A few years ago, when I first moved back to the LA area, I got another job in another office, but this time my boss was Jewish and he was not a big fan of Christians and their “killing a living thing to celebrate the birth of Jesus”, aka Christmas. It was great. I had just started my blog and he loved talking with me about fundamentalists. When I had my first radio interview, he was so accommodating, let me take time off to do the interview and even set me up in an office.
Around that time, I was a new blogger and very similar to a new mother, I wanted to coddle my blog and be with it every minute of the day. I had to feed it daily so it got big and strong and I had to clean out the spam-germs so it stayed disease-free. ha! Sorry, I’m getting a little carried away with my metaphor here. My point is I woke up early to blog nearly every morning and then I blogged daily at lunch. When I wasn’t blogging, I was working on my manuscript, but the blog was a writing exercise for the manuscript so they complimented each other.
I got a little burned out after year one of that schedule and then my second year I decided to slow down, maybe write daily for 3 months and then take a month off and repeat the pattern. I was flexible with myself and forced myself to rest. I also had anxiety so nearly every day I would log on to my email and see a new “You need to get saved” or “Are you saved?” or “I’m praying for you to get saved” email and I’ll be honest–I spent most of that year in tears. Over the course of time, and with the support of a lot of great non-religious friends and some very nice religious family members, I realized that the issue I needed to just brush it off. All of it and all of them. Sometimes that meant losing old friends, like the other day. I won’t go into it too much but someone who used to say she loved me and I was her hero went bat-shit hostile on me the other day. I personally think it was my lack of religion (and lack of respect for pseudo-intellectual fundamentalists) that did her in, but it might have to do with the fact that her dad believes pharma companies planted AIDS in the world and I just think that’s a bit insane.
Even when I act tough or hide it with humor, losing friends hurts. Even when I know they are stupid or weren’t that supportive of me in the first place (or when I know it was bound to happen).
Have you lost friends or family members? How did you cope? Or are you coping now? If you need to talk, email me at email@example.com. I’d love to hear from you.
I write about one of the most divisive subjects in the world-religion. Not only that, but I write with snark and am not afraid to share my opinions of working with some well-known ministers. They’re not always flattering opinions of these people, and that infuriates their followers. I do, however, write with intelligence, confidence and I have a strong sense of ethics. I don’t feel bad for what I do. Because of my unapologetic attitude, and like many bloggers I know, I get bullied and harrassed often. Opening up comments on this site and providing my email address often helps many people, but in many cases it opens myself up for a slew of harrassment. Morning. Noon. Night.
Recently a few blogger friends have opened up about bullying they’ve received and one has been driven from blogging completely. Some of their hate mail has come from trolls, anonymous (they think) readers who make up a fake name and email address thinking this covers their asses. It doesn’t. Not entirely. Although the standard troll may not know this, your IP address is visible to anyone who hosts a website. We know where you live, and sometimes we can pin point exactly who you are just with a general search and the evidence you’ve left. Even if you troll on Facebook, your information can be found. Facebook knows who you are and will release the info to authorities if needed. So, just because you hide behind firstname.lastname@example.org, doesn’t mean your identity is invisible to me. It just makes you look uninformed and inexperienced. Other hate mail my blogger friends receive is from friends who disagree with them so vehmenently, they make the argument entirely too personal.
Other bloggers, like myself, use their public identities, which puts us at greater risk for being physically harmed or harrassed, sometimes by people we know. It’s been over a year since I had to ban an old friend (and fellow blogger) from my website and all social media accounts. It’s hard to say why she snapped, but it was evident when: I was tipped off on some details of a major story within our community (we had a similar community of readers, with some overlap). My informant wanted to be anonymous, but I knew the person well, so I knew the source was reliable. In this case, I chose to leave the informant anonymous, and did some fact checking. When I confirmed the story, I published it, and then the old friend came unglued. I received texts and phone calls as early as 6 am demanding I share with her the name of my informant.
The harrassment escalated until she threatened to share “fat” pictures of me on the internet. The irony in her threat is that we were the same size and I wasn’t fat. I was deeply insecure about my weight gain, though, and it really stung to have a ‘friend’ threaten to expose your weakness.
Christmas came around and I was sitting around the Christmas tree with my family. I heard my phone beep-the sound of an email. I was getting recurring messages from the ‘old friend’ on Christmas day. This person wasn’t alone for the holidays-she had a family and a child. In addition, she was a well respected member of her local church. She was a leader there, too.
When I returned back to work, I spoke with my boss who had practiced law before going into consulting work. He sent me next door to a large firm we worked with and I sat down with one of the partners. I’d printed out all the emails for him to read. When he got to the emails blackmailing me for information threatening to expose my ‘weight gain’, he looked up. “You’re dealing with a potentially dangerous person here. I would be very careful.”
He explained to me what my options were-if it escalated. He then suggested I start with the basics-sending a cease and desist letter (email) to the person to see if it put a stop to it. In the letter, I should mention that I was consulted by legal counsel and would pursue action if necessary. My boss had also given me the name of the District Attorney in our area, saying he was a close, personal friend and would be more than happy to help. It turns out my boss was very concerned, and it helped that he was very well-connected.
Were I to blog all over again (about religion and cults), I would chose a pen name and web identity. The topics I cover induce vitriol from a group of very vocal extremists. I’m thankful that (so far) they’ve only been verbally abusive, but I take precautions to protect my safety none-the-less.
On the other hand, the benefits of meeting people who I’ve met by proxy of blogging have far outweighed the hate. I’ve met two people in particular who I consider very close friends-people I’d have never known without blogging. I’ve also gotten reality TV show interest in my blog, publishers and agents interested in my story, and other professional benefits.
I’ve come across some interesting cases of trolling and harrassment lately. One such story was a very heartbreaking even where a gentlemen was getting anti-Semetic death threats from a friend of the family’s teenage son. Leo Traynor writes “The day I confronted my troll“,
When I left Twitter numerous people thought it was as a result of an overreaction on my behalf. That my departure was a kneejerk reaction to a couple of “trolling” or “flaming” incidents or that I was attention seeking. The reality of the situation is that my wife and I were targeted for over three years.
Traynor writes about meeting and confronting his troll in person:
We had a chat. I told them about my wife and son. I told them about my recent illnesses and bereavements and about the builders having been in. I asked after their business and asked The Troll how college is going. All bright and breezy and a trip down memory lane. Then The Troll’s dad tipped me the wink and I opened my bag and took out my manila folder.
I showed The Troll’s mother and father screengrabs and printouts of his handiwork.
I showed them pictures of ashes and dead flowers.
I pointed out that one of the messages my wife received wishing me dead had arrived when I actually was gravely ill.
I told them of how I’d become so paranoid that I genuinely didn’t know who to trust anymore.
I told them of nights when I’d walked the rooms, jumping at shadows and crying over the sleeping forms of my family for fear that they would suffer because of me.
In Traynor’s case, his Troll broke down crying and apologized. Traynor didn’t press charges, but left the Troll with a weighty list of items to complete in order to stay out of trouble with the law.
Another recent story caught my eye: a news anchor being told to get off the air because she was overweight. Her critic wrote:
“I was surprised indeed to witness that your physical condition hasn’t improved for many years,” wrote the viewer, who said Livingston was not a “suitable example” for young girls. “I leave you this note hoping that you’ll reconsider your responsibility as a local public personality to present and promote a healthy lifestyle.”
The anchor, Jennifer Livingston, shares:
“The truth is, I am overweight,” she said. “But to the person who wrote me that letter, do you think I don’t know that? That your cruel words are pointing out something that I don’t see? You don’t know me… so you know nothing about me but what you see on the outside and I am much more than a number on a scale.”
Livingston continued, “That man’s words mean nothing to me, but really angers me about this is is there are children who don’t know better — who get emails as critical as the one I received or in many cases, even worse, each and every day.”
Livingston’s case resonates with me, as I shared above. Trolls and harrassing readers will find whatever they can, typically to make the insult more personal knowing it will hurt worse than a general insult would. They often research and calculate what they’re going to use against you–othertimes it’s just a random hit.
But what Livingston shares with her audience, is what’s important to remember:
“I leave you with this: To all of the children out there who feel lost, who are struggling with your weight, with the color of your skin, your sexual preference, your disability, even the acne on your face, listen to me right now. do not let your self-worth be defined by bullies. Learn from my experience — that the cruel words of one are nothing compared to the shouts of many.”
I’d like to add to that: To all the adults taking a stand, personally or privately, to be who you are, to share your beauty, your voice, your opinions with the world, remember that you are not alone. Reach out to someone when you feel the personal attacks cutting you deeply before the bullying drives you into a dark place. Look to other bloggers for support, or other individuals from the communities you find peace in. Do your best to ignore what they say, discard their emails, take a break from moderating when you need it, and remember that what they say is insignificant and a sign of the hate filled within their own hearts.
If you are a blogger, or just a member of an online community, you’ll likely face harassment.
Here are Eight Tips to Silence Internet Bullies:
Many trolls or emails may start out benign and escalate. If you find yourself engaging with someone who becomes harassing, end the conversation immediately. Don’t apologize. Don’t sign off with profanity. Just leave the conversation and ignore any future emails from that account, or any with similar patterns of speech or behavior.
Use a plugin or widget for Banning IPs. You can ban a single IP or a range of IP addresses. Start with the single IP ban unless the issue progresses.
Keep a log of bullies and trolls. Whether a complex record, or a file in your email, keep a written track of evidence, screen shots, location, etc.
Keep your domain registration information set to your hosting site. Hide your personal contact information.
Don’t use Facebook check-in or allow GPS tracking on your phone, Twitter, etc. Get in the habit of ensuring your personal privacy. If you do check-in, make sure those statuses are set to a close friends group only.
Make lists on Facebook and other accounts. Create a list for people who are acquaintances or restricted individuals or strangers, and double check the privacy settings for those lists. Put all new friend requests there and weed through them later. Make sure your photos, location, place of work, etc. aren’t listed publicly or on those lists.
If you allow comments on your site, or if your site is critical of religion, listen to David Gamble’s talk here. He got sued by some religious nutters for a comment on his blog.
If you’ve been bullied and would like to add to this list, please comment below or email me using the form on the top left.
And remember the motto you’ll hear often: Don’t feed the trolls! Ignore them. They will usually go away.
Afterthought (I always think of cool stuff after I hit “publish”):
Alternative ways to deal with bullies:
1. Beat every troll to the punch, like this guy, and troll them before they troll you:
I’m just a little angry. I went to your website. I read from the archives. Something about wanting to tell your bishop something about “how many sex positions you were in before you got married, while drinking a coke and wiping your mouth with your bikini top”. Are you kidding me? Who are you? Satan’s mistress?
Where in “hell” and I use this word literally- do you get off trashing bishops and woops, sorry-the actual church of Jesus Christ?
Because let me let you in on a little secret little sister…it really is His church…I am not usually ashamed of anyone, but I am ashamed of you…
…And your day of judgement is coming. I hope He is more merciful than I would be. You are very fortunate that He still loves you. Ironically, He’s your best, and likely your only hope when the heyday is over.
Stop spitting on Him.
4. Turn it into a blog post, like Scary Mommy, who noticed on of her website pingbacks came from “Kidless Kim” who made fun of her entire post on Motherhood Badges. So Scary Mommy just wrote about it, and carried on with her badgemaking, granting herself this cute one:
I’m going through this really interesting (I say interesting because I don’t want to put myself down) phase right now. I want to blog so badly but I have this aversion to good and bad attention. What the f*ck, right? It’s every blogger’s dream, really, and really what I set out to do in the first place, I suppose. But now that I have eyes on me from time to time it’s suffocating at times. I just don’t know how to deal with it, so instead of running away, I’m talking to this great therapist here and trying to figure out if blogging is something I should let go of for good (I think that would be something I could live with but I might regret it later) or if I should just be courageous and let people see me for who I am.
Bloggers have so much pressure on them, even from other bloggers. The fashion bloggers COMMAND that we bloggers never say a negative thing on our social media or posts. “No one wants to hear about your bad day,” they say.
I’m screwed, I think. I’m so moody right now I can’t even cover it up with comedy like I used to. The doctor is checking me out right now for the moods, don’t worry, but in the meantime, I have to live with it.
As you know if you’ve followed my blog at all, I’m not the kind of person who WILL fake it even if I can. And you know what, I think that’s an awesome thing and that’s what I look for in people I want to connect with. Also, I’m so over the self-help/always gotta change thing. I’m pretty kick ass as I am. Sure I have flaws but as I grow older, they grow into strengths and I grow stronger.
When I was younger I worked for an air freight contractor. I was on a job, when Jimmy Swaggart comes over to me, and starts telling me what a disgraceful woman I am, not wearing a skirt, lesbian hair and, worst of all, I’m taking a job away from a MAN! And then he attempts to tell me this is all why I need Jesus.
This is a guest post from Calulu, a blogger and admin for the No Longer Quivering Network.
When I was younger I worked for an air freight contractor that had contracts with several major air freight lines that didn’t have official offices in Baton Rouge or New Orleans. It was a good job back in those ancient days when three bucks an hour was minimum wage. As a contractor I made a steady thirteen bucks an hour. I was licensed, bonded, and I carried a pistol. I knew how to use that gun too, as long as I didn’t have to shoot too far.
I was done each day no later than 2 pm, so I took afternoon classes at Louisiana State University. The pay was enough that if I lived frugally I could also afford to pay for my education. I’d get up at five am and call the 800 number to find out the arrival time of whatever shipment I was scheduled to pick up and deliver that day. I could be going out to the New Orleans airport to pick up freight or over to the Baton Rouge airport and making deliveries anywhere from Geismar all the way out to the prison in Angola. In those days airport security was a joke. At both airports I could pull up to a side gate leading onto the tarmac, pop the always unlocked lock and cruise right on in. The plane would arrive and we’d unload the cargo onto the tarmac, sort it all, and load it into the backs of our trucks before going out to make our deliveries. You’d pull an on-call weekend and Friday night duty once every eight weeks, for which you would receive blessed overtime! It was a good job, except for one thing: assclowns like Jimmy Swaggart.
Late one Friday afternoon I got a call telling me to head out to the airport, pick up three large packages and deliver them to a certain address off Bluebonnet Lane. Now, in those days there was no Mall of Louisiana or anything of any interest out on Bluebonnet. It was acres and acres of empty land, the one exception being the first building of Jimmy Swaggart’s organization, church, and Bible college. I remember it being a long nondescript concrete gray building. I pulled up outside and saw there was no delivery area. Hell, there was barely a parking lot. But there was a hellacious sea of mud, everywhere.
By now it was around 6:00 pm on a Friday evening. I had to pound on the front door to get someone to answer since everything was locked up tighter than the offering after church. Some man in a suit answers the door. I tell him, “Hey, I’m here with the delivery.” He fusses and frets because it’s just him and a few other guys in suits there. The part of the building where they need the computers delivered hasn’t had a concrete pad or drive poured there yet. He wants me to pull my truck up through the mud towards the back door and carry the boxes into the building.
When I had picked those three large crates up, the nice guy at the Delta air freight terminal had loaded them onto my truck with a forklift. They were HEAVY, they were HUGE! I’d called from Delta when I was loading to get my boss to call down to tell the recipients that they needed a forklift or a pile of strong men to get them off the truck. The boxes were all marked “Fragile computer equipment inside – Handle with care”. So I call my boss and tell him that I am at the delivery destination and that there’s only a handful of people around, no fork lift, not even real access to the back door since there was no way in hell I was driving my heavy truck in the mud. So he calls them up, some nasty words are exchanged and finally I am told to pull my truck into the parking lot as close to the back door as possible and then the guys there would hand carry the boxes in. And they do, sweating and straining, ruining some fancy suits and leather dress shoes in the muck and mud. They get box number one, they get box number two and as I’m behind box number three and I start pushing it forward I hear this voice, a voice that’s not unfamiliar to me. It takes me a moment to place the voice, but it’s Brother Jimmy Swaggart himself. I peek around and he’s huddled with the guys, no one is paying any attention to the fact that I’ve shoved the final bit to the very end of the truck. I come out and ask the guys if they are ready for the last box.
There I am, standing in my uniform of gray pants, and a gray button shirt with my name and company name stitched bravely in whites and reds on the breast. Swaggart comes over to me, takes one look at me in my uniform with my short punk rock hair with the spikes on top and launches into a lecture to end all. He starts telling me what a disgraceful woman I am, looking like that, not wearing a skirt, lesbian hair and, worst of all, I’m taking a job away from a MAN! For shame, for shame! And then he attempts to tell me this is all why I need Jesus.
By this time I had had enough. I shoved the heavy crate forward, running on pure adrenaline. It landed with a big old plop right into the deep Louisiana mud, splattering Jimmy and his sycophants with mud. I said, “Fuck you Jimmy Swaggart!” Then, I jumped in my truck and I burned rubber out of there so fast. No, I didn’t get in trouble for this when someone from the ministry called to complain. Ha! I still laugh thinking about the looks on those stuffed-shirts faces, particularly after I told Jimmy to fuck off.
Through the years I saw how he and his folks acted in Baton Rouge and it was with something less than honorable. My father told me for many moons before he was exposed as a prostitution aficionado that he’d see Jimmy in this high end restaurant or that with expensive hookers, out for a meal. When all of that went down with Swaggart crying from his pulpit about his sins he lost so much money that he just about killed two banks in Baton Rouge. He lived just down the street from my in laws so we’d see him and his around and about. Truly evil guy.
This was originally posted here and was used with the author’s permission.
She writes an awesome post, which you should check out and then nails him with this:
Not all of us have the daddy issues or broken background that makes your brand of leadership attractive. Some of us don’t find shame to be a spiritual motivator…Why not seek some professional counsel for some of these issues? Why not humbly and prayerfully consider if there are some areas where you need growth? (emphasis my own)
She then acknowledges that even though she knows and loves people associated with Mark Driscoll’s Acts 29 network of churches, she cautions them:
Note: I realize that I am going to have some readers who are Driscoll fans, or who belong to his Acts 29 network of churches. I have many people in my life who I respect who are a part of Acts 29. So let me say this: I started this post thinking I was addressing an annoying shock-jock pastor. As I went deeper in reading his quotes and watching videos, I became deeply disturbed. I now suspect that he is a misogynist with a personality disorder and some serious issues with sex and women. If you belong to a church that is affiliated with Driscoll. I URGE you to do your research about this man. The links above are a good place to start. If you are also troubled . . . speak up. Hold him to accountability. He’s a charismatic guy and is described by many as a bully, and it’s time for people to stand up and say, ENOUGH. (emphasis my own, again)
Bravo! I’m so glad to hear people in the Christian community standing up to Driscoll, despite his apparent popularity. Yes, Driscoll is ruining the image of Christianity, and it is time people started standing up to him and pointing out what he’s doing wrong. Oh, and it’s a woman calling him out on his bullshit. Even MORE awesome! Go Kristen!
Speaking of Stuff Christian Culture Likes, I just found Stephanie Drury via an amazon.com review of Driscoll’s book (which apparently just came out…I don’t follow Driscoll’s books):
I meet a lot of people who have significant spiritual and emotional wounding, and I’ve gotten to hear the stories of many people who have been involved at Mark Driscoll’s church here in Seattle (Mars Hill). The stories out of there cause me so much concern. What I hear about gender roles and authoritarianism manages to surprise me and make me cry even after six years of hearing them on a fairly regular basis.
I think Stephanie sums up how we all feel. Driscoll’s hatred makes us want to cry because we are baffled how many people love his style.
Then, the author (Alisa Valdes) of the newly published book The Feminist and the Cowboy, wrote a very heartfelt blog post about how she wanted to come clean with her readers and let them know that she isn’t with the cowboy anymore. She said some of the horrible reviews had made her see what she wrote was actually not what she intended to write, and she’s deeply disturbed by it all now:
…While I set out to write a memoir that was a love letter to a man I was deeply in love with, a man who challenged me in myriad ways, a man who changed my life profoundly, a man I respected and honored greatly at the time, what I actually wrote was a handbook for women on how to fall in love with a manipulative, controlling, abusive narcissist.
Unfortunately, the blog post which she wrote the above in has now been taken down, but you can read some of it in this condescending post here.
As a writer, I wish Alisa all the best during her book launch. I’m sure this will actually be a very emotionally challenging launch for her, but I’m sure she will come to realize that it’s okay to write about you feel and have those feelings change. After all, we writers are human and one of our greatest strengths is our ability to tap into our feelings and create stories around them. I know I have written about my life in a way that felt very authentic at the time, but is something I wouldn’t write today. I’ve even written about ex-boyfriends and former lovers in a way that maybe villainized them too harshly or put them on a pedestal. Maybe an embarrassingly high pedestal. Luckily, my feelings weren’t intensified by a number of negative reviews and the pressure of your whole career being affected. I hope Alisa knows that history is filled with sonnets and stories and letters to lovers from writers who would probably change a lot of their writing, if they could.
Life is not a fairy tale, after all, and no one’s love lives are perfect.
My life story is all over the internet now, thanks to my bright idea of blogging. It’s created a thriving community of readers and friends and paved the way for me to begin to work toward social changes that are near to my heart, but it’s clear to me now how easily ideas can be stolen from you and how predatory producers will come in and steal your life story without batting an eye.
This is a long story about why I think a New York production company, stole my life story and sent it to the a major TV network for a scripted TV show named eerily close to my own blog name.
In an attempt to condense it, I’m going to summarize a hell of a lot of conversations. And then I’ve written THIS post for those of you who want some advice on how to avoid getting your story/intellectual property/research stolen from a production company/TV network. You should also read this post by Toni at Fashion Cloud if you’re considering working with a big brand to hear her story.
Here’s the rundown between me and the company and why I think they stole my life story:
Early 2012 I was in touch with a production company who was recruiting for a documentary for TV about cults. Well, my blog is named My Cult Life and I have a pretty fantastic story, so of course I was interested. I actually had been working with some cult survivors who wanted to be on TV, so I wanted to suggest some of my reader’s stories to the company in an effort to get more visibility to the damage cults can do.
Fast forward a few weeks and the casting director perks up when I talk to him about the work I did exposing Mercy Ministries, which operates like a cult (although that term may not best describe them, they do some very scary stuff like exorcise demons out of anorexics and the mentally ill). This person got excited when they heard that I was a blogger turned investigative journalist and wanted to hear more.
For several more weeks, we discussed the details of how I investigate cults and high-demand groups, and bits of my own cult story but I insisted I wouldn’t follow through without a contractstating I would get credited for all the expert consulting work and research I was doing; not to mention writing and developing an entire show. I got a verbal promise from them and I had an entire paper trail stating my ideas were my property and not to be shared without my consent. I left a very hefty paper trail.
All of a sudden (*eye roll*) things start moving quickly. They already had a network committed but the network wanted to hear more about my story, not the other people they had interviewed. I started wondering what the hell was going on. Why would I be the star of a TV show? I’m not famous; although I would make a great “Dog the Bounty Hunter”. Ha! Why weren’t they asking to interview the several other people I had suggested, some of whom had very compelling stories. Those people didn’t even get a phone call back. It made no sense.
So the casting director interviews me extensively via Skype and that was sent to the ‘executives’ at the network. They loved it. Now they wanted to film what they called a presentation, which the network was supposed to use to decide whether they would purchase the show–at least that’s what production company told me. Had I listened to the couple of lawyers I spoke to early on in all of this, I would’ve backed off then. I was star struck, unfortunately. All the lawyers I talked to said you should never go on camera for a production company without a written agreement or at least a signed consent form, and they suggested this production company sounded very shady and dishonest.
Enter the Head of Casting & Talent for the production company who was supposed to send me the contracts and review legal with me. I still didn’t have a contract at this point and now I was getting switched to a new person in the company. I expressed that I wouldn’t move forward without a contract and payment for my work for the presentation/pilot. After all, up to this point, I’d worked for months giving them ideas, information and research. I started emailing lawyers (having never had the need for one, I jumped in headfirst to all this) and finally found one.
My lawyer and the Head of Casting discussed the situation and my lawyer started handling all communication between her and me. She kept calling me and emailing me, but I let my lawyer handle it.
I got a contract in hand the day we filmed. It was shitty. It was 16 pages of shit. I got it partially reviewed by two high-profile lawyers in LA and they said that was one of the worst contracts they’d ever seen. I had no idea. I’m not an actress or a celebrity. I’m a writer and an English major. Negotiations were never my strong suit. At some point someone pointed out the shitiness of the contract by one of the paragraphs that said if I were to die while filming, they weren’t going to be held liable. Um, death? By reality TV show?
I rejected the first contract and they sent a second. It was also shitty. Again, I got it reviewed by two lawyers, plus my own. We decided to make it work and build on it from where they had it.
Weeks of negotiations started and then the production company’s lawyer stepped in. My lawyer, the Head of Casting, and their lawyer went back and forth for days. We ended up with a much better version of the shitty contract but still a piece of crap.
I was getting ready to sign. Although the pay was low, the network wanted to secure me for six years so I was sure I could renegotiate after the second year. My dad’s friends had recently wrapped the first season of Bering Sea Gold and I knew quite a bit about the money/negotiations and how they had been able to renegotiate.
The casting director and Head of Casting told me their production company had a huge role in creating Lauren Conrad’s career, as well as Snooki. They were both extremely famous and their brands were huge. Of course I was flattered that they thought (and told me) I would be the next big brand.
I was incredibly naïve. Looking back, I can remember certain moments when I caught the both in lies. I often confronted them on this, and I thought I was relatively safe because of the paper trail I’d left, the video footage I had at home, and the trail between my lawyer and theirs with the contract.
But what happened later threw me for a loop and I’m still not sure how this all happened to me.
After weeks of negotiations, I was happy enough with the contract and the opportunity to sign. The day I was going to accept their offer, my lawyer called and told me the deal was off. Apparently and all of a sudden, he was told that the network backed out because it was too dangerous. This didn’t make sense to me, since we’d planned this for months and they knew months prior that certain plans would be risky. Why back out now? Filming was supposed to start in mere days.
I knew I’d been taken for a ride and my story had been stolen right then and there. I was devastated, but I was in denial that people would be this shitty, especially after I’d shared my deepest, most painful life experiences with them. Talk about having your vulnerabilities exploited.
I had worked day and night for over two years building my brand and my platform because my childhood dream of being an author required you develop an online presence to be more appealing to publishers. After two years, my platform building was where I wanted it to be (Platform being audience, readership, and maintaining a social media presence). A TV show would only help to get publishers interested, and would help sell books. Most writers don’t have the luxury to sell books that way, and I felt fortunate to be able to do so.
I should’ve known it was all a scam. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Earlier in the year, I had a Google alert pop up for a new TV show named eerily similar to my own blog name. I got sick to my stomach. There wasn’t much information out there on the show…just that it’d been greenlit. I knew nothing about scripted TV or how the industry worked but I confronted the person I’d dealt with the next day. He blew me off with an air of confidence: “No, that’s a scripted show. This is a docu-series. They’re entirely different.”
I got aggressive and demanded to know if he was sending my footage to them for research. Again, he assured me I had nothing to worry about.
Judging from the head writer’s Tweets and the timing of my work and filming, the “executives” who loved me and my ideas could very well have been the writers from show. When I recall certain conversations about the network—like really interrogating the casting staff about the network’s lack of reality TV shows on the air and the inconsistencies that popped up constantly—there’s just so much evidence that this happened. Or the day the writer Tweeted about some exciting new story lines falling into place with my own videos arriving at the network—it’s just all very suspicious.
Now, of course, I could be entirely wrong. Maybe I really was going to be the next Snooki or Lauren Conrad as they said said. But seriously? Probably not.
About a month after the network backed out, I read the synopsis of this TV show, Cult.
Skye, one of the main characters, is a researcher and blogger (ahem, that’s what I do, ironically enough) and the other lead, Jeff, is an investigative journalist (I spent twelve hours talking on film about my investigative journalism, oddly enough). Oh and the line, “cat-and-mouse game between charismatic cult leader[s]” was verbatim what I said on my video interview. Wow. Isn’t that coincidental?
You hear that this happens all the time. I know now that it does. I feel a lot of guilt for not seeing this coming; for getting caught up in the dream of having my own TV show. I feel duped and robbed.
Mostly I feel angry. I feel angry and naive.
My life story is all over the internet now, thanks to my bright idea of blogging. It’s created a thriving community of readers and friends and paved the way for me to begin to work toward social changes that are near to my heart, but it’s clear to me now how easily ideas can be stolen from you and how predatory producers will come in and steal your life story without batting an eye.
I’ve definitely learned some significant lessons about ideas and intellectual property and I’ve posted some detailed advice (and the contracts presented to me) here.
If you have any questions or are going through something similar, please feel free to email me at info [at] mycultlife [dot] com.
Update: This lasted all of two days before I was going crazy wanting my blog back. Anyway, it was a really heart felt and appropriate post (at the time) so I’m leaving it here.
It may seem contradictory for a blogger to want privacy. After all, we put our lives on display-often with photos. We talk about our pets, our sexuality, our day jobs, dating, and our religious beliefs. Over the course of this year, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I not only want privacy–I need privacy. I feel…not overwhelmed, but irritated by all the noise. The idiots. The shoddy journalism. The debates about everything and nothing. The inauthentic displays. I’m quickly becoming tired of the of “my perfect life” posts. You know who these people are and you have your own set of ‘friends’ who do this. They fill their social media profiles with such perfect status updates that you’d think they should live in a 5th Avenue storefront display. They never have a bad day or get acne. They’ve airbrushed out the flaws and the moodiness and the failures and left us with their vacuous self-image to stroke.
Yet no one is perfect. With the illusions we create online, we strip away part of what is real, vulnerable, and authentic about ourselves. The struggles, the tears (or holding back from tears in order to be strong), and the moments of great tragedy that we would love to share with caring people–if they weren’t preoccupied with Instagraming their vegan omelets.
I do care–rather deeply. Many of you have noticed that and reached out to me. Over the years, I’ve formed some of the most priceless friendships with some of you.
I’ve created an entire blog about a subject I was passionate about for years. When I first started, I wanted nothing more than to give all the people who had really twisted their power and greed into an abusive machine a big FUCK YOU. I’ve done that–rather successfully. Each and every person I wanted to have that message now has heard it loud and clear. Some have even pleaded that I let up, and I feel pity on them now. I also realize that there is power in telling your truth. I never realized how powerful my message would be until it was capable of making change. Yet, I don’t wish to destroy anyone completely and I never have. I have ethics–far superior ethics to those I write about and yes, I will gloat about that.
I hold their fate at the tip of my fingers and yet I won’t destroy them completely. This is my one fault; my one weakness. They destroyed me completely for a time but I will show them pity and release them.
I’ve rebuilt myself. I am strong. I have spent two years realizing my strengths and abilities vastly outweigh my weaknesses, and I am confident in them. They don’t belong to some deity or to anyone but myself. Stella got her groove back. My anger is gone. My introverted side is back. I’ve been happily reunited with my pensive nature.
Over the course of the year, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting. I’m fortunate enough to live near some really pretty places:
Through that refection, I’ve realized my work here as a blogger on cults is done. You are stronger than you know and you don’t need me or anyone else to tell you that or to guide you through the steps. I never set out to be anyone’s leader or guru and I will never take on that title or position in your life, but if I can be your example now, I want you to be strong and unapologetic about your strengths. Yes, people will always be escaping from cults and coercive groups, but there are people who have made full-time careers out of helping people recover. They are called therapists. I am a writer. There are also great people I’ve met along the way whom you may find with a simple Google search, or you can get in touch with International Cultic Studies Association.
My hope for you is that you own your weaknesses fully-be honest about them and apologize to people you hurt-but experience your weaknesses. Don’t shun them and don’t beat yourself up because you have them. Do you assume it’s abnormal to be weak?
Don’t criticize yourself for being different than other people, for in your differences you’ll find your greatest assets and strengths. Don’t set out to be anyone’s hero or guide. Instead, instill in people the idea that they will be strong, too.
Of course many people will return to this website and over the course of time, I would love to expand the content to include things that are new in my life. I’d love to include inspiration, recipes, and pictures of pretty things. Yet, I’m not entirely sure I will rebrand at this point because I need a hiatus from giving and I need to give back to myself. I miss spending hours outside in nature, not worrying about ‘checking-in’ or my blogging schedule or returning emails. I miss spending days mulling over writing a single sentence–making it beautiful. In Internet time that’s old news-but you know me: I don’t follow the rules. I break them.
I’ve also learned that being online can be a bad thing for a young writer brimming with ideas and a marketable story because people willfully steal those ideas, even when they’re still in formation (shocker!). I’m not talking about small things but there was a time this year when I suspected this TV show was influenced by the video interviews I did for DiGa Vision. Those interviews included all the secret workings of my own investigative journalism, cult advocacy work, my own personal struggle with PTSD, and my blog’s sphere of influence. The timing of the interviews being shown to the CW executives and the development of Cults was all too coincidental. The CW offered me a six year contract for my own reality TV show and then, when the Cults pilot was announced, they scrapped the show. I may never know, but I won’t ever share that much again with something that isn’t green-lit or bound contractually.
Yesterday I Googled “going offline for a year”. I wanted to see if anyone had done it because I wanted to take the leap and I wondered if any bloggers had. I came across Paul Miller, a tech blogger, who announced his departure from the Internet for a year this past April. The comments were atrocious and hateful as usual. My particular favorite was “Jesus Christ, these hipsters now have themselves convinced that going to the library is underground.” Paul is a tech blogger and gamer. In no way did he strike me as a hipster. He’s a bit too smart for that. I shared the link on my Facebook along with the above comment as a bit of an experiment and got responses like “I have no words” and “Pretension has no realistic self-image.” Disdain. Of course. Miller has the luxury of having an editor who will post his articles for him, so he will continue to post throughout the year. I do not. I also have no real intention of going offline for good, but I do aim to spend less time on social media–trimming my personal Facebook down to just people I know in real life (shocking!) and actually speak to intimately. Or maybe I’ll delete it altogether. I haven’t decided. I want to go off the grid, so to speak. I envy people who don’t feel obligated to be online. Novelists like Cormac McCarthy who shunned interviews and remained relatively unknown for years. I’ve learned that I don’t operate well in the spotlight and I think it’s best to operate within your own strengths and space. Like McCarthy, I relish intellectual conversation above being acquainted with the masses:
Novelist Cormac McCarthy shuns interviews, but he relishes conversation…[He]…has proved more elusive. He won’t be found at book festivals, readings and other places novelists gather. Mr. McCarthy prefers hanging out with “smart people” outside his field, like professional poker players and the thinkers at the Santa Fe Institute, a theoretical-science foundation in New Mexico where the author is a longtime fellow.
McCarthy became commercially successful in 1992, with “All the Pretty Horses,” a National Book Award winner. Journalists did write about him then, but a quick glance at their tone and you can tell they despised his desire for privacy.
The question on every writer’s mind these days is (or should be): Can you be successful if you don’t have an online presence? I’d argue that you can’t. You certainly can’t sell books. If you don’t generate your online presence and cultivate it, someone will have to, but you’ll notice most established authors now run their own social media and many do so from their personal accounts. This is smart marketing. People are attracted to writers because they personally identify with them. For young writers still finding their voice I think social media is far less important-something I wish I’d known a few years ago. I don’t regret becoming successful at it–the skills I’ve learned are invaluable. Although I will say, I’ve learned I prefer the technical side of social media and websites as opposed to the content building. Online content as you know can often be garbage.
My favorite movie of all-time has to be “You’ve Got Mail” with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. I can quote much of it and even had a friend send me a ‘bouquet of newly sharpened pencils’ one Spring. You may remember moments of Cathleen Kelly happily reading to kids gathered around the storytime rug:
When Cathleen Kelly shuts down her store, The Shop Around the Corner it is so sad. She leaves this sign:
This is how I feel. I’ve loved being part of your lives for the past two and a half years–walking many of you through my own story, my healing process, and my thoughts on religion. I’ve relished in our many conversations over the years and have grown to adore you. I’ve loved seeing so many of you grow into strong people–getting your voices back, finding yourselves, creating beautiful lives around who you are today (which includes the pain you went through). We have all developed this intimate community where we have gathered strength from one another, asked genuine questions and have accepted that we may not have all the answers.
In January I started working with some very special of young women at Mercy Survivors. I have seen them all become stronger than they already were. None of them are victims of Mercy. They are all far more powerful than Mercy and I anticipate that the next few years you will see some incredible stories come from their website. I would continue to watch them, if I were you.
One of my initial blogging connections was with the creator of Recovering Alumni. I am so incredibly grateful to her for introducing me to her fellow alumni. Their alumni network is so strong and vibrant. In many ways, the men and women I’ve met there have contributed to my own growth and healing like no other group has simply because Honor Academy was so similar to Master’s Commission. It was nice to ‘swap stories’ with people who KNEW how I felt and felt that same way. This is the best thing you can do for yourself as a survivor–find the community you feel most comfortable in and tell your story. Tell it over and over and over. This is what you need to do to heal.
As for further help, or help for new readers who may come in the future, I compiled an eBook several months ago that I feel is a complete guide to sorting out the questions you may have. It’s not available in print. You can buy it on Amazon here.
As for cults, I’m done for awhile. I’ve definitely kicked ass whatever I’ve written about, but one can only exhaust a subject so much. Then it becomes forced. A writer can tell she’s lost her passion for a subject when she has nothing left to say about it. Trust me, I have plenty to say, but I’m ready to talk about something else.
As far as whether the blog will stay up indefinitely, not exactly. This is why I wrote the eBook. The blog will eventually be morphed into an inclusive website (not a blog) for information purposes only (excluding some of my personal writings which I may publish at a later date). It’s important that people know the truth about Master’s Commission and youth discipleship programs/residential treatment centers because they’re not going anywhere for the time being and I’ve always said if there had been anything available for me to read like this blog on Master’s Commission when I was applying, it WOULD have changed the course of my life. However, regardless of whether you shut a group down, the leadership will still start over somewhere else under a new name because they believe they are doing “God’s work”. So they need to be tracked.
I’ll still be updating my website here: www.thelisakerr.com and I started a personal blog awhile ago that I’ve enjoyed posting on about writing, creativity and inspiration. I hope to revisit that after I take this much-needed break. But first I need to feel refreshed and vibrant again.
You can follow me on Facebook here: www.facebook.com/thelisakerr and here: www.facebook.com/mycultlife. I will have a more private Facebook account just for personal family and friends, which means several HUNDREDS of people may be deleted from my existing account. I do feel terrible about this, but I’ve come to realize this will serve me best. Some people will be angry at me for this, but if you’re really interested in keeping up with me, please follow those pages above. I will update those pages and my website as often as I’m able to.
I would love to hear from you in the interim. I will read all the emails you send, but I will not be responding during the holidays because I’m going to enjoy my family and friends, some jazz and all the Hallmark Christmas movies I possibly can. I’m even going to stop obsessing about writing my book and put it all aside to enjoy winter. And these guys:
So for now, adieu, farewell. We will meet again. For now, though, I leave you with this:
Spend some time with yourself, after all, you know yourself best.
Enjoy the moments you have to yourself to ponder about what is important to you.
So with that, GOODBYE. I’m off to find my new HELLO.
I’ve been a blogger for almost two years. When I first “came out” as an atheist, I started with a broad statement “I’m not a Christian anymore.” I realize that was a little ambiguous but it’s okay to sort out your faith or loss of faith as you go, piece by piece, day by day. There’s no right way to become an atheist.
I immediately ran to all the atheist communities online, hoping to find…I’m not sure what I wanted to find-answers, new bff’s, deep discussions? I visited just about every atheist online community, including the assholes on reddit.com/r/atheist (and they are truly assholes), and landed in Think Atheist. I liked it the best, but my interest faded with time. All of the communities serve a purpose, but few people had stories like mine (former reverends join a coercive religious group; minister for seven years; can’t date, etc.) so it was difficult to find people to relate to. I started blogging more about being atheist and as it turns out there were a lot of agnostic or atheist or skeptic friends on my Facebook, so that ended nicely for me.
Blogging is something that requires you to categorize yourself and label yourself, mostly so people can find your expertise or opinions in the vast sea of blogs. Of course when I came out, I wanted to rush to label myself as atheist…because I was.
How did everyone else do it? Oh, big red A’s?
Ew.To be honest, those red A’s that everyone puts on their blogs are just tacky. And then there’s the rumors of Richard Dawkins being sexist. I’m feminist before I’m anything because I left the church for being so damn confining and oppressive to WOMEN, so when I heard that, I definitely wasn’t a fan and won’t be wearing the Dick Dawkins red A or anything related to him.
Plus, my writing is much more comprehensive than just atheism and I think that’s what I don’t get about the atheist community. Aren’t we people with a wide range of talents and interests? Why just stick to one single subject daily? It’s almost as boring as Christianity and the same old recycled sermons. Yawn. I would bore myself to tears if that’s all I wrote about everyday. To be honest, I started this blog to get my story out and I’ve attracted quite a large amount of Christians. We don’t necessarily get along all the time, because they don’t like my profanity or my attitude, but I still try to find a way to offer them resources because I realize they are hurting because the person they trusted most (a clergy person) abused them or misused them.
I get it, the word atheism is a label and sometimes that’s important. But there’s something important to me about the ability to change and be flexible, especially after being so tightly wound as a fundamentalist. When people ask me if I’m an atheist I like to say that I can be agnostic, atheist and anti-theist all in a weeks time. If I ever become comfortable with medication meditation or something spiritual in nature, then I’d like to explore that without another label being in the way (living life as a “I love Jesus. Do you?” Christian will do that to you).
That time I was asked to join an open relationship
Here’s the thing you need to know about me: I fall in love easily and I’m online a lot. So, last night one comment got me laughing, a friend request was sent and bam…I’m crushing on this guy we’ll call “D.” Anyway, D is cute…red haired though, so meh. Not much of a beard. Three kids. Lives in Arizona. Okay, I’m getting desperate.
I wake up this morning to the sweetest Facebook message:
You had some night. I hope your morning is going well and that you don’t read this anytime soon, because you are sleeping in, peacefully, for hours yet.
Jesus Christ, I’m in love, I think. I love to sleep. Anyone who knows me intimately enough knows sleeping is not just my number one priority, but it’s my life. I could nap right now and then sleep through the entire day tomorrow, wake up to pee and get back into my blankets. Schizophrenics sleep a lot. That runs in my family.
So I write him back. See above (“online a lot”).
The day carries on and he’s my dream man, almost. Not really, but it’s an incredibly boring day at work. I just got rejected from my best friend the night before and a person I liked from the past is struggling physically to remove a really awful drug addiction. My parents are going through a divorce. I’m late on an article. My job is going so well I want to give up writing…almost. I almost landed a book deal. And my fucking awesome friend “T” said she’d write a blurb for my book. And there’s a TV show that kind of is interested.
Now you see my need for wine and weed.
Back to “D-bag”. He asks me about my writing, my journalism, etc. I already tell him way too much. I’ve probably half spoiled my TV show opportunity. And then you know, I’m an activist and blogger. And he reads my mind:
I would love to be a full time activist, I am not a writer, but I have a neglected blog and I’m planing on starting a youtube channel.
You’re speaking my language, son! He gives himself away later by saying “What hosting account do you recommend? I’m on blogger.com.” Blogger is not a hosting account. Wow. Sorry, that was a red flag.
I then go into my whole “my blog got hacked. My blog is my life” thing. And then I say the virus, it’s destructive and damn…a friend cussed me out. I feel awful. But he saves the day by soothing me:
A “friend” cussed you out for something you shouldn’t have been expected to be able to prevent? Not cool.
But let me cut to the chase because it gets good. He eventually gets past ALL my barriers emotionally and jumps, nay climbs, over all my walls. I’m shocked. I’m startled. I’m breathing differently. My eyes sparkle. I’ve mentally moved him and his three children over to my area of the country.
And then he explains to me that he’s in a relationship with this girl who’s into polyamory and he wants to try it:
I have started seeing someone who is trying to introduce me to polyamory. I was reticent at first because of my experiences with Mormonism and the the hideous apologetics around polygamy. I was repulsed by anything that hinted at the misogyny of that mindset. She is patiently bringing me around to some of the more enlightened aspects of it, and her feminist motivations for it. Plus, it’s a lot easier to feel comfortable with it when she’s the one doing all the ‘poly’. I don’t know that I’m ready to explore that, yet but if I do I think it’s going to be something I do very carefully.
I’m going to the AHA conference in June and she insists that I have a “conference fling” or that we try bringing someone into our experience. …sigh… I used to be so uninhibited! I’m hoping the right person can help me with that. She is starting to feel uncomfortable with how one-sided this is. I am really enjoying my experience with this person but I feel a little caught up in a whirlwind and i’m just trying to hang on. in the meantime, it’s really, really nice to be with someone that isn’t self-conscious about letting me please her, lots, and lots. It’s like all my pent up ‘giving’ is final able to be indulged and I’m making up for lost time.
“…We try bringing someone into our experience…” Share?! Partners?! Sex? Open relationship?
My mind starts going to shark infested waters with a bloody carcass getting mangled to shreds. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! In my head I’m screaming bloody murder. That sounds absofuckinglutely terrible. Have I digressed to the ’50’s? Has someone turned me into Ann Romney? What’s wrong with my head?
I say, I’ve done the threesome thing. It was fun, but not something I’m into doing again.
And of course, I have to be honest:
I’ve had partners who tried to convince me to do something and you know, sometimes I gave in, but ultimately, they weren’t things I wanted to do, so I wasn’t happy doing them. I was giving but not into it. For example, someone tried to ask me to be his dominatrix last week. Not really my thing…and when I said no, he got super pissed and we’re not friends anymore. I think sex should be really far away from coercion.
I won’t lie…I’m a little bummed that you’re seeing someone because you’re pretty much my type.
So, we like each other. A lot. This goes on for awhile. And it gets heated. I sigh. I bite the bullet and say, Ugh, okay, I’m not going to take this further until you’re single. Sorry, it’s not my thing to try to break people up.
But he persists. And draws me in. And then I say it again, No, not ’til you’re single.
Then I’m more frank: I’m torn between, “you dirty scum” for messaging me while you’re in a relationship to “oh maybe it would work.”
Then the real me spoke up:
Are you trying to recruit me into a threesome? Is that what this is about?
And he said,
as glorious as that sounds, and it is entirely possible that you have just given me fantasy images for a long time to come, no. At this time with as I know about you and me and our dynamic, I want our experience, at least our first few experiences to be just you and me. I want to focus are you exclusively. I want to give you my full and undivided attention.
Damn, that’s sexy. Except for the “our first few experiences to be just you and me.” Uhhhh….Wait. What? But he then clarified because he’s psychic and knew I was spitting out my water all over the screen with shock:
let me add to that slightly. if it was something YOU wanted, if it was your fantasy (yes I read when you said you didn’t want that again, I’mjust explaining the situation that I would consider). If you picked the third and I still got to focus on you exclusively with somebody else helping to give you the ultimate sexual experience – that is something I would do. But no. I’m not angling for that.
But I play dumb just so I’m clear: So where does your partner fit into this?
Well, he says,
depends on what you and her want. Either as an enthusiastic and welcome lparticipant or as an informed, consenting absentee, or a friendly, uninformed former partner.
Or any other idea that appeals to all of us
I am not just insulted.
I’m pissed off.
What a manipulative lying cunt fucker.
So you little cunt fuck, here’s what I think:
Don’t fucking think that you’re “enlightened” you manipulative son of a bitch. This isn’t enlightenment. It’s disgusting, disrespectful coercive lies. I wouldn’t have had sex with you if you were last dude on the planet. You live in Fucking Arizona.
Also, next time you’re picking up on someone for poly-Mormonism, just be honest and up front. Don’t lie. Don’t say what someone wants to say. Get help if you’re a sociopath.
And then, if you’re interested (sociopaths aren’t), get to know the person. Be yourself.
You know what sucks? The dude has my number. Ugh. Lame. I really need my agent (that I don’t have yet) to take my phone away from me. And my Facebook.