I’ve been very lucky, but…me too

At first, I was hesitant to re-post “Me Too.”

I wondered if the fact that I’ve never been sexually assaulted might mean that I shouldn’t post. I figured that the small amount of harassment and bullying I’ve experienced, in the grand scheme of things, is not shout-worthy. I thought about all of my friends, both women and men, who have endured much, much worse.

But…the #MeToo movement is about awareness. It’s about defining the spectrum of abuse. It’s about showing people just how widespread a problem can be.

When it comes to my female friends in particular, all of us have gone through it. It’s like some screwed up initiation ritual. A rite of passage into womanhood.

Everyone’s definition of what’s considered wanted vs. unwanted attention is different, so I know it’s hard to pinpoint what is acceptable across the board. However, experiencing that “special” feeling of discomfort and humiliation due to sexual harassment/bullying/sexual assault, is completely unacceptable. It’s important to have an ongoing conversation about it. This is both for the benefit of victims (so they don’t feel alone or as if they are overreacting) and to prevent future perpetration (so that would-be bullies or predators will know what is considered wrong and might even go so far as to stop themselves from partaking in such behavior—if they are capable of self-reflection).

So with that in mind, I wanted to share some details on a few notable run-ins I’ve had with sexual harassment over the years (which includes being bullied about things of a sexual nature).

Fourth grade

One day at lunchtime, when we were all supposed to be in the cafeteria, I realized that my friend (a boy that everyone probably knew I had a crush on) hadn’t left the classroom. He was there by himself, crying about something. So I left the lunchroom and went to our empty classroom to see if he was ok. Within a few minutes, our teacher walked in a got really angry that we were in the room alone together. One kid caught wind of it, and suddenly I had to endure the obscene rumors spreading like wildfire around the school. “Mrs. Durniak caught them having sex!” “She found them with their clothes off!” “Stephanie is a slut!”

I was in fourth grade. I didn’t even know what sex was at the time. The rumors made me so uncomfortable that I became desperate to avoid ever putting myself in that sort of situation again. A year later, when I was afraid that the shaming would start up again, I punched him in front of the class just to convince people that I didn’t like him.

Sixth grade

It was April and it was starting to get warm out. I’d gone through a growth spurt that winter, and so my parents hadn’t bought me new summer clothes yet. I wore a pair of shorts from the year before that still fit, though they were a little tight. That was enough to bother people, apparently.

One girl and one guy were particularly bothered, so they got a bunch of other kids to sing (to the tune of the Nair commercials) “who wears short shorts?” every time I passed in the hallway. It went on long enough to the point that a few other girls in the grade thought this bullying was extremely upsetting and went to the principal about it on my behalf (if any of you are reading this, thank you for that). Unfortunately, the bullying continued, and it wasn’t until I took the high road and sung back, agreeing that “I wear short shorts” that the harassment finally stopped.

Ninth grade

I was at my first ever part-time job, working in the bakery section of a deli. I was the youngest person there, and most of the other employees were junior and senior guys from a neighboring high school. I was pretty shy, and so didn’t go out my way to talk to the guys, even though I thought all of them were pretty cute and I would have welcomed the attention of getting asked out. I did not welcome the type of attention I ended up actually receiving.

One guy decided, for some reason, that he needed to make me feel like the lowest of the low. He started barking at me every time I passed him, which got a few of the other guys to do that too. This guy would also ask me things of a sexual nature like, “Are you a freak?” (as in, freak in the sheets), and would sort of “pretend” to hit on me and then laugh about it with the other guys. When he wasn’t around, the other guys were “normal,” but this one dude-bro’s presence always changed their demeanor from sweet/helpful to rude/predatory.

I started to get paranoid, thinking I must be super unattractive for these guys to go out of their way to be nasty to me. I couldn’t comprehend any other reason why they’d treat me this way, and it made a big dent in my self-esteem that lasted throughout high school.

College

I was in a serious relationship throughout all of college, and so besides flirting with and dancing with guys at parties, everyone pretty much knew I wasn’t available. I was certainly guilty of leading people on at times, but everything was good-natured and people understood. That didn’t necessarily stop this one guy, one night in my senior year, from trying to put his hand up my skirt. I kept swatting it away and saying that, “I have a boyfriend,” but we were also with a group of people and I didn’t want to ruin the fun we were having. After enough times, I moved away from him, and one of my friends who noticed wedged herself in between us so he wouldn’t keep trying to touch me.

Later that night, he text messaged me, talking about how turned on he was, but also apologizing for his behavior. I reiterated that though I was flattered, I wasn’t looking to date him—I had a boyfriend. The next day, we met up in person, and he officially apologized. We hugged, and I thought everything was good. Then he said, “But, you know, if you are ever on the market…hit me up.”

Witnessing harassment in the workplace

I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve never felt sexually harassed at work by colleagues or higher-ups. There was only this one time at one of my previous jobs, when a mail guy who had been moved to my floor (for dubious reasons) asked me what my plans were for the long weekend. I said I was going to hang out with my boyfriend, to which he responded, “Oh, so are you guys gonna drink some wine? Make love? Not make love?” And then when I didn’t answer he said, “Come on, we’re all adults here.” I didn’t end up reporting him because he’d already been reported for other behavior and I was pretty sure he was on his way out.

I wanted to include this other anecdote of harassment. This time it’s about behavior I witnessed, behavior that shows men can be victims too. And that women can be perpetrators:

I once witnessed a female colleague at a previous company inappropriately touch one of our clients. We were all drinking together, so at first I didn’t think anything of it, but when she left the room, the guy said he was very uncomfortable. A few other people commented that “she does this all the time.” A few years later, I found out from a male boss at a completely different company that he’d received unwanted physical advances from this same woman (“she put her hand where she wasn’t supposed to”), and that this was a pattern of behavior that many of his male friends had also endured from her.

I’m keeping all of these stories anonymous because I don’t feel comfortable spreading things about these people, even if they’ve wronged me or others. I also know that many of them have already received some form of repercussions over time, in one way or another.

Still, I’m nervous to be sharing these details (there’s a part of me that fears my honesty will somehow be turned around on me). But I think that’s the type of fear this tidal wave of “me too’s” on social media is trying to assuage. No matter how you slice it, our cultural norms won’t improve until our stories are told.

Until then, the response will always be “me too.”

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My essay in Paste Magazine

   

Since I’ve been so MIA lately, I’ve sort of racked up a few things to brag about (luckily!). The first one to report is my publication with Paste Magazine back in June. It’s called “Why I Spent My Summer Vacation Dressed Like Hermione Granger,” and it’s an essay about my experience at a Harry Potter LARP I attended last summer.

This was my first nonfiction publication with a professional magazine (though I have had work published in smaller markets in the past, this is really my first one being paid professional rates at a place that has an actual full time staff and an office). The process of getting this essay out there was pretty grueling and uncertain, but really rewarding—and definitely a learning experience.

Submitting to culture magazines is so different from submitting to literary magazines (a process which I plan to write about soon). But I think writing this essay, researching the process, sending it out there, and actually—actually—getting published (and prior to that, getting interest from WIRED and Vanity Fair) has caused me to really fall in love with essay and nonfiction writing. I knew I already liked reading it, and always felt most comfortable writing it, but now it’s even more ingrained in my writing conscious and subconscious. Plus, it’s another way to get my voice out there as a writer, even if I also identify as a fiction writer.

So if you want to take a look at my most recently published work, go ahead and check it out in Paste.

Me with Spaghetti Hair

I’ve been meaning to post this one for a while. A few months back, my friend Lia Ryerson sent this drawing of me out of the blue, and I just love it.

I’ve always, always been fascinated by illustrations and caricatures of real people—and it’s still on my half-existent NYC bucket list to get one done in Central Park one summer. In the meantime, Lia’s interpretation of my hair as spaghetti wrapped around a fork and a spoon is exactly what I needed.

This image is part of a series of “Anatomical Deviant” drawings Lia has done as an amuse bouche for her novel-in-progress, Bear Left, which is about a man named Nancy Critter who wakes up one morning to find that his two front teeth have grown overnight to reach below his chin. The drawing series includes me and my “pasghetti” hair, but also someone with a mushroom for a nose, someone with a boat for a mouth, and someone with camels for ears. Lia is an MFA creative writing student at The New School and is always up to something really cool, both in her life and in her writing. Keep an eye out!

An Unapologetic Dylann Roof Says There’s “Nothing Wrong” with Him

Credit: Facebook

Credit: Post And Courier and Facebook

Disturbing. If there’s “nothing wrong” with him, a boy who mercilessly killed nine African Americans at a Charleston church ceremony, then clearly there’s something wrong with the culture he was brought up in, the culture that allowed him to become this way. I suspect it’s both—he’s psychopathic, but also adopted his views from an abhorrent white supremacist undercurrent that is clearly still present today throughout the United States and on the internet.

There’s no denying that racism, unfortunately, exists. Which is why movements that tell the truth about people of color’s experiences, movements like #BlackLivesMatter, MATTER. If you oppose these sorts of movements, I think it’d be smart to re-think your own worldview and try to understand that your opposition aligns you much more closely with the views of monsters like Dylann Roof than you’d like. And if that statement gets you mad or disturbs you, then that’s good. But that means you’ve also got to become more conscious of your own biases that are making you opposed to people of color coming together and telling their side of the story.

Being any shade of racist is lazy—it takes work and patience to build your own compassion for people not like you. But working hard to achieve something, especially equality and freedom—for all—is the American way. If you’re a true patriot, it’s worth the effort.

New Year, New Banner

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Credit: Brian Chin

Thanks to the talents of Madison Square Garden graphic designer and up-and-coming musician Brian Chin (who is also my good friend and former roommate), I now have a new banner for my website! He literally sent it to me yesterday, just in time for the beginning of 2017.

The new banner combines everything I love—the printed word, the handwritten word, sketches, and water color. If you look closely, you’ll see that Brian hand-drew the font and sketched not only books, but also a laptop, a spiral notebook, a coffee cup, and even a pencil. And that text in the background? Yeah it’s the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, one of my all-time favorite books.

You’ll also see a new image on the right side of this page that lets you sign up for my newsletter. As one of my goals in 2017, I’m going to start using MailChimp to update my subscribers whenever I have a new post on my site or any news to report (which means you’ll get an email maybe once a month, tops, since I’m pretty lazy). If you’re interested, please sign up for my mailing list by clicking that shiny new image! (Or just click here.)

And as is customary for a new year’s blog post, I suppose I should comment on 2016. I have a lot of friends who had the worst year of their lives. I have a lot of friends who had the best year of their lives. And I have a lot of friends who, despite their shock at what has become of the U.S. political scene, their sorrow over the loss of so many childhood heroes, and their horror at the many calamities happening around the world, still somehow managed to have a pretty good year both personally and professionally. This gives me hope that there’s always a spectrum, that a year can’t necessarily be summed up by one feeling or one event.

I was among those who had a pretty good year both personally and professionally. The biggest things, of course, involved getting back on the horse and saying “giddy up” to my writing productivity. I’m still working on sticking with good habits, but luckily I’m at the point where if I go for more than two weeks without doing any form of writing I start getting really uncomfortable and existential, and I start to berate myself. That’s healthy, right?

In summary, here is my 2016 year in review by the numbers:

  • 60 submissions to literary and mainstream magazines and contests, which resulted in:
  • 1 story told at a Moth StorySLAM
  • 9 books read (though since three were over 600 pages long, including George R.R. Martin’s A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords, total pages read = 3,240)
  • 3 years with my boyfriend David
    • 1 move to a new apartment together
      • 5 rooms / 20 walls painted
  • 1 brother engaged  🙂
  • 1 political party changed (I am now officially a registered Democrat)
  • 8 vacations / new travel destinations
    • Palo Alto, California
    • Asheville, North Carolina
    • Chicago, Illinois
    • Richmond, Virginia
    • Chicago again
    • Camping in Staatsburg, New York
    • Dublin, Ireland
    • Boston, Massachusetts
  • 1 Harry Potter-themed LARP attended
  • 150 work out sessions (roughly 3 per week)
  • Countless (decaf) coffees drank
  • Countless moments of meditation and gratitude
  • Countless dreams to work toward in the new year

Happy New Year everyone!

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