So an interesting thing happened on my Facebook page the other day. I posted a link to something and a contrarian man who I'll call Brett commented in reply. That's not the interesting part. Brett loves to post argumentative comments on my page and does so fairly often. He will post the occasional comment of agreement or support too, but arguments are more the norm. And while in part, this is just his personality, there seems to be something more complicated going on under the surface of these argumentative gestures, which are often left on posts that have to do with women's rights and violence against women. I think, for some men, any mention of the patriarchy can hit a nerve, and certainly, my posts on these subjects seem to elicit the most response. Furthermore, contrarian comments are generally condescendingly worded and oddly presumptuous, left by a the sort of man who favours a didactic style, though his opinions tend to be based on anecdotes rather than facts. In Brett's case, I don't even think he's aware of it. He's not a bad guy. But I've been losing patience with his combative nature for awhile.
So, last week, I posted a link to an issue I was interested in, with a one-line header that expressed my feeling: I was disappointed with the thing that was happening. Big whoop.
His contribution was this: The situation was inevitable and simple, he said. My disappointment was naïve, he implied. Sigh.
So what bothered me? His assumptions. Firstly, he assumed, seemingly-instinctively, that his opinion was better and more intelligent than mine. Secondly, he assumed that I had not done even the most basic level of research on the subject. And finally, he assumed that his voice was both welcome and invited. I think he did all this without even knowing he was doing it. Like I said, he's not a bad guy. Nonetheless, I'm not the only person who noticed the implications of what he said.
I responded. I usually ignore this sort of thing, but I guess I'd had enough. I explained why his initial comment was overly simplistic, shared some more complex factors that I felt his comment had ignored, and then told him his perspective sounded like mansplaining.
That was my mistake ... using the word "mansplaining." It was as though the word emitted a high-pitched whistle that only a certain kind of man could hear. It alerted them to danger, a siren wailing "Feminazi with opinions has ATTACKED our bro! We must ORGANIZE!" And so they did.
Brett said he was insulted and disappeared from the conversation, but his bros -- a small group of men who had nothing to do with the initial interaction and who, in fact, never comment on my page or interact with me online in any meaningful way -- rose out of the Facebook woodwork to come to his defence. One said he was worried about me. Another posted a link to the first result in a simple Google search in order to prove that I was wrong, and another -- an especially obnoxious man who I've always been nice to over the years, but never actually liked -- told me I should put tinfoil up to keep out "bad" opinions. (I have no idea why he put the word bad in quotation marks, since he wasn't quoting me.) Then, when I told him to fuck off, he implied that I was a bitch. I don't think he meant it misogynistically. I'm sure he implies that everyone he disagrees with is a bitch. Definitely. To clarify, I pushed him to actually say the word, but he refused several times, pretending he hadn't said anything at all. All bluster, no bravery. Not at all surprising.
Just chillin' in our tinfoil hats, keeping out the "bad" opinions. From the movie Signs.
So just to recap: For having an educated opinion and stating it, I was being called a crrraaaaaazy bitch. Just another nut with a vagina. Was this fun? No. It was not. Did I fall apart about it? No, I didn't. But I did talk back, because I'm tired of big, pushy loudmouths implying that I'm stupid or crazy for thinking what I think. I turned their crap back on them, not unlike a particularly-foul mirror.
To Brett, I said nothing. Like I said, he had disappeared.
The man who was concerned is a close friend -- the only real friend who got involved -- and so to him, I talked. Ultimately, I felt good about our interaction. While he's not used to me being assertive, he understood where I was coming from. Plus, he had the decency to contact me privately, instead of posting a little attack on the actual thread. As it turns out, he's a friend, rather than a bro. Good on him.
As for the man who sent the simple link, I deleted his comment. He responded that it would be okay for us to discuss the issue in private, via DM. I admit, even this felt presumptuous and entitled. Why is it assumed that he's owed a conversation? He's little more than an acquaintance and I didn't think I needed his approval to have a valid opinion. Nonetheless, his messages were respectful and politely worded, so I engaged with him a bit, even though I didn't think it was his place to get involved. And it was fine. Unnecessary, but fine.
[Edited to add: the man who sent the simple link, who pretended to have a civil conversation on this subject, has since blocked me. I assume, in solidarity with his blocked bro. But I'm the angry, unreasonable one in this scenario. Okay. Lol.]
As for the charming individual who implied that I was a crazy bitch, well. I'd already told him to fuck off, so I simply blocked him and told him he wouldn't be missed. It wan't a hard decision. The man's always been an idiot. (More on that later.)
So, it would seem that this little gang was dealt with tidily. Or ... was it?
I wish. Alas, the last man chose not to give up. Let's call him Gob, shall we? Gob, the man who told me I was a crazy bitch, continued to behave shamefully. Having been blocked from Facebook, he chose to send me (and others) a series of emails that a kind person could only categorize as stupid and obnoxious. Here's one of his earlier gems, from a time when he was still weakly-feigning politeness. I think he's trying to say ... Label bad! Libertarian good! Except when Gob make good label is smart! Rar! Something like that. It's a screen shot. Click to enlarge.
What can I say? This is a man who, when we were students, lifted a small, not-well-liked boy by the back of the shirt and the scruff of the neck and threw him from a room. I witnessed this charming bit of abuse. The story was told and retold, to the sounds of much laughter and merriment, because, of course, the boy who was tossed was odd and unpopular, and therefore deserved what he got. That is the mindset of most teens and I admit, I laughed along with everyone else. I was eighteen and stupid. But even at the time, in the back of my mind I was thinking We're laughing because a big guy physically assaulted a little guy. That's why we're laughing. I'm not the hero in this story, I did nothing and I am ashamed. But I think this tale helps to explain the personality of Gob.
In response to his email, above, I sent back a caustic little note of my own, in which I both pointed out the complete strangeness of his message, spawned as it was from a conversation he seemed to have imagined. I told him he was either confused or lying, and made fun of his atrocious spelling. We all make typos, I said, which is true. I've made some in this very post, but really ... considering the fact that he was being so condescending, I think so many errors are little much.
I didn't take the high road, but I did keep responding, and I'm pretty proud of that choice. To every one of his comments, to me or about me, I replied. And as long as he keeps writing, I will keep doing so. That is, until I can't be bothered anymore. That's my choice, not his. I read a piece by the awesome Lindy West once called Don't Ignore the Trolls. Feed Them Until They Explode.
and I consider myself to be taking her advice.
My point is this: Any woman who spends even a moderate amount of time discussing political and social justice-related issues on the internet knows that the web isn't a safe space for women.
I post a fair bit of political stuff on my Facebook page. That space, reserved for people I've approved as "friends" is my only online forum that is particularly controversial. (And honestly, not even very controversial -- I post plenty of silly jokes and amusing animal pictures, just like everyone else.) Nonetheless, I have a few particular areas of interest:
1) Race and Racism (specifically in regards to mixed-race issues)
2) Body Politics (specifically Size-Acceptance and Fat-Activism)
3) Gender Politics (specifically Feminism)
These are, not surprisingly, the political areas that have affected me most directly. I'm a woman (duh), I'm mixed-race (double-duh), and I am in recovery from an Eating Disorder (ED) and have been both fat and thin (if you read this blog, another duh). I have other, related interests, which include anti-capitalism, class issues, and poverty, but they are more peripheral than my main stuff. Anyway, all of this is simply to give you an idea of the sorts of things I post. None of them are all that radical, really, but most of them have a tendency to trigger certain insecurities in people, especially privileged people, and all of them tend to bring on argumentative comments from men. It's a sad fact that you can't really talk about sexism or racism or any major bigotry without offending people who think you're blaming them. Mention racism and some (SOME not all!) white people think you're criticizing them, for example. Talk about feminism and some (SOME!) men think "Hey! I'm a nice guy! You're attacking me!" These people feel angry, as if you're saying that systemic, institutionalized issues are their personal responsibility, when they're not. No one I know right now is a racist, but many people I know accidentally and unthinkingly have racist and biased ideas subtly influencing their ideas. Consider the fact that many people think names like Shaniqua are "ghetto." That's an inherently racist ideas, and it's just one of many that lots of people subscribe to without thinking. My point is that most of us are complicit to some extent, in every arena of inequality. Including me! That's okay! It's not our fault per se, but it's something that needs to be talked about, something that needs to be faced if it's ever going to change. That's why I talk about this stuff online when I can, to my friends, in the relatively safe space known as my private Facebook page, though as I said, I'm finding that bringing up these subjects can be dangerous. My story above was not about physical, major danger, but about the small things, the everyday things that are at very bottom of the same scale. Real danger is reserved, for the most part, for people who are much more important than me.
Consider Lindy West, the Jezebel writer -- my absolute current favourite online scribe. She wrote a couple of pieces awhile back that contained what amounted to a very mild critique of rape jokes in the sphere of stand-up comedy (for example, categorizing a joke about how a woman in an audience should be gang raped because she didn't find a particular comic's jokes to be as amusing as he did as not cool) and all hell broke loose. She received a deluge of rape threats, comments about how she was too fat and ugly to be raped, comments about wanting to rape her with a traffic cone, comments about how she should kill herself, etc. It was, for any reasonable person watching, both shocking and disgusting in a very visceral way. The word "cunt" was practically impossible to avoid, a clear favourite insult (next to fat and ugly, of course). It was metaphorically unbelievable and soberingly true -- a woman with an opinion had better beware. The internet and it's trolls were coming.
And then there's local Anita Sarkeesian. If you've never heard of her, let me sum up her story: In 2012, Sarkeesian launched a Kickstarter project to fund the Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series -- a project born of her academic background. She raised plenty of money, but she also drew the ire of a legion of misogynist trolls. According to her Wikipedia entry, she was e-mailed images of herself being raped by video game characters, her personal social media accounts were attacked (hacking attempts and the like), and even her Wikipedia entry was doctored, "vandalized with images of sex acts" according to the page as it currently exists. But, as they say in the world of late-night infomercials, that's not all! My favourite fun-fact in Sarkeesian's story is that one hater hated her enough to create a video game allowing angry male users (or anyone who felt like it) to "beat up Anita Sarkeesian." The premise was simple. Misogynists the world over could click on a stolen photo of Sarkeesian's face and watch while it transformed into a battered, bloody, bruised mess. These men wanted to put Sarkeesian in the hospital because they didn't like her ideas, but being weak and impotent, they decided to pretend to do so from the safety of their own manky basements instead -- a brave and not-at-all pathetic choice.
Sorry for the blurry image. It's the best quality I could find.
So, yeah. If you're a political woman, the internet is often a dangerous place. That's the simple part. But there's more to this story.
I do not think that I am at all like Lindy West or Anita Sarkeesian. Both of those women are major figures, important voices, both online and in the wider world, and not just because they're feminists. I'm a nobody -- a regular woman making no real political impact, just puttering along and trying to live my life. And that's fine. In fact, it's important, because big stories like the ones I just mentioned aren't all that common unless you're a major feminist figure. Much more common are stories of the sort of bullying and silencing that go on every day on the Facebook pages, the Twitter accounts and the web pages (etc.) of regular women like me. It's almost imperceptible, we're all so used to it, but if you're at all political, I'm sure you know what I'm speaking about -- the attempts to educate, to correct, to shame, to categorize us as crazy and imply that we are "bitches" to be dismissed -- in the form of comments from men who think their voices are always welcome, always wanted, always right. These are the sort of men who commonly take up the most space they can in the world, opening their legs wide on public transit, for example, interrupting with their booming voices when women are speaking, making little puppet mouths with their respective hands and saying "shhhhhht!" when they don't like what you're saying. And not as a joke.
Again, not ALL men are like this, of course -- Nathan
is a good example of that, as are all of the men in my immediate-circle -- and many men are only partially like this, or like this only once in awhile, but there are a lot of men who are like this all the time, out there in the world. Legions of them.
At least, that has been my experience. It's only recently that I've noticed the many ways in which everyday sexism affects my online life, and though I'm not sure this is something that happens to every woman who behaves like me on the internet, I have a sneaking suspicion that my experience is not so much an exception as it is the norm.
Let me preface this by saying that this blog is far from my best work. That's what happens with a rant. Okay, here we go.
This is my cell phone.
I take a lot of shit about this phone. People laugh at it. They roll their eyes. They are frustrated when I don't answer, frustrated that they can't get hold of me at the exact moment they want to.
I bought it in 2007, right after I moved back to Toronto from Vancouver. At the time, it was the cheapest model available. It works and I pay about $15 or less a month to operate it. Battery life remains good. I can receive texts, though I prefer not to, and send them, though I prefer not to. Half the time, the phone is dead, mostly because I often forget that I own it, sometimes for weeks at a time. I still check my voicemail, and not just to make the icon go away.
And you know what's great about it? You don't decide when you get to talk to me. I decide. If I like you, I do my best to accommodate you, especially when it's important, because that's what communication is -- it's about more than one person. But in the end, I decide what works for me and how much and how often I'm willing to listen. It's a good system, fundamentally similar to your own (which is using your phone the way you want, for what you want). Our systems don't always mesh, but so what? Curmudgeons: We're just like you!
, for his part, doesn't even have
a cell phone. So take the crap I receive and multiply it by a million for him.
As a unit, we get more pressure about our cell phone choices than we do about having a baby. And that's saying a lot.
Is it really such a big deal? I know I'm "trapped" in 2003. I like it here! 2003 was a great time for the cell phone. Why does it bother people so much? Is it so strange/wrong that I like focusing on the person or people I'm with when I'm with them, as opposed to focusing on my phone, looking ahead for something better? And likewise, is it wrong to prefer people who focus on me? Is it wrong to be irritated by last-minute "Oops! I'm going to be 45 mins late!" texts that arrive with no explanation? Wrong to want to have a conversation with someone who looks at my face rather than at his phone? When I'm with someone or doing something, that's what I'm doing. I'm busy. I'll get in touch with you another time, when I'm not busy. Why would anyone have a problem with that? I. Do. Not. Get. It. Maybe I'm 4000 years old at heart, but I don't get it.
I also don't get this brand-new community of earnest people who are just (finally) realizing they need to cut back on the cell phone use. There are so many articles about it, so many videos, each one more tiresome than the last. All this earnest fucking realization garbage, about something that is obvious and simple if you use an ounce of common sense ... it's ridiculous.
Here's one called The amazing discovery I made when my phone died
. (Amazing? Really?)
Here's a mini movie everyone was obsessing over about a month ago called I forgot my phone
. (Gag me.)
And here's everybody's favourite comedian Louis C.K. talking mostly about what I'm talking about in this much-less-funny blog. (And I LIKE Louis C.K. Everybody likes Louis C.K. There's nothing wrong with this bit, really. He's funny and he's right. He's so very "on-trend" -- that's the bit I find tiresome. The fact that this "realization" that should be obvious is even a trend to begin with.)
Articles about easing up on the smart phone usage are becoming like articles about "millennials." Enough, already. Guess what? Ten years ago, you didn't have a smart phone. What you've just "realized" about it isn't an "amazing discovery," it's a recent memory.
Once upon a time, I had a smart phone. I had to. For work. I checked it constantly. I rolled over in the morning and pulled it off my nightstand to check it, before I could even see straight. And then I realized how shitty that was, and how awful the constant checking made me feel, the way it activated my anxiety and bruised my soul, so I stopped. First I stopped checking so much, even though I had to keep the phone for work, and then eventually, I left the job and the phone behind.
If you think you use your smart phone too much, stop. Cut back. Be a grown up and do you. Take care of yourself. And move on with the understanding that you are not a trailblazer. You are not even a person who is particularly interesting. You're certainly not a hero.
The truth is, I love technology. I use technology! I have kept up with the social networks I like (such as Twitter), and this very blog, but I don't chain myself to them. I use Facebook even though I stopped enjoying it years ago, mostly because I think it's important for my work. And like I said, I text. On occasion. When I have to. I don't answer every call I receive, or every text. But that's not because I don't have a smart phone. It's because I DON'T WANT TO.
And can we also just talk for a second about email? Email, I'm all for. I love email. If you can't get me via text, why not email me? All the people who have smart phones have email on those phones, and yet, they don't want to email. Even though I like email. Even though emailing is the very best way to get in touch with me and to ensure a response. What's THAT about? Effective communication is about meeting in the middle, isn't it? ISN'T IT?
In my opinion, email is really just an improvement to something that already worked. It's practically exactly the same as a handwritten note or letter, but instant and free. I got behind email in 1995 and stayed here. Email helped me fall in love every single time it happened. It helped to solidify my closest, longest friendships. Email is great, and yet suddenly, it's not enough.
And to be fair, I think texting might be similar for some people -- just an even more distilled type of email. For some people. For many people, at least in my experience, it's an enabler of idiocy, ruining attention spans, destroying communication skills, making people even less empathetic and understanding, and even more stupid, detached, and selfish than they already were. And I don't like it. And I'm not going to start using it. Not now, or in the foreseeable future. Maybe eventually, if the climate surrounding how it's used changes and/or if I have to, but not right now. And y'all* or just going to have to ... as the kids say.
P.S. Thank god for Nathan. If I had to date in this text-obsessed climate, I don't know how I would stand it. Instead, I got in just under the wire, and hitched myself to man who is possibly even more curmudgeonly than I am. At least while the world is going crazy with the phones, we have each other.
* Not YOU you. If I like you and we're friends and you send me a text on occasion, understand that I'm not talking about you.
Ah, blogging. It's a bit of a problem. I mean, as you know, I like it. If I didn't, I wouldn't keep doing it, but at the same time, it has a tendency to rile people, even when I don't mean it to.
In part, this is my fault. I write personal stuff and I often mention people I know, but rarely do I name anyone. As a result, everyone thinks I'm writing about them. People say, "I read your blog post. Were you talking about me?" Or they say "I wish you wouldn't write about me." Some of these people even email their friends to say things like, "Look what that bitch Jen wrote about me." And they're always wrong. Always! People who think I'm writing about them are always wrong.
Sorry, but they are. YOU are. (And no offence, because I love you, but you need to work on getting over yourself.)
Re: This Blog -- It is not / was not / never will be about you.
I really don't write about anyone in my day to day life. That's just a fact. I rag on my family sometimes, sure, and sometimes I will mention a friend by name. If that's you, hurray! I like you! If I'm writing about anyone/anything else, it's probably about someone or something that happened a long time ago (though I might make it seem recent) or about someone who is NOT in my life and who I know for a fact does not read the blog.
Maybe this is a normal human failing. I know I do this myself -- I assume things are about me when they're not. It's sort of egomaniacal and sort of lame and mostly about anxiety, but we all need to work on quitting that shit. I'll work on thinking things aren't about me and you work on thinking things aren't about you. Because they're not. Relax, please. (And if you're someone who mistakenly decided I'd written about you and who subsequently forwarded part of my blog to anyone along with a note calling me a not-very-nice name, you were wrong and please stop doing that. You know who you are...)
To the rest of you: Hi! Thanks for not being crazy!
Howdy do, interwebbers.
It's been a bunch of weeks since I blogged last, mostly because I wanted to give that ED/SAD writeup piece plenty of time in the top spot. It's been shared hundreds of times and the feedback has been lovely and amazing and super duper gratifying. In fact, while I received many many many emails about it (not to mention comments, tweets, FB messages, etc.) I only had to deal with two instances of slightly unpleasant feedback. Note here that I'm not saying negative feedback. Even the two instances of unpleasant feedback were relatively positive. I just wasn't crazy about the interactions. I'll explain.
In one case, the person didn't want to talk about the post at all, didn't want to share her own experiences or feelings in response, only wanted to talk about how "proud" she was of me for writing it. It was sort of... well, condescending, frankly. She gave the impression of being just so above it all. Lame. Especially since this person is totally caught up in her own disordered eating issues and completely unaware of them. But whatever. (Besides that, I just hate it when people who haven't helped me or contributed to my success in any way have the nerve to say they're "proud" of me. Yuck. Pride when you've done nothing to contribute is a bit a of a joke, in my opinion.) I smiled and nodded as is my wont.
The other slightly unpleasant interaction involved someone who brought up the post, but then awkwardly trailed off saying she didn't know what to say about it. Seemed like she felt like I should be embarrassed about sharing too much. Probably because SHE felt embarrassed while reading it. Again, it's worth noting that this reaction ALSO came from a person who is body-obsessed and very invested in her own youth and thinness, so maybe that's part of it. She didn't have anything bad to say, but she made it clear the whole thing made her uncomfortable. She gave the impression that she thought her reaction was the "normal" one. I didn't explain to her that out of hundreds of responses, hers was the only awkward one. Again, I smiled and nodded. What else can you do, right? Poor thing.
To the rest of you, the ones who wrote and shared and basically just behaved like the rad, kind, wonderful people you are: thank you. And to the folks who said nothing because you had nothing nice to say: thank you too.
Life of late has been fairly domestic. I've been doing stuff like baking bread, believe it or not. (Used Mark Bittman's famous no-knead method. Came out kinda yeasty, but not bad.) Here's a photo of the dough, resting:
I've also been trying to season a vintage cast iron pan I found at a junk sale. I can't figure out anything about the brand, but I think the piece is pre 1940s because of the smooth finish. (House filled with smoke. So many black drips. Am going to have to start from scratch. Very depressing.) Here are a couple of photos of the pan before I began my failed refurbishing process:
Finally, I've been trying to get my house clean in a deep sort of way. You know, in a "I moved the fridge and washed under it" sort of way. When cleaning in this fashion, you come across some interesting items. Like REALLY old potatoes. At least, this is the sort of thing I come across. My ancient potatoes looked like this:
Cool, right? Alien-esque.
Anyway. It's not much, but that's what's going on here. (Domestic adventures and little else.) Talk soon. x
I feel like I've spent a lot of my life being a pushover. Someone asks me for something and no matter how I feel about it, I generally say yes because saying yes is easier than saying no.
Don't get me wrong -- this "don't say no" mentality has not resulted in me actually DOING an endless number of things I don't want to do. Rather, it's resulted in me being annoyed a lot of the time (and in some cases, in people becoming annoyed with me).
Let me explain.
First off, I have been known to say "maybe" to things when I really want to say no, which is something people catch on to after awhile. I also rely heavily on "excuses." My excuses are rarely untrue, but they are excuses nonetheless, and include the following:
I can't because ... I have a headache.
I can't because ... I am already committed to something else.
I can't because ... I will be out of town.
Excuses are wonderful things. They have often allowed me to say no without feeling like I was saying no. Saying "I can't" is so much better than saying "I won't" -- no guilt! When one of these excuses is given, the impression I hope to give is that I WOULD do the thing I'm being asked to do, that I WANT to do it, but that, through no fault of my own, I CAN'T. (So sorry!) For a crazy-face like me, who is ridiculous about saying no, this is wonderfully relaxing. Excuses mean I don't have to say no. Being unavailable is not my fault! No one can blame me, or be angry, or push back against my desires, because my answer is not about desires! Hurray! It's out of my hands!
I mean, I hate the fact that I suffer from a lot of serious headaches, but at least they get me out of things, right?
This behaviour is, to put it mildly, fucked up.
In my own defense, I will say that my experiences with saying no haven't been all that positive, and this hasn't helped matters. I mean, you've read the blog, you know my family is seriously cray cray, so saying no to relatives (or, you know, having feelings of any kind) has never been easy. But even with friends, even with acquaintances, it's been difficult. I don't like conflict. Or arguing. Yet, I feel dragged into conflict-based interactions whenever I try to assert myself. This is why I find it so much easier to default to a position of "yes" or even better, "I wish I could, but ..."
Don't believe me? Take, for example, a version of this exchange, which is exaggerated, but which I promise you, takes place regularly in my life:
Pushy Pusherman: Hey Jen! Can you help me with this thing? It's a great idea, right?"
Jen: Um, no. I can't. Sorry.
PP: "Don't worry, it'll be easy."
Jen: "Yeah... but still, no."
PP: "But it's a great idea! What are your reservations? WHY won't you do what I want?"
Jen: "Oh, lots of reasons... [insert at least one or two gentle ones, but never the most important reason which is I DON'T WANT TO.]"
PP: Those aren't good reasons! It's a great idea! I want you to do it because ... [insert reasons that are primarily selfish and do not take into account the fact that I ALREADY SAID NO.]
PP: So, you'll do it right?
PP: I think you should Come on, do it.
PP: Keep an open mind. Let's brainstorm a way to make this work.
Jen: Sorry, but it just doesn't work for me, under any circumstances.
PP: I'm sure we can work this out. [Read: So I can get what I want. My feelings are more important than yours!]
Jen: Okay ... maybe. We'll see. [Or worse-still - "yes."]
Inevitably, I end up doing things I don't want to do because of conversations that are just like this one -- conversations in which my initial "no" is flat-out ignored.
I don't know how to deal with these sorts of interactions. They leave me feeling resentful and frustrated. WHY should I have to explain myself, I wonder? Why don't people listen to me? What is unclear about the word no? Why are my feelings not taken into account? Why is the onus on me to give a REASON for refusing to do someone a favour? Why is a simple no so rarely enough?
These questions keep me awake at night, and again -- that's fucked up. Because you KNOW Pushy Pusherman isn't lying awake at night. Pushy Pusherman is sleeping like a baby because Pushy Pusherman is an egomaniac who almost always gets what she/he wants.
I suppose it's partially my fault. I give in. But I wonder, is there something about me that bullies can sense, just by looking? Do they know that if they push, push again, and then push some more, I will cave? How do they know? There seems to be something magical and intangible about me that screams, "Don't respect my boundaries, just push! I will give in eventually because I hate arguments and I'm always willing to put my own wants and needs behind the wants and needs of someone who's willing to fight me."
It must be at least partially my fault. I've set a precedent. And I've done it consciously, because sometimes, I find myself reasoning, "Well, this person is willing to be incredibly pushy, so it must really matter to him/her. I'm NOT willing to be incredibly pushy, so it obviously doesn't matter that much to me. I should give in. I mean, if I am to believe this Pushy Pusherman attitude, this person cares A LOT. My attitude says that this request is not all that important to me. Ergo, what I want must objectively be less important than what they want. I should give in." And give in, I do.
And then the endless lending of stuff, doing of favours, attending of events and maintaining of relationships that I don't give a shit about exhausts me and I end up feeling resentful and grumpy and put upon. I start getting more stress headaches, which (at least) gets me out of things for awhile and allows me to have a break.
This is a bad cycle, stemming, I suppose, from a variety of bad attitudes. And I've heard all the criticisms and little nuggets of wisdom before, so don't bother telling me I have to "put myself first" or "fight for what I want" or "be tough." Thanks, but that sort of advice is unhelpful and misses the point. I don't want to FIGHT for what I want. I don't want to fight at all. I want people to respect that what I want is valuable, that when I say no, I have my reasons, and that my feelings are important. Why should I have to FIGHT for that? WHY???
And don't tell me that this is just how the world works, because it's not. I respect other people's desires. When someone says no to me, I say okay. Unless something seems really objectively important above and beyond their feelings, or unless I feel the person saying no doesn't have all the necessary information, as far as I'm concerned, no means no. You don't have to tell me twice. This is not hard. All it takes is simple common sense to determine when something is important enough to push for and when pushing would simply be selfishness and a complete unconsciousness of anyone else's feelings on my part. I do it all the time, but many (many) more people out there seem to think their every little desire is ALWAYS of paramount importance. And unless you regularly sledge-hammer-forward the idea that other people, you know, exist, their attitude is always "me me me." Where do these people come from? Who raises children to think of themselves as little centres of the universe? A lot of people, it would seem, because Pushy Pushermans abound.
But okay, I get it. I can't change other people, I can only change myself. So to begin with, what I'm wondering is this: How can I change that weird thing about me that seems to invite people to push into a thing that makes them instinctively understand that no means no. HOW?
Some progress has been made. A few years ago, when explaining to my friend Steve that I felt I couldn't stop hanging out with certain people (let's call them "friends") without offering a good explanation, he helped me understand that an explanation wasn't owed. "If you don't want to be friends with someone, don't be friends with them," he said. "If you don't want to argue about it, don't argue. The relationship isn't working for you, you've given [name redacted] notice that you wanted things to change, they've ignored you. What else can you do? Maybe they won't like it, but that's not your problem."
Finally, finally - something resonated. If I say no, and someone gets upset, that's not my problem. It's not even my fault! How they feel isn't more important than how I feel. And if I let the situation continue, I'm enabling them. I'm letting them continue to behave in the ways they have always behaved. I'm saying okay to a situation that works for them, but that does not work for me. I may choose to do that, and if so, fine, but it hardly makes sense to complain about it if I do, right? RIGHT.
This revelation came, as I said, a few years ago. And at the time I thought, "I'm finally growing up!" Alas, while I got up the nerve to "unfriend" people and change some relationships as a result, overall, I'm still a pushover. And worse, I still feel guilty and upset about how people have responded to me putting myself first. When they've been angry, I've felt terrible. When they've argued, I've been contrite. In other words, I thought I'd experienced a revelation, and I thought significant progress would result, but all I'd really taken was a baby step.
Luckily, baby steps continue, and get steadier in time. In the last while, I've been a little better about asserting myself. I've been better about setting boundaries. At work, I've actually said the words, "I think that's above my pay grade." BAM! It felt great!
And WAY WAY more importantly, this happened: To a person who regularly says hurtful things to me, over the phone I said, "You know what? These things are hurtful. If you continue to say these things, and refuse to apologize, I'm not going to spend time with you anymore. Simple." Shockingly (although, why should I be shocked?) this has not gone over all that well. Hurty Hurtfulson told me to "let it go" and to "just stop being angry" etc., but wonderfully, happily, I didn't let her make me angry and I didn't give in! I calmly (okay, relatively calmly - my voice was shaking a bit) restated my position, which was this: "I'm not angry. I'm hurt. You are saying hurtful things. Stop or the consequence will be no contact with me." When she tried to argue again, cut her off, saying "Sorry, but this is the way it is. Deal with it." And then I hung up. And it felt GREAT. Great great great!!! It felt great to name my terms and be calm about enforcing them. Why didn't I do this sooner? Why wasn't I able to?
The experience was so positive, I've managed to keep the ball rolling. To those who regularly borrow things from me, I've started setting conditions -- simple, basic conditions, but never-before-verbalized. For example: "If you borrow something, I want it returned in the same condition it was in when you took it." In other words, if something was clean when borrowed, I want it clean when it's returned. (Simple request, right? But soooo hard for me to make. And you would not believe how often I get stuff back that is dirty.) As with Hurty Hurfulson, The Borrowers are pushing back. It's a new day and I suppose they're just not used to me setting terms, but instead of giving in when said Borrowers have presented reasons why they might not be able to meet my terms, I've been able to say "Sorry, but these are the conditions. You can borrow it, but I want it back the way I want it back. If you can't handle that, you can't borrow it. Simple." And I haven't felt panicked, which has been my default sensation in situations like this for years. If The Borrowers don't comply, and I have to say no in future as a result, that's cool. I think I feel okay with that.
So does this mean I'm finally growing up? Have I FINALLY fundamentally begun to understand what I can control and what I can't? Are my emotions finally catching up with my rational brain?
Want to ask for something or do something? That's up to you. If I feel like saying no or not putting up with it for any reason, that's up to me. You feel angry about that? Again, that's up to you. Letting your anger change my behaviour? That's up to me. It's. So. Simple.
I don't want to let the ball stop rolling on my new-found confidence in these matters, so any advice would be helpful. How do I keep saying no and keep feeling cool when people push back? Don't let me drop the ball on this one, blog-friends. This is a major step in my mental/emotional development.
Picture this: I'm 22. I'm in my first-ever "grown up and single" apartment in Vancouver. I am surrounded by the overwhelming IKEA packing detritus from one futon, four side tables, a small dining set, a desk, a dresser, a bookcase, a TV stand, and assorted sets of plates, glasses, pots, pans, knives and cutlery, bedding, towels, and a shit load of other stuff I can't remember. (I had nothing. I needed everything. And I bought that everything at IKEA and had it all delivered on one day.) That's how much crap there is around me.
So, I'm sitting in the middle of my bedroom floor, surrounded by the already scratched and dented framing of the bed I've now put together incorrectly twice (first, thinking it was upside down, I had to take it all apart and rebuild it right side up... only, having done that, I realized that I'd actually built it correctly the first time). Yay.
I have instructions, of course. The instructions look like this:
These instructions mean: Don't do this alone. You NEED HELP. Get a friend to help you! These instructions also mean: If you don't understand what to do, call IKEA.
Only, I don't have a friend. I do have an idiot boyfriend, but he's nowhere to be found. And I can't call IKEA for help because my cell phone battery is dead and the charger is lost amid all the moving boxes and aforementioned IKEA detritus.
So I'm sitting on the floor of my sad little Jr. One Bedroom apartment, in the centre of what was supposed to be my perfect (albeit small) new bedroom, and I'm cradling my right hand, which is bruised green from 48 straight hours of turning reluctant allen keys ... and I'm crying. Mouth open, nose running, full-on crying.
I am crying for many reasons. I am crying because I don't think I can stand to take apart and rebuild my bed for a third time (why, God, why?). And I'm crying because my hand hurts like a mother fucker. And most of all, I'm crying because it seems entirely possible that I will not only NOT have a bed to sleep in tonight, but that I may never sleep in a bed again. I may, in fact, die from some sort of allen-key induced gangrene and the IKEA cardboard will absorb the smell of my rotting corpse, and no one will find me until I default on my rent, which may well happen, even if I DON'T die, because I spent every penny I had outfitting my apartment for my wonderful new life, which has so far consisted of nothing but moving-related trauma.
This is what happens when you try to move alone.
But this weekend, I helped my friend Emily move. And it was no big deal. I was one of many friends she had helping her out, and all in all, everything went smoothly. It wasn't particularly hard. It wasn't annoying. It didn't put me out. I had the time, I needed the exercise, and other than the part where I had to wake up at 8 am on a Saturday, it was pretty fun. Not unlike a social event, except with a practical, measurable purpose.
Moving is often cited as one of the absolute most stressful things in life. Right up there with divorce and being fired. But if you're not the person who's actually moving, if you're just helping out, it's really not stressful at all. Not comparably. And that's why you should do it. Because it's no big deal for the helper, but probably a VERY big deal for the helpee. I've been both, so I know this for sure.
It's pretty simple, actually.
Christmas eve and aaaaaaaaalllllllll's well!
Remember, no one can stop you from taking shots in the powder room, if you feel so inclined. Do what's right for you.
Have a good one, blah-og friends. I send you love, peace and Santa Claus.
Hey all. Regular readers have noticed that Monday's post has been taken down. If you were lucky enough to read the comments section, I'm sure you already know at least some of the story. Let's just say: Holy drama, Batman! and leave it at that.
Now let's all take a moment to remind ourselves of what's important.
And actually, while we're at it, let's talk a little bit about comment moderation. For future reference, here's how comments on jenselk.com work:
I generally publish everything, as long as the person leaving the comment doesn't try to be anonymous. If you don't want your comment to be searchable in relation to your name, I'm okay with that, so using initials, leaving out a last name, etc. is generally not a problem. BUT if you don't submit a real/active email address (which is never published, only sent privately to the moderator) so that your identity is at least clear to me (remember me? the owner of the site?) then I might not publish what you have to say.
Furthermore, regardless of all this, I don't actually have an obligation to publish comments of any kind. Even mass market newspapers moderate comments, and there are no official moderation standards in place. Everyone uses a different system. My system is the one I've just explained to you above.
So let's all agree that if you've got a hate on, you're welcome to it. Hate on, my hateful brothers and sistas! But remember this key point: I'm not actually obligated to provide you with a hate platform. And let's also agree that it would be a little strange for me to provide you with a platform to hate on me, personally.
That would be weird, right?
Anyway, by all means, start your own site to trash me if you feel you must (that would be pretty impressive, actually ... like being famous!). But on this site (the one with my name on it, that I own) I'm the boss. Sorry kids.
My friend Nick's first child was born eight months ago.
Eight months ago, and I only managed to meet her last week.
I've had a gift for her sitting on my desk for ages - a small, blue elephant, purchased during the Christmas rush. Plush, of course. Friendly-looking. Adorned with a jaunty red bow about the neck (a sweet addition, if I do say so myself).
I was looking forward to handing it over. I was sure the baby would like it.
But nonetheless, as I drove across the city to Nick's house (way up in North York's east end, where he and his wife decided to settle in order to get something of a decent size that was at least semi-affordable), I thought to myself, 'this is what our friendship - no wait, our lives - have come to.'
Eight months to plan a simple visit.
And then I realized I'd forgotten the elephant at home.
Which, just, you know... figures.
Nick is what I'd call a good friend. A close friend. I love him, even though I only manage to see him only a few times a year (at best). But this is what most of my close friendships are like nowadays. Almost everyone I love best is at a distance, in a different city, or working a different schedule. We're all kept apart by the demands of young families, new partners, and business trips. We exchange sporadic emails that are lovely to read, but hellish to get around to writing, and catch sight of each other at weddings and christenings and that sort of thing, when we generally find about five minutes to talk before our relatives sweep us away. I receive (and send) the occasional nostalgic text, but we never talk on the phone. (Who has the time?)
And that's just the way it is.
That's being grown up and living far away and being busy with work and grocery shopping and exercise and family obligations and all of the general hoo-ha that goes along with being a (reluctantly) upwardly mobile thirty-something living in a major city. It's related (somewhat) to the money issue I wrote about a few weeks ago. Mo' money, mo' problems, remember? We're too busy, mostly because we think we need more money. I think that's what it comes down to.
Like I said, that's just the way it is, but at times, it's hard to reconcile with what I remember.
When I was a kid, I would take four to six paperbacks out of the school library on Friday afternoon, just to ensure I'd have enough to occupy me over the weekend. I'd lie on my living room floor, paperbacks in a pile, bowl of snacks beside me, just killing time, for hours. I was often bored. I was never busy.
Were someone to call, I'd be ready, at the drop of a hat, to do whatever was suggested. I was always free.
And my fluid, free-time filled lifestyle continued all the way through university. Once, when we were both still students at Queen's, Nick called me up in the wee hours of the morning and said, "I'm going to Toronto. Want to come?" And 30 minutes later we were on the road. Three hours later we were in the city. And by nightfall we were back in Kingston. I didn't even have to think about it. He called and we went. That was the extent of our planning.
Now it takes us eight months to sort out a simple lunch.
And I'm not even popular! That's the real shocker. I'm well-liked (I think), but no social butterfly. And compared to most people I know, I'm positively lousy with time. I work part time. I play sports for fun. We have no children and Nate is an academic, which means he's often at home. My life is shockingly easy, and still, I find myself saying no to half the things I'm invited to, and constantly apologizing for being absent. And at the very same time, I feel like I'm failing at being busy enough. It's mental. Mental, I tell you.
I'm not sure what my point is. I guess this is just something to work on. For the time being, I've visited with Nick and I've met the baby (adorable, chubby, sweet). But the elephant is still sitting here, on my desk, staring at me.
Judging me. I can tell.
Image 1: Jellycat Junglie Blue Elephant; Image 2: Organic Beginnings Baby Sprouts Blue Elephant; Image 3: Bimbo Plush Elephant; Image 4: Judgy Elephant; * available at various retailers online
Last night, I had a dream about high school. No big deal. Who doesn't dream about school from time to time? It's pretty common.
Sometimes, in my dreams, I've forgotten to graduate and have to go back. Occasionally, I have to sit an exam for a class I never attended. Once in awhile I'm in a school play, and can't remember my lines.
Pretty basic stuff, really.
School dreams are usually about stress. They suck, but I expect you're used to them.
The dream I had last night was not a school dream in the traditional sense. It was a dream about something that actually happened, something I hadn't thought about in years. A nightmare, really.
It was a dream about being Heathered.
That's how I like to describe what happened to me during my last year of high school. "I was Heathered," I say, laughing. I've never found a better way to explain the systematic destruction of my reputation and social life engineered by a small pack of girls who, once upon a time, I considered my closest friends.
We were an unusual group, I suppose. Smart, certainly. Or devoted to seeming so. We were girls who did our homework. Or rather, they were girls who did their homework. I never did my homework. If an assignment wasn't going to be graded, I just didn't see the point. My clique was full of brown-nosers, so I think this reflected badly on me right from the start, though we all got good grades.
In retrospect, I see how important our image was. We were so modern. So multicultural! So perfectly 1990s. Charoula was the prettiest (and the whitest -- not a coincidence, in my opinion). Sonia was the sweetest. Devyani was the richest (with mixed-race parents, like mine, but hers were famous and had much more panache). Lucy was the artsy-est. (I heard she ultimately became some sort of art therapist. When you get to the end of the story, I invite you judge whether or not this is ironic.)
I don't know what I was. Mixed race, I suppose, which was important in Canada at that particular moment. My mother is South Asian, hailing from Goa, India. My father is white. I filled a niche. The first time Lucy visited my home she commented, with some disappointment, on how "normal and Canadian" it was. She expected more "Indian stuff." I felt, at that moment, a slight shame. Though the decor certainly wasn't up to me, I had the sense that I was failing somehow. Failing to be "ethnic enough" and to fill the role they'd picked me for.
None of that matters, really. What matters is that I made two fundamental mistakes between 1996 and 1997. I got myself a boyfriend and, like an idiot, I fell in love.
Matt was older, already in university. And though he was friends with my friends, and for a time, we all hung out as a group, he wasn't around in the day to day. And slowly but surely, the day to day changed.
L to R: Matt, me, Sonia, Lucy, Charoula, Devyani and a perfectly nice person named Kenny
I don't know who said what. I don't know who started what rumour or how they spread. On the surface, at least, nothing was especially wrong. My friends were still my friends, though they stopped calling me, and I found myself left out of plans and conversations more often than not. When I mentioned it (which I did, being unaware of subtlety and unable to read between the lines) the girls said straight out, that they felt we were "drifting apart." That I "didn't understand" them anymore. That we had "different values."
They were 17 and 18 and had, as people say, never been kissed. The dearth of romance in their lives was a regular topic of conversation. By contrast, I was 16 and in love with someone I thought I might actually marry. Ultimately, I think that's what this was about. "We just don't have much in common anymore," said Sonia, during one memorable lunch hour. It stung at the time, but I suppose she was right.
And then it got worse.
I became a "slut." There were whispers. A fringe-friend in a different grade said she'd heard something about me "hopping from guy to guy." It made no sense. I was in love! I was more than a year into my monogamous relationship! I've considered it, and I still don't really understand what happened, or why. I only know that it did.
I was a slut. I was branded.
Once, walking down the crowded hallway, someone actually coughed the word at me.
And there was a burst of laughter.
Other things happened as well. The girls -- my friends -- gathered to telephone my boyfriend. (The Internet had yet to boom.) They each took a turn on the line. Why were they calling? They just wanted to warn him, they said, about me. Hadn't he heard what I was up to? Hadn't he heard who I REALLY was? They didn't want to cause any trouble, of course. But they cared about him, they said. They were calling for his own good.
I was sitting next to him on the sofa when this happened. He covered the mouth piece.
"It's your friends," he said. "You better pick up the extension."
I did. And we spent the next 15 minutes listening to my friends trash talk me.
When the call ended, we hung up and stared at each other.
"What the fuck was that?" he said. I didn't know what to say. I cried, I think. In confusion.
As the year went by and things got worse, I lived increasingly in a state of social fear, sweating constantly and making multiple trips to a little-used washroom in the school basement, where I stuffed paper towels under my arms in an attempt to keep the stains from showing. (I'm sweating right now, actually. I'm sweating just thinking about it.)
We graduated. The girls and I made a show of going to the prom as a group. Matt drove. We were one happy clique.
Summer arrived. I made plans to go to university out of town. I was desperate, for more than one reason, to get away.
Posing, as teenage girls tend to do. L to R: me, Sonia, Charioula, Lucy, Devyani
The whole thing came to a head in the late summer of 1998. The girls invited me to a "group meeting." They called my boyfriend first. Again. Before calling me. They called to ask him to convince me to attend. The whole thing was planned our and staged like an intervention. Something about a united front.
He refused, of course. And called me immediately. He was loyal, which might have been why I was so very taken with him. He urged me not to go, and in retrospect, I can't imagine why I didn't listen. I was angry at that point, I suppose. I didn't want them to think I was afraid. I didn't want to seem weak.
So I went. Matt came with me. We ended up at a city park. The girls requested that we sit on the grass in a circle and Lucy produced a "talking stone." ("Please don't speak," said Lucy, in a syrupy-sweet 'I'm so mature' sort of voice, "unless you are holding the stone.") And then they passed the stone around the circle and proceeded to tell me that they were kicking me out of the group, and why I was no longer welcome.
To be fair, not all my "friends" were in attendance. Devyani was out of town and missed the whole thing. Sonia, I believe, refused to attend, for which, I suppose, she deserves some credit. I noted at the time, and still remember however, that the telephone call to "warn" Matt about me had originated at her house, so clearly, she knew what was happening.
Lucy was there, of course (she being the meanest of the group and the one who seemed to hate me the most). I must have done something to deserve it, but I never knew what. Charoula was there as well, along with one other person they'd roped in for support. Charoula, to her credit, seemed embarrassed by the whole thing and didn't say much other than that she didn't really have a problem with me and didn't know why she was there. (She acted as though she'd just stumbled upon the meeting or been roped in against her will, despite having directly participated in planning the event. I guess her resolve failed her once we were face to face.) It was Lucy who did most of the talking. But as a group, nonetheless, they were quite the jury. Like something out of a movie, which is why I thought of Heathers.
In the end, I had my say. They finished their spiel, the "talking stone" passed to me (how utterly ridiculous) and I spent a good ten minutes spewing as much venom at them as I could manage on short notice. I didn't let any of them speak again. And at around 11 p.m., I stood up and walked away. And that was it.
I went off to University a week later. I made new friends. I never saw Lucy, Charoula or Sonia again.
Despite all that, believe it or not, I tacked a picture of those girls up on my dorm room wall not two weeks later. A picture of us all together. Smiling. I guess I didn't want to seem like I had no friends back home. Or perhaps I didn't really understand that it was over. I let those girls stare down at me for more than six months before I had the sense to take them down. Pathetic, really.
But none of that equals the most important part of the story. Here is the most important part of the story, the thing that matters most after all this time:
That night in the park, as I walked away, riding high on the fact that I'd had the last word, I tripped.
I was wearing a pair of high-heeled suede boots (with cut-off jean shorts, thankyouverymuch -- stylish!). And I had been sitting cross-legged in a park for over an hour. One of my legs was asleep. And so, when I stood to walk away, I stumbled, my sleeping leg twisting under me and making a sickening pop. I turned my ankle badly. It hurt like bloody hell.
I didn't look back, but I knew as I limped away that my exit had been ruined slightly. Matt and I spent the rest of the evening soaking my swollen and blackening foot in ice water. It was really glamorous.
Why is the fact that I tripped the most important part of the story? Because years later, I ran into Devyani (the one who'd been out of town for my formal execution) and we rekindled a relationship for a brief time. And, somehow, the Heathering came up. She hadn't been there, but she'd been told about it. And what she said about it amazed me.
"I heard you fell down," she said, with a small giggle.
I heard you fell down.
That's the part of the story she heard. That's the part they remembered! That's the only part, I imagine, they found worth repeating.
Hearing it blew my mind.
I was in a play once. I didn't forget my lines.
I rarely think about high school, if I can help it. It was a long time ago. Onward and upward, right? What does it matter?
I don't think my "friends" were bad people. I think they were teenagers. I think they were prone to pack mentality, and without empathy. Maybe all children are like that. Maybe it's how they survive. (At least one of the girls was over 18, but it's obvious we weren't truly mature.) I'm sure (I hope) those girls grew up to be perfectly lovely women. Things change. I know I wouldn't like anyone to judge who I am now based on who I was in high school. Nonetheless, I find myself feeling less than perfectly forgiving about the whole thing. Some betrayals stay with you for a long time. They colour your life. This was certainly the case for me. I'm still hesitant and guarded in my friendships with women to some extent, and all this happend thirteen years ago.
When I woke from my fevered dream of being Heathered, I was sweating. Can you believe that? My nightshirt was soaked around the collar. In my dreams, I've been in car accidents, I've drowned, I've even been shot in the head, but I've never been happier to wake than I was this morning. I feel bouts of childhood nostalgia just like the next person, but today, I felt none of that.
I've never been happier to be in bed beside my partner, with endless work days on the horizon, bills to pay, dishes to wash, laundry to do, and an appointment with my mechanic in the afternoon. I've never been happier to be grown up.
High school is, more often than not, just something we have to make it through.
I made it. And I'm grateful.
UPATE: Alright princes and princesses. I deleted the last names and blurred the photos. Keep your pants on.