I’m going to try being transparent. If you’re one of my students, remember that I told you being truly transparent doesn’t work. You’re about to see why.
I had a meeting today with a number of colleagues, doing service work (something I’ve done for free for five years and is now in my job description– new things are cool!). A suggestion was raised about something that is a common misconception that I am positioned uniquely to notice.
So I checked it. Just a subtle “I don’t think that’s accurate. Let’s discuss it later.”
The other person seemed outraged and tried to correct me. So I pushed harder. A third party offered a preponderance of evidence. The discussion continued until someone just moved on to the next topic. The original person seemed unable to process, or unwilling to accept that I was making a valid point. I was contributing. The fact that I know such things is why I was in that room.
I’m going to have that talk again. Because I know I’m right. And I don’t mean I know I’m right like “I’m right in my own mind.” I mean I know I’m right as in “I can show you so much evidence that you’ll get tired of reading the evidence that I’m right and finally trust that there’s even more because you’ve glazed over.” I’m a brute force for right, when I know I’m right. So I’ll tell this person again.
But it leads me to share with all of you my absolute worst flaw, but the one thing I will defiantly say “hey, fuck you” to people who get mad at me for.
I do the very best I can. Often to my own pain, often to a lack of sleep, often to deep, deep stress. I give things my all. It’s what defines me. I don’t give up, I don’t say no unless I have to, and I don’t pretend I know things that I don’t. In fact I almost– so I’m told– failed a major graduate exam because I told the committee point blank that on one of their 30-plus on-the-spot questions over a list of 100 readings I couldn’t recall the point that the question raised (though I did take the idea and link it to five other works and talk for like six minutes in response). I couldn’t bring myself to bullshit an answer. I felt like it was okay to have forgotten a point from one of the first of 100 books I read in a long, overwhelming list. I took the fact that it was a lecture about not being able to answer one question and not praise for crushing the others that was the first comment as a personal insult. I still consider that exam a low point in my academic career, even though I received what is called a “high pass.”
I do things as right as I can, even if it leaves me tired and weak.
All that I ask in return is that people allow for what I do to be what I do and don’t act like me doing my best isn’t enough. It’s okay if you have an over-inflated sense of your own abilities, but don’t try to belittle me to keep that up. Be amazing on your own time. I may never be anyone superstar, but I know what I know and I’m good at what I do. I don’t overreach.
If I study something, and I get a PhD to be an expert in it, then I do scads of research and extra service and talking to people… I know what I’m talking about. I’m generally a quiet person. I don’t open my mouth unless I am positive what I’m saying has value (either as my question of another person or as my contribution to a discussion). I sacrificed spending time doing something else, something I would have likely enjoyed more (sleeping, playing with my dogs, maybe reading something that wasn’t academic or spending time with my wife), I sacrificed time doing work around my house (which gets me in the doghouse with my wife and my furry kids) so that I could make sure I knew what I was talking about.
The thing today was someone questioning my ethos on a topic I’m a trained expert in. But this was only one of four times in the last month or so this has happened to me in front of a group of other people. It’s a power move in each case. I know it is. I had someone completely discount that if we’re discussing game addiction, I (as a person who specifically researched it, who has spent over a year doing ethographic style research with people playing THE game that causes people to talk about games addiction) know more than, say, someone who doesn’t know the names of any of the popular games a person would be addicted to, who saw a piece on the evening news and is worried games are ruining our kids. I had someone else question my ability to explain a writing assignment to my students. Someone who doesn’t have a degree in writing. I have three degrees in writing. And I worked for five years in a writing center and for six years building the curriculum that assignment is a part of. The problem with the assignment wasn’t my lack of training. The problem–which was what I was pointing out when the discussion started– is that a number of my students chose to not read the assignment sheet. Another time I suggested that we not require a specific class in our program because we didn’t have a plan to staff it and since it was material that we covered in smaller does in other core courses it could be an elective, and someone’s defensive response was that we should also consider cutting a class that I teach from the requirements because “not everyone needs to learn about writing.”
So that’s my thing, if any of you ever wonder on a random day why I’m pissed off. Or likely sad. The anger in me burns like the fire in a dragon’s belly. It has to vent fast. Then I usually feel awful, even if I was right. And not to sound arrogant, but most of the time once I get mad, I’m right, because I am willing to defer any time I don’t know my position well. I’m that sort of person. I’d rather learn from you than make you think I know something I don’t. I hate conflict, as much as I am part of numerous academic conflicts and probably look far more aggressive in writing than I actually am.
There isn’t another mixed-blood Cherokee games, writing, culture and identity scholar on the planet. I cornered that market until someone else emerges. I worked really, really hard to have that tiny plot of land to stand on as mine. I’ve had to defend my right to be who I am, to study what I do, to have a seat at an academic table. I’ve had to move from one discipline to another, and I’ve had to deal with people belittling the importance of what I study numerous times, more than I can even count. If you’re not even close to my area of study, don’t come at me when it’s one of my things we’re talking about. Either grant me the space to be the expert I gave my life to becoming or know what is heading your way.
I’m a really easy going guy. I swear. I am. I love people. I will do anything I can to help. I always do.
If my eyes get so narrow you can’t tell what color they are, fucking stop. Whatever you’re doing is going to end badly. Even if you’re right and I’m wrong, if you get me to that point, you need to take the hit. That’s the easy going guy social contract.
Because I’m the one who takes pretty much everyone’s shit in stride. Every once in a great while, in return, I need for people to understand when I have to be the one who is dishing out.
When I’m about to blow up, I don’t think it’s asking too much for you to calm down and take a step back.
And don’t ever, ever, ever, ever imply that you know better than me if you’re talking out your ass. Because I’ll call you on it. And then, like a wolf that smells blood, I’ll just keep calling you on it and calling you on it and calling you on it until either I win or you hate me or both.
I’m not proud of this part of my personality, but I know myself. I’m willing to warn everyone who knows me that if you shame me on the grounds that you know better (only when you don’t– anyone who can teach me something is aces) or that I didn’t do my share, I will fucking end you.
Those of you who know me as friendly, kind, easy going, helpful… I think you’re right. That’s who I strive to be and who I want to be. I hope that’s who I am. If not, I have wasted my life.
But in grad school, someone insulted my intelligence and, seconds later, exhibited ignorance. It was in discussion of something that involved my then-girlfriend-now-wife. I went at him so hard that he finished the conversation by saying: “Phill, you’re the meanest person I’ve ever met.”
In the context, I’m willing to grant that he was right. The manner to which I continued to verbally assault his ideas and belittle his behavior was absolutely over-the-line. I made a grown man cry, and I didn’t back off when the tears started because I’d been pushed too far (and that person knew me as the shoulder to cry on). But I warned him. Clearly. And he persisted. And not in the good Elizabeth Warren way. In the loud, obnoxious Rush Limbaugh way.
All of these thoughts ran through my head today when once again my choice of music illustrated my state of mind. I wanted to hear Cypress Hill on the ride home. As I rolled across the back roads to pick up dinner, a lyric stuck in my head:
Here is something you can’t understand/how I could just kill a man.
I don’t think I could literally kill a man.
But figuratively, I think that’s what people don’t understand about those of us who laugh things off and don’t point out the little pointless things that annoy us because we know people are people. For example, it drives me up a wall when someone chews with their mouth open, or when someone says that something was “everywhere” or “all over the place” when it was in one or two isolated spots. Or when someone reads something I wrote and instead of commenting on the content points out a missed comma or a single typo. Or when someone “shhhs” me. Me? The quietest person in almost every room I’ve ever been in? Don’t shame me when I have the nerve to be a little loud.
Those things make me very unhappy. But I don’t yell at people about them, because that’s what rude people do. I can handle a little discomfort in order to be civil. I’m not a child. But somewhere under all of that you can push too far. And if you do, it’s something you can’t understand. Because if you knew you were driving me to the point that I was going to go off, you wouldn’t do it. No one would. No one invites anger from a person who can count on one hand the number of times he’s been mad this decade.
I’m not saying I am right, or have the right, to expect this of people. I’m saying that I do. I am willing to admit it’s unfair. But I’m also willing to bet that if you’re a person who got me to that point and you are honest with yourself, you did something unfair or unrealistic, too. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten myself to “mad” all by myself and vented it on another person. I am quite good at knowing when I’m mad because of me (and taking it out on myself).
I’m just saying… if you can tell you’re causing my demeanor to change, and it’s just one of those times that you, as a person who likes conflict, need to cause conflict, this is 1600 words on why you need to reconsider your actions. Go be an asshole to someone else. Usually I laugh off people being mad and rude and all that. I mean come on, I study games. I am around gamers all the time, and the average gamer is mad at everything. But when I’m at the edge, you have to know that it’s time to reel it back in. Fish other waters, man. Don’t make me angry.
You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.