Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009...4:03 pm
victor schwartzman | with no cuteness…
including confidentiality clause (with no “cuteness”—i.e. no subsequent literary writings involving this issue or the workplace/employees in general.”
This was a settlement proposal by The Government Of Manitoba (Canada) after I won a human rights complaint against The Manitoba Human Rights Commission. Believe it or not, winning the complaint was only the start of my problems. The Government of Manitoba believes that losing the complaint gives it the right to monitor my “literary writings” about “the workplace/employees in general” for the rest of my life.
I never got as far as asking the Government to qualify the poison it wanted me to drink. Are “literary writings” a poem or a letter to the editor? If you are a writer, would you like to submit your writing to the Government for approval? Isn’t submitting to a publisher hard enough?
I was a Human Rights Officer for 21 years. I developed high blood pressure. I took medications which affected my abilities. I needed a simple accommodation (less complaint files at one time). I offered twice in writing to see any specialist The Commission wished. It did not respond to either request.
What does “subsequent” literary writings mean? What evil poetry have I written that entitles the Government to suspend me for three days because two poems were violent, and bullied my Executive Director and Manager of Compliance? And: “cute”. Do I write “cute”? You will shortly read these two evil poems. You should now go out and purchase a pair of lead-lined glasses.
Trying to be friendly with my Compliance Manager who was refusing to accommodate me (the union was involved, I was the shop steward, there is not enough ink on the internet for me to write about the union), I emailed her that I had written a poem about my elderly mother, and that I had posted it on my My Space page. This apparently was the start of her journey into violent bullying.
I am not making any of this up.
The Government investigation concluded that any reasonable person would consider the email a direction to the Compliance Manager to go to My Space. The Government also concluded that any reasonable person would look at the approximately 80 poems and short fables on the site, see the two poems, and reasonably assume they were about The Manitoba Human Rights Commission and either my Compliance Manager, Executive Director, or both.
The blog, like yours probably, contained individual postings. Each post was two or three pieces, with a line about here’s what I’ve written. There was no narrative thread between the postings. There was no reference to my work, my life or my dog. But. If you went to a separate page and looked at my profile, which any reasonable person would do upon seeing the two shocking poems, you would read that I was a Human Rights Officer (at least until August, 2008, when I was forced to retire by management’s failure to accommodate).
Imagine holding a book of Todd Moore’s poems. He notes in the forward he has a job with Tony Soprano. There are eighty poems, and if you know Mr. Moore’s work, you will know that he writes about flowers, horses, colourful sunsets, and the first kiss of a romance. Tony Soprano (or, if you prefer, the Government) then says, there are two poems which are not romantic: they are about me!
The two poems were not posted at the top of the “pile”. You would not have seen them when you opened the blog. They were probably not posted together. The first one was probably 20 or 30 pages into the 100 pages on the site. I can not tell you because when I was informed of the investigation I removed all poems about workers and workplaces from the site. The Government’s intimidation worked from day one. And, of course, I have posted no poems about workers or workplaces since. Until now.
What flattery! Okay, I think some of my stuff is good–but that my Compliance Manager or any reasonable person would find my poems and short fables so compelling they had to read page after page, more than 20 pages before the first poem—thanks! I rarely submit anything, I live in the writer’s closet, and in one respect this was a remarkable compliment.
Oh, I forgot to mention that because I sent the email about my mother on the day after the Virginia Tech Massacre, the Government reasoned I sent the email then to brutalize and terrorize my managers. The complaint was filed under the brutality, violence and respectful workplace polices. I was shocked. I am a 63 year old Vietnam war resister. I moved to Canada in 1968. Because I had always thought I was against violence, I wanted to find out if I should re-educate myself.
Fortunately, the questions of whether I was violent, mentally unstable or a danger to myself or others (those were the reasons given) were resolved after the Government forced me to endure a psychiatric evaluation. I could not return to work after being off for a month solely due to a blood pressure test, until The Government could be assured I was safe. The chief concern? These poems, and angry emails I wrote to my Executive Director about why she would not refer me to a specialist or accommodate me. I agree, these were angry emails.
But the forced psychiatric evaluation cleared me! I was now comfortable being in the same room with myself! Of course, there is now a psychiatric evaluation floating around the Government about who I thought loved who in my family, which is kind of embarrassing, but it was certainly worth the price of being allowed to return to work.
Out of 80 poems and short fables, 8 poems were about work. Fables about work were never mentioned. That included one fable about managers who intimidated workers so much the workers shrank. Of the eight poems, one described a manager who cried when he learned he could have helped a sick worker. One poem was about the problems a manager had with a troublesome worker. Four poems were about workers who were very unhappy with their work, how it reflected on their lives, and how often they were half the problem.
That left two poems about workplaces and workers.
(Oh: although I was found guilty of bullying and violence, neither manager met with me to discuss the poems (the Human Resources investigator said his job was to see if I would be punished or not), mediate—it was puzzling that although they were terrified of me, they treated me exactly the same after discovering these devastating poems as they did before.)
The first dangerous poem is about workplaces. It was published two years ago, when this all started about the poems (in the Spring, 2007, after I returned to work from five months’ medical leave, to adjust to new medications). Actually, please do not tell the Government of Manitoba, but it was also published on the website of St. Vitus Prose and Poetry Review. The Government is not aware it has been published. Apparently the Government lacks Google skills.
Like the poem or hate it: it’s a poem. For this poem, I have no apologies. I do have an apology for the second poem.
WARNING: Dangerous Poem. Please put on your lead lined glasses.
My Workplace Scares Me
Work is a dark basement
an Alfred Hitchcock basement
where we live in fear
of a murderous manager Mother
don’t get Mother angry
Spending our lives in a basement
spending our lives in fear
is not living, it is existing
treading water until the shark’s teeth
We are to them tools
sharpened against each other
they stab us with ourselves
one day we will take the sharpness
and stab back
Are you okay? Do you need counseling? Here is the second poem. I must apologize. It rhymes.
Two years later, I am still troubled that I have written a poem that rhymes. I have even looked to the psychiatric evaluation for clues. The poem just wrote itself that way. It was terrible. Also, I would like to change some of the cadences, but you should see the poem as it was posted. Apart from the tragic rhyme situation, I am very happy with the poem.
Do you agree that any reasonable person would think this poem is about either the Compliance Manager, the Executive Director, or both, of The Manitoba Human Rights Commission. Of course, both my managers are women, and the manager in the poem is a man, but Gregor Samsa, who I hang around with (you do not want to eat with him) says that’s irrelevant. There are a lot of irrelevants in this circus.
My Manager Is A Monster
My Manager is a monster
perhaps yours is as well
mine seems so very charming
but makes my work life hell
Well, maybe he ain’t sweet,
but a monster? See the strife
when you question a decision
being right ain’t worth your life
Rife are his origin’s mysteries:
was he born or did he hatch
not too likely—anyone so awful
had to be built from scratch
Latched onto a plan to replace him
using laid off staff from the bin
sewing their parts together
no objections–wasting staff is a sin
Win I will, this one
a better manager I shall create
(good hearts are hardest to find
in the leftover managers’ crate)
Great it will be, my new manager
this one will know I am bright.
one day soon I’ll pull the switch
we’ll all cheer the new sight
Right our lives would become
if we took power into our hands
to create our own bosses
instead of how it now stands
You are getting the short version of this story, which began in March, 2006, when I was first told I would not be accommodated.
This message is totally self serving. Yes, the issue is not just the clause—although the clause was the last straw. Not only had the Government forced me to retire, not only was I now unemployed, but it wanted to monitor my writing for the rest of my life. To even propose such a clause was enough for me to say I was mad as gosh darn heck (although I was born in Brooklyn, I have lived in Canada for 40 years) and I am not going to take it any more.
The clause was a dare by the Government to write “cute” about what happened. This is my response. If you believe that the Government should not treat a writer like this, please email Gary Doer, Premier of Manitoba, Canada: premier at leg.gov.mb.ca
Victor Schwartzman, Winnipeg, Canada, victors at mts.net