Valley Voices

Danielle Shapazian: The private generation guards its secrets

Danielle Shapazian
Danielle Shapazian

I keep other people’s secrets better than I keep my own.

As a nurse, I am always mindful about what information I can share and with whom. As a friend, I’d like to think I’m open, yet discreet. But as a writer, I take calculated chances, placing some of my most private thoughts on the page. Would you bother to read this if I didn’t?

Readers gravitate toward the good stuff, clarity and substance, gristle over pabulum. Fakes are easily sniffed out. As if drawn to a tete-a-tete over a beer or cup of tea, what they really want to know is what is happening in the shadows.

The stories come, the sensitive tales, individuals squeezing between the crevices of doubt and hope, confidence and insecurity. I wiggle through the same fissures. A truthful narrative must be pulled from experience before it can be told. The characters are always us.

Recently, a couple of friends joined my family for a small celebration. Gathered around the dinner table, the group ranged in age from 18 to 92, with the 13-year-old birthday girl circling the periphery, not at all surprised that her family was engaged in yet another good-natured, postprandial debate. The consideration at hand? Whether to keep a serious illness a secret.

My take was that holding back such information is a personal tendency skewed by generation. The older you are, the more private you will be. Octogenarians tend not to post selfies on Instagram.

I couldn’t help my bias, of course. I provided direct patient care for many years. I saw a lot. These days, my perspective has expanded as I manage patient and hospital risk. I appreciate how vulnerability can be experienced on both sides of the patient-caregiver equation. I know how to maneuver through tough conversations.

To self-disclose is always a choice. Some people feel uncomfortable with such tender dialogue, veiling secrets, avoiding exposure. An open chat for one person can be emotional sunburn for another.

As our conversation continued that evening, my privacy theory was partially discounted. More than one Baby Boomer leaned over an empty dinner plate to admit they didn’t like talking about illness — or a number of other subjects, for that matter.

I was reminded that we all have different thresholds when it comes to personal privacy. Sure, we may post masses of information for everyone to see, but how much are we really saying?

It’s the spark of recognition that lights up a paragraph, not the one-upmanship that is so prevalent in today’s digital world. A reader and a writer may be strangers, but an exclusive synergy evolves if the two can relate to the same dust bunnies, the shared emotional detritus of spilled milk on the floor.

Life isn’t tidy. We’re all mopping up.

Seated amongst these individuals I knew so well, I could almost predict the end of the conversation. And then it came. The subject of my writing.

“You’d better not write about me.” (Out of respect, I won’t identify who said it.)

I write from the first-person point of view, sharing personal reflections and anecdotes that, I hope, reflect a common experience. Friends have asked me how I do it. I don’t have a good answer. I write what I write. Reticence comes only if I think about it too much.

You might consider that we have two selves. One is the private self, the person who lives in our head, parts of which only our closest confidants may see. The other is the person we try to present to the world, a golden kaleidoscope, the best angle, best light, best quip to prove that we, of course, have the best life.

The best stories lie somewhere in between, as does most truth when viewed from different perspectives.

If a story is too risky for today, it can often wait until tomorrow. Time is an equalizer. A lesson will wait for its moment.

Then there is our moment, the four minutes it took you to read these words. We had a one-of-a-kind exchange, you and me. In that good energy, I sense my secret — my story — is safe.

Danielle Shapazian is a nurse and writer who lives in Fresno. She can be reached at