Monday, September 15, 2014

Guest post by Sara Biggs Chaney: Go Cry Over Your Dog Biscuits—Some Thoughts on Writers and Bullying

"Electrifying Groove," by Danielle Dragona
#BLauthor13 Sara Biggs Chaney has written a guest post on bullying within the writing community, and we think it's totally rad when other writers say, hey, do your thing, who cares? There's room for all of us. The accompanying art by Danielle Dragona kind of highlights that idea: groove on, jam out, do your thing.

Enjoy Sara's post, and please share it and leave us a comment here to tell us what you think:

I want to make a few observations about writers, bullying, and social networks. But before I do, I should make clear: I make these observations with the innocence of an outsider. I feel like an outsider in the sense that I did not come up through an MFA program, so I haven’t been socialized into the writing community in the same way many have. I also feel like an outsider sometimes because I returned to writing seriously after having spent a fat chunk of life pursuing a Ph.D. in English with a focus in Comp/Rhet. When I returned to a dedicated practice of poetry two years ago, I didn’t expect status or recognition. I returned to poetry because it is the medium through which I believe I am able to speak the clearest. We all have a few things worth saying in our lives, if we are lucky. I’ve been trying to say those things with poetry. All that is simply to underline the obvious point that I hold the opinions that I do because of who I am. Duh, right? Let’s proceed.

When I was a 7th grader, regularly catching the ire of a group of girls with their own arms full of bones to pick, I was forever being called up to the guidance counselor’s office to “work things out” with my tormentors. These peace talks were awkward to say the least, but from them I learned something about bully psychology. One afternoon, my bully and I were facing each other in the guidance office yet again, about twenty minutes after she had delivered dog biscuits to me in the lunch room. At some point, the conversation turned toward the question of why she had done it, and my bully leaned forward, with a missionizing gleam flickering in her mascara-shellacked eyes.

“When something like that happens,” she said, “you need to learn to hold up your head, laugh, and say I prefer Alpo.”
"Jammin Jazz," by Danielle Dragona

I realize that she saw herself as my teacher. Perhaps a little like the demon from a Buddhist parable might understand itself as teaching something about the bitter paradox of living. As my teacher, she was out to crush some part of me. The part that was still a baby, perhaps. The part that thought I was so damn special. The part that wept over dog biscuits, that didn’t know how to thrust out my chin and paste on a smile.

Maybe my bully had already figured out that her shit stank just as badly as everyone else’s. Maybe she didn’t think I should be allowed to walk around acting like mine was so precious and worthy of protection. Whatever her motivation, she was a treasure trove of logical fallacies dressed up as good reasons for her actions. When I remember her now, I’m very aware of the cesspool of bad feelings that she was no doubt swimming in. My bully was feeling ALL the bad feelings. For God’s sake, it was the seventh grade, after all.

I’m not in the seventh grade anymore. Neither is she. Neither, most likely, is anyone reading this blog post. Those bad old days stay gone, for the most part. Although sometimes I do see their ghostly traces in my adult life. I stumble on an editor who is tweeting “terrible lines” from his or her slush pile and I wonder…is this still my problem? Have I failed to learn how to smile over the dog food? Or is this bully psychology, 2.0? Is there some demon-teacher driving that editor’s fingers? Is s(he) a bully with a heart of gold who wants to break the writer foolish enough to think her shit doesn’t stink? It’s for the writer’s own good, really. None of us should be too hopeful, after all. None of us should walk around feeling like we matter so goddamn much. We all need to learn how to smile and say “I prefer Alpo,” don’t we? ‘Cause that’s just life, goddammit, says the bully with his boot in your face, with her pen on your paper, with his snide loud talking remark on your Facebook wall.

Here’s the crazy thing. Regardless of individual motivations, these exchanges aren’t limited to individual editors and writers. Once they enter cyberspace, they are like rocks dropped into the pond that we all must go aswimmin’ in. For example, the folks behind “Worst New Poets” claim to be throwing their rocks up the mountain at well-established poets. So I guess that can’t be bullying….? But when they put mediocre lines up on their little cyber dartboard and mock them publically, I can’t help but wonder how their little shaming spectacle ripples the pond for the rest of us, for good or ill. When I first read their Twitter feed, I thought: I’ve written weak and laughable lines. I’m sure there is some reason to mock everything I’ve ever written. Really, who couldn’t say the same?

The bully wants to stick other people’s faces in the muck of their own imperfection. Imperfection: A condition that we all surely do share. A bully might claim to have a virtuous agenda, but really, they are just hoping to make a few more people cry over their dog biscuits today. So, are the Worst New Poets tweeters a bunch of bullies? I don’t know. What about the writer who calls out other writers for celebrating their own successes on social networks, as if to suggest that being too proud of yourself warrants a passive aggressive beat down via social media? Is that writer an undercover bully? I don’t know. But it might be worth some introspection.

When we catch ourselves in the act of wanting to use words to dismantle someone else, to break a part of them that grates on us for a million reasons we can’t even articulate, we might ask ourselves why we believe that should ever be our role.

Have we appointed ourselves demon teacher in a parable of our own making?

Do we ever have the right to do so?

Would we all be better served by a practice of humility?

About the artist: Danielle Dragona’s passion to create art spans over 20 years. She is attracted to vibrant colors and forms and draws from a well of deep imagination and inventive energy. She is self-taught, having never taken an art class and rather relying on emotion to guide her in her artistic journeys.