Monday, April 04, 2016

Quiet and Silent...

During my time in the craft community, I've seen several times when things derailed and conflict arose.  Don't get me wrong... for the most part, I believe that the craft community is very supportive and encouraging and is filled with multitudes of wonderful people.  However, there have been instances when bad things have happened.  As my most recent experience reminded me, there are those who want bad things to be kept quiet.  The person that I considered to be the one perpetrating the misdeeds threatened to sue me for slander and tried to bully me into removing my posts.  (Which were eventually reported and forcibly removed.)  While most of the comments on my posts were very supportive and positive, one commenter said that I should not have spoken out publicly and said that I was causing a mob mentality.  Another person said that it was unprofessional.  It gave me pause to think.

On one of the posts, several people admitted to seeing "The Culprit" commit similar crimes in the past and had used scare tactics and threats to keep those who spoke out quiet.  The commenter even said that this person attempted to bully another crafter into closing their Etsy store.  When I hear things like this, it makes me mad.  Why is it that this person wasn't called out earlier?  Why is it that this person was allowed to do this all over again?  Why is it that I'm saying things like, "The Culprit" and "this person", instead of using their full name?

We are trained and conditioned to keep quiet and silent.  If we speak up, we're troublemakers who should mind their own business.  If you speak up, you'll be branded unprofessional or slanderous or a liar.  If you speak up, people will try to sweep you under the rug.  Sometimes those who try to get you not to make a fuss are the ones who are guilty of crimes.  Sometimes they are trying to protect those who they think have been falsely accused.  Sometimes they are people who have been trained to suffer in silence and therefore expect others to do the same.  Sometimes they just don't want to deal with it and feel that if it's out of sight... it's out of mind.

When I was a little boy, my mom felt that I had lost touch with her Filipino heritage.  So she signed me up for a dancing group that one of her friends had organized through the church.  A group of us learned traditional folk dances and performed them in front of the congregation.  We would meet several times a week after school for practice.  I had grown up in a pretty Westernized home and all of the dances were new to me; it was awkward and there was a huge learning curve.  I embraced it though, because it got me out of helping with my family's lawn care business AND the family who hosted the practices had a pool!  As the recital drew closer, it was clear that we weren't any good and they increased the number of practices.  The mother of the family that ran the group was also a nurse and had to work a lot.  Her husband was recently unemployed, so they would often times leave us with him to supervise.  Usually he would drink beer and fall asleep.  Being kids, we didn't mind.  Instead of practicing, our little gang would run around and play.  The son of the family, who was a little younger than me, was always getting in trouble.  He had a temper and would hit his older sister and say mean things to her in front of us.  He would say things like, "You're just a stupid girl!" and then slap her across the face.  But we all had siblings who we fought with.  So while it seemed extreme, we wrote it off as sibling rivalry.  He was also the first person to ever show me pornography.  The boys snuck off to his parent's bedroom and he pulled the dirty magazine out from under the bed.  We tittered and tried to suppress our giggles as we flipped through the pages curiously.  I remember one time we had a sleepover and he would fast forward through movies like CaddyShack and Back to School and play the sex scenes and then rewind and replay them, or pause on scenes with nudity.   He seemed fixated with sex, and everyone would joke around that he was a pervert.

One day, after we had spent the afternoon in the pool instead of practicing, his father called us over.  Like many homes in Florida, they had a bathroom off the patio that connected to the rest of the house to the pool area.  His son and I rushed in from the bright patio into the dim, yellow light of the bathroom.  He was sitting on the edge of the tub with a beer in his hands.  He said, "Close the door."  And then he threw a towel at us and said, "Dry off."  We both were in our swimming trunks and had t-shirts on and were still dripping wet.  I just thought he didn't want us to get water all over the house, and proceeded to pat down.  He got mad and shouted, "Not like that."  I stood there, shaking and not knowing what to do.  His son began to strip his cloths off.  The father said, "You know, it's okay to take your clothes off.  You're both men.  It's okay if you touch each other and play with your privates."  He then grabbed his crotch and shook his manhood through his red shorts. Sensing that something was wrong and definitely NOT OKAY with this situation, I ran out of the bathroom and through the house, leaving a trail of water on the white tile.

I didn't say anything at first, because I didn't want to get in trouble.  Although I didn't really understand the situation, I knew it wasn't right, but I also knew that our little gang had been up to mischief and I didn't want to get in trouble either.  But a keen mother finds out one way or the other.  My mistake in keeping the secret was that I didn't dry off and my shorts were still wet when she came to pick me up.  She got mad at me for getting the backseat wet.  Upon prompting, I told her what happened.  I can still remember how mad she was at me.  She called up the mom and told her what happened.  I thought that was the end of the practice for me.

A few days later, after school let out, she told me to get my stuff ready for practice.  I was shocked.  I argued with my mom and begged her not to make me go.  But she said that the mom questioned the son, he said that I was a liar and making stuff up.  She said she didn't believe me and I was always making things up.  Why was I trying to ruin all her friendships?  Was it something I saw on TV?  Was it something I learned at school?

When I finally did go to practice, the mom answered the front door.  She had a bruise on her cheek.  My mom asked her what happened to her face.  She said she ran into a door.  When we went inside, the husband got off the couch, turned off the TV and headed to the bedroom and closed the door.  The rest of the practice, her son gave me dirty looks and the rest of the kids gave me the cold shoulder.  I guess the mom said that she had arranged it so that she'd be there for every practice from then on and the kids were mad that they couldn't hang out and were forced to actually practice.  Before I left that day, the son punched me in the face and split my lip open.  He said that I was trying to get his dad in trouble and to stop telling lies.

From then on, the rest of the kids treated me like a leper.  I still had to go to the mother-supervised practices, but all of the other kids wouldn't talk to me.  When they played games, they purposefully left me out.  And when it came time for the actual performance, I was so nervous and apprehensive that puked my guts out during the middle of it.  I didn't have to do any more traditional dances after that.

Years later, when I was home from college and struggling with life as an adult and reliving all my past childhood traumas, I tried to talk to my mom about it.  She remembers it completely different.  She said that the reason I quit going to dance practice was that the mom was pocketing money that was supposed to go to the church.  And anyways, they didn't want me to embarrass myself again in public.

The reason I mention that story, one that I've rarely shared, is that it was the first time that I was kept quiet.  They didn't want to make waves.  They didn't want to cause trouble.  They didn't believe me.  They didn't want to believe me.  It was safer to keep the status quo.  They didn't want to believe that one of their own could be capable of doing such a thing.  I can't know if that man did anything else... all I know is that someone who was very much in the wrong was protected by silence.  When I think back to the son, I see now that he must have learned his behavior by what he saw and patterned his actions off of his father and a fear of causing harm to the family by rocking the boat.

Sometimes when I see someone doing something that I perceive to be wrong, I think of myself when I was a little boy.  I didn't have a voice then.  So now I speak up.  I stand behind that little boy, who no one believed.  I stand behind that little boy who was told to be quiet.

A few days ago, I was having a conversation with another artist friend and we were talking about all the little foibles and frustrations along our creative careers.  Since "the recent issue" had just went down, the topic of copying in the craft community came up.  It was interesting to hear her stories, because she purposefully and rather vehemently left out the names of the people who had done her wrong over the years.  I also caught myself protecting the identities of people who had done wrong to me.

And all the rest of that day... I thought of the little boy I used to be.  I thought of why we protect those who do bad things.

I get it.  It's easier not to say anything.  It's less messy.  No "drama".  We belong to a culture and a society that protects the guilty and vilifies the innocent.  The victims are told to be quiet and silent.  Don't make waves.  Don't make trouble.  You'll get sued for slander if you don't play nice.  You'll get sued for defamation of character if you talk.  We can pretend that it doesn't happen, but all you have to do is turn on the news.  Kesha, a singer and performer, was raped by her producer and emotionally abused and won't be released from her contract.  She stated that they offered her freedom if she publicly apologized and recanted her story.  If she wants to make music, she has to work with her rapist.  This isn't the 1700's.  This is happening right now.

We belong to a culture that cradles wrongdoers and shelters them.  The anonymity allows these people to continue their behavior and if they don't like you talking about it publicly, all they have to do is report your post.

I've been around long enough in the craft community to realize that the bad apples usually get weeded out.  For the most part, our community is made up of genuine creative thinkers and these fellow artists become more than just colleagues and friends... they become family.  We support each other and look after our own.  We are a tribe of dreamers and makers and people who believe in manifesting a better life full of beauty.  And eventually... people figure things out and the culprits of misdeeds can't sustain their wrecking momentum and get sorted out.  The progress of this process usually gets delayed though, because people who have been victimized are often times too afraid to speak up or they're pressured into silence.  So it takes awhile for those who thrive off the misfortune of others to be fully acknowledged for what they are.  Unfortunately, it usually takes a critical mass of casualties and collateral damage before anything is happens.  And even then, there are a few good chameleons out there that can turn a story around and gaslight others into believing that they are the victim or that their accusers are crazy or trying to achieve some gain by naming wrongdoers.

When I finally vocalize my thoughts, I don't do so lightly.  I understand that sometimes people can make mistakes or that they have their reasons for doing what they do.  I know that not every situation is the same.  I also know that sometimes there are people who abuse their voice and call down harm without due diligence or proper reflection or thorough examination.  I know that there are those who use their voice to manipulate and coerce others and use it as a call to false zealotry.  Knowing these things, I try to be extremely careful and am always willing to back up what I say 100%.  I believe in the importance of being honest, genuine, and truthful.

One might ask... why speak out at all?  Why do it, when it'll only cause "drama" and heartache for myself?  When people ask me why... this is why.  When people call me unprofessional or try to make me feel bad for saying what I find to be true in my heart, all I have to do is think of that little boy who was kept quiet and silent.


daydream creations said...

God knows! Amen,,,

Gaea said...

You are a word, truth and love warrior, Andrew. When you have something to say you do so with deep thought and courage, two seemingly undervalued traits in the time. We always tell our kids to speak up. No one should suffer silently. Ever. xoxo

becky from Crazy Aggie said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I had the same type of situation at work. It wasn't a sex abuse thing but many abuses just the same and when I reported them I was called a liar over and over until I finally quit a job I loved. Tell it like it is. The truth is more important than almost anything.

TesoriTrovati said...

That was an incredible read, my friend. You have always had a gift of words, but this right here tugs at my heart for the little boy (I faced some things like this with a neighbor boy when I was young as well, that colored my world and made me happy to have followed my intuition...). My daughter faced a terrible situation recently and I was so proud of her for speaking up, even a the risk of losing friends. But more than that if she hadn't she knew that she would lose so much more, including her own self-respect. I am applauding the man that you have become, for every experience has shaped you to be the person you are today. I am really out of the loop and have no idea whatsoever about the controversy you are referring to, but I do agree with you and know that you should never feel like you cannot speak up. You are a thoughtful, kind and generous soul who feels very deeply and emanates wisdom. I am proud of you. Erin

Margot Potter said...

You did the right thing. The truth is, they can't hide from this because it is blatantly, pathetically obvious. Silencing you won't fix anything.

Being a truth teller is not easy, moreoften than not the person who is willing to speak the uncomfortable truth is shamed into silence. I am a truth teller too, and it has cost me, but I will gladly pay the price because I can go to bed every night with a clean conscience. It's a classic abusive scenario blaming the victim and the truth teller and enabling the abuser. I grew up in a dysfunctional family, keeping secrets is a big part of the dynamic.

The thing is, liars and cheats have to get up every morning and face themselves. They will never know the joy of acheiving success on sheer talent and tenacity. What a sad way to live your life. That's some serious karma right there.

Never make yourself smaller to make other people comfortable. Other people need to rise to the occasion. Or in the words of the divine Miss Bette Midler, "Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke."

Shine on,

Ann Schroeder said...

Being truthful and straight forward are undervalued in our society. I've always admired that you speak out with a sense of ownership and compassion.

Patti Vanderbloemen said...

One of the most thoughtful posts I have read ANYWHERE in a long, long time. Thank you!

Deborah A. Miranda said...

I continue to be grateful to you for your talent and your honesty. Audre Lorde wrote, "My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? Perhaps for some of you here today, I am the face of one of your fears. Because I am a woman, because I am Black, because I am lesbian, because I am myself — a Black woman warrior poet doing my work — come to ask you, are you doing yours?" - and yes, Andrew. You are doing your work, in every possible way. Thank you.

Meridy said...

Andrew, thank you for this deeply meaningful and important sharing. I always appreciate your comments and posts, though I'm not very vocal, because of the thoughtfulness of what you have to say. :)

Here Bead Dragons said...

Very well written and quite thought provoking. I also read your FB post a couple days ago. Thank you for writing both articles. You are courageous.