same song, different tune

A few weeks back, I met this guy who–long story short–told me I couldn’t have an opinion on Lupe Fiasco because I hadn’t bought all his albums.

Yeah.

So, story (slightly) lengthened, the comment came about because I’d indicated that I thought Eminem was a good lyricist, but I disliked listening to him due to his misogyny. The guy–who we’ll call Guy–became extremely agitated and dismissive at this statement. Another Fella in the bar, a mutual acquaintance, supported my statement, and Guy began arguing with me/ him, and it was  kind of weird conversation that’s been bothering me, so I decided to write about it.

Specifically, I said that Eminem was, while a talented lyricist, not among the best rappers out there, and his misogyny bothered me so much I couldn’t even listen to his music.

Guy got really upset at this statement–like, really upset–and proceeded to spend about the next 30-45 minutes insisting that it was irrational and stupid to discount an artist because of a little thing like a stage persona or personal opinion (ie: misogyny). He repeatedly defended Eminem’s misogyny as:

  • An act
  • A result of the abuse he suffered at the hands of his mother/ ex-girlfriends
  • A stage persona
  • Not taken seriously by his fans
  • Not a problem because his (female) fans–the type of women who listen to rap music–don’t care about women’s rights

After his friend, Fella, chimed in about two sentences into the conversation in order to support my stance that it could be difficult for a woman to listen to sustained lyrics about violence towards women, and say that misogyny in rap/ hip-hop is problematic and needs to be addressed moving forward, Guy stopped talking to me completely (although he continued to respond to statements I made; he simply spoke past me to Fella instead) and, in fact, began to refer to me in the third person (as in, “I bet she doesn’t listen to Lil’ Kim!” and, “I bet she doesn’t have all his albums!”), even though I was sitting right there.

It was weird.

The ironic thing was, the only reason I brought up the Eminem thing was because one of my son’s (white) teachers had told the class that Eminem was the greatest rapper who ever was, and the only one worth listening to. My son repeated it to me, and I–not knowing much about rap, but knowing enough to know that there had to be black artists as good or better than Eminem in a genre pioneered and created by black artists–had told my son, “I seriously doubt that. I think that’s probably a thing white people who only listen to rap on popular radio stations say.”

So I’d actually only brought up the whole Eminem conversation–along with my distaste for him–as a segue to ask about their recommendations for excellent black artists, since Fella is a rap/ hip-hop artist and Guy apparently professionally reviews rap/ hip-hop. Unfortunately, once I said the thing about misogyny, I (ironically) couldn’t seem to find a place to turn his angry-train pro-misogyny rant back to the station.

Near the end of the conversation, I was getting so frustrated at him talking past me and over me, as well as interrupting me, that I finally asked with a kind of embarrassed half-laugh, “Hey, why are you looking at him? Why are you talking to him? I’m the one who asked you the question. I’m the one who made the statement you’re responding to.”

Guy looked at me, then, kind of startled, and I saw Fella cover a grin. Guy tried to defend himself–say he was responding to both of us, that we were both arguing against Eminem and he was responding to both our arguments. I said, “But you’re not–you’re not even listening to what I said.”

“Yes I was,” he argued back. “You don’t listen to Eminem because he’s a misogynist, but that’s not even giving him a chance, when he’s one of the most talented–“

“No,” I interrupted, frustrated. I don’t like to interrupt, it’s rude, but he’d been doing it to me nonstop and I was tired of it. “No, I specifically said he’s a great lyricist and very talented but I cannot handle his misogyny. So I did recognize his talent, but I cannot handle the misogyny that accompanies that talent.”

He paused, staring at me, and then said, “Okay, okay. That’s valid. I think it’s dumb, but that’s valid.”

Fella spoke up then, to decry misogyny in rap/ hip-hop, and Guy refocused all his attention on Fella. A bit later, Guy said the bit about the type of women who listen to rap/ hip-hop don’t care about all that women’s rights shit, and said women rappers are some of the worst for derogatory, sexist language, he pointed at me and said something like, “I bet she doesn’t buy any rap music,” and I said defensively, “I don’t buy whoever that girl you’re talking about is, but I buy Lupe Fiasco!”

He laughed derisively and said, “Lupe Fiasco believes in aliens!”

I just laughed at that. Like, wtf. Like that somehow discredits him? I mean, most grown-ass adults I know not only believe in an imaginary friend, but pay this imaginary friend money, talk to him, credit all their success to him, and even build him houses that stand empty 6 days a week. I’m supposed to accept that without a flicker of my eyelid, but a famous guy believing he had an alien visitation when he was 8 (I looked it up) is a bridge too far? Wtf, dude?

It’s even more hilarious to me that he dismisses one rapper based on a harmless belief, but elevates another rapper who espouses a demonstrably harmful belief. Like, that’s … what? What?

Anyway, then a friend of theirs came in and said the blacklivesmatter protestors were coming back and blockading the street, so our conversation ended. Guy finally looked at me and shook my hand and said something about a good conversation, and it being nice to talk to people who didn’t know much about the genre because at least it showed we were starting to listen and pay attention. Very condescending.

The whole encounter left a sour taste in my mouth. I couldn’t tell if Guy was treating me shitty because I was ignorant about music, white, or female. My money was on female, mostly, although I was leaning a little toward the ignorant about music angle–but he seemed like he was really passionate about music; the type who would’ve talk the ear off a mannequin if you got him going on some esoteric piece of musical trivia.

I mean, I can see how someone could say I couldn’t have an opinion on rap/ hip-hop because of my race/ culture/ upbringing–like, that would make more sense to me, right? I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that assumption in every case, because I’m sure there are plenty of white Western-European-descended middle-class people who have just buried themselves in the history and trivia of rap/ hip-hop and are quite versed in the genre, but for my specific case? Yeah, I’ll admit I am not generally a musically inclined person, and my cultural background and upbringing did not predispose me to listening to rap. Here in the PNW, alternative was more common on the radio stations.

Truth is, I’m not just musically illiterate with rap/ hip-hop, as it happens–although Guy did indicate numerous times his assumption that I was a fan of country, pop, and/ or punk/ alternative. Sad truth is, I’m pretty much equally ignorant of all genres. I am the audience the “Top 40” lists are geared to. I don’t care about music history or music trivia, or even fuckin’ what genres things are in. I listen to what I like, and that’s that.

I first listened to rap in middle school, which is also when I first recall having black classmates. There was a black boy named Travis in one of my classes. He sat in front of me, and he used to turn around and sing, “Then I step through the fog and I creep through the smog/ Cuz I’m Snoop Doggy (who?) Doggy (what?) Doggy [Dogg]“, then point at me. That was my cue to sing the next lyric, “Snoop doggy, doo-ooooo-ooog,” but instead I would turn red and sink into my seat, certain it was a set-up.

See, Travis was cool, and I was decidedly un-cool. Travis seemed nice–always joking with me in class, teasing me, helping me with my work. But Travis was cool. He played football and walked with the jocks in between classes. He didn’t eat with them at lunch, but that’s because he ate with the black kids, and the black kids were even cooler than the jocks. I’d spent Kindergarten through sixth being teased by the popular kids in elementary school, who’d become the jocks in middle school, where the teasing had just gotten worse. Travis had never teased me–none of the black kids had–but I was terrified of their niceness because they were so cool, and every time a cool kid was nice to me it turned into gut-wrenching humiliation.

In 8th grade, at the time Travis, Deon, and Shaun (be still my beating heart, art-class crush!) were making their overtures of friendship to me, the jocks/ popular crowd were hounding me through the halls, singing “A horse is a horse, of course of course,” between classes. Because I had buck teeth. Get it? And then, someone told them (the jocks) I was seeing a therapist, and that’s when the straightjacket/ psych-ward/ psychopath questions started.

Then 8th grade ended and the summer started. Away from the bullying, and with the clarity of distance, I realized that Travis, Deon, and Shaun hadn’t actually been friends with the jocks. They didn’t eat lunch with them or hang out with them voluntarily. They’d never yelled at me in the halls. I regretted being suspicious of their motivations. I regretted losing the chance to make some friends. Over the summer and during the first few months of 9th grade, I started listening to more rap. I kind of had this notion that we’d run into each other again, and Travis would do that thing where he would sing a line from a song, and this time I’d be able to sing the next line back. That’s the period when I got into the Geto Boys, Coolio, Shaggy, and the Notorious B.I.G.

When I started high school, I didn’t see Travis, Deon, and Shaun again. A new high school had been built, and my 8th grade class divided into new zones. Most of the black kids in my 8th grade class were zoned to the new high school, while I went to the old high school with my tormentors for the next four years. Freshmen year, I made friends with a bunch of stoners and started listening to Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Garbage.

Back to the present … for a few days after my conversation with Guy, I kinda played with the idea that–since he was a person of color (someone referred to him as hispanic, but I thought he was black)–and we were at a blacklivesmatter protest, he was fuckin’ with me because I was white; like forcing me to step outside the privileged comfort zone of my race and deal with being “othered”, which was an interesting and discomfiting thought. Except I realized that theory didn’t really fly because there were other white allies at the protest that night–and the bartender was white–who were male, and he conversed with them as though they were social and intellectual equals.

No, it really just seemed to come down to that as soon as I’d said the dreaded word, “misogyny,” I ceased to exist for Guy. It was especially weird to me because we met at a #blacklivesmatter protest. I’m always blown away when civil rights activists for one cause are completely dismissive of another. I know I shouldn’t be–I’ve met radfems who are just utterly transmisogynistic, and I’ve met plenty of lesbians and gays who are completely biphobic, but it still always catches me off-guard. Like, wait, what?

So … you’re all for equality, but not for everyone? Oh, you are for equality for everyone, you just … don’t believe this specific group is facing discrimination? You think they’re exaggerating? You think their stories are overblown, they’re over-reacting? You think it’s more of a perception problem, or more about the way they’re presenting themselves/ dressing/ interacting with the structures of power in our society than that they’re actually … experiencing the issues they’re dealing with and living through?

Sounds so familiar.

Funny how that works.

talking past each other

One thing I think about a lot is nuance, and compassion. The fine line between emotional self-care and rigid cruelty.

It’s difficult to parse, because on the one hand, I agree with feminist activists like Audre Lorde, who say, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

But on the other hand, all too often, the people with the capacity to deal the most harmful verbal and psychological blows are not strangers, but those within our social circle. Family, relatives, friends, co-workers. It’s relationships that either must be preserved, due to circumstances outside our control (work, school, marriage), or we feel such strong social pressure to preserve that the guilt of severing them almost outweighs the emotional/ psychological benefits of doing so.

When I was 13 and first began seeing a therapist for depression, my classmates were pretty cruel about it. I was already a target, and this info was just more material for the flames. It caused a lot of heartache and tears for me. I had a hard time understanding why–why kids who were friendly one day would change their attitude once they learned about mental illness. Why people would chant about straight jackets at me. Why people abruptly ended friendships when they learned about the therapists and mental health treatment.

My mom had put me in therapy because of her own history with mental illness–my grandma had bipolar, and was untreated (due to the era) for much of mom’s childhood. Treatment changed things for the better. Mom was diagnosed with bipolar in her 40s, after several pregnancies/ childbirths and bouts with PPD. As a result, she was super-attenuated to any hint of depression–overly so, one might say–and very much on guard to get out ahead of mental illness and make sure it was treated.

I often read about people whose parents ignored/ denied their struggle with mental illnesses such as depression and ADHD, and even continue to do so, and the negative impact it had on their overall quality of life. This is especially sad to me, because a growing body of research shows that in some cases, diagnosing a mental illness earlier–like in childhood–and treating it through an appropriate medication and therapy routine actually alters brain development for the better.

For example, adult ADHD is a problem. Left untreated, mental illness can also harm brain development; neurally entrenching it. Once an adult, and with set neural pathways, it’s pretty much, whoops ADHD for life–medications and/ or therapy tools from now on. But if a child is treated with medications/ therapy tools early on, while the brain is still developing neural pathways, the research is showing it actually changes the way the brain develops, and they’re growing up to have pretty normal brains, with much fewer brain structure abnormalities than untreated kids–they’re probably not going to need ADHD medications and therapy tools for life. Basically–treat ’em while their young, and potentially prevent mental illness in adulthood. Or ignore/ deny mental illness in childhood, and increase the chances of it in adulthood.

Luckily, we never had the issue of mental illness denial and erasure in my household–although mom was very aware of mental health stigma in the wider world, and the impact it had on people’s perception of us. She would stroke her fingers lovingly through my hair and say, “Don’t tell them. Don’t ever tell them about mental illness. They don’t understand. They’ll never understand.”

That was her advice, as long as I can remember. To hide any hint of mental illness, and keep it secret; hidden shameful and silent. To never speak of it.

I wasn’t great at that. Instead, I used it as a litmus test: Is this person worth being friends with? Do they run when they learn about my mom’s bipolar? Do they treat me shitty after they find out I see a therapist? Do they say things like, “Mental illness isn’t real,” or, “You can cure it by eating better/ exercising more/ being more positive.”?

It turns out, stigma against mental illness is pretty widespread. If you want to have a wide social group, you need to have a pretty broad tolerance for bias against mental illnesses.

Mom died in 2003. At her funeral, I learned from several ward members that, although they knew of her illness, she had actually never confided in them about it. It was an open secret, as they say. She died believing no-one knew of her struggle–and worse, that no-one outside her family would support her or accept her in it.

That breaks my heart.

~*~

When I started taking history and sociology courses in college, I couldn’t help but think of my lived experiences as a woman with mental illness when I listened/ read about/ watched histories of feminists, people of color, and labor activism in the US and abroad.

I thought about both how it felt to be othered for things I had no control over–my gender, my genetics–and yet, despite how unkind, thoughtless, and sometimes vicious people had been, how lucky I have been.

As a woman, I have:

  • Been treated as less intelligent, less valuable because I was female– had men interrupt me and talk over me, even “correct” me by repeating and rephrasing information I’d literally just said.
  • Been overcharged for consumer goods due to being female.
  • Been cat-called, had men expose themselves to me (not as in consensual sex; as in, I was 17 and an adult stranger showed me his flaccid genitals and tried to get me to touch it), and had a (now ex) boyfriend kick a car window in on my face because I was going to go watch a movie with a friend, and then almost all the guys (except one) who witnessed the altercation blamed me for “instigating it” by trying to leave when said boyfriend got upset with me.
  • I’ve struggled to receive the medical services I want–it took me three visits and the potential threat of medical malpractice (although I didn’t realize it at the time) to get my tubal ligation. Two years later, when I began to show signs of endometriosis, it took another three years to get diagnosed and three more years before I could get approved for surgery–and the entire time, they treated me with this suspicious disdain, like I was trying to get pain medications instead of diagnosis and medical treatment! The really crazy thing is, I don’t even like being high, or buzzed! My husband has to force me to take pain meds after surgery, because I loathe that disassociating sense of a loss of control; that floating, detached carelessness from self. It’s unnerving. I hate it.

As someone with a personal and family history of mental illness, I have:

  • Lost friends because of the stigma of mental illness
  • Have been overcharged for medical services (until mental health parity was passed) because of mental illness.
  • Been told mental illness is faked by the mentally ill for medications
  • Been told mental illness is: a construct of Big Pharma; laziness; self-indulgence; poor diet; lack of exercise; lack of sunshine; a desire for attention; a punishment from god; or possession by demons.
  • Been told my mother was a bad mom who abandoned me
  • Been threatened with loss of my child due to my diagnosis during preliminary custody negotiations (thanks to my social location and education, I knew this threat was unsubstantiated, but a lot of people don’t)
  • Been told my diagnosis and mental health struggles make me an unfit mother and  wife
  • Been told my atheism is a product of mental illness–in fact, that many of my (valid) emotions are invalid, and products of mental illness, rather than actual beliefs, opinions, or relationships concerns to be taken seriously.

Statistically, I’ve probably lost employment opportunities due to either one or both of these issues–there’s no way of knowing for sure, but it would be irrational to pretend that factors such as gender, motherhood, and a history of depression didn’t play a role with potential employers.

I’m well aware of the HR advice not to disclose your personal life to potential employers, and I do try to use pseudonyms online–but sometimes information just slips out, despite the best intentions. Too comfortable in an interview, or a the stray word of a well-intended reference mentioning conquering past difficulties, or the misplaced (illegal) inferences of a former employer one doesn’t have the resources to address, or a background check which brings up irrelevant, decade-old information a potential employer has questions about. Things happen.

As both a woman and someone with a family and personal history of mental illness, my lived experiences have often been taken from me by those who believe they know my life better than I do, reinterpreted and re-written, re-packaged and presented anew–my experiences dismissed, marginalized; my voice silenced.

Yet, I am lucky.

~*~

I am lucky because I am white. Because I am a cisgender, heterosexual woman in a culture and social location which prizes those qualities. Because my disability–such as it is–can be invisible. If I do not check any ADA boxes, if I seal my lips and take my meds and go to therapy on a regular basis, I can pass as “normal,” and no-one will ever know that mental illness is a Thing in my life, in my family, that has shaped who I am and how I see the world.

I am lucky because women like me aren’t stopped by police officers to die alone in prison for no damn reason.

I am lucky because of the social/ economic class I was born into.

Anecdote: Story of Rebellion

When I was a sophomore, my best friend/ crush got arrested and sent to Juvie. When I heard, I was filled with a formless, voiceless rage. My parents disapproved of him, so I couldn’t talk to anyone about it. For a few months, we wrote back and forth, and the anger simmered in me, helpless and inexpressible. I wore dark colors, dyed my hair, and moped around a lot. Then I learned he was being transferred to another state, all the way across the country, and I would probably never see him again.

At the time I was in a sewing class. Not out of choice–I wanted to take auto shop, but my dad said no, and suggested sewing. My little sister got to take auto shop when it was her turn to pick electives. Probably because of this incident.

I got angry at my sewing teacher and kicked her in the shin. Then I didn’t wait for the consequences–I just left school. Walked home and grabbed the keys to the car–I didn’t have a license yet, just a driver’s permit–and spent the afternoon driving furiously around the county. Obviously, it was illegal without an adult, and I was speeding. When I came home, my dad yelled at me for my reckless, idiotic behavior–the violence toward my teacher, for getting temporarily expelled from school, for driving the car without a permit. We fought, mom got between us, I lifted my hand to slap, and dad caught my wrist. I called 911. Cops came, arrested me for instigating the assault. Said they had to, because it was a domestic violence call, and by law they’re required to arrest someone. I went to Juvie for a night.

A night.

I even got to see my friend.

The next morning, my dad showed up to the juvenile court hearing and they worked out my release. I don’t know the exact details. A fine was probably paid. I did community service for a few months–it was office work, at the city hall and then in the front office of the high school. I apologized to the teacher, twice–once, verbally, because I was required to, and then again a few months later in a letter, because I realized how shitty and awful I’d been and actually felt bad. She was a good person and didn’t deserve to be treated like that.

Mind you, I think (personally) this punishment was fine. Appropriate. It’s the type of punishment that should generally be applied to minors–minimal incarceration, maximum community service. Juveniles are stupid, and do stupid shit all the time. Brains aren’t fully developed, they’re acting on a toxic mix of hormones and impulsivity, and it’s all just a mess up in there. But I got that punishment because I was a middle-class white kid with a lawyer dad.

The incident–in the scheme of my life–was little more than a lesson in right and wrong. In mistakes and values. It didn’t alter the course of my life for the worse, but it probably corrected it somewhat for the better.

Anecdote in Contrast

That friend in question? He was a white low-income stoner kid, child of divorced parents. His life of crime began at 13, when he was caught selling weed. He told me it began earlier, at age 9, when he began smoking weed in Boy Scouts.

He told me he began selling it the next year, and was caught at 13, when he was tried, sentenced, and sent to juvie, where he served his time and was released. While on parole, he moved from state A to state B to live with his dad, where he attended my high school and we met and became friends (much to my parents dismay).

Moving was a crime, as it happens.

Over holiday break, he was riding shotgun in a car when the driver sped through a stop sign and was pulled over. The officer ran everyone’s name, and discovered an outstanding warrant for a parole violation on my friend, who had–at the tender age of 14–skipped parole to change custodial parents.

He was about 15 or 16 at the time. He ended up staying in juvie until he was 18–they transferred him back to state A. After he was released, he had trouble finding work–how could he? No HS diploma, no GED, no diploma, no work history. He fell in with his old crowd, and ended up participating in an opportunistic robbery that turned violent. Like an idiot, he tried to run, was caught and convicted, and ended up in prison for another 10 years. By the time he was released in his 30s, he’d spent more of his life behind bars than out of them. A few years after his last release, he broke parole to attend his dad’s funeral. Shortly after that, he was shot in a no-knock police raid allegedly regarding parole violations.

~*~

The thing is, I was shocked when I heard about the robbery, because he was always so gentle when I knew him as a teen. Real hippie stoner, stop-and-smell-the-roses type. It broke my heart, to think how a nonviolent drug crime had landed this gentle, sweet kid inside a broken system and just twisted and shattered him, setting him toward violence. Over the years, we wrote thousands of letters to each other, staying in contact, and in his writings to me he always remained this voice of compassion and open-hearted wisdom. He consistently advocated love, forgiveness, and acceptance. In his letters, he was humble and full of self-introspection.

We continued our friendship as pen-pals through the 15-odd years of his incarceration(s) from juvie and prison. He was there in spirit as I completed high school, started college, and dropped out. We were writing when I met and fell in love with Cowboy, the doomed missionary boyfriend who would later die in a hunting accident at his brother’s hand, and still writing when Cowboy and I broke up. We were writing when I met and fell in love with Twit, the abusive boyfriend who kicked a car window in on my face. Twit didn’t approve of contact with other guys, so the writing fell off during the 18 months I was with him, but I picked it up after the relationship ended–though more sporadically, as I’d fallen from the habit.

Still, we stayed in contact through all the major life changes of my twenties: when I met John, when he proposed, when we married, when our son was born, when my best girlfriend and mom died by suicide in the same year, when I left the LDS church, when I returned to college at age 27 as a young wife and mother. He knew when I got my MSF endorsement and my first motorcycle. He always said he would come visit when he was released. I felt weird about it, but it was a someday problem.

Then he was released. Facebook was a thing by then. He got an account and started posting, and the things he posted … the guy on FB was unrecognizable to me; completely different from the guy I’d exchanged letters with for over a decade. In his letters, he’d confided his confusion and heartache regarding an ongoing, passionate same-sex relationship, and his uncertainty about it–was it real? Or just a product of the circumstances? Was he gay? Bisexual? A victim of rape? Stockholm syndrome? He confessed he didn’t know, didn’t care–he couldn’t stop thinking about his partner, the sweet curve of his latin lover’s lip, the stubble on his jaw.

But on FB, he was homophobic, viciously so. and racist as well. He frequently posted memes identifying himself as a born-again Christian, and often used disgusting, nauseating racial slurs to describe President Obama. Casual misogyny and mental health stigmatization were frequent meme topics as well, but his favorites were the ones themed “Christian nation” with racist, anti-muslim, homophobic overtones.

Gone was the agnostic live-and-let-live, sweetheart stoner I’d known as a teenager, the one who’d been unconcerned with how others chose to live their lives and who advocated acceptance and kindness.

We fought about it. Stopped talking. A few months later, he was shot and killed by police in a no-knock raid for a parole violation.

~*~

I believe it is important to speak out. To break silences, end stigma, shatter discrimination.

When voices join together to name bigotry as unwanted, to cast it out, it is an important and necessary work that can take years–generations even–but I believe in it. At the same time … when such a work takes a lifetime, it can be a draining and alienating work. Sometimes I struggle with the morality of my “line in the sand,” so to speak.

Am I akin to Javert? He was so focused on the fact that Jean Valjean had committed another crime at the beginning of his parole that he couldn’t see the mitigating factors–that the priest allowed the theft of candlesticks, that Jean Valjean had to change his identity to start a new life, that he became a respected and useful member of the community. None of that mattered to Javert. As far as he was concerned, crime=punishment. Sometimes I wonder, am I so focused on the righteousness of my path, I cannot see the nuance in the shadows?

My friend died without reconciliation, because I couldn’t handle his opposing views anymore. Was that self-care on my part, or abandonment?

In high school, he was one of the few people who reached out and offered friendship instead of bullying. He was funny and compassionate. He and his brother believed in me–they used to tell me I was smart, and beautiful, and could do anything I wanted. When they introduced me to people, they had this way of doing it, where they would take my hand and spin me a little in front of them like they were showing me off, and then announce my name with shining eyes and a wide grin, as though they were announcing the coolest person in the entire world.

When we disagreed on FB, I didn’t want to call him out publicly. I feel like it doesn’t help, and I’ve read a fair amount that supports this sense. Besides, his friends and family mostly seem to agree with his views, and I–of all people–knew his educational background hadn’t exactly been comprehensive or progressive. I didn’t want to just write him off. He was a product of his environment.

Sure, he was an adult now–one could argue his adult ignorance was a choice–but he was an adult grown and cultivated in prison, with no real educational system, no proper libraries, and substandard learning programs.

When we were kids, I’d had the support he lacked from parents and teachers, and I didn’t value it back then. Back then, what my peers said had more weight, and he was the first of my peers to tell me I was cool and funny and smart and beautiful. That I was worth being friends with. I remember, as a freshman I used to sneak into my older brother’s room and steal his dirty clothes–he was 6’3, and I’d “borrow” his baggy carpenter jeans and oversized t-shirts to hide my underdeveloped body; ashamed of my scrawny frame. I dressed like a scarecrow in a gunny sack.

This friend and his brother saw a photo of me in my Sunday clothes and convinced me to wear something nice to school–with their help, I developed body confidence, and the realization you didn’t need giant boobs, luxurious locks, or curvaceous hips to be good looking and fashionable. They never made fun of me for expressing myself, in fashion or opinion. They always treated anything I said or did as though it was valid–as though I had, of course, valid reason for making that decision, even if they didn’t know the reasons. It was something I really needed at a point in my life when I often felt invalidated and questioned by everyone around me.

So when, as adults, he began posting that bigoted shit, I would message him privately to ask why he was saying that kind of stuff, especially given his own personal experiences. I thought we could talk it out; work through it.

It happened slowly, mind you–it wasn’t like, overnight, bam, bigot. It was like … a few memes here, a few updates there. Filtering up through my newsfeed, all jarring and upsetting.

The first time I pm’d him, it was about mental illness or misogyny, I think. One of those, because we ended up discussing my mom’s suicide. He walked back on whatever he’d posted–claimed he was just saying it to “stir shit up,” and that he didn’t really mean it, etc. etc., he was just mad at his girlfriend/ baby mama, etc. etc. I was kind of baffled and upset, and said something about how even if he was upset, he needed to think about how that kind of language looked and sounded to other people on his feed–people who had, maybe, lost loved ones to suicide. To mental illness. He apologized, and we made up.

The next time I pm’d him, it was about a homophobic meme. Basically, wtf. Again, he walked back on it–he was just stirring shit up. Just having fun. Just messing with people. He didn’t mean it. He wasn’t serious. He didn’t mean to offend me. He was sorry I was offended.

I silenced his feed.

A few months later, he began commenting on my feed–pro Jesus stuff about how He is the answer when I posted atheist news articles, anti-muslim stuff when I posted political articles mentioning President Obama. I’d politely correct inaccuracies, with sources (ie, President Obama’s not a Muslim, here’s the source), and he’d get all pissy and shirty.

I pm’d him again. We had a pretty heated argument–it started about atheism, but sprawled all over. Went into mental illness and racism and misogyny and homophobia. Basically, he attributed my pro-labor, feminist, pro-mental health awareness, LGBT-ally, anti-racism stance to being mentally ill because I was atheist and had rejected Jesus.

Also–ironically–he was anti-union and supported Wall Street bankers/ CEO’s getting massive, inequitable payouts because they were, and I quote, “better educated than the rest of us,” and knew more than the rest of us since they’d gone to college, all of which meant they’d earned better wages. When I pointed out that–according to his logic–I was better qualified than him to speak on all of these subjects and he should listen to me, as I’d studied the social and constitutional legal history of the labor, civil rights, feminist, and immigration movements while pursuing my Associates and Bachelors degrees, he told me that was “different.”

In the end, I told him I couldn’t handle it anymore–that it was bad enough when he was spewing hate and ignorance across his own feed, but now he’d started vomiting across my feed for no damn reason, and I couldn’t deal with it. So I blocked him.

The thing was, I didn’t think that was really the end end. Not of an almost 20 year friendship. I guess I thought he’d come to his senses? If not in a few weeks or months, then maybe years? I just sort of figured, someday we’d reconcile … that someday, he’d realize what a hateful bigot he was being, come to his sense, and we’d be okay.

And then, the next thing I knew, he was dead.

~*~

So, am I Javert? Should I have been more open-minded? More patient? Willing to engage? Less principled in my stance?

His death is heartbreaking and awful. Sometimes I take out his letters and re-read them. The thing is, I know when I’m mourning him, I’m not actually mourning the man who died; the person I interacted with at the end. I don’t really know that guy.

I’m mourning the boy he was. The friendship we had. The man he might have been, if we lived in a better world, a more forgiving culture, a less unequal society. I mourn the man he never was–the man he never had a chance to be.

~*~

But realistically, I wonder, what were my choices? When someone in your social group is a bigot, what are your options? There don’t seem to be many.

  • Call them out publicly
  • PM them
  • Ignore them

Calling them out publicly doesn’t seem to work–even with sources, people are inclined to believe what they want to believe, regardless of the facts. This probably explains the persistence of religion.

PMing them is probably a little better–a private discussion seems a little more likely to facilitate compromise and conversation than a public shaming. I know I certainly respond better when a criticism or concern is delivered considerately and honestly through face-to-face or private communication, and there’s a lot of potential there if both parties can keep their cool and remain respectful and patient despite their differing worldviews.

That said, I think private messages are also minefields. I’ve certainly been in a few situations where I’ve initiated–or responded–to a concern brought up privately, and the discussion seems to be proceeding well and then everything goes south quite unexpectedly, either through a complete cessation of communication, or when the conciliatory tone of written communications abruptly vanishes into all-caps insults as everyone remotely associated with the disagreement is suddenly and embarrassingly looped in through CC.

Which pretty much leaves ignoring, because if you can’t talk calmly about the issue, then it can never be resolved, so you pretty much have to ignore it. Ignoring can go two ways: Ignore the person, or ignore the issue.

Most people choose ignore the issue, which makes sense if you have to work or attend school with them. You can’t choose your coworkers or classmates. A lot of people feel that way about family, too, although I personally disagree, and I don’t think I’m alone anymore on that–more and more, I think, as we’ve adjusted culturally, to the idea of the “love match”–people seem to be shifting in the idea that you can’t choose your family, and accepting that families are, in fact, malleable–that you can choose your family.

The question behind ignoring someone is, I guess, the morality of it? Like, is it moral–if you know someone is a bigot, saying and doing bigoted things, and you’re not required by extraneous circumstances (like work or school) to maintain the relationship–to simply silence their feed, ignore the issue, and pretend it doesn’t exist because it doesn’t effect you specifically? I mean, that doesn’t feel moral. That feels like a cop-out.

The following situations are hypotheticals, exactly because of how it feels/ looks to me, but this is how I view it:

Every year, something awful happens that’s targeted at women, LGBT, people of color, or the mentally ill. These are frequent and tragic news stories. And if I have a known misogynist/ homophobe/ racist/ anti-mental-illness person on my social media feed, at some point I will be stuck with the awareness that X amount of people were murdered because of Y trait, and this bigot in my feed–regardless of whether they’re being quiet, praying for the victims, or spewing victim-blamey bullshit–agrees, fundamentally, with the killer.

So at that point, I can either be quiet and say nothing to “keep the peace,” or I can call them out for promoting and perpetuating bigotry that leads to mass murder. And I feel like if I say nothing–if I’m silent–then as far as the bigot knows, they have my implicit support. So I feel like at the very least, I have to register my objections and unfriend them–I have to do that much. I can’t just tolerate it.

But that’s social media, you say. Social media isn’t real life. True. It’s not. I personally find it difficult to deal with bigots in real life, too–they make me jumpy. I’ve been around a few bigots in the real world, and they say super inappropriate, strange, and disgusting things in public places, like they think that behavior is accepted or acceptable. Like they think they’ll get a pass, or not be called out on it. So when I find out someone holds bigoted views, I pretty much stop voluntarily socializing with them– I don’t want to be in that situation of going somewhere with someone and having them launch into a racist, homophobic, classist rant–assuming that I agree with them, because I’m white and cis and educated. It’s happened. It’s awful.

So yeah, part of me is a little scared about the long-term repercussions of pushing the pause button on the conversation, hoping that someday we can resume it, only to learn it’s been abruptly and permanently terminated. But the other part of me feels like … I dunno. That it’s not healthy to expose oneself to hate. That it’s not healthy to condone it.

I believe change is possible. I know it is, because I used to be a conservative mormon with some very ignorant ideas on feminism, workers rights, and racial equality, but thanks to curiosity, patient teachers, and lots of reading … well, I changed. So obviously I believe change is possible, and I have to accept such change is possible in others.

But. I also recognize such change comes from within, and cannot be forced. If someone busts out all bigoted-ass, I can respond with sources on why their reasoning is ahistorical, anti-science, illogical, and factually unsound … but all I can do is provide the sources. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink. After that, their ignorance and hatred is a choice: You can’t force change.

Now, don’t get me wrong–I don’t mind it when people disagree with me. I sometimes get this impression, with all these complaints of “p.c.” culture (which is, what, oh, I don’t like having to be polite to people, boo-hoo) that people think if there’s any disagreement whatsoever with a sensitive feminist progressive liberal-type, that she’ll just willy-nilly cut all contact. But, I mean, I disagree with my friends on plenty of things. For example, I’ve got friends who:

  • Think eating meat is gross/ bad/ morally wrong
  • Believe in conspiracy theories (such as JFK assassination CIA plot)
  • Believe in the power of crystal healing, chakras, fortune telling, etc.
  • Believe it is possible to “de-toxify” your liver
  • Think GMOs are evil and will kill us all
  • Think Catan is a dumb game and Monopoly is cool
  • Believe in an imaginary invisible friend who grants them wishes
  • Think having more than one kid is awesome
  • Think having pets is not awesome

Obviously, I disagree with all these things, but whatever. Live and let live. It’s not like they’re racist homophobic misogynists, right? That’s my line in the sand. I can disagree with a person, even about topics like the relative value of religious institutions in society and whether or not there is a god.

I can disagree with a person regarding political questions such as their stance on taxes or their attitudes toward fair wages, and while I may come away with a lower opinion of their intelligence (depending on the arguments they make), I will probably not actually think less of them ethically and morally, because I understand that these are complex topics not generally discussed or well taught in our society.

But when someone is a bigot, I just can’t handle that. Like, at all. I see them differently. It doesn’t even matter that I’m not gay or trans* or a person of color, or if I never speak up about my own mental health issues, they’ll never know. All that matters, upon hearing any transphobic, racist, sexist, mental health, or gay slur come out of someone’s mouth is knowing that individual is someone who views a good portion of the people on this planet as lesser. Less than. For nothing more than being born a little differently than them.

It changes them forever in my eyes, and for me, at least, changes the relationship as well. I can no longer relate to them in the same way, and I really do think it’s an act of mental self-preservation to go low or not contact with anyone who discriminates based on mental illness, race, gender, and sexuality. It’s too emotionally and psychologically draining to pretend it doesn’t matter, to try to ignore.

It’s easy not to give a shit about random, pointless, harmless beliefs. It’s the ones that matter–the ones about human rights violations, the ones that people take with them when they choose which charities to donate to (or not to donate to), which political organizations to fund, which politicians to support. Those are the ones that are so fundamental, so core to the well-being of a people and a nation, that when I learn someone is the type of person who can justify limiting the human rights of another individual based on an arbitrary set of socially-defined standards like race, gender, sexuality, or nationality … yeah. I just can’t. I can’t deal with that shit.

I loved your funny face

Funny

Did you hear that?

Funny

Yeah, the guy said

– Funny Girl, Barbara Streisand

~*~

story of a girl

Mom was born in 1943, the youngest of three girls. Her sisters were much older than her, already in their teens.

Apparently, most of her childhood–before age 13–was spent living at her grandmother’s, because her parents were ill and had (at the time) an unhappy marriage. It would have been the post-WWII years to early 1950s, and I’m told my grandpa was an alcoholic and my grandma was bipolar (in an era when neither diagnosis or treatment were up to par).

Once she told me she’d stopped my grandma in a suicide attempt. Another time, she remembers my grandma locking the door against grandpa raging drunkenly outside in the snow of an Idaho winter.

In grade school, mom once overheard a teacher call her a homely child, and thought of herself as ugly forever after.

At 13, my grandpa reactivated in the LDS church and gave up drinking and smoking. Mom says that’s when everything in her life improved, which is why I think she was always so dedicated to the church.

~*~

“Honey, you’re a funny girl,”

That’s me

I just keep them in stitches

Doubled in half,

Funny Girl, Barbara Streisand

~*~

who cried a river and drowned the whole world

She attended BYU and got a degree in Political Science. She had a brief fling with some boy and had to take sabbatical and live with one of her sisters after the breakup. The boy who remains nameless to me– I only know about him because I was in an abusive and toxic relationship from 19-20, and after it ended, mom confided in me about her BYU heartbreak. She said the heartache ends, and this too will pass, and even intelligent women end up in stupid relationships.

I wished she’d told me earlier, at the beginning of my own bad relationship. Or before it. I’d thought no-one in my family understood, and it turned out mom understood best of all.

She served an LDS mission in Germany, which awakened a lifelong curiosity about the Holocaust. Specifically, how the German people could have turned a blind eye to the atrocities happening in their midst. It was a question of deep importance to her. She knew they were good people, having lived among them and taught them, but she was disturbed by how many had confided, over the course of her mission, their sense of awareness that something was wrong. They’d known something was wrong and chosen to do nothing, to turn a blind eye, to deny the atrocities in their midst and not know, because inaction and complicity was easier and less dangerous than speaking out.

After returning home, she moved to Washington D.C, where she worked for a Senator and volunteered on the Nixon campaign. Mom was political and educated–a working woman in Washington DC in the 1960s, at one of our cultural apexes of the feminists and civil rights movements.

That was where she met my dad, who was going to law school.

~*~

And though I may be all wrong for a guy

I’m good enough for a laugh

I guess it’s not funny

Life is far from sunny

Funny Girl, Barbara Streisand

~*~

she always looks so sad in photographs

They started dating when Dad asked her out while they were filling out invitations for some sort of formal dance. Mom smiled and accepted, very calmly and graciously, and put down the invitation to walk out in the hall and whoop for joy. She smoothed her hair and skirt and returned to the room where they were working on the invitations, unaware dad heard the entire thing.

She kept the dress she wore to that dance, their first date. It was a blue velvet empire waist with cap sleeves that she sewed herself, back in the 60s when women could still sew their own formal gowns to wear to things and it wasn’t guache. I used to wear it as a teenager sometimes, to church or when I was in the mood, or as part of a princess Halloween costume. I don’t know what happened to it after she died. I think my older sister probably has it. Maybe dad’s new wife donated it to Deseret Industries when she was cleaning out the house before they moved, unaware of the meaning behind it.

They married after a few months of dating, in an Autumn wedding, and moved to the West coast, where Dad moved from jobs between various small firms. They both indicate this was a stressful time, with egotistical small-business lawyers squabbling over how to run their small businesses into the ground and toxic work environments. Dad was concerned about how to support his growing family, as they had two children over five years.

He’s often cautioned me not to work for small-business owners, especially lawyers, telling me the easiest way to cut costs is when it comes to employees–benefits, pay, hours; and that bad business owners often take their stress out on their employees through negative management techniques and bullying/ blaming of their underlings. I wish I’d listened to the lessons he’d learned early and harsh.

Eventually he acquired a position as civilian lawyer with the military, and the family moved to Germany, where my older brother joined the the family. Two years later, I was born–fourth child. I understand there were miscarriages between my older sister and I.

As a teenager, I often joked about the sequence of our births to explain why each child was our parents’ favorite: My eldest brother is beloved, I said, because he was firstborn and first boy. My eldest sister, because she was the first girl. My other brother, because he was the son brought as a gift from god when they believed they were infertile and would never have another child. Me, because I am the miracle baby–the unexpected pregnancy they didn’t think could happen. My kid sister because she is the youngest, and everyone loves the baby of the family. Mom liked this accounting of events. (Or, when I was feeling salty, I ended the recitation on a subversion: And my little sister–well, she was an accident. Mom never laughed at this version).

~*~

When the laugh is over

And the joke’s on you,

A girl out a have a sense of humor

That’s the one thing you really need for sure

Funny Girl, Barbara Streisand

~*~

but i absolutely love her when she smiles

Six months after I was born–after five years total in Germany–my family moved back to the US. They settled in the PNW, where my kid sister was born, and mom slid into post-partum depression.

Apparently, she had it after each pregnancy, a little worse each time. A little darker. A little longer, a little harder to shake. Apparently, she’d been advised not to get pregnant again, especially with her family history–a mom and a sister with bipolar.

She thought she escaped bipolar. Usually, people are diagnosed in their 20s. Mom was in her 40s when she was diagnosed. It was that final bout of PPD that was the trigger. After months of nonresponsive depression, dad took her to the hospital for ECT treatments, which worked, although it severely disordered her short-term memory. With her moods were stabilized, she began treatment.

Her background and family history strongly influenced her attitude toward treatment. Rejecting the diagnosis, or treatment, was never a risk with her. She absolutely shunned the anti-science stance that mental illness was a myth. She was also intelligent enough to realize that just because she did better while on medications, didn’t mean she was “cured”. She knew the difference between symptom management and curing an illness, and absolutely refused to entertain any notion of giving up on her meds because of temporarily manageable symptoms. She believed 100% in the model of medication management.

She was never the sort of person who bought into the folderal that mental illness was a personality flaw, or some sort of test from God–at least, not in the sense of punishment for current misdeeds. In the sense of, maybe, the God she believed in giving us a “bag” of difficulties to carry through this test of life, and her bag included mental illness, sure. She believed that–like a person might believe God gave them poor eyesight, or a bad leg, except God gave her bipolar. So she carried it with grace and goodwill and handled the burden as best she could, as she believed God intended her to. She did not believe the God she believed in wanted his children to suffer. She did believe he inspired scientists to create medicines and treatment for the illnesses to help people in need, so–to her mind–it was by God’s grace that treatment was even available, and it would be a denial of that grace to turn away from it.

Me, I was never able to reconcile the notion of a loving and omniscient/ all-powerful god with this existence of trauma, harm, and pain. To me, someone that knows about horrific circumstances in advance and is capable of preventing them is just as liable as the perpetrator–if, say, my friend were to send me a text saying, “I bought a semi-automatic and I am going to go shoot up a grocery store,” or my ex sent me a text saying, “Fuck you, you feminist, I’m going to rape the next feminist I see,” I do think I would be somewhat morally culpable for the crime if I did not attempt to prevent it in some manner, and I’m not all-powerful. God allegedly is. Ergo, it must logically follow that if God is actually omniscient/ all-knowing, then God knows criminal events and human tragedies prior to their occurrences (mass bombings, terror attacks, child rapes, and all the little heartaches and tragedies of our lives), then God must either not be all-loving or all-powerful (one of the two) because God is clearing opting not to prevent such situations. So it’s either choice (not all-loving) or inability (not all-powerful).

Clearly mom and I disagreed on that–but I love that my mom could find grace in her worldview. That she could reconcile science and god.

Even with treatment, bipolar is a dark disease. The symptoms are never fully eradicated. They’re handled. Managed. Not erased. When I was growing up, mom would sometimes be brimming with energy, a barely-contained mania simmering beneath the surface as she rushed to and fro, starting a thousand church and family projects. She sewed costumes at Halloween most years–sewed my sisters’ orchestra dresses, and our prom gowns. She was a talented seamstress. She was Relief Society president in our ward for a few years. She used to pack us into the car and go, “searching for sunshine,” on rainy days, which really meant just driving to Tacoma or Centralia or Seattle until we found a patch of blue in the sky, then getting out and walking around a park for a bit. She was afraid of taking us swimming; irrationally fearful of us drowning.

Other times, the entire house was a tomb, silent and still. The heart of the family would hide away in the musty darkness of her bedroom upstairs, lights off and curtains drawn, for weeks or even months at time. It happened more frequently during my later teen years, as the last of her children approached college age.

It’s strange to think my older siblings know a mom who isn’t bipolar. Who was never bipolar. I try to imagine that, and cannot. It doesn’t really matter, because even with the spectre of illness, she was a great mom–a truly amazing woman: Reliable, affectionate, supportive, intelligent, and wryly witty.

She championed education–always expecting us to attend college ourselves–and believed in our abilities. She liked to spend time with us one on one. She cultivated activities and hobbies with each kid, individual to them and their interests. She was sarcastic and self-deprecating and creative.

When I came to her in high school, and told her the bullying was too much–that I couldn’t bear it anymore, that it was breaking me; she listened. She agreed to my proposal for an accredited learning program through mail (yeah, it was the 90s, no online learning) for course credits, even though it meant I was essentially homeschooling and she’d have to oversee my self-directed learning; make sure I was actually doing my lessons, and we’d have to arrange proctors for my tests. Even though it meant having a kid at home most of the day, instead of in school.

I recognize the sacrifice of personal time now; I didn’t then.

She did require I attend my math classes at the high school, which is another cool thing about my mom. She recognized her own shortcomings, and refused to teach or oversee lessons for a subject she wasn’t trained to teach in. My parents were always teaching lessons like that: Don’t be afraid to admit when you can’t, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

She loved to read, and shared that love with me.

She loved old movies and musicals, and shared that with me, too.

She taught me to love history.

She taught me to open my eyes to injustice. To not be the German who closes my eyes when my Jewish neighbors disappear, one by one.

She was a stay-at-home mom and a devout mormon, but still managed–through her life–to teach the importance of feminism and activism.

She was the most beautiful woman in the world.

~*~

When you’re a funny girl

The fella said “A funny girl”

Funny

How it ain’t so funny,

Funny girl

Funny Girl, Barbara Streisand

~*~

Now how many days in a year/ She woke up with hope/ But she only found tears

Mom loved Barbara Streisand, and the movie (and song) Funny Face. She related to them. I’m a 90s girl. I relate more to Absolutely (Story of a Girl), by Nine Days.

 

The Myth of Manufacturing in America

Personally, I think the next president was decided ages ago, by people with far more money and influence than the average American. She’ll oversee the next 8 years of (yes, eight) increasing wealth divisions in America. There will probably be a brief economic uptick at the half-way mark of her terms. Things won’t change much.

The US will continue to decline as a world power, primarily because we do not invest in strong social nets that benefit our citizens through tax funded programs such as equal-opportunity education, social aid for needy families, on-the-job training and in-company promotion, paid vacation policies, requisite living wages, and labor protections for all residents regardless of citizenship documentation (if you protect all workers, regardless of their citizenship status, then it makes it easier for workers to organize and increase their wages and protect their benefits, which makes it harder for employers to fuck them over).

According to the July 2016 report from the International Monetary Fund, US growth is lower than before the Great Recession, and the USA needs to invest in policies that incentivize work, raise productivity by investing in infrastructure and innovation, and reverse the wealth income disparity.

Although the IMF survey says the US economic forecast is good in the short-term, in the long-run our decreasing labor force participation, low productivity gains, and increasing wealth disparity/ high poverty levels is going to fuck us over. The IMF report did not say “fuck us over.” It said, “solid continued growth hinges on addressing long-term issues of falling labor force participation, weak productivity, rising income polarization, and high poverty rates.”

Basically, if we want our economy to continue to grow, we have to stop fucking over the working class.

One problem (as noted in the IMF) is the lack of production/ innovation. Although we’re slowly rebuilding (largely machinated industries, now), the USA doesn’t have the infrastructure for manufacturing that it used to. Our factories, long unused and fallen into disrepair, are out of code and filled with machinery that’s out of date. We outsourced manufacturing to other countries for lower costs, and as a result are two generations behind every other manufacturing country.

I’ve heard people say the solution is to bring manufacturing back, and sure, I agree. That’s definitely one solution, and one we do need to invest in over the long term. What bothers me is when its presented as the only solution, or as though manufacturing alone is a panacea–like manufacturing and high wages go hand in hand. As though service work, retail work, domestic labor, restaurant labor–these things are somehow not “worth” high wages, benefits, and secure hours in the way manufacturing is. See, service labor is here, now. These jobs are available here, now. They don’t have to be “brought back”. The infrastructure doesn’t have to be rebuilt. All that has to happen is:

  • Increase wages to a living wage
  • Write schedules two weeks in advance–no more of this on-call shit. They’re service workers, not medics.
  • Provide benefits and paid vacations.

But manufacturing/ factory work is hard, and dangerous! It’s skilled labor! That’s why they got living wages, and benefits, and protections!–is usually how the arguments goes.

I kind of want to scream when I hear it. Because first off–that wasn’t manufacturing. That was unions. Employers didn’t give those benefits out of the compassionate goodness of their hearts. Workers fought for those benefits! They were dying in the factories and mines–they lived in corporate towns, where the employers paid them in “company money” that could only be spent on company grounds and on company goods! The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was an industrial disaster that helped launched the workplace rights campaign into the mainstream US consciousness!

Hell, since Reagan broke the unions, a lot of manufacturing jobs today are shit-work! Employers abuse their workersdeny them breaks, and nowadays will even outright sell the company and void the union contract/ gut the pension. It’s not like manufacturing work has some special protection from employer abuses.

Once, manufacturing was seen much like service work is today–as something low-skilled, that uneducated people did when they had no other options in life; not as a means to a middle class life or long-term job security. When contemplating the history (and present) of manufacturing, and the attitudes of people toward so-called unskilled labor, it’s almost laughable (in the laugh or cry way) that people look at our current situation–having outsourced all our productivity infrastructure and set our manufacturing tech back by generations–our national response is to say, “You know what? Instead of giving service workers living wages, predictable schedules, and benefits, I think we should do our damndest to get manufacturing back over here,” like that’ll help. Like it’s a magic wand that we can wave and make everything better. Like we’re not still actively fucking over manufacturing workers right now, in this day and age.

The manufacturing industry isn’t a magical bean that equals living wages and a middle class life! That was unions. It’s unions people are really thinking of when they say “manufacturing.” They’re thinking of organized labor, of all the things unions won in the manufacturing industries. They’re thinking of pensions that allowed their grandfathers to retire at 50, their bodies bent and broken from years of labor, but their finances secure. They’re thinking of affordable healthcare plans, of companies that trained their own workers (instead of requiring them to go outsource training, and pay for it out of pocket), and then promoted from within, and raised their wages annually according to cost-of-living increases. That’s what they’re thinking of.

But instead, they say, “manufacturing,” and think they mean factories and skilled labor, as though people who stand over boiling oil or work on warehouse floors with electric pallet jacks and forklifts aren’t doing skilled labor. As though people who deal with the daily psychological abuse of entitled customers aren’t engaged in skilled labor. As though the presumed lack of a college degree somehow, someway means the person behind the counter deserves poverty wages, unstable hours, and no benefits.

Fuck that. All labor has value. Someone who thinks that burger slinger at the fast food place doesn’t deserve a living wage? They need to go home and make their own goddamn burger. Spend their own precious time and materials making their own food. Don’t demand the labor of other people if you’re incapable of even respecting or valuing the fact that it is labor–human labor–that is being purchased.

All labor has value. Any labor purchased is purchased because, for whatever reason, the customer does not or cannot do it on their own. They don’t have the skill, the materials, or the knowledge, so they are buy the labor/ skill/ knowledge of someone else. People denigrate service workers all the time, but I tell you what–service workers are the fucking backbone of our society.

Service workers dominate the labor industry. Nearly every US household is touched by service work–someone in their family has worked, is working, or will work in the service industry. They face psychological abuse on a regular basis from entitled asshole customers, and often lack protection from management. Worse, service workers often find themselves on the receiving end of bullying and abuse from coworkers and management, as well, without any sort of substansive corporate infrastructure set up to help mediate the situation.

We’re told this is a “new, mobile workforce,” and that people don’t “like” to stay in one place, with one company anymore. Meanwhile, HR representatives in reddit threads discuss the problems with hiring and promotion: Companies will offer large entry offers, but small or nonexistent wage increases over time. They don’t tie wage increases to performance, either–the most effective way for an employee to increase their wages over the course of a career is to bounce from company to company, as an employer will “match and increase” with their entry offer the salary of the previous company.

Obviously, that doesn’t really work at the service labor level, where wages are set according to state hourly wages, and employees are hired and fired at the whim of management rather than moving according to their own needs or desires.

I smile darkly at the assertions that we in the US are a new and mobile workforce. It seems to me that our employers just stopped investing in us, and got the right to fire us when-the-fuck ever. It’s not that the American worker is “mobile,” (which sounds so free and breezy), it’s that we’re cast adrift.

We were told to get college diplomas to enter the middle class, and now people with Masters and PhDs are applying to service-level jobs. College diplomas are the new form of job training. Now most jobs have substantial job training; just an afternoon or a day with a more experienced employee who shows you the ropes and then abandons you to find your footing.

Bonus for the employer: They don’t bear the costs of job training. Too bad for the employee: They are thousands in debt for a degree they don’t need, because they’ll learn on the job.

We were told 401ks were better than pensions, and employers all shifted into 401k/ stocks, and now we’re all fucked for retirement. Bonus for employers and the banking industry: Modest cost savings! Too bad for the workers: No security for retirement.

We were told unions were stealing our wages, and employers want to give us our whole paycheck; that they want to negotiate employer-to-employee. Bonus for employers: No unions to negotiate with! Too bad for workers: No consolidated power and voice to negotiate with the powers that be.

We were told at-will employment was beneficial to both parties, because it allowed either the worker or employer to terminate an employment contract for better opportunities at a moments notice, for no reason whatsoever. It allows for a more mobile society, see? But in practice, workers don’t have quite the access employers do. Workers provide 2 weeks notice, and train their replacements. Employers fire, and escort their discarded employee out with guards.

This is a mobile society, yes, but largely not by the choice of workers. It was because, for the most part, employers chose to stop investing in workers. They chose to stop training them–requiring, instead, that workers bear the cost of their own training. They chose to stop promoting from within and offering good benefits–forcing workers who wanted higher wages to seek work elsewhere, bouncing around their industry in an attempt to increase their wages and benefits.

Basically, USA employers (by and large) chose to stop investing in their employees, and then have been shocked by decreasing labor participation, an increasingly unstable/ mobile labor market, and an ever-growing wealth disparity, then scratch their heads and pout at each other as they hrrrm and huuuuuhhhh over how on earth such a thing could have possibly happened.

Like, wtf? Big picture, people! Do you ever step back and look big picture? Ever? For a moment?

GOT s7 theories

I’m on the Daenerys + Jon Snow dynastic marriage bandwagon. I think GRRM brought up the big plotline about Targaryen sibling marriages not just to explain the mad king and how Jaime and Cersei justified their relationship, but to lead to a dynastic joining of the North and South through Jon Snow.

I’ve read quite a few theories that Daenerys is going to die horribly, because she’s not the best at ruling, so it’s going to come down to a battle royale between Snow and Daenerys (Ice and Fire –get it?). She lacks certainly lacks the touch of nuance that good rulers need, that’s for sure, but I think she’s learning. I don’t think the show conveys that as well as the books, although the hints are there even in the show.

At the end of season 6, Jon Snow was declared King in the North of House Stark by all the Northern houses pledged to support the Starks, and a warging Bran saw Lyanna on her deathbed beg her brother to take and protect her child, the son of Rhaegar Targaryen. So now Jon Snow is King in the North, unofficially recognized as the head of House Stark, and apparently a Targaryen–related to Daenerys with a distant potential claim to the throne himself (presumably  something that will be revealed by him riding a dragon–which only Targaryen’s can do–or something).

However, GRRM has also stated in several interviews that ASOIF was inspired by the War of the Roses, with the Lannisters loosely based on the Lancasters and the Starks loosely based on the Yorks. This would make Daenerys Targaryen (often called the Queen across the Sea)  analogous, one assumes, to the Henry VII (called the King from across the Sea in his time), who was the last King of England to win his crown in battle.

As it happens, that battle–the Battle of Bosworth–ended  30 years of war between various claimants to the throne. Sound familiar? And, Henry VII solidified his claim to the throne by marrying Elizabeth of York, his third cousin. Hmmm.

I also think the North and the Wildings probably represent the Scots and Welsh influence, while the Unsullied, Second Sons, and Dothraki gathered by Daenerys are clearly analogous to the French mercenaries which made up the bulk of Henry VII’s force–which point, once again, to an alliance rather than a showdown, since the Scots, Welsh, and French fought under the same banner (Henry VII’s) at the Battle of Bosworth. One way or another, Daenerys needs to face an army three times the size of her own before she takes the throne and marries Jon Snow.

I don’t think Cersei is going to offer that threat, although I do think Cersei is the season 7 Big Bad. I bet Cersei goes all out trying to coerce and terrorize and threaten an army into creation and in the end Jaime kills her for the same reason he killed the Mad King (to protect the people) and then he kills himself out of grief–or he offers his sword to Daenerys, who refuses it because Cersei did something else super horrific, like ordered all the firstborn children in the kingdom killed in Daenerys’ name or something. A typical Cersei thing, basically, that will absolutely backfire because Cersei thinks she’s a genius political manipulator but she just keeps fucking shit up.

I know Petyr Baelish has his plots and plans regarding Sansa, house Stark, and the Iron Throne, but I don’t think that’s going to work out well for him. He reminds me a bit of Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick, aka the Kingmaker–a knight who was a relative unknown, rose to great power, had vast wealth and resources in terms of lands, offices, and political influence, and played both sides during the War of the Roses.

I suspect Baelish taught Sansa better than he realizes, and it will be Sansa who manufactures his downfall. His machinations led to her being raped and tortured. He seems to think because she used him to win a battle, he’s won her favor back, but I don’t think he has any idea what kind of steel was forged in the fire he sent her through. He’s going to die, and he won’t even see it coming.

I bet it also keeps building the Night King storyline during season 7, sort of crescendoing it up, but there’s not much to add: He’s a big bad, his army is huge, and no-one really takes that threat seriously–not even the guys who are supposed to be guarding against them, but seem to have forgotten their entire raison d’etre. Probably somewhere in season 7, Bran breaks the Wall like he broke that damn heart tree, and a bunch of white walkers bust through, which is when people will start taking that shit serious.

Season 8 will see the Night King with his massive army marching on Daenerys, and I suppose that’s when the alliance will be proposed from Jon Snow and the North. Or, and this just occurred to me, instead of Cersei dying in season 7, it could be that Jaime betrays her just before the battle with the Night King while Daenerys is negotiating an alliance with Snow–that, actually, as the eve of battle approaches, it appears that Daenerys is outnumbered and outflanked by three armies: Cersei on one side, the Night King on the other, and the Northern/ Stark armies on the other.

But then, in a coup d’etat and stroke of luck, one of her enemies is dispatched by treachery from within and one of her apparent enemies turns ally, which would set her in an ideal position to best neutralize the true threat to the kingdom. Also, GRRM has–although the television series isn’t particularly faithful in reproducing it–written a pretty pro-feminist fantasy series here. Yes, I know there’s rape in the book. Yes, I know there are sex workers. Yes, I know about the objectification and violence toward women.

I also know that–in the books, anyway, and the tv series is (recently) doing better–there multiple plotlines told from the perspectives of women, and every one of those stories is nuanced enough that even when I hate the character (Cersei) there are still moments when I commiserate and sympathize with them–when I understand, for a moment, why they do the things they do. Make the choices they make.

When Cersei-the-mother speaks about her fierce, protective love for her children, I hear her. I wouldn’t, myself, make the choices she makes–but I understand that heart-clench, that need to protect, that drive.

When Cersei-the-woman speaks with fury about the unfair structures of a patriarchal society that prefers her brother over her in inheritance, I hear her, however reluctantly. I may not agree with the decisions she made in light of her rage, but I hear her anger. I understand it.

I dislike Cersei as a character/ person. I think she’s cruel, selfish, short-sighted, and not nearly as smart as she thinks she is. I also think she’s wonderfully written–a complex character, who cannot be distilled down to her bad qualities. She clearly loves her children and family and is loyal to a fault.

Likewise, the “good” girls cannot be distilled down to their good qualities–every character is a complex mix of personality traits. This is true of both the male and female characters, but I love it most in the female characters because it’s so rare to see, especially from a male author–not only are there well-developed female characters who don’t rely on one-note stereotypes, but there are a host of them! An entire cast, a whole range, and they’re equally balanced in amount to the male characters! Many are in leadership roles, or counseling those in leadership roles!

So because GRRM was willing (in the books) to write complex and awesome female characters, and because I strongly suspect he flipped the genders of Henry VII and Elizabeth York to Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow/ Stark, I do think Daenerys will end up on the Iron Throne in a dynastic alliance with the King of the North, Jon Snow, as her husband.

Perhaps, given Snow’s aversion to power and the hints near the end of season 6 regarding Daenery’s willingness to share her kingdom, he’ll be less a “King” and more something like a consort to the queen–perhaps the character of Daenerys is inspired by both Henry VII and his famous descendent, Queen Elizabeth the Virgin Queen (though we already know Daenerys is no virgin, we also know she cannot produce an heir and will likely die without issue).

Scariness

We had a bit of a family emergency in July, over one of my husband’s 4-day weekends. While we were out as a family Pokémon hunting at the Rose gardens, our dogs at home got into some ibuprofen and benadryl that was in a ziploc baggie on the table.

The benadryl wasn’t an issue, but ibuprofen is extremely toxic to dogs. We got home and saw Azura (our yellow lab) had thrown up twice, and he threw up again after we got home (about 6:30 pm). Sirius (our black lab) seemed fine, but he was in the room when the meds were eaten and dogs can’t talk, so …

I called the vet, but they were closed, so I had to call the emergency clinic instead. They said it would be $90 per dog to bring them in for an assessment, but if I called Pet Poison Control first and got a case number, it would be cheaper. So I called Pet Poison Control, who charged $49 for the call. Based on the info I provided about the weights and probable ingestion, they strongly recommended we take our pups to the emergency clinic for treatment.

So off we went to the pet emergency clinic in town, pups in tow. Azura threw up again on arrival; Sirius was just excited by the car ride. That was around 7:30 pm

It was pretty busy (a little puppy came in with its ear torn off) but around 9:35 pm, the vet called us back to a private room. He said he’d done a physical exam and looked over the Poison Control Center information, and he recommended an overnight stay with observation for both dogs with aggressive fluid therapy. We said sure, absolutely, no problem.

Mentally, I revised my cost estimate for the night up from maybe $200 max (from $49-$90 per dog) to maybe $1,200 max (I assumed it would maybe be $600ish per dog, with emergency services). It would hurt a little, but doable. The vet said he’d draft an estimate for us.

Around 10:30, they brought us the cost estimate–they were asking $1,900-$2,500 per dog to keep them for the night. At 10:30 pm on a Sunday night, mind you. And, it turned out, they haven’t actually done any bloodwork or started any fluid therapy yet, and wouldn’t until our payment processed. We were aghast. We did not have $4,500 on hand. With about $1,300 between two credit card balances, savings, and checkings, we did’t even have enough to keep one dog overnight.

I looked at the breakdown of costs, and asked them to at least start the bloodwork and kidney panels on Sirius, since I suspected he hadn’t even eaten the pills (and therefore hadn’t been poisoned) and I wanted to confirm that. That lowered his costs’ to $550. Meanwhile, we kept trying to secure a loan for Azura’s treatment, which was clearly necessary.

It was futile, because every financial institution on the East Coast is closed at midnight PST on a Sunday, which means all their customer service is closed, which means we were fucked.  Literally all we’d done was move our poisoned dog from Point A to Point B, where we were placed in separate rooms–so we couldn’t even sit with him–and a vet who could save him withheld treatment and watched him slowly die while we tried to secure funding.

We sat in the private room until 2 am. It was weird. We could hear everything happening in the waiting room–hear people coming in and out, hear them paying their bills, hear the staff complaining about the lack of available rooms and how busy it was, but they just left us there for these long stretches of time, ignoring us. No dogs, no staff. Just before midnight, they told us Sirius’ bloodwork had come back clean, and asked if we were ready to start Azura’s yet.

We were in tears, literally in tears–after the banks, we’d called friends and family, explaining the situation and that it would literally be a 24-hour loan because we could get the $2,000 to pay them back within 24 hours, but nobody else had $2,000 to hand, either. I hated the way the vet tech was looking at me, like I wanted to kill my dog. She sighed and said she would see what she could do, and left. About 30 minutes later, the vet returned, and said they would run Azura’s bloodwork along with Sirius’, so we would at least have the tests, and with Sirius’ tests our total cost should be around $675.

Around 2 am, the vet tech returns with the bill for Azura’s tests, which came to $400. We were so tired. We didn’t even argue. Altogether–with Sirius’ tests–the costs for the night were $950, and the bloodwork did show that Azura’s kidney levels were elevated. The vet gave him activated charcoal and some medications, and told us to give him lots of water and take him straight to our regular vet in the morning.

So the next morning, we took both dogs to our regular vet. Once again, Sirius’ blood work was normal, but Azura’s kidney levels were still elevated. The doc recommended leaving Azura at the office for observation for the day. Cringing, we asked how much that would cost, and were told $150.

Seems hard to believe, right? I still have a hard time parsing it, a month later.

Azura stayed with the regular vet for three days. We dropped him off at open, picked him up at close. Not only was it affordable, our regular vet didn’t demand pre-payment for life-saving services; they collected payment after saving our dogs life rather than holding medical care hostage. After three days of observation from 7 am-7 pm and morning/ afternoon kidney panels, the total damage was $650.

When they told me, I actually froze for a minute. I thought I misheard. Even though they’d told me it would be $150/ day, over the three days of treatment I’d started psyching myself out–at the ER clinic, they charged $209 for the Abraxis/ kidney panel. I thought, maybe that’s where the cost comes from. Maybe it’s not the fluid treatment and the IV’s; maybe it’s the bloodwork. Maybe doing kidney panels for three days straight will kick this bill back up into the thousands range.

So when they said our bill was $650 after three days of treatment, for a minute I lost my breath because I misheard them–I thought they said $6,500.

But no. $650.

I wonder how the emergency clinic justifies their price gouging? How is it even legal? Everyone just accepts it. When we told the vet, they nod knowingly and say, “That’s the emergency clinic for you,” as though it’s an accepted aspect of the field. Like, don’t have a pet emergency after hours–you’ll get gouged! Tests cost more when run at 10 pm as opposed to 10 am! You know how much the $209 emergency vet clinic Kidney panel/ Abraxis test cost to run at the daytime clinic? $48 fucking dollars. A quarter of the cost. A fucking quarter of the cost.

Can you imagine if anything else worked this way? Gods. You know how our ambulance system in the USA is fucked? Like, red/ firehouse ambulances are tax-funded so essentially free to user (no billing), and the blue ones are corporate and super fucking expensive? Imagine if the blue ones were affordable from 9 am-5 pm and only super fucking expensive overnight? Jesus christ on a cracker, it would be even worse than it is now, and it is pretty bad now.

I’ve been to the ER for overdoses and it cost less, and I’m a human person. I’m not talking about, “It costs less because insurance paid it,” I’m talking about the actual original bill amount–which, of course, insurance did end up ultimately paying most of–was less than what was quoted by the emergency pet clinic to treat my dogs.

How does a human bill come to less? How does a daytime vet bill for the same services come to so much less?

I checked the costs for my 2015 surgery, where my uterus was removed and I stayed overnight for 3 days in the hospital with a catheter in me. There were complications because they saw a tumor on an ovary and they had to remove the ovary for biopsy (benign), and the surgery ran long. I had anesthesia and everything. Guess how much that cost? Less than $4,000–and payment was after services.

Anyway, Azura is alive and well. Fat and happy and kicking around the house as stupid and lovey as ever. He’s been on medications for the last month to support his kidney function. There’s a possibility of long-term kidney damage. We canceled our long-anticipated motorcycle road trip, due to the $1600 in unexpected costs for the initial care, as well as the long term care and follow-up visits Azura needed over the next month.

One cannot help but (bitterly) wonder if the kidney damage might have been avoided had the bloodwork/ kidney panels immediately been run and aggressive fluid therapy immediately been started, rather than delayed indefinitely at the cost of my dog’s health. I now view the local emergency vet clinic as opportunistic price-gouging vultures who prey on the after-hours fears and emergency needs of frantic pet parents, and I utterly loathe them.

Unfortunately, with pets, it may transpire that we’re forced to use their services again. Unless I learn basic veterinary first aid or something, which I might well do.

summer days

Last summer was a long stretch of heat, burning through the days in a glare of endless sunshine. This year, the days are greyer and softer–a lazy passage of time, often humid with rainshowers. It’s hard to believe we’re still in the midst of a drought, when the sky is horizon-to-horizon with clouds.

For past week and the next several weeks, John has been/ will be scheduled frequent long weekends, which is nice–little mini-vacations, almost. We popped down to Portland on a whim this last weekend and wandered around the city, window-shopping and catching pokemon, before eating at an insanely delicious Greek food truck and heading back home. The next day, we took the dogs out to Soap Lake in Eastern Washington.

About once a month, we have a family game night with the in-laws. I was hoping we’d be able to do it more often in the summer, but somehow work schedule hadn’t lined up that way until recently–hopefully we’ll get a few more game nights over the rest of July and into August, although there is camp and our motorcycle trip in August.

Usually, we play Catan, but recently we picked up a copy of Munchkin, as well as the card game Gloom (based on recommendations from Tabletop). I do feel kinda bad, because I think my niblings are a little bored while the adults are engaged with our board games (based on the question my niece asked me: “Why do you always bring board games when you come over?”).

I think I have a solution, though–when I was a kid, mom had an activity bag to entertain us during sacrament meeting, and it was actually pretty effective. Also, the toys at our sitters house–despite being pretty objectively ho-hum–were freakin’ amazing to me, as a kid.  Why? Because they weren’t regular-time toys. Mom wouldn’t let us touch the church activity bag anywhere except church, and the toys at the sitter’s house were only available at the sitter’s house. So I have this little doll suitcase/ trunk, and I’m going to start packing it with a rotating surprise selection of toys and activities for my niblings. Hopefully it’ll keep them occupied and happy until they’re old enough to play the big people games with us.

Kidling is old enough now that he’s asking me to drop him off with his friends, which is both cool and heartbreaking. Also weird, to ferry him around town and drop him off at the places I used to go, to do the things I used to do. Skateland, Lakefair, Library events–ha, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

I am trying to work on my book on the days John is working. It’s difficult to focus. It took a few months to get the drafts/ feedback back from my readers, and in that time I had a lot of ideas on how/ where I wanted it to go.

I feel like my biggest problem at the moment is that I wrote it on a computer, honestly, without an outline. It feels unwieldy. From now on, all books I write will have outlines. My next four are already outlined by hand, in notebooks.

So I finished the whole thing, and it’s a book. It has a plot, with a beginning, middle, and an end … but I hated the end. So I rewrote it. Then I cut the wordcount down from insanity to manageable, and chopped the first three chapters of backstory. Sent the resulting draft to my reader volunteers. Specifically, I asked for feedback on:

  • Readability
  • Character development/ growth and relatability
  • Subplots (too distracting? Barely noticeable?)
  • Worldbuilding (too much foreignness? infodump problems?)
  • Overarching plot (hints too obvious? too subtle?)
  • Overall impression?

Each reader called/ messaged about a week after receiving their draft and said they’d finished it and really loved it, found it very engaging, and now they were going to re-read it and notate it fully and send me back a notated copy. About three to four months later was when I began getting more specific feedback, most of which aligned with my own concerns/ issues. Primarily, I didn’t like the beginning (I’ve since rewritten it). It felt choppy and info-dumpy, and I just … I was really dissatisfied with it.

There was also an incident that happens about 1/3 of the way in and then isn’t addressed again, and I felt like I’d kind of brushed off the significance of it, initially–that it was just hanging there unresolved and weird, and it needed to be either addressed or completely removed. None of my readers mentioned it, but when I asked what they thought of the incident, they did all say, “Oh, yeah–that was weird … why did they just ignore that?”

And, universally, everyone hates the title–which is fine, because it’s a working title. I’ve given up trying to explain that titles are nearly always decided by the agent and/or publishing company, and the shit title on my draft is just a placeholder. I think next time I’ll just call it Working Title, or Placeholder, or Shit Title.

So now I’m engaged in yet another round of edits, and it feels just endless. Like swimming through jell-o, honestly–but I have a vision in mind, a set end point. I know what the final book is supposed to look like. I know where these characters are going. I know the plot, the world, the story arc. It’s just frustrating, because it’s a lot of rewriting–which isn’t as fun as writing–and I feel like I’m re-treading ground I’ve already walked when I’d hoped to be moving onto the next phase by now.

Also, my work schedule is the same as John’s work schedule–he’s at work, I’m writing. He’s at home, I’m not writing. On one hand, this is great (excellent family time!). On the other hand, summer scheduling is super uneven and apparently ADHD brains work best on consistency, haha. I keep joking about renting a hotel for a week straight and unplugging all the phones so I can blast through these edits. The only concern is that I forget to eat when I’m writing.

One thing you’re excited for

I was pretty stoked about an interstate motorcycle trip we were planning, but that was canceled due to a pet emergency.

Um. 

I guess I’m excited my kid has the opportunity to go to Camp Quest again. 

I’m excited about finishing the next draft of my book and querying agents. 

I’m excited about getting my first rejections. And, eventually (knock on wood) an offer.

I’m excited about my son going into high school. 

That’s not really one thing. But I don’t have a big thing. Just little things. 

lil old outspoken me

It’s funny, sometimes, how the way we see ourselves and the way other people see us can be so radically different. This is something I’ve often pondered, since I was a teen–the old song line, You never know just how you look/ through other people’s eyes comes to mind–but it was recently brought home again when I attended a recurring social event and someone (who’s only met me twice, and in the context of talking about books!) referred to me as a person with “strong opinions.”

It’s not the first time I’ve been described as such–though mostly since my mid-to-late 20s–and it always makes me laugh, because it’s really not how I think of myself at all. I guess when I think of people with “strong opinions,” I think of people who aren’t willing to listen to guidance, or cede an argument when presented with new information? Or, maybe, people who enjoy arguments and intentionally try to foment dissent at social gatherings as a form of, like, amusement, and that’s not my bag at all.

I consider myself more of a pacifist–a mediator and negotiator in personality, someone who prefers to avoid conflict if possible, but if it becomes unavoidable, I prefer to opt for communication resolving in peaceful resolution first and foremost. I have what’s often been called a naive belief in the innate goodness of humankind, and I truly believe the majority of people mean well, it’s just, we have different ideas of how to achieve it.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize the behaviors I exhibit which are often described, “bold,” or “outspoken,” or, “strong-minded” are just enthusiasm. I get really enthusiastic about things … books, Harry Potter, income inequality, motorcycling history, labor law, Star Trek, board games, writing, the publishing industry.

Like, super enthusiastic. And when I get enthusiastic about a topic, I research it backwards and forwards and up and down, like a super nerd. I read about it, I think about it, I talk about it. I daydream about it, come up with theories, and link it to other things I’m enthusiastic about.

Now, just like anyone else, I don’t randomly bring up this stuff at inappropriate times–I’m not sitting at, like, work functions rambling on about esoteric factoids regarding labor law history to a bunch of dull-eyed coworkers and/or clients. No.

But … I mean, yeah, I have been at, say, book club, and waxed intense about my feelings on a book. Or book series. Occasionally in a very detailed breakdown of the plot structure and the flaws therein (like writing a book where the overriding relationship question was resolved in the first THIRD of the book, thereby completely nullifying any plot tension for the remaining 2/3 of the book, OUTLANDER 2). 

Also, I’ll plead guilty to, say, standing around at some dull social function, participating in make-nice chit-chat, and I hear someone make a reference to a shared topic of interest, so of course I gravitate over, because hey. Interesting conversation thataway.

And sometimes I’ll share an interesting factoid–like, maybe telling a fellow motorcycle fan that the Indian Motorcycle company was a casualty of WWII, and explaining why; or mentioning in addendum to some anecdote about marketing or customer service that, The customer is always right is actually based on a 1920s marketing slogan rather than any sort of overriding consumer ethos, because my general assumptions are that history is cool, trivia is fun, and most people enjoy learning new things.

I think this is where the bold/ outspoken/ opinionated impressions come from. It’s interactions–like casual social gatherings, or seminars where we’re explicitly discussing reactions to readings, or classroom settings where discussion is encouraged–where I feel comfortable, because of the context of the situation, in voicing my opinion and why I believe as I do.

When I was a kid/ teenager, whenever I wanted to do something my parents were uncomfortable or ambivalent about, my dad’s thing was for me to argue my case. I guess it’s a lawyer thing. He would tell me if I could come up with a convincing list of pros and cons–because a good lawyer has to understand both sides of the situation in order to rebut the opposing argument–then he’d consider my request. That’s actually how I negotiated most of my teen concessions.

So I do feel pretty comfortable examining an issue thoroughly, from all sides, and coming to a conclusion regarding my stance. Thanks to great parents and some fantastic professors over the years, I’ve also learned how to organize my supporting arguments when participating in a discussion so I can support my stance, and I’m comfortable revising my stance in light of new information which may alter my perspective.

All that said, I really do not like debate or disagreement, especially outside the specific parameters of the classroom (where it’s moderated and all are working from the same base reading material). This is one of the factors in me deciding not to pursue a law degree (though hardly the only).

I know that might seem incredible to someone who’s only knowledge of me is this blog, but it’s important to recognize the words on this screen are on stream-of-conscious, largely unedited personal blog–this on-the-fly verbiage represents my internal world, and while the values of fairness and equality espoused herein aligns with my real-world values, beliefs, and general behavior, there’s a pretty key difference–I’m a lot more polite and in real life.

Call it esprit de l’escalier, or a lifetime of gender conditioning, or empathy from having been bullied myself. Whatever it is, the sometimes pointed language I use on this blog when venting about disagreements doesn’t come into play during personal disagreements. I believe there’s no need to get insulting or derogatory during a conflict–any resolution to the disagreement will hinge on the facts of the situation, not he said/ she said opinions on character.

So it’s funny, because when someone describes me as, “bold,” or “opinionated,” or “outspoken,” I hear “argumentative,” or “rude,” or “disruptive,” and I automatically flinch away from those descriptions–they feel weird and uncomfortable to me. I pride myself on my ability to be civil, pleasant, cordial, and generous in personal interactions. Sure, I’ve sometimes felt frustration at walking away from an encounter where someone was rude or derogatory to me and I didn’t yell back–I’ve thought to myself, coward, wimp, chickenshit.

But far more often, I’ve felt satisfaction at my ability to not only remain calm and collected in response to instigation, but when I’ve successfully de-escalated a potentially explosive situation. Sometimes I feel bad that I’m not more of a fighter. But mostly I’m glad I gravitate to peacemaker. But I suppose it’s all in interpretations–here I’ve been thinking bold/ opinionated/ outspoken equates to argumentative, when really, those could just as easily describe traits of enthusiasm and mediation. After all, enthusiastic people will come across as opinionated and outspoken, and a mediator personality has to be able to have strong boundaries in order to mediate–its impossible to mediate if you can’t negotiate, set, or enforce fair boundaries. So those are strength characteristics, too.

How Not to Explore Your Feelings

I recently read this article by Evan Porter, I spent a week sharing my feelings with everyone. Here’s what happened.

Initially, I was like, yeah! You go, guy! Share your feelings! Open up! Woot! In the first section, he shares this anecdote that made me actually laugh out loud, because I immediately related to it and thought of relevant examples from my own life. I love this quote:

“Ronald Levant, a professor of counseling psychology at Akron University, told me a story about a man he once treated early in his career that sums up this whole thing pretty nicely:

“[He] came in complaining about how his son had stood him up for a father son hockey game. Being relatively naive back then, I said, ‘So, how did you feel about that?’ His answer was ‘Well, he shouldn’t have done it!’ I said again, ‘Yeah, he shouldn’t have done it, but how did you feel?’
“He just looked at me blankly.”
Levant recalled similar sessions where women, by contrast, were able to walk him — in detail — through their emotional reaction to a situation: how anger turned to disappointment turned to worry, and so on.

“Among the men I was treating or working with there was a singular inability for many of them to put their emotions into words,” Levant said.”

I spent a week, by Evan Porter

Porter goes on to talk about Ryan Mckelley, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse and Tedx presenter on gender research. In his research, McKelley has found boys actually tend to show a broader range of more intense emotions in infancy and young childhood than girls of the same age, and the change in displayed emotion comes later.

Porter talks about the studies McKelley has looked at, which polled American attitudes on which emotions are culturally acceptable for each of the genders to show, and how McKelley found that generally speaking, Americans are comfortable with women displaying pretty much every emotion across the spectrum, while men are expected to express only pride, contempt, and anger.

Interestingly, Porter also says McKelley’s research found our brains process emotions approximately the same, despite these cultural expectations. McKelley found that when both genders are hooked up to equipment measuring our physiological responses (breathing rates, sweat, heart rates, etc) and shown images that inspire strong emotions, there’s no gender difference in physical responses. On gender and personality, Porter quotes McKelley as saying, “I do not deny there are biological differences. However, the degree to which it influences all that other stuff, I believe, is overblown.”

All very cool stuff, which I like. So far, woot! On board! Yeah, man! You rock, Porter!–Get in touch with your feels, upset the gender binary, destroy the patriarchy! Great research!

~*~

Then he gets into his actual, personal “experiment”, and that’s when things began to get a little …. ehhh. Basically, a pretty upsetting pattern became evident fairly quickly, just in the one week of his attempt to emote to strangers. I’ll make it easy by quoting the relevant sections.

Day One

On my way home, I stopped off at a grocery store to grab an energy drink and, potentially, to share this happy moment with a stranger.

I chose the line manned by a fast-talking, bubbly woman. And when I got to the front, she teed me up perfectly with a sincere: “How are you?”

Day Two

I walked inside and stood in line at the customer service counter for what felt like an eternity. Finally, one of the tellers called me up. She had a shock of white curly hair and kind eyes. A grandmotherly type. “How can I help you?” she asked. Not the exact question I wanted, but we’ll see where it goes. “I have some returns,” I said.

Day Three

I headed out to grab a coffee at a local establishment (OK, it was a McDonald’s, but I really don’t need your judgment right now). There was a young, freckle-faced girl working the counter. She was probably 19. When it was my turn, she gave me a shy “Hello.”

“How are you?” I started. “Good. How are you?” she responded, on cue.

Since I hadn’t had any major emotional breakthroughs at that point, I just … told her the truth. “I just had to get out of the house a little bit. It’s so gray and crappy today and I just needed a break. You know?”

She gave me possibly the blankest stare I had ever seen in my life. I quickly filled the silence with my order — a large iced coffee. To go.

Day Four

When I reached the cashier at the Walgreens down the street from my house, a small pack of size-five Pampers clutched to my side, I saw she was a young black girl. She asked how I was doing. And I told her, with all honesty, that I was sad

On day five, he decided not to talk about his feelings to anyone, saying, “I didn’t want to be the guy at the fast food restaurant telling the cashier about his knee replacement or his swollen feet or his bunions or whatever, totally unprompted.” Then, as it happens, his wife IM’s him and asks about his day, so he emoted to her instead.

D’ya see the common trend here? Guy decides to get in touch with his emotions by, “opening up to strangers,” but doesn’t choose social peers or males to open up to. Instead, he chooses female cashiers in retail establishments. Pretty much the definition of emotional labor.

Break it down real quick. He didn’t choose, say, a stranger shopping in the aisle. He didn’t approach a fellow parent, selecting a similar brand of cereal. He didn’t approach one of the other parents in the pick-up line at daycare, who would (presumably) be of a similar social location to him.

Instead, he specifically chose non-threatening (bubbly, kindly, or young) female (not male) cashiers–individuals held captive by their employment situation, required to engage with him as customer service representatives of the establishment– relying, implicitly and perhaps unconsciously, on the customer is always right fallacy. This belief, common in USian culture, originates from a 1920s marketing slogan and now permeates nearly all retail/ service interactions, often in incredibly toxic ways.

In my opinion, one of the worst ways is the way it intersects with job security. The lack of just cause employment protections in most states and/ or employment contracts means it is not uncommon for managers or supervisors to placate an angry customer by simply firing the employee in question– a practice that is perfectly legal in states with at-will employment.

As a result, low-wage retail and service sector employees are all too aware their job security relies not only on job performance, but their ability to skillfully massage the egos of emotionally fragile and difficult customers. Since on-the-job/ worker training is more and more a thing of the past, such skills (which a therapist, counselor, and psychologist pay good money to learn in higher education) are, for retail and service workers, either innate or skills the employee has learned over a period of trial and error from dealing with years of emotionally difficult and needy customers.

So, in that context, when a customer comes through the line of a cashier wanting to chat about his day–realize the cashier doesn’t have a choice. They’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. They have a job to do–metrics to meet, numbers to match up to. The customers in line behind might complain if they malinger too long talking with Mr. Chattypants, but Mr. Chattypants might complain to management if they brush him efficiently through. See the problem here?

He comes through wanting one thing–emotional breakthroughs, to get in touch with his internal emotions, to break the social conditioning laid down by the patriarchy which has restricted him to expressing three basic emotions.

The cashier is expecting a different interaction. They’re at work. They’re in work-mode. They’re solving-work problems. They just want to do their job, collect their paycheck, and go home. At home, they have their own families and problems and emotional breakthroughs to deal with, but this right now? This is work. They’re in work-mode. They just want to take your order, sir.

Look at it, day by day–day one, at the grocery store. The kindy, bubbly woman who teed Porter up with a “perfectly sincere,” greeting of, “How are you?” as she rang up his energy drink, then in the “next instant” cut the interaction short by summoning over another customer. Dude! You had one item! You weren’t buying a conversation, you were buying an energy drink! She wasn’t actually trying to initiate heartfelt conversation, she was being polite and efficient, because that’s her job!

The day two customer service teller, she of the kind, grandmotherly face and white-hair. She literally asked, “How can I help you today?” instead of “How are you?” and Porter still tried to misread a customer service experience as an opportunity for emotional interaction between two people freely choosing to engage/ converse with one another, as he gripes, Not the exact question I wanted, but we’ll see where it goes, and details the specifics of his customer service return experience. Basically, the transaction took awhile because a large storm almost knocked out the store’s power, and all the computers were malfunctioning.

From his perspective, the length of the transaction–due to the malfunctioning equipment–was nothing more than an opportunity for conversation. He seems irritated by the customer service representative not asking how his day is going, even when the transaction runs long, and says he “takes the initiative,” which is how he “stumbles” into a pleasant conversation, which turns out to be about weather and computers rather than the one he wanted about emotions. He leaves feeling okay about the interaction, and thinking that talking about your own feelings is pretty weird even when you’re trying.

Apparently, it doesn’t occur to him that she was working, not socializing, and the transaction was taking longer because the equipment was malfunctioning–requiring more rather than less of her concentration. All in all, the worse set of circumstances to talk about anyone’s feelings. The whole thing was clearly–from her perspective–a customer service interaction between a client in a place of business seeking services from a customer service representative; whereas he was seeking something entirely different, something the business doesn’t even sell.

The day three cashier, the 19 year old McDonald’s server, was the one Porter blurted out his bad day line to, and got a blank stare in response.

For a minute, put yourself in the server’s shoes–imagine yourself in that age range, somewhere between the ages of 18 and 23. The things you were concerned about at that age. College classes, relationship drama, your parents health scares, paying bills your roommates had flaked on, your stupid co-worker who didn’t complete their tasks so you always ended up doing extra work, all that kind of shit. Maybe you had a kid, or were into drugs, or had your own health issues, or had siblings you were responsible for. Point is, everyone’s the star of their own story, and we all got our own stuff going on–that McD’s cashier had something important to them on their mind.

Also, the cashier is probably, unfortunately, all too used to customers mistaking her situational requisite politeness for something else. So when the interaction between the strange guy she’s never met abruptly and without warning veers into the personal, she’s responding in the way often advised as the least likely to encourage him and the least likely to get her fired.

Let me be clear. I know–because I’ve read Porter’s article–that his intentions were pure. I know he’s married and has a kid and wasn’t hitting on that 19 year old at McD’s. But she had no way of knowing that. From her perspective, if was very likely that responding to his crappy gray day line with, “Yeah, I do know what you mean–I’ve had a really bad day myself,” could have been read (and perhaps in the past had been read) as an “invitation” for more–like an “invitation” to ask for her number, or an “invitation” to ask her out for coffee.

From her perspective, staring blankly at him instead of engaging in polite conversation may have been the most politic response, because commiserating with him could have been seen (by him and many, many others) as an “invitation” and encouragement for his attention; while replying with a joke or sarcasm to deflect him, like saying, “And would you like prozac with your order, sir? Oh, wait, I can’t prescribe, because I’m not a doctor. Go to a therapist,” could end with a complaint and termination. There’s no assurance management would have her back in either situation.

She was staring, frozen, because she was stuck–like a rabbit, come unexpectedly face to face with a wolf. Thing is, Porter is a vegetarian wolf in this analogy–he’s friendly to rabbits, he likes them. He doesn’t want her to get fired, he doesn’t want to hit on her. All he wants to do is go along, exploring his own internal emotions. He doesn’t realize none of that is apparent, externally, to rabbits. None of it can be communicated in the time of that interaction. All that exists between them is the customer-client dynamic, and he’s trying (unfairly, because he’s the one with all the power in this situation) to force it into a different mold, one that he wants.

On day four, his interaction with the young black Walgreens cashier (side note–does he know any of their names? He doesn’t note in the article, and I’m not sure if that’s because he didn’t bother to look, or because he’s protecting their privacy) is troubling not only in the context of gender and class, but in the context of race.

The day Porter interacted with her was the day Philando Castile was shot. However, because the cashier had been at work all day, she hadn’t been able to access the news yet. So Porter (a white male customer) talks to her (a black female cashier) about his grief, his reaction to the news of yet another incident of police brutality against a black person–clearly not considering the potential emotional impact this conversation could have on her while she is on shift, or how she might have a need to process it, or whether or not her management would be sympathetic to her taking a break to gather herself.

It’s obvious it never occurs to him that the black retail cashier might have had a strong negative emotional response she had to hide behind a bright smile; forced to suppress for the comfort of her customers and unable to deal with until the end of her shift, because she was all too aware that her managers wouldn’t be sympathetic to her taking a break to gather herself.

I wonder how white collar workers would feel, sitting in offices and working on projects, if retail and service workers treated them with the same breezy disregard. They’re in the zone, focused on their work, tip-tapping away at their keyboards, when suddenly and unexpectedly, the cashier from the grocery store, or barista from their coffee shop, or server from their favorite restaurant pops in and sits down beside them, no interview or appointments scheduled, to chat about their feelings and thoughts with cozy familiarity, expecting genuine interest and a warm welcome despite any lack of personal relationship.

How would they respond? Especially if was a daily occurrence?

How would their responses change if they knew there was a possibility they could lose their jobs, or future assignments, if they upset these chatty intruders?

Now, I applaud, absolutely, Porter’s desire to explore his emotions and upset the status quo. I think that’s fantastic. Near the end of his piece, he says,

“Many of us are risk-takers. We go skydiving, wakeboarding, speedboating, or even shopping-cart-riding (full-speed into a thorn bush on a rowdy Saturday night, amiright?).

But we won’t tell our best friend that we love them.”

— I spent a week, by Evan Porter

I wish he’d done that instead. That would’ve been great. He posited a week telling strangers, which he didn’t actually do. He very specifically (although I believe unconsciously) chose a class of “strangers” bound by their social location (economic class/ employment situation + gender/ social conditioning) to respond gently to his attempts at self-exploration.

Remember, there are male cashiers–but he didn’t choose male cashiers. He selected women. There are male and female shoppers and diners, but he didn’t choose shopper or diners, he chose cashiers. Four days in a row, he ignored all the other people in a store or restaurant to specifically seek out conversation with women sequestered behind a counter and register–an audience held captive by their employment situation, and a gender automatically perceived as “safe” for confiding in, and whose ages and physical appearances he specifically describes in non-threatening terms.

Porter’s article could have been really fascinating if he’d actually sought out strangers–maybe his little-known coworkers around the office, or other parents at daycare pickup, or shoppers at the market, or engaging in a Pokemon Go outing with his daughter and talking to other players at the park–people whose interactions with him would be voluntary, and not arbitrarily limited by the constraints of a customer service interaction.

If he found it too intimidating to risk rejection by putting himself out there through voluntary spontaneous interactions, he could have tried committing to structured-activity interactions, like going to a Meetup group even a night for a week, or signing up for a daddy-daughter playgroup, or looking up the local college/ community arts/ playhouse schedule for his city and attendings some theater or comedy events. There’s usually a solid crowd, and it seems like everyone ends up discussing their emotions when the arts are involved.

Or maybe he could have tried something closer to him, that doesn’t risk the censure of strangers–he could have tried opening up to the men in his life. Telling his best guy friend he loves him, or talking to his brothers/ brothers-in-law about emotions, or calling up his dad/ father-in-law/ male mentors and telling them honestly about the positive impact they’ve had on his life.

Or, if that’s too much (which, if you’ve had a lifetime being emotionally locked down, I can see how it might be), he could try journaling to get in touch with his inner self, like a gratitude journal.

Or, hell, even dropping acid or shrooms or going on an Ayahuasca trip. Hallucinogenic experiences are supposed to encourage emotional breakthroughs, right? So that could’ve been a super-interesting, offbeat way for him to explore the question with low social risk without all the problematic dynamics of classism and sexism that he ended up stumbling on.

That’s like five ways he could’ve tried his experiment that didn’t involve trying to rope female retail/ service cashiers into unexpected one-sided emotional interactions.

Mind you, I do think Porter was coming from good intentions in examining the limited socialization of emotions–the research he presented was cool, and, I mean, all working parents take the lazy/ easy route sometimes. I bet it was definitely easier to beeline the cashier’s line than try to strike up a conversation in the cereal aisle, and I’m willing to bet he didn’t even realize he was consistently targeting lady cashiers. I suspect this informal little experiment went astray because he stayed in the safe zone, rather than risking rejection. Which I get! Baby steps and all that.

It’s just, as a rule of thumb, if you find you need to utilize paid employees in order to avoid rejection as you explore untapped emotional depths, I’d suggest a therapist or counselor rather than a service/ retail employee.

Therapists are trained to deal with that all that psychological emotive stuff, and went into the line of work of helping people working through their emotion because they have the desire to do it. They want to talk about your feelings with you.

Service/ retail employees are generally being polite because they have to in order to keep their job, and it’s the default human-mode in a civilized society. They just want to complete the customer service interaction without issue, finish the shift, and go home. They’ve got their own lives and their own problems. They don’t care about yours.

Trust me: They don’t get paid enough to care about yours. They don’t even get paid enough to care about the stuff you’re buying. Retail and service work are among the top five industries for job growth, with among the lowest wages. They’re not your untrained, underpaid therapist.