Tuesday, April 05, 2016

The things you'll never understand.

This got too long to post on facebook. It was a response to this post: "Today I had to explain to a 60 year old man why he was banned from the pub."

I wish the managers at my workplace "Got it" like this guy does. Last time I was harassed to tears by a pair of men, called a bitch and told that I, a four-year veteran of this place and smarter than 3/4 of the men here, didn't know how to do my job, the manager on duty waved it off and served them unquestioningly and with a friendliness that hurt me more deeply than the name-calling. Like I didn't matter. Like I wasn't worthy of respect. Like saving our company's reputation for "great customer service" was worth more than my humanity.

(they were stealing, too, which made it worse.)

He waved off my upset as if I were being oversensitive. He made their anger worth more than mine. And I don't think it ever crossed his mind that he was doing something harmful; he was just "solving the problem" by appeasing the customer. The fact that the customer had just verbally attacked one of his employees never seemed to matter. The fact that their sexist remarks and the hundreds of others I have endured are among the reasons I think about walking out every day doesn't impact daily store operations. Harassment isn't seen as an issue in our store even after one of our female employees was literally stalked and threatened by a customer. He showed up at her home after being told his advances were unwelcome. He touched other women inappropriately and repeatedly. He never opened his mouth without an off-color remark coming out and the men in our store laughed and joked with him and greeted him with smiles every time he came in even as his sustained harassment was discussed openly by the women they work with. They offered lame excuses for his behavior and discounted the stories when it came out that he had prior convictions for assault. And it took months, a sustained campaign by several women, and a police report for our store to ban the offending contractor "because he brings a lot of business in and we don't want to act rashly".

Women in the service industry allow people to attack us verbally, touch us in unwelcome ways, leer and make suggestive comments on a daily basis. We do this because the other option is to defend ourselves and lose our jobs, to become unemployable over something so small as our claim to self-respect. We ask our managers to watch and listen and stop this behavior and most of them refuse. Some declare that it's "corporate policy" not to remove customers for such "minor" behavioral issues. Some claim the company will lose much-needed business if we stand up for ourselves. Some tell us that they are just not comfortable with that fight. Many tell us we are not allowed to defend ourselves, lest we offend somebody or put ourselves in physical danger. But it's okay to be harassed constantly, because that's not physically dangerous - just dangerous to our sense of well-being and self-respect and obviously those don't matter.

So many managers (both male and female) aren't comfortable standing up for their employees, but I'm not comfortable with men putting their hands on my arms, shoulders, and back in ways that imply ownership, leaning too far into my space, or whispering "You have very pretty skin" while their wife browses just out of hearing distance. I do not welcome the stares when I bend to pick up a box or pallet, or the disrespectful "chivalry" of men who won't let me lift it because I'm "just a girl".

It would be nice if I didn't have to tell the men in my life all of this. It'd be nice if the harassment (which is mild in comparison to others' experiences) never happened because little boys were raised to respect everybody, not just to see women as foreign objects. But this kind of sexism and harassment is deeply embedded. Most guys don't even realize it, and if they do their first response is "I'm not like that!" even as they continue to defend the awful behavior of their friends and coworkers.

I have a sense of humor and a little self-worth. I know some of my own strengths and don't have to hear from someone else that I am a good worker or smart or pretty. I laugh at jokes about female drivers even as I run heavy equipment. I don't flinch when people jokingly tell me to stand aside and "let the men do it" (Why would I? You want to do my job? Sure, I'll get paid to stand around and watch you!). I am also struggling daily with the kind of depression and anxiety that leads so many people to suicide, and harassment doesn't help. So yes, I can function around sexism every day. But it's not good for me. It's not good for anybody.

And because it's such a damn tiring fight and I'm not out to hate all men or make the entire world a "safe space", I let a lot slide. I know most of the time, you guys don't mean anything by jokes about my driving and that if I fire one back you won't think anything of it, either. My personal line in the sand is drawn at disrespect, especially the kind of casual disrespect that damages women professionally - the offhand comments about "that time of the month" and the discounting of women's experiences and stories. The kind that says "You need work on conflict resolution" to me when I nervously stand my ground in front of an angry customer but pats my male manager on the back when he folds like wet paper in front of that same customer and calls it "making the customer happy". That attitude hurts more than all the harassment, because it's that casual discounting of my existence as a human being with the same goals, dreams, and rich inner life as you that leads to the kind of harassment that so many women
deal with.

We are not foreign creatures. We are not sex objects. We are people. We deserve respect.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Sexism and Criticism

I've been link-hopping through the article that a friend thoughtfully provided for a little writing group I'm in, on sexism in Young Adult publishing, and finally hit this thoughtful article about critiques -  specifically critiques for/by female reviewers:

"The idea is, apparently, that women are so exhausted by the intellectual labor required to produce the text in question that we are unable to withstand any subsequent critique, and ought instead to fall back on some kind of rosy-cheeked sorority of lady writers, exchanging stain-removal tips and sob stories."

*sighs and reclines onto fainting couch*

The article makes some good points.

I think this goes further than just a fear of publishing criticism in YA. Across a hundred subjects and disciplines, from literature to food blogging to college classes, people have backed off strict criticism in favor of hedged, softened words of gentle advice or worse, silence. I'm guessing this change is due to a misguided sense that communities striving to be "diverse", "inclusive", and "welcoming" can not under any circumstances allow criticism - even constructive kinds.

But let's get this straight: Constructive criticism is not mean, it is not intentionally harmful to minorities (although unintentional harm should be part of the larger discussion) or non-inclusive or unwelcoming and it is the responsibility of the author when putting their work out into the world to accept the possibility that not everybody is going to love it and further that it is an author's responsibility to duly consider all reviews, both positive and negative and not to take them as personal attacks but as what they are - reader opinion which may or may not figure into the writer's personal growth.

Critical reviews are an integral part of growing and improving as a writer. Ignoring the negatives because they make us feel uncomfortable should not be an option, and expecting that women (or men, or teens, or authors of color, or anybody else) can't handle the discomfort of a critical review is just plain insulting. We should at least read our reviews before we discard them as useless to us; we might find that a reader has pointed out a flaw we didn't see, or a habit we have fallen into without noticing. We might also find that our style or voice is better understood by certain kinds of readers. What we do with that information is our choice but I think the information should be available, which means encouraging reviews that are not all "I LOVED IT!".

This does not excuse the sorts of people who use the umbrella of constructive criticism to fire harsh words at authors they do not like. So we need to be talking openly about what constitutes _good_ critiques vs. attacks, and how we can educate ourselves as readers and reviewers so that when we read something that doesn't sit well with us, we can address it honestly and kindly.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Happy birthday to me.

Today I turned 30.

I am definitively no longer a "young adult". I'm supposed to have my shit together. Everybody else I know who is in my age group tells me they don't have their shit together either, but that doesn't help because all of them LOOK like their shit is together, at least.

I just got braces. I'm still working retail (although thankfully not still a cashier). I'm still "working on that novel". Ha, ha, ha. My shit is so disordered I can't even find half of it, let alone get it together.

All the things I wanted to do with my life seem to have slipped through my fingers like water through a sieve.

And sure, it's not too late to turn things around and do what I want to do. I have a friend who moved to Thailand and is thriving, for fuck's sake. But I'm not even sure what it is that I want any more, and I'm so tired of fighting for every tiny little accomplishment. Getting out of bed is a chore some days. Washing the dishes requires superhuman acts of strength and focus. Being at work all day drains me emotionally and often physically and I come home completely unwilling to deal with my house, my husband or my pets. Some days, my depression and anxiety play nice and I go out and feel good about myself. Most days, I do this: spend the day on the couch hating myself and feeling overwhelmed by everything I need to do and frozen into doing nothing at all, so I can stay up late hating myself some more, go to bed alone because husband's already asleep, oversleep, start the day off poorly and do it all over again.

Last week at work I was asked out of the blue to help staff a convention center booth for our local home and garden show. I made it there on Friday, lasted 6 hours, and barely managed to get myself home on the correct bus. Afterward I was cold, anxious, and exhausted. My throat felt sore and my mouth was raw (new braces and talking do not play nice together). I've developed a cough since then. Stress-related illness sucks.

So does being 30.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Winter is...

...almost upon us and as usual I've spent the last few days in a funk as the mercury drops below 55°. This time of year is gorgeous and I love the cool nights and warm days, changing leaves and the smells of drying grass and tannic leaves in rain puddles and sharp ozone before a storm. I also dread the coming chill and darkness, the four to six months of paralyzing cold when I won't see the sun at all some days, when the house's drafts make themselves known again, my hands and feet freeze, and I don't want to get out of bed let alone get anything useful done. The kitchen is drafty and washing dishes becomes a battle between the hottest water you can stand and the chill air sucking the heat right out and leaving a sink full of lukewarm suds. I hate lukewarm anything, but especially lukewarm dishwater. At that point you might as well just wash everything in cold.

Anyway, my point is that this time of year I start to reflect on what I have (or haven't) accomplished over the last 9 months. The list always comes up far short of what I hoped to have done by now, and I'm beginning to think it always will, but this year I had a resounding success. Just one.

Black currant jam.

Not only is it delicious on toast and bagels and pb&j sandwiches, it's the first thing I've ever made from my own garden that hasn't languished at the back of the fridge acquiring new forms of life before I gave up on it. I, grandmistress of procrastination and couch-weight extraordinaire, managed to not only harvest two pounds of currants from the bush before they went bad (a task I haven't completed with the mulberry tree in years), but store them in the fridge for only a reasonable amount of time (no mold! No shriveled berries!), settle on a recipe, successfully make it (no thin, watery sauce or overcooked rubber!), store it, and eat an entire jar of it in two months. I hereby declare the black currant bush the best plant in my garden this year. The tomatoes didn't stand a chance.

I'm feeling pretty good about that jam. Doubly so because I just enjoyed the last of the jar for breakfast. I have another jar, heat-packed but not canned, which I am hoping will keep long enough for me to crack it open in December and enjoy it. That will feel like a real success, both for my preserve-making and my fight against seasonal depression.

Here's to success!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

New smells!

So because I'm daft for hand-made perfume blends and books, when my favorite perfumers put up an offer of 8 scents designed to match their friend's new novel:

(available now on Kindle!)

...I figured hey, why not.

Herein follows my first impressions of some of the delightful character-centric scents the girls at ZOMG Smells whipped up, in rough order of their appearance in the book.

I'd give this to all the playboys in my life... if I knew any. ;)

Rich, complex and a tiny bit impudent. Regal French lavender overrides the other notes with a little "your reputation precedes you, sir"... and then the party starts. Amber floats through hauling frankincense behind it and gives the middle of the scent a full, sensual musk. The lavender hits its soapy high note ten minutes in and then mellows above the most amazing woodsy dry down where nutmeg and cardamom come gliding in like debutantes fashionably late for their own ball.

If YSL's Opium eloped with Old Spice, this would be their sassy Parisian baby. And while the end result on my hormonal female skin is a gentlewoman's lavender and spice confection I'd love to smell it on a dapper young man who might hang onto the woody notes a little longer.

(This review was also posted to their site)

Captain Westfall:
Smoky, salty, and strangely... green? That's probably the cypress and oakmoss - this scent brings to mind a Hollywood bayou, all moss-festooned cypress groves and dark waters edged by genteel plantations with none of the mud and rot. Smoke from somebody's fireplace lingers in the still, humid air. Grave dust haunts the drydown, unseen but raising hairs on the back of your neck. I have the urge to watch Interview With The Vampire.

The dog likes this one, too. Longevity is great.

"Bitter vetiver, cypress essential oil, a worn leather scabbard, the scent of woodsmoke mingled with the docks he came from, the sweet amber of the wealthy he now mingles with, and the Lady's oakmoss and gravedust."

Earthy, ragged, and a little bit moon struck. Shares some notes with Westfall and Green Lady, which makes sense as Gabriel claims the Lady's favor. Gabriel's scent is heady with frankincense and cedar, and the "grave dust" note lends sharpness to the background just as it does in Westfall's blend. My impression is rich dusty wood and resin, preservative notes that tickle the nose and hints of things old and unseen. Charming and dirty, like Gabriel. Moderate longevity.

"The background of his scent is of the grave: frankincense and myrrh, cedar planks, freshly turned earth and patchouli, the warm skin-scent of sandalwood that he shares with Drake, and the Lady's sharp green galbanum and bitter gravedust."

Bitter medicinal herbs, sweetened only slightly by the lavender poultice. This scent is sharp on first application and mellows grudgingly into something a little warmer as it dries and the resins come out. Brings to mind an apothecary's work-table, the wood stained and infused with the scents of all kinds of poultices and infusions. The result is not unpleasant but standoffish due to the bitter tea; would require conviction to wear this to social events. Fits the character very well, but doesn't seem to fit me and on my skin has poor longevity. I wanted to like this scent because it sounded lovely but it doesn't quite deliver the way I had hoped.

"Bitter black tea, dried herbs and dusty herbal flowers, a fresh poultice with lavender, and the resinous evergreens of the North."

The Green Lady:
If Captain Westfall smells like the Hollywood idea of a swamp, The Green Lady smells like an actual swamp. Her scent is the one from which Gabriel and Captain Westfall take their dusty backgrounds, but there's quite a lot more dust in Green Lady. I don't smell the lavender here until the end (in fact, didn't even recognize it until I read the notes). My husband smells pine and I get the smell of fresh wet earth, mingling with sharp, slightly rot-sweet green things - like burying one's face in a forest floor. The drydown settles into earthy, warm, dusty cedar and the tiniest hint of lavender. The projection on this scent is great at first but drops sharply as it dries down, leaving bare hints close to the skin. Longevity doesn't seem great on me but sometimes woods will cling for hours after I expect them to fade, so who knows? Entirely appropriate for those times when you need a little bit of wildness (or want the perfect scent to accompany that witch costume on Halloween night).

"Sharp green galbanum, fresh wild lavender, cedar coffinwood, vetiver, patchouli and sandalwood for a last touch of the living on their lost ones, and grave-dirt."

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Summer Fun

Facebook just notified me of the yearly summer neighborhood block party, which I have not attended once in the five years we have lived here... the first year, I didn't know about it. Every year since, I've either worked or been too socially anxious to show up.

I work again this year, because feeling mentally pretty good right now means that of course my job will ruin my chances of having a social life. It's only when I'm utterly depressed and only want to spend time in a hoodie-shrouded ball on the couch that I get time off which coincides with such things as happy hours and friends' plans.

I keep saying I need to get out of retail but I haven't done much about it. This year, I want to change that. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

I wrote all of this in response to a Facebook post.

The subject was the $15 minimum wage "debate".

And someone said:
At one point I ... but instead of whining to the government I ... bigger pay checks... better solution than complaining to the government.

Get a marketable skill and the economy will reward you appropriately.

So I got mad, because yes, ok, complaining doesn't solve much. But a staged series of protests in favor of a higher, livable minimum wage is not complaining, it's constructive criticism and a public awareness campaign. It's Doing Something About It. And the government is the entity that controls the minimum wage laws, so yes we do need to tell them if we want something to change. But regardless of one's stance on the protests... here is my rebuttal, which got too long and ranty to post on facebook.

A) if everyone got "marketable" skills and were magically rewarded by The Economy there would be no one to wash our dishes, serve our burgers and staff our stores. Therefore your "solution" is at best short-sighted and at worst sheer ignorance of the way the world actually works. Either you pay someone to serve, or you do it all yourself (and good luck holding down a full-time job, paying the bills, feeding and clothing yourself entirely from your expansive farm and workshops, and still managing to find time to read facebook). And if you're paying someone to serve, you're The Economy, and you're rewarding them... with poor wages, poor working conditions and a holier-than-thou attitude.

B) "marketable" changes by region, age, gender, time of year, date (what was marketable in 2004 may not be now), economic state (recession, anybody?) etc. It's not as simple as picking a degree in a STEM field and going for it, and even if it were, some people aren't cut out for STEM degrees (or [insert applicable skill here]). Some people might even enjoy flipping burgers for a living, if they could make a living at it. See point A.

C) You NEED service workers, therefore their skills ARE marketable to somebody, but you're not willing to pay them what they can live on because you don't want to have to recognize that you're abusing them in the first place when you demand cheap goods and services and continue to use and pay for those things that we provide to you. Everyone is guilty of this, some more than others, and honestly those filthy rich people that we love to hate because they're making more in a week than we'll see in our lifetimes are probably the LEAST guilty because they at least are generally aware that quality comes with cost (although the inverse is not always true) and they are willing to pay more for their goods and services, although half of them are doing so while running corporate empires that pay their workers shit and beans.

Also, people recognizing skill with larger pay checks is utter BullShit(tm). But keep lying to yourself because it's way more comforting than facing the cold hard reality that America is full of spoiled middle-class brats spouting platitudes about hard work and rewards while people go without health care because The Economy doesn't see fit to reward them for their work.

Sure, there are better solutions than "complaining to the government". Learn to garden and grow some of your own food, if you can find the land and the time. Save a few dollars a month until you have enough to buy some foods in bulk so that you can save another few dollars a month. Find rich friends and hang out with them and hope they can network you into a better standard of living. Figure out a better mousetrap and make a million dollars. Get a degree and then spend 50 hours a week spamming your resume to every place that's hiring, get lucky and get hired at the job of your dreams. Win the lottery. Pay off your student loans by selling porn on a cam site. Go to your boss and demand a raise, rinse and repeat until he either fires you or you're making enough to live on. Work your ass off at three part-time jobs, give up on all of your dreams, wear every lucky charm you can find to ward off any undue accidents, and keep your head down for ten or fifteen or fifty years until you've saved enough money in your 0.5%-interest savings account that you can afford health care and start thinking about a car, maybe. There are loads of options for bettering one's life! You just have to do it! Oh, and maybe not be mentally ill or physically disabled or transgendered or gay or old or female or a person of color or....

I'm all for good-old-fashioned work ethic and think that everybody should take pride in what they do, work hard, and better themselves. I don't presume to set the bar for what "better" means to other people, because there is a fine line between recognizing concrete improvements in essential life skills and telling someone they should have the same end-goal (and thus the same improvements in life) as you. A well-rounded education is a great thing and aids public discourse but is it necessary for everyone to attend college to get it? And to assume that "bettering" oneself must include getting more marketable skills just so that one can afford to eat is inhumane. I think we can all agree on that, yes? 
 Or maybe if people are worth so little that they don't deserve to be paid enough to eat, can we agree that they need to be culled? Because I could get behind culling all of the people that society deems "worthless", as long as I get to decide who has value. That's fair, right? 

That's basically what we're already doing: deciding arbitrarily who has value based on who has what job. Your job is your stated value to society - not your degree, your hobbies, the amount of fun you are at parties... but the thing you do to earn money because capitalist society has decided that you need to pay for the degree, the hobbies, and the parties with an imaginary currency that demands your time, attention and resources for the best years of your life and in return gives you little green pieces of paper (or these days, little electronic bits in a computer somewhere) which tell everyone how much society should value you. Except the system is broken, and while raising the minimum wage won't fix it by far, it will at least stop people from trying to better themselves with degrees only to graduate into jobs that don't let them pay their bills. It's not just fast-food workers who struggle with poor wages; they're just the loudest right now and the least likely to get a promotion or raise that will take them above the poverty line.

I also do not for one second think that people who take pride in what they do, work hard, and better themselves are somehow going to have the universe or the economy turn upside down and shit rainbows and winning lotto tickets over their heads, nor do I presume to understand the reasons other people have for not giving 110% at their jobs or in the rest of their lives (although often money is one of those reasons). I wish the world worked this way but it doesn't. It's cutthroat and competitive and horrible and it doesn't get along well with others, and it doesn't always play fair. So no, your anecdotal story doesn't matter to people who are still fighting to earn enough to live on. And it provides no evidence at all of a fair and just economy which rewards people for simply improving themselves.

The universe is not kind nor friendly and it doesn't give a fig how hard you work and it will not always reward you for that work. When it does, it may not even reward you in ways society considers a success. But if money is required for life then the least that we as a society can do is pay people enough that they can live, so that they have the chance to better themselves in the first place.