Me. Too.

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Yesterday I got mansplained.

Specifically, I had my writing mansplained.

Now regular readers will know that I have little tolerance for people’s crap and care even less for the opinions of others. There is a myth that if you’re a writer you’ll welcome any and all criticism as a chance to grow. Let me turn on the light on this one. It’s bullshit and I’ll tell you why. Not everyone’s opinion matters and few opinions will actually help you grow.

Varric in Dragon Age 2 said it best, “opinions are like testicles. You kick them hard enough, it doesn’t matter how many you’ve got.”

There are people whose opinions and criticisms I seek out but I’m very picky about it. Criticism is meant to help me see things that I may not see myself. It is meant to help me grow as a person. Therefore, I seek out those individuals I trust to give me an honest assessment even if it’s not what I want to hear. Even that’s not enough. This person has to be someone that I see lives a life that I can respect and admire. This person is going to help me determine the direction my life takes. That’s a huge responsibility and one that is going to be taken seriously.

So that’s why I generally ignore most of the criticism that comes online. Don’t get me wrong. I love to hear from people and love it most when people share their own stories but I’m not interested in hearing your opinion on me, my sex life, my fat, my writing, my whatever.

When I wrote the piece “The Housing Crisis As Seen From Below”, it was in response to my city’s desire to remove adult only housing. As someone who lives in poverty, it affects me directly and I wrote out my frustrations as I so often do. Shortly after I published it I was approached by someone who works in my city’s poverty industry (those organizations dedicated to eliminating poverty). This man is well-known and well-respected in the community. I looked forward to discussing the issues with him. I’ll call him John Doe as I don’t want to release his name.

A discussion of issues is not what I got, however. I was tempted to post the entire email wholesale and let the internet do its thing but my rational brain took over at the last minute (it never lets me have any fun) and I put a stop to that. Instead of a discussion among peers, here’s a sample of what I got;

I think you have a voice that should be heard, but here is some unsolicited advice, meant to help you not criticize you.

If you want to be an effective advocate and writer, I suggest you tone down the anger and tone down your self-effacing remarks. They do not serve you well – like it or not, people don’t want your anger, they want your ideas. And don’t downplay yourself (e.g. “yes, that makes me an asshole”). If people think you’re an asshole, let them, but don’t give them ammunition. Lots of people think I am an asshole, too outspoken, or have radical ideas yet lots of people follow my personal blog, appreciate me, are interested in what I have to say. I am good with all of it.

Your ending will turn off people who may very well be on your side — “But, fuck it. The poor only matter as a photo op.” First lots of people don’t see poor people that way, Lots. Some might but the people you want to listen to you, don’t. It’s a turn off in my mind. Just my 2 cents.

Yeah.

I’m not a person that likes confrontation. Years of abuse trained me to keep people happy at all costs. This, though, made me angry. The condescension of it made me taste bile in the back of my throat. As I read the words, “here is some unsolicited advice” I could hear some guy saying, “you know what I think…?” My answer is the same either way, I don’t give a crap what you think and your unsolicited advice is not welcome.

I won’t even go into how the whole “tone down the anger” part made me feel. Or the words “they do not serve you well” feeling like I’m a naughty school girl (no, not in a Stormy Daniels way, either). Here was a man who decided that his opinion was so goddamn important he had to shove it down my throat.

I sent a rather lengthy email back. In short it was a version of “thanks for your opinion now fuck off” but in far nicer terms. As I said, I don’t like confrontation. It makes me itch.

The next email I got (which I may post tomorrow if I’m still angry) read like an essay being corrected. Instead of responding in his own space, he took over the email I sent and wrote his responses in red around my words. Seriously. WTF? The part that really enraged me was his comparison of being bullied at school for being a geek to my revelation of being abused by my family for much of my life. While I do fight against bullying, they’re not close to the same. You can leave your school. I had no options and while I finally did leave my family, it’s a decision that will have impact for the rest of my life. Come see me at Christmas and then let’s compare your elementary school bullying to my family abuse.

My next response was short and sweet. A very nice version of leave me alone.

I am actually way too enraged to answer this right now. That you don’t see the problem is the problem. I need to calm down before I give any further response. Have a nice day.

But he didn’t. His emails continued despite my repeated attempts to ask him to leave me alone so I could calm down and think about the situation. Dammit, I was going to take his criticism whether I wanted to or not. He even went so far as to leave his cell phone number in case I wanted to “chat on the phone” (because that’s a good idea).

It didn’t stop. He fished out a four year old post I wrote on poverty and said he wanted to repost it on his blog. I gave him permission but no indication I wanted to talk. There were more emails. I finally had enough.

One of my heroes is Kirk Acevedo. So it’s no surprise when I feel I’ve been backed into a corner I come out fighting like a dragon. It’s a #kidviciousarmy thing. I sent an email back lashing out like I rarely do. That’s when John Doe got angry in return.

Here is a man with power and influence who wouldn’t leave me alone and now he’s angry with me. Can anyone see how this will end up? I had a full blown panic attack and at 9:30pm I called the cell phone number he left. Only to have him shut me down and refuse to talk.

Finally I talked to a dear friend who listened and let me vent. This is a woman I admire. Whose opinions matter to me. She reminded me that it was my writing, my story, my words. Not his and not to let him take that from me no matter who he is.

So I won’t tone down the anger. I won’t stop tilting at windmills. I won’t stop. This is my story. These are my words.

ME. TOO.

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Angry

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Today I got angry.

There are a thousand reasons in a day why I will get angry. Pick one. Racism, homophobia, body shaming, poverty, bad Hollywood movies… take your time. I’ve got a while. It’s not as though I go through my entire day angry at the world. I think about the battles I choose to fight very carefully and some of them do make me angry.

Today I got angry.

One of the battles I choose to fight is poverty. Let me reword that. One of the battles I choose to fight is the distribution of wealth because I live in a nation that has an embarrassment of riches while this winter homeless people will freeze to death. It’s a battle I choose to fight because I live it.

Recently I wrote a blog about Edmonton’s housing situation and another on the problem with wealth distribution. Both of them vent my anger rather nicely and I’m rather proud of them. However, they did raise some eyebrows and criticism from someone I respect and admire.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind criticism. I cut my teeth as a writer with some editors who I swear lived on writer’s tears. This, though, made me angry.

This person told me that I should tone down my anger because people don’t want my anger. To be fair, they’re right. People don’t want my anger but it’s not going away because the situation that made me angry isn’t going away. Long before those posts ever saw the light of day I took steps to try to alter the situation through polite discourse and reason.

That worked oh so well.

This person then fixated on a comment I made about people in power using the poor for photo ops. I stand by my statement and I’m not taking it away no matter how uncomfortable it makes people. People in power stay there because they do things like this to fool the populace into thinking they give a shit about the little folks. They don’t. It’s smoke and mirrors and those of us on this side see it for what it is. However, this person told me that “lots of people don’t see poor people that way.”

And that’s when I saw red, Your Honour.

If there is one person out there who can tell me the difference between this statement and #NotAllMen or #NotAllWhites, I’d love to hear it. Start the discussion with a whip and chair, though, because I’m not really in a listening mood.

This person could be right. It’s possible that not all people see the poor this way. However, enough do and if you find yourself using any version of “not all” in any way then you’re part of the damn problem.

So today I got angry and I put on my Don Quixote personality and politely told this person I would keep getting angry at a situation that deserves nothing but my anger.

Tomorrow I will get angry too.

Employment and the Mentally Ill

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Back in the summer of 2011, I worked as a writer for Alberta Education. It was such an absolute nightmare for me that had I not had the good fortune to be fired, I would have found myself in the psych ward in the hospital within a week. I wish I could say that is an exaggeration but it isn’t. As a result of this nightmare, two things happened; I began to have panic attacks. These attacks were triggered when I tried to write or when I was working in a job and had to talk to the boss. Just thinking about it is enough to quicken my breathing and make a panic attack seem imminent.

Yes, I tried to work but the anxiety got the better of me and I simply couldn’t anymore. The idea, just the simple thought, of talking to a boss still makes me want to shut down. However, I’m not one to give up without a fight so, recently, I thought perhaps I could work part-time somewhere. A couple of days a week shouldn’t overwhelm me and would give me time to recuperate for the next shift.

See, aside from the anxiety, I’m actually a great worker. In an office I’m versatile and creative. Show me what you need done and I’ll get it done. In retail, I’m actually very patient with the customers and like to help. I understand what it’s like trying to find something and needing some help. So, with that in mind, I applied to some local businesses. Like Walmart.

There is a new trend in corporations to use psych tests as a means to thin out the resumes they get. The belief being that they can get the type of person they want without all the hassle of actually talking to people. It’s cookie cutter thinking and it’s dangerous.

Anyone who’s been trained as a psychologist or psychiatrist will tell you that without the proper training and proper testing methods, these tests are, at best, useless. A true psych test such as the MMPI has very specific questions that answer questions that the psychologist or psychiatrist may face. However, these tests are meant to be a tool, not a means to weed people out.

Think of it this way; a hammer is a tool that can help a person with the right experience and training to build a house. However, that hammer cannot build the house by itself. These big corporations are relying on these mini psych tests to do their job for them. A job they were never designed to do.

Further, these tests are not full psych tests. There is a great deal missing from them. A true psychological test done by a trained professional has multiple questions dealing with the same or a similar issue. This is done not only to determine who’s trying to fake something but is also a means to gauge how deep an issue may go. These mini tests don’t have the follow up questions. Therefore, the corporation is only getting a very skewed picture of the person.

There is a very real human rights danger here, though. Those tests can reveal any mental health issues such as, in my case, anxiety. Suddenly the person with a mental illness finds themselves and their illness exposed to strangers without their knowledge or consent. I find that frightening. It goes deeper, though. Once exposed, the corporation will red flag that person so that any subsequent resumes they send in are automatically rejected without even being glanced at.

What does that mean? That means that those with mental health issues are being denied jobs based on their disability. Yet, most of the time they don’t even know this is going on. That the human resources department has red flagged them because their mental illness showed up on a test they neither have the training nor experience to administer.

I find all of that terribly, terribly frightening. Don’t you?

Media and Mob Mentality

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When I first started out as a freelance journalism I worked with some editors that made me cuss like a drunken sailor. I hated them. They didn’t see my “vision” and were stifling my “creative muse.” Basically, they didn’t get it.

One editor was so old school, he did his rough drafts on a manual typewriter that looked like it was straight out of the 30s. When I went to his office, I could hear him banging away at the keys so hard I was sure he was going to break his fingers. There was something to that sound, though. You could always count on it when you entered the office. The world might end and zombies might rise up but that old keyboard would be clacking away.

He didn’t take any shit and he had an old red pencil (or maybe several of them) always near to hand. I’d give him a piece and that pencil would come out right away. When he was done with it, the paper looked like it lost a fight with Freddy Kreuger. If I was near tears, he’d look at me and say, “well? Good journalism doesn’t come easy. Get to it.”

Another editor was a soft-spoken woman who reminded me of a velvet covered steel bar. She was polite and calm but she had this line in the sand that was as firm as the Wall of China. She demanded that I provide her with all my research and she or her assistant scrupulously checked every single fact. If anything was off, the piece had to be redone. I never knew where she found the time but I often pulled my hair out over some fact I’d glossed over that she refused to allow.

Yet another editor was a former military man. He had the bearing of MacArthur and the voice of Pavarotti. An odd combination but it worked for him. He would sit me down and go over the piece word by word if necessary to help me to understand how to make it better. He’d allow me some room for my “voice” but, in the end, journalism was a harsh taskmistress and he wanted me to know her inside and out.

Today, blogging has replaced the old school journalism. The Huffington Post has all but replaced the traditional newspapers. In our desire to have our news RIGHT NOW, the old school media is falling by the wayside. Even traditional newspapers are turning to blogging as a means to keep afloat. After all, why wait a full day for a newspaper to be printed when we can find out about things now. After all, there’s a lion killing dentist that needs a lesson and mob mentality demands it be done RIGHT NOW! And your opinion on breastfeeding or the latest shooting is absolutely required.

Blogging has its place in the world. It gives us perspective on events in the world. Right wing, left wing, religious, scientific, you name it. Everyone has a blog and an opinion. It’s important to hear these opinions not because we agree or disagree with them but because this is how we open a dialogue with each other. Only when we talk to each other do we begin to understand and with understanding comes peace. However, there is a danger with blogging that most people don’t think about.

No editors.

Love em or hate em, editors fulfill a vital role in media. They are the crap filters. Whether it’s bogus facts or just a shitty piece, they’re the ones who filter all that out. Without them, we’re swimming in crap and don’t know the good stuff from the bad. It’s a recipe for disaster. As a writer, there is an obligation you have to the reader. Don’t sell a 5 cent hat as a one of a kind thousand dollar item.

Readers take your words at face value. If you say A is true, they will believe it and get on that bandwagon. If you say that a lion killing dentist is an irredeemable human being who deserves to die, they will believe you. If you shout out about terrorism, feminism, bullying, whatever, they will believe you and get behind you.

Not all writers have scruples. Some writers just want readers at any cost and don’t care who they hurt to get there. Not all blogs or online magazines are like this and that’s just trouble. How do you sift the shit from clear water when it all looks the same at first glance? How do you know you’re getting facts and not just a pile of snake oil?

You don’t.

We need to bring back editors and start demanding a better quality of news online. Not just a rampant hodge podge of whatever looks good. We need to sift the sand from the diamonds or online news has got to take responsibility for the mob mentality that it builds.

(Side note: I’m not supporting said lion-killing dentist. This is an example only.)

Shut Up

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More often than not I’m told to shut up or some version thereof. I’m not surprised. I tend to be bluntly honest about what I see and how I feel about things which can be unnerving for some people. It’s not that I’m rude unless I’m cranky at someone, which I don’t do without good reason. All of this leads up to a variation of “shut up” when I speak out about something.

“No one wants to hear.” “No one’s listening to you.” “One person talking can’t make a difference to anything.” “It’s all been said.” “Who do you think is going to listen to you?” “People are tired of hearing about it.”

The problem with this sage advice is I tend to be a bit of a Don Quixote. I keep tilting at those windmills in hopes of slaying that dragon. My windmills are those things I see as unfair or wrong. Racism, bullying, LGBTQ rights, pro-choice, the list goes on. There are things that are wrong in the world and I’m not going to shut up about.

So why not just  go along with the masses and let things be. After all, how much impact can one person have?

A young teen went on YouTube and spoke out about why girls in her country should have an education. Since then she’s gone on to continue speaking about the need to educate girls and women’s rights. Malala Yousafzai was just one young girl but now she’s a voice that’s heard.

A woman was on a bus when a bus driver ordered  her to give up her seat to a white passenger. She refused. She was arrested and helped to spark a revolution that ended segregation. Rosa Parks did one small act that changed an entire country.

The list goes on of small people doing small acts that change big things. Malcolm X, Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, Helen Keller… Each of them were just one person doing what they could to make their world a better place. People following their consciences.

I’m no Mandela or Keller. I don’t claim that greatness. I do claim to have a voice. Even if it’s a small one. When I claimed the title of “Writer” I also accepted certain obligations. To speak out. To question the world around me. To give voice to those who have no voice.

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.

The Christmas Tradition

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A picture talking about ownership of Christmas traditionsYesterday someone posted this on Facebook where I could see it. It made me so unbelievably angry I had to go out for a while before I could sit down and think about it sensibly. Those who celebrate Christmas claim it’s a time for sharing and showing love to one another then this is posted. How hypocritical can you get?

Let’s break this down. First, let’s look at these traditions you claim are yours. Do you have a Christmas tree? Are you getting gifts? Going to have a nice Christmas feast? All these things can be traced to earlier pagan traditions from around Europe. See, back in the day when the Holy Catholic Church (which appropriated the shreds of the Roman empire) was establishing itself, the pesky pagans refused to give up their traditions. Things like Samhain and Yule which later became Halloween and Christmas. Oh and don’t even get me started on Easter traditions.

Yule, or the Winter Solstice, was a time to celebrate the sun’s return to earth. So, boughs of evergreen were brought into the home, feasts were had, gifts exchanged. This made the Church nuts. Darn pagans. Didn’t they know that their traditions were wrong? So, in good Christian logic, they simply moved the day of Christ’s birth to the Winter Solstice and appropriated the pagan traditions as a means to celebrate.

I’m not going to get into whether Christ was a real person or not but if He was, He wasn’t born in the middle of winter. Most likely he was born in spring. WHAT?!?! Yep. As a matter of fact, the whole Nativity story is a crock. It’s stolen, almost wholesale, from the Egyptian story of Isis giving birth to Osiris. Minus the magi, of course. Funny for a person claiming this is their tradition, isn’t it?

So let’s get to the heart of this posting. What it says is that no one better mess with Christmas. After all, this is MINE, god dammit and you have to agree to it. In short, I’ll do what I want and fuck you. I’ve run across this attitude before, ironically it happens most often at Christmas and I’ll give you a brief overview of the person that usually mouths this sentiment. They’re the ones that have the most lights on their house complete with a Nativity scene in the front yard. They send out picture cards every year of their family in matching outfits and even subject the dog to this humiliation. They go to the office Christmas party and smile and show what a good person they are. They donate to at least three of their favorite charities and it’s usually a big donation. At Christmas dinner they have a glass of wine, never beer, and tell everyone what they’re so grateful for this year. On Boxing Day they’re out in the malls and stores, making people work, so they can get the best deals.

This person would never dream of inviting a stranger in need to Christmas dinner, knowing they’ll be alone for Christmas. They donate to charities because they feel guilty for never giving those in need a thought the rest of the year. They put on a great show for this one day out of the year but never show respect for any other traditions happening at this time of year. Well, they might say “Happy Hanukkah” to their Jewish friends. After all, they’re not racist.

However, ask them to change a little so as to include everyone in the celebratory nature of this time of year and they will throw fits. Share the season with another tradition?? BLASPHEMY! Open your celebrations to someone of another culture? NEVER! Christmas is theirs and belongs to them, dammit. How dare they want to share it? They’ll take that “Merry Christmas” and like it.

What truly saddens me with this posting is the idea that someone would think that this is in any way keeping with the true meaning of Christmas, no matter your tradition. All over the world there is a common theme to this time of year; love. Yet, in the desperate need to be right, to be better than others, they would trample over the feelings and traditions of others. So when you stop to say “Merry Christmas” consider why you’re saying it. Are you saying it to show off your Christmas spirit or are you saying it to wish another the love of the season? Christmas isn’t the exclusive right of one group of people. Christmas isn’t yours.

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