Ramadan Day 8: The Return of the Space Galumph

Dear Bird,

 

IMG_1797

I’m very pleased that you have taken a chance on me. Ah-hah! Or, Ab-ba!

 

My inbox has been veritably filled with the usual porn spam (why you messin with me pornhub?), almost half a dozen notes and encouragements and yes, even questions! This makes me way happier than all the spam I get. Nothing could make me happier because as I slowly unwrapped each one like an almond roca, all I could think was: WOAH – what do I say – I have no idea.

 

But, I learned at least some things from my first day in a Los Angeles courtroom as a public defender – in the felony prelim pool — when I turned to Pam the court manager and mouthed, “I’ve never done this before. Don’t I get more training?”

 

Pam said, “Yeah, we do kind of throw you in there. Sink or Swim. We prefer that you swim.”

 

One thing is that I make a lot of noise going down. Another thing, I’m a show(o)man with a set of sparklers like you wouldn’t believe.

 

A long time ago, after a disastrous breakup (Yeah, yeah I know you think I have enough of them that I can drop them like jewels on the embankment of the Sacramento River. Well, they still glitter, don’t they?) Virgie said to me, “That was good practice for love.”

 

I was hella annoyed, “What do you mean practice? I’m not practicing. It was the real thing.”

Virgie responded, “Everything is practice for love.”

 

She’s right. So consider this blog and every piece of writing that you do and every mistake you make to be practice, rather than the show. Imagine that you are at the beginning or the middle, not the end. If you need it to be an end, imagine that there will be a new beginning?

 

Does that help?

 

Sure, sure take me with a grain of salt. But, keep writing me. Keep encouraging me. Keep being in my life. If you’re getting this e-mail, it doesn’t mean that everything is perfect in your life (though I want it to be), it means that I have space in my heart for you. Because the galumph exists with the knowledge that you carry all of you forward, your mistakes, but also that incredible tenderness with which you love the ones you love.

 

In return for your attention, I promise to faithfully execute my duties as an alter ego. I also want to assure you that all letters with questions, statements, doubts, etc. will be returned in a fashion. That response may or may not be timely. Feel free to check this blog and maybe even e-mails for responses. If you don’t see a response to your e-mail, etc. in this blog – please know that I’m whipping something up or sitting around farting, praying, and waiting to eat and drink AND thinking about you.

 

Finally, a twisty twist. The galumph loves to crowd-source advice, so if upon reading any questions/prompts/statements or any of my responses/musings/rants, YOU would like to say something to the person who wrote in – you can do so by writing me. And if it meets the gold standard, I will also publish YOUR advice. Please note the “name” of the person to whom you are responding.

 

This is very call and response, but such is the nature of our times.

 

Please write stuff to me or just read.

 

Love,

The galumph

 


 

Dear Galumph,

 

You know my ask is going to be about dealing with my nightmare of a boss. In March, I had a conversation with her asking her to watch her tone with me because I wanted to bookmark her condescending behavior towards me. We’ve had some incidents since. The last one being where she interrogated me in the common space in our office so intensely I was in tears afterwards. She is exhausting. I like my job though and don’t plan on quitting anytime soon. How do I continue asking for the respect that I deserve but also not let that affect my work and my feelings towards the job/her? What are some strategies? She has been accusing me of being insubordinate but I think that is her white British lady way of being acceptably racist.

 

Sincerely,

Trying not to cut off her nose


 

Dear Trying not to cut off her nose,

You are the first to e-mail the galumph! The inaugural address! Thank you for writing such a voice-driven letter to me. Part of my joy in receiving your correspondence is that as much as I like blogging, I especially love reading. And the words of my friends are wonderful, and intense. So intense. I’ve heard about this situation before, I believe, so some of my words are coming from that familiarity.

I imagine you: poised on the ceiling with legs on each wall, like a spider, your knife in hand, dangerous and big-eyed, prepping the trap under which your boss might walk. Instead, a soft shuffling sound passes by right underneath you.

“Tis me,” I whisper, “The galumph.”

Down you jump! The descent, the sweet descent!

BANG BANG! BLOOD AND GUTS! OH ME! OH MY!

We are alone now, me and you.

We open a book of poetry. Perhaps it is Lucille Clifton, and perhaps this is the poem we read.


 

my dream about being white

BY LUCILLE CLIFTON

 

hey music and

me

only white,

hair a flutter of

fall leaves

circling my perfect

line of a nose,

no lips,

no behind, hey

white me

and i’m wearing

white history

but there’s no future

in those clothes

so i take them off and

wake up

dancing.

 


 

There are times when respect can be requested, but (and correct me if I’m wrong) it seems that you’ve tangled with this tarantula before. You seem like you know something about the kind of disrespect that your boss is showing you. It’s a lack of respect cloaked in so much more than just personality dynamics. It’s about race and class and systemic inequality. It’s about how some things are rotten, like verbally going at people, but they make us feel better. But, only temporarily. Your boss sounds like a mean, unhappy person.

You and I both know that you can’t expect results simply because you ASK somebody in a position of more power than you to respect you. That’s partially because an inability to respect another human being is usually on them. You can’t control another person. And, your situation is doubly tricky because it’s your boss. I’m not saying your boss is treating you crappy because they’re racist. (I happen to know you’re a person of color). But your boss is definitely treating you crappy because she can get away with it. You need this job for material reasons, so you can’t simply quit the job. I’m assuming, for efficiency-reasons, there are things you’re not telling me about what you can or can’t do.

I suggested we read Lucille Clifton together because one of the first strategies is doing exactly what you’re doing. Asking for help. A great source of help can be from other artists. They tell us that we’re not alone, and they show us what it is that we’re dealing with – things that we maybe can’t name. In this case, power which in this country wears the mask of whiteness. And your hurt, pain, anger toward your boss is never going to be about just your boss. It’s going to be about all the ways in which the world tells you that you’re powerless, that to keep a job you have to bow down to a soul-crushing, verbally crappy white British lady.

Here, I want to be really careful. Because I don’t know enough about your situation to know what it is that you do or don’t have to accept.

The first strategy is to know your rights. Do you have an HR that is professional and competent? Are you unionized? How easy would it be to have you fired? I suspect that because you work at an “institution of higher learning” as an employee that you have some protections. But only you can weigh this, because it truly requires a sound assessment of what you need to keep your job.

How’s this, though, for a starting point? First, before any confrontation is planned, make sure to regularly incorporate some meditation into your life. This can be sitting or dancing, or many other things – but at least an hour of silent alone time every day for a week.

Because confrontation is hard and inner confrontation, most of all. Once we deal with where we are hurt and what is upsetting us, especially about the past, we are usually way more empowered to deal with the external situation. You must address any rage that’s been building due to poor treatment from the system. Maybe that poor treatment was not only by your boss? Maybe the way your boss is – is raising a lot of painful past memories that you have the ability to acknowledge and release – so they don’t have too strong an influence on you. Your health is precious! Therapy is expensive! Be careful to understand what’s at stake in this situation so that you, not anger or past trauma, governs the actions you develop and take.

I’ll take a quick, relatively weak stab at strategies, but honestly I think google would be better than the galumph at this.

First, start documenting. That way you can study your enemy’s moves. Make sure you have a record in case you decide to go to HR or to employ “official” power moves, before or after trying more informal moves.

Read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. I am not kidding. It got me through an MFA program.

If anybody corners me, or starts verbally attacking me, one thing I might try to do is to name or say the behavior so they know what I’m experiencing. It sucks that you have to do this, but a lot of times people have no idea how they’re coming off. It sometimes feels good just to directly observe what is happening.

“Hey, you’re speaking to me in a way that’s not constructive.” “I feel hurt when you say this, and it makes it difficult for me to continue the conversation.” Or, “Hey, when you tell me that I’m _____ I can’t hear you. Would you phrase it another way?” “I’m concerned that you’ve said XXX thing to me (being specific is good) because we’re in a workplace, and that’s not appropriate.” The problem when people talk to us poorly is that we often talk to them poorly in return, and that escalates things.

For example, some people have, in the past, had to ask me to stop “cussing” or calling them names such as “asshole” or “dick.” And, when they directly point out that I’m cussing at them, it usually calms me down.

Another strategy – after naming — is setting boundaries so you leave the inappropriate parts of the conversation — reframe or pick up the part that’s relevant to you as an employee, “You’d like me to improve in XXX, or to come on time to XXX, sure I can work on that. I don’t need to hear more on this subject, but I’d be happy to report or show you results in a week or however long.”

Or, there’s always the truce for now approach. “Seems like you have more to say. I have to take a meeting, can we take a break and resume this conversation at X time?” Then, walk away.

But, honestly, I’m not a workplace guru. I’ve mostly had great bosses, and I’ve tried to be a good boss. This hasn’t been perfect, but I haven’t had to spend months and months strategizing about a toxic boss.

I do believe that any violence toward another human being has a terrible impact on the person wielding that violence. So I can imagine that your boss must be in a really terrible place to be that crappy to an employee who has relatively less power in this situation. I mean, it’s terrible, and I’m not saying this because it’s your job to understand them. I’m saying this to you because your safety is at risk, and the danger is that if you are subjected for a long enough time to disrespect, you invariably start to internalize it. So, it’s not your job to understand where they are coming from to help them — it’s to figure out how you can get what you need out of the situation, including depersonalizing.

There will come a time, I believe, if and after you’ve tried different strategies to make your workplace feel like an emotionally safe place to be – when you may have to make a decision about seeking employment elsewhere, because the costs to your mental and emotional health are huge if your boss cannot control herself, and the institution at which you work cannot or will not help you. You may need to start putting energy toward other workplaces. I say this because I know you want to keep this job, but I also don’t want you to have an attitude of scarcity because you’re amazing, talented, and strong, and you have options. So yes, do what you can to keep the job. Do what you can. But prioritize yourself. And if you find that you’re constantly dealing with the same problems or asking for the same advice, make a change.

You don’t need your boss to change or for this sad whiteness to stop plaguing you. You need to dance.

Faithfully,

the galumph

 


 

A lovely question came that I would like to answer, but first with a question…


Hi Galumph,

 

I got a q for ya. how the heck does one find enough time to write these days? understood there may be no answer to this question!

 

-Romulus


 

Dear Romulus,

I believe, at present, that I will make a whole-hearted attempt to answer this question, and soon. However, I need your assistance. Please write me at least a few paragraphs describing why you are asking this question and/or what prevents you specifically from finding enough time to write these days. I will be printing your response to my eager readers, along with my answer, should you choose to accept this mission.

Yours,

the galumph

 


 

I received a lovely note from a lovely person who totally gave the galumph a gift today. Thank you!!! I’m reprinting it here b/c she took the time to write it, and I appreciate it, and I hope you all will take the wise sentiment she expresses in stock by writing someone you know (no, not me) to notice them.

BTW, Cheryl perhaps you may have some words of wisdom for Dear Trying not to cut off her nose? I mean, is it a total coincidence that two people who work for different “institutions of higher learning” wrote me on the same day? I think not. Not at all…


Dear Galumph,
I’m not sure this is what you were looking for, but I have had something on my mind relative to your posts.

In Oregon, I was – as you know – sad. I realize now that I was in the midst of a divorce, not from a person but from my employment of 28 years. My job had been a source of fulfillment, especially from about 2006-16, but in the past 2 years it had grown increasingly frustrating and decreasingly satisfying. So, it left me in an uncharacteristically dark place, especially for during a residency, which is normally a very happy time for me.

I mostly stayed to myself in Oregon, but you brought me a postcard at the end, wishing me well. It meant a lot, and I’ll tell you why. The work environment I was in the process of separating myself from was the most toxic environment you could imagine. Whatever I did there – however good it was – it was branded as neutral at best and always in self-interest. In the past decade, no one ever said publicly that I did a good thing or had produced anything of value ( I did!).  My work environment valued “fairness” which worked out to mean that everyone was exactly as good as everyone else regardless of their contribution, so no matter what you did, you were only average, and to expect any recognition for extraordinary contributions was paramount to being way too big for ones britches.

My residency experiences have been different. Generally, I find that in the creative world of artist residencies, people come around to me a little later. After all, I am (on paper) a middle aged straight white lady with a happy marriage and two kids whose work requires realist painting and drawing skills. Not too interesting on the surface, I admit. But one of the surprising things about my residency experiences IS that, by the end, people notice me. It’s not that I am a super star (I’m not). Just that I’m in the club enough to be treated as an equal – a fellow beggar sharing the delicious crumbs of the artist residency experience – but also a fellow serious creative individual who has earned the opportunity to be there. Each time I leave a residency, I am stunned that I was… noticed.

So your postcard may have been a small and normal thing to you, but it did something that I try to do also: Sometimes there is a brief hesitation about whether to reach out to someone or not: “maybe they will think I’m intruding. Maybe they don’t want or need me.” If you risk reaching out, you risk getting snubbed. But if you decide not to reach out, you risk losing the opportunity to do a kind act for someone who might really need it. That was what your postcard was – a kind act. Do you know I carried it around in my wallet for 2 weeks after I got home to remind myself that someone noticed me? (And you weren’t the only one – just one of some and the one that handed me a tangible reminder). So I hope that if you ever waver between “should I reach out to that person or just let it go?” you always take the risk because you don’t know when something you do will really be welcome and needed.

Cheers and Ramadan Mubarak!

Cheryl Agulnick Hochberg, Artist

 


Finally, I know y’all are getting bo-o-o-o-red with my writing, so how about some more reading during your morning meal? Or your commute? Or your 1 hour of time you squeezed from a stone?

I read a brilliant piece that talks about Ramadan in the ways that I understand it. It’s also a piece about mothering. Sometimes we need to mother (or father) our mothers, despite the rigid roles society demands of children and parents.

Ayesha Mattu writes: “After my book “Love, InshAllah” was published, my mother disowned me. This piece is about my journey over the past six years to inner peace & forgiveness.

For those of you struggling with your relationships with your moms, please know that every path is different and forgiveness takes many forms. It does mean, first, forgiving yourself. It does not always mean letting the other person back into your life in ways that perpetuate harm.”

On Ramadan, Forgiveness, & the Shape of the Woman Beneath”

Check it out here.

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