Media and Politics

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When I was a 20-something with big dreams, no clue and a broken inner compass, I decided on journalism. As someone with Nonverbal Learning Disorder (although I didn’t know it at the time), journalism was perfect for me. Tell the story, don’t get involved, know all the facts. The rules were clear. I could do this.

Journalism is a weird hybrid, inbred creature. A journalist does not involve themselves in the story. A journalist is merely a tool to help tell the story. I loved being able to chase a story down and then getting that last minute twist that threw everything you thought you knew out the window.

See, here’s the rules; the journalist is unbiased. No matter your own personal beliefs, you tell the story as it comes to you. That’s it. You don’t get an opinion. The story is the telling of facts. You don’t omit or twist facts to get the story you want. A journalist works for their readers. Not the paper or station, not the editor or owner. The audience. A slant is allowed but if the slant breaks the rules, it’s out. You have the option of not telling a story.

That’s how it used to work. Now, the audience new they weren’t getting the whole story sometimes or there were some stories that were buried but the media was trusted to tell the truth. However, in the last couple of decades or so something bizarre has happened in the world of media.

It used to be that the media was owned by various people. In my own city of Edmonton, Alberta, the people that owned The Edmonton Journal were different from those who owned The Edmonton Sun. Now both are owned by Postmedia. These are the same people that own The Calgary Herald, The Calgary Sun and The Daily Herald-Tribune in Grande Prairie. One media company owns all the major daily newspapers (or dailies) in Alberta.

Why is this frightening?

Traditionally the media has been a watchdog of politicians. Watergate never would have been uncovered if it hadn’t been for Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post. However, lately things have changed and it all has to do with who owns what.

When the media was in the hands of smaller companies, they competed with each other to get the story out. That was journalism. They also competed to ensure they were more trustworthy than the other. Now that the media is owned by a few large corporations there is no drive to keep them trustworthy. A large corporation with a large wallet doesn’t really care about a few small lawsuits. The media is no longer driven by the public’s need to know. Now it’s being driven by a corporation’s need to get information out. More specifically, get the right information out.

Back in May of 2015, The Edmonton Journal acknowledged that Postmedia told them to write a story endorsing Jim Prentice’s bid for Premier of Alberta. Not only did they tell the Journal to do this but they also told The Edmonton Sun, The Calgary Herald and The Calgary Sun to do the same thing.

Are you scared yet?

Now Alberta elected Premier Rachel Notley and we’re now seeing her being vilified in major media. There’s some seepage happening, too. She’s also being demonized in major social media as well. Social media that media outlets are quick to use. Truth be told, Notley could save orphans from a burning building and they’d nail her to a tree saying she didn’t prevent the fire.

And this is happening throughout the western world.

We learned that fake news was happening online and that major media was picking up on those stories. It’s part of how Donald Trump got elected. The same thing is happening here in Canada. Look at the mess that is Doug Ford and if you think he’s content with Ontario, think again.

This isn’t ending. It’s just beginning. I’m not one to cry wolf but I see a furry dog-like creature heading our way and its hungry.

The Best a Woman Can Get

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Recently Gillette came out with an ad. It talked about toxic masculinity. A topic many men (and a few women) want to deny even exists despite evidence to the contrary. This ad, at the time of this writing, got 697,977 dislikes and only 300,822 likes. Apparently men are angry at being portrayed like this.

Let’s look at the “man shaming” going on;

  • Men featured as bullies
  • Men featured as excusers
  • Boys “roughhousing”
  • Boys bullying
  • Men as harassers
  • Black men stepping up to intercede (not white men in the real life clips)

Hmm… well, looks pretty damning, doesn’t it? I mean, there are good and decent men in the world who do manly things with fish and dead animals. Right? Gillette doesn’t have the best history in corporate culture. Right? How dare they moralize to good and decent men.

Let’s look at some of the “woman shaming” that typically goes on in commercials;

  • Women who are too masculine
  • Women featured as gold diggers/shallow
  • Women featured as stupid
  • Women featured as sex toys
  • Women featured as incapable of balancing work and home
  • Women are too fat/thin/tall/short
  • Black women as too black (let’s not talk about Aunt Jemima)
  • Angry men become old women (remember Snickers?)
  • Angry women are hormonal/crazy
  • Women are nags
  • Women are sluts

There are more but I think we get the idea. These ads go back decades to when advertising was in its infancy in the early 1900s when a woman was expected to be the perfect wife, bed partner and mother. The virgin slut, as I like to call it. Now, one ad comes out calling men out on behaviour that women have been complaining about for at least a century and suddenly the world is going to come to a screeching halt.

My twitter feed has been flooded for TWO DAYS with men on the “what about women” train. This train has all the baggage you can imagine;

  • Women rape
  • Women abuse
  • Women bully
  • Women do <fill in the blank>

All this because I dared to say publicly that I supported the Gillette ad. I was even raked over the coals for an hour on another social media because I spelled a word wrong. Apparently bad spelling before you’ve had your coffee throws your entire argument out the window.

After two days of being hounded by the #NotAllMen set, I’ve got to say I’m out of fucks to give about their feelings. Here’s how it’s going to be; I’m going to support Gillette and I’m going to speak out against toxic masculinity. You can either beat your breast over that or go away. I don’t care.

The reality is that toxic masculinity poisons all of us. It prevents men from speaking out about their own experiences. It makes rape culture acceptable. It prevents men from seeking help with mental health issues and it doesn’t have to be this way.

So I’m going to say this one last time loud and clear; I support the Gillette ad and think it’s about damn time. Is there more work to be done? Sure. The next windmill I tilt at will be the Pink Tax. For now, this is a step in the right direction and we need more.

Don’t come at me with your #NotAllMen or but what aboutism. I am seriously out of fucks to give.

Shh… Don’t Hire the Crazy People

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Anxiety Attack

Anxiety Attack

Crazy don’t mean dumb.

I’ve always been fairly upfront about my issues with anxiety and the struggles I have in my day to day life. Recently I was advised to rethink the wisdom of sharing this information. After all, I’m a writer and entrepreneur and people won’t take me seriously if they know I have “issues”.

I’m well aware that there is a stigma around mental health and some serious myths about it. Since my usual reaction to advice such as this is to tell the person to stick it up their ass, I thought I’d devote some time to explaining why they should stick it up their ass.

  1. If you have mental health issues, you’re not reliable. I don’t know where this one came from but nothing could be further from the truth. When you have a mental illness, you’re very aware of how others see you so you work very hard to overcome that. Now, I don’t know how it is for others but, for me, anxiety is a demon with a pitchfork poking me in the ass on a fairly regular basis. If I don’t check things three times and have it ready to go well before the deadline, that ol’ demon starts warming up his pitchfork. Reliability is not an issue for those of us with mental health issues. Having a private crying jag in the middle of the day sometimes is but not reliability.Of course I'm crazy. I'm a writer.
  2. People with mental health issues can’t do the work. Now, I’ve heard this one again and again. I’m not sure if the belief is that the insanity will interfere with the work or that somehow our brains short circuit and we are unable to learn the work. Either way, it’s a farce. We may require some special consideration when working. For example, I have a friend with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder who needs to have his desk in the corner of the office. It’s a small thing and helps him to feel safe and happy at work. Mental Health disorders are just a disability. If we were sight or hearing impaired, businesses would think nothing of accommodating us. We’re sanity impaired. We might need to listen to our headphones or a private area away from others. That doesn’t mean we can’t or won’t do the work. Make us feel safe and you’ll get 150% effort from us.
  3. People with mental health issues are unpredictable. Oh let me explain how untrue this one is. I have anxiety and I can give you a list of things likely to cause an anxiety attack. They’re called “triggers” and we want to keep them safely locked up. Anyone with mental health issues has a similar list and is more than willing to show them to you. We know how to avoid our triggers and like to avoid them. However, even if you were to dunk us right in the middle of our triggers, we can tell you exactly how we’ll react. That’s not unpredictable.

The idea that those of use who are crazy make lousy workers is one of those myths that somehow got started when I wasn’t looking. The truth is far different. We work damn hard and most of the time we come up with some very creative ideas. Okay so hiring fairies to paint the office wasn’t one of my better ones but there have been others and some of those have worked out.

Besides, there’s one other reason for hiring crazies; we certainly keep things interesting.

Broken

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Having anxiety is like having spiders infest your brain.

My regular readers won’t be surprised to hear me say I have anxiety. New readers may be a bit shocked to hear me say it. However, it is a fact of my life and one I deal with daily. Sometimes it’s bad enough to stop me in my tracks and other times it’s like a dull throb in the back of my mind. Either way, I have a life to live and need to keep moving forward.

There are supposed to be aids to help people like me but the rules are so narrow that it’s ineffectual. You can’t merely be broken, you have to be shattered. The rule is that you have to have medical evidence proving that you’re unable to provide for yourself. Great. Except there’s one problem; what’s said on paper and what happens in reality is often two very different things.

Part of the problem is I have Non-Verbal Learning disorder. Because of how it manifests, it can often be mistaken for Asperger’s or Autism. It’s a different disorder and has different problems associated with it. They’re in the same spectrum but have very different outcomes.

Now put the NLD together with the anxiety, stir well and put me in an office.

Let me explain NLD a bit. First, NLD people love words. In my case it means I became a writer. However, in face to face contact my love of words causes some ostracizing. I tend to use large, $5 words and I talk a lot. I’m aware of it, I just can’t do a thing about it. I’m the person that will give you a paragraph answer to the question, “how are you?”

That leads to problem number two. NLD people tend to have problems with spatial recognition which means that we don’t have the same sense of space as “normal” people do. This may seem like a small thing. However, it is this skill which helps children gain a sense of non-verbal communication. NLD people simply don’t see non-verbal body cues. However, we hear everything.

NLD means there is a gap between what we hear and what we see. Therefore, our interaction with the physical world, especially as kids, tends to be minimal. We’re loners and we like being loners. Inside our own heads we can construct entire worlds and, in my case, put it down on paper. We can think through a problem in our heads and come up with a solution that is so far outside the box that it’s on another plane of existence. That’s our strength. It’s also our weakness because no one else lives in our head. When we come up with a solution, we’ve already thought ten steps ahead and left others behind. However, when others see our solutions, what they see is something nearly unrelated to the problem. Since we have problems with communication, we can’t explain the solution. Big gap.

Imagine you’re a manager and you’ve hired me. You ask me to do a task you think is pretty simple. An hour later I come back and the task is done but in a way you never imagined possible. Okay. Once it’s funny. Twice is cute. By the third, fourth and fifth times, you’re getting pretty angry because you want it done a particular way.

A kitten curled up in a ball and frightened

Now let’s add to that problem with the other staff. I am a social platypus. I will happily give you the entire history of an event or tell you the entire psychology behind your favorite show. I don’t know the difference between sarcasm and a simple joke so the two are pretty interchangeable. Socializing for me is on a skill level with constructing a warp engine. At best I’m seen as weird and at worst I’m pushy or even rude. As the manager you start getting complaints from your workers about me.

So, as the manager you have a worker who can’t seem to follow the simplest instructions, needs to take regular time off for therapy (which won’t do a damn bit of good) and has coworkers complaining about them. Add into that the fact that this worker has regular anxiety attacks. Solution: fire that person and hire someone who causes you less grief.

So who wants to hire me?

Yet, to access help, none of that matters. On paper I can get therapy and do little “tricks” to minimize problems. I don’t do tricks. Dogs do tricks. I live my life and try to move forward. My brain works in a certain way and I can either decide that I’m broken and try to fix it or I can decide that this is who I am and learn to live with it. Apparently option two isn’t acceptable to the Government of Alberta.

According to Government of Alberta rules, I’m broken but not all the way broken. More like bent. All the trees in the forest must be straight and grow a certain way. No room for bent. Bent doesn’t get any help at all. Only broken and I’m not broken enough on paper.

It’s frustrating knowing I’ll have to go and try and explain all this to people who don’t care. When they leave the office at 4:30pm I cease to exist. They read paper. They don’t hear my words. Words that are nearly impossible for me to verbalize. They see me as a platypus with no place in their world. Not as the wonderful, beautiful, intelligent raven I am and I can’t explain it to them because they won’t hear me.

The People’s Climate March Fiasco

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People's Climate March, NYC

People’s Climate March, NYC

Back around the spring of 2014 I started hearing media grumblings about how Earth Day was a bust. Since I don’t do the whole Earth Day, be a hippy for a day so you can feel good about yourself thing I didn’t really pay attention. Besides, there was ice cream. Ice cream’s important.

So, when I was on Twitter yesterday and noticed all these pictures making their way on to my feed with people marching down streets carrying signs and stuff, my little ears perked up. Okay, so I’m a bit slow on the uptake. This was The People’s Climate March.

Whenever you start adding “The People’s” to something, my radar begins to beep furiously. The People’s Republic, The People’s Church, The People’s Court…. I figure something entertaining is about to happen. After all, you only add “The People’s” to something when you’re trying to be uber serious.

Have you ever tried to have a really serious talk with a friend who has the giggles? They’re really trying hard to not laugh but that just makes things worse. I had the same reaction to this march. It’s not that I don’t take the destruction of the environment seriously, it’s just really hard to take seriously people who yell and scream about it when five minutes before they were driving their SUVs to the march.

As pictures came flooding in to my Twitter feed (amazingly, my Facebook page was blessedly left out of this nonsense), I began to notice something. The little things. Okay, when you have anxiety, everything becomes the little things but I noticed a few alarming things. Running shoes with rubber soles. Plastic water bottles. Paper signs that will get thrown away after the march is done. Polyester blend clothes and jackets. Let’s not forget the irony of tweeting the whole damn thing using a myriad of cell phones. Am I the only one laughing here?

Here are hundreds of thousands of people demanding changes while refusing to change. Give us alternative fuel but don’t take away our gas-powered fireplace. Give us alternative energy but don’t take away our Internet. Are any of these people aware of what goes into making one single cell phone? You like your Wi-Fi sure and will tweet all damn day but you don’t even bother to think about the cost to the environment. Just the amount of oil that goes into the plastic of one laptop is enough to warrant my laughter at you.

So let’s take a look at the average marcher’s day. They wake up, take a shower (as do the other members of the family), get a cup of coffee, get a bowl of cereal (usually laden with sugar) for the kids and maybe grab something quick to pop in the microwave. A quick check on the cell phone lets them know they did get that email but they’ll respond at work. Everyone up and at em, kids put on their runners with rubber soles and grab their polyester backpacks and dash into the SUV. Mom takes the kids to school and dad drives the Audi or some other luxury car to work. Mom takes the SUV to work. That’s just the morning.

The marchers that marched have no desire to change their lives that would create the kind of environmental change that they’re screaming about. The truth is that the oil companies they’re pointing their fingers to are already doing the bulk of research into reclaiming the environment. If you want real change, start at home.

Give up that SUV for three days a week. Having the kids take a bus to school won’t kill them and may even give them a sense of independence. Ease up on the sugar and palm oils. I’ve yelled about these before. Sugar is responsible for the destruction of rainforests and palm oil is destroying orangutan environments. Besides, they’re bad for you. Give up polyester blends and wear cottons more. Put solar paneling on your house. If you’re going to yell about the environment, stop being part of the problem.

The truth is that if everyone gave up using a car for just three days a week, we could have a lasting environmental impact. If everyone put up solar paneling, we could have a lasting environmental impact. However, all I hear from the neo-hippy types is how they don’t want to be inconvenienced. Give them a greener earth but don’t take away our toys.

I’ve seen pictures of the march after it was done and it looked like a three-day bender at a frat house. Cups, plastic bottles, take out containers, signs all littered the ground in city after city after city. I can’t help but feel that someone somewhere is missing the point.

Fading

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A tree in Edmonton full of fall foliage

A beautiful tree full of fall foliage in Edmonton

The air is murky, heavy with its weight. Still, lying in wait. Summer breathes its last gasp, like an old showgirl with one last turn on the stage. I feel autumn approaching as stealthy as a cat on winter paws. Soon we’ll put away the fans, the air conditioning, the bikinis and the green grass. The world will give one last sparkle of colour before it turns grey and cold. I don’t look forward to that day. I don’t think many of us do.

People have advised me many times what to write in my blog. Write about business! Write about marketing! Keep yourself out of it! Focus on the big picture! MONEY! MONEY! MONEY!

That’s really not me.

Six days out of seven I struggle with anxiety and try desperately to make it from one part of my life to the next. I often lack the tools to deal with many social situations and look to guidance from my heroes. Most of the time they’re silent and I have no choice but to try and forge a path on my own. A lot of times I make glaring social blunders that I learn about later. Still, I stumble about as best as can, dancing a minuet while everyone else bobs along to the latest rap.

I try to be a nice person. I’m generous by nature and enjoy helping people. I genuinely enjoy what I do and I’m very good at it. However, every once in a while, something will happen and my world comes to a screeching halt. How do I deal with someone who does something harmful to me? I don’t know. I don’t have the tools.

Inside me there’s a bitch chained to a chair. I let her loose when I feel lost and have no map on how to deal with the situation. It’s not always the best way to deal with people but there are those who will always take that nice girl and sell her to the highest bidder if they get a

Trees covered in snow

Trees covered in snow

chance. So, out comes the bitch.

Because I’m the nice girl, people are often surprised by the bitch. She’s cold, calculating and out for her own survival. She’s mean as hell and has no problem dialing up the heat. By the time she makes an appearance, I’ve tried everything else. I don’t like doing it but there comes a time when I have to protect myself.

Soon the air will grow cold and the insects will fade away. We’ll trade flip flops for boots and the parkas will come out. Today the air is heavy. Summer fades to black.

The Elephant in the Room

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Elephant

The elephant in the room

Today we’re going to talk about the elephant in the room. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there is a rather large elephant causing all sorts of social anxiety that no one ever talks about. Well, today I’m going to point to this large elephant, poke it, prod it and bring some stuff to light. When I’m done, you’ll be shocked and amazed and glad I did. So what is this rather large mammal in our collective living space.

Problem clients.

Yes, you heard me say it. Let’s get the gasps of shock and the titters of discomfort out of the way. I understand. Problem clients is like condoms. We all know what they are and have some experience with them but no one talks about it. Well, time to talk about it.

We all get the problem clients, those clients that make us grit our teeth and pull our hair. Those clients that make us question the wisdom of becoming an entrepreneur some days and have us bitching to our friends over a large glass of wine. But who are these problem clients and what do we do with them?

I’m not sure if these people intend to be difficult or if they’re just trying to save a buck or if they really don’t know the trouble they’re causing. Whatever the case, for an entrepreneur they can be a nightmare. They especially seem to come out of the woodwork in the first few years of a business when the entrepreneur is just learning the ropes. It’s this vulnerability that lures them like hyenas to a baby goat. There are a few things that you can do to protect yourself or lessen the impact. Let’s look at these problem clients.

  1. Get Something for Nothing Client – This client can be one of the sneakiest around. They seem to come out more to the new business, sensing that the entrepreneur is new and hasn’t quite cut their teeth yet. Everything is a “discount” for them. If you give a 10% discount, they want 20%. These people will push and push until you’re nearly paying them. The particularly sneaky ones will make you feel like they’re doing you a favor by letting you work for them. A popular phrase is, “I’m trying to help you out here.”

    Don’t buy it. You have a product or service that you’ve put time, thought, work and your sweat and tears into. It’s worth the price you’ve established. There is something to be said for giving a good client a discount or a client who might be struggling a break but be careful. If you think a 10% or 20% discount is worth establishing the relationship with the client, then do it. However, remember that you set the discount, not the client. If you have a client constantly pushing for a bigger discount or makes you feel guilty for charging your fees, you have the ability to walk away. There are other clients and saying no to a problem one won’t damage your reputation.

  2. The Check is in the Mail Client – There is always that one client that is late in paying or just doesn’t have the money right at that moment. They’re robbing Peter to pay Paul and you’re feeling the beats because of it. When you try to demand the money, there’s always an excuse as to why they don’t have the money along with a promise to pay next week. It’s frustrating because these people love your work but they’re literally taking food out of your mouth.

    Try to start with a deposit. Good clients have no problem paying part of the fee up front. They understand the need to ensure that you’re paid for your product or service. With a problem client it ensures that at least you will have part of your fee. This way you don’t have to chew on the full bill. If this still doesn’t deter your problem clients, consider letting them go. It’s okay to cut the dead weight, even in the first years of business. So many new entrepreneurs feel that make money, any money, is the goal. There is an anxiety about meeting the bills in those first years. However, cutting a client can make a healthier one down the road. Get your roots firmly in the ground to grow a healthy business. Those deadweight clients you cut now will make for a healthier business later.

  3. Know-Everything Client – These people are a hoot at parties. If you’ve done something, they’ve done one better. Your joyful afternoon on a trampoline turns into a harrowing story about the time their bungee cord came close to snapping. Working for these clients is such an adventure. One that I recommend copious amounts of alcohol for.

    No matter what you recommend or how much you explain why doing something a certain way is a bad idea, they insist you do it that way. Or, when you do have a nearly completed product, they come in and hack and slash it so much you have to start from the beginning. They always know better than you do no matter how much training or experience you’ve had in that field. There is a huge desire to take a bat into meetings with them so you can beat them into submission before you deal with them.

    There is actually a cure for this type of client but it takes a particular type of person. This client’s problem is not trying to be better than everyone but a need for control. They’re afraid if they let go of any part of their business, they’ll fail. Understand that this problem stems from fear, not ego and you can address it that way. As the entrepreneur, you need a massive dose of patience. Address their fears and hear them out. It could be that they have a legitimate reason for their fear. If there’s a compromise then try it. This client chose you because they have a certain amount of trust in you. They just need to know that trust is well-founded. If you don’t think you can effectively work with this client, you can pass them off to a colleague. As a writer, I do this all the time and have other writers do the same for me. Remember, not all matches are perfect ones and you want the best for that client. That will build your reputation, not gritting your teeth and bearing it.

Problem clients are a part of any business, especially when that business is being established. Try to find a way to work with the client, if you can. That should always be the first solution. However, if you can’t find a solution or compromise it may be best to drop the client. Sometimes cutting dead weight early on makes for a healthier business in the long run. Don’t be afraid of the word, “no.” Consider passing a problem client to a colleague, if you can. Just because you can’t work with someone, doesn’t mean that someone else is going to have the same problem. In this way you can deal with that problem client and build a good reputation for yourself and your business.

 

 

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