Haunted by Penguins

Questions (by whom, I don’t know) had been raised about my collegiality and some had reached the ears of the search committees where my applications were under review. I racked my brain for the comment or incident that could have sparked such rumors. Had I inadvertently said something in a seminar or a conference that offended someone? I’ve never been arrested for brawling, malicious mischief, or damaging property. I remain undefeated in schoolyard fistfights because I’ve never had one. I could think of no professional circumstance where a teacher or a fellow student watched me fly off the handle.

And then a light came on. I had lost my cool in front of hundreds of witnesses by signing my name to a penguin mugging. —Jon T. Coleman
Haunted by Penguins (Chronicle)

Coleman deals with the repercussions of publishing an article in The Chronicle in which he admits he was so angry about his (unsuccessful) job search that he assaulted a plastic penguin named Lighty. Bloggers — and anyone else who writes about their profession in anything other than a strictly professional way — should take note.

Some of my students insist that they should be free to write whatever they want in their academic blogs — and indeed, I don’t restrict them at all. But early this term I did ask a graduating senior to address all my classes on blogging ethics and the potential drawbacks of being too confessional (or, as Coleman might put it, “honest”) in one’s writing. Coleman’s most recent article doesn’t mention that Lighty was the victim of a “drunken rage” (emphasis added) which certainly makes for a more dramatic opening. The original article mentions his continued rage, with the added observation, “now I can bench press 350 pounds”. I recognize the humor in the essay, which is part of a genre in which authors are known to embellish details in order to heighten the emotional experience for the reader. Still, if you construct an image of yourself as that angry, I don’t think it should be a surprise if people start treating you as if you have a bad temper — even if you don’t.