Monthly Archives: May 2014

“What’s In a Name?” or “Language of Hate”

Wife beater. Seriously? We call a shirt this name, without a second thought. (The actual term is “a-shirt” though people will look at you funny if you use that moniker. Because you should get weird looks for saying “a-shirt” instead of “wife beater.”)

“Whatever. I don’t mean it that way,” some have said when I’ve called them on it. (Yes, I’m someone who believes that my being silent in the face of this type of language makes me compliant and that by remaining silent I’m saying that the language is OK. It’s not. At least not to me.)

“Really? What way do you mean it?” I ask. Glares. Huffs.

We use this violent language when we are referring to a shirt, and somehow, that’s OK. We take for granted what those words actually mean. That they’re violent. Derogatory. Scary. When I did a Google search for “wife beater,” the first result was from the Urban Dictionary, defining the word as a “form fitting white ribbed tank top worn by men.” Not a link to a helpline. Not a definition of the crime. To a description of a shirt. But, I know: “It’s just a word.”

Just like “I totally stalked him on Facebook” is merely a funny way of saying that you looked at all his pictures and read his profile updates. You know, because they’re public. He has posted information and photos that he wants people to see. Being stalked in the criminal sense (and I’m paraphrasing/interpreting) means that someone is being followed and/or watched against their will and, in my case, unbeknownst to them,  with the stalker’s intent usually being one of violence. But, I know: “It’s just a word.”

Phrases like these, used glibly and without thought to their actual meaning, perpetuate the idea that things like “wife beating” and “stalking” are just words—not actions, not crimes, just words.

But, by making light of these words, are we not saying that violence, particularly against women, is OK? That it’s no big deal to describe a shirt with violent words? That making light of a crime that already doesn’t get enough attention in the judicial system and is primarily directed at women is funny?

I encourage all of us to think. Before we speak. And to speak up when we’re exposed to this type of language. Because, I know: “No” is just a word. And, “That’s not OK” is just a phrase. But hopefully— hopefully—those words never lose their meaning. Because they’re more than just words. They are power.

 

 

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Editrix in the City

On a recent business trip to New York I was compared to a dominatrix. Yes, me—word nerd at large.

While sitting in a café, a fellow struck up a conversation with me and the inevitable, “So, what do you do?” question came up.

“I’m a book editor,” I replied.

“You’re a dominatrix,” he said easily. “Well, an editrix,” he added after only a moment’s hesitation. My mango smoothie almost shot out my nose.

The reason for the comparison, he said, is because people willingly give me their writing—arguably, a piece of themselves—and want me, no, pay me, to inflict pain on them through my edits. My red pen, the preferred instrument of the desired torture. Me, garbed in my leather-bound Chicago Manual of Style, threatening to shame you until you agree to, “Cut! I said ‘cut’ that paragraph!”

I explained it doesn’t really work that way. He was adamant. Sigh . . . I love it when people know more about my work than I do.

But the conversation got me thinking. (Uh, how could it not?) There are lots of misconceptions about what I do as an editor (and the various types of editing). I get comments ranging from, “You just read all day?” (Yes. Sort of.) to “So you look for places where, like, someone is wearing a green shirt, then suddenly they’re wearing a red one?” (Yes. Sort of.) Double sigh.

Many writers (and apparently random men in cafes) think an editor’s job is to slice and dice; whip manuscripts (and writers) into shape by changing, well, everything; and then leave you, exhausted, to deal with your newly beaten-into-submission project with the pen marks leaving deep scratches on the page.

This is simply not the case.

A good editor will work with you, not torture you until you agree to make a change you’re not comfortable with. We query. We suggest. We coax and encourage. We help you maintain (and sometimes find) YOUR voice, not by being harsh and domineering, but by listening to your words as they speak to us from the page.

A good editor’s goal is to ensure that your voice and tone are reflected throughout your piece, be it fiction, nonfiction, poetry, whatever. We polish. We support.

You may have disagreements with your editor and that’s OK. But it’s about collaboration, not one person dominating the other.

So, no, I’m not an editrix. People don’t choose to work with me because of the pain I inflict (I don’t think). Conversely, they work with me to help ease some of the pain that comes with being a writer (I hope). After all, having an editor on your side can be a salve to the wound you created when you opened up your own veins and bled on the page.

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At Least He Didn’t Hurt You

Unfortunately, Mother’s Day means more to me than only a celebration of my mother (and her INCREDIBLE, AMAZING impact on my life). For me, it is also the anniversary of when I discovered that I was being stalked by some man I didn’t know. 

I don’t usually write about such personal things, primarily blogging about punctuation, editing, and other exciting topics. However, yesterday forced me to think about some events that are true and worth examining. And sharing.

My story was posted over on Rachel Thompson’s blog, but am reposting in honor of my healing and in support of anyone who has endured and survived such a life-altering and traumatic event. Stalking is a crime, not a joke and certainly not something to be joked around about. So the next time you’re inclined to say, “Oh, I’m going to stalk him on Facebook,” perhaps you’ll reconsider and choose a different word. One that doesn’t make light of a criminal act that often goes unpunished.

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“At least he didn’t hurt you.”

I’ve heard that phrase hundreds of time, relief evident in the their voice coupled with the certainty that they’re saying the right thing.

No, he didn’t hurt me. Not physically. But that’s the only way he didn’t.

I didn’t know he was watching. Waiting. Prying. Preying. Raping my body with his eyes and unidentifiable lust. I didn’t know he wanted to hurt me. Physically. The way everyone was so relieved that he didn’t.

I’ll never know all that he saw. My smile? Yes. My body? Yes. But did he see me dancing while I vacuumed? Did he watch me read in the false comfort of my home? I’ll simply never know.

Because he took what I did not give. What I wouldn’t have. He robbed me of my power, of my safety, of my sanity. By looking, roving, staring, and scheming, he raped my mind of what I thought I knew.

I believed I was safe. I believed that behind locked doors and windows, I could be me. I was wrong.

I found his note in my car on Mother’s Day, 2003. Scribbled on the back of a picture—of his motorcycle.  I was late for a photo shoot so I just tossed it in the passenger seat, thinking it must be a picture my girlfriend stuffed in the car, since we’d been going through pictures the night before. Then I read it. Then the split of me was torn wide open.

 I swiveled my head around, looking for the glint of the telephoto lens I was sure I would see, reminiscent of a Lifetime movie. There was none.

I continued driving to work and was then introduced to my first panic attack. Breath, gone. Control over my body, taken. Vision: Eternally changed. But still I drove, motivated by my commitment to my job. Then I left because I had to, my dedication to my job, stolen.

“I know you’re lonely.” “You’re such a doll.” “Sorry to pry.” Signed, Dave. How could he know these things?

After I called the police, I was immediately ashamed. It’s not like he did anything. I’m so stupid for wasting the police’s valuable time. I shouldn’t have called. At least he didn’t hurt me.

After an examination of my home, that my phone lines had been cut was discovered. I had thought when my phone didn’t work that there had been some sort of construction snafu from the contractors who’d worked outside my house the day before. But at least he didn’t hurt me.

In a stroke of what he must have thought was clearly reaching out to soothe my loneliness, he left a phone number. An untraceable one. When the police couldn’t track him down, it was decided that I should call him from the station, a recording device strapped to the phone to monitor and record everything he said.

“Don’t try to trap him. Don’t say anything misleading. Just try to get him to talk,” the detective instructed.

“I need a pen and paper,” I said with shaking hands.

“Why? The conversation is being recorded?”

“I’m a reporter. I talk to strangers every day to get a story. And I take notes. I need to do that now.” I didn’t say that I needed to clutch something, that I needed to feel some kind of connection to that which genuinely soothed—words.

I called. He answered. We talked. He obviously knew where I lived, what vehicle I drove, and that I did, in fact, live alone. He tried to reassure me, “It’s not like I looked in your windows.” According to some in the police force, fifty percent of what we say we didn’t do, we actually did.

Scribbling notes furiously I tried to speak with him as I would a friend or a potential date. But no flirting. No misleading. His phone disconnected but I called him back, still strapped to the recorder, still with pen in hand.

He told me over and over that I was a doll. That he wanted to take me for a ride on his motorcycle. “You’re so beautiful. You’re such a doll,” his words a terrifying non-compliment. We said our goodbyes like old friends. At least he didn’t hurt me.

Eventually the police arrested him. I don’t remember how they found him and, frankly, I don’t care.  In the interim, before his arrest, I was advised to sleep somewhere else and to hide my car. I did, but just for one night. When I returned home, I sat beneath a window, knife in hand, thinking that was the only place he wouldn’t be able to see me. I was a prisoner in my home, with no means of escape, and no phone. He won. At least he didn’t hurt me.

He pled guilty to charges of “unwanted stalking” (I think that was the charge—as if there’s a type of “wanted” stalking.”). His plea was unprecedented. No one pleads guilty to such a perceived “minor” charge. I believe it was his wife who bailed him out.

It’s taken years, but I can once again dance while I vacuum. I am once again able again to read on my couch in the “safety” of my home. But not without the lingering memory.

I survived without bruises. Without cuts or scrapes on my body.

My heart and mind bear the scars. At least he didn’t hurt me.

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