Why Getting Fired From Alberta Education is the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me

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NOTE: This piece was originally published on my other blog, The Blaed on July 13, 2011

I have a Bachelor of Arts degree, am in Grant MacEwan’s Applied Communications in Professional Writing Certificate program (going into my second year). In my past I have guest lectured at the University of Alberta (for 10 years running), ran a local theatre company, produced plays, written as a regular contributer for local magazines and been the primary caregiver for my parents. I tell you this so you’ll have an idea about me.

So I was excited to be able to work for the Government of Alberta’s Ministry of Education (the specific department shall remain nameless). Here was a chance to step up my career. I had blocked out the trauma of working for the Government of Alberta three years ago and decided this was my chance to shine.

I pride myself in my ability to produce quality work quickly. This blog, for example, will go through one edit before it hits the line. Normally I’d do a couple of them, but I feel this is important. So, I can produce quality work quickly. Let me qualify that; I can produce quality work quickly if I know what it is I’m writing about and the style I’m writing in. I’m fairly adaptable, so I’m comfortable working in a number of styles but this easy, laid-back manner you see here is the one I like best.

So I was hired in June by the Ministry of Education to “tell Education’s story”. Specifically, I was hired in June to use my own laid-back writing style to “tell Education’s story”. “We want *you* to tell Education’s story,” I was told by the man who hired me. All right. I can do that. A week before I was hired I went online and tried to get a sense of what I was getting into. What I saw didn’t comfort me.

Go to the Ministry of Education’s website sometime. It’s chaotic, drowning in government-ese and dry as hell. It says little and what it does say is pretty useless…. in my opinion. However, I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. I needed this job and I needed to shine. I could do this.

Problems arose in the first week of my employment. I raised the possibility of doing a story on Mr. Bob Maskell, an incredible educator who’s made an impact on so many lives. That was shot down. Good try, I was told, but we couldn’t feature just one educator (who is retired), it’d look like favoritism. No, I thought, it’d look like we appreciate those teachers and educators who dedicated their lives to being the best they could. Never mind, they had another idea.

My boss plopped a document on the table; the “Framework for Action“. This was what they wanted me to write on. This document has been in the making for years and is extremely intricate. There are subtleties and nuances that would take years to decipher. Okay. In my own style, huh? I could do this.

To give you an idea of the task at hand, open the document and read it. I had two days, tops, to learn each section, its history and where it was going then write a 250 word piece on it. Factor in to that I’m not getting to talk to the managers who’s responsible for each section. No. I get documents in legalese and whatever I could find on the Internet. Still, I managed. I thought. First meeting with the boss I found out I didn’t have a clue. Back to the drawing board.

When you work as a journalist, you need to have a feel for your topic. It isn’t necessary to read every document written on it so long as you get an idea of what it’s about. It needs to be accurate, but you don’t have to know every aspect of it. For example, you don’t need to get a pilot’s licence to write about flying for a big airline . Not so with the Ministry of Education. I had to know these things inside and out and they are complicated. So, off to round two.

Between round one and two my mentor decided he was too busy for me so he passed me off to someone else in the office. Was I okay with that? Perspective time; I’m a summer student. I don’t have a lot of room for opinion. Keep your mouth shut and your head down. That’s the summer student’s motto. Even if it means being passed off like a bad date to a co-worker who’s first language is not English. Yes, she had a doctorate in research, but I’m a writer doing writing in English. I’m not a researcher translating my writing. That’s like a penguin trying to teach a duck to swim.

At this point I felt confirmation of my role was needed. My writing was too bland and needed more colour and excitement. I needed anecdotes and examples, my original mentor (still my boss) said. Okay. I can do that. So I let myself go and brought out my writing crayons, so to speak. Time for colour.

The second time around wasn’t as nice as the first time. What on earth was I thinking using anecdotes and examples? That’s not government style of writing. Also, I still had some tense issues (due to actions in the past affecting the future) but that’s easily dealt with. For example, I might write “the report he wrote yesterday will be discussed in tomorrow’s meeting.” Perfectly sound sentence, but not strictly grammatically correct. Also, I didn’t have enough examples and the writing was bland.

By this time I got the help of my new mentor and a co-worker to edit the pieces. I wasn’t seeing something, perhaps they’d see it. We’d edit two or three times before I was comfortable and then I headed for round number three. Oh good lord.

One of the pieces I’d worked on was particularly delicate so I went to the person who’s project it was and asked them to make sure everything was correct. When it was returned to me, this person had thrown out one section completely, two others were deleted (this person and the boss decided they weren’t needed. Was I asked? Nope. I was informed by e-mail) and another was so heavily edited it didn’t resemble anything I’d written. Okay, I thought, I had it wrong. I can do this.

I reworked the pieces and showed the boss who promptly got angry because they were unusuable.  They had no factual information and said little about the actual program. So, digging through my garbage, I got the original I’d written, retyped it and prepared to hand that in.

Now we get to round four. Understand that by this time I’m going home shaking, in tears and becoming dangerously depressed. If it wasn’t for the amazing support of instructors, friends, family and fellow writers, I would have either wound up in the hospital from a suicide attempt or from severe trauma. I could no longer look at my co-workers, let alone talk to them. I thought about giving up writing completely. It was my support network who held me up during this time and told me I could get through it and keep going. Several said I was too good a writer to quit. Even as I write this I’m crying. I can’t help it. I think of that time and can’t function.

By this time I was going to work not with the idea of producing anything quality, I felt like a hostage to a sociopath. All I wanted to do was give them what they wanted so they’d let me go. From 7 am to 4 pm, working through lunches and breaks, all I kept thinking was, “they said I could leave at the end of August.”

So, now I was given the instructions to “write in Government Voice.” Let me back this truck up a minute. There are classes dedicated to learning this style. There are writers who specialize in this style and take years to perfect it. Government writing style is very precise and there is an art to it. I have never written in this style in my life. This style is not interesting to me, it’s very bland and like chewing on drywall. However, those who can do it well have my utmost respect.

Let’s toss in here a round of computer problems that took three days to fix because the IT guys forgot to hook me up to the right network. Oh, now let’s add the fact that none of the people in charge of the projects are allowing me to talk to them. Instead, I’m handed documents in legalese that outline the project. I’m supposed to decipher these and make them understandable in government style. I leap over tall buildings in a single bound and dress in leather as a bat and stop crimes in my spare time, too.

So, back to round four. My boss walks into my office and informs me I’m texting too much on my phone. I text to keep me in touch with people who keep me sane, by the way.  He then spends the next hour and half to two hours asking me if I’m “supported” (I felt like we were talking about me needing a jock strap). Talk about turning up the pressure. Yes, on the surface he was asking me if he could help me. Yet, in the same breath he’d say things like, “I need results” and “I expected more.” This “chat” let me know I was on my last legs and yet I still had no clue what they wanted.

I called up my doctor, a wonderful man who knows me and knows I don’t ask to see him often, asking to see about medicating me for stress. I may not do well with most psychiatric drugs (learned that while trying to deal with my sleeping disorder), but maybe there was an herbal remedy he could recommend.

Yesterday I gave it one more try. I gave my boss work I wasn’t proud of, work I’d never admit to doing, work so sterilized of any life I didn’t recognize it. He hated it. No, not the sterilization. He liked that. What he pointed out was places I’d missed a comma (I got 15 minutes on that) or places he felt were unclear (three other people had read them several times. He was the only one that thought those places were a problem). In other words, he was looking for trouble and found it. By the time it was over, he looked at me and said, “if you can’t give me what I ask for, you’ll never make it as a writer in any corporation.”

He crossed a line. I reached past all the crap I’d been handed in the past month and stopped listening to him. The corrections he wanted took only a half hour to make but I drew it out all afternoon. I was going to quit at the end of the month. I kept hearing his words in my head over and over and got angrier and angrier. Over and over again I’d produced quality work that he’d told me he wanted. Over and over it wasn’t good enough. I had to spend three and half hours listening to Ministry of Education employees pat themselves on the back and being paraded around instead doing the job I was being paid to do. I had to listen to my bosses “are you being supported” speeches over and over instead of getting clear instructions. Now I was being told I was a mediocre writer and never going to be a professional. Yes, I was angry.

By the time I was fired this morning I didn’t care. I cried tears of relief as I packed up my things and left. Here’s what the boss who was so concerned if I was being supported did; he read my termination from a letter then walked out. He didn’t have the decency to ask me if I had anything to say or even say to me “don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out.” He left and went on his way.

I feel better now being without a job than I have in the past month. I’m free and I can go back to doing what I love; writing. I don’t know what will come of this blog, probably nothing. I do know this; I wrote this on the fly and it’s not bad and it feels so good to just write again.

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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.

Playing the Victim

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I’m sorry.

I’m sorry I was raped. More than once. I’m sorry that the memory of it sticks with me to this day as a kind of awful background noise that colors everything I say and do. I’m sorry that makes you uncomfortable. I’m sorry that in this era of #MeToo, I am starting to feel like I can finally talk about it. I’m sorry that you want me to shut up. I’m sorry it still hurts and makes me stop during my day to wonder what I did wrong.

I’m sorry I was abused. I’m sorry that my mother was so messed up about my sister suffering severe bullying that she thought handing me over to her was a good idea. I’m sorry that my sister took such pleasure in finding new ways to torment me all in the name of “discipline”. I’m sorry talking about it helps me to put it into perspective. I’m sorry I’ve tried to connect with others like me on the internet to share our stories.

I’m sorry I have Nonverbal Learning Disorder. I’m sorry I haven’t said the right thing or done the right thing or made you feel better or praised you enough or stood in the right spot. I’m sorry I got distracted again. I’m sorry I melted down again. I’m sorry I don’t understand when you’re joking. I’m sorry I don’t know how to organize my clutter.

I’m sorry I’m a woman. I’m sorry that I have to struggle harder than you do just to achieve the same things you do. I’m sorry that I have to point out when you’re being a douche. I’m sorry that I have to go to the bathroom in packs because I’m afraid a man will follow me in and attack me. Again. I’m sorry I carry my keys in my fist. I’m sorry I don’t walk outside at night. I’m sorry that these things make me angry and I want to change them. I’m sorry that I want to make things better for the women coming behind me just as others made it better for me.

I’m sorry I’m fat. I know how that offends you. I’m sorry I have an eating disorder. I’m sorry I have diabetes. I’m sorry I don’t exercise four or five hours a day. I’m sorry I have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. I’m sorry my anxiety makes me seek out certain foods. I’m sorry I’m not strong enough to be thin. I’m sorry I’m not wise enough to be the person you want me to be.

I’m sorry I’m playing the victim just by existing. I’ll try to do better in the future.

Mute and Block

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A while ago I began looking through my social media sites to see who I had blocked. I was curious and made a discovery. The worst of the trolls that I had to use the block button on were temporary or fake accounts that could be linked back to one or two people.

Let me explain what’s going on.

I make a radical statement like women deserve equal pay and the incels come out of the woodwork to bombard me with a barrage of tweets and posts saying that I hate men, I should kill myself, I deserve to be alone and worse. I have had up to 30 or 40 tweets in a couple of hours flood my Twitter feed. There are subjects that are almost as bad. Anything having to do with #MeToo is almost guaranteed to create a furor. #BlackLivesMatter can wind you up in a sticky mess and don’t even get me started on the anti-vaxxers or anti-choice people. #MAGA people are pros at opening the flood gates for something as simple as speaking out against Trump’s racism.

But when I took a closer look at things I was surprised. Now, I didn’t look deeply because I don’t have that much knowledge, time or patience but it seemed to me there were a lot of shady accounts happening. I did a quick Google search and found out there are blogs dedicated to showing you how to create fake accounts.

It should come as no surprise that this is a problem but I don’t think people have thought this through. It’s a bigger problem than anyone has paid attention to and it’s not getting better.

When I talk online about a subject, it’s important to me. There are some biggies I have like poverty and women’s rights but I’m not just flapping my keyboard to keep the pixels moving. There’s a reason I say the things I do and that’s so I can be heard.

It used to be that I had a variety of followers on my various social media. At one time I would chat with those on the right and they would chat with me. Sure we were each convinced the other was wrong but we tipped our hats to each other and gave each other room to breathe.

That’s not happening anymore.

Now when I type something, my mouse starts to smoke with all the blocking I’m having to do or reporting fake accounts. In the midst of all this are people who want to have a real conversation and ask real questions but I can’t respond because I’ve been flooded. My opportunity to connect with someone on the other side has been taken away from me.

However, when you report this flooding to the powers that be, it doesn’t violate their code of conduct and they start telling you to mute or block. Can anyone tell me why it’s up to me to regulate the behaviour of others on social media and not the responsibility of those who run these sites? When someone says I need to be raped, why do I have to shut that down instead of Twitter or Facebook?

People like me are being bombarded by these people in the hopes that the overwhelming amount of vitriol being flung will make me give up and go away. In many cases it’s worked. We are being slowly silenced and our ability to connect is being strangled. It is time that stopped. It is more than time that these social media sites stepped up to the plate and started assuming the mantle of responsibility instead of relying on people to use the mute or block button. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all the rest make too much money to get away with such lazy and complicit behaviour.

The Snake in the Garden

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There is something insidious going on and the media isn’t making a connection. I don’t know if it’s deliberate or if they missed it or if they’re hoping everything will blow over. It’s been whispered on blogs and social media but nothing has been done about it.

The heart of the Catholic Church is rotten.

There. I said it. Let’s look at what’s been going on, starting with the most recent.

Covington Catholic High School

By now we’ve heard the story or seen the video, either the long or short version. Here’s the facts of the situation; boys from Covington decided they needed to stand off against Native Elder, Nathan Phillips.

Nick Sandmann says that he was merely trying to defuse the situation. I don’t buy it but let him have his say. He’s wearing a MAGA hat and, in other videos, his fellow classmates can be seen harassing other people that day.

Personally, I think the little shit is a racist asshole who got caught and now doesn’t want to face his responsibility in the situation. Once again the Native person gets painted as the villain while the poor little white boy talks about how scared he was.

Scared of an old man with a drum.

If he was scared, then why didn’t he get his teachers? Why didn’t they move away? Call the cops? Heck, hold out his hand to shake the Elder’s hand? He did nothing but stand there with a grin on his face. He enjoyed the confrontation because he was the centre of attention amid all his racist, white boy peers.

But this isn’t the only Catholic boys’ school to be caught in a scandal.

Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School

Remember this place? Yep. Brett Kavanaugh is an alumni. Women came forward with stories of keg parties and sexual assault. Of course, the media was quick to say they were “mistaken” and, gosh, didn’t we just feel so bad for them?

St. Michael’s College School

Another case of sexual assault and out of control behaviour in a Catholic boys’ school. I really shouldn’t be surprised but this one really did come out of the blue. It took the school eight days to report the incident and, after they did, it was quickly swept aside by the media. Trump did something else stupid.

These cases are the most recent but they speak to a much larger pattern going on. Have we forgotten the involvement of the Catholic Archdiocese in Boston with the coverup they did regarding their priests accused of sexual assault? I guess we have. What about the Mount Cashel Orphanage scandal in 1988 which brought to light the widespread abuses going on in Newfoundland, Canada? Most hideous are the stories coming out about the residential schools Indigenous people were subjected to in Canada.

Now, granted, the Pope has stated that the Church will never again cover up sexual abuses but is that just lip service? There is a deeper problem going on that no one seems to want to talk about and it will keep going on so long as the media refuses to make the connections.

Kids don’t confront people they’re afraid of wearing racist gear. Pedophiles don’t don priests’ garb unless they know they’re going to get away with it. Football players don’t mask their rape as “hazing” unless they think it’s going to make people look the other way.

I don’t care what excuses you want to make. Too much beer, he was scared, they didn’t mean it, he didn’t ejaculate… they don’t matter. There is a problem and it’s time we started talking about it.

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.

Five Pounds

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Dear doctors,

I lost 5 pounds. I know, not a big deal to you but to me it’s a huge event. Because of the circumstances surrounding this event I want you to hear me. Not as a woman who suffers from obesity and diabetes but as a human being. I need you to listen carefully.

Let me tell you my story.

About a year ago I went on Victoza. An insulin that has been shown to help diabetics lose weight. This was an important victory for me because I had to not only fight my government to cover it but I had to fight my doctor to prescribe it.

Why?

My doctor was angry at the government for not covering the drug therefore, he didn’t want to prescribe the drug to those who couldn’t afford it. The poor like me. He initially made the decision to withhold the drug based on my economic status. Let that sink in for a moment.

After I was approved for coverage of the Victoza, my diabetic doctor prescribed a dose of 1.8mg. That’s important to this story. I initially began to lose weight. In part because of my natural eating habits and in part of my love of exercise. However, a large part was due to the Victoza.

In January 2018 I had a slip and fall where I broke my funny bone. Literally. A radial tip fracture left me in pain and severely phobic of slipping and falling again. I sought comfort foods and avoided the outdoors. Yes, I was miserable and gained weight.

After a time I got control of things again and got back to my routine. However, I didn’t lose weight. I didn’t gain but I didn’t lose. In October 2018 I found out why.

My family doctor informed me that to lose weight effectively I had to be on 3.0mg of Victoza. A higher dose than I was on. When I asked my diabetic doctor about it he got angry. Accused me of self-harm and said I was looking for a magic pill.

However, I’ve had time to think about that visit and let my anger simmer for a while. Let me sum up what I know;

  • He saw my fat and not me. He knew nothing about my eating habits, exercise routine or other health concerns. Nor did he care.
  • He deliberately withheld information due to his belief that my weight was solely the result of overeating and his political views. He would see my obesity no other way no matter what I told him or what facts I presented. Obesity had one cause and that was it.
  • He decided that I was incapable of making an informed decision about my own health care. A fat person obviously doesn’t care about their health so just decide for them.

Doctors, you don’t have the right to decide for me what is right for me. It’s your job to work with me to find the right course of action unless doing so would put others at risk. I rely on your information and experience so that I can take an active role in my health care. If you withhold it because of your own prejudices, you put me at risk for the sake of your ego.

I will do my part in my health care but what I won’t do is let you use my health to masturbate your ego. If you have a problem with that then maybe you shouldn’t be taking care of patients. Perhaps you should go into research instead where it won’t be a problem.

Sincerely,
A Fat Patient.

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