Spin magazine had up a piece on Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman performing a benefit gig the other night, in which it revealed that the two of them revealed to the audience that they were dating. Good for them. But the news of their dating prompted someone to send me an e-mail, asking me why I had never mentioned that Palmer and Gaiman were dating and suggesting that it was somehow my duty to keep people informed about such things.
E-mail being the emotionally flat medium that it is, I was not entirely sure that this person was joking, but the more I re-read it the more I became convinced that this person was at least mildly piqued that they thought I was holding such a choice tidbit of quasi-celebrity news from them, and did believe I was obliged to spill about people of fame they assumed that I knew personally.
Assuming that I am in fact not being hypersensitive, two points here:
1. How was I supposed to know this? I’m an admirer of both Miss Palmer’s music and her crazy eyebrows, but I don’t know her and have never met her. Seems unlikely I would be her bosom confidant. Likewise, while it may seem to some outside observers that I should know Neil Gaiman, we’ve only ever exchanged a few brief e-mails, mostly about the recent Hugo Voters Packet. I’ve spoken to him once, but that was in 1992, when I called him up to interview him for a newspaper article I was doing on graphic novels. At no time in our conversation did Gaiman ever say “Hey, anonymous newspaper reporter whom I shall probably never speak with again, seventeen years from now I plan to date a very cute and talented musician. Please keep this news in the strictest of confidence, unless at such time you happen to own a blog, which right now sounds like a disease involving phlegm, but which in the future will mean something else entirely, in which case you may write about it there.” At which point I suspect I would have thought to myself, hmmm, this guy’s been drinking too much cartoonist’s ink.
Well, you say, you know lots of people who know Gaiman (and now, presumably, Miss Palmer). That’s almost like knowing them! Well, no, not really. Look: One of the people who is close enough to me that I consider them family is close enough to Brad Pitt that they went to each other’s weddings. I do not know Brad Pitt. Someone I was a friend of in college was for years a close confidant of Hilary Clinton. I do not know Hilary Clinton. As recently noted, people I know can get on the phone and talk to Harlan Ellison any time they want. I do not know Harlan Ellison. I could amaze and delight you with the list of all the notable people I almost but in fact don’t know personally.
Now, perhaps one day I shall meet Mr. Gaiman and Miss Palmer; seems a reasonable bet I’ll see at least one of them this August. And perhaps on that day we’ll experience the sort of immediate and massive friendcrush that leads each of us to reveal all sorts of secrets to one another in long intimate conversations that will instantly cement our new status as ZOMG totally BFFs. Hey, I’m somewhat personable; it could happen. And then in fact I will know everything there is possibly to know about Mr. Gaiman and/or Miss Palmer. Which leads to the next point:
2. Even if I did know personal information about Gaiman or Palmer, why would any of you be under the impression I would tell you? I already have enough problems with people who don’t know me assuming that every single thing that I ever do or learn about in my personal life is going to get plastered up on Whatever in an orgy of attention-seeking indiscretion. The last thing I need to do is to actually prove them right.
This may be hard for some folks to believe, but my default assumption when someone mentions something about themselves to me is to tell no one else. Before anything else, this is simply the polite thing to do, and what I would hope others would do for me if the situations were reversed. But more than that, there’s the fact that somewhere along the way I realized it’s better to have the sort of friends who know they can trust you, than the sort of friends who value the entertainment value of your inability to keep a confidence. I want friends, not an audience.
If I meet Neil Gaiman/Amanda Palmer/Whomever and we decide we’re gonna be pals and share each other’s unmentionable, career-damaging secrets in the creative person’s drunken equivalent of becoming blood brothers, here’s probably what I’d mention about it here: “Hey, so I met Neil Gaiman/Amanda Palmer/Whomever, and they were very cool once I got all my squeee over and done with.” Because — no offense — that’s about all you need to know about that. Everyone’s personal life is personal until and unless they choose to make it otherwise. Even the people you like and admire and may in some way, and against all reason, feel you own.