The Painful Side of "Role Models," ''Mentors" and "Goals"

©2016 Trudy | Drift Sojourn

©2016 Trudy | Drift Sojourn

I am not your "goals." I am not who you want to be or are trying to be. You think I am. You also think you know me. You do not. However, this does not mean that what you do know about me becomes a lie. A resume itself can be an honest document and still not include the entire picture of someone's experiences with labor. So is the same with articles. Blogs. Even full books. Why? Some things cannot be captured in an article or essay. Will not fit on a blog. Will not express what life is really like for someone beyond what they have the time, headspace and emotional capacity to share. At most, what you know about me is what I allow to be known plus whatever inferences you make based on how you consume. The latter part is why people can purposely consume the silver linings of my life to suggest that they are "goals," while deliberately ignoring the thunderstorms and rain that are inextricably tied to the storm of my existence. This deliberate act of oversimplifying existences might seem sensible since it is in fact complicated to understand someone's life, especially so with a connection that is primarily defined by unidirectional consumption. Honestly, this is even true with online friendships with connections greater than sheer consumption, but ones of humor, camaraderie and empathy. It is not necessarily easy to understand someone's life.

However, this deliberate act of oversimplification functions in a harmful way for those already marginalized in term of labor (i.e. what I discussed in Social Media: "Fans," Supporters, Hypervisibility and Survival, People Who Minimize Hobbyists and Exploit Professional Artists and Abusing/Exploiting Independent Creators Is Not "Fighting Capitalism") and marginalized as human beings, in general. If you cannot see my pain, you cannot understand my pleasures. If you envy what you think I have yet think I do not deserve, then you erase my experiences along the way that shape every success and every failure. "Role models" among marginalized people often only get to exist in the context that they become a list of bullet points of success and rarely living breathing persons who sacrifice to be wherever they are. Does your "role model" get to be human? "Mentors" among marginalized people often only get to exist as beacons of respectability politics for others to emulate, while their pedestals become cages. 

When people online tell me that my life and my work are their "goals," I wonder which life are they speaking about? Which part do they desire? The plagiarism that I deal with? The casual and calculated erasure of my work? The years of dealing with online abuse? Which part? The no health insurance? The earning less now than before the recession? The constant anxiety that I experience about being attacked online solely for creating anything at all, regardless of what that creation actually is? Which life? The Anxiety, PTSD and Depression? The chronic pain from migraines, costochondritis, Scoliosis, and car accident injuries? Dealing with harm from anyone from strangers, to people I have known for years online or off, to even a few blood relatives? Which work? Which life? It would be more honest for some of these people to say "I want a lot of social media followers, 'viral tweets' and to get 'likes' on my selfies." Because that is "the life" they want. That is what they convince themselves is the full picture of my work (which is even less than some of what I have shared about my work) and my life. As if hypervisibility is great. It is not. Since independent work is fetishized in a certain way—which rarely leaves room for strong criticism—all people have to know is I am currently not in a cubicle (as if I did not spend over a decade in utter hell and abuse in corporate America); once people know that aspect of my work, they are uninterested in any actual facts beyond their projections on me. 

Most people vanish when they witness anything that deviates from the most superficial way to consume who I am. For example, they want their writing to be spread around like some of mine has been over the years, but they vanish whenever I discuss that same writing being plagiarized or the erasure of how my labor shapes and impacts certain topics; topics that people know they consume from me and know they learn from me. They also do not support my work, yet claim that what I do is what they want to do. So...they must want to be unsupported as well then. The worst version of this is when people—who claim that they want to be like me—do not engage my work with any seriousness at all, yet bombard me with "suggestions" and "advice" on things that I have already done, I mentioned is in progress, or I mentioned that I have no interest in. Some say that I am their "goals," yet they hyperconsume my work, then copy/plagiarize me and then erase my contributions as sources. They want to be like me, but I am someone that they do not support, do not understand, that they harm and who they willfully oversimplify. They want to be a mirage of a person that they do not know and will never truly see

It is one thing when people say "goals!" in reply to funny memes or new experiences. There is hyperbole and curiosity in those, respectively. I make such jokes as well. I understand when people say "goals!" in reply to cishet relationships between attractive people in the public eye since people are socialized to desire the relationships most valued by the State, deemed normative and reifies the status quo. The sheer image of that type of relationship can be intoxicating and reflects a great deal of socialization and usually respectability. Conversely, some people (of variety of backgrounds and sexual orientations) mean that they desire romantic love. Even so, there is a big difference in ogling a couple's photograph that one has no real access to versus following me online and the straight up unwillingness to notice, address, or empathize with what I experience as an indie creator in general, as a Black woman in general, and as Black female indie creator online. I rarely experience people interested in doing what they think I do now, without them also deciding that I am only whomever they desire me to be. This bothers me because I do think that there are instances where mentors (not necessarily "role models;" role models do not get to consent to the role; mentors do) are helpful if they do not have to hide their flaws and lose their humanity in the process. There are things that I would like to know more about and improve in my work. At my age, 37, apparently I am supposed to know everything. Okay. But...this was my experience at age 30 too. At 25. At 21. At 18. There was no point in time where someone, who has the range—I am not speaking of people who do not have the range but are uncomfortable with my intelligence, so they force unwanted advice and paternalism on me to assuage their own insecurity, versus working with people who consent to it and who do not know as much as they do—thought I might need some help. Often times they were too busy. I accept that. But there is always the implication that I am here to mother others, by default, since I am a woman (I should automatically "nurture" others and should be selfless to my own detriment; misogyny) and because I am a Black woman specifically (I should automatically be strong, not need anything at all, be ready to mother everyone, intraracially and interracially; misogynoir). 

To be clear, there are people that I have worked with in the position of "mentor;" a consensual respectful engagement, not one where they try to insult, bully, oversimplify or gaslight me into "educating" them. There are people who respect me enough to cite me, hire me, pay me, refer me, and engage me honestly and as fully as possible. There are people that I have helped without the sheen of microphones and cameras, or even retweets to validate it. For years. Before social media existed, to start. As recently as today, as well. Even so, this does not change how I feel about the painful side of "role models," "mentors" and "goals." There is clearly a painful side. I know that the season has long passed where I could have a capable mentor for my own work—one who I would never reduce into being a list of "goals"—and I have mostly made peace with that. What still bothers me now is trying to exist and do my work while constantly being put in the position of being someone's "role model," yet those people refuse to actually see me. See the whole picture. Empathize. Understand what it does to me when they fetishize what I do but refuse to acknowledge the emotional, physical, psychological and financial cost of doing it. I do not want to kill people's fantasies. But, I do not want to be one of them either.