Dear Mark Strong,

I’m fine with you trying to sell me a Jaguar (is Tom Hiddleston as nice in person as he seems? Did you get to ride in the helicopter too? If not, you should have made sure to ride in the helicopter. Make a point to next time), but why the hell are you trying to sell me shitty beer? I trusted you!

Lots of love despite this rank betrayal-

Sexism in the Workplace

At my relatively young age, you’d think that I wouldn’t have run into much sexism during my career. It was supposed to have been eradicated by now, right? Like racism? Female CEOs and black presidents mean we’re all buttoned up here. No more glass ceilings, no more trapdoors built into the system, no more cause for concern. The last bastion for the civilized nation is homophobia and now that we have openly gay athletes, we’re done with that in about two weeks, I’ve heard.

And it’s true, I can’t say I’ve experienced overt sexism – the slap your ass or bartered for cattle sexism. I’ve worked in the legal, technology and professional consulting fields as general support and the sexism I have experienced – being patronized, belittled and subjected to The Good Old Boys cliques – come nowhere near what people think of when you talk about sexism. It’s far more insidious. It seems like it’s more feeling than fact. You are meant to think it’s in your head and you’re taking things too personally and you are the one with the problem.

My most traumatic work experience was during my time with The Good Old Boys.

An incident occurred while I was working in the legal field between my transfer from junior college into university to finish my BA. I was at the firm for a little over a year and I worked evenings with two people – my lead and someone who was hired a few weeks after me. Both were men. The man hired after me, I found out later from him, came in making $1.50 an hour more than me, despite both of us doing the same work and having the same level of experience. It, cutely I now find, shocked me at the time.

Towards the end of my time there, already accepted into the university of my choice, my lead and I came to a disagreement. He and another colleague from a different department would gossip for hours during our shift and I asked him to please take it to the break room, since it was distracting. What followed was two weeks of passive aggressive quips at me, if not outright silence. I finally apologized, not because I really understood what I did wrong, but because I understood admitting fault was the only way he was going to start talking to me again, which, surprising no one, was very necessary in order for me to do my job.

A month later, he asked me to remove a book from my university’s library to be scanned. I scanned it as best I could on premise and then just checked the book out and brought it in. He instructed me to take more books out so the firm could scan them cover to cover, as there might be useful information in them. I objected, saying that if the firm wanted access to these books – of which they were a limited edition compilation of trade articles, all running about 600+ pages each – they needed to find a better avenue, because I was not taking on the responsibility for all these books that would be broken and damaged through the scanning process.

His solution was to order me to do it.

My response was to tell him in no uncertain terms to shove it up his ass.

I was not terribly diplomatic when I was younger.

So he emailed our supervisor and said, “I just can’t even deal with her anymore! I’m so upset,” and took a few days off work, because the sight of me would upset him further, I was told. So our supervisor spoke to me and it was decreed that we would all meet at the beginning of our shifts the following week and discuss this like levelheaded adult people who work together.

What actually followed was my being dropped into a room with my male supervisor, my male lead and my male coworker and being told that everything I felt and thought was personal and that if I didn’t find a way to work with my lead, changes would have to be made – “changes,” meaning my employment, or rather my lack thereof with the firm.

So I apologized.

Again.

To everyone. To the world. By the time the hour and a half meeting was up, where I wasn’t allowed to leave and I was forced to talk about why I was putting them all through this, I had basically taken on the burdens of both slavery and the Holocaust just to get out of that room.

I was nineteen.

The youngest person in that room. The only female in that room. And they united against me, scapegoated me and then forced me to sit there while I had my job threatened in front of my coworkers. The ranks had closed and I found myself outside of them.

I gave two weeks notice a week later.

I walked off the job a week after that.

I remember being on the phone with a friend a week after I quit, hidden away on a side alley of my new campus, crying my eyes out over what had happened. How weak and useless I felt. How resentful I was that my lead was the one who was making work personal and yet, I was the one who had to take full blame and apologize. That I’d let myself get pushed into – what I felt and still feel – was a false confession, an untruthful omission, and pushed around. How much I hated them and in part myself for letting that happen. I had hurt my own honor. I had lied to save myself and, in my soul, I felt that as completely wrong.

I found out years later that I had been blacklisted from employment there.

Frankly, I don’t think there is a paycheck large enough to entice me back.

Does that mean women aren’t capable of the same thing? Of course not. I’m not saying that. What I rail against – what makes me shake the bars and scream – is not exclusion, because that is a natural part of any group – it’s the inherent power displacement. I was not in that room with equals, who unilaterally decided I was in the wrong. I was not even in that room with people who understood me – or had made any effort to understand me. I was in that room with a wall, a power structure that I did not and could not belong to.

That’s when work stops feeling like a team of people united in a common goal and starts feeling like embattlement.

Now I feel it bears mentioning that the best employer I have had thus far has been a man. The reason I valued working with him as much as I did is because he valued not only the work I did, but also my insight into the company culture and the business. He promoted me and gave me a raise as my job duties expanded (something most business owners I have experience with will not do), gave me more responsibility and unilateral control over my own job, and trusted me a hundred percent. In his personal life, he was a complete dog, but luckily, I didn’t have to worry about his personal life, beyond making the odd reservation or flight arrangement. At work, he had determined I added value to the company and respected my work and me. He was my superior – more experienced, more knowledgeable and responsible for running the company – and I could respect that. We had a work relationship that worked for both of us.

Until one of the other higher ups decided he didn’t like the way I was being managed, that I was taking too much latitude, and that he was far more knowledgeable than my supervisor about how to best manage people. He had no idea what I did, no idea how to answer any of my questions, thought that my career tract was much more HR oriented than business operations despite my insisting otherwise, didn’t understand how the business worked, etc. etc.

This new manager played favorites to an insane degree, including giving sizeable raises to people for no rhyme or reason; made terrible business decisions; talked down to the female employees regularly; tried on several occasions to get into female employees’ pants (our relationship was far too contentious for him to try to get near my toothed vagina, as I’m sure he assumed I possessed); spread rumors about employees’ sex lives and did drugs on workplace premises with employees. Any time I asked (with deliberate politeness, because I could never be sure what would set him off into a tantrum) if what he was doing was really the best course of action, he would get defensive and tell me I didn’t know what I was talking about.

I once found out during a termination that he had taken all the female employees from one department to a bar to trash talk about their then-recently-terminated manager. The only reason I found out was because the woman being let go mentioned another previous employee was encouraging a lawsuit for harassment. When I asked my manager why he would do that, he accused me of being on the terminated supervisor’s side and letting him get into my head. Because he was never wrong – only the way I was thinking could be wrong.

Another time, he asked me to work on a structure within a department he didn’t understand. So I dutifully put several days into the research, outlining and documenting what I thought the structure should look like. I sent it to him. He said we should meet. So we met the next day, at which point he picked up the piece of paper it was outlined on, threw it across the table at me, threw his feet up on the chair next to him and popped the cap of his beer bottle. From this reclined, casual position, he told me it was too complicated and needed to be done over. He told me in his body language and his attitude that my work required so little consideration that it didn’t even warrant his serious attention.

He was another one where I had to share false omissions to get out of meetings with him. He was another one that threatened my job for being too outspoken. He said to me at one point, “we don’t have the sort of relationship where you should think you can tell me that.” He followed that up by explaining he and his wife’s marital problems. He made it clear that he could speak to anyone, in any way and about anything he liked, but at no point was I to speak out of turn. He was older, white, rich and male. Every structure in his life and fiber in his being told him he was in the right, even when he was wrong. If I wasn’t willing to feed into that narrative, I was threatening his understanding of himself and that was a problem.

At the end of the day, I was a problem. I didn’t flirt, I didn’t position myself as lesser, I didn’t come across as non-threatening and meek. I had a voice and I expected to be heard. Even though I always asked him privately and respectfully about his decisions when they seemed to fly in the face of the business’ interests, I was challenging his authority and showing that I didn’t trust his judgment, which he took as an unwarranted and personal criticism.

Am I reading too much into this? I don’t think so. I spent months trying to develop a system that would allow me to dodge his outbursts and lectures. Every time I let my guard down, he would call another uncomfortable meeting and force another awkward, painful confrontation that would leave me anxious and ill at-ease in his presence. I began unconsciously leaning away from him whenever he came into my personal area. Again, I felt besieged.

I may not have been spun around and kissed on the street after a company happy hour as happened to one of my female coworkers or kept out for friendly drinks until 3 AM while his wife fretted at home like another or even been part of that group of women dragged to a bar under false pretenses and pressured to accept him as the better and more caring manager than the one before, but I felt his very presence as an assault and a violation. There was not one woman in that office that wasn’t harassed by this man in one form or another and when we broached the subject with each other, about him generally but not the actions, we smiled without our eyes and waved it off and acted like it probably wasn’t as bad as we thought it was. Maybe we had misunderstood.

And that’s how insidious it is. That we don’t even fully trust our own experiences, because we are working inside a power structure and maybe it isn’t meant the way it’s felt and maybe we are taking it too personally.

And maybe we’re lying to save ourselves, because that’s the only way out of that room.

I can only speak to sexism in the workplace as it affects me, a woman. I know that it must exist in even more complicated and layered ways, that it undoubtedly can lead to a manager with no teeth or inappropriate in the other direction.

But this sexism that I speak of, this one that lays under the words and happens in dark corners where you aren’t fully sure if what you heard or saw or felt is right – it’s real. It’s real and it breaks down the team; it breaks down your company from the inside. It’s as damaging to men as it is to women, because abuses of power will always take their toll. When you undercut any part of your workforce from being able to come to work and do his or her job, you have undercut your own company. Any second that is spent trying to unravel whether or not someone has crossed a line is a second that is not spent working as a team or working towards a goal. Any time your workers feel embattled, you have already lost the war.

Dear Tehachapi,

You are hickish in a way that the rest of California can only aspire to be (the carhartts! The carhaaarrtttss!!), but you have a sushi place, a gas station and a drive thru Starbucks all within a three block radius. It’s that kind of forward thinking that makes me want to hop on your lap and call you baby.

All my love-

[Review] A Song of Fire and Ice – George R.R. Martin

Spoiler alert: If you like this series, you are going to hate this review. Decide now if the crazy book-loving rage is worth it to you. (Also, there are spoilers through book five.)

Let’s just get this out of the way- I’m talking about the series as a whole, because each book varies in quality. In universally agreed upon terms, we have:

Book One: A Game of Thrones – solid

Book Two: A Clash of Kings – just ok

Book Three: A Storm of Swords – AMAZING

Book Four: A Feast for Crows – terrible

Book Five: A Dance with Dragons – WHAT DID WE DO TO DESERVE THIS PUNISHMENT?

At no point should one amazing book and one decent book justify the existence of three other books of frankly terrible quality. This means that over 50% of the series is utter garbage and people are acting like it is the second coming of a Dickens’ serial. It saddens me to see people doing the modern-day equivalent of standing on a ship dock, waiting for news of a character’s survival. (Spoiler #2: Especially when there’s no point – everyone dies. EVERYONE.)

A Feast of Crows is terrible, because you spend an extraordinary 1,104 pages [paperback, US edition] with awful, uninteresting, non-dynamic people. Seriously, in book world, this is an uphill ultraman marathon level of pages, if only because of how painful 98% of them are. Your main touch points throughout the novel are Brienne; Sansa suffering from a mild psychosis; Cersei, the Worst Mother / Sister / Aunt Ever award recipient sixteen years in a row; Samwell the Ultimate Whiner; Arya much too sparingly; Jaime at the start of his redemption arc; a bunch of people from the Iron Islands no one cares about and a handful of people from Dorne no one cares about. See if you can wrap your head around this: most of the favorites – Tyrion, Daenerys and Jon Snow are, if anything, background characters. Arya’s presence and continued assassin training cannot outweigh spending the rest of the book with bland, irritating or downright dreadful characters, behaving obnoxiously. Three hundred pages maybe, but over one thousand? What-the fuck-ever.

And then you get to A Dance of Dragons and your favorites show back up. Dany is back, hurrah! So is Jon! And Tyrion came back to be the epic dwarf we all know and love and school all these crazy assholes- FINALLY.

But wait, what is this? Tyrion is going to spend the next 1,040 pages [hardback, US edition] having nightmares and whining about the same thing over and over and over again. (For those of you who are unaware of Tyrion’s self-made orphan status, welcome to spoiler #3- he takes out Shae and his father, Tywin, while awesomely remarking on his father’s bowel movements. If you didn’t love Tyrion before that moment, you do after). I can understand having some misgivings about having to flee your rather inhospitable family and birth country, but I cannot spend that much time with someone who can talk of nothing else. It makes Tyrion, one of the top five characters of the entire series, into a complete dolt – Tyrion! The man who always has a plan, a smart remark and an escape route mapped out In That Order.

Now, I am more than willing to journey to a character’s dark places with him or her as long as that journey is well written and emotionally honest. Tyrion’s journey – the physical one he makes to Slavers Bay and the mental one we are forced to take with him – doesn’t take us into his lowest moments in a life full of what must be low moments, but makes him into a – let’s say – thirty year old man acting like a “self-harming,” eyeliner wearing, emo, obnoxious teenager. I’m grateful George R.R. Martin is too old to understand the hipster movement (otherwise he might realize his sea captain hat is on-trend according to some cultural movements) – my body would reject this stone heart if I had to deal with hipsters in real life AND endure a beloved character turning into one.

But you know, thank God we have Dany and Jon back. I mean, all those fan theories are floating around and Jon is fighting a war against darkness here and really, that’s the point of these stories, isn’t it? I can’t wait to see if he turns out to be a Targa- what do you mean he gets stabbed to death by his friends at the Wall? (Spoiler #4: Seriously, EVERYONE.)

Ok, but we have Dany, right? I mean, at least someone is getting stuff done, what with Tyrion tapped out and Jon heinously murdered. A strong, independent dragon lady- who, wait, lost her dragon? And can’t keep her own soldiers from getting murdered? And is engaging in – let’s call them – extracurricular activities with a purple bearded man despite planning to marry a local lord to hopefully stop the killings? What? I’m sorry, what happened to the woman in book three who single handedly freed a warrior class of slaves while earning their undying loyalty and starting a complete upheaval of the status quo in the slaving cities? WHAT HAPPENED TO DANY?!

So now that we’re on the same page about my objection to the last two books (quick recap: objections are mainly that they are poorly written with no emotional or intellectual depth, involve sincerely uninteresting people and twists the ones we did like into malformed approximations of the original characters), let’s talk about the series as a whole.

Answer this question: What is this series about exactly?

When it comes to a series, there is going to be a topic sentence – there is a journey we are going to take with these characters, so there has to be a clear indication in that first book that is going to put a pin in the first step of this journey. Whatever detours, projects or alternate side quests we go on, we are still coming back to that main journey. Let’s look at some examples.

Harry Potter [J.K. Rowling] is about a boy wizard who fights evil with a ragtag group of friends. We knew within the first book he was fighting Voldemort (I can say his name, because he’s dead now, you know) and that this would be the reoccurring plot thread of the series.

Wheel of Time [Robert Jordan] is about a boy Dragon-Reborn fighting evil with a ragtag group of friends. Again, in the first book, we meet the face of evil. We know this journey is going to be an evil fighting one.

The Passage trilogy [Justin Cronin] is about a girl infected with the benevolent version of a murderous vampire virus destined to save humanity from its virus weaponizing mistakes (most of which is dead or under the thrall of one of twelve murderous vampires). Also, God may or may not exist in this world, but that thread continues to be a moot point in terms of importance within the novels.

The Harper Hall trilogy [Anne McCaffrey] (a childhood favorite of mine) is about a girl growing up and finding her way with a school of dragonkin, which involves (as they often do) moving into a cave, outrunning deadly rain, being admitted into the top music school and adventuring to the deadly, sparsely inhabited continent across the sea. It’s a classic Bildungsroman set on a planet with dragons. Win-win-win-win-win.

Les Rougon-Macquart [Emile Zola] is a twenty novel series about a single family and all the various lives they lead as influenced by their legitimate, illegitimate and legitimate-illegitimate bloodlines, all somewhat enhanced or tempered by a single joining factor – the matriarch’s mental instability.

The Hunger Games [Suzanne Collins] is about a girl forced to fight for her life whose unwillingness to kill others for her own survival accidentally sets off a rebellion; the emotional, mental and physical costs of which ultimately liberate an oppressed people, but leave her and her fellow survivors broken. Also, boys are all about her milkshake, but she is too scarred from PTSD to actually notice. (Sorry, I missed the part where Battle Royale was about sacrifice.)

Twilight [I Refuse] is about a girl falling in love with a vampire who sparkles and why this is a bad thing, but also, like, the very best thing. It has a subplot of giving young girls (and middle-aged housewives and general disasters disguised as twenty-somethings) a recklessly bad impression of what romantic relationships should look like.

50 Shades of Grey [I Refuse More Strenuously] is about sending me into a book burning rage and rants about fanfiction, bad writing and why vigilante murder is necessarily illegal. I’ve been told it’s fairly entertaining. Also, it apparently made Arizona citizens way super into S&M, so, you know, there’s that. (I read that somewhere. I’m sure it’s legit. And if not, don’t you kind of wish it were?)

Having a thesis topic – that first plot point that tells us what we’re about to get into – doesn’t make a book simple. Too often, people confuse muddled, unclear writing with complexity. A quick summary of a series doesn’t begin to encapsulate everything that makes it beloved, engaging or personally and culturally important, but it is necessary. It shows clarity of purpose that will drive the story forward for both the writer and the reader.

Now, again I ask: What exactly is A Song of Fire and Ice about?

Let’s look at the possible answers.

1)    Winter Is Coming. It’s about a fight of good versus evil (or gray versus grey). We have dragons reentering the world, Red priests and priestesses showing up worshipping a fire god and the Others – a magical ice-based species that has an advanced understanding of necromancy powers – descending from the north. Winter is Coming, is what we’re told. Clearly, this is a story about that.

Except no one in the books really seems to care about this. The only character we are actively engaging with who is trying to find a means to fortify humanity against the ghosts and ghouls from beyond the Wall just got stabbed to death. Granted, in a book where people can come back from the dead (now), death is a pretty cheap state of being. And if death is cheap, why even bother killing off a character? So Jon can come back a little wrong, a little less? Or so the final battle is all zombies? In either case, that’s weak writing.

As an aside: It’s really too bad none of the Reds were around to screw Ned’s head onto his shoulders and magic him back too. I would love to have him in the background as the voice of the morally righteous while Cersei continues to unsuccessfully govern and kill everyone who looks at her sideways. That’s the real missed coupling opportunity, don’t you think? (Spoiler #5: That last sentence was sarcasm.)

2)    In the Game of Thrones, Either You Play to Win or You Die. Then again, maybe it’s about the game of thrones, as the first book seems to indicate. The political intrigue, the war mongering, the struggle for power and to be top dog. That must be why the Starks are being cut down like diseased trees for kindling and the Lannisters are walking away with the trophy doing while doing jazz hands, right?

If that’s the case, why the fuck do I have to spend all of book four with people who don’t matter and don’t move that plot forward? No game is played in book four.

Then book five further mires that idea in a series of poor decisions by previous power players. We’re treated to Cersei’s apparent comeuppance that despite all her terrible actions and awful personality, still reads like a Violence Against Women Call To Action pamphlet; and Dany has gone from the Mother of Dragons to overwhelmed babysitter, who just got the phone call that the murderer is in the house with her.

And further, what’s the deal with Arya, Sansa, Bran, Jon, Theon/Reek and Came-Back-Wrong-Catelyn then? What part of the game are they playing? If they are incidental, then they shouldn’t have their own point-of-view chapters. (Please, stop giving me Theon/Reek point-of-view chapters.)

3)    Winter Is Coming While You Play the Game of Thrones to Win or Die. There’s A Really Good Chance You’re Going to Die Anyway, Even If You Play To Win. Life is Futile, Amiright? Maybe we’re dealing with a mixture of both – a war between Eldritch Admonitions as played out on a human scale. And again, if that’s the case, in addition to all the previous objections, let’s get to the point. Topple over some buildings, let out a Godzilla like roar, and let us know we need this world’s version of Cloud & Co to fight the Weapons or what have you. There needs to be some signpost that tells us something about this.

The worst part of all of this is that this is all fan theory. Seriously, if the plot for the series turns out to be different than any of the above, there was no indication of it in any of the five preceding books. It’s just not clear in the readings what is going on. There are so many characters, so many points of view and so many subplots, there is no overarching, connecting thread. We are probably headed towards something. Something is bound to happen. In twelve thousand pages, we are bound to see everyone in the same general place at approximately the same time, even the dead ones. Scratch that, especially the dead ones.

But doesn’t that feel more like inevitability rather than destiny? And shouldn’t books, especially multi-novel epics, operate on the mechanism of destiny?

The problem is, is that five to six thousand pages in, what we’re reading shouldn’t even be a question anymore. We’re already, supposedly, over the halfway point in the series. How is it that it’s still unclear what journey we’re supposed to be witnessing?

And unfortunately, that makes the entire series a lot like Tyrion’s journey to Dany – there’s a lot of whining, a lot movement without purpose, some strange sidetracking with a pig and a completely inconsequential character and a surprise heir to the throne (because we don’t have enough contenders for the sword chair yet) that all make up a bizarrely persistent, reoccurring nightmare.

Dear Jack Gleeson,

This is what freedom feels like. Hopefully people will stop confusing you with the character you play now. Go live your life in peace.

An appropriate amount of love from one stranger to another-

Dear The-Book-Is-Better-Than-The-Movie Crowd,

I’m generally one of you. I mean, to the extent that I allow myself to be one of anything, which is not terribly often (people are really just the worst, aren’t they?). But here’s the thing – when someone criticizes a movie-of-the-book, the proper response is not to say, “YOU DIDN’T READ THE BOOK, DID YOU? YOU’D KNOW BETTER IF YOU HAD. YOU IDIOT.” A movie needs to be able to stand alone without the book. If it doesn’t, it is poorly adapted and that is a legitimate criticism of the movie (or the book you love is trash and why is it a movie? Because of you, you ass hat). You do not get to win the “I hate this movie, it’s terrible” argument by claiming, “if you read the book, you’d GET IT.” The only proper response is, “the book was better.”

Fortunately, that is our wheelhouse.

All A begrudging teaspoon of my love-

Dear Usher,

I don’t know how Justin Timberlake could have brought sexy back. You never left. Did he save you from a 127 Hours situation that none of us knew about? If so, I will send him a nice gift basket of MP3 players loaded with music so he knows the travesty that is his last album does not qualify.

All my love-

P. S. You haven’t apologized for the other Justin yet. I’m not sure if it will help, but it’s worth a shot. You can start at anytime.