This here bringer of the pooper to the fun party

This is Going to Be A Long One, So Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You

So the story goes something like this:

A reporter from the Washington Post contacted me last November and asked if I’d be willing to contribute my experience to her article on the perils of blogging about your job. She’d heard and read about what had happened to me, that on February 26, 2002, my boss pulled me into a corner conference room and told me that the company no longer had any use for me, that the CEO had read an email from an anonymous person alerting everyone to my website and that I should be fired instantly.

The Post reporter and I talked for several hours on the telephone, and I felt comfortable enough in our conversation to let her know details about the firing that I hadn’t ever revealed on the website. Details like, my boss said the words to me, “You’re being fired because of your website.” The Human Resources rep. who escorted me to my car, however, sort of fumbled a memorized speech and said on the way out the door, “Um, lemme think, um, we’re not firing you for your website, I think. I guess we’re not allowed to do that. Um, let’s just say the official reason is that it’s just not a good fit.”

I found it interesting that no less than a month before the firing I had been lauded in a company-wide email for coming up with a sleek interface to a new software product, and I was described as helping to take the company “to the next level.” God, how I don’t miss working in an office where I had top-level deliverables on my plate coming down the pipe which most of my co-workers were SMOKING on a daily basis.

A few days before the Post story ran the reporter contacted me again to find out the name of the company that fired me, primarily so that she could call and backup my claims. I understood her need to do this, but I told her that I wasn’t comfortable giving up the name of the company. I had never named the company on my website, nor had I ever revealed names of the people whose personalities or characteristics I had used in some of the sketches I had written of co-workers. My purpose in writing about my job WAS NOT to slander the company or to endanger the integrity of their product. I also have not pursued legal action against the company because I believe that I don’t have a legitimate case. I do not think, however, that the company that fired me would extend any sort of grace to me if they found out that I was taking this story to the press and giving their names to journalists.

The Post reporter, perhaps in an act of sheer kindness or mercy, decided not to push it any further and said that she could still use my story as long as I was cited as an anonymous source. The story ran in December, and I was referred to as a 27-yr old web designer living in Los Angeles. I did not receive any traffic from the story, which brings me to the first point I want to make with today’s entry:

Contrary to what many have said to me in recent emails, I do not believe that I am trying to exploit what happened to me to get more traffic to my site. Yes, the initial post about losing my job was linked to by several high-level community sites, and many of the readers I have now came to my site as a result. But I am also now THAT GIRL who lost her job because of her website, a label I will always have to wear and one that I don’t think I will ever entirely transcend. I am not complaining about this label, nor do I consider it a crutch, necessarily. I do feel, however, a sort of social responsibility in sharing this experience as a cautionary tale to other bloggers and any potential bloggers who even for a second think that what they publish online can’t hurt them offline.

So when a reporter from The New York Times called and asked me to contribute to his story, I told him immediately that I would be more than happy to answer any of his questions as long as he didn’t ask about the name of the company that fired me. We talked for about 20 minutes, and I gave him more details about what had happened between me and my family more so than what had happened between me an my former employers.

And I don’t know if it came across in the article or not, but I cannot stress enough how terribly devastating it was for my family to read my website. It’s not a time in my life I like to think about, and if I could erase from my mind the late night phone call from my father wherein he dismissed me as a “vile and disgusting human being” who had succumbed like a weakling to “the dark side,” I would take back EVERYTHING I had written that had hurt them. For the record, I never explicitly called my family “technophobes,” but I think that was the only creative license the reporter took in relaying the details of my story. So, for those of you who were curious, NO, this Times reporter fabricated nothing.

I assumed that in the Times article I would be quoted anonymously as I was in the Post story, and so I didn’t go into the interview thinking that I would exploit my family for traffic. I realized that they were going to use my name, however, when I got a call last Thursday from someone at the Times who said they’d like to send a photographer over to my home to take a picture for the article. The call totally surprised me, but ultimately I didn’t see the harm in the interview and agreed to the photograph.

Fifteen minutes later I received a knock on my door from Deseret News photographer, Tom Smart, who also happens to be Elizabeth Smart’s uncle. He’d been told on the drive over that he would be taking a picture of a “blogger” whose anti-Mormon rants had alienated her from her family, and when he showed up to my home he was visibly interested in my story. I wasn’t sure initially if he was related to the Smarts, but when he said he was curious because he was himself the only member of his family who wasn’t a member of the Mormon Church, I couldn’t help but ask him, somewhat cautiously, “Are you related to THE Smarts?” He nodded softly, and I invited him to have a seat on my couch. For the next two hours he told me about the last year of his family’s ordeal in striking detail, things I hadn’t heard on the news, and every two or three minutes I had to check my surroundings to make sure that I wasn’t being Punk’d or set up for “Candid Camera.” He is probably one of the kindest people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting in my entire life, and I felt so humbled sitting there having HIM take MY picture for a story that is NOTHING in comparison to what he has lived through. He reminded me that we take risks with our art, and that sometimes we can fall on our face, and sometimes we can succeed brilliantly, you just have to live with both.

And so I guess there is no second point I wanted to make with this entry today, only that despite the hate mail and the negative attention, and depsite losing my job and the consequent humiliation, and despite the pain I have put my family through, I do feel good about what I do here. I’ve used the pain, the criticism, and the restrictions to try and become a better writer. I know that I have specific responsibilities to my family, to my husband, and to my friends, and that I can’t just say anything I want to say, no matter HOW BADLY my na�ve sense of “freedom” urges me to do so. There is no such thing as unadulterated freedom of speech with a blog, not if you’re brave enough to tack on your real name to what you write.

Tom Smart’s photograph obviously didn’t make it into the article, probably because they thought I’d be some sort of punk rock web grrrrrl, and I turned out to be a rather harmless, domesticated posterchild for a quilting guild. Here is the photograph of THAT GIRL who lost her job because of her website if you’d like to see it, at least until the Times sends me a cease and desist order. And that would totally be SO cool.

  • big fan

    dooce rules!

  • Chuck looks so dapper and grown-up.

  • Brava!

  • chewles

    thank you for all you do!!!
    p.s. chuck is the pope!!!

  • Ohhh, that’s so stock art worthy… 🙂

  • i would sue. nice photo, btw. nothing is sexy as a woman and her laptop.

  • That woman! That dog! That chair! That NY Times article has obviously been all over the place (and I’ve seen it 2 or 3 days in a row in my daily NYT email) and this is all so crazy just to read. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be in the middle of all of it.

  • the media

    havent hit this site in awhile. seems like a lot has happened since the last time. anyway, about negative emails and comments, aren’t they more interesting? emails/comments that kiss your ass can get boring/annoying after a while, don’t u think?

  • Has anyone else been receiving hate email or nasty posts to their blogs from people who think Dooce fans are a bunch of ass-wipes? It appears it’s another nasty side-effect of the national press attention, but an almost amusing one.

  • Kat

    you are awesome.

  • jordan

    well at least you took a stand for what you believe in too many people hide away what they think or feel. tomorrow isn’t promised to anyone so enjoy it while it lasts

  • (Long time fan, first time caller, um, commenting.) I hate to bring out the Velveeta, but that’s a great post. Way to stick up for yourself.

  • rawk ahn girl! fight the good fight, because those who don’t, wish they did.

  • bit2byte

    with experience comes wisdom. look how wise you have become. the photo is beautiful. it would make a great framed father’s day gift.

  • Sheila

    to hell with the “high-minded” types and the negative emails…..please keep writing. clever writing like this is hard to find.

  • Joe

    Love the layout, you have an awesome mind.

    Regards,

  • I hope you’re getting plenty of nice mail to balance out the hate mail. If not, let us all know, and I’m sure it could be remedied. You’re one of my favorite web writers, and I’ve been reading your site since before you got fired. May this blog only bring you happiness from now on. Rock on, Dooce!

  • christa

    You’re great, Dooce.

  • Isnt it odd how people think they can attack someone they dont know?

    I feel for you Heather, I was reading your site for a long time and was entertained yet at the same time saddened and shocked when the horrible things happened.

    I also believe that when we post to a public forum there are risks involved. Before your job loss, I feel that we were all a little naive about those risks.

    Thank you, Heather for alerting us all to the risk and rewards inherent in personal online journals.

    And fuck those people who send you hate mail, when they dont even know you!

  • Taylor

    It’s not fair that you should have to justify your actions because some people can’t stand those that don’t walk on egg-shells for them, but props to you dooce. If you wrote a book, I’d buy two copies…HARDCOVER. Shake whatcho mormon momma gave ya…

  • Taylor

    p.s. You are very pretty, if writing and web design doesn’t work out, you could always model! You have very carved, softly platonic features. YAR YAR!

  • Chuck’s famous.

  • hobson

    u are beautiful and smart. good luck!

  • Valkyrie9

    Yar yar? Yar yar. I’m going to have to try that one on for size before I use it…

    Heather, try to ignore the hate mail. I enjoy what you have to say and am grateful for the glimpse into your world. I check this site almost daily and look forward to it. How many hate mailers out there have people who are genuinely happy knowing that *they* are out there? You’re great.

  • Allan

    You simply MUST use that picture for the back cover of your first (next?) book!

    Keep on keepin’ on.

  • I am confused, what would hate mailers hate about your story? Why would they read blogs then flame you for having people read yours? People are stupid…. a lot!
    c5

  • I read this once in a book about a hot dog vendor: “When a true genius appears in the world you may know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in confederacy against him.”

  • As someone who started blogging in 1995 and has had a former boss livid with me over his complete misperception of my intent in an innocent posting, I can relate in many ways to what you’ve been through. It’s great that you’re not letting it totally kick your ass. Be responsible to others, but also, be yourself, express yourself honestly. Your courage despite what’s happened is admirable.

  • I think comments are always welcome, as long as they are constructive and maybe give a different point of view that the writer hadn’t thought of initially. The great thing about people in this world is that we all see things differently than the next person, either because of our upbringing, or education, or any number of things. But when people decide to take a comment to the next level and use it as a personal attack against the writer, tha’ts where people should be adult enough to be able to draw the line (it’s a PERSONAL blog, not something published on a national news website where you’re basically putting yourself out there for anyone to attack you).

  • Sean

    I had a similar offline experience where my GM and Sales manager blackmailed me into divulging details of an “off the clock” party, which he believed some of the co-workers were at. This experience got me mad but he’s gone now.

  • Weave

    Oh, and by the way, as personal as it was, don’t let comments like those from PseudoJimmyPage bother you… chances are it was one of those absolutely idiotic beeshes that flamed you. So many people act like small children, living fearful lives, hiding behind anonymous rocks, throwing verbal stones. Stupid hyenas!

  • bdk&e

    Mean People Suck! – I do think people are entitled to their opinions without them what would we be able to talk about? But I do not think people need to be mean. You know what I mean? I see here today that you also have a lot of positive support. It’s nice to see that there are nice people in this world. — We love you.

  • I don’t get people. I read that article in yesterday’s paper. Then reading about the “hate mail” (get a hobby, people! Isn’t there some women’s rights clinic you should be picketing?) I read the article again. Um, where’s the uproar? You’ve gone through hell in more ways than one, you’ve learned your personal boundaries and you’ve become an incredibly kick-ass writer. Thanks for all, doocelet.

  • trouble*kitty

    I think your site rocks!
    You are a wonderfully gifted writer…never let someone with a small mind tell you otherwise!

  • Donna

    You rock!

  • eve

    I’m really really glad you posted this. I was one of those people who was all ‘that girl’ (read: narcissistic wannabe-celeb cheap quarter-operated attention ho) mostly because I had thought you must’ve been one of those newcome peoples who didn’t really understand the function of a public medium and its consequences (I grew up in Silicon Valley and have worked in the field for over ten years – this makes me typically rather cynical, and not very forgiving, even though I should be, since I keep my journal online, too). But I’ve been reading since then, and you make me laugh. You make me think about my own life and how not-sucky it is, even (maybe esp when it seems that it is) and I’ve really glad to hear you talk about the experience of what had happned, because sometimes I like being proven wrong.

  • Pete

    you’re writing is excellent.

    but is the website really worth it?

    losing your job, alienating your family, all in the name of freedom of speech, or courage to speak your mind?

    writing mean-spirited things on your website doesn’t make you brave, it just makes you mean-spirited. no matter how well thought-out and aesthetically pleasing it is.

  • Some people express themselves differently than others; some of us doing by being snarky. It’s quite cathartic. If you don’t approve… well, this isn’t the blog for you now, is it?

    Dooce, I admire your snarkiness, and your honesty. That was a truly heart-felt entry. Don’t let the hate-mail get you down.

  • I hope you keep writing here for a long time, for the purely selfish reason that I enjoy reading your clever slant on things. It sounds like you have your head on straight, so keep it cool. (And I’m with Allan, that photo would be perfect for the back cover of a book.)

  • Billy

    I read an article in the Times about Blogging. I’m not so stupid, but I don’t understand the concept.

    What’s the deal with blogging?

    Billy

  • Hank

    Damn. Helluva post. All the best.

  • Just another ass-wipe chiming in to say screw ’em.

  • Nona Myous

    David Sedaris has made scathing remarks about his family in books, speaking tours and on NPR. Critics love him. Given this, please explain why people are trashing our Dooce?

  • Pete

    explain your logic there.

    i blurt out scathing remarks about my family so critics will love me?

    critics are total asshats.

    jeapordizing your relationship with your family, your career, and your own personal privacy just so a bunch of “asswipes” will say “you’re cool, right on!” that’s what it’s all about?

    sorry, i’m not buying that one.

    again, the writing and design here are great. i just think it could be pointed in a direction that doesn’t cause so much grief. it doesn’t seem worth it to me, that’s what i’m talkin’ bout.

  • I found this amazing blog through the NYTimes article as well. As an 18-year old in the heart of the south that is Florida, I am so entertained and awed by your writing, it’s incredible. The last hour I have spent reading your rants and raves on life have left me in a rain-fall of tearfull laughter. There will always be someone who hates what you’re doing, no matter what it is. All that matters is that it makes you happy, or at least keeps you entertained. I am as well a blogger and love the attention of a blog, then again I love most attention – at 18, most of us teens do. But that’s not WHY I write, it just so happens to be a perk of writing in a blog 🙂 I’ve written too much here already – I just wanted to tell you that I love what you write and am completely addicted. Keep on rawkin’ DooceGrrl!

  • What’s the point of people sending you, or anyone, hate mail? So bizarre.

    Awesome photo by the way. Props to Mr. Smart.

  • andie

    Pete… get a fucking grip.

  • Fabulous picture!

  • Russell

    Great photo of great artist and her Chuck.

  • I’m now an even bigger fan than I was before. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. 🙂