does a story about harassment qualify as harassment?
I borrowed the first names of some ex-coworkers for a debatably salacious, verifiably average short story that I published to this blog a few weeks ago. The impending discovery of that story by one of my ex-coworkers was met with an ultimatum: failure to replace the names, or remove the accompanying photo (which pictured the back of CJ’s head), or remove the entire piece within 72 hours meant the story would be sent to CJ, whose fictional family becomes the butt of an absurd inside joke between two coworkers. As the joke becomes stale, the story’s narrator reaches a point of obsession, using CJ’s family as the pillar for a creation myth. CJ’s reaction would presumably send shockwaves of shame, regret, embarrassment, humiliation etc. throughout the office.
That wise adage “what mama don’t know can’t hurt her” is applied perfectly to this scenario, so I fail to understand the purpose of showing this work of fiction to CJ. California would have tumbled into the ocean if CJ ever found my story, and then resurfaced from its oceanic depths if CJ ever read past the first paragraph. I understand the logic of the threat, because I wrote the story confident CJ would never read it, just as I wrote this story confident Meg would never read it. (Despite me reading it aloud, and publishing to this blog, she has never read it.)
It is not news to anyone in the office (save CJ) that I borrow names from real life. (ex: Habanero Moonshine) I do this without permission especially because I can cite that coincidence clause that reads at the end of every scripted show on television as a universal writer’s defense.
I like to think of it as flattery when I choose a namesake, and just because I enjoy vulgarities doesn’t mean I intend harm. If the story was about a loving man who cares for his children and lives a long, fulfilling life would it have been as controversial to use CJ’s name? Subject matter was not referenced in the cruel ultimatum, which leads me to conclude that my ex-coworker did not read past the first paragraph, and therefore misunderstood the negative consequences of the story’s secret harassment.
Maybe my story is an allegory for a reality that would only exist if I destroyed the story that would create this reality. Would the consequences of CJ reading my story been as tragic as the story vaguely predicts? Or am I trying to imitate life in such a way that it affects the real life I’ve borrowed from? I don’t have intentions when I begin to write fiction, I just write what I know and hope to learn something I don’t, although I staunchly refuse to learn a life lesson.
Although the story features imagined harassment that becomes actual harassment in the name of research and inspiration, does writing such a story about an ex-coworker qualify as harassment? If that answer is yes, I believe dissemination is an integral component in determining the extent of harassment. For example, if I emailed the story to CJ, even with a friendly note attached, the first paragraph alone would cause him alarm, despite this being a work of fiction. If I emailed the story to everyone in the office besides CJ, I think that would also qualify as harassment. However, I did not email the story to anybody. Anyone who read it knows the existence of this blog and sought an update. CJ is not one of these people.
There is no reason for the existence of pleasant stories, and plermpt will always be read at your own risk, as suggested by the disclaimer beneath the header. So I picked the namesake of a poor, harmless individual for my personal creative amusement. This is my personal site. There is nowhere else I send my work because there is nowhere else that will accept it. plermpt is a place where I sidestep rejection, but it is not a place where I can sidestep criticism.