn't want to deal with it.

I could have said, "I've been offered a job at Google and will probably no longer be working here a month from now," but that too seemed somehow inappropriate. And I certainly wasn't going to talk about being bi or poly.

There've been occasional anecdotes that I haven't posted here in my journal 'cause I wanted to have things on tap to say in group situations (with people who read my journal) when an amusing anecdote was called for; I suppose I ought to similarly collect little inoffensive and superficial factoids about myself that I can use during team-building exercises, 'cause Silicon Valley companies sure do love their team-building exercises.

There were reasonably safe things I could've said: I have an online journal, I edit an online science fiction and fantasy magazine, I used to do stage tech. But I was so busy frantically sorting possibilities that I wasn't paying much attention to what others said. I ended up just saying that I juggle; which, someone in the group pointed out, half of them already knew about me. Oh, well.

In another meeting at work recently, it looked for a moment like we were going to have to go around the room and tell a "my most embarrassing moment" story, again as some sort of team-building thing. Gah. The only embarrassing-moment anecdote I could think of offhand was the karaoke incident with my co-workers a few years back (you can search my journal for "karaoke" if you really want to know), and I certainly wasn't going to tell that story in that context. There's a skill in turning embarrassing moments into humorous anecdotes, in gentling the humiliation and making it safe so that you can get your audience to join in laughing at/with you with a sort of wry detachment; I could probably do it with that karaoke story if nobody who was involved in the incident were present, but I didn't think I could tell it with the proper degree of self-mocking when there were people there who'd been part of it. And really, I don't like humor-of-embarrassment in general, whether it's me or someone else who's being publicly embarrassed.

And why am I telling you folks about this now? Well, sometime in the next few days I'm going to tell my co-workers that I'm leaving the company, and I think at that time I'm probably going to mention that I have an online journal. And I imagine some of them are going to come take a look, and some of them will probably poke through recent back entries and come across this one.

So, a message to the future: welcome, all. Sorry to've been reticent at work about this stuff. Sometimes it's easier to be open about things in a text medium.


That sounds unpleasant. But it needn't be so bad, as long as you can think of something innocuous and fun. I think the point is to break the ice, not to reveal your deepest secrets. Is everything personal about your life secret at work? Plus, if you figure out the right things to say now, you can re-use them at Google. :)

When I was an intern at Interval, the interns were told to tell three facts about themselves to the audience, but one of them was supposed to be a lie. The audience would vote for the one they thought to be a lie. I used:

1. I once swam to America.

2. I once danced in drag on stage in New York.

3. I once hopped boxcars from Dallas to Houston.

Oddly, they had no trouble guessing correctly. (The one that was false was true for friends of mine).

These were things (well, the true ones) that I don't particularly mind telling the co-workers. Note that it took a little while to scour the ol' memory banks to think of something sufficiently amusing and simple.


Q: What's your most embarrassing moment?

A: This.

My trouble is that I don't have a most embarrassing moment. Which isn't to say that I've never embarrassed myself, just that no one in particular stands out.

No one ever believes that.

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