Last year, I wrote a story about a strip club off a highway in rural Missouri. It was dark and grimy, the only building for miles.
As a five-foot-tall woman in her twenties, it probably wasn’t the wisest idea to go alone at 11 p.m. on a Saturday night. But I wanted the story. So I went anyway.
There were two men who did business at the place, and two women who danced. They were suspicious of me. The second time I visited, the bartender asked me if I wanted to strip down and dance for the customers sitting just below the stage, all of them men, gawking at the dancer as if they were a single unit, a single man in his dirty jeans with a collective pair of eyes. But of course, they weren’t one man, but three different individuals, each who had driven to this club on his own, each watching the dancer on his own, and I both resented them and felt sorry for their loneliness.
The bartender’s question — when he asked whether I wanted to go onstage and have my turn at the pole — was a joke. I think. But I was already uncomfortable, and my hands began to sweat after he asked. I tried to hide how scared I was, so I smiled and declined and laughed it off.
When I left, the bartender walked me out to my car.
“It’s not safe for a girl like you to be out in the middle of nowhere,” he told me.
I wanted to tell him that I only felt unsafe around him, but I didn’t say anything.
“I did some research on you,” he said just before I opened my car door, and I think every muscle in my body froze when he did.
“Oh yeah? What did you find?” I said.
“You’ve written about some… pretty controversial stuff,” he said.
“I like writing the tough stories,” I said.
“Your family is from all over the world,” he said, and after a pause: “Your grandmother died last year.”
And that’s when I discovered that he’d found my personal blog. It terrified me to know that this potentially dangerous stranger knew so much about my private life. And I knew the bartender’s words were a subtle threat.
Since then, except for little essays on Instagram, I haven’t shared much of my personal writing online.
The stakes are higher now that I’m working as a professional journalist. I don’t want to give too much of myself away. But I want to write, and I want to share what I write. So I’m going to try to blog this summer, but it’s a struggle to mark a line between my public and private persona — a line that I suspect doesn’t actually exist — and try not to cross it.
The goal is to publish at least seven blog posts this summer. Hold me accountable, internet.
(I drove off after that conversation, by the way, and I wrote the story, which you an read here.)
Until next time, xoxo from South Carolina.