Tag Archives: Books

Office Life: Thar Be Meanies

In Virginia, there’s an esteemed literary magazine called The Virginia Quarterly Review.

There, an editor has committed suicide, and the Review has been shut down amid a new investigation that the suicide was as a result of workplace bullying and harassment.

I found the story fascinating on a couple levels.

Photographer unknown.

One, there’s a strange perception, I think, that these sort of things don’t happen in intellectual/cultural offices, and I think this sheds light on the reality that people can be mean fuckers whatever their aesthetic tastes.

Two, it continues the realization I’ve had since reading William Styron’s Darkness Visible years ago — that is, to be literary is to be predisposed to depression and potentially suicidal tendencies. The “Overthinky Syndrome” comes on something fierce when one is closely aligned with literary pursuits.

Three, I don’t think we really give enough weight to mental health on the job when it comes to the people around us.

A few years ago, as I was descending into the darkest depression I’ve ever had, I was working at an office where I felt put down and distrusted daily. It was a very difficult environment to work in, but I had no choice, I’d run out of employment insurance and had to take something.

Given my declining emotional state, I didn’t really trust my feelings — maybe I just felt like shit. Maybe I was misreading the things said and done around the office.

One day I was sorting through papers and found legal documents relating to a case involving one of the company’s principals and the province’s labour board. Apparently there were allegations of psychological abuse by the company’s principal, made by former employees.

I suddenly felt a little vindicated. It wasn’t just me, this person actually was kind of mean and cruel.

A year later, I was working for another employer who would mentally beat me down now and then because I wasn’t sacrificing myself for the job like she was. (I don’t own the company, woman, and I was told it was 9-5, not 55 hours a week, and I was getting paid for 40. Liars.)

I know what it’s like to have the opposite kind of bosses, too.

I’ve had a lot of employers who’ve been people who stopped me from doing negative self-talk, who told me how valued I was. I’ve had a lot of luck working for good people.

There’s a world of difference between going to that kind of job, where a bad mood is just part of life’s occasional fluctuations, versus one of the jobs where I’d be lucky to make it through a day without some mocking, blaming, or guilting kind of assault happening, where a bad mood would spiral into dread about returning the next day, and more dread about enduring five full days in a row with no escape.

One of the reasons I want to be self-employed is, the good people I was working for are in a precarious part of the film industry and job security is a thing of the past. I’m pushing 40. I could’ve handled that uncertainty in my 20s, but I can’t anymore.  I can rely on myself, though.

Another is, my last experience looking for work landed me in both of the above jobs, and I do blame both experiences in part for the depression I then spiralled into.

I also credit them with making me ANGRY enough to change my life.

But some people don’t get to reach angry.

Some people get beaten down day after day, told they’re stupid, useless, and lucky to even be employed. Management puts hurdles before them they’ll never overcome, and the economy ensures more hurdles.

The hopelessness of being stuck in jobs like that, in the face of an economic climate like we have now, it makes sense it’d be driving people to suicide.

And our dearly departed editor? Well, there’s not really a growing market for literary review editors, is there? If he felt trapped, if the university was looking the other way on complaints just to avoid controversy, if daily badgering and emotional assaults were happening, if he was your typical overly-analytical literary genius, then… tragically, it does compute.

Workplace bullying is as bad as childhood bullying, if not worse.

At least when you’re a kid there are potential adult figures who might ride in and save you from bullies.

When you’re an adult, there’s a veneer of judgment that comes with admitting you’re being bullied at work. Most reactions are along the lines of “Suck it up” or “It’s just a job” or “Hey, just three days till Friday! Chin up!”

When a job becomes your jail, you try shrugging it off. One can logically think “Oh, it’s just a paycheque”, but there’s a toxicity that comes from being exposed to these people on a day-in, day-out basis.

Like a river can passively wear down even the strongest of rocky terrain, just running over the same ground day after day, so too can a person’s soul and spirit erode.

When I quit the job that had me working daily for six months just 10 feet away from the most toxic, negative, and belittling woman I’ve ever known, it took me more than a year to start finding the positivity and hope in myself again — the things I said were just nothing like the person I used to be. That negativity changed who I was.

And I’m a pretty strong chick.

That was six months, just six months of being broken down by intimidation and judgment and belittling.

What about others? How far does that daily treatment go, how much worse does it become over time? How deeply does it seep?

This kind of treatment isn’t business as usual.

It shouldn’t be overlooked.

Employees should have greater rights about how they can expect to be treated, especially if they’re performing good work and delivering results. (Some useless fuckheads who don’t care about their jobs or quality could use a little yelling at, but all within reason.)

If this was just another unhappy Wal-Mart or McDonald’s or city-sanitation type job, the story would’ve been dismissed. “I’d commit suicide if I had that job, too — har-har.”

But all this guy had to do was read and write for a living. These were literary people, they had soul and the ability to communicate well.

And yet, here we are.

Cruelty and harassment knows no boundaries. There is no class distinction. Intelligence isn’t immune to meanness.

We’re supposed to be a kinder, gentler society. Maybe now we can stop with the lip-service and get on with the reality of being better than our predecessors.

My Culture of Disconnect

I don’t want to read the news today.

Or have conversations of consequence with friends.

Or watch TV or movies that require braincells.

I sure as hell don’t want to read.

I want to drift away and disconnect. Be anywhere but here.

Heavy shit’s coming down, again. Dad’s lined up for serious surgery three provinces away. For anyone else, it’d be a major-but-fine surgery. For him, much risk comes with.

I mean, hey, cancer, diabetes, heart disease — which one do you think offers the best chance of surgical complications?

Sometimes, there’s only so much space you’ve got for matters outside the personal realm. Sometimes, thinking about things in the world just gets overwhelming in the face of the struggles you’re wading through on a daily basis.

Sometimes.

I don’t think I’m at that point. Not about this. I’ve been to the sick-dad rodeo one time too many. Sad as I am, weary as I am, I’m pretty much prepared for whatever comes.

I fucking hate that I feel that way. But I do. There’s only so many times you can stand peering over the edge and be terrified.

Sooner or later, you just get to knowing what it’s like, and the fear’s there, but it’s a fear you’ve metabolized now.

Sort of where I am with Dad. I’ve metabolized my terror. Don’t tell my shaking leg or queasy stomach that, but it’s true. I’m a pretty passionate girl. This is Stress-For-a-Loved-One Lite™.

Part of that is just me being older, wiser, more worn, jaded, and exposed. I done been around, man. Heart’s been broken more times than I need to count from life and its woes. That’s just my experience on planet earth.

It takes a lot to break me down, now. I take body blows like a heavyweight champ. With that shock-absorbing tendency comes the ability to not react much anymore.

As an example, the other day, this dude keeps cracking his little one liners at a pub. Eventually he’s all flustered because I’m not laughing at his jokes.

Well, I don’t laugh easily. I’m funny as hell, man, but making me laugh takes something unexpected or just flat-out smart. I’m a student of comedy. I’ve heard it ALL. I smile, or grin. Now and then? A full-on laugh.

But just because I don’t “react” doesn’t mean I’m not dialed in. I’m removed, but I’m listening. I’m probably thinking why your joke failed, where you went wrong with timing, or where I’ve heard a variation of it before, but, you know, I’m listening.

And we’re all sort of doing that these days. Most of us, anyhow. Dialed in but not. Listening but disconnected.

We’re sponges. Taking from society but never giving back. Surfacing.

My life of the last decade has been much like that.

One day, I stopped reading my three or so newspapers daily. Eventually, I fell away from reading books.

What came first, the head injury or my apathy? I don’t know, I don’t even remember anymore.

Things have changed.

Apathy isn’t enough. It’s not a meal that’s filling. Its price is too high. All the things it’s cost me, man…

I feel like a spectator in the intellectual world, and I’m more than that. I’m a smart woman with a unique world-view. I can’t just watch and not contribute.

To be a part of it requires I be of it, that I be immersed in it, be surrounded by it.

So, somewhere inside, I feel like the joke has been on me.

Sure, I’ve survived everything I’ve been through. But for what?

I fell out of touch and love with music. I stopped being clued into the political, cultural, and societal happenings, something I’d been very much in tune with since I had my first newspaper addiction at the age of 9. I stopped seeing movies. I mean, I’m the kind of girl who plans the music in advance for roadtrips — what works with what stretches of highway, what tracks tie into what scenery.

Or, I used to be.

What’s the fucking point in surviving if you’re not gonna thrive as who you are, right?

It’s what happens to a lot of us, I guess. I’ve got pretty good excuses, but they’re still just excuses, and I still feel like a cop-out.

It’s like the themes explored in Fight Club and American Beauty, the disappearing of identity and the cover-up of disconnect by way of commercialism and cluelessness.

We think we’re growing up as we fall away from our youthful passions of music and movies, politics and society, growing jaded and distant.

We’re not. We’re not “growing up”. We’re losing our leisure, thus losing our souls, as Virginia Woolf once wrote.

I want the happy medium between my savvy survivalist self, and the jazzed-up involved youth I was.

Some people I know still balance these things well, and maybe if life hadn’t gotten in the way, I might be the poster-girl for being a plugged-in hipster, too.

But I’m not.

I’m a part of the problem. I’ve joined the throngs of the Great Ignoring.

It’s not cool. It’s selfish. It’s not helping.

The disconnect isn’t working anymore. Not for me. Not for you. Sure as shit not for society.

It’s not really about “movies” and “music” and “news”.

It’s our soul as a society. Who are we if we’re just a bubble-gum-chewing collective dying to swallow the next reality show?

Art, culture, it was my soul, it was who I am. At my core, I’m an invested, impassioned, intelligent person, and living any way but that is antithetical to who I need to be.

My father’s disconnect has him at 350 pounds, with cancer, diabetes, heart disease, while awaiting major surgery. I’m pretty sure “disconnect” is not working for him, either.

I imagine my father would approve of my learning this lesson this week. I’m hoping he survives the week so we can have a talk about that.

Either way, it’s time I suck a little more cultural marrow out of life, because what I got ain’t sustaining much.

Jumping. No Parachute.

So, that thing I wrote yesterday about quality? Pfft, fuhgeddaboutit.

Today, I had nothing to eat for 9 hours and thought it’d be wise to drink wine. Now, writing for you (because I love you so) seems brilliant.

This, or I piss off Twitter. Every now and then it’s fun to memorialize stupidity as a whole, so, uh, HI.

You know what I did today?

I sent a Not-a-Book-Proposal to a literary agent. Apparently it’s impossible to get a literary agent in Vancouver, so I’m totally comfortable with failing in Mission: Get A Literary Agent. Like, t-o-t-a-l-l-y.

But then again? I feel pretty good. I do! I do. It wasn’t a book proposal, but it was proposal about a book I proposed; just, you know, done my way.

Even if it’s rejected, just hitting “send” was a major accomplishment. Huge.

I packaged up my dream into a little box, tied it with a bow, and sent it into the great unknown, to a pretty not-insignificant agent I’d be lucky to land. THAT deserves celebrating.

I jumped, man. I jumped MY way. Cue Sinatra!

I don’t want success and fame if it comes at the price of bending over and taking it before I kiss every ass in sight, okay? I want to be myself. Be nice, but not pull punches. I wanna do whatever whimsy hits me. I don’t want to worry about consequences or overthink moves.

I can’t be a sell-out, I don’t roll that way. My friends would die laughing at the proposition of me trying to sell shit I don’t believe in. You have no idea.

For years, I’ve been told there was a “process” to success in writing. People you had to please, things you had to do.

Well, a few years ago all I did was write well for a few months, with no apologies, and it did me wonders. Somewhere deep inside I think craft matters more than promotion, and so do integrity and individuality, and seeking success the “tried and true” way ain’t individual and isn’t a ringing endorsement of one’s integrity.

But, you know, have at it, if that’s how you go.

Whatever happens, I know it’s ALL on me and I won’t have to wonder what woulda happened if I followed my instincts.

That’s its own reward. If you’re me, anyhow.

I was terrified today because I know nothing about book proposals.

Know what I had down in my calendar to do THIS week? “Read about Larsen’s book about book proposals.” I was gonna START that today. Know what I finished and hit send on today at 3:30? Right, a totally winged, improvised, “well, that looks right” version of a book proposal I sorta hashed out in an email with the agent then went rogue on.

If, by some intergalactic long-shot, I should happen to land the agent, you know what probably would be the reason? That it was completely against type. I dunno. Whatever. I did the best *I* know how to do, and I’m half-drunk tonight out of contentment and satisfaction with myself, not stress and worry.

Fuck it, man. You do what you can, and if you fail, you plan “B” it. That’s life lived the fun way.

I’m 36. I’ve wanted to write a book since I was 15. The closest I came was in ’96, when I did a novel-writing workshop and really got somewhere with a basic idea, but never figured out the endgame of my plot.

My then-writing teacher, Maureen Medved, who’s had a movie made of her novel Tracey Fragments, said I wrote stories like Denis Johnson, the awesome author behind Jesus’s Son — the book/movie. Which is to say my fiction is really dark and harrowing, with a cruel psychological bent and scarcity of language and edgy vernacular. Or something.

I haven’t written fiction since, aside from a few stories. But I’ll go back there. Someplace real, real dark. Someday. Likely sooner than later, too. I think the drama needs to end in my life first before I turn to creating more of it at will.

I digress.

The last 10 days have been monumental for me.

Huge. Monster. Unparalleled.

I’ve spent so long just trying to survive in life that I forgot how to get ahead.

I don’t want to try and explain that right now, but know that when I hit that last period, my eyes were overcome with tears. It has been many, many very long, very hard years. Any successes or moments of awesomeness I have had of late, I’ve earned the hard way.

But, no, I don’t want to explain that right now. I’ve spent five years writing about it.

The last 10 days, though? That’s new.  Luck, fortune, validation, proving things to myself, conquering lifetime fears, being completely myself without apologies? Um, yeah. New.

Sending a book proposal today was the single most optimistic, hopeful act I have ever committed in my life. Ever.

It’s the biggest stamp of faith I’ve ever put on myself. Ever.

It is absolutely monstrous. Schwing.

The book?

100% about me. E-e-k.

It makes me laugh, really. My entire life has been governed by my insecurities. Others would probably think I’m cocky or arrogant, because I write so much about myself or tweet constantly. And that makes me laugh really hard.

It’s a strange paradox. Yeah, I think I’m amusing. But there’s only so far I think that gets me, and there’s only so good that I think am. It’s one thing to have an idea of what you might be capable of, but a whole ‘nother one to go there in reality.

I consider my wit to be kind of like a localized weather phenomenon. Think of it as that storm that blows over your neighbourhood. For a moment: Relevant. Then, poof, gone.

That’s not running myself down, that’s just acknowledging that it’s a big, big world filled with much to be fascinated by.

Still.

I took that big chance and tonight I get to enjoy the intrigue. Was it good? Did he like it? Do I get a lollipop? Stay tuned.

I jumped.

Tonight, that’s all that counts. I took the leap, the one I’ve been avoiding for 15 years.

About motherfucking time.

Photo from Skydive Virginia.

A Writer’s (Re)Reading Life

In a world with a million distractions and life that moves faster than ever, it’s easy to forget just how far we’ve come — and how many hard grades, sharp turns, trying twists were along the way.

The devil really is in the details.

This morning I’m facing the reality that I’ve gained five pounds in three weeks. I’m not surprised, I’m an emotional eater. I got laid off, then threw myself into the hardest project of my life. Five pounds? I’m surprised it wasn’t 10.

The hardest part of that hardest project is just opening the door — the door to my past and all those crazy fucking worlds I’ve travelled through.

I like my re-runs left on television, thanks.

But I’ve cracked that door this week and it’s been every bit as hard as I expected. Better than I expected, too. But it’s taking longer, which makes the “hard” part that much more insufferable. The last couple days have been spent poring over the months leading up to what was the hardest part of my life.

‘Cos, as much as I’ve had REALLY hard times in the past, that’s the only time when I truly was NOT myself and couldn’t find my strength and self inside. It was a chemical depression.

I’m rereading these passages and little cracks are appearing in my heart. My heart’s slowly breaking for myself because I can truly remember the pain and horror of going through that terrible, terrible depression. Fucking pharmaceuticals, man. Birth control pills sent me spiralling into the darkest place I’ve known. (I doubt I’ll ever take them again. The right choice for me, but not necessarily for you. Know your options and proceed carefully & judiciously.)

The depression is not there yet in full, but it’s starting to arrive. Bleakness, sorrow, a sense of loss about choices and the future.

I know why it cost me my readers. I understand and accept exactly why people walked away from the blog.

I probably would have, too.

When I write in a “normal” depression, I’m readable. I’m insightful, level-headed, never the victim. I’m determined, I try to be objective about the adversity.

But in a chemical depression? There was nothing to gain from me. I offered nothing.

I was a shapeless, meaningless cloud moving through a thick intimidating fog. Nothing in nothing, with nothing to define it.

That time period is just unfolding for me now in my archives. I’m plodding through, a heavy weight holding down my chest, gulping often.

You see, the thing is, it’s kind of worse than I remember.

Only now that I’m so far away from it can I  admit that I forgot how oppressive it was, how scared I was, how day after day after day after day the struggle to hang on to that last little bit of dignity and hope was so goddamned HARD.

In frequent postings, my desperation of reaching out is hitting me hard. I’m not that person anymore. But I was.

And while I’m re-reading all that, I’m “unpublishing” some of the posts. I’m making them private. They’re there. I’m not deleting them. I’m just being true to my original statement, that I write this blog for me, not you.

I overshared. I take it back.

At the beginning, I felt bad for changing a post’s status to “private”, but as I’ve progressed, it occurs to me: I’ve written about a lot of really important things. I’ve written some really good stuff. Not ALWAYS, probably not even that OFTEN. But I’ve got a lot of good content on this blog.

And I had so much BULLSHIT in between them. Needy, desperate, oversharing little blurbs that you don’t give a fuck about and I don’t give a fuck about, so why’s it there?

Probably because Twitter hadn’t been invented yet, really.

But this tweaking, slimming-down, and weeding-out of my blog is for the best. You’ll get the best of me, or just the most readable of the journalling (because, let’s face it, some of those journal posts are exactly the kind of thing we like to read in a blog — it just depends on the mood within).

Coming up? This weekend I’ll probably read through the darkest part of that chemical depression.

The part where suicide started seeming like maybe it might make more sense than this seemingly-endless waiting for something better. God help me, that’s going to be a hard time to wade through, too. But important to revisit, methinks.

Then it’s a year of reading through just holding on, just trying to stay alive.

Then I start reading about my journey to be 60 or so pounds lighter.

Then the rest of my blog is tagged and it’s the Post-Wordpress era, and I can probably avoid going there.

But it’s been a heavy fucking few days. It’s probably why I got so worked up in my posting from yesterday, because I went from the girl I was before EVERYTHING went horrible in my life to being that kind of woman who needs to respect herself and know her value isn’t in a man — and that’s the part I’ve been re-reading recently.

All the pain and the little moments and the stupidity of that year, it’s just a little too much to take in at once. I’ve been trying to slowly digest it, but it’s still a mighty big meal. I should be through the worst of it in the next few days.

I’m really, really happy I’m doing this, though.

We need to be reminded of how much we’ve really done. As time slips past us and the years blur together more and more, we forget just how hard the day-to-day once was, and how much an accomplishment just getting through that really, really was.

I’m patting myself on the back. Rightfully so.

But I’ll still be happy when this part of my project is dead and buried.*

*Well. Until I dig it up again. Part of this tagging/SEO/editing project is so I’m not as intimidated with researching my archives for my book. Now I’ll be able to just search a “depression” tag or “money” tag and get what I need, and just skim through relevant areas, instead of reading the whole blog post-to-post and trying to figure out what’s worth saving & for where in a herky-jerky by-the-post method. Hey, it’s a book. This shit’s slow going! But it’s going. And I like this method, because I’m thinking a lot of how the pieces all unfold one to another, and the in-the-head stuff’s helpful too. Also… some writing. Just not for you.