I just Googled the idiom “foot-in-mouth” in hopes of a clever anecdote explaining the history of the phrase. There wasn’t much to be found, except a possible connection to Irish Parliamentarian Sir Boyle Roche, who, in the 18th century, had the unfortunate habit of saying the wrong thing, for instance, “Half the lies our opponents tell about me are not true!” Poor guy…but funny back-story or not, it’s safe to say I have recently done just that and to such an awful degree.
While living and working in Christchurch, I often included stories about my office in blog posts – either because they’d made me laugh or had exasperated me beyond belief, I thought I’d pass them on. Now, of course, everyone tells me the cardinal rule of journalism is to change the names of anyone and anything you reference in your writing. And I’d heard this plenty of times before, especially in magazine articles where an asterisk by someone’s name informs you, “All names have been changed to protect the identities of persons involved.” Right. Somehow it just didn’t cross my mind to do the same when I wrote about my office or friends I had made in Christchurch.
So last Monday, my first day of not working there, I was in a car with some good friends out exploring Sumner and Lyttelton, when my phone rang. It was my friend from the office: “Hey Candace…so this is going to be kind of an awkward conversation, but we’ve found your blog. Everyone has read it and is pretty pissed off at you right now.” My stomach dropped and all I could think was CRAP!!!! or some other worse equivalent. Of course they were pissed off, who wouldn’t be?! I think it’s safe to say my face went even whiter than it already is after two consecutive winters and indeed, everyone in the car thought someone had died by the way my voice changed.
And, in a way, someone had died – me, the person the office thought I was, and any good opinion they might have held of me. I had left there on my last day on such good terms. They had been so good to me and this is how I repay them? By writing about the things they’ve said and unpleasant interactions with customers? Who did I think I was? Everything I’d written came flooding back into my mind and I could do was cringe and hang my head in shame.
It was one of those things where you don’t realize to what extent you’ve gone wrong until much later. It took that phone call for that to happen, for me to go, just what was I thinking? A major source for it might well be that all throughout May or June, I’d read nothing but Bill Bryson. I’ve written before on my high regard for him and how I aim to emulate his style in my own writing. But what exactly is his style? Anyone who’s read one chapter of Bryson will know his penchant for biting, sarcastic, cynical comments, all the while being incredibly, side-splittingly funny. He is, after all, probably the only writer who could make me laugh out loud about the Appalachian Trail.
So there I was, brimming with Bryson-isms and frustrations over colleagues and customers, and the result is that I wrote some things that I, in all reality, had no right to publish. For a week, I was filled with every synonym for remorse – guilt, embarrassment, humiliation, shame…utterly sick to my stomach. And to augment the feelings, I left Christchurch two days later for a five-day roadtrip around the bottom of the South Island…by myself. So the further I drove from Christchurch, it felt only like I was running away from my horrible mistake, with nothing to distract me but my own thoughts. From Dunedin to Owaka to Slope Point, all I could think of were the things I’d written. While just trying to be “funny” and Bryson-esque, it was clear I’d come off as nothing more than mocking and condescending. “I’m sorry” doesn’t even begin to cover it.
After hitting such a low point, it was tempting to just “throw the towel in,” and all such other idioms, and give up the writing career before it has even begun. But that would be the easy thing to do and since when is easy ever the best option? OR I could own up to my mistake, send a letter of apology to the office, and try and learn from this, which is exactly what I’m trying to do. Thankfully it happened while my blog “readership” barely includes my mother and two friends from home – and now, of course, fifteen ex-colleagues who all have every right to hate me.
A friend of mine recently commented that he prefers “small, humbling experiences” rather than situations like mine, which while are not frequent, are BIG. But that just seems to be my style – when I mess up, I mess up in huge ways. While on a weekend trip to Belfast last November, I mistakenly left my purse under my pillow in our eighteen-bed dorm room at a hostel (the whole set-up of which screams, “DON’T TRUST ANYONE.”) And to make everything so much worse, I’d – again – mistakenly left my pin numbers in my wallet, even clearly denoting “checking” and “savings” on each slip, because that’s how nice of a person I am. That way, whenever that blessed person went scrounging around, found my purse, and then proceeded to hemorrhage my bank accounts, I made it so simple for him! There went about a thousand pounds’ worth of savings, which, of course, were irretrievable because, as my bank put it, I’d basically assisted him in robbing me in every which way.
Fantastic. Boy, do I love those moments, or what! But the blog fiasco of 2009 – as I’ll be referring to this from now on – is so much worse in my opinion. I’ll take losing heaps of money over hurting fifteen colleagues ANY day. A mistake that affects only myself is one thing, one that hurts others is on a whole different level. So all I can do is learn and grow and do my best to never – ever – let this happen again.