“Who Does Number Two Work For?”

A couple of weeks ago some Gamergate-type site (anti-SJW, you know the sort) discovered this blog. They brigaded the comments here, saying mean things about me. I had to shut down the comments – I was tempted at first to just leave it, but I decided that whatever small community has appeared here would be hurt by the trolls. Not because of what they were saying about me, but just because that kind of negativity often breeds negative replies from people who are trying to defend me/the community.

What was interesting was how many of these invading trolls were unaware of who I was. They had heard/read a thing or two about me, but they seemed to functionally be unclear on who they were attacking. A few of them talked about my divorce, even though I’ve never been married. I think they were conflating me with other film critics.

This happens a lot. I get it from people who say mean things to/about me and attach it to some criticism of a film/filmmaker that I never made. It’s crazy how many people think I’ve been on an anti-Zack Snyder crusade; I called Watchmen The Godfather of superhero movies, for fuck’s sake. That wasn’t a good take, necessarily, but it certainly isn’t anti-Snyder. 

Today on Twitter I had another thing happen. I retweeted something I thought was funny, and the person I retweeted wasn’t happy that I had done so. They changed their display name to “Devin Faraci committed sexual assault,” which is the kind of thing people do when their tweets are being amplified by those they dislike. It’s a good bit of guerrilla warfare, and I’ve seen it used against conservative politicians. 

Some folks stepped in to defend me, which I appreciate but which they didn’t need to do. In that defense they got into an argument with yet another party who said that I had never shown that I was sorry and had never taken any steps towards restorative justice with any of the people I had harmed. All that had happened, this person said, was that I had whined about the consequences of my actions.

This struck a nerve in me. I don’t know that I’ve done enough to mitigate the harm I’ve caused, and I think some of the things I have done have actually ended being harmful, despite my best intentions. But I do know that I’ve done stuff. I do know that I’ve done work and, while I’m not always doing the best work (my brain has been a place of sheer garbage the last few weeks, and I have been eating like shit for a good six months now. But I’m still sober!), I’m doing it. I make an effort to live my life in a different way. 

My first reaction was to jump in and be like “Do you want me to come to your fucking house, knock on your door and give you a list of all the things I have done and the behaviors I have changed?” despite the fact that I literally had no idea who this person was. I really wanted to get in there and defend myself. 

(This, by the way, is a great sign there’s a lot more work to do)

I let it go (except for the part where I’m writing a blog post about it) because after taking a second to think and respond instead of react I realized there was nothing to be gained from having this conversation. But it also made me think about the titular Austin Powers inspired question of this blog:

Who am I doing all this work for? 

If you’re working to change or improve yourself in some way you’ve likely grappled with the same question. If you lost weight, if you’ve quit smoking, if you’ve taken anger management classes you’ve probably done these things on some level because of someone else. You want to improve yourself so that you can be better for or more attractive to someone else. But is that enough?

Sometimes I get interview requests. That’s very flattering, and my ego goes off with the power of a hundred dynamos – someone is paying attention to me! I matter! I didn’t shrivel up and cease to exist! – and I know that I would be good on the record and that what I have to say about my recovery and my new life and attitude could be helpful to people. And spreading the word of my Patreon – which is keeping me alive, financially, and keeping me housed – is important.

But who would I be really talking to? Would I be trying to convince the people who hate me that I’m different, that I’m changed? Is that why I’m doing it, so that these people can accept me (I’ll tell you, dear reader, that I’ve changed at least enough that the idea of making them eat their words no longer even occurs to me)? And is that why I’m sober, because I want to show these people that I am good and changed?

On some level our desire to change is inextricable from our desire to change for others. I work to be less harmful to other people and, more than that, to be a positive force in their lives. This is my goal. But that goal has to be based on the solid foundation of wanting to be less harmful and more positive for me. I can’t do the work for the people I work with at my day job, I have to do it because I want to be that kind of person for the people at my day job. 

It seems like a small semantic quibble, but it’s the whole of the thing. If I’m doing any of this for other people I will fail at it. I’m setting my goals and judging my success by the reactions of someone who is outside of me and who does not fully know me. I can use the reactions of others as helpful signposts, but they’re never the destination. The destination has to be becoming the person I want to be, for me. 

This involves knowing that not everybody is going to be happy with me, no matter what I do. I can’t be doing the work for them, because they’ll never acknowledge it. There’s a great fantasy of swaying my worst detractors, of getting super validation that way, but it’s just a fantasy. If I place my progress in the hands of people who do not like me, I will never make progress.

But what about the people who do like me? My loved ones? I can’t do it for them either. It’s not fair, for one thing – I’m placing a lot of responsibility on them to validate me and my progress. But more than that, the new life I’m building is not on solid ground if it’s based on the shifting sands of other people. Nobody is perfect, and nobody is there forever. If something happens to that relationship or that person, do I simply give up on the work that has been done?

Don’t get me wrong – it’s vital to keep others in mind as you do the work. If we’re too self-centered we become an unbearable asshole; I’ve met quite a few people like this, scolding recovery dweebs or pompous spiritual wankers. They suck. The proper way to keep others in mind, I think, is to remember that old cliche about oxygen masks on airplanes – you gotta put yours on so that you can help someone else put theirs on. If you don’t get yours on first, you’ll pass out and be not only of no use, you’ll be forcing someone else to take care of you. 

It’s nice to let other people know we’re making an effort – it gives you accountability and it’s also inspiring to them – but we have to be very careful about accepting their judgment. More than once I’ve written or said something and gotten a reply along the lines of “Doesn’t sound very spiritual, bro.” This is usually from people who don’t know what my spiritual program is, or what progress I have made (and I claim progress, not perfection), but that doesn’t stop my dumbass mind from getting all tightened up and angry for a second.

You may have experienced this in other ways. The person who, at dinner, says “I thought you were on a diet.” The friend who says, “You don’t want to come? I thought going to the gym was supposed to give you more energy.” There are always people who either think they’re being helpful by reminding you of what you’re trying to change (as if you could forget it) or who are so threatened by the fact that you’re doing the work (if you do it, there’s no reason they shouldn’t) that they need to prove you’re not actually doing the work. 

Again, you can’t do it for these people. They know so little that they don’t even know what they don’t know. 

The warning here: we have to be careful to not use this as an excuse to void all criticism. The “Do you even spiritual, bro?” people can be useful because they offer an opportunity to bring some mindful self-awareness to a situation. Was I being skillful in my response? Could I have done better? How can I do better next time?

And there’s always a next time, because you’re doing all of this for yourself. If you’re doing it for a boyfriend and he leaves you, there’s no next time – might as well eat that pizza and drink that fifth of Jack, because he was the reason you were getting your shit together. But if you’re doing it for you, you’re gonna keep doing it… or at least come back to it when you occasionally lose track of it (I drank a McDonald’s milkshake today after eating an El Pollo Loco burrito, so I know all about falling off at least some of my motherfucking wagons). 

Most of all, doing it for yourself simply means living it instead of talking about it or showing it. When you’re talking about it or showing it you can get really performative, you can put on a fake face and you can go through the motions without taking the actions. That’s what happens when you’re doing it for other people. But when you’re doing it for yourself you’re not being phony, even if that means you’re not doing great. Not doing great is, unfortunately, part of the work. 

So who does number two work for? You gotta show that turd who’s boss.