Showing posts with label context. Show all posts
Showing posts with label context. Show all posts

criticism

Criticism is a fact of life. Sometimes it's fair and valid, and you can learn and grow from it. Sometimes it should be taken with a grain of salt.

Sometimes criticism is expressed with kindness, and sometimes not. When you're the subject of criticism, it's very easy to get tripped up by the harsh words of your critics. By their anger and sarcasm. Stuck-up bitch. Disgusting. Shove it. Asshole. Get the fuck off my internet.

But the tone of and emotion in these words is ultimately irrelevant, distracting and painful as it can be to hear. What matters is the argument behind them. Whether the charges levied against her are couched in aggressive or ameliorating language, the criticized still has to ask herself: Is my critic right? And if so, what am I going to do about it?

I've been a critic. I've been sharp-tongued and anonymous at times, friendly and direct at others. At times, I feel like the criticism I gave was measured and fair - even when it was harshly worded. At other times, I know I was bringing my own baggage to the table. I've criticized people about whom I know a lot, and about whom I know next to nothing. Some of what I've said I still stand behind. Some of it, I wish I could take back, or rephrase. Some of it I hoped would help, and some it I hoped would hurt. Some of it said less about the person I was criticizing and more about me.

I'm trying to keep all of this in mind these days, because I've received a lot of criticism lately. I'm trying my best to be humble, to be open-minded about it, and to just listen and reflect - even when my impulse is to defend and explain myself.

I always want to be the first person to admit to my flaws and shortcomings, because the older I get, the more I realize how little I know. And I want to learn and grow from my mistakes. I'm terrified of being that person - the one who is clueless to how awful they are. I don't want to be awful. I know I'm self-indulgent and obnoxious and juvenile and judgmental and irresponsible and hypocritical and vain and lazy. If anyone were to launch those criticisms at me, I would turn my palms up and nod helplessly. Don't I know it. 

Two of the most painful criticisms I've ever received are that I can be manipulative and passive aggressive. I know I can. I'm ashamed of those traits, and I work hard to be aware of them.

And recently, I learned I'm also more than a little bit ignorant, too. This was a huge holy shit moment for me. Like, holy shit I didn't realize. And, holy shit how embarrassing. And holy shit am I glad I know now. To quote one of my favorite Richard Dawkins moments, "I gratefully accept the rebuke".

It's the criticism where I feel like I'm being misunderstood that really hurts. Because that shows me that I'm failing as a communicator, and being a good communicator is extremely important to me. As a writer, I have thousands upon thousands of words at my disposal, and no restrictions on how - and how often - I can use them, to express who I am and what I believe. It has always been my weakness to let Style club Content over the head, stuff it in a sack, and take it for a ride wherever the hell it pleases. I forget to take a step back and think about what it is I'm saying, not just how it sounds being said.

I've made the decision not to allow comments on Elliequent, for many reasons, some of which might seem valid and understandable to other people, and some of which might not. The only two that really matter are my emotional well-being and physical safety (for those who don't know me personally, or haven't read my blog long enough to know, there are a couple of dangerous and angry people in my past, both with a history of trying to goad me into real-life conflict, who know of my blog).

I have other reasons for not allowing comments, some of which are closely related to my motives for blogging. I blog to hear myself think, to hone my writing skills, and to have a small record of my life. I blog to combat depression, work through painful feelings, and process my experiences. I blog to express myself creatively, and to try my hand at styles of or approaches to writing that interest and challenge me. Aside from the real-life issue I mentioned above, my fear regarding comments has always been that they would adversely affect how and what I write. That I'd become self-conscious and start writing with some audience in mind, trapping me into some style or tone or subject that causes me to forego more exploratory and creative writing. Or that a lack of comments altogether would discourage me from writing, period. And since writing is so integral to my well-being, that's a risk I've not wanted to run.

There's a fair argument that a blog which doesn't allow comments should just be private, or offline. I could have a private offline journal, but for one thing, I'm pretty tech illiterate. I wouldn't even know what format to use for that. Plus, I just like the public blog format. I'm comfortable with it. It's quick and easy, and I like that my life is chronologically laid out and easy to reference in a few clicks. I like that if I'm out somewhere, I can share something quickly and easily - a post, or a video I've made, a poem or a photo - on someone else's computer, or phone, or whatever. I couldn't do that if it was private.

Having it public also challenges me to be a better blogger, and a better person. Knowing that anyone can anonymously judge my skills as a writer, not to mention me as a person, pushes me to write thoughtfully, and to live the sort of life I wouldn't be embarrassed to share. Like Instagram, my blog is a way to see my existence reflected back at me. It's a way to send out a small beacon in this big, big world, and to say, Hey universe!  I'm Ellie. I'm just one of billions of people, nothing more or less special than any of the others. I am human, and I think, and I feel. I exist, and here's the proof.

I never set out to grow Elliequent big enough to where it would be recognized, commended, or criticized elsewhere on the internet. I never set out to grow Elliequent at all. I've never listed it in a blog directory. I don't solicit sponsors. I've never asked other bloggers to share my link, or to let me guest post on their own blogs. I don't promote my blog elsewhere online. I've commented a few times on other blogs, with either my commenter name hyperlinked to my blog or with a direct link to some post I'd written, if a) that post was brought up by others in discussion on that blog, or b) I sincerely thought the post I'd written was relevant to that blog's discussion.

I don't announce my posts on Twitter or Instagram. The only time I reference my blog on Twitter is in response to someone else's tweets about it. In fact, the only reason I even have my blog address listed in my Twitter profile is because occasionally, people do tweet to me about my posts, and it seems dumb/annoying to not have the address listed in case some follower of mine is wondering WTF we're talking about.

I occasionally make small, usually oblique references to posts on my Instagram, but that's rare. A few of my Instagram followers have found my blog and become readers, but that was because they Googled my IG user name, I guess either because they were curious about me as a person, or because they were curious about something another IGer said, in reference to my blog.

All of this being said, when Elliequent did grow big enough to warrant recognition, commendation, and criticism elsewhere on the internet, I didn't want to be the sort of person who would stick her head in the sand and pretend it didn't exist. I mean, that's the sort of person I railed against just ten days ago. So I made a botched attempt towards transparency, toward being available and responsive to criticism, that understandably pissed some people off. I never set out to solicit that feedback, but when I unexpectedly got it, my attempt to respond to it in good faith came across as an attempt to control and direct it. Mea culpa.

This post is not me trying to sell anyone on liking me or my blog. I'm not trying to sell myself or my blog, period. I never have. The fact that over the years, people have decided I'm cool or funny or smart or talented or interesting enough to keep clicking over to check on me - and in some cases, befriend me in some way - is a flattering side effect of the fact that I'm a self-indulgent, self-absorbed shit who just likes to hear herself talk.

This post is just me trying to clarify some of my actions and words over the past week, so that I'm a little bit less hated, that's all. Growing my blog isn't my priority - the writing itself, and the therapeutic self-expression that comes with it, are. That being said, being hated sucks, and picking up internet friends and readers here and there is undeniably really, really cool.

I wrote ten days ago that people who dismiss their critics without hearing them out are foolish. And I don't want to be a fool. But I'm scared that, just like comments, reading criticism is going to color my writing in an unnatural way. I don't expect it to stop, now that it has a place to pool. And I'm scared that I'll have a hard time wading through these charges against me and knowing which are valid, and which, for whatever reasons, are not. Which it's reasonable of me to try and address, and which I should just let go of. Which come from people who've made an effort to understand me, and which come from those who just plain don't like me, and for whom I could never do right, anyway. I don't know which I'll be able to use as an effective means with which to improve myself and my writing, and which I'll just brutally flagellate myself with. Which will inspire me to be better, and which will just scare me off from blogging, period.

I don't want to stick my head in the sand, but I don't want my pen to get stuck in it, either.

Dancing. Again.

Figuring out where to dance in LA was like deciding which of Chaucer's turds to scoop up first. I didn't like any of my options, so I more or less held my nose and just picked one.

Yelp, online dancer community forums, and the club websites themselves were my only guidance. But each of those resources has pitfalls. Yelp tells me everything about what it's like to be a customer at Club X, but nothing about being an employee. Dancer forums are unreliable and largely outdated. Club websites tell me about the owner's taste in web design, not what I can expect from his actual business.

I chose based mostly on two factors: proximity to my apartment and positive Yelp reviews. I don't want to get any more specific than that for safety reasons. Suffice to say the club I'm at is within both train and biking distance.

I called the club one evening to ask whether they were hiring (though this is a formality - clubs will take on as many girls as they can). I was asked three questions: Have you danced before? Are you in really good shape? Are you over 19? I answered in the affirmative. I was told to come down the next day, and to bring everything I needed to work that night. When I hung up the phone, I stood in front of the mirror running my hand lightly over my stomach. I can do this.

The next day, I started getting ready at four in the afternoon. Buffing, shaving, oiling, lotioning, primping, preening, curling, and making up. I only packed one outfit in my bag. Seven inch acrylic heels with clear bases and black patent leather uppers, a pair of thigh high argyle socks, ruched black panties, and a sheer red Cosabella bra. I stopped at Wallgreen's on the way to the train station to buy gum and a padlock.

Auditioning to be a topless dancer is two parts depressing and one part hilarious. As with everything else in dancing, a sense of humor and ability to not take one's self too seriously is essential.

Here's how it goes: A girl takes off 97% of her clothes, and someone - almost always a man - evaluates her body with varying degrees of scrutiny, depending on, essentially, how high end the club is, and how attractive the other dancers. Sometimes girls will be asked to perform on stage. That's never happened to me. The only other "audition" I gave was in Las Vegas years ago. I, along with two other girls, changed from street clothes into our costumes, and walked in front of the club manager. That night, I was the only one asked to stay. That's not to say I was (as arbitrarily determined by one man's subjective gaze) any better a physical specimen than the other women. But I was extremely young and fresh faced, and that was the vibe of that particular club, at that time.

It's a weirdly matter-of-fact exchange of power. A girl is sized up, valued/devalued. Commoditized. How much money can this girl make me? In this way, the manager has the power to determine her fate. But I'd argue that the dancer potentially has some power, too. If she's pretty, if she has a great body - and, bonus! a great personality - he'll want her as an employee. It's in his interest. One great looking girl will attract another great looking girl to work there, and so on. Better girls (better should really be in quotes) = more customers, and wealthier clientele. And pretty dancers who are smart will leverage their looks not just against patrons, but against their employers, as well. More on that later.

While I stood there making polite small talk with this man - a pretense for him to surreptitiously check out my body - I couldn't help but feel like I was cashing in my chips. Collecting a blank paycheck for the weeks of amped up workouts, the nutritious eating. Even the social graces I've acquired over the years. I'm in pretty good shape for a 36 year-old woman; I won't discount that. But my smile, combined with an ability to put men at ease and get the conversation focused on them...that's where the money is. And honestly, it's not as deliberate and manipulative a maneuver as that sounds. Most of the time, I'm genuinely interested to hear their stories. I pride myself on having a cocktail's conversation worth of knowledge about a lot of topics (thanks, NPR!), so it's actually kind of fun and intellectually stimulating to engage with men of different professions and walks of life. In the past two weeks I chatted up a civil engineer (who was tickled pink when I could discuss light rail and the specifics of the LA metro), a graphic designer (!), an artist, and a tortilla factory owner, among others. To be a successful topless dancer, one needs to channel her inner geisha. And this is one aspect of the job I genuinely enjoy.

Anyway. I got the job. I very much like the club itself, if not the location. Again, I don't want to get too detailed lest I give away where I work to any would-be stalkers, but it's clean, large, well-appointed (as these things go), and fascinatingly high tech. The managers are extremely nice and easy to work with, and the girls are some of the friendliest I've ever met. (In fact, small world - one of the girls and I worked at the same place in Arizona, years ago. She's super, super cool and down to earth. Older, like me, no children, huge dog freak.) The only things I don't like are the clientele, which, with a few notable exceptions, is not my target market (more on that at some point), and the tip out rates, which are insane. The club takes a huge cut of our earnings. It's a complicated system, and I don't want to get too specific (because, again, that could give away my location), but as an example - if I earn $200 with one customer, the club takes $60 of it immediately. But when I talk about my earnings, I will always talk about what I walked out the door with.

In California, there are two types of adult clubs: fully nude, where no alcohol is served, and "bikini bars", where alcohol is served. At these clubs, girls are only allowed to take their tops off onstage (and have to remain at a remove from any tippers near the stage). Tops stay on at all other times, including during lap dances. This is completely different than Arizona and Nevada, the only other places I've danced.

I did not know this. No one told me this.

So, here I am on my first night, doing my first round of dances, boobs free and clear, la dee da, feeling all psyched to be making $20 in 2.5 minutes, when the DJ coughs meaningfully behind me. "____," he says (my stage name). "You need to leave your top on, hon."

This was my first performance review, in other words. My customer service was too good. I am such an overachiever.

I'm sure I'll be relating many an anecdote about work, so I'm not too worried about getting out every detail about the place, about how dancing works, etc. right now. But I'll summarize how things have gone. I've worked two of what I consider "long weekends" - Thursday through either Saturday or Sunday. The first, I made just under $1k in four days, working 4 hour shifts. Not terrible at all, and nothing to complain about. But the whole point of doing this is to be able to do so little of it that I can get a 2nd job - a REAL job. I need to have enough time and energy to be able to mount a professional life more or less from scratch, at 36, with nil experience or marketable skills. I have my work cut out for me. Dancing is exhausting, truly exhausting, especially at my age. So while I don't want to seem ungrateful to make $250-300 for a few hours of working, the fact is, I need to make at least that, if not more. The next week was much better. I made just about $1200 in three days. So I hit my goal and could take Sunday off, which I did.

So! Thaaaaaat is where I'm at, and what I've been doing in that area of my life. More updates on the remaining corners of my universe soon...

a contextual history of your blogmistress

I've been blogging sporadically for the past five years or so, and I know some people have been reading my drivel, amazingly, the whole time. I don't know, maybe these poor souls can't afford library cards or Netflix accounts or something.

But I'm not sure how much anyone really knows of my personal history. And since I've decided to go all-in on this blog, I figure I should address that. I can't expect people to become personally invested in my life if they don't know who the hell I am, or where I'm at in my life. This is obviously a highly abbreviated history. I'm only hitting the points that lend relevancy to my present state of affairs - why I'm doing what I'm doing, both online and off.

I'll start when I was 19.

I worked my first year through college as a barista in a bookstore, then as a waitress. One day, one of the guys I worked with told me I should apply to cocktail waitress at a strip club. He had girl friends who were making a killing doing it, he said. At the time, I was barely surviving on my waitressing wages. It was summer in a college town in Tucson - no one was around to spend money at the campus restaurants where I worked. I was leaving with single digit earnings some nights. So I decided to take his suggestion. I applied at a club down the street from the university, and was hired that day.

I lasted six months as a cocktail waitress. The money was good, very good compared to working in a restaurant. But I saw what the dancers were making - and how easily they made it - and I was envious. I'd also gotten comfortable enough in the surroundings that it didn't seem like such a big deal. So one night, I traded in my cocktail tray for a bra and garter set, summoned every ounce of courage I could, and walked on stage, shaking with terror.

That first night dancing, I made almost $400. From there, it only went up. Most nights I'd make between $500 and $600 - even weekdays. Weekends I'd make closer to $800. There were several times I made over $1000.

I was 20 years old.

It was surreal, to say the least. My classmates were starving students eating Top Ramen and worrying about the return on used textbooks. I had a Platinum American Express card. Kids my age were excited to go to Lake Havasu for spring break. I took my boyfriend to Bora Bora. I lived in the most expensive apartments in the city and bought absolutely anything I wanted. I leased a BMW, then a Porsche. I got incredibly lazy about school. Apathetic, even. I was working for (what I felt was) a near-worthless English degree that would earn me pennies on the dollar of what I was making as a dancer. I'd drop classes half a semester in, then buy a plane ticket to Australia on a whim. I wasted incredible, egregious amounts of time, potential, and money during my twenties. But the money I was earning didn't decrease, even as my age increased, and I couldn't bring myself to stop. Eventually, I got serious about school again, and re-enrolled full time.

I was 30 when I finally graduated. And I was still dancing.

That was when I met my husband. It was only then that I stopped. But I didn't get another job. I became a full time girlfriend, then fiancé.

From 2007 through 2008, I blogged for Weddingbee, a wedding planning site. I stumbled across Weddingbee when I got engaged, saw that it consisted of (unpaid) user-contributed material, and immediately decided that I wanted to be one of their bloggers. So I set up a sample blog, published the required two weeks worth' of material, and applied. The publisher and site creator liked my writing enough, and happened to have a need for an assistant editor, that I was actually offered a paid job as contributing editor. I took it, and did that for a while. I was Miss, then Mrs. Lovebug.

I blogged nearly daily about pretty much every aspect of my wedding planning. It was an excellent distraction from the actual engagement itself, which was disastrous. I don't say that with animosity. It's just a fact: my husband and I never should have gotten married, and I'm pretty sure we both knew it. It's amazing how far denial and an utter lack of self-awareness can take you down the wrong path in life. It's hard to look back at my Weddingbee posts, because they feel disingenuous, and almost manic with a need to project an image of happiness. That's not to say every moment of my engagement and wedding was awful. But things weren't as great as I felt the need to make them seem.

My husband and I separated after two and a half years, in the fall of 2010, with relative amicability and what I hoped was a sincere determination to remain friends. Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way, and we haven't spoken in months. Luckily, ours was a relatively stress-and-complication free severance. No kids, no money to fight over (I didn't pursue alimony), very little in the way of stuff to sort out. The biggest question was who'd get the dog.

I got the dog.

I spent several months after our separation in an unproductive, sometimes self-destructive haze of denial and fear. I didn't work. I didn't even try to get a job. Financially, I survived by living on the inheritance I'd received from my mother's death in 2009. Emotionally, I survived by spending most of my time with friends, and the boyfriend I met weeks (weeks!) after my separation. The people in my life did everything they could to try and nudge me in the right direction, but I wouldn't budge. I blogged a bit during this time, on and off. I'd write about the fun things I'd done with my friends one day, and the next, about the crushing depression and despair that would swallow me up unexpectedly. I ended up deleting all of the posts I wrote during this time, plus pretty much everything I'd written since my marriage. It all felt like an incomplete picture, and again, disingenuous. It was around then that I really started to question why I was blogging at all.

When money got thin, I went back to designing blogs, a small online hobby/business I'd created in the years prior. It didn't go well. I was still too much of a wreck emotionally to stay focused, and the technology had long since outpaced my skill set. I'd never been much more than a hack, when it came down to it.

I procrastinated looking for a real job. I was terrified of entering the job market at 36, with very, very little in the way of marketable skills and experience. I'd completely fucked myself by dancing for so long. Writing my resume was a sobering experience, to say the least. Sending it out, to no effect, was the reality check I'd avoided for about a year.

In the late summer of 2011, I ran out of money completely. I had three choices: #1, default on my lease and move myself and my 145 lb dog in with a local friend on the hopes I'd get a job quickly. #2, default on my lease, pack up my things, leave LA, and and move in with my father in a tiny town in Florida. #3, try to drum up some quick cash dancing. Yes, it had been years since I'd set foot in a club. And yes, I was at this point thirty-six years old. But it was, all cards on the table, the one thing that I knew I could do to make money fast. I knew, forgive a brief lapse of humility, that I still looked young enough and good enough to pull it off. And that I was hungry enough, desperate enough to stay in LA where there is so, so much more potential and opportunity, to swallow my pride and do what would seem to most to be unthinkable.

And this, dear reader, is where I humbly submit that maybe, just maybe, my blog has the potential to be somewhat interesting because, yes, dear reader, I chose door #3.