An unfiltered fire hose of flaming condemnation

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.

  • Dooce, you are wonderful. I found you the other day through the movable type homepage, and I proceeded to read your entire site.

    Don’t let the hate mail get you down. You know you’re doing something right when people react, and it doesn’t matter if their reaction is praise or vitriol.

    Do you have an RSS feed? I’d love to put you on my Amphetadesk so I can know automatically when you update.

  • zchamu

    *applause*

    And that’s a great photo.

  • m

    It is so easy to be misunderstood or misrepresented in this world, even when you have the best intentions. I empathize. Keep writing. Keep creating. Count me in as a newly found fan.

  • no one should be allowed to be that smart and good looking. i only wish i meant chuck.

    p.s. lots of people still need to be told they are pussies and you will always be the winner of the fictional golden poop award to me.

  • We love you Dooce!

    Chuck looks angry, by the way…

  • I think we’re all missing the greater issue here, which is when can we talk about poop again?

  • i think mentioning the firing is a very good thing. i recently interviewed for a job and after i was there, surrounded by hundreds of potential coworkers, i found out they’d been reading my site. i had to answer some uncomfortable questions about a rant i’d made about an anonymous coworker (not about her work, but about something else). it was really the first time i thought about censoring what i wrote. in my case, they liked the personality they learned about on the site and i think it helped me get the job. but, now i work there and obviously post very little about my job/coworkers. long story short: you learn along the way how strong words are and sometimes you fall on your face and next time you do it better. i’ve always been sensitive to the possibility mom and dad would stumble upon the site, but never work. now i know. telling people, “hey, be aware of what kind of trouble you could get into” is never a bad thing.

  • Katy

    dooce-

    what can i possibly say that 105 others haven’t already said (except those few crappy posters- fie on them!)? i check out your site every now and then, but now it will be a staple in my daily surf. i’m so proud of your honesty and loyalty to your values and your readers. bravo!

  • It’s easy to get negative critiscism: there will always be someone who doesn’t like what you’re doing. But looking at all the positive comments here, you must be doing something right…
    Keep up the good work and don’t let any of the mindless hatemail stop you.

  • Oh… And it _is_ a great picture… You really look good, Chuck… (the girl is nice, too)

  • pinky

    As my Grandmother wrote, on why to write: “If no one cares to read it, what harm? The pen speaks, the paper listens, and I am satisfied.” And as to the whole freedom of speech thing, of course we do have that freedom. But with it comes taking responsibility for the consequences of our actions. Speaking the truth and poking fun can cause damage or trouble, but Dooce has been right there copping to her mistakes and trying to learn from them, with grace and intelligence. And as to dealing with random flamers, I look to the great minds of South Park, and to those uncle-fuckers say:”suck my butt”.

  • there really isn’t anything i can say that others haven’t touched upon. i know all too well what it’s like to have people do things just for spite, like listing my principal’s full name in their journal with some shit talk about me when i was teaching a couple of years back. negative and nasty people are everywhere. when we write about ourselves and express things and are truthful, there are plenty of people who can’t accept that, for whatever reason. even my mother isn’t talking to me right now because she “stumbled” upon my journal and now thinks i’m bulimic, which i’m not. but i think the positive outweights the negative here. so i hope you stick around and say a giant “fuck you” to those who don’t get you. and that picture of you is simply gorgeous.

  • Amy

    Right on Sister!

  • After reading this account, all I can say is – there’s a word for people like you.

    Courageous.

    Thank you for taking such risks to be true to yourself. It’s more than the majority of us will ever do.

  • I admire you, Heather. I’m so glad you share your wisdom, insight, wit, and partf os your life with us. The picture is lovely, and it’s a shame it wasn’t used. Thank you for sharing! 🙂

  • Erika

    I also would like to have the links to these articles.

    I also don’t have a clue as to why someone would take the time to complain about soemthing no one is making them read. These people really need a hobby/life & or get laid!

  • xiolagrl

    i can’t imagine that i can say anything others haven’t, but thought i’d throw my $.02 in.

    i really enjoy reading your blog and hope that the small minded people in this world don’t get the best of you.

    clearly there are so many of us that enjoy what you do 🙂

  • I had similar problems with my site about two years ago. A co-worker saw an entry I had made about the fact I hated how just about everyone in the office was a racist, and said co-worker wrote me a nastygram stating her intention of boycotting my wedding as a result, which she did. And that was fine. You know, I think in a way I wasn’t as careful as I could have been because I was leaving the office soon, and I sort of *did* want them to know that I thought all their shitty ethnic jokes weren’t really funny. I suppose I could have said this to their faces, but I knew in my heart they wouldn’t “get it,” and posting a diatribe on my site allowed me to talk about it without censoring myself. If I had lost my job over it, I would have said good riddance! Who needs people like that around?

  • EC

    Well done.

    You know, it cracks me up when people accuse others of trying to boost traffic to their journal sites. Especially in this case, I mean, you pay for it, you write it, we just get to enjoy it. What is the catch? Are you selling something and are just so good at it that I don’t know I’m buying it? If you are, I want more.

    Excellent picture: a woman, her laptop and her dog.

    Take care…and thank you.

  • You look beautiful Dooce. Chuck doesn’t look so shabby either. 🙂

  • There’s no way to say this without sounding like some kid of cyber stalker sicko. . .

    You are a beautiful woman.

  • Gary

    take away the great writing, the great layout and an attractive writer… oh, okay take away the interesting thoughts and perspectives and then what’s still here?

  • Ya know, I’ve been reading Dooce since before you got fired over it and have always found it entertaining. However, it’s entries like this one that make me smile the most. Very insightful stuff…
    As for the picture – Jon’s a lucky guy. I mean, who wouldn’t wanted to be greeted by an adorable little guy like Chuck when he got home? 🙂

  • Cheeken: I’m not able to speak for anyone else, but Dooce has gone outside of her site to engage me and have conversations with me, sharing things that aren’t shared here, and to begin to form a relationship outside the comments. I’m sure it’s true for other readers.

    Bushra: A new tagline, perhaps?

    Lenka: EXACTLY.

    Dooce: I’m not kissing your ass. You are a beautiful person. I am so glad to have found this site and I believe wholeheartedly that you were sent to this Earth to shine like you do. Stay true.

    Jon: You rule! Continue to take EXCELLENT care of her. You are her rock and you two are so blessed. (OK, you three.)

  • anon

    When I first started reading your post, I thought you were going to say they ran your photo without your permission, which is what the NYT did to my friend when they reviewed her memoir about her family, written under a pseudonym. Her relatives live in New Jersey, so quickly everyone knew what she’d done when they saw her picture alongside the review. Writing the truth is hard, but it MUST be done. If it’s not too late, I’d encourage you to seek a settlement from your company. The company-wide email is evidence that you were greatly valued until you told the truth. I bet there’s a lawyer out there who’d take the case on a contingency basis. Thanks for your return to writing.

  • Kevin in Seattle

    Just dropped by to repeat what I’ve said before – you’re a writer and a half. You’re very funny. You’ve got soul. You’re the illegitimate offspring of Dorothy Parker and Joe Bob Briggs, and those personnel who can’t take a joke can go elsewhere.

    Also, I’m entranced by the term “asshats,” which has already become part of my vocabulary.

    Ahmed don’t surf / KS.

  • Taylor

    H8r has a speech impediment. H8r has a speech impediment. FATSO FATSO H8R IS A FATSO

  • Your Correctional Officer

    Wow, that was such a productive comment.

    Sometimes I just don’t fucking get people. (referring to ‘h8r’)

  • Man, I can’t imagine what you must be feeling- I had a guy named joe post on my website- he read that I posted Moron and Mormom to be similar and then he scolded me- I apologize to the Mormons that may have been offended, (I just didn’t expect Mormons to be frequenting your site). Dooce, I love you, and your little dog too! Thanks for sharing and opening up to us and for being real- (sorry if that sounds too sappy)

  • Oh, I forgot to mention that he saw what I posted on this site- and then followed my link to my site- silly me.

  • Nona Myous

    Let’s get back to the David Sedaris thing. All you people who have an issue with Dooce had better get on Sedaris’s case right away. He says things about his family in print! Like in Esquire and best selling books and things like that.

  • Heather, your writing rocks my world and is truly inspiring. Everytime I visit here, its such an orgasmic experience. Well, I have to go study for finals. I love ya, dahling. Oh yeah, my best regards to Chuckles.

  • bun

    $10 says the average hate mail received was from working class 40 year old caucasian women. it always seems to be.

    i’ve been reading dooce for a year, it’s the bee’s knees.

    everyone’s life has drama, everyone makes mistakes… if you waste your life living on your opinions about other’s drama you’re shaping up to have a pretty poor collection of stories for your grand children.

  • Bruce

    Now, I mean this in the kindest possible way…Some people and their dogs really do look alike.
    You may have become THAT GIRL for a while but good writing is good writing whether it done on paper or on a blog. No poop.

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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