24 October 2017

Friendly, But Not Your Friend

I remembered something today after a run-in on Twitter with an alleged "businessman" who "pays well AF" and flip-flops on what constitutes professionalism when it comes to joking about suicide. The short version of the story is not laughing at his jokes about telling people who ask if a job is a paid gig or not to go jump off a bridge embodies a lack of professionalism. It was a very roundabout way of saying, "That's how it is here." He backpedaled when called on it, of course, playing the "LOL JK" card and even virtue signaling about what a generally good guy he is and how he wouldn't really say what he just said even though he did--blah, blah, blah. You may not be slime, but more than likely you're surrounded by yes-men (yes-persons?) who go along with your bullshit because you control the money, which can make you just as bad. 
As we've found out more and more, especially now with the Harvey Weinstein controversy, among many similar sexual harassment scandals coming out over the last few years, there's an undeniable problem with people in power using that power to solicit sexual favors under the threat of blacklisting. 
The story I'm about to tell is not one of those stories, at least from my perspective, but I have a feeling this person may well become the source of too many "#MeToo" stories. I should point out my memory of this has gone semi-fuzzy, but I promise I'm not exaggerating any major details. If anything, I'm being nice and could well be dialing back how gross the whole encounter was. 

Many (read: not enough) years ago, I worked in customer service for a mobile carrier. If you've had mobile service, you likely know that if you stay with a certain company for a fairly long time, pay your bills on time, and generally be unremarkable, you get various deals and discounts on handsets and plans. In general these deals aren't anything special and you're most likely getting the same sort of discounts as you would if you were a brand new customer. There's exceptions, especially if there's been some massive faux pas on our part like erroneous charges or poor support, but as a rule, if all's been good for two years, you get a new phone. Don't like your plan? We've probably got a better one by now. You get the idea.
One day I got a call from a woman who wanted in on this, noting that she'd been with us for many years and was, by her measure, a good customer. This was generally true, so I asked if she was looking to upgrade or change her plan to something new. She got a bit frustrated and stuttered to find her words before belting out something along the lines of, "Do something for me." Essentially, she was trying very hard not to say she wanted something for nothing. She was expecting a free month or a phone without having to renew a contract... it was very awkward and there wasn't that much we could do for her that we wouldn't give to anyone else. She wanted special treatment for being unremarkable. Annoying, yes, but funny to look back on. I bring this up to give you a kind of contrast to a similar yet far more crass call I got sometime later from someone in the same standing. 
This guy comes on the line, gives me his info while I go over his account, and I ask him what we can do for him. Like the lady from before, he knows he's been with us a while and wants... something for it, but he wants us to make the offer so he has a better bargaining position. Again, funny if annoying. Like the other call, he's not being very specific about what offers he's interested in, and mentioning new plans and devices is not impressing him. He gets very annoyed, like I've insulted him by having the nerve to offer the same deals we give to anybody else who's been with us that long. That's when he says this: 

"I've dropped my pants and I'm telling you to please me." 

Okay, obviously, he doesn't mean this literally (hard to do over a phone, anyway) and I might have given him the benefit of the doubt that he's only even making this remark because I'm a guy, that if he'd been connected to a woman, it'd be a different story... but given what followed, I'm not sure. As you may expect, this comment caught me totally off-guard, and I didn't even know what to say for a few moments. At first, I wasn't sure if I heard him right, so while I'm scrolling through our handbook on what exactly does and doesn't constitute harassment, I ask, "Say that again, please?" 
If you've ever worked in a call center worth its salt before, you know most of them are pretty good about jumping on harassment of operators. Venting and joking around with callers is obviously fine so long as they're the ones starting it, but there are limits and it's often better to err on the side of caution. It's very easy for some off-color slip of the tongue to gradually become something worse. We're friendly, but not your friends, if that makes sense. I'm no prude, and what he had to say didn't necessarily offend me on a personal level, and I could well have ignored it, taken it as simply a crude metaphor, and carried on with the call. However, part of me figured that if I ignored this, what else would I be ignoring? What else would slip through? I've taken thousands of calls, and no one ever pulled a Willum Jeffy Clinton during the exchange. This was definitely breaking policy. If I give someone the impression this is okay, the mess is going to roll downhill and I make things worse for someone down the line. Still, maybe he slipped up, or was trying to "feel the crowd" as comedians say, getting an idea for what would or wouldn't get under my skin. 

He repeated exactly what he said, along with a, "You heard me!" in front of it. 

Okay, now it's on like Donkey Kong. I'm angry now. He's doubling down. I'm writing down what he's said in my notes while reciting the harassment script before giving my manager a buzz. Of course, the caller interrupts and acts like he's done nothing wrong. I told him what he said is not appropriate for how we run and operate our service and we will not tolerate such beha--And this is the part where he brags about how he runs his own business and that this is not a big deal. He says he talks like this all the time when doing business. 

With a deliberate air of, 'Oh, well, please, by all means, enlighten me about a normal day at the office for you,' I probe, "Really? This is how business deals go for you? You talk to your employees this way?"

Now, I have kind of a high voice normally. It can be fairly androgynous if I'm not paying attention to it instead of using my "public speaking/phone voice" and in my "Oh, really?" moment, I may have let it slip. I think between that and my mentioning his employees, it sounded like I caught him off-guard, like he may have mistaken me for a dude when really I wasn't. I can't do justice the attempts he made to try and string enough words together to rationalize what he not only said, but swears he says all the time to everyone else in a professional context. 
Going back to what I said about joking around with customers, an operator can play pretty fast and loose with the decency policy, but a manager is no-nonsense. At first, he almost rolled his eyes like, "Ugh, what now?" before leaning it to read my notes. I could tell when he got to the pants-dropping because his eyes went wide, removing all doubt that this was when you put your foot down. 
Next thing I know, I'm getting gently shoved aside and taken off the call. Not really hearing the rest of it, I don't know if the call simply ended, if his account got flagged or not, but needless to say he wasn't getting any deals that day. My boss came over to me later to ask if I was all right, if I needed a few minutes. I told him I was more surprised than anything and thought of just ignoring it. He assured me I did the right thing, that while this was hardly the worst situation he'd come across (Hell, I could have told him that), as he put it, "If that's how the call starts, who knows how it's going to end." 

What I had dismissed as bravado, locker room lingo, bar swagger, what have you, it turns out may well be hiding something sinister, a quiet corruption. It's not that these things get said or that this way of thinking in and of itself is especially heinous, but the notion that they are defended, even upheld as an essential part of the environment, as if taking it away will somehow negatively affect your business or prohibit you from being the kind of businessman you've built yourself up to be. 

I'll just say it: that's fucking pathetic. 

Like I said, this isn't a #metoo story, but the more I reflect on what this douchebag not only said, but doubled-down on and defended it sans irony, the more I wonder if he's caused some truly awful #metoo stories. 

Goodnight, and good luck. 

12 October 2017

Shattered: An Inktober Comic

This is not my proper "Shattered" submission for Inktober. It's pure coincidence this exchange on Twitter happened the day prior. This is a taller version of the comic, which was originally 2x2. The square is fine for Instagram, DeviantART, and even Twitter, but here and on my Wordpress it's less than ideal. 

05 October 2017

No True Inker (An Inktober Meditation)

2017's Inktober is closing in on its first week and despite a few technical annoyances, it's gone far smoother than anticipated. Like last year, I've been posting the finished results (and the rough sketch made on the Iskn Slate) to my Instagram, where they're immediately shared to my Facebook and Twitter. They're also being mirrored on a special Pinterest board (sans sketches) and sometimes an alternate or discarded version of a piece will be posted to DeviantART. At the end of the month, I may also post them all to my Artstation, possibly Behance as well. 

Exactly one year ago to this day, I wrote about how Inktober was as valid as any other holiday (possibly more so). I wholeheartedly stand by that and even found a few people saying the same on their own journals and social sites. Unfortunately, with this newfound solidarity comes an inevitable gaggle of snobs and purists out to ruin it for everyone, if only passive-aggressively. If anyone's ever given you a hard time about something you DIDN'T do for a holiday, you have an idea of where this is going. 
It's a mild grievance, and though it could have turned into a full argument, I decided to back off and carry on, bearing no ill will against the other person and continuing to follow their work. Besides, they have an unfortunate pairing of personality traits where they've got a very dry sense of humor but are more than a tad inept on the delivery front, so it may well entirely be a misunderstanding. I only bring it up because while that person may have had their tongue firmly-yet-obscurely in cheek, there does seem to be a bit of a fervor over whether or not participants are having a "TEH-RUE!" Inktober experience.

The teal-furred buck of the situation is, unless someone is simply posting duckface selfies with the Inktober hashtags or something equally unrelated plugging up search results (read: trolling), I'm not going to get all flustered about it, and you shouldn't either. If you're pumping out 31 drawings in 31 days from the 1st of October through the 31st, you are doing Inktober. Everything else is merely how much of a challenge you want to make it for yourself. 

This year, it seems for whatever reason there's been some thundering from atop Olympus in the form of a social media post* from Jake Parker admonishing people who don't toe the line on the "TOWOOO!" spirit of Inktober. Brad Colbow has a video showing this post and his reaction more or less mirrors mine. 

With all due respect to Mr. Parker, he may have started Inktober, but apart from due credit as coiner of the term and a snappy logo design, he doesn't own it. It exists with or without him. There's no application process and despite a few would-be pedants insisting otherwise, the original rules are fairly vague and open, with very few stipulations that could be seen as dictatorial. As for the author of that "bad habits" post, I have to ask: What if you're already a traditional artist and therefore don't technically have those bad habits this event is, according to you, meant to cure? Is the "TREW!" Inktober experience exclusively digital artists trading their screens and styluses for pen and paper? Even with the "full experience" statement at the end, this likely isn't meant to be any sort of heavy-handed decree, but it does put up a wall where one is not welcome. Is Danica Sills, for example, not doing it right because she uses watercolors and follows a different prompt list than others? If you watch her videos, and you should because they're awesome, she is not shy about sharing her various stumbles and hurdles brought on by the project and the changes in her focus and habits it brings up. Going back to Brad Colbow, the part he was gearing up for most about Inktober was the schedule, the daily deadline, something he typically doesn't have to deal with to that degree in his line of work. Why are the "digital artists who overuse Ctrl+z" the only people for whom Inktober has meaning? 

That's the key matter to bear in mind if you're going to pursue this: what does it mean to you? 

For me, I view it in much the same way as NaNoWriMo. The next great work of modern literature is not going to be born of someone hammering out a 50,000 word manuscript in 30 days. Prove me wrong, please, but we need to be realistic about this. What's the point, then, some would ask? I say to the same two words to those people for that event as I do for this current one: WORK ETHIC. Sticking to a set schedule with structured deadlines, along with the accountability of sharing your work in public, is going to work wonders for you. 

If you need a little more guidance than that, here's a free caveat: get out of your comfort zone. If you're typically a digital artist, why not try ink and paper? If you're typically a traditional artist, maybe now's a good time to dive in to digital and see what, if anything, you've been missing? If you're only a mere margin-doodler, why not take on a big project to see how far your creativity goes? If you've never livestreamed yourself drawing via Twitch or Picarto before, why not give your fans something to tune in to? 

Here's one more pearl of wisdom if you're feeling a little anxious about it thus far. As much as I don't agree with the "Boot Camp For Spoiled Digital Artists Only" sentiment, I will give it its due credit. Being able to infinitely undo your work can have a negative effect on your productivity, especially if you're already a total perfectionist. That said, even if you're doing Inktober digitally, you can't hit Ctrl+z forever. Hell, even if you're working traditionally, ink is cheap and paper is cheaper. If you've got 5 drawings done, and you're struggling with number 6, you've got 25 more ahead of you. That's not meant to intimidate you, that should give you relief. On the off-chance it doesn't, here's another number: 3.26%. That's 1 drawing out of 31 as a percentage. That is peanuts. 

A wise man once said, "We all have 10,000 bad drawings in us. The sooner we get them out the better."
Speaking of being better, this has been a tough week for me on a personal level. I won't bother going into details because it's pretty first-world stuff on the whole and, in light of the recent tragedy on the Las Vegas strip, there's other goings-on in the world that deserve your attention, sympathy, and action more. Still, it's been a progressively crummy week with the first signs of "bad to worse" hitting home early yesterday. As of right now, apart from my morning coffee to keep me from falling asleep at my desk, I haven't eaten since yesterday morning. Obviously, this is not a good thing to do and I need to fix that as soon as possible. I still feel it's worth noting that my old go-to treatment for depression started working again. Yesterday, all I wanted to do was go home and try not to think about how much better a place the world might be if I wasn't in it. 

I drew this instead: 
and then I decided to give myself a buffer and made this one:
When I was done, I felt better. It was a legitimate escape from what I didn't want to think about, and I didn't go back to it when I was done. Yeah, the drawings suck, but that was never the point. It may be silly to say, "Inktober kept me going." but making art makes me happy. There came a time when it wasn't enough, so I tried something else. That worked for a time, mostly still does, and now this is helping all over again. It may not be the case for you, but it can be such for others. Once upon a time, I would have hated the very idea of something like Inktober, because it would turn my ersatz therapy into a detestable tedium, and that's the last thing I would have wanted. My process was too precious to me to muck it up with deadlines or themes or other sorts of rules. I was treating creativity like a fragile blossom, and what I've learned since then is that while you can't force creativity, you cannot be afraid to push yourself a bit. You don't actually know how far your comfort zone reaches until you try to go outside of it. 

If you've been hesitant and want to try it, it's not too late. Sure, you've got a little catching up to do, but no one's going to give you grief for, say, 25 drawings in 25 days, or 15 drawings in 15 days.... 

*Edit 7th October: when this entry first went live, I was unaware the post in question was from Jake Parker; I was under the impression it was a comment on a post of his and the various screencaps didn't show a username, so I assumed it was someone else, with other similar comments from Parker adding to the drama. While this doesn't change anything I've said, it is worth noting because, at the risk of calling Jake Parker an elitist snob or even a full-fledged hypocritical liar or something along those lines, this is what his website looks like:
Conflict of Interest, much?
There's also a number of items in the art supplies list specifically for the task of undoing mistakes... in traditional media. Again, this isn't trying to hate on the man; I'm willing to chalk this up to a poor choice of words. If I were more paranoid, I'd say he was getting some pressure from one of his sponsors because their traditional art supplies weren't selling as well as they maybe would have wanted. The point is there's a difference between encouraging people to challenge themselves, get out of their comfort zones, and drawing a line in the sand. 

Special thanks to YouTuber Baylee Jae for the clarification.