I'd Love to Change the World

"If I ran the world..." We all have rules we'd enact if we were in charge. These are some of mine.

Pardon Me; Your Ugly is Showing - Updated

Welcome. These gorgeous daffodils are obviously not the ugly.

I'm venting again. It's my blog, and I'll vent if I want to.

It disturbed me a little while back to see these memes circulating on social media. What made me saddest was that they were being perpetuated in part by people I had thought were of a more tolerant, humankind-embracing bent:

Where do I start with the bigotry rampant in that little block of print?

"Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn't an American at all." Lovely. First, the descendants of anyone who migrated here and took it away from the natives isn't a true American, but let's just skip that. Because, you know, that's not convenient. We white Americans were the first ones here who counted. But again, why? Show me how it hurts anybody else for an American of Chinese ancestry to consider himself a Chinese American and to celebrate the Chinese New Year. Explain to me how it hurts anyone else for an Indian woman to wear a sari, or how you're injured by that man's turban. Oh, and by the way, all of you who love to embrace your Irish ancestry, you were not among the "real" American settlers either. Many Irish came here as slaves in the seventeenth century, and the great mass came later, fleeing the starvation of the Great Potato Famine. You were not loved. You were looked down on and considered not fully human and discriminated against just like the Chinese and the Blacks and the Japanese and the Jews and the Italians and oh, yes, the Native Americans and the Mexicans, who were here first, in case you forgot. The Irish (and I am one) only managed to assimilate better than other immigrants because of Caucasian skin. So explain to me why we celebrate St. Patrick's Day. It can't just be the novelty of green beer. No, wait -- this is America.

Moving on. I once had an interesting conversation with a woman who was born in America and  raised tri-lingual. She got the insulting gamut from complete strangers, from dirty looks to sneered "Speak English!" if she spoke with her sister in another family language in public. Strangers told her she was rude to speak in a language other people can't understand. Really? So, the beef is that the complete strangers around her can't understand the conversation, that is none of their business to begin with? She also told me that she learned, in her travels around the globe, that no one anywhere else feels that way. Go anywhere else in the world, sit at a cafe, and let the music of six or eight different languages flow around you. Nobody cares if they can't understand what the strangers around them are saying in their own conversations, and they're not paranoid that you might be talking about them. That odd marriage of arrogance and insecurity is, it would appear, distinctly American.

Yes, it is a supreme irritation, having to select a language from a menu. Having other languages available can literally be the difference between life and death for people who are still learning English and are not yet fluent. We put up with a lot, with these menus taking up five whole seconds of our valuable time, and the effort of pressing 1 for English. No, we'll never be able to get back those five seconds or the energy we used pressing 1. Our sacrifice is above and beyond. We should be so proud of ourselves.

This great big country, encompassing approximately 3.8 million square miles, isn't big enough for more than one language? Really? Since America is made up of millions of residents who do, in fact, speak myriad languages, I think we can safely say that yes, it is big enough. Russia is twice as big and has more than 30 languages, and that's with Putin at the helm.

I guess it doesn't matter how much space there is when the minds are too small.

Just post this one. I already know you're a bigot.

"There can be no divided allegiance here." Where's the proof that there is any divided allegiance? This is dangerously close to the mentality that brutalized tens of thousands of American citizens of Japanese descent during World War II, putting them in concentration camps even though they were born here and worked to buy the property that was illegally seized. The amazing "Uncle George" George Takei can tell you the story of his own imprisonment in his TED talk, Why I Love a Country that Once Betrayed Me.

And the biggest question is: Why should anyone have to deny their very DNA just to please bigots, for the right to call themselves citizens of the country where they live, work, raise their families, vote, pay taxes, and bury their loved ones?

What I really don't understand is that this has to be explained to anyone.

And then, there was this one:

This one is a slap in the face to an increasingly large number of Americans who, through no fault of their own, are finding it more and more difficult to adequately provide for their families.

Like everyone else, I've heard the urban legend about the "Welfare Queen" who keeps having babies to get more welfare -- like that's going to make anyone rich. And of course she's black, right? She's a myth, though, I hate to tell you. Just like the Magic Unicorn Princess. Where I live, in the state of Washington, the average welfare recipient is a 31-year-old white woman, with one child, who stays on assistance for less than a year. Nationally, according to a mythbuster using material from the House Ways and Means Committee, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the World Rank Research Team, "...whites form the largest racial group on welfare; half of all welfare recipients leave in the first two years; and teenagers form less than 8 percent of all welfare mothers." And with the purchasing power of present TANF payments equaling what they were in 1996, almost 20 years ago, even that help isn't much. But apparently it's enough that people needing this temporary help should feel even more humiliated than they already do at having nowhere to turn but these "taxpayer-funded handouts."

At least be honest enough to post this one.

Thousands of years ago, governments were formed to oversee the day-to-day functioning of towns that later became cities, full of people who needed to eat in order to live in increasingly industrialized, post-hunter-gatherer societies. One function of those ancient governments was to ensure a food supply, stockpiling preserved meat and grain against droughts and ruined harvests, to make sure the citizens didn't go hungry. We don't do that anymore. But ask yourself, why on earth would modern people appoint a government, if not for the same overarching reason -- to see to the well-being of the people? The powers aren't there just because we want someone to send our citizens off to fight wars over causes we know nothing about and to not fix potholes in the roads and to implement Common Core asshattery and to plaster ugly signs everywhere at election time and to generally tell us what to do. They are put in place by us (bought and paid for elections notwithstanding, but that's another rant), for our benefit. That means a government is supposed to take care of the people of the nation. All of them. Not just the ones whose lives meet with our personal approval.

 "They were earned and paid for" is of course the shaming statement trying to make the point that people needing food stamps or WIC didn't earn it and haven't paid for it - regardless of work they've done and taxes they've paid in the past, or will in the future.

"Welfare, Food Stamps, WIC...ad nauseum..." Ad nauseum. Why not just come right out and say, "I'm sick of programs that help people"? Like there won't always be people who need help. Like you've never needed help, or can guarantee you'll never need help, ever.

I saw this accompanied by "Of course people deserve to eat, but..." But what? But not if they don't have a job right now because they got sick, or got hurt, or got laid off? But not if Mom trusted the baby's father not to leave her in the lurch, needing help until she could get on her feet and make it alone? But not if they are too sick or injured to work and their disability isn't enough for food and housing both, not to mention - gasp! - a movie once in a while? But only if they're appropriately humbled and shamed because they need this help?

But... not if they're not like you?

Seeing a "but" clause at the end of that sentence made me so very sad.

How about, "Of course people deserve to eat." Period.

There's a picture of some lovely spring flowers at the top of this post because I like blog posts with pictures but I didn't want any of those ugly memes to be what people saw as the thumbnail. I want a world that is all flowers. I know it's not realistic. But I can dream of a sunshine-y bigot-free world, just as I dream of daffodils in winter.

Homeless in Seattle

“I never use the words humanist or humanitarian, as it seems to me that to be human is to be capable of the most heinous crimes in nature."
     ~Elphaba, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, Gregory Maguire

Because on one hand, we have this:

And this:

And this (no charge for the advertising, Tom Teifer):

While on the other hand, we have this:

Bryan Harvey/Creative Commons

And this:

And we have this, for Pete's sake:

That is Seattle's Federal Reserve Building, sitting empty.  It has been empty for six seven years and declared surplus by the federal government, which continues to pay the upkeep and maintenance of this wasted space. With almost 90,000 square feet, it could easily house several hundred people. Title V of the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act provides that when there is surplus federal property suitable for use to help the homeless, it must be provided at no charge to agencies who assist the homeless. The Compass Housing Alliance went for it and they had the private funding they needed, but no go. Denied. The building continues to sit empty and useless and soaking up taxpayer money, and will for who knows how long.

Meanwhile, we still have this:

Read the poster in that window and tell me -- I couldn't have got a better shot if I'd asked that man to throw his sleeping bag down in that spot. I didn't ask him. He was sleeping there when I walked by.

Incidentally, I went no more than 20 minutes out of way to take my photographs. On foot.

I realize that banks do not exist for the purpose of providing housing to homeless people. But it can also be argued that banks do exist on the shoulders of the American people, especially in light of astronomical bailouts, and thus have a moral responsibility to give something back to the American people. This is especially true when bank-owned properties end up being bulldozed because the banks can't do anything else with them. Perhaps I'm oversimplifying the issue, but when this country has $5 million to spend on its senators' hair, well then, I really don't see why it has to be that hard. I've recently seen a statistic that says there are enough empty foreclosure houses in this country to give six to every homeless person. What is wrong with us?

I've been told that "most of" these people are unsheltered because they won't comply with shelters' policies on drug and alcohol use. Some, sure, I buy that. Addiction is a bitch and I can believe some would rather be high than warm, at least some of the time. But not all of them, and not all the time. I've heard the other arguments too. "They wouldn't be homeless if they'd just get off their asses." "Nobody's homeless against their will." "They're just not trying." Blah blah blah. Can it. There's a saying that most of us are one paycheck away from being unable to pay the monthly cost of a roof over the head, and I've been close enough to have no problem believing that's true. I don't want to hear what you would like to think they think. Go talk to a homeless person. The ones I've talked to are nice people who don't ask for much, really. Listen to what they say they think.

How do any of us believe people want their children to live like this? Yes, there are children living in this camp. Or there were, before the authorities ran them out, to set up their tents somewhere else, where they will also be run off, to move elsewhere, to be run off again, and so on, until they set up camp right back here again.  Instead of moving people in circles, literally in circles, why don't we solve the problem?

Seattle's 2014 2015 One Night Count, in which volunteers tally how many people are sleeping outside or in their cars, in the frozen depths of January, was 3,123 a record 3,772.  180 of those were children. I'll update the number of children as soon as I get it, but if there were 180 last year, it's a sure bet there are a lot this year. As Real Change newspaper pointed out, that number is probably low, since a lot of homeless people are successful at hiding. What kind of society are we, one of the richest and most "advanced" in the world, when a privileged few have more money than they could ever realistically spend, ever ever, but we let our own go cold and wet and sick and hungry?

We can turn our backs and say it's their problem, their own damned fault, they're capable of taking care of themselves and if they're not, they should be. Or we can do the kind thing, the humane thing, and take care of our own.

When is it ever a mistake to err on the side of compassion?

Your making me nauseous. Updated

I don't know what it is of yours that makes me inspire barf in other people, but there it is.

I'm about to land on your terrible grammar. Snark warning.

1.  Free kitten's. A free kitten is what? A free kitten is happier? Feistier? Better than an expensive kitten? Or are we talking about something belonging to the kitten that I'm getting for free? A free kitten's tail? Free kitten's fur? Gross.

Apostrophes are just not that hard. An apostrophe (1) takes the place of a missing letter or (2) shows ownership. The kitten's cute. The kitten's fur is soft. Kitten's=kitten is. Kitten's also=belonging to the kitten.

If you want to make it plural, just add the s (or es). No apostrophe. Free kittens. That's it.

Except for it's. There is no plural of itIt's is the contraction for it is. Possession for it has no apostrophe. The kitten is eating its food because it's hungry.

It's not the quantum consciousness hypothesis or Fermat's Last Theorem. You can learn something that takes less than six inches of type space to explain.

2.  They're and its companions their and there are not that hard either. Really.

The apostrophe in they're indicates a missing letter: they're=they are.

There. Think "here," location, and at add the "t" to make its partner, "there." (Same with adding a "w" to make "where," again referring to location.)

 That leaves one: Their=belonging to them.

They're enjoying their party over there.

3.  Partner to the they're/their/there mishmash is you're/your. Again, not that hard. "You're" is missing the "a" from "you are." Your=of or belonging to you. Simple. You're displaying your ignorance.

4.  Shoulda, woulda, coulda. "You should of whatever blah blah..." Gaaaahhh!  This one makes me gnash my teeth. It's should have, people. You don't say, "I of shopped at that store before." You say, "I have shopped at that store before." Same thing. You have done it, you should have done it. I see writers arguing that common use makes it correct by adaptation. I disagree. Common use doesn't change the fact that it's wrong. That's like changing what time the workday starts to accommodate people who can't be bothered to get their lazy butts in on time.

5.  Begging the question. Hint: It has nothing to do with asking a question.

"Begging the question" comes from the Latin petitio principii, "assuming the initial point." It is a circular form of reasoning wherein one of the arguments is used as the conclusion and "the question" is the entire issue being debated. Examples include "Abortion is wrong because it is murder" or "Abortion should be legal because it isn't murder." Both of those are using a debate point as the conclusion of an argument about the question of abortion. To beg the question is to commit a logical fallacy by assuming something that can't be assumed.

What you probably mean to say is, "This leads to the question..." or "This raises the question..." When in doubt follow the KISS rule: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

6.  Quit making me nauseous. Nauseous is not how you feel. Nauseous is the quality of inducing nausea. The classroom where I learned that had nauseous green walls.  If you are nauseous, you make other people want to hurl.

Again, I am aware that some dictionaries have given in to the "popular usage" theory, wherein consistent incorrect usage morphs the wrong into right. See #4. It's like saying it's OK for a guy to beat his wife the 18th time because he's done it 17 times before and other people do it too.

Ain't is a colloquialism, not a word. The dictionary has colloquialisms in it too.
We don't even really need nauseous. The bases are nicely covered by nauseating and nauseated. The nauseating misuse of words has left me nauseated. Therefore, I propose that you have to have a license to say nauseous. Two strikes. Licensed users who misuse it will lose their licenses. Non-licensed users will be executed at dawn.

7. Healthy. Eat healthy food. Of course I want to eat healthy food. I don't want to eat diseased food, do I? Healthy means in a state of good health. Healthful means contributing to or promoting a state of good health. We should eat healthful food so we will be healthy.

I'm afraid this bad language usage is far too ingrained, even among people with doctorate degrees, to ever be corrected, but it's going to continue to piss me off, and I'm going to continue to put my two pennies in whenever I hear it.

8. I could care less. Aaarrrgghh! Wrong, wrong, wrong. When you say you could care less, you are somewhere above 0 on the caring scale, which means you do care, at least a little bit.  You mean to say you don't care at all, right? If you don't care at all then on the caring scale you're at a 0. There is nothing less than 0, so you can't go less. I couldn't care less.

9. Speaking of less raises the question of less and fewer. (See what I did there? Clever, right?)Less is for something that can't be easily numerated or measured, like air or caring. Fewer is for something you can realistically count. Sarah has fewer kittens than Joan, but she couldn't care less.

10. Aweeeeeeeee or loveeeeeeeeeeeee. I'm not sure why this irritates the crap out of me, but it does. Sound it out. Do you really mean to say "awe-wheeeeeeee, isn't that cute" or "I love-eeeeeeeeee" you"? No. You probably mean to say, "Aaaaawwwww, that's cute," or "I loooooooooove you." I write for fun and I'm all about making up words and monkeying with them to emphasize my point, but make it so it has sense to it.

11. Expresso. There is no "x" in this word. It's espresso. Only Dire Straits can get away with this mistake, with the bitchin' song "Expresso Love," and that's been done now. If you're Mark Knopfler, please leave a comment. I guarantee I will think it's cool.

12. Irregardless. This isn't even a word. Regardless is the opposite of regard. Irregardless is the opposite of...irregard?

13.  Text language. This is more of a laziness gripe than a grammar gripe. Text and chat abbreviations do not belong in other writings. My acceptance of "how r u" in a text message has become more grudging with the advent of qwerty and swype keyboards, which greatly negate the convenience of such shortcuts. Abbreviations like that are inappropriate for emails, social media comments and posts, letters and the like, period. It makes you look lazy. It's difficult to read and I don't bother.

I will, however, give you half - HALF - of a cleverness point if you're using "ur" to disguise the fact that you don't know the difference between you're and your.

This will do for today. I like to spread my bitching out, like jam on toast.



Oh my God, I forgot "supposably!" Selective amnesia, maybe? "Supposably" was part of the grounds for one of my divorces. The correct word is supposedly.

This grammar gaffe has altered my neural pathways and created a hardwired response in my brain so that it now compels me to take half the furniture and file for a restraining order. If you say "supposably," we can't be friends.


Photo credit in order of appearance:
Apostrophe Abuse: Martha Soukup via Flickr Creative Commons

Dictionary: Flickr: alexbrn/Creative Commons

You stink. Yes, you.

A few decades ago the tide started rolling over cigarette smokers. More and more places set aside non-smoking areas indoors.Then smoking was shunted outside, until eventually more and more municipalities ultimately legislated bans on smoking in public places. A decisive win for people who recognize that their health is threatened by smoke, and for those who just don't like it.

Perfume is the new cigarette smoke. Or, it should be.

You who wear too much of the stuff are torture to be around. You assault my nostrils, and through them, my other senses. I get a whiff of that overbearing stinkwater and my eyes water, my vision goes blurry, and my head starts pounding. My very equilibrium is thrown off. And I have to function like that all the time, because you are everywhere. You come into my office, your perfume announcing your arrival 25 feet in advance. You leave a cloud behind you that open windows and oscillating fans can't get rid of. You sit next to me on the train, gagging me so much that I will move, clutching a strap and standing for the 30 minute trip if that's what it takes to get away from you. You are 10 feet away from me outside, downwind, and I can smell you.

You're wearing too much.

I've had good restaurant meals ruined by You Who Bathe In Your Perfume. Your chemical miasma wafts into my face. It coats the back of my throat so I want to gag, and I can't taste my own food. If I still smoked, I'd happily light up and blow clouds right in your face. I'm tempted to anyway. It would be worth getting kicked out.

You're wearing too much.

My grandmother, a true lady, taught me about personal scent. The thing to remember, she told me, is that it is personal. It allures, it teases, it creates a subtle note of mystery. It doesn't overwhelm. Other people shouldn't be able to smell you unless they are right up close to you - we're talking inches, not feet. If you are putting on real perfume from the tiny bottles, moisten your fingertip and apply on your wrists and at the pulse of your throat. If you are using spray cologne, spritz a mist in the air and walk through it. That's all you need. You should only be able to smell your own perfume if you hold your wrist right up to your nose. If you can smell yourself without trying, you're wearing too much.

Smelling good is good. But when you make people's eyes water, you are not attractive. You are the opposite of attractive. Pay attention. Do people cough or fan in front of their faces when you walk by? Do they raise their necklines to cover their noses? It's you. They're not acting like that because they find you delightful. You reek.

Is there something you're trying to cover up? Do you not bathe? Are you that afraid of your own natural scent? The beauty and hygiene industries make billions of dollars by convincing us we smell bad without their chemical-laden products. I'd bet you own every "deodorant" or "fresh scent" or "spring meadow" version of every hygiene product you use, but it's hard to tell through the cloud of cologne. Oh, and here's a news flash:  if you're drenching yourself in perfume to hide the fact that you smoke, it's not working. Now you just smell like stale cigarettes and cheap perfume. (The breath mints don't work either.)

You don't smell anything like Marilyn looks.
Trust me.

I'm not against the concept of perfume.  I like to smell good, to smell sexy.  Perhaps it's the alcohol used to set perfume oils that gets to me.  I make my own scent, my unique combination of essential oils that I dilute in distilled water and dab on like parfum. It doesn't cause problems like commercial perfumes do, so maybe that's the answer. But I also don't pour a tub of it over my head.  It drives my husband wild, and part of that may be because he has to nuzzle my neck in order to smell it.  That's what perfume is for.

If you don't care that you annoy the hell out of people, consider that you are a hazard to other people's health. For many people perfume is a bona fide medical concern, a severe one, triggering everything from sinus attacks, nausea, and migraines clear on up to anaphylactic attacks. Most commercial perfumes smell the way they do because of the chemicals that are in them, that the manufacturers aren't even required to divulge under the "trade secret" doctrine. Chemicals. Toxins. Poison. Read this if you don't believe me. Read it anyway. More and more workplaces ban the use of perfumes, for good reason. (Maybe not the altruistic reason of caring about their employees' health, but the practical reason of not wanting to lose a lawsuit.) Health care providers are number one for banning the use of perfume or scented products on the job, because they know better. Why do you insist on making other people breathe that?

Still. I'm not going to allow you to save face by claiming I have an allergy. I suspect a lot of people say they have an allergy when they really don't. They probably hope you'll take them more seriously. It shouldn't matter. It shouldn't take believing that you are adversely affecting someone's health. The simple knowledge that you are offensive should be enough.

Easy does it!

Oh, wait...maybe I can use that allergy bit. Maybe I should claim I'm allergic to bigotry...and people who yap on their phones in public...and door-to-door religion peddling...hmmm...

Marilyn photo:  scarletSmth@flickr-Creative Commons.

Working for Cersei Lannister (Or, I Escaped Workplace Bullying With My Head Still Attached and You Can Too)

*** Update

I had a hard time writing this piece.  It's not the tightest piece of writing I've ever done, and I'm not sure I can ever make it that way.  It was a brutal experience and I am probably too close to it to ever write about it academically.  That's okay.

As I read back through it, I see I didn't get deeply enough into the pain and desolation workplace bullying causes.  The constant demeaning and belittling chip away at you until you feel like you have nothing left, until you feel like you are nothing.  It isolates you from everyone around you.  In those aspects it's very much like an abusive personal relationship.  A big part of my self-identity has always been my professionalism, my skill, my competence.  I have always worked hard to excel at whatever my job is, and I'm proud to say that I have always succeeded at that (with the exception of waitressing, which taught me a whole new respect for food servers).  I've always been a stellar employee and my bosses have always loved me to death.  My time as a bullying target devastated me to the core.  Being treated like an idiot, an incompetent, a hopeless loser, undermined everything I knew about my ability to earn a living and support my family, and it served to take my entire career away from me.  I understand completely how people snap and harm themselves or go on murderous rampages.  I daydreamed about it, and that scared the shit out of me more than any other facet of it did.  It took more than a year of counseling with a wonderful therapist who specializes in recovery from abuse for me to get past the worst of the injury.

I knew this piece wasn't ready when I clicked "publish," but I felt compelled to get it out there.  It was gnawing and nagging at me.  Maybe there was someone out there who was in that dark place who needed to read my words on that very day.  I may never know, and that's okay.  Maybe it's a continuation of my recovery, to own my story and to share it.  That works for me.  Maybe a bully needed to stumble across it and be confronted with a mirror. Given what I understand about the narcissism that drives bullies, that's doubtful, but one can always hope.  Maybe I'm imagining these deep explanations and I really just wanted to be done with it.  That's okay too.

If you are in a situation like mine, you know of what I speak.  If you've never experienced it, you may not be able to understand, and that's okay.  I appreciate that you're trying.

Thanks for reading. :-)


It’s embarrassing to even talk about workplace bullying.  Strong, smart, independent adults don’t get bullied, right?  Wrong.

First – the fact that you’ve been bullied at work is not your fault.  It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, or that you asked for it, or that you have a big “Kick Me” sign taped to your back, or that you’re incompetent.  In fact, you're probably extremely competent.

Second – bullying in the workplace is a lot more commonplace than people think.  People who haven’t experienced it personally have at least witnessed it, more likely than not.

Third – have I mentioned that it’s not your fault?

Workplace bullying has a dynamic very similar to that of an abusive marriage or relationship, and the injury is much the same as well.

Not. Even. Funny.

Workplace bullying – or “professional personality clashes” or “office aggression” as it is euphemistically called – happens to roughly 35 to 50% of the workforce.  I saw one statistic that said 80% of us have been involved in workplace abuse, as targets or witnesses.  This number includes both men and women in roughly equal parts.  The majority of workplace bullies are women.  The majority of workplace bullies are bosses. The majority of targets are highly competent and excel at their jobs when left in peace to do so.

If you think you’re not paying the price for workplace bullying just because you’re not directly involved, think again.  It is estimated that workplace bullying costs business and industry roughly $250 million every year.  When workers are bullied, businesses lose through poor employee performance, sick leave, firings, resignations, retraining, and being on the wrong end of a lawsuit.  Businesses aren’t going to be the nice guy and eat those costs.  They pass them on to you the consumer, in higher prices, and they pass them on to you the employee, in lower pay and higher health insurance premiums.

But the toll I’m here to talk about is the personal one.  It’s the toll every target has felt, and it’s the toll none of should be willing to let a fellow human being be weighed with, not if we believe we live in a civilized society.  Targets have lost everything from their self-esteem to their health, careers, children, marriages, retirement funds, even their lives.  When more than half of us will deal with such poison at some time in our careers, we have to decide that it is unacceptable and call it out when we see it.

I moved from Nevada, my home state of more than 40 years, to embark on what promised to be a new life and a wonderful new career with a high-end law firm in Seattle.  You know what they say about promises.  I unpacked the moving van, ironed my first-day-to-work skirt, and stepped out of the elevator and into a nightmare.

Oh, my new boss was wonderful at first.  She was downright chirpy, thrilled with my skills and experience, waxing glorious about how from now on they would go to my home state to find competent staff.  In hindsight, that should have been a warning right there.  She was behaving exactly as abusive spouses do:  in love at first blush until they’ve “got” you, and then their true selves come out of hiding when they believe you are well and truly snared.

The first couple of weeks were pretty good.  There was an immediate glitch when she realized I didn’t have the intricate knowledge of one software program that she had assumed I had.  She had never asked, and I had never thought to mention it.  Who lists what they can’t do on a resume?  We agreed that it wouldn't be a problem.  We were both sure that I’d pick it up quickly.  (After I moved on to an environment where I was able to think straight, I did indeed pick it up quickly.)  But then other things started to be wrong.  She’d have little snippy moods.  She made critical remarks that stung, until I convinced myself I was overstressed and taking them the wrong way.  I started having trouble sleeping.  I was suffering from culture shock, moving to a posh big-city office from a hometown law practice in a rural area with five stoplights.  Where I’d come from the tallest building was the three-story Holiday Inn; here I got vertigo merely looking up at the skyscrapers.  It was a huge adjustment for me.  But Seattle is a beautiful city and I was excited to be here, eager to get settled in and find my groove.

My own little movie: Horror in the Highrise.
I couldn't seem to find that groove, though.  No matter how hard I tried, things got worse.  For every thing I mastered to my boss’ specifications, it seemed there were two others I did wrong.  I lived the 50-50-90 rule in that office, the rule that says if you have a 50-50 chance of choosing the right way to do something, there is a 90% probability you will chose wrong.  I got a withering glance that said clearly said I was an idiot when I was figuring out the city's system of buses and trains. (I have never been late to an appointment and never ended up in the wrong place.)  I was given pointless busywork tasks designed to humiliate and punish me for making an error.  “What exactly did you do at your other jobs?” she snotted at me once, when I had one too few spaces for a paragraph indent.  One space.  When I overlooked sending the client a copy of some correspondence, I was shouted at.  A bookkeeper came in once a week, one of those whose perfume announces her arrival five minutes beforehand, and it made me terribly sick.  I mentioned it once, suggesting that I could take my lunch early on those days, and got eyes rolled at me in reply.  Rolling eyes was the standard response when I volunteered anything in an effort to be constructive.

My insomnia worsened horribly.  More days than not I went to work with only an hour or two of sleep, if I hadn’t been up all night.  It came as no surprise when PTSD reactivated and I began suffering crippling panic attacks.  Desperate to feel better so I could work better, I saw a medical doctor for anti-anxiety medications and something to help me sleep, and saw a psychologist to brush up my coping techniques.  Both of them, independently, diagnosed that my main problem was working in a toxic situation for an abusive woman.  (I burst into tears while talking to the medical doctor, and when he asked why all I could blubber was, “Because you’re being nice to me.”) Still, just as in the abusive marriage I survived, part of me was convinced I could overcome, that I could be the stellar employee I was expected to be and that I was used to being.

It wasn’t just work I had to adjust to.  I was trying to help Dream Girl adjust to a new school, to learn my way around my neighborhood, to figure out train and bus schedules, to rent my house out long-distance, to not reach for the cigarettes I’d successfully dumped, to finish unpacking, to sleep, to stay one step ahead of the cockroaches – not to mention the rats that came later, in the awful apartment we’d rented sight unseen, online.  My husband somehow managed to find us a beautiful new place in the midst of my 2 a.m. sobbing about vermin.  Otherwise helpless in the face of my newfound hell, that was the only thing he knew how to do to help me.  I was miserable, and all I could think was to keep trying, stick it out, it will get better.  I desperately hoped that moving to a nicer apartment with quieter neighbors would help me to sleep, at least. If I could sleep, it would get better.

It did not get better.  I have previously equated the dynamic of an abusive working relationship to the dynamic of an abusive marriage, and I stand by that.  I was never at work without tissues and mascara in my pocket, because it was a pretty sure thing I’d end up locking myself in a bathroom stall and crying my eye makeup off. Miserable, I spent my days in a sleep-deprived fugue state. I began to gaze yearningly at the balcony windows of the nicer offices in the suite, thinking idly that stepping off the ledge would stop all of my problems.  I’ve mentioned before that bullying has cost people their lives, and I’m not making that up.  People have been driven to suicide, seeing no other way out.  I was thinking about it constantly.  Then came that Tuesday when I once again locked myself in a bathroom stall and called a crisis line, sobbing hysterically.  Later that afternoon, sensing the ax poised over my neck, I blurted out to a friendly co-worker in the office suite, “Has anyone ever been fired from here?”  My fellow employee told me sympathetically that some did, and a lot also quit because of my boss’ "moods," and told me that was why my predecessor had really left.

The Seventh Level of Hell sure had a beautiful view, though.
And that’s when it clicked.  Anyone who has escaped and survived an abusive relationship will know that click I’m talking about.  It’s that moment when the sun breaks through the clouds and the light bathes you and you know, really know, that it’s never going to change, because the situation is exactly how the person in control wants it.

That's when I remembered the payroll records I’d seen for three assistants before me in an eight-month period.  (I wasn't snooping. I had to skim them in order to file them away.)  That's when I realized how patently ridiculous was the story my boss had given about why the assistant before me quit.  And that's when I realized the big thing:  I was not the problem.

I also realized that no matter what it did to me financially, the best thing I could do for myself and my family was to get out.  That afternoon I left work and had a cup of tea where I could use the phone privately. I left rejuvenated, with an appointment to meet with a professional recruiter the following week.

Thursday came and with it She Who Marinates In Perfume.  She and my boss were both standing in my work space and I was already sick from the fumes when I was asked to find a particular bank statement out of a disordered stack 3 inches thick. My eyes watering and my head pounding, it took me two tries.  My boss and SWMIP exchanged snarky comments about me above my head.  When I found the statement the boss gave an exaggerated sigh, rolled her eyes, and snatched it out of my hand.  When she fired me the next day, she told me in a condescending tone that I “obviously lacked the skills to read a bank statement.” (Another employee there told me she was fired partly because they didn't like the way she put stamps on envelopes.  You can't make this stuff up.)

But here’s the important part. This is the part that, in the midst of feeling even more like a failure, that I had to repeat over and over to myself so I’d get it, and the part that you need to understand too:  The important part is:  It doesn’t matter if I had the skills or not.  It doesn’t matter if I had unreasonable health problems or not.  It doesn’t matter if I made mistakes or not.  Even if I was not picking up skills, even if my health issues were not legitimate, even if I was making mistakes I shouldn’t have, at the end of the day, it’s a matter of human decency.  Nobody deserves to be treated like I was treated.

Let’s repeat that.

Nobody deserves to be treated that way.

You don’t deserve it either.

Why do so many of us fall for this?  Why do so many of us believe we somehow deserve what we're getting?  I have a theory and I'm pretty sure it's correct.  Remember those self-help books that talk about the psychological concepts of power-over as opposed to power-with?  I think those are the dynamics at play in the bullying drama.  We, the targets, believe that the bully is coming from the same place we are.  We believe that we all want a productive workforce and happy employees who work together well for the best interest of the company and its clients.  Taking that view, if our coworker is seeing such a problem with us, then they must be right.  Right? They're just trying to help us be the best we can be.  It’s not until who knows how long later, when we have that click moment, that we realize the bullies aren’t seeing anything from a power-with point of view.  The bullies are all about power-over.  They cannot care less about the client’s satisfaction or the company’s bottom line.  Bullies aren’t out to help us to do our jobs better.  A bully wants power and control, plain and simple, and her go-to source is you.  When she knocks her target down, she’s stolen power.  When she can keep her target down, she’s drunk with it.

Can we change bullies?  The answers vary.  I’m no psychologist, and opinions differ among psychologists.  I personally think that we should never accept bullying, but it’s easy for me to say that after I’ve come out the other side.  It’s not so simple when you’re too deep in something to even think straight, needing to feed your family and without a financial cushion to fall back on.  I also think we need a lot more legal safeguards in place, to make it easier for targets to press a grievance and take it to the judicial level if necessary.  The way things are now, a grievance or lawsuit will probably not be successful unless there's a provable element of racial, gender, or sexual harassment, or blatant threats of violence.  That has to change.

My story ended happily.  I was fired the day before I moved to my new apartment. I balanced the box with my few office possession on my lap as I rode the train home, numb.  Back home in Armpit Arms (as we'd dubbed it) I packed and I cried, in a surreal state of combined relief and terror.  Thank all the powers that be, that I didn’t have to go in to that hellhole on Monday! How on earth was I going to feed my family, pay for the movers arriving bright and early? But I'm free! But...the bills the bills the bills! Keep packing, keep crying. The next day we accomplished the move. After a long day I collapsed onto the mattress surrounded by boxes in the middle of the bedroom floor, exhausted and aching and unemployed and too tired to care.  I slept the sleep of the redeemed, for sixteen hours.

My nightmare was over. It didn’t matter what job I found next.  It didn't matter if I had to hustle washing windshields at stoplights; I was out of that awful place. Anything, literally anything, was going to be better than what I had just been through.

As it turned out, I had no trouble at all explaining my situation to my recruiter. Apparently my former boss has something of a reputation, and workplace bullying is getting more attention now. Firing me was the best thing that horrid woman did for me. I have skills and competence that were easy to market. I do a great job and I am a valued employee again. My boss told me so just yesterday.

My story is only one anecdote, but a lot of anecdotes add up.  I hope you will read at least a couple of the same books I did, listed at the end of this post. These authors provided me a rough idea of the statistics I included above (if the numbers are wrong, it’s my mistake), and they are well worth the read.  Of great value is the website of Gary and Ruth Namie, which you can find here.  A lot of my information came from my wonderful therapist, who specializes in treating targets of bullying and other abuse.

It does get better.  You’ve made it this far.  You deserve a happy ending.

Go get it.

Recommended Reading:

The No Asshole Rule, by Robert I. Sutton
The Bully at Work, by Gary Namie, Ph.D. and Ruth Namie, Ph.D.
The Complete Guide to Understanding, Controlling, and Stopping Bullies & Bullying at Work, by Margaret R. Kohut
Help Within Reach by Pamela Raphael, M.A.

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