Who Is Penelope Trunk?

Career blogger Penelope Trunk was already a little bit infamous when she tweeted about her miscarriage during a board meeting. Now, she's written an astonishingly raw post about her abusive marriage, complete with a photo of her bruised body. Yet this is the same blogger who routinely issues tidy, didactic lists about how to live one's life. Who is Penelope Trunk, anyway?

Trunk has been writing about her relationship with her now-husband, whom she calls the Farmer, since they met. That first post was sweet and hopeful, but increasingly her accounts of their marriage have been stories of fights and threats. In September, she wrote that "the Farmer pushed me so hard that I fell on the floor. In front of my six-year-old son." And yesterday, she wrote, "I am at a hotel. I think I'm dying. I have a bruise from where the Farmer slammed me into our bed post." She said that she and her children were out of the house for the time being but that she didn't feel able to leave her marriage because she was afraid her husband wouldn't miss her.

First and foremost, her story is disturbing, and I hope that she and her children are safe from violence now and in the future. Many commenters on her blog have expressed similar sentiments; others have pointlessly commented on her ass. It's somewhat strange that they've had the opportunity to do either — while accounts of abuse in the past tense are (distressingly) common, it's rare to read one that's written in real time. Trunk has created a public account of what sounds like ongoing spousal abuse by a man whose photo is on her site and who would probably be relatively easy to identify — Trunk herself has a high enough public profile that she worries about getting recognized at a women's shelter. She never mentions calling authorities, but what she's written seems like evidence enough for them to pay a visit to the Farmer. Hers is the rare blog post that appears also to report a crime.

It also shows one side of a very unusual public persona. Trunk has been taken to task for oversharing, and indeed she seems to have no qualms about letting her readers in on the most horrific aspects of her life. In her latest post, she writes, "I think my closest relationships in my life are with my kids and with you, the person reading my blog." But in amongst the accounts of a complex and often painful existence are tips that make life seem pretty simple. Trunk tells women to start looking for a husband at 24 to maximize child-bearing potential. In her "Blueprint for a Woman's Life," she advises them to go to business school straight out of college because "men like women who are smart but not making more than they are" and "business school is a way to show you are smart, but you don't make any money in business school." She advised women not to report sexual harassment, and claimed that women don't really want to be involved in startups because what they really want is kids. On the flipside of her radically open, warts-and-all persona is one who purports to know what's best for everyone — and what's best turns out to be a series of rather simplistic, rigid steps.

It's actually possible to read the second persona as a kind of self-therapy for the first one. Take Trunk's January 2011 post, "How to bounce back." It's an account of a terrible fight between her and her husband, but interspersed among the harsh words and broken glass are tips like "Get perspective about what is big and what is small" and "Tell yourself a story of how you got to where you are, so it makes sense." And the post ends with this statement:

The reason I started writing career advice is not because this is my dream job. I mean, who dreams of growing up and writing career advice? I became passionate about the advice, though, when it became apparent to me that each time I had a personal crisis, my career is what helped me rescue myself.

At this point, Trunk's career is giving advice, and maybe her advice helps her to rescue herself from her personal troubles. Maybe her tips, reductive as they often are, are the way she turns life into a story that makes sense. And maybe that's why her blog is popular, because it represents both the chaos of life and a promise — however illusory — of order. Unfortunately, blogging on its own isn't going to keep her or her children safe. There are times when a story, even a false one about how life will be perfect if you follow a blueprint, can keep you going. But as Trunk has no doubt discovered, there are also times when a story isn't enough.

The Psychology Of Quitting [Penelope Trunk Blog]