Tag Archives: writers

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.

Crisis of Confidence & Craft

My day daunts me. I must find nuggets of awesomeness that define me as a person and writer, deep within these stacks of posts. I’ve no idea where to begin. Other than the beginning, that is.

In the next 27 hours, I have to somehow distill all that I have to say, the whole of my dream, into one email.

These past weeks have been an endless parade of “terrifying” firsts.

My heartbeat needs a muzzle.

I’ll tell you more about this another day. Let’s just say I’m learning about feeling the fear and doing it anyway. I’m sure a day will soon roll by where I finally feel like the scales of suspense are tipping in my favour, but this is not that day.

[deep breath]

[sigh]

I swear, though, the biggest lesson I’ll probably ever learn in this life, is that of reconciling how others see me with how I see myself, and striking a balance in there. I’m manic when it comes to my self-image. I’m either all self-love or all insecurity, and seldom in between. Logically, I know the insecurity is stupid, so I can talk it down, and I also know the self-love’s maybe a little over the top or biased.

I wish that was an easier lesson to learn. I wish it was easier to process in writing, too.

I can’t flick off the self-judgey side when I’m reading my old work. I can’t see past some of the stilting dishonesty I’m passing off as restraint. I wish I could undo my hesitations and get fully past the apprehension.

That’s where great writing lies. Ripping off the scabs.

I’ve come close on very rare occasions. Once in a blue moon I can extract all the marrow and get to the centre of anything I’m writing, but it’s so rare that it’s almost a religious experience. I remember those moments with the same intensity as I do a fantastic night of sex. I can’t explain that feeling, but, oh, is it rare.

I blame blogging for that, in some regards.

The nature of writing for such a short-yet-long shelflife is an odd thing. To truly edit well and nail a piece that’s, oh, 2,000 words, a few weeks should pass by. Ideas should be expounded upon or hacked as necessary, emotions redefined, words sharpened, ideas stretched or molded.

Writing’s like wine in that its aging process exposes its weaknesses and challenges its structure. When it’s young, everything gets a pass — it’s quick, in-the-moment, and it’s “great for what it is.”

But…

It’s writing.

It’s not just a second that flashes by. Well, it is… until it isn’t. One day you remember you have archives, you toggle through them. You stop on an insolently average posting and a sigh rises up as your belly turns and you’re forced to acknowledge you phoned it in.

You phoned it in because of some perceived deadline or stress, because some audience you might never know, never make money off of, and never impact.

A little restraint, a little time, a little longer pulling at those threads, and you mighta tamed lightning. But, no. So often have I seen something with promise spat out in mediocrity all because of rushing.

In the fast-moving world of overscheduled lives, pressing demands, and the promise of temporary, we bloggers cut corners and offer up lesser work than we’re capable of.

Or I know I do.

My average posting is written, edited, and up within the hour. Even when it’s pushing 2,000 words.

Excellence? Quality? Pfft, not even. I’m better than the work I churn out here, but there’s a limit to what I think you & this deserve. Deep down inside, a part of me thinks wonders why should I put my “A” game out just for some thieving hack to steal and publish elsewhere on the web.

But that doesn’t mean I need to bring my “C” game.

I’ve reached a turning point in the last two to three weeks, but it’s been a long time coming.

I want the blog to be more content-focused. I don’t want to post because I think you need another meal. I don’t want to care about your needs at all.

I was once told that Robertson Davies, the legendary dead Canadian author, said a writer ought not write until the thought of not writing became unbearable. I’ve never been able to source the quote, but I don’t really care that I can’t, because I love it.

Every piece-of-shit writing I’ve ever done was forced. Any crap I’ve produced has been because I’ve felt obligated and not honest.

Unfortunately, deadlines loom in the world of writers, so waiting for whimsy and her muse to traipse through that door is unfeasible.

But, in blogging? Really? Come on.

There’s no real reason any blogger should have to post more than 3 times a week. These people pushing for 5 to 7 postings a week, if not more, need to stand back and read the crap they’re writing. Seriously.

They need to look at it on a long-view and see just how poorly it’ll hold up in the passage of time.

Because I did. I do. I know now. I’m sad I phoned it in so much in 2007 and 2008.

I did what I had to do, but to whom did I feel so obligated? To you? What have you ever done for me? Really? Most of you sit there silently, paging down, reading.

And that’s okay. I’m happy you do. I’m glad you find worth in this. I want you to! You’d rather I write well than often, wouldn’t you?

But I’m not really obligated to you, am I?

Aren’t I obligated to the craft that has made my life what it is, that makes me who I am, and gives me these eyes I see my world through? Doesn’t it deserve better than the cheap and fanciful flings I have with it? Doesn’t it demand that I really rip into the truth and heart of anything I write on?

Norman Mailer tells how Jean Malaquais once explained the reasoning behind his life of writing: “The only time I know the truth is when it reveals itself at the end of my pen.”

Writing’s kind of this dream I have of life — it’s this place I go where things start to make sense, where the world has meaning.

“In the end, writing is like a prison, an island from which you will never be released but which is a kind of paradise: the solitude, the thoughts, the incredible joy of putting into words the essence of what you, for the moment, understand and with your whole heart want to believe.”

James Salter

Do most blogs feel that way for you? Do they feel like a paradise prison the writer at once loathes and loves their confinement within? Is it a place where journeys are taken and experiences shared? Is where you go to feel like an illicit voyeur with an eye on their innermost thoughts?

I wish mine were. I want it to be.

So I will write less. I don’t sit on posts, so I doubt you’ll see me writing and giving it three weeks’ barrel-aging before I share, but I will be more judicious about when I hit “publish.” I’ll be more considered in choosing themes to address.

I would like to see blogging evolve and become more literary. I think publishing, words, media, everything is changing so quickly that the only safeguard we have left is the desire for excellence.

For now, simply being better and judicious is a fine start.

Hey, honey, mind photocopying this — and your ass — for me?

A recent sexual harassment lawsuit was tossed out of court in the USA. It doesn’t amount to much in the scheme of things, but I’m fucking elated about it.

During writing meetings on the show “Friends,” things would get raunchy. Sex-talk and profanity would lace the meetings, and one woman got her panties in a twist as a result of it.

I’m sick and tired of the politically correct bullshit out in the world. Whether it’s no longer being able to flirt at all at work or having to check your tongue before you speak, people just take things way too goddamned seriously.

I recently had a reader object to my use of the word “chick” when talking about women. I had to rewrite my response to her because I was so pissed off at first. What the fuck? “Broad” or “skirt” or “twat” or “bitch,” yeah, those are offensive, sure. When you get an email from me, wanna know what the sign-off signature reads? “Resident Cunt.”

Words are words. Intentions behind them are what matters, and people need to start looking at the big picture, not using a macro lens to examine every little happening.

I will never, ever clean my language up for you, people. Sorry, not going to happen. Don’t like it? Read someone else. Go read fucking Miss Manners, for all I care. My blog, my words, my way. Soon, I’ll be having to watch every period and every verb when editors harangue me for perfection and for publication-quality work, but for now? I’m a rebel with a cause, baby, and my cause is “whimsy” and “spontanaeity”. I think it, I say it.

This chick, getting a job on a sitcom about sex, one of the top sitcoms of its time (this was six years ago), was LUCKY. She was FORTUNATE to have an inside fly-on-the-wall perspective of some of the best comedy writing on television. She was warned about the workplace approach when she got the job, yet she decided to rock the boat based on her own narrow perceptions.

It doesn’t work like that, honey.

This is tantamount to something we have occurring a lot here in Vancouver, home of the million-dollar apartments. Yuppies move into areas with clubs and bars and then they piss, moan, and bitch about noise after they’ve moved in. What part of “entertainment district” did you fail to fucking comprehend BEFORE you moved in, HUH? Fucking whiners.

There are a lot of standards I possess that are not met by the world at large, whether it’s cleanliness, food, manners, what have you, but when I leave my front door, I know I need to compromise. That’s life. But these whiners and wimps looking for a perfect, safe, clean, proper life, they’re spoiling it for the rest of us.

It’s one thing to say that unwanted sexual advancements are not appropriate for work, but it’s another thing to let that pendulum of so-called decency swing to extremes. Life just isn’t as fun as it used to be. Personally, I always pushed the envelope in the office. I was known as “flippant.” When I write, I have a backspace key. You think I’m off the hook here? You don’t know shit. In person, the things I say, man, I’m amazed I’ve never been beaten senseless and left for dead some days. Having a cute smile and a twinkle in ze eye serves a girl well, it would seem.

But why should I have to watch what I say? Why can’t I just say it, and if it’s too much, apologize? When did we start cutting the leg off before the gangrene set in, huh? We’re a preventative society now. Playgrounds aren’t nearly as fun as they used to be. Merry-go-rounds are practically a thing of the past. Teeter-totters? Dear god, the potential for death and dismemberment! Get that thing out of here!

We are a nation of pussies, and I don’t mean in the get-it-wet-and-get-it-now “mreow!” sort of way. We’re wimps. We’re too timid. “Park your indecency at the door and homogenize with the rest of us” seems to be the credo of the day. If we were a colour, we’d be beige, man.

So, we’ve had a small victory here with this court case being trounced. For once it seems like filth and debauchery are allowed to be a part of the creative process. But what about the rest of the world? What about workplaces that are boring and stoic? What if a little juice and impropriety was good for productivity? Maybe workers wouldn’t be so compelled to surf for tits and ass when the boss ain’t looking. Who knows. All I know is, talking about sex and swearing and being inappropriate makes me smile. Smiling means I’m happy. Happiness means I get more shit done. Getting more shit done means the wheels of this economy work better.

There’s an argument for scrapping the harassment laws. Economic benefit. Really, look at it – all this shit came into play since the whole Justice Clarence Thomas “Is that a pube on my can of Coke?!” scandal way back when. The economy? Has been tanking ever since.
A connection? Elementary, Dr. Watson.

***

Addendum: Okay, I’m being a tad facetious, but really… don’t we all hate work a little more than we used to? Isn’t impropriety, oh, I don’t know… fun?

Thinking Too Much, Too Late

This isn’t really off topic… it’s masturbation of a sort. Literary masturbation.

Tonight, I can’t stop thinking of how I got from point “A” to this point of my life. I don’t know when this mood struck me. I made a comment in response to one of my readers earlier today, “It’s amazing, the footprints left when people walk out of our lives.”

It got me reflecting on some people I’ve known, experiences I’ve had – all that profound shit that shakes down from the tree of life.

I get a lot of emails from this site, people wanting to connect, forge something, interact, I don’t know. Sometimes it seems they want to know more about me, I get questions. They divulge deeply personal things to me, profound problems, fears, experiences. It can be daunting, but it’s very rewarding. I try to respond to everyone, to share a bit of who I am in trade for their confessions.

Another reason I’ve been thinking about myself is that I had this email sent to me about “Stop Internet Censorship,” a new-ish blog formed with a mission, that has a number of esteemed contributors. I was asked to join it, and have, because I think censorship’s bullshit. But it has had me thinking. How does this concern me?

Really, I’m not sure it does. Not yet. It probably will. But I’m pretty open about who I am, thus why I get really personal things sent to me, I guess. I leave myself vulnerable here, only because I feel invulnerable.

Everyone in my life knows I write this. They all know I do everything from sex advice and tips to ponderous deliberations. From my father and family to my employers to my friends, they all know. They accept that this is just who I am, and I’m not ever judged for it. I couldn’t much care if I’m outted tomorrow. It would impact my life little, I suspect. I’d flinch and grit my teeth because I’m a control freak and would rather decide on my terms when to let my identity be known, though.

A reader commented (on this posting) last week, and for all I know, hasn’t been back, that I was, essentially, a hypocrite. It pissed me off. It really, really pissed me the fuck off. So, let’s go with that for a moment. You know what you know about me because of my grace, generosity, and openness. It’s my gift to you, this intimacy with this stranger you may never know. I’m not being arrogant, I’m being honest. That is, in its essence, what blogging is. Allowed voyeurism, by we, the brave provocateurs.

Those of us who do this, who put ourselves out here in the raw – with the hurts, with the reality, with the insights – we do so for our own reasons. We have gracefully allowed you, the world, to be players in our mix. You’re the voyeurs we’re humouring by leaving our blinds up. You owe each of us the very simple respect of acknowledging we all have our stopping points. There are things that, for whatever stupid reasons we have, we do not wish to share. That is our right. When it comes to what it is we divulge, you have no say.

Those are the facts.

It doesn’t change much for me. I still plan to tell you a little more about who I am and how I got here. But just keep in mind that I have a line in my sand, and if you cross it, I’ll mince no words in telling you so. What I choose to tell is always going to be my choice. Fortunately for us all, I love to take requests. It’s just so spiffy and interactive, like a game. I do so enjoy games, after all.

Anyhow, most people treat me wonderfully around here, and I love it, and love those of you who it applies to. I do love to please a crowd. There’s just the occasional twit, and I wanted to say something this time.

But I do digress.

I think it’s safe to say we all know I’m a pretty introspective individual. My life has made me that way, through a variety of experiences. I’ve had a lot of strange encounters with death, a lot of struggle, a lot of experience, in all ways, shapes, and forms.

I guess it’s part of why I’ve been riding the masturbation topic this week. I’ve spent a lot of time alone in my life – I’d have to, to write as much as I do these days. But I love being alone. I can be the life of any party, and my personality, when I turn it on, can win over just about any person, any time. And though I love people, I’m protective of my space. That space is precisely what has seen me through all the struggles and hardships I’ve had. It’s also what makes me an engaging person to befriend and know.

Over the next week or two, I’ll be wanting to spend a little time taking a look at myself, and I hope to have an interesting post of how a girl like me gets formed. Not necessarily because it’s been a request, but because it’s my blog and I’ll do what I wanna. (Oh, I’m just playing. It’s actually something I do every spring… a stop-and-smell-the-self or something.)

I said earlier about the footprints left in our lives when people walk on out, and there’s been no bigger tread than that of the one left by my mother. Six-plus years have passed since her death and the loss still finds me from time to time, and this week has been no exception. Some sad topics came up when talking to my father the other night, and I’ll be expounding on that another time, but tonight it’s too much for me to think on.

I will tell one story, though, of one day spent with her that has profoundly affected the way in which I live my life today, something I hope the parents out there can learn from.

My mother wasn’t well educated, and I remember her getting her GED (high school equivalency) when I was in Grade 3, but she had the most common sense of anyone I’ve ever met. My father made me flush with pride the other night when he said that, then told me I got mine from hers, and took it further than she had managed. I’m proud I had her as a role model.

Something she forgot how to do as she got older, sick, and tired of the struggle in her life (the result of a bad menopause), was how to stop and smell the proverbial roses. But she taught us how to do it in our youth. I remember being in Grade 2 at a Catholic elementary school. We’d take the bus all the way from White Rock, out into the valley, and the whole thing would be a 45-minute ride, up and down the streets in the valley, before ending at that small school by the church.

I remember this morning in particular – a spellbinding onslaught of spring. One of those days after a warm rainy spell, when the April sky explodes in blue and light, and the world just comes alive. The birds sang, flowers bloomed big, the air was rich and aromatic. We couldn’t have been in class for more than a half-hour, when what should happen?

My mother arrives, tells the principal we have doctor’s appointments, picks us both up from class, and makes a beeline to Vancouver’s famous Stanley Park, which was carpeted with baby daisies and little purple flowers I’ve never learned the names of.

She took our shoes off, bought us ice cream before it was even lunch, and told us to play nearby after she hugged us both and told us it was a day made by God.

She then sat down on the grass with a sketch book, and began sketching as we ran wild all over the grass. I remember nothing of that day except the happiness and freedom I felt.

I learned then that life comes with a pause button. To this day, I never let things get too hectic without remembering I can say fuck it and stop it all. I did that again today, the second time in a week. I went for a long bike ride in the rain and just felt incredible.

That day, my mother just sat there, watching us. She looked so damned beautiful, but then, she always did.

Never underestimate the power of spontanaeity – not in life, not in love, not in sex. There’s nothing more spell-binding than a well-chosen change in plans. My life is richer today as the result of a seemingly innocuous little day at the park, spent at the whim of a woman who loved to hear birds chirping, and who’d been overwhelmed by a shitty streak of rain.

And never, ever underestimate the impact it might have on those along for the ride.

In the next couple of weeks, I’ll choose a couple more things that have profoundly shaped who I am, and maybe share with you the lessons I’ve come to learn as a result. Self-indulgent, but perhaps a couple people might find it interesting.

It’s fitting I end this post in the middle of the rousing chorus of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.”