September 27, 2018

Surprisingly audacious reflections of a humble writer


I was bullied at school.    
She sat behind me  
 on the school bus 
reached forward, 
and yanked,  
waiting for a reaction, 
a response,
a flinch
which never came;
so, she upped the game,
made it a challenge,
(but she and I both knew there was really no challenge)
and reached forward again, this time
more maliciously
more malevolently
 and pulled out strands of walnut-colored hair
that were never hers to touch

When I think back on the situation, I get angry at my thirteen-year-old self.  Why didn't it occur to me to change seats?  Why did I think that avoiding confrontation was a show of strength?  Why did I think that if I ignored her, she would quit?  (she didn't)

If the topic of bullying comes up, I realize that I am not alone.  Many of my friends and acquaintances had been bullied.  They tell me they were teased about their physical appearances and were called names.  One of my friends showed me her yearbook.  In it, bullies wrote cruel nicknames and drew crude pictures. 

Nowadays, we feel freer to talk about bullies and what we endured.  Author, blogger, and speaker Geraldine Deruiter is open about being bullied.  She writes that she could never feel empathy for a person who made her life hell.  She thought he deserved an awful life.  Then, Geraldine learned from a friend that the bully had been dealing with pot and was killed in a robbery gone wrong.  He suspected he'd be attacked and slept with a hammer under his pillow.  Dead at the age of 25.  "I think of his anger, his struggles in school, his unhinged rage, all at the tender age of 11."  But Geraldine admits, "I see the error in thinking that a troubled child somehow deserves a terrible fate.  Adults told me to ignore him, and he’ll go away.  In the end, they were right." 

It's been over 50 years since I was bullied on the bus ride to school. Bullying leaves lasting mental scars. I have sad and bitter memories.  It could have been worse.  According to, frequent victimization at a young age can lead to adult psychiatric disorders needing treatment.  Victims of bullying are prone to psychosis, panic attacks, anxiety, and drug and alcohol abuse.  Researchers report that more than 20 percent of children who have suffered bullying are prone to depression serious enough to require medical help by their late 20s.

I was bullied in the workplace.  

At first, he would lash out unpredictably
until the assaults became a given,
unavoidable and inescapable.
Rumors of an unhappy marriage can make
anyone mean and nasty I suppose, 
still it never felt good
being on the receiving end of wrath,
and made to feel stupid
and inferior
at work in front of a group of peers.  
Cruel and unkind punishment 
dished out
for the crime of asking a question.

Workplace bullying can be defined as repeated and abusive conduct that humiliates, threatens, or intimidates one or more persons by one or more perpetrators.  The difference between schoolyard bullying and workplace bullying is the abuse is less physical and more verbal and psychological.  In the workplace, the bully tends to be manipulative and controlling while attempting to become more powerful by putting others down.  

According to, bullying is frighteningly common and takes an enormous toll on our businesses.  Research from Dr. Judy Blando (University of Phoenix) has proven that almost 75% of employees surveyed had been affected by workplace bullying, whether as a target or a witness.

"Bullying is tricky to define," says Mental Health Campaigner Dr. Praga Agarwal.  "What it definitely is not is a one-off event. That would be classified as harassment.  Bullying on the other hand is deliberately intended to dominate, cause distress and fear in the intended victim. Bullying often happens in private settings and by a person in authority and is difficult to find material evidence for.  Bullying doesn’t happen 'by accident;' it has to be a deliberate action, and even though perpetrators might say they 'meant no harm' when reprimanded, bullying often involves a planned campaign by the bully with the likelihood of negative intent."

Dr. Agarwal continues, "When I was bullied, initially it never even occurred to me that it was bullying. Gradually, it made me more and more miserable, increasingly worried and anxious about going into work, and just unsure of my own abilities. And, this is what workplace bullying does. It knocks the self-esteem of even the most resourceful and confident people, wearing them down so that they are less trusting of their own instincts and judgement and consequently unfit to work."

More bullies.   

Emotional bullying is seen in adult relationships and workplaces, too. defines it is as any act including confinement, isolation, verbal assault, humiliation, intimidation, or any other treatment which may diminish the sense of identity, dignity and self-worth.  Emotional abuse includes criticism and the refusal to be pleased.  People say it's not abuse because there's no physical harm being done, but words do in fact hurt.

A former actress and award-winning author Katherine Mayfield says, "Emotional abusers may also invalidate the perceptions of the victim by denying reality when the victim confronts the abuser, saying “I never did that” or “I never said that,” or by telling the victim she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.  People who abuse and bully will not accept responsibility for their actions.  Abusers may also refuse to listen, refuse to communicate, or withhold attention from the victim, in essence giving him 'the silent treatment.' Withholding any kind of praise, encouragement, or support is also common."

God help the emotional bully.  He is what he is.
He blames you, insults, argues,  
refuses to listen,
gets defensive 
and the beauty of it all is 
he judges without the expectations of being judged in return. 

The emotional bully is what he is.
Power and arrogance are part of the package.
It comes with the territory.
He will not change.
In his wake there is no apology,   
respect, empathy, or compassion.

An emotional bully rarely changes.  He is what he is.
He challenges you,
erodes self-esteem,
squashes confidence,
puts down and discounts reason.
After a conversation (or is it a confrontation?)
he brushes you away.
Yet, you are resilient.
Stronger than he will ever know.
The emotional bully is what he is.
But he will never leave another scar.

À la prochaine 

September 13, 2018

Surprisingly audacious reflections of a humble writer
Breaking Up Is Hard To Do 

I had to fire my hairdresser.

It was not only uncomfortable, it involved change.  I don't do well with change.

Antonio had been my hairdresser for 10 years.  Though the salon was about a 25-minute drive from home and located on a very busy road, Antonio was fun to be around, he didn't charge much, and he did a good job.

My appointments were once a month, but those appointments came to an end due to two reasons.

My husband and I had just arrived in New Orleans for a vacation when I noticed (dare I say?) gray roots.  I was upset.  It had only been a few days after a salon visit.  The color did not cover well this time (reason #1).

I shouldn't have been surprised.  Many of my friends had given up coloring gray because nothing worked.  According to, covering up gray hair is a special science.  Gray hair is difficult to color because it tends to be wiry and the dye doesn't soak in easily.   It can be resistant to total coverage, making it difficult to drive color into the hair shaft.

What's the big deal with a little gray?

Hair is everything.  It is a huge part of our appearance.  It frames our face.  It defines us.

Hair has been featured in the Bible, in Greek myths, and in a Broadway musical.  It is associated with youthfulness and beauty in women and virility and masculinity in men.  Hair can cement a signature style.  Think: Cleopatra, Angela Davis, Marie Antoinette, Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana, Bo Derek.  

While I don't have a signature style, I could have had one some twenty some years ago.  Back then, I wanted to have pink hair, except my daughter Abby and my husband were four-square against it.  
Some people can pull off pink 

This surprised me because as a young kid Abby liked exotic hairstyles.  Not on herself, but on me.  When we played beauty parlor, she slathered hand lotion in my hair and then pulled strands of it into spikes she called pickets.  Imagine every bit of my hair held in place by twenty colorful elastic bands.

During the time of pickets, I had begun to color my hair.  At first, it was semi-permanent color to add contrast and color.  Not long after, I made the decision to use permanent color to cover the gray that was beginning to show.

Keeping gray hair or covering it is a personal choice and cost plays a big role on that decision.  As reported by The Cut ,"Every year, American women spend billions ($30 billion on color, $22 billion on cut, $7 billion on product) trying to get it just so."

Since I spent a great deal of money on my hair, I wanted it to look good.  When my husband and I returned home a week later from New Orleans, I gave Antonio a call to see if there was another product that would cover the gray.  He suggested that we try multiple products over the following weeks, but he said that there was no guarantee they would work.

Faced with the uncertainty that my roots still might show no matter what we tried, I considered finding another salon.  It was difficult because I wanted to remain loyal to Antonio.  

I wasn't sure what to do until tragedy hit.  My sister-in-law had been diagnosed with a deadly brain tumor.  Four months later she was gone.  Only 60-years-old.  Life is too short.  Time is precious (reason #2).  I thought about the three hours it took to get my hair done—time that could be spent writing as well as doing other things I loved.  So, I began to search more seriously for a salon closer to home. 

The Washington Post reports "finding the right hairstylist is nearly as difficult as finding the right mate. The stylist-client relationship involves trust, communication and loyalty and, just like dating, finding a stylist can be awkward and expensive—repairing a botched cut or a dye mishap can cost you hundreds of dollars, not to mention your dignity   The easiest way is to ask people with a style you like where they go."   

After asking some friends and goggling salons, I tried a place closer to home.  I wasn't sure how it would work out.  With change comes uncertainty.  But things worked out well.  Going to the new salon makes me happy.  The appointment time is much shorter and the color covers gray.  What was difficult was telling Antonio.  When I finally made the call, it sounded like a bad break-up:  

(Me talking:)
"This is difficult."
"I hate that I have to leave."
"We've known each other for such a long time."
"It's not something you said."
"It's me, not you."

I left our relationship hanging in the air because I'm not good at breakups.  Several days later, I asked the receptionist to cancel all of my appointments with Antonio (yeah, it was cowardly).

Breaking from the past and embracing change is not easy.  
Making a new start takes courage.  It takes risks.  Having doubts are part of the process.  But you never know what will happen until you try.  That's the mystery and the beauty of change.

À la prochaine!