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Archive for the ‘shaming’ Category

The Brutal Truth about Being a Writer

Posted by E on May 10, 2015

typewriter

I made the decision to become a professional writer in my third year of university, after taking a year-long Creative Writing course that would change my life. I’ve always wanted to write, that desire being kindled from the moment I heard my first fairytale, from those first, precious kindergarten days when I discovered that I, too, could follow along the letters that formed the sentences which intertwined to become the first stories I ever read. It was an implicit, unspoken spark, a recognition inside me that whispered the promise that one day, I too would give life to letters, words and sentences to delight other children like me.

I miss those days of wonder, the spark of delight I would feel after finishing a rhyming poem for composition class. When that poem was so liked by my teacher that she’d ask me to go to the front of the classroom and read it to the other kids. The sound of their hands clapping, just for me – it was one of those very few, precious moments of a childhood that was filled with loneliness, despair and isolation – in that sense, mirroring the miserable childhoods my parents had and recreated within me.

But the magic, like desktop varnish, like the fresh-print smell of a brand-new book, has long worn off the process. Don’t worry, I’m not going to sit here and write about everything that has made me jaded about the writing profession – that’s to be found in my 2012 book Alice in Writerland. But the point is, over the last decade and a half since I’ve been trying my best to make a living as a writer, I’ve encountered scores of aspiring, budding, hopeful writers whose dreams and ambitions are often way ahead of their actual daily word counts.

Again, this isn’t what this blog is really about – everyone eventually realizes, if they’re in this profession long enough, that in general (and with the exception of performance arts, aka poetry slams) writing is not a social endeavour. Not that it’s stopped countless people from starting writing collectives, coffee bar circles and the like – I’ve been guilty of that myself. I don’t know how many circles I’ve either started or been part of, and years ago I even established a Facebook writers group that today numbers in the hundreds. Of course, everybody has their own unique process. I’ve had extroverted friends swear by wine bars and Starbucks shops as being central to kick-starting their creative juices. I’ve even written a piece or two in coffee lounges. But ultimately, if you really intend to be a writer of book-length works, you need to be able to lock yourself into a room and just WRITE.

Nevertheless, this also isn’t what this blog post is actually about. But I’m getting to it.

So here comes the kick, the part you don’t hear in the creative writing MFA programs of tomorrow, where everybody is a young Rimbaud or Hemingway, where practically everyone goes through a Plath or Bukowski phase (or like me, both): there is a lot of ugliness out there. A LOT. Especially now, in the age of social media, when people who have never accomplished anything and likely harbour a lot of internalized anger have begun to use the internet as a tool for psychological projection.

meanness  aggression stock

I’m not a stranger to personal attacks – over twenty years ago I gathered information on dangerous extremists, testified against their leaders and put them in jail, and helped to disband the most dangerous, out-of-control CSIS operation ever carried out by Canadian Intelligence. I had to live in hiding after my life was threatened numerous times. At eighteen, I was only a teenager. Just think about what you were doing when you were sixteen. Or eighteen. Now picture being truly, completely, utterly alone, with nobody to give a shit about whether you die or not.

Last March I finally conquered the demons that had given me PTSD into my early twenties and wrote a memoir, Race Traitor. I sold about a thousand copies, got some national attention and made some good contacts in the media industry and the activist community. But then came the hate mail – something that, if you are really serious about being a writer, you’ll have to wrap your brain around.

Anytime you have success – no matter how small, even if success is defined simply by the publication of a book – you’re going to get what has been colloquially termed as “haters.” The subject matter of your book is inconsequential. Honestly, it doesn’t make a difference. If you write romance, someone is going to tell you that you suck. If you write adventure, you’re bound to hear the plot lacks suspense.

God forbid you actually make it onto a bestseller list – some of my favourite writers ever, like Carlos Ruiz Zafon or Jeanette Winterson, have literally hundreds of brutal one-star reviews. And in recent days, Harry Potter author JK Rowling has been viciously targeted for nasty social media attacks. Luckily for her, she has a fan base of 4 million people. But what do you do if you don’t already have an established fan base and are on the receiving end of brutal comments?

And when I say brutal, I mean it. Brutality is commensurate to your level of success. I’m not even a best-selling author, not by a long shot. Most people haven’t a clue who I am. But in my case, the more interviews I did and the more copies of my book I sold, the worse the hate-mail.

But if you should wish to write non-fiction, it can get worse. If you write investigative pieces, or something that triggers the attention of far right nutcases or religious extremists, you’re in for a treat. Imagine being discussed on Stormfront, the world’s largest and most hateful white supremacist website, one whose regulars included Anders Breivik (the Norwegian Utoya Island shooter), the Kansas City synagogue shooters or even Canadian psychopath Luka Magnotta. Imagine being called terrible names on white supremacist sites that are filled with lunatics who treasure their weapon troves.

Last month, after gaining some publicity for my book crowdfunding campaign, I received a typical hate letter through my website web-form from Aryan Nations in Idaho. They identified themselves as such, and after checking their IP on my Statcounter app I was able to confirm that indeed, the email did come from Hayden Lake, Idaho.

This is what it said (the spelling errors are intact):

“Just like a JEW .. Get stupid ass goyim to pay for travel/lodging & expenses for you to write a book about your new found JEW-ism… Fantastic. I certainly don’t consider you white.

We here in Northern Idaho ( home of CJCC/AN ) have a one second rule – That is if within a second we suspect your not white. Your not white. PERIOD.  Oh by the way – how can you be a race traitor – being you were a mongrel Jew while with HF? Seems like a more correct book title would be \” Confused Jew \”.. But alas – glad your gone – we really never needed you anyways.”

This past week the Toronto Star published a major feature article on my new work-in-progress book and my journey of self-discovery. Of course, it was bound to get some feathers ruffled, and it did.

On Toronto Star’s own Facebook page, hateful people instantly started spewing nonsense about Muslims being the real dangerous criminals (instead of the extreme right, presumably), calling me misogynistic terms, and even making fun of my Romanian surname of Hategan. “She’s all about Hate-,” is something I’ve heard for decades. An idiotic ad hominem attack that has nothing to do with political commentary and everything to do with humiliation. Hategan is a traditional Romanian name that comes from a Transylvanian community known as Hateg. To call me names because of it is tantamount to me pointing at Margaret Atwood and giggling, “Look, she’s got –WOOD in her name.”

I’ve been called a mongrel and a non-human on various sites because I have a Jewish background. On the Toronto Star Facebook page, someone even called me a “gross” “Roma gypsy.”

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” goes the old adage, but it is wrong. Bruises will heal, bones will mend up, by the meanness, the ugliness contained in hurtful words creates an incision into your heart and self-esteem that is much harder to repair.

lonely-alone-girl-stock

So, when you think about all the successful ingredients you need in order to be a writer – talent, creativity, inspiration, dedication, persistence – add THICK SKIN to your repertoire. The way I see it, the ability to weather the storms of criticism, rejection and anonymous hate is the most necessary ingredient you’ll need to possess if you’re going to survive as an author. Not just because collecting a lot of rejection letters from publishers, magazines and agents is par for the course. Because you know what? Nobody is going to fight for you.

Nobody is going to help you. Unless you’re extremely lucky and have a support base in place, hardly anybody is going to give a shit. And secretly, many people will blame you – “Well, if you didn’t put yourself and your story out there….”

These days, the polite thing is to look away, and only give Likes to photos of kittens or cute babies. When someone sees something ugly happening to you, they are going to look away. They’re going to pretend they didn’t notice that you’re hurt or upset or wounded – because dealing with any emotion other than positivity is a horror to be avoided at all cost by the Cult of Positive Thinking that has become the social norm in North America. Indifference always comes above empathy.

So in the end, the truth about being a writer is that it’s not the glamorous profession it’s been idealized to be. In fact, in the digital age you’re equally as likely to be attacked, bullied and harassed for your work as you are to be valued and complimented. You must have an unshakeable faith in yourself, in your ability and your dream – and don’t let anybody else speak for you.

Only YOU – within your heart and soul – know what you are truly capable of.

Not them.

Just YOU.

If Richard III were a writer today I’m certain that he’d shout, “My kingdom for a Kind Word.”

random-acts-of-kindness

Posted in abuse, politics, public shaming, racism, shaming, thoughts, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

An Open Letter to Vertica Resident Services

Posted by E on December 24, 2014

Lucia hospital vertica

Christmas season conveys a warm, friendly time when kindness and human connections trump profit and corporate greed. But somehow, I don’t believe that Vertica Resident Services (and the corporate heads and shareholders behind this company, BCIMC Realty Corporation) believe in such traits.

So, against all odds, reason, and even against the Human Rights Comission code, Vertica Resident Services has proceeded with eviction proceedings against my frail, Alzheimer-suffering, deaf mother.

She is 70 years old, deaf, suffering from dementia hallucinations, Alzheimer’s and macular degeneration (she’s going blind). For the last month and a half, she has been living on the 10th floor of Mount Sinai Hospital.

Although the Toronto Housing Commission has been paying the bulk of her rent for at least 15 years, and she has never been late on her rent with one exception, something terrible happened: last November my mother fell and broke her leg while walking on the street. She has been in hospital for the last two months, suffering from dementia-related hallucinations and a broken limb.

I ensured that her rent was paid in full in the meanwhile – in fact, even December’s rent cheque cleared with no problems. AND I sent them the full payment owing, PLUS January’s payment well before it was due.

Everything was in order – or so I thought.

And then I discovered, while examining the contents of my mother’s purse, that Vertica Resident Services was going to court to get her evicted. Which, incidentally, is against the Human Rights Code of Ontario and grounds for a discrimination complaint with the Human Rights Commission.

After I contacted the building manager, Indira Escobar, I discovered that despite having sent them full payment for all rent in arrears, PLUS interest (to cover ONE bounced cheque), Vertica was determined to evict my mother. In fact, Escobar appeared particularly determined to get my mother out of the building. This is the email she sent me, which clearly indicated that Vertica was at fault for dropping the ball on my mother’s case: “Monica Silva went off on mat leave back in Sept 15, there is no documentation of you or even housing has no info on you. Amir (the current Community Manager) has spoken to the nurse and no info was given to him of your mother, due to the privacy laws.”

So basically, because someone at Vertica went on Maternity leave, and Amir Parekh didn’t bother to ask Toronto Housing Authority for my mother’s next-of-kin info, somehow my mother is at fault?

And then the punch line – Ms. Escobar indicated to me, both in writing and in her rather unsympathetic voicemail, that she would NOT process the rent cheques she was given. Uh, not unless we paid $2000 for Vertica’s legal fees (i.e. when Ms. Escobar jumped the gun and skipped due process by initiating eviction papers).

Are you freaking kidding me? What landlord gets to say, “Ahem, I don’t want any money from you – I’d rather get you evicted instead, so we will not be processing any rent cheques from you from here on forward.”

Newsflash, Vertica Management – this is ILLEGAL. Oh, and you might want to read up on your Ontario Human Rights Code, because evicting someone who is in hospital over a SINGLE bounced cheque – and refusing any attempts to process the payment for the rent in arrears – is also illegal. It’s called DISCRIMINATION. You may want to read up on it – it’s on page 85-86 of the Human Rights Commission’s Policy on Human Rights and Rental Housing.

So instead of celebrating the holidays surrounded by friends and joyful cheer, I will be spending the last week of December preparing to file an official complaint with the Human Rights Commission.

So Vertica, in case you’re reading this right now and you didn’t read up on your basic tenant human rights, it is actually illegal for a landlord to evict someone who has been languishing in the hospital. Of course, that didn’t stop Vertica Resident Services from instigating eviction proceedings. And it didn’t stop its manager at 57 Charles St apartments, Indira Escobar, from refusing to accept my cheques for the full amount due.

YES – you read that right: Vertica Resident Services is dead-set on putting my mother on the street in the middle of winter. It’s mind-boggling that the building manager at 57 Charles Street would rather REFUSE full payment of rent just to evict my ill, hospitalized mother. If that doesn’t demonstrate a clear instance of mens rea (I’ll let their legal team explain the concept to Vertica and their questionable management group), then what does?

It seems rather fraudulent to me that Vertica has taken all subsidized payments from Toronto Housing Authority up until today, plus kept processing my mother’s rent cheques all the way through December, but suddenly decides to STOP ACCEPTING January’s rent cheque because they’d rather evict than accept rental payment.

By the way, it’s also discrimination to deny rental housing to someone who is a low-income senior citizen who is suffering from dementia. Of course, that didn’t stop Vertica’s Ms. Escobar from implying that somehow she was in a position of authority to determine whether my mother can live alone in their building…or not. “I will call you and discuss if your mother will be able to live alone after her release,” she wrote in the same paragraph in which she stated categorically, “Unfortunately, we can’t process these cheques.”

Newsflash again, Vertica Management Services – you do NOT get to “discuss” or “determine” if my mother is able to live alone after her hospital discharge. You are not a geriatric expert, are you? I didn’t think so. Nor can you get away with such blatant violation of a vulnerable senior citizen’s basic human rights.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission’s own guide clearly delineates that wrongful eviction due to hospitalization is grounds for a discrimination suit. But maybe Vertica isn’t counting on people actually reading up on their human rights, or contacting lawyers for legal advice.

Simply put, Vertica doesn’t care. Why should it? As soon as they get my frail, 90lbs mother evicted, they’ll get to raise the rent for a bachelor apartment in downtown Toronto to $2000+.

Corporate profit triumphs once again over human rights.

As soon as the Human Rights Commission offices open in January, I will be filing an official complaint against Vertica Resident Services. And I know I will win. Hopefully the additional thousands of dollars spent by Vertica paying lawyers and Human Rights Commission fines will be worth Ms. Escobar’s refusal to process a $458 cheque. And hopefully these fines and bad karma will teach Vertica a thing or two about Canadian Human Rights and more importantly, kindness and understanding.

But that’s little comfort for spending the rest of the holidays full of stress and worry about a parent who is slowly slipping away, and nobody seems to give a damn.

UPDATE: It was not until I contacted BCIMC Realty Corporation and used several social media platforms to expose the incompetency of Vertica’s manager and the injustice of what was going on in my mother’s case that we got results.

It turns out, BCIMC hired Vertica Resident Services to manage the buildings, since the BC corporation (BCIMC) is primarily an investment company for seniors’ portfolios. The irony! So I got as many top senior emails from BCIMC as I could and wrote them a message informing them of how Vertica had dropped the ball, and THEY were going to get sued. I ended my letter with: “It’s ironic that your company invests senior citizens’ portfolios and thus claims to be concerned about the rights of the elderly, but you will illegally throw a frail, hospitalized, elderly woman on the streets over a $458 cheque which she has already attempted to pay back.”

It’s a shame that BCIMC had to be sent this message, considering they hired Vertica Resident Services in good faith to manage several buildings throughout Ontario. And it would be a shame that Vertica might lose their contract with BCIMC if enough of these sort of complaints reach corporate headquarters. However, since Vertica hires managers who don’t open their clients files to see their rents have indeed been paid up until December and would rather use extortion and bullying tactics to get their lawyers’ fees paid instead of admit to an error, this is a consequence that Vertica may have to learn in order to manage their hiring practices better in the future. At the very least, they avoided a major lawsuit through the Human Rights Tribunal – something they may yet have to deal with in the future if they do not keep a close eye on the strong-handed tactics of their Ms. Escobar.

I truly appreciated that Vertica’s Director of Operations did eventually telephone me on Friday afternoon and was actually humane and sympathetic, something that I never expected from them after the way Ms. Escobar had treated me and my mother. I accepted their apology and the fact that apparently they DO want my mother as a tenant in their building. Having said all this, I will wait until the cheque clears out of my mother’s account and I double-check that her possessions haven’t been thrown onto the street before I consider this matter closed.

Posted in deaf, deafness, discrimination, news, public shaming, shaming, toronto, vertica, vertica resident services | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »