Creative Journal

 

Disengage! Disengage!

May 15, 2017

Back in 2014, I was having an affair. It was an illicit, sordid tryst that had been going on for some time. The man I was sleeping with was my peer, a man who had some control over whether my books succeeded or failed on certain platforms. He was married and so was I, but I didn’t care about the vows I had made before God, or the vows he had made, either. All I cared about was the success of my work.

Fuck my husband. Fuck his wife, and his kids. Fuck commitment, and honesty, and loyalty. I was driven purely by my desperate need to get ahead, so I threw my moral compass out of the window and I did what I needed to in order to make my dreams come to fruition. I didn’t even care who knew about my scandalous bed hopping. I flaunted the fact that I was screwing this man at every book signing we both attended, laughing and joking with him, secretly sneaking off to bathrooms so we could hook up.

Everyone knew what was going on.

EVERYONE.

That is…

Everyone except me.

See, I was oblivious to the fact that I was stepping out on my husband. I was completely unaware that I was messaging this person all the time, whispering sweet nothings into his ear, doing unspeakable things to him so that he’d push my new release to the top of the promotion pile. I thought I was being professional, working with an entire TEAM of people who I respected and admired, who gave me the same attention they were giving many, many other authors at the same time.

My books did not thrive on the platform in question. I was shown no favouritism or bias, and I was okay with the small progress I made. Proud, even. Because I had earned my success there, based on the validity and quality of my work.

So, when I learned that I was cheating, it obviously came as a huge surprise to me. In fact, it was the shock of a lifetime. Someone messaged me to tell me that a number of individuals were talking about what I was getting up to in a private group on Facebook. These were not readers. These were authors, some of whom I considered friends. There were screenshots. There was a thirty-minute period in time where the betrayal and hurt I felt was so powerful and deep that all I wanted to do was cry. To close down my Facebook account, quit writing and move on to my next journey, so I’d never have to deal with such spiteful people again.

I called the guy in question, because I was mortified. I was horrified. I kept imagining how angry he was going to be when he found out what people were saying, because it was likely to affect him professionally. I assumed he was going to be mad at me, because I was the focus of this negativity and mud slinging. My heart was beating out of my chest when I hit the call button and waited for him to answer. By the time he finished saying hello, I was in tears and it felt like I couldn’t breathe.

I explained what had happened, sent him the screenshots I had received, and waited for the axe to fall.

He could no longer work with me.

He was going to have to sever all professional ties.

My books were no longer going to be welcome on the platform.

I was going to be a social pariah, and he was going to run in the opposite direction to avoid the fall out zone as best he could.

I was prepared for all of these eventualities.

Only, they never arrived.

Instead, my friend and peer laughed. He laughed. The first words out of his mouth have stuck with me since then, and I often think of them. He said, “You girls really need to learn how to put away the scissors.” He also spoke about tall poppy syndrome, and how unfortunately relevant it was in our industry. He laughed with me because of the ridiculous nature of the accusations, and he gave me some advice. He told me to disengage. He told me to accept that people out there were always going to gossip and whisper behind their hands, because that’s the preferred coping mechanism for a lot of people, and in a lot of cases.

He told me, “It’s never actually about you. It’s always, always, always about them. They’re frustrated and they’re tired. They feel like they’re competing and losing. That’s not to say you’re doing better than them, or you are better than them in anyway. People are just always making comparisons, and always trying to measure their own worth and success against that of others. When they get out that tape measure and feel slighted in some way, irrespective of their own worth, they lash out. Lashing out feels good. It feels righteous. It makes them feel justified in their anger when they say something to someone else (who is also trying to hang themselves with their own tape measure) and that person agrees with them. They flourish on that kind of positive reinforcement. Don’t take it to heart. Instead, try and understand where they’re coming from. See the struggles they’re dealing with, appreciate how difficult trying to succeed is for them, just as it is for you, and forgive them. Before you open your mouth in response, or sit down and start furiously typing, forgive them and take ten deep, long breaths. Then think about if you even need to respond at all.”

I stopped crying.

We spoke a little while longer, and when I hung up the phone I was relieved. He’d removed the gnawing, toxic, disgusting feeling that had settled itself deep inside my bones, and I was left feeling like a weight had been physically lifted from my body. Gone was the anger. Gone was the panic, and the fear, and the outrage. I’d forgiven the people who were sharpening their knives against a whetstone, intending to cut me down, because I felt like I understood them a little better, and I got it. I empathized.

I sat for a long time in front of my computer, thinking about my next move, and eventually decided that my friend was right. Responding to the situation served no purpose. So I didn’t. I gave myself permission to move on and forget, and it felt wonderful.

I’ve held true to the advice I was given back in 2014, and it has served me well on a number of occasions since then. It’s not an easy thing to do. Sometimes, people’s unkindness can be so jarring that my first response is to react. Sometimes it takes a lot longer than ten deep breaths to regain control over my emotions. It can take a lot to really listen to what people are saying and see the truth behind their words—how their own insecurities and struggles are affecting them—and to forgive them.

This weekend, I attended an event in Chicago, and was surprised to hear someone mention ‘The Great Callie Hart Scandal of 2014.’ The person I was enjoying dinner with mentioned that people were still talking about ‘it’, and that there were people who assumed I was still mad about it, mad at them, or affected by it in some way. I was truly taken aback. The truth is that I haven’t thought about that incident since the day it happened three years ago. True forgiveness lasts a lifetime. It’s freeing as fuck. I haven’t been carrying their words around my neck like a millstone all this time, allowing myself to constantly remember and be damaged by what happened back then. I’ve been free to work, and play, and travel, and get on with my life, without that kernel of poison lodged inside my heart, and it’s been great.

The very next day, someone else mentioned that there were people whispering about whom I was sleeping with again. I immediately laughed and shrugged my shoulders. No point in engaging. No point in reacting. No point in taking umbrage. No point in even giving the rumour mill fodder in order that it might keep on turning.

I never take out my scissors. That doesn’t mean I don’t own a pair. I just choose to bury them. When I reach into that theoretical drawer I keep next to my desk, so readily available when I’m sitting in front of my computer screen, that portal into so many other people’s lives, I always do my best to pull out something resembling compassion, honesty, integrity or kindness before I reach for something sharp.

So, why am I writing this post right now? Do my words not break my own rule of disengagement? I hope not. I suppose at the end of the day I’d just like to share my ideology, and perhaps help others to realize that it’s so easy to fall into the gossip/anger cycle, but it takes much less energy in the long run to avoid it altogether.

It takes work to be angry. It takes copious amounts of mental and physical energy to retain negativity and perceived offence. It takes but a moment of thought and concentration to release all of those bad vibes, and the pay off is so, so worth it.

Let's remember. JFK was one smart dude. A rising tide lifts all boats. Let’s be supportive and badass in the first place. Let’s always lift each other up. Let’s be positive and kind before we’re quick to assume, judge or gossip.

We’re much better people when we choose to cast light on others instead of trying to throw shade.

With light and love,

 

Callie 

 

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