the not-a-friend friend

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Two things have floated past my Facebook feed today that have inspired enough thoughts to justify a blog post.  The first reminded me of a friendship I took a long time ending but, in the end, his confession many years ago that he did not in fact defend me in my absence was the beginning of the end.

10600616_729315847173351_5772921761439119439_n(Because yes, I think this stuff matters.  A lot.  Speak your truth,  man. And in this case, don’t tell me someone slandered me and then tell me, “But I didn’t correct them.”  No excuse.)

And then there was this post shared by my friend Luna, in which the author talks about the benefits of having a friend that’s not really your friend and about what you can learn from that relationship.  In particular, this quote stood out:

Between putting me down, questioning everything I did, and spreading lies about me behind my back, I realized that you weren’t actually my friend. You were just another person who was stuck in their insecurities, who needed to put others down to keep yourself up. You were more focused on yourself and your own problems than on our friendship. That’s not the kind of friend I want in my life. While I was blinded to this side of you because you were a new shiny friend for a couple months, I finally realized we had no friendship. Initially, this realization saddened me, but, in the end, I’m better off without you.

There are friendships, relationships, that never really leave you.  For better, and for worse, that connection is so entangled in your brain that even when the person is gone, their ghost never leaves you.  I’ve known people that get mentally and emotionally stuck in that ghost-relationship, rehashing the grievances, the hurt, the memorized path of how things went wrong, that they can recite the history at a moment’s notice and never move past the pain.

These are among my least favourite ‘discussions’ to have, because it’s not a discussion, there’s no resolution or healing, there’s just mental gear grinding.

The quote above reminds me of one of those people.  She’s someone I wish I could send that quote to, because that’s exactly why our friendship ended 10+ years ago and I didn’t have the words then to express the why to her then.

We were friends from 4th grade until well into our adulthood – or so I thought.  Unlike the first friendship I mention in this blog, it didn’t take me years to figure out I was better off not knowing this person.  No, sadly, our relationship started to end when I learned that she was describing me to others as ‘a waste of human flesh,’ and, when called on it, replied, “I’m sorry you head that.”  This discovery led to others, other negative descriptors that was in direct contrast to what she said to my face.

I’ve been sad about the way things went for a long time.  In part, I’m sad because I know she still hurts from the ending of our ‘friendship’ and because I know we have mutual friends wishing we could make amends.

But ya know?  I read that quote, and I thought, ‘Yes.  This.’

The people in my life today are people I trust, completely and utterly.

…I find myself wanting to say more about that, but I don’t think I need to.

People like C and L have taught me what I expect, what I need, out of a friendship.  What I want to give to a friendship.  And today, I may have just finally hit a point where I can be thankful for that lesson instead of sorry for the loss.

 

 

on the issue of selfies, snapchat, and consent

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Over the next stretch of weeks, I’ll be writing about my recent trip to work a haunted attraction in Australia – yes, really! Australia! – and it’s a mixed bag of experiences, to be sure…but one of the biggest things sticking in my memory is not exactly related to haunting.

Selfies.

What I found, while being in costume at the haunt, was that everyone wants a photo of characters.  That’s not unusual, but it was…extreme in Sydney.  One of our team members literally couldn’t take a step at times without being asked to pose for a photograph. (I videotaped this because it was truly amazing how many requests he would get.)

Perhaps not unexpectedly, the daytime crowds were nicer about this than the people that showed up as the sun went down.  We moved from having family groups with babies to teenagers and early 20-something year olds that were more aggressive about their requests.  I realized, as the requests came in, that they weren’t requests.

They were demands.

As a woman, this was far from a comfortable situation.  It didn’t matter if I was working, if I was obviously busy, even if I was talking to someone else.  The only answer to, “Can I take a selfie with you?” is, “Yes.”

If you say no, you find a celphone-holding hand being slipped around you and a photo being snapped.  In my case, I was taking tickets in a line queue, so there was no way I could avoid having people surround me, and honestly after 12 hours of work, I didn’t have the patience I had earlier in the day to just grin and bear it.

Also?  That’s a disturbing thought right there. I can’t say no. I can’t stop this from happening. My best bet is to smile and pretend it’s ok.

That’s exactly what I found myself thinking, and in light of the growing awareness of rape culture, that’s friggin’ disturbing.

There’s no WAY this is ok. 

“But it’s just a photograph, right?  Why is that a bad thing?”

Because ANY time your right to say no to something that involves your body, your personal space, is taken away?  There’s no damn WAY that’s anything BUT a bad thing.

I’m in no way familiar with the world of selfies and Snapchat, so maybe the aggressive taking of these pics is only news to me.  But seriously?  I ever catch someone I know treating anyone the way I was treated in Australia, I will make sure that behavior stops ASAP.

And if you’re one of those people thinking you have a right to take a photo of someone just because you want to do it even though you’ve been told no?

You’re wrong.

You’re being abusive.

You need to check your privilege and re-educate yourself about what ‘no’ means.

 

banishing the bad

“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t explain that correctly.”

Although the comment isn’t directed at me, I can’t help but hear the comment, note how instead of blaming the person doing the task incorrectly, our person in charge is taking responsibility as she corrects the problem.

I continue to paint the wall in front of me, but my thoughts are of another work site, where I was in the process of repainting a skull and replacing it on a facade.

“Wow.  That’s horrible,” my  boss says from below my ladder.

It wasn’t what I was used to.  At all.  If it had been said to someone else, I might have protested his words.  But it was said to me, and I wanted to do a good job, so I tried to laugh it off and figure out what about the task was wrong.

This was one of my first days working for him.  It set the tone for the next seven years – criticism, sometimes couched in ‘oh you know I’m kidding’, and praise/compliments mostly offered when there was no other audience but me.

I love having the opportunity to help create scenes, environments.  Usually that’s within the walls of a haunted house.  I’d fallen in love with this haunt and I was eager for the opportunity to work here as often as possible.  Indeed, it was this haunt that had set me on the path to becoming “Halloween Girl” more so than any other haunt project or commitment I’d taken on up to that point in my life.

Part of the appeal was that I was working for a friend.

I didn’t know at the time that I was actually working for a narcissist.

What that means, for me, is that I spent those years on a roller coaster of praise and abuse.  I could do anything; I was mostly useless. I was one of his best friends; the more I hurt, the more he wanted to hurt me.  The people that worked this haunt were a family; I wasn’t supposed to talk to them about much of anything. The stories and the rules changed depending on the audience, and while hindsight makes it all very clear, the day to day process of living with it is bewildering.

Here’s the really hard thing:  This all happened me to before the average person knew the definition of  ‘narcissistic personality disorder.’ On one hand, when I walked away from that job, I knew I would be cyberstalked, so it changed many of the ways I handle myself online (including why I am being admittedly vague, and even still I’m having a hard time hitting ‘publish’), and I grew to learn that people that were paying attention weren’t believing the smear campaign that still goes on to this day.  Which is typical for a narcissist.

More deeply rooted, and the bigger surprise, was the unexpected PTSD.  I found that had lost a lot of my confidence, my ability to trust my coworkers.  When Bones and I started our haunt and were building the show, I struggled a lot with an unexpected need for reassurance.  And when I started working at the theatre, I discovered that I was shocked to hear people treating each other with respect.  That it was ok to take a break.  That the way I used to treat my fellow crew members was actually the *norm* rather than something to be mocked.  That mistakes weren’t met with, “Wow, that’s horrible,” or other demeaning critical comments, or compliments at the moment followed by negativity muttered to other ears.

I am lucky in that I’ve worked with people that understand why I have PTSD.  They’ve known the players in my story. They’ve been able to  tell by the look on my face when I’ve stopped hearing them and started hearing the past.  Sometimes I feel like every job offers one more bit of healing. And sometimes it’s really hard to not just walk around hugging people that are being genuinely kind to each other on a work site.

 

 

one dead, five injured by a gunman at zombicon

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Last year, chlorine gas was released at a con, causing 19 attendees at the Illinois event to be sent to the hospital.

This year, the violence moved to Florida.

You’d probably have to be hiding under a rock to not have heard about the popular zombie walks that have been happening across the country for the past several years.  The biggest and arguably the best one, Pittsburgh Zombie Fest, asks attendees to bring a can of food as an admission price, and that gets donated to a local food bank.  Running these events with a charity in mind is fairly common, and it shows heart behind the horror.

Many of these events are organized like a block party, with live music, face painting, and vendors.  Others are pub crawls, like my personal favourite, the Philly Zombie Crawl. In Minneapolis, their zombie pub crawl is huge, pricey, polarizing..and here to stay.   If you’d rather participate in something that resembles a zombie parade, check out Zombiewalk Columbus, which raises money for Ronald McDonald House, or Denver’s zombie crawl, which has also been around for a decade.

So you get the idea.  There are lots of people that want to dress up like zombies in outside venues for a little walking dead fun.

Until this year’s ZombiCon.

ZombiCon in Fort Myers, Florida has been going strong for 9 years now, and its organizing group Pushing Daizies, Inc is very focused on its charities.  They take food donations for a food bank; their attendees are given the opportunity to donate blood, and their $5 admission fee supports children’s art programs and scholarships.  Over 20,000 people were estimated to show up this year – numbers the average convention would envy.

Just before midnight on Saturday, October 17th, someone started shooting at random attendees.  One person was killed.  Five were wounded.  The FBI is now involved in trying to find the man responsible.

This time, no one’s amused by the violence.  Thank heavens.

There’s a lot of buzz about What Happens Next, of course.  Do the organizers raise the price and take the event indoors?  This was tried a few years ago, according to a response on Facebook, and it reportedly didn’t work very well.  (I personally can’t imagine anything than a stadium working for this kind of crowd.)  Do the organizers bump up security?  They do hire security and have police on site every year.  Was the shooter just someone looking for a real-world zombie paintball experience?  That’s something that occurs to me, and I really really really hope it’s not the case.  Does the reality of this story blur over into other street parties and conventions?

Consider that in 10 years of zombie crawls and such, it looks like this is the first time violence has erupted.  It’s having an effect on events in Chicago and West Palm Beach, so it’s not hard to imagine the ripple effect going further.  Personally, I hope not.  Zombies aren’t my bag, baby, but I love the passion of the people that organize and participate in these events, and – like any fan-driven thing, really – I want to see the geeks win.  I mean, really…look at how amazing the ZombiCon attendees were!  That’s a level of creativity and fun that has to win out over an ass with a gun.

the complications of friendship

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A friend moved away recently.  I wasn’t able to go say goodbye in person, and so I decided to make a gift to send as a ‘welcome to your new home’ kind of thing.  It was a cross stitch I designed, stitched, fussed over…procrastinated over…finally framed it and set it aside to be mailed.

The whole process took several months.  And at the end of it, I realized a few unexpected facts about the friendship.  The biggest one?  We weren’t on the level of friendship I thought we were.

That’s weird, right?  How did I not realize that?

Fact is, she had already walked away from the friendship during the time I was stitching away.  So I clearly had a lot more invested in that connection than she did.  How does that happen?

But it does.

I think it’s a bit like the kerfluffle we’ve seen on varied social media networks where we connect to people as “friends.”  They’re not.  It takes more than the click of a button to become friends with another person.  And I’ve been on the other end of this thread more than once, where I’ve had someone insist on a strong friendship connection and the reality is we only ever saw each other at conventions, or at social events maybe once a year.

That’s an acquaintance.  And that’s important in its own way.  Years ago, a convention friend looked at me and said, “We’ve traveled around the country together with this convention.”  That statement made me stop for a moment and really think about these threads of connection we have as a result of the events we attend.  People become such a huge element of the event, it gives us a sense of home in a lot of ways.  If I go to, say, Arisia, I will feel at home because there are people there that I only see there and if they weren’t there, I would not feel as comfortable or connected.  The community is part of what makes the convention appealing for me.

Is that a friend?  It’s a degree of friend, sure.  But, at least for me, that title has to be about more than 30 minutes or so during a weekend once a year.  Even if those 30 minutes or so time happen once a year for a decade…there’s more to the job description of ‘friend’ than that.  In a lot of ways, you’re seeing someone at their social best, so just like any other relationship, you can’t get to know them unless you’re actively involved in each other’s lives.

So how did I miss that we weren’t matching those criteria?

I’m not sure.

As a very wise friend pointed out to me, it’s instinctive to put energy into a relationship you can see needs some help, and that only works well when you’re both defining things the same way.  Which is why it feels like a smack on the nose with a newspaper when you realize that the energy you’ve been putting into a connection isn’t reciprocated.  And that’s something I hadn’t considered when I’ve been on the other side of this ‘wait you thought this was a friendship?’ fence.

Does it change anything in my day to day life to not have this person I defined as a friend say, in effect, “sorry, that’s all you”?

No.  No, not really.

But I think it’s important that we really see ourselves.  In this case, I was doing something that I haven’t understood when other people did it to me.  Kinda funny.  Kinda frustrating.  Definitely an ‘opportunity for growth,’ as they say.

I’ll probably get it wrong again.  So I’m putting it in writing to let PresentMe tell FutureMe, “HEY!  You knew better!”

…Here’s hoping that works. 🙂

19 convention attendees were sent to the hospital – news media thinks it’s funny

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Over the weekend, friends of mine in east coast fandom started sharing news links about attendees of Fur Fest being evacuated from their convention hotel because of a deliberate release of chlorine gas into the hotel space. Fandom was pissed, and for good reason.

Details of the criminal act:

The Hyatt-Regency in Rosemont was completely evacuated at roughly 1AM. (For those of us that have attended TransWorld?  Yes, it’s that Rosemont.)  Guests sought shelter in nearby hotels and in the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center.  19 attendees ended up going to the hospital. Powdered chlorine was found in a stairwell on the 9th floor of the hotel.  Firefighters on the scene reported that there was a reading “as high as 20.6 on the chlorine meter” and also stated that “whatever the substance is, it is overloading our chlorine meter.”

To give you an idea of how bad a rating of 20.6ppm is?  Let’s go back to Wikipedia, because this article references a bunch of stuff I was already going to include….  “Chlorine is a toxic gas that irritates the respiratory system. Because it is heavier than air, it tends to accumulate at the bottom of poorly ventilated spaces. Chlorine gas is a strong oxidizer, which may react with flammable materials.[67] Chlorine is detectable with measuring devices in concentrations of as low as 0.2 parts per million (ppm), and by smell at 3 ppm. Coughing and vomiting may occur at 30 ppm and lung damage at 60 ppm. About 1000 ppm can be fatal after a few deep breaths of the gas.[24] Breathing lower concentrations can aggravate the respiratory system, and exposure to the gas can irritate the eyes.[68] The toxicity of chlorine comes from its oxidizing power. When chlorine is inhaled at concentrations above 30 ppm, it begins to react with water and cells, which change it into hydrochloric acid (HCl) and hypochlorous acid (HClO).” And the CDC cautions, “Hazardous concentrations may develop quickly in enclosed, poorly-ventilated, or low-lying areas. Keep out of these areas.”

If you’re wondering what it was like to be there, here’s one attendee’s story of what it was like to try to get off the 9th floor via the stairwell.

So having this crap in a stairwell that people were forced to use during the hotel evacuation?  Really bad news. 

Ok.  So someone exposed a bunch of convention attendees to a hazardous gas.  Good reason for fandom to be pissed off.

So why the hell was my Facebook news feed flooded on Tuesday with stories about reporters laughing about this story?

Because Fur Fest is a fandom convention for “people who are interested in the concept of fictional non-human characters with human characteristics.

These folk are more commonly known as “furries”..some of the most maligned people in fandom.

If you’ve ever been in downtown Pittsburgh in June or July, you may well have seen this charming sector of fandom running around the city in mascot-esque costumes during the weekend run of Anthrocon.  It’s rather adorable, actually…the variety of detail and creativity in the costuming is lovely to see.  One collection of photos can be found here. And if you have either never heard of a furry or you think it’s some deviant sex group, I strongly encourage you to go take a look through that album, or any of the others on Anthrocon’s site.

Fur Fest is one of the largest conventions of its kind, warmly received by the Hyatt-Regency, whose Twitter feed shows some great love and support for Fur Fest. (Really, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a convention hotel be so sweet to a con. I mean, really..themed meal options?  A free room contest?  This hotel is pretty awesome!)

This convention had roughly 4,600 attendees from 15 different countries.

According to Furfest’s website, “Our charity, Critter Camp Exotic Pet Sanctuary, was able to raise $11,000 by charitable donations from our attendees and an additional $20,000 was donated from Midwest Furry Fandom, Inc., our parent 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation. Part of our core mission is to raise money for animal focused charities in the Midwest.”  HOLY POOP THAT’S GREAT!!

But what do most people know about the event?

They know that reporters over on MSNBC responded to a story about 19 people being sent to the hospital as a result of a criminal act by laughing on the air and having one of their reporters run off camera because she couldn’t deal with the idea of people wearing fur suits.

How far is this, really, from the media making fun of fandom and costuming of any sort?

Why does it suddenly not matter that 19 people went to the hospital?

Oni Hartstein rather brilliantly summed up the story with the question, “It’s ok to commit terrorism toward children if you don’t like them?”  

Victoria McNally wrote a much more detailed description of the story than I have here in her blog post over on TheMarySue.com, entitled, “Let’s Stop Making Jokes About Furries While Discussing That Recent Terrorist Attack on Furries.”

You should read those posts.  These women make some fantastic points.

And then think, really think, about what this story, and the sadly common public reaction to this story, is saying.

Because, while this is a very dramatic story?  It’s not an isolated incident sort of story.  Fire alarms get pulled at conventions to force con attendees out of hotels and into the street..sometimes to try to ’embarrass’ the costumed attendees, sometimes to evict attendees that don’t have hotel rooms.  I’ve read a lot of stories today about what sometimes happens at conventions, and I’m appalled at what people are doing to my fellow geeks.

Most of my fellow con goers can tell me of at least one convention they’ve attended where there was another group of people in the same hotel that didn’t appreciate sharing hotel space with fandom or haunters.  We’ve seen the looks of disapproval and we’ve heard the grumblings.  It’s not hard at all to imagine a repeat of what happened at Fur Fest last weekend.

If you have something you love enough to attend a convention to celebrate?  Do not think for a second that your convention is immune from something like this.  The only way that works is if we stop trying to decide who ‘counts’ – which passion is ok to have and which one isn’t good enough.

Each of us, every single one of us, has an interest, a something we love that makes us a geek.

Stop saying that your love makes you better than anyone else.

Once we get to that point?  Crap like this stops happening.

(If you’re appalled at what happened on MSNBC, TELL THEM letters@msnbc.com)

America is Haunted scam update: Groupon’s caught on, Amazon Local has not

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Last week, Oni Hartstein posted a blog entry about the selling of tickets via Groupon to a chain of haunted attractions called America is Haunted. The poop has started to hit the fan…

http://www.cbs58.com/news/local-news/Buyer-Beware-Website-sells-fake-tickets-for-Haunted-House-in-Milwaukee-279866222.html

This link goes to a news story out of Milwaukee that shows Groupon is starting to take the some of these deals offline and is refunding people their money..so again, if you have purchased a Groupon for a set of tickets for a haunted house called America is Haunted, you should be able to receive a refund.  I understand there’s an investigation going on in Iowa, so hopefully other states affected by this scam are doing the same.

Apparently there have been offers also posted on Amazon Local, but I personally don’t see anything there in the few states I checked out. Still, if you have purchased tickets for America is Haunted from http://local.amazon.com, please get in touch with them about this scam.

As of today, the website http://www.americaishaunted.com has been taken down.

Fellow haunter Melinda Mitchell is the whistle-blower in this story and has done one helluva job in investigating the story.