We need to take more risks. It sounds like a cliché, but it’s the plain truth. As the social media microscope is trained on us without reprieve, having space to take risks is increasingly rare and while we’re busy being safe we neglect opportunities – however brief – to step where it’s not expected of us; someone is always watching and a video of a misstep can go viral before we know it. So, it’s easier to be busy being safe.
Safe is absolute garbage. It’s an illusion we afford ourselves from a place of inert reluctance, lulling us into complacency while assuring us it’s okay to be there because everyone else is. Through the constant bombardment of a hyper-realized ‘normalcy’ created through social media platforms (i.e. Best Day Ever! posts), safe is the mainstream we feed ourselves when some small part of us wants to rage against the machine.
We’re discouraged from taking risks by using scary labels. What was once considered a midlife crisis might now be generational disengagement and part of the social culture, painted for us too large to find a way around or through but small enough for us to take away a measure of guilt for being part of the problem. The message is that it’s better to be safe than speak out for fear of saying the wrong thing and bearing the brunt of commentary backlash. Everyone knows that what happens on the internet lives forever.
This autumn I took a risk and launched Longhand, a digital platform on which to write about things I love and in a manner that best fits my voice. Longhand is not monetized, won’t be a place for harsh criticism, and will be as transparent as I can make it. Do I risk coming across as a cheerleader? Sure. I can’t put mind to that if I want to focus on what’s important to me: growing a platform that supports those who are trying to put their best foot forward. This is who I am.
Where does that leave this site? Well, it’s changing. There will be more opinion-editorial here, and also (I hope – again, taking a risk) critical content on writing and the industry/industries I’m affiliated with. Complacency does us a disservice. Even the smallest step moves us forward.
I like being safe. I have a mortgage to pay and would like, one day, to take a vacation somewhere warm where I can lie on a beach with a cocktail in hand. I also have a responsibility to the larger narrative in which risk plays a part, and I need to take those steps – even the smallest of steps – to help us move forward. So despite a craving for safety, I’ll push myself to take those risks. That beach might have to wait a little while longer.
Meanwhile, keep an eye on Longhand. There’s risk there, too, only it has better camouflage.
The term to mansplain is described as a verb “(of a man) explain (something) to someone, typically a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing.” Merriam-Webster has mansplain listed as one of the words they’re “watching”, indicating its current use is changing. Ultimately, the action behind it has been part of our landscape for years and continues to be something we encounter with enough regularity to justify creating a verb. Sad, but true.
I have been mansplained to more times than I can count. In my mid-to-late twenties I worked in automotive repair. For clarity, my job required technicians explain to me what was wrong with a car so I could estimate the repair and translate it to the customer: I literally had men explaining things to me daily, some with respect for my existing knowledge and others not so much. Customers mansplained their own car repair to me, others were angry I knew more about their car than they might. Some women found it difficult to understand I had knowledge of cars because they didn’t. It was a mixed bag of sexism, ageism, and education.
For the past ten years I’ve worked as a copywriter for businesses in wine and written tourism / lifestyle articles about wine, with a focus on British Columbia. I continue to have a lot to learn about the subject. My experience includes copywriting (bottle labels, websites, newsletters, technical sheets), winery business operations (tasting room, office administration & finance), production (harvest and cellar work), and consumer/tourism article writing for print and online. I have a broad understanding of new world wine businesses, specifically in this province. I know enough to ask informed questions and make fair observations based on my current knowledge.
Yesterday a peer mansplained something to me on a social media platform and in doing so appears to have missed the point of my message.
At first I asked myself if I saw this as mansplaining because of a project I’m working on, and perhaps my lens was a little more focused in that direction. I looked at the exchange of comments, their nature and flavour, and tried to get a read on who was engaging and how. Nope: this was mansplaining.
I commented that an international brand demonstrated a better understanding of my need to engage with them than some local businesses, and over a period of time. The larger message was about how an industry communicates and perhaps our local BC wine community had some growing to do.
Did I know, as a professional writer, that the company I queried is larger than many locally? Yes. Was I aware that the company likely has a larger team to respond more quickly and professionally, better than some locally? Of course. Am I comparing the experience directly? No.
I posted my comment to illustrate a point: the growing BC wine industry which I support wholeheartedly and often without financial compensation can do itself a disservice by not engaging with those who advocate for it. Yet somehow despite my years of working in and for this industry, a fellow had to mansplain about it to me.
To use a colloquialism: I just can’t even.
I know there are women in my network who have experienced and continue to experience mansplaining, sidelining, and other actions (or inactions). I’m here to support you. I have your back. We need to be there for each other. If you need to, please connect with me or someone else in your circle who will remind you of your value contribution.
For the record: I know Bollinger is a large organization and probably has “way more people doing admin so they can respond and tackle these types of things” than many of the BC wineries I query regularly. I stand behind my statement that “I’m still waiting to be added to some BC winery email lists despite making several requests, some for years”. At least four of these are BC wineries with larger operations. Some make 60,000 cases of wine per year and others produce hundreds of thousands.
BC wineries: please add me to your media email list, because I’m tired of asking and one day I might stop.
To grow good writers, like good leaders, we have a part to play in an unspoken but necessary social contract in which it’s required of us to hold them to task and provide an environment for them to get better at what they do. And before we unpack this loaded statement, let’s take a breath together. <breathe, please>
The sentence begins with a series of assumptions (the reader is in a democratic place, has the ability and want for good writers and good leaders), and includes an agreed upon definition of ‘good’ in relation to ‘writers’ and ‘leaders’ with a not-so-thinly-veiled layer of morality. A ‘social contract’ assumes the reader is part of a type of a (likely privileged) society, participates in it, and understands the role they play. Further, there’s an assumption we want to improve: on our participation, our status, ourselves as people along that scale of ‘good’ for themselves and the world in which they belong (the immediate and greater).
A reader can infer a lot about the writer from a seemingly simple sentence presented as opinion editorial. Recently I had opportunity to briefly discuss my inherent assumption of the social contract (thank you, Christine & David), that there is one, and how I use it as a lens through which to view my participation and the engagement of others. The conversation was challenging, but not a challenge of my ideas and perspective; it required me to ask questions of myself and in doing so helped me to better see my own lens (read: bias). As a writer, my continued development requires an awareness and it’s something I struggle to remind myself of.
While it’s part of our social contract to engage with each other and our leaders (political, employment, community), it behooves us to do so constructively (another term loaded with assumption). On my new writing platform I’ve written about leading with heart (my friend Sandra Oldfield) and I subscribe to general concepts of leadership as touched on by poet and author David Whyte. A strong element of ‘good’ (assumption) leadership is the willingness to be vulnerable, allowing space for those around you to do the work they’re meant to do and, in doing this work, provide breathing room and growth opportunities for those in positions of leadership. It’s akin to geese flying south, each taking turns to lead; if one remained in the leadership space, it would be exhausted and the whole flying V would fail. Geese are emblematic of offering that space, of showing their vulnerabilities (“hey, I can’t do this alone”), of asking for help.
From small businesses to larger corporate organizations, good leadership can make or break its workplace culture and the culture within which the business operates. I have experience with all aspects along this spectrum, from great leaders in small businesses to poor leaders in larger ones and vice-versa. One common fault with poor leaders is an inability or reluctance to see success in others as their own. One universal strength in great leaders is the value they place on the successes of their team, as individuals and a larger group. Basically, good leaders give a damn about the people around them.
Part of my social contract as a writer involves engaging with my surroundings, looking for, and seeing, these differences. At present my surroundings include a still somewhat fragile and relatively new BC wine industry, growing at a fast rate. It’s an industry I love and believe in, populated largely with people who work tirelessly for something they might not realize in their lifetime. Friends, acquaintances, colleagues put forward a vision larger than themselves and strive to see it – and others – succeed. That’s leadership, from the ground up. A large part of my role is to identify those people, champion for them, and help direct a small light their way whenever I can.
This shining of light on the good in our industry comes with the equally important task of doing the same in the darker corners that we’d rather not speak of. Perhaps it’s part of that hard to define Canadianism where politeness obscures a need for frankness, but I struggle with how to mindfully engage these darker corners publicly – although I have an obligation (social contract) to do so. However, earlier this week I broke free of my reluctance and asked a difficult question in a very public forum. I didn’t expect an answer, although I do expect some attention be paid to it and will follow up.
And so, here is the start of an open correspondence with one of the new leaders in the BC wine community.
Mr. Peller, I’m a writer who pays attention to BC wine. Almost exclusively, as a matter of fact. I have been a small voiced champion of the BC wine industry for 1o years, since I moved to the Okanagan in 2007 and began to write. Like BC wine, my platform is small. And like a good amount writers I have a day job to pay the mortgage because many of those in our BC wine industry who value the contributions of people like me don’t always have the resources to support me with regularity. But here I am.
My commitment to the BC wine industry is in continuing to champion the great things being done by nice people who are good leaders, and now with equal weight I’m committed to holding to task those in positions of leadership within the BC wine community who have the resources and strength to truly lead. People like you and your organization. Your new social contract with the BC wine industry began the moment the physical contracts for your recent acquisitions were signed. Please know this, truly, deeply, and hold it with much gravity.
You are not alone. You have the strength of the BC wine community with you should you choose to engage with it, as good leaders. Your success can be found in those within the community you help to lead, and that happens when we’re united in realizing our collective success.
Before we head down the road of any five-point-plans, we need to look within ourselves to be the community team I know is there. That takes courage and a willingness to be vulnerable. I’ve seen it in every facet of this BC wine community. I hope you, Mr. Peller, can see it too. I hope you’re willing to be vulnerable. That’s the kind of leader that can help realize the collective success of the most awesome group of skill, talent, and dedication that is within our BC wine community.
I’ll be in touch. My people – well, I – will contact your people.
In the autumn of 2016 I took a full time job with the federal government. Our mortgage was up for renewal and banks look favourably on steady income if, like me, you’ve had a break in what’s considered regular employment (such as freelance writing). So I mined my pool of transferrable skill sets and re-entered the structured work world with what is considered one of the most desirable employers for those seeking financial stability.
I told myself I can do this; I’m not defined by how I collect a paycheque and in my heart I’m really a writer.
There’s a reason jobs like these are described as offering ‘golden handcuffs’ – and no, it’s not a sexy thing. For the most part it’s one of the most secure employment environments, regardless of your skill set, and offers a decent income in some of the more limited job markets like that of my Okanagan community in rural British Columbia.
The handcuff part of the scenario announced itself early on: my time was scheduled with little flexibility (Monday through Friday, set hours); I would be part of a union and unable to negotiate my working conditions outside of that contract; in accordance with a Values and Ethics guideline, I had to disclose ‘outside income’ – my work as a writer – and declare any perceived or potential conflicts of interest. The outcome of this disclosure was that, as a condition of my employment, I had to refrain from lobbying government (goodbye, Free My Grapes) or doing work/writing that could be perceived as critical of government (farewell, writing about meat inspection regulations) or anything that could put me in a potential conflict of interest (adios, long form essay on BC wine sub-appellations). Work I’ve been doing for years.
I signed the letter, kept the job, and a light inside me began to slowly dim.
What was asked of me is not unreasonable; I agree with all of it. Public servants have an obligation to serve the public. Their salaries are paid by taxpayers (me included), and to have any potential or perceived conflict of interest does not support democratic governing. I needed to ask myself some hard questions. Am I a writer who finds ways to pay the bills, or am I someone who pays the bills and finds ways to write?
In hindsight, taking this job was an exercise in redefining what career means to me and how career is tied to personal success. That meant unravelling the tightly wound perception of vocation as definition of self, value, and place of contribution. It turns out this is more difficult than it appears, considering place of contribution and value, at an early age for many on this continent, are concepts closely fused with vocation.
We do it so frequently it’s barely on our radar. It’s done to us almost daily, sometimes indirectly. There’s an expectation of identifying one’s self in a predefined career path with clarity and intention. The steps we take in our adolescence when we’re busy making poor choices are received as the footprints on what will be our career path. So it’s no surprise when, in our adult years, something as simple as an introduction to a new person can inadvertently focus on what we do – after all, that’s who we are. Or who we’ve learned we’re supposed to be.
It’s been a few years (ahem) since I navigated the network of high school career pathing trails, but I recall aptitude tests and interviews to determine The Path I would take to Become Something. I was interested in literature, so perhaps librarian was in my future. By showing interest in learing about others, maybe counsellor was the right choice. I was creative – had I considered teaching dramatic arts? Among the network of trails no one path shone brightly enough to dim the others. I was fascinated by all of them. My career counsellor was frustrated and asked me to ‘really focus’; I was confused and felt I had disappointed her. The recommendation: first choice librarian, second choice teacher. Off I went with a list of post-secondary institutions that would offer the best education to fit these selections, and a pile of grant/loan application forms.
Recently, a friend asked if I could speak to one of his 10th grade students about what it’s like to be a writer. For months my subconscious self had been struggling with what it meant for me to be a writer and so I was taken by surprise (and flattered). Who am I to engage an inquisitive youthful mind on career pathing? Am I a writer? I felt unprepared and 16 years old again, but this time I’d be speaking with a version of my 16 year old self. Trippy.
I asked her some questions and listened to hers. She has a curiosity about social constructs that manifests in opinion essays and poetry, self doubt, and introspection. Her classmates provide her with perspectives different from hers that encourage her to ask why and engage in dialogue. She wants to express her thoughts, share them with the world. She doesn’t know what career is out there for her, based on this, other than maybe writing for National Geographic and travelling. She wants to travel.
If, when I was 16, I had been able to speak with someone who identified as a writer, the conversation would have been framed with some similarity. So I took the opportunity to share my thoughts as I would have liked to hear when I was 16.
If you don’t see yourself reflected in any of the career paths laid before you, that’s okay. If you’re more interested in who is attracted to certain careers than the career itself, that’s okay too. Be curious. Be a pilot, a physician, a server. Take a job and do it to pay the rent. Aside from learning the foundational pieces of language, what a storyteller needs is more lenses through which to see the world. The broader the horizon against which you filter the world you take in, the better prepared you’ll be to reflect it with your own voice. A career is what you make it, and how you define it. What you do to pay your bills might be different than what you do to be who you are. Don’t choose a path if you don’t want to – you can choose all the paths. Experience the network of trails.
I quit my job.
It was easier than I had made it out to be. I’m a writer, and if I can’t write then I’m trying to be something I’m not. At the tender age of 43, I’m not financially stable enough to throw caution to the wind without a way to keep those mortgage payments happening; I’ve been the majority income earner for the duration of my partnership and that means if we want to pay the bills I need to make a certain amount of money. How I earn that money is up to me; if it doesn’t look like one of the predefined jobs or careers, that’s okay.
Hi. My name is Jeannette. Nice to meet you. I love Canadian literature, baby cows, and advocating in the BC wine industry – among hundreds of other things. What are you interested in?
For better or worse (I argue the latter), we’re smitten with sharing naught but the supposed awesome of every moment of our lives. Social media and digital news feeds are a barrage of best day / spouse / thing EVER proclamations. Despite my want to believe in the positive and great, I’m suspect of any projected image wherein each day is the best, every dinner the most amazing, and all wines are awesome.
The lens through which I view life is one of optimistic realism. On the balance of probabilities, I accept that a “best” of something will occasionally cross my path while a “good” representation is most likely to be the encounter – with “not so good” also an option. Popular expectation of how much fantastic we’ll experience is severely out of whack. Subsequently, we have assigned a new and lower value to good. Nothing stands out from a crowd if the average is set at awesome. When did good lose its charm?
In October 2014 I visited the Clare region of Nova Scotia, where my Acadian family speaks a localized French as our first language. Listening to my relatives chatter in Acadian-ese is both confusing and comforting; the cadence of their speech carries as much emotional expression as their word choice and, in some cases, more – such as when an English word is spoken with the Acadian accent. Adjectives are appropriated and change with emphasis, while nouns gain and lose syllables at random. Hello changes to ‘ello and ‘allo!, eventually becoming ‘ah-lo?! when popping one’s head into a neighbour’s house for an unannounced visit.
Among the many interesting discoveries in translating Acadian to English is a word used by my uncle with regularity: satisfied. From discussing his recent furnace replacement to sharing a favourite dining spot in Yarmouth, my uncle referred to being satisfied rather than stating he was happy (or happy with something). I’m paraphrasing, but a typical conversation involving his satisfaction would go like this:
Me: Did you like the clam chowder?
Uncle Anselme: I usually don’t order clam chowder, because I’m particular about clam chowder. But this was nice. I’m satisfied.
Me: How is your new furnace working?
Uncle Anselme: It’s more efficient than the last one and less noisy. I’d say I’m satisfied with my choice.
We’ve come to accept happy as a new standard of moderate descriptor for satisfaction or acceptance, displacing where once we would have used good. My circle of friends, in casual discourse, would likely have said their clam chowder was good or that they were happy with their new furnace. Can a furnace make you happy? On a cold night, yes. In the quest for life happiness a furnace might rank slightly lower – that you are satisfied with its performance is a more appropriate statement. Chalk up a win for Acadian translation.
I became accustomed to my uncle’s satisfaction, and upon return to my home life I noticed its absence here. It was also more difficult to ignore the epic, awesome, and best that surrounded me.
the decline of our level of diction
Through the wonder of smartphones we have the world in our pockets – but instead of being inspired by this access to so much, we’re becoming lazy. Satisfied has been relegated to use in surveys, and not much else. Each year more words are accepted into the Oxford English Dictionary, yet we use fewer to describe our experiences and feelings. These best of / most awesome / epic days and events do us a disservice: not only do these descriptors set the bar unattainably high for daily living, we’re less likley to be curious about individual experiences because we anticipate those particular words will convey a larger picture – an understood, unspoken description. It’s a falsehood, and we erode our cultural wealth each time we make these simple statements.
Where packaged individualism is the new socially acceptable collective norm, we strive to show how individually normal we are by sharing our every awesome moment / meal / experience. Discovering the latest hot whatchamacallit can help your voice burn brightly in the new media spotlight; however, like a flare, its shine is short-lived. In this light, thenew craft brewery makingan epic IPA will briefly attract more attention than the new craft brewerymaking good beer. Is an IPA epic? Beowulf is epic. Homer is epic. An IPA is refreshing, citrus-y, and satisfying. Can a wine be awesome? A lightning storm is awesome. A volcano is awesome. A wine can be surprising, balanced, complex. I am satisfied with how it tastes.
for the love of good
I aspire to write well and have folks who read my writing think ‘that was good’. This is the benchmark I’ve assigned: good. It lives somewhere between a B- and B+, where a C is average and an A is exceptional. At times I’ll write something that resonates with a group of people, and occasionally a sentence is structured so beautifully I want to frame it. Those are rare exceptions, as are awesome and epic. I’m more concerned with whether someone will find their own level of enjoyment in something I’ve written about – like the aforementioned craft brewery’s IPA – than I am with the length of time the spotlight will be on what I’ve written.
I’ve fallen into the awesome/epic/best trap on more occasions that I care to admit: in bite-sized statements meant for snacking, rather than multi-courses intended for a little more digestion (such as this). We snack on information more frequently than we digest stories. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook support these habits. I am not immune, although I do try to remind myself of the need for digestion.
When in the shadow of awesome, good can’t seem to catch a break. But I love good. We tend to poke and prod a little further when we stumble upon good; we’re more curious about good’s context, and the associated package defies an easy dismissal. Good is layered. Good is sexy. Good isn’t competing for your attention, because it doesn’t have to.
In a world where everything is awesome, nothing is. Let’s try for good, so we can be in awe more often.