That Time YouTube Thought I Was a Racist …

Friday. I’m working on a how-to guide for a client, which means I’m poring over a dozen or so homegrown videos that their underpaid and over exploited college-student staff created. The videos are usually pretty dreadful, although this batch isn’t as bad as most, which makes me wonder if they brought in outside help. Really I don’t care. I just want the pain to be over.

Anyway, it’s no wonder I’m a tad more than half asleep when the final video ends. What wakes me is the collage of YouTube’s “watch next” videos, custom plucked from obscurity. Just for me.

  • Ann Coulter Owns Whoopi Goldberg on Race and White Guilt 

  • 12 Times Michelle Obama Looked Like a Tranny
  • Watch Rachel Maddow get that STUPID SMIRK wiped off her face by Trump’s Election

  • Ben Shapiro Takes Down Bill Maher On “Muslim Ban”

  • Revelation: Dawn of Global Government 2016

insane alt-right playlistI’m in marketing so I know what this means: YouTube thinks I’m racist and a masculist. Or maybe I’m being overly sensitive. Maybe it just thinks I’m an alt-right, narrow-minded, ultra conservative, anti-globalist, pig-headed asshole. Yeah, that’s probably it.

This, incidentally, offends me and not in a pretend “Why are they calling me this?” way. It’s not like a conversation I had a few months ago in which someone told me he wished everyone would stop accusing him of being racist simply because he supported Trump.

“Then why did you support Trump?” was my question.

Anyway, this is a big deal and I don’t like the passive-aggressive accusations YouTube is making about me. It’s wrong and I know it. So why doesn’t YouTube’s algorithm agree?

People will think what the algorithm tells them to think

Here’s the deal. I’ve spent most of the last four years trying to game search algorithms because I was in work situations where I needed to study the tricks that people use to get their pages to rank higher. Doing so gives you insight into how most search algorithms work.

For the uninitiated (consider yourself lucky, BTW), a search algorithm is a formula used to determine what you’re really looking for online. When you’re using a search engine like Google, this means you should receive search results that hit the mark. According to Google, their algorithms “rely on more than 200 unique signals or ‘clues’ that make it possible to guess what you might really be looking for.”

YouTube’s algorithm is going to be a little different. Because the universe of possible search results is smaller, it won’t need to be quite so complex, but it likely is more predictive. In my case, I wasn’t searching for results, I was looking at the collage of videos YouTube was sure I was going to want to watch next. These suggestions were based totally on predictions. Think of it as high-tech stereotyping.

I probably would have been fine living my life without ever caring about search algorithms had it not been for a former boss, one of the most pious AND corrupt VPs ever to grace a boardroom. Call him a snake in the grass, a liar or an essential member of your executive team, I still despised every minute I worked with him. But he did teach me a lot, like what a micromanager is, what Mormon priesthood meetings must be like (I have to assume they’re dull events in which some out of touch, old white guy drones on about something I care nothing about, which was the same way every team meeting we had would progress), and how search algorithms worked.

I learned the search part because Google’s search results were this VP’s nemesis. His goal was laudable — land our company’s website in the number one spot for every search term he could think of — and he tried all the tricks that Google hates to make it happen. Keyword stuffing (he spent his weekends counting every occurrence of a keyword in our posted blogs so we’d have a list of things to change on Monday mornings); ensuring headlines led with the target keyword and promised something that would earn clicks even if it wasn’t paid off in the article (who wouldn’t want to read “Data Warehouse Secrets You Need to Know — Or Else!” that was really just a take on some guy’s high school job at Burger King). He built fake sites that linked to our company’s web pages (if Google catches this, you’re done, or so I’m told), bought fans on Twitter (Google didn’t care about this but I like bringing it up anyway), and mandated every article exceed 800 words, which was great when you were dealing with a concept that warranted 50.

As is usually the case with incredibly corrupt people in business, Google didn’t notice, and the board of directors rewarded him with a promotion.

As for Google’s search algorithm, here’s what I learned: Google pays attention to what you do on the web and not because they’re spying on your shoe purchases for the government. Google wants this info because it uses your activity to predict your future activity, too. The better Google is at this, the more you’ll search. The more you search, the more likely you are to click on an ad and the more money Google can make by selling ads that target you. Plus, when your search results are exactly what you want to see, you’re downright giddy because you won’t have to wade through a pile of irrelevant shit to find out why your cat’s turds are suddenly burnt umber instead of their usual brown.

This is the an extreme oversimplification but you get the idea.

Google’s algorithm and YouTube’s predictions look through your previous searches, what you click on, and may consider how long you stay on a page, the specific search terms and phrases you use, your buying habits, what other people who searched those same terms were looking for, how your neighbors feel about the subject, etc. The algorithm digests all of this information — and plenty more — to decide exactly what it thinks you want to see because, you know, if you wanted a fact, you’d go to a library.

poop parasiteThis means your search for “burnt umber cat turd” turns up information on a fecal parasite that makes you randy. Yes, that’s a true story, you can read it here. Befittingly, it was #2 in my search results. According to Google, “Algorithms are computer programs that look for clues to give you back exactly what you want.” Apparently I want bacterial Viagra.

More often than not, these algorithms hit the mark. But what happens when you want something you wouldn’t normally be looking for? You know, when you’re trying to objectively research an opposing viewpoint? If the algorithm’s results reflect your normal internet tendencies, your easy-access answers, the first 10, 20, or 30 results, might only give you the side of the story you already know. The rest is up to you to eek out. You have 124,768 search results to dig through so grab a cup of coffee.

By the way, this is one of the problems that’s not discussed a lot, although it does influence the increasing bias in our country and elsewhere. When the low-hanging fruit simply confirms what we already believe, why in the world would we keep moving forward to page 2 of our search results … or page 22 … to get the take from the other side? This isn’t 1978. We want our information fast. And digested. Don’t expect us to work for it.

What Did I Do to Make YouTube Think I Was an A-hole?

Back to YouTube, I will admit I usually appreciate the recommendations it makes for me. On any given Saturday night when a sip too much of red wine, which means anything over a half-glass these days (damn age!), makes me think it’s a good idea to force my children to watch a Frankie Goes to Hollywood video, and then YouTube suggests Karma Chameleon, these recommendations are spot on. My children should be tortured by Culture Club (but not Simply Red — I don’t want DCFS knocking on my door).

But not this time. The algorithms on this Friday night are failing for some reason. Sure, I’ve been known to stare at my phone watching a video of ludicrously vile thoughts that froth out of Alex Jones. I hated Milo at least a year before my friends knew who he was, thanks to YouTube. I’ve watched some of the most absurd editing ever courtesy of Paul Joseph Watson, and I’ve even tuned in to see who Tomi Lahren was — and why. But I personally believe I’ve negated each of these instances with my zillions of hours spent with Mother Jones, Samantha Bee and Carpool Karaoke.

Search and prediction algorithms exist to bring you information. Information, by nature, should educate you. But biased results and recommendations don’t help. They just mean your ignorance to opposing views wins and nobody comes out ahead.

Now here’s the best part: when I try to replicate YouTube’s vile suggestions, I can’t. I play the exact same videos, fast-forwarding each to the end because I need to stay awake. I use the same computer, same browser, and even the same browser session because who shuts their computer down?

Nothing. My suggestions are normal. Stephen Colbert, SNL and cat videos.

So why did YouTube think I was a racist for an hour or two? I have my theories:

  1. The YouTube search algorithm had a temporary hiccup, and I was there to witness it. These things MUST happen, right? Any system built by humans is going to have flaws. Just look at democracy.
  2. Since I was viewer 4, 8, 13 on most of these videos, maybe my list was heavily influenced by the viewing habits of the people who had also watched these videos… which means my client. This option scares me.
  3. My suggestions were hacked by lizard men who control the government as a way to distract me so I couldn’t see them luring my children into the back yard where the demons who used to run our country could kidnap them and feed off their positive energy. I don’t buy this one at all — my kids are teenagers so they have no energy, positive or otherwise, and are too lazy to go into the backyard. I’m not even sure they remember where it is.

I’m hoping it’s just a temporarily flawed system. But deep down, I’m guessing it was door #2. I should probably blame viewers 1, 2 and 3. Maybe there’s something wrong with exploited college students in general. Maybe hatred is how the people who made these videos take out their frustrations over working for low wages in full-time positions so they can pay overpriced tuition (Bernie!!! Where are you when we need you?). Or maybe these are simply the kind of people who would work for a company that puts a higher value on keeping payroll low rather than rewarding professionalism and experience.

Or maybe, since these videos ARE notably better than previous ones, the recommendations are the result of an outside vendor who produced the videos. I like that theory best.

Regardless, I’ve learned my lesson. Unfortunately, it’s not to stop watching clips from the sideshow that is Alex Jones, although for a few days I do stay clear of anything alt-right. But eventually I remember that I need to know what’s going through other people’s heads and the only way for me to do this is by experiencing the world as they do. Not something I’d recommend for most people — watching Alex Jones, listening to Michael Savage or stomaching anything associated with Rush Limbaugh is maddening, mind-numbing and boring.

My takeaway is that Google, YouTube and every search algorithm around has inherent flaws. But maybe that’s not always a bad thing. Because if I can get a list that’s inundated by messages from the right, doesn’t that mean someone on the right can get suggestions that are peppered with lefty thoughts like mine, too? Especially if I put an effort into changing the predictions through my own viewing habits.

Looks like I’ve got some watching to do.

 

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Equal rights call for equal sarcasm

Rebuttal letter to the editor. Honestly I had no idea how to address this guy’s archaic notions of women’s position in society so I went for sarcasm. You can read the original letter (the one I’m rebutting) by clicking the link in the text below.

I could not agree more with the sentiment behind James C. Green’s recent letter (“Equal Pay bill has a serious downside,The Park Record, Feb. 15, 2017) and want to applaud him for taking the approach that he did to such a sensitive topic — equal rights. But as a writer, I also wanted to coach him on how to make future arguments like this “work.” I’m concerned that people didn’t catch the sarcasm that was obviously influencing his essay. While his writing reminded me of Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, I’m sure some people took Mr. Green’s essay at face value rather than tapping into its deeper motivation: to rally the opposition and remind people why equal rights are more important than ever

Tips Mr. Green should consider in the future:

  1. Make sarcasm more blatant. Remember Swift? He recommended Ireland’s poor sell their babies as food for the rich so the children wouldn’t burden their cash-strapped parents. Mr. Green could ramp up his fake arguments against equal rights by suggesting more ludicrous solutions. For example, maybe employers could drop men’s salaries to the wages of women’s. Or, truly innovative businesses might want to foot the bill for gender reassignment so the playing field is naturally leveled.
  2. Ensure arguments are relevant to today’s audience, not someone living 40 years in the past. When you delve into the world of Archie Bunker, you risk being written off as an obsolete dinosaur who doesn’t deserve the energy it takes to type a rebuttal. In fact, that was my initial reaction to Mr. Green’s piece — why waste my time on a narrow-minded relic whose glory days preceded the now obsolete fax machine when I could be performing tasks for which I’m fit, like beating laundry with rocks down by the river? Arguments that start “As more women enter the workforce” and “men will have an even harder time supporting their families” are OLDER than me — and I remember watching All in the Family in primetime. Want to rock the boat? Try something fresh that we haven’t already heard and mocked thousands of times before.
  3. Focus future essays on tenets of equal rights. According to the DOL, 47 percent of the U.S. labor force is female. It’s no doubt that our economy would collapse without the skills and contributions of women. And, while equal pay is a great intro to the topic (especially in the state with the highest gender wage gap), Mr. Green should ensure his future arguments also touch on fair treatment for all people regardless of gender identification, race, religion, age, or level of ignorance.
  4. Even when using sarcasm, base arguments in fact. Today more than ever, audiences need truth. Prove that you’ve done your research and aren’t just pulling thoughts from your rump. Back up assertions with fact from unbiased sources. Yes, those still exist and you can find them in journals, academia and often the mainstream media. Check the Wasatch County Library — the people who work there (a number of whom are women and would probably love to meet you) can help.

One more note, I want to commend the Wasatch County Republican Party for promoting innovative thinking like Mr. Green’s to leadership positions, and to fine institutions like UVU for keeping Mr. Green employed as an instructor (according to his LinkedIn profile that’s where he earns his not-competitive-with-a-woman’s-salary paycheck). Now when I hear catchy phrases like “Grand Old Party” and “Make America Great Again,” I’ll think of Mr. Green.

50 and unemployed. Day 7 – Sleep disfunction.

I slept until 10 a.m. today after staying up until 3:30 a.m. watching a Harold and Kumar marathon.

I do love some parts of unemployment. Except for the lack of cash.

What impressed me most about all of this is that I finally slept, really slept, past 7:50 a.m. and I hadn’t been tossing nor turning. Normally I have zero problems sleeping. I can fall asleep at my desk, behind the wheel, while pushing a cart in Costco or sitting at the kitchen table. That’s because as a grown adult, sleep is one of those precious commodities that there’s never enough time for.

I feel bad for the countless women I know who take a pill to fall asleep or who wake up in the middle of the night thinking about work. I can think of little worse than work or reality interfering with such a precious and glorious commodity.

But lately, I’ve been in the same boat. Now that I have all the time in the world, I can’t sleep. Shit.

For the first time ever, stress is keeping me awake. I can fall asleep with no problem but then I wake up. Early. Toss. Turn. Think until I finally give up and get out of bed.

It sucks. It’s like I’m one of those 4-hours-per-night people minus the productivity.

Truthfully, I hate those people who are proud that they don’t sleep. I know there aren’t many of them – the people who biologically  don’t require more than 4 or 5 hours per night. Yes, they’re heads of companies and hack president-elects (seriously?) but their inability to sleep is nothing to be proud of.

I may not have ever cared that there are sleepless freaks in this world had I not worked for one in the past. But at the job I held BEFORE the one I just got canned from, my boss was a 4-hourer.

Yes, he was someone in the top echelon of the company, had started other businesses, held big important jobs at national tech giants and was wildly successful. But he was still an ass and told us repeatedly that he only needed 4 hours of sleep.

Here’s the deal: it’s one thing to not need sleep. But keep that shit to yourself. And definitely don’t bother me or anyone else when you’re awake and shouldn’t be.

But that wasn’t how he worked. The 4-hourer would send long, painful emails that he dictated into his iphone starting at 4:30 a.m. (Know how Siri never quite gets what you say right? Imagine that in email form – an 800-word email. Then imagine you’re the recipient of the email and are supposed to understand what “I biscuit another vendor butts” means and how you’re supposed to respond.) Texts would follow shortly thereafter, before any normal human was willingly out of bed, not even the ones who woke up early to exercise.

By 8 a.m., the 4-hourer would get antsy because people hadn’t answered him yet and he’d start taking matters into his own hands by working on his staff’s projects. If you were the lucky one whose project he commandeered, that meant you’d be greeted with a directive to change everything upon arrival at work that day. You’d throw all other responsibilities aside – deadlines and commitments be damned! – and dive into what he said he needed because it had to be done ASAP.

About the time you’d finish redoing everything, he’d show up at your desk with the project in hand telling you he already took care of it. Throw yours away. It was all unnecessary now.

“Why do I have this job?” you’d think to yourself.

The 4-hourer, incidentally, was also a hypocrite, a jesus freak, and a micromanager. And he did this weird thing with his mouth whenever he met with you one on one. It made him look like a camel chewing on an extra tough blade of grass. It was oddly uncomfortable to be around.

“Do you have something in your teeth? Need a glass of water?” I asked once. “A Kleenex?”

“No,” was his answer.

I broke all of my rules about looking for jobs before passing the 18-month mark, dropping it pretty quickly down to 6 months, mostly because the 4-hourer had created a toxic environment where only yes-men and yes-women (there were few of those BTW) could survive. Eight people in our 12-person team self reported they were taking anti-anxiety meds, which seemed like a really high number, but it was the healthcare industry so maybe not. I was one of the 4 who didn’t, although I had an editor who took enough for me and the horse that lives behind my fence, too.

The 4-hourer’s sleep disfunction reached a head the day his most loyal senior staffer begged him in a meeting not to send work-related emails on Christmas day. The staffer couched it as “you need a day to relax with your family” but really that staffer was at the end of his own rope, his marriage was falling apart, and he hadn’t himself slept more than 5 hours on any night in the past 3 month because he made the mistake of leaving his phone on the night stand (“It’s always important. I have to be available.”).

The 4-hourer promised he’d try.

That Christmas, I received only 4 emails, none of which were spreading good cheer. The senior staffer? He got 10. Apparently that was cutting back for the 4-hourer, which pleased the senior staffer to no end.

I left the job a month later.

Here’s a little advice: if you have sleep lasting less than 4 hours, see a doctor. If it’s because of a biological condition, maybe drinking heavily or even moderately would help.

Still can’t sleep? Become an internet troll (it works for The Donald). Paint your house. Read a book. Bake stuff that your family will want to eat when they wake up. But whatever you do, don’t bother the sleepers. You may not think there’s a problem when you sleep that little but the rest of us will readily admit we’re complete assholes when we don’t get enough sleep. And we’ll probably admit you are, too.

50 and unemployed. Day 2 – reality bites.

Right before my head hit the pillow last night, it dawned on me – I still don’t have a job. Fortunately I’m not one to let a little stress bother my sleep.

But that same thought was there when I woke up today. I still don’t have a job. Fuck. I thought it’d be faster.

I did the most productive thing I could think of then: I went to the kitchen and made pumpkin bread. Then I scooped a couple of litter boxes, started a load of laundry, check my Twitter feed to see if any of the conspiracy theorists I trolled last night responded. Just one comment and it was from a conspiracy theorist follower. I’ll try harder.

A few weeks ago, @breitbart posted hate mail on my Facebook timeline. I may put that on my resume.

In all honesty, I didn’t try too hard to find a job yesterday. It was 5 days before Christmas – no one was hiring. Since it’s only 4 days before Christmas today, they probably still have better things on their minds. Like grog or wassail, or, as autocorrect wants to say, weasel. Maybe that’s on their minds, too.

Eventually I made it back to my computer and I spent the rest of the day working.

I’m in kind of a weird situation. Depending on who you ask, I’m either a writer or an editor or a marketer. If it’s me you’re asking, I’ll say “writer” because it’s the best conversation starter of the three. That’s because no one really knows what editors do and no one gives a shit if you convince people to buy stuff.

But the funny thing is, I haven’t been employed as a writer for more than a decade. It’s been at least 7 years since I held an “editor” title. Since then, I’ve just been directing stuff from my corner cubicle since no one does offices any more. Most recently, that corner cube is at my home. We were a really small company using freebie office space that was more than an hour away from my home. I stopped by once a week. Mondays.

As a writer, editor or marketer, you might be able to swing some contract or freelance gigs. They’re great for the promise of extra money when you hold a real job … until you have to produce the work you promised you could do and stay up until 2:30 a.m. three nights in a row editing a white paper for a doctor who now runs a tech team and thinks his words are solid fucking gold.

Cool thing, tho, when you get canned from your job, you might be able to pick up a few freelance gigs to hold you over. Get enough of them and you can sit around, unshowered and in pajamas all day, and earn a living. You’ll get to write or edit or run campaigns for all of the stuff that no one who works for your client full time wants to touch. You get to be judged by a much higher standard than anyone else because you get paid more (most freelancers do charge a premium because it’s hard to bill yourself out 40 hours per week – and you have to provide your own health insurance, pay outrageous taxes, etc.). You get to make changes that are stupid, annoying and dumb because the client really cares doesn’t care anymore and is doing this to shut up his boss. And you get tossed aside because the president of the company has a niece who just graduated from college and she’s overseeing your project and she really wants her boyfriend to do it instead cuz he’s brilliant and they’re, like, going to get married.

And you do it all over again because someone is paying. And it may be the route I decide to go if I can’t find a job quickly, especially since I’ve been bequeathed a pair of clients. Sort of.

When I was canned (with socks) on this most recent Monday, I was given the consolation prize of the remaining two clients. They were mine to keep – you know, seed for that freelance business that would blossom by January 2. I could bill them directly. Even better, my dick boss would let them know.

“Oh, um, great.”

Why wasn’t I giddy to have a freelance clients handed to me? With one of the clients, I was, but they’ll probably amount to about $750/month in cash for me, which will pay less than 1/3 of the house payment. The other client? They hate us. They’ve been biding time until their contract ends. That happens January 1.

In our glory days, when we employed a total of 5 people, we had some ass nozzle helping the bitter client with a small but important tech project. Ass nozzle knew exactly what they needed. During status reports, we’d get these amazing tales of how the client was exceeding all expectations with this tech. We were blown away.

Two months later, it was evident that this guy had no clue as to what he was doing. So we fired him and I learned two lessons:

    1. Never hire the cheapest person you can find (okay, I already knew this and hadn’t voted to hire this tool anyway)
    2. Never be so busy that you can’t take a peak and see what everyone is doing

I’ll take the blame for his screw up, partly because I was, partly because no one else at the company was ever willing to own up to anything bad. But I was immersed in this world of trying to keep the clients we had happy and trying to convince new prospects to sign and launching another division of our flailing business that I took him for his word. If I had looked instead of listening, I would have realized early on what was going on. I’ve been trying to clean up the mess ever since.

Today was no different. I tried to do whatever I could to make this bitter client – now my bitter client – happy because I needed them to continue as a client of mine past January 1. I also started the meter, which will eventually turn into a bill, for some wrap up work associated with that other division I launched. Turns out, I put in most of an 8-hour day.

Wait, if I still have to put in 8 hour days, does that mean client billings weren’t the problem? Could it have been … a shitty business plan? I’m getting ahead of myself.

Toward the end of the day, the good, small client informed me that they had a really meaty project for me. The best news I had all week, so I went for a run. By the time I returned – mind you, I’m a slow runner, but I don’t go far – the project had been cancelled. That’s the bad part of the good client: they’re amazingly flaky.

I knocked off around 6 with a list of things I still have to do for wrap up, which I’ll tackle tomorrow. Then I spent time looking for available website names because that’s what unemployed people like me should do. “Ecto” was taken (and I’m not sure why I would want it), “sasquatch” was gone, too (I wanted a hairier version of Amazon), my own name seemed pathetic and no one can spell it anyway, “chaos” was neither available or smart because maybe it gives the wrong “hire me” impression. So do droll, dribble, simpleton and everything else I looked up. Misspellings are available, but even some of them are even pricey. Not sure what that says about society – we value bad spelling?

Eventually I got to the heart of my website-name search: because if I DO decide to just work for myself, it might help to have a good site name. But did I want to tell people I’m a “writer,” an “editor” or a “marketer”? Can’t I just be all of them?

Unfortunately, “indecisive,” and “flighty” are already taken. “Wishy-washy” is available though and spelled properly – but I can’t afford it.

And I’m still not sure I want to.

50 and unemployed. Day 1 – the 8 stages of grief.

My dick boss fired me yesterday. Maybe it wasn’t as glamorous as that. No shouting match. No accusations. Just a simple “we can’t pay you any more.” By “we” he meant “he” because I was the last to go. Six – count ’em 6 – full days before Christmas.

So here I sit, 50 and unemployed, with a giant, light up, plastic Christmas tree in the living room, a closet full of presents for my kids and a promise from Amazon that more were on their way. Ca-ching! Five cats are watching me hungrily and all are surely on the verge of another medical emergency. And my best cash fallback? My husband’s schoolteacher salary.

Looks like a new bottle of whisky is out of the question.

Truthfully I knew this day was inevitable almost a year ago, but what I didn’t bank on was the shitty timing of it all. Aside from the day after you return from a vacation, is there ever a more broke time of year than Christmas? The calendar-driven pain in the ass hits extra hard when you realize that over the next two weeks, I would have had two paid holidays. TWO DAYS OFF ALL ON SOMEONE ELSE’S DIME (thank YOU baby Jesus!). And I had been saving up my PTO so I could completely forget that I even held this stupid job for a full 7 days during the week of Christmas and New Years. I was going to sleep late, eat heartily and maybe shower, like once. No, that ain’t just the booze (that I now can’t afford) talking – it was my dream week.

Now I get those days off and a whole lot more. So maybe this is a dream come true, except for the impending financial ruin and all.

On the drive home last night, I realized there were loads of things I should have said. Probably should be an 8th stage of grief – the retort stage.

  • “Wow, who wouldn’t want an unpaid Christmas vacation that starts early and runs late? Thank YOU, Ebeneezer … or can I call you ‘Eb?'”
  • “FYI, I’ll be out most of the day returning my kids’ Christmas gifts tomorrow, so if you need something, text. Just do it early, before I hawk my phone.”
  • “Nah, I’m good on lunch. Just going to grab something quickly at the soup kitchen. Need to do a little networking there, you know?”

    I think I went through most of the other stages of grief, too, like:
    Shock (Of course I’ll go to this stupid client meeting and spend all day plus some at work today even though I won’t be getting extra cash or kudos because of it)
    Denial (My preteen kids could work, right?)
    Anger (Damn Lewis Hine and his stupid, persuasive photos – now my kids CAN’T work)
    Bargaining (Hello plasma center? If I gain weight, will you pay me more? What if I just promise to pack on the pounds?)
    Depression (Oh why isn’t whisky in the budget? It would go so much further in my career as a plasma donor.)
    Testing (How would you kids feel about learning to sew? You would look soooo good in this potato sacks color…)
    Acceptance (Mommy is on permanent vacation!).

    But I’m probably going to cycle through the stages a few more times, especially as the bank balance gets even lower. Talk to me around January 19.

    You know, it’s been 15 or so years since I’ve been in this state – unemployed that is; 50 is a new state this year. Turns out I’m kind of rusty at it. I used to know all of the tricks, like how much I could earn and still collect an unemployment check, how to schedule freelance projects so everything could be completed/billed in the same week, where to find jobs. You know, stuff like that. I have to relearn everything. Hopefully there’s a YouTube video on it cuz I envision spending lots of time staring mindlessly at screens in the near future. I’ll get pointers from my kids.

    Oh, my dick boss did give me a parting gift yesterday: a pair of socks.

    Huh? That was my reaction, too.

    I guess he confused my dig-a-little-deeper-douchbag face with a how-do-you-afford-such-lavish-gifts look. Dick boss was happy to elaborate. “I have a friend in the business,” he said, “so I get them at half off.”

    Wow. That’s so cool. You’re saving, hmm, thousands each week by not having me or any of my once-former-now-canned coworkers on the payroll and you put that money into half-price socks. Any chance THAT’S why the biz went under?

    “Oh, thanks,” I said. I’m positive it sounded genuine, which is good cuz thank-you cards are no longer in the budget.

    When the best words are 4-lettered (and your mom doesn’t approve)

    My mother called me a few weeks ago to tell me she didn’t like the language used in a link I shared via Facebook yesterday. I believe her comments included “shocked” and “what would HER friends and relatives think?” Mind you, I’m 50 years old and connected to very few of her friends and relatives. I don’t do a lot on Facebook probably because I’m a reasonably private person but every once in a while I think there’s something that needs to be said or shared. Usually it’s pictures of baked goods I made. Occasionally it’s political.

    Here’s my take on the whole thing: Facebook is social. But social isn’t all ice cream, unicorns and cat videos, you know? (Altho I love me some cat videos.) Sometimes you’re just pissed off about something and you spew that out socially too. Daily I hear people I know (and sometimes even like) say things I completely disagree with. And you know what? They have every right to say those things in the words that they choose.

    Now here’s my right: I can either listen and respond, listen and move on or just ignore it. Whichever I choose to do, well, it’s up to me. Same thing goes to all of you. If you don’t like something someone shared or said or something someone else has said, then you’re free to ignore it. Nifty thing is Facebook allows you to ignore me or unfriend me entirely, too. Ahh the beauty of electronic friendship.

    Censorship starts with the listener, not the writer. As a person who spends her days surrounded by words, I agree that any writer or speaker is free to say what he or she wants. I’ve even defended political candidates and nut-job pundits with this same argument. How we react to these thoughts as the audience, however, that’s what matters. And it’s going to be different for each of us because we all have our personal takes on just about any subject. Hopefully we all think about a subject, dig in and do a little research. Maybe we even get past the mechanics of the delivery, although that can be tough sometimes. If the words get in the way, then tune out.

    I have yet to unfriend or hide someone because of their politics or social beliefs. It’s good to see what people are thinking and saying sometimes because if we rely on our own Google searches and media of choice for all of our news, we’ll just hear thoughts that preach to the choir – and how does that expand the mind? It’s also great to know that we’re not like everyone else in our thoughts and the ways we select to express ourselves. The world would be really dull if everyone were just like me (even I know I’m incredibly boring).

    I try to teach my own children that words are a beautiful thing. Words have the ability to teach and express and evoke emotion in both the writer and the audience. They can affirm beliefs or change opinions. And sometimes even ones that aren’t “the best” words, aren’t pretty, sugarcoated or covered by a scared kitty cat meme deserve to be spoken and shared.

    Ignorant son of a …

    My son is a slacker. I’m not sure if that’s because he’s a boy or if it’s because he’s 14 or if it’s because of something we did wrong when raising him, but he’s always been this way. So last night, about 30 minute before I’d normally freak out about him not being in bed, he started working on homework that was probably due a week ago (why would a slacker do his homework, you ask – because his mother checked his grades).

    He was working on an essay using the NPR theme, This I Believe, and he had half-assed it. His thoughts were scattered and unsupported. So we he got to the part of the assignment where one of his parents was to write a reflection based on what their student said in the essay, I told my son I couldn’t do that cuz he hadn’t said anything at all. So he fixed it.

    His “belief” was that religion was the root of all evil and would eventually destroy society. Nothing surprising – both of my kids hate religion, likely a result of growing up in Utah. But what he was really getting at was ignorance. He mentioned in the essay a school mate who’s a flat-earther (WTF?), the ignorance that this kid spews, and how he (my son) doesn’t understand it. What my son missed, however, was the connection to his original thought: religion. And that the same ignorance that allows people to blindly buy stories that have no basis in reality (virgin birth anyone?) might also allow them to think you could fall off the side of the earth or that global warming isn’t real at all.

    At 14, I couldn’t have taken that stand. I was brought up Catholic and forced to go to CCD like everyone else, learned the joys of skipping out early from mass (best if it was the Saturday afternoon folk mass). What I didn’t learn was to question what they were telling me. Full disclosure: I’m not sure I ever actually listened to what anyone was saying. But at age 14, I never really thought about the absurdity of a virgin birth, parting waters (Cecil B. DeMille, my favorite religion teacher, made it look so natural), resurrections and the like. I just nodded and kind of moved on to my own self-centered existence. Sometime after I stopped going to church, I came to realize these were all just fantastical stories with zero basis in reality, but it was never a conscious or conflicting effort.

    Living in Utah, however, made me look at the ignorance associated with religion even more closely and realize that it’s never just tied to religion – it goes much deeper. Religion itself seems to require a willing suspension of disbelief. Tenets of most religions are laced with extra crazy talk and other-worldly locations and beings. For the thinking person, it seems like this would pose a challenge.

    But who’s thinking?

    We’ve become a society that demands instant answers – but really we’re not just looking for answers, we’re looking for a side to root for, a team to join. We pick a team that matches our opinions but we don’t spend a lot of time forming these any more. We just grab an opinion that kinda sounds good – especially if we trust the source. No reason to dig further. If it sounds convincing, it obviously is.

    The irony to all of this is that it’s easier than ever to find all sides to an issue thanks to the internet. But we don’t look. Instead, we share the bias over social media, where it gets shared again and again and eventually no one knows where the thought came from. But most of us don’t bother to look it up, either.*

    When was the last time you looked further into the facts that some friend dished out on Facebook? I’m as guilty as the next person of mistaking a shared claim for truth. Worst part: even when you do decide to search for the answer, you have to dig deeply, because odds are good your search results are skewed to reflect previous searches, which usually reflect your opinion. Yes, even Saint Google is preaching to the choir.

    In truth, no message is ever truly objective (one of the things I remember from journalism classes in college). But years ago, audiences WOULD seek out all sides to an issue. Media outlets didn’t make me feel obligated to put quotation marks around the word “news” because they were truly attempting to report facts. Absolutely not the case any more.

    I’d expect this from my son’s generation – the first to grow up with answers to everything imaginable fed to them in easily digestible bites. I’m appalled that my generation and the ones ahead of me are failing to look at the other side, too. We may be even worse offenders – older generations (45+) are the ones most likely to listen to the human equivalent of a bloated tic shovel volumes of bullshit into the airwaves. It’s so much easier to believe what you want to hear than to think for yourself, right? (FYI, millennials don’t get to skate by here blame-free: Fox News in 2015 was the top rated cable news outlet with viewers 25-54 [YIKES!] and the second highest rated cable channel with that demo overall. And here I thought everyone was watching Game of Thrones.)

    My son’s essay eventually turned out okay and I was proud of him for being able to identify ignorance, even if he failed to apply it everywhere it fit.That will come in time – thinkers are by nature skeptics and he’s nothing if not skeptical of pretty much everything. As for his generation, eh, maybe there’s some hope there, too. If a self-centered, 14-year-old boy who readily tosses around penis jokes can pay enough attention to the world around him that he can spot ignorance and write about it, that’s gotta say something. Maybe when they’re my age, they’ll even be pissed off enough to do something more than blog about it, too.

    *yes, I realize some people still like to look at all side of an issue and approach everything skeptically. Fortunately, since they’re mostly unemployed former journalists, they have all the time in the world to do this now.