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Thursday, March 22, 2012

How "Resin" Almost Hardened My Heart

I have always enjoyed writing.  Even when I was a youngster, I was always scribbling away on sheets of paper.  Sure, my ‘R’s looked a little bit weird, and sometimes I wrote the letter ‘N’ backwards, but I still enjoyed writing.

I think that was the one constant throughout the first nineteen years of my lifespan.  No matter what the situation, I was always writing things down.  Although my daily journal in first grade was mostly made up of fictional events and dreams that I had, I still enjoyed doing them (probably one of the only things I actually got out of first grade, matter of fact). 

Throughout school, I always managed to do quite well with creative writing assignments, book reports, and any other project that involved writing.  Projects like those came easy to me.  Just yesterday, I talked about how I wrote and drew my own picture books for my third grade class to read, and that was just one example.  If the assignments involved writing in some manner, I had the confidence to get that A+ grade paper. 

I do believe that the various teachers that I had in elementary school saw potential in my writing abilities as well, because from second grade to eighth grade, I was placed in the advanced English curriculum for elementary school students.  There weren’t many kids in the group.  I think of the average twenty-seven student classroom, a third of us were in the advanced program.  But, I didn’t mind it much, because the kids in the accelerated program did a whole bunch of cool activities associated with them.  Sure, it involved a lot of extra class work, and a lot of writing, but as someone who loved writing, I was really in my element.

I even won the Grade 8 faculty award for English when I graduated from elementary school seventeen years ago.

(Wow...I graduated elementary school seventeen years, I feel old...)

During high school, my writing interests were unfortunately stagnated by the fact that I never really had much of an outlet to bring them forth.  Unlike many high schools in the area, my high school never really had much of a high school newspaper.  And, I imagine that if it had, the majority of the paper would be devoted to sporting events and fundraising drives (neither of which really piqued my interests).  Sure, there were a couple of ideas to bring forth a school newspaper during my time there, but ultimately, the plan didn’t come to be, due to a lack of participation. 

So, during high school, I mostly did my writing outside of school hours.  I wasn’t exactly the most social of high school students, so I spent a lot of time by myself, just writing away.  Although during my high school career, I did manage to enter a couple of writing contests, where at the very least, I placed an honourable mention for competing.  But, during high school, I really wish I had more of an opportunity to use my writing skills to their maximum potential.

In fact, it wasn’t really until I graduated high school, and enrolled in my brief stint at university (which is another story altogether), that I had the ability to really showcase my work.  But, this is where the Thursday Confession takes an interesting twist.  And, I realize that this confession will completely contradict everything that I wrote in my opening paragraph.  So, I’m just going to come out with it.

THURSDAY CONFESSION #12:  I almost gave up writing after a terrible personal experience.

Yes.  You’re reading this statement correctly.  I almost gave up writing.  An incident happened to me while I was enrolled in my short-lived university stint that left me feeling so hurt, and so betrayed, and so angry that I swore to myself that I would never write anything ever again.

The weird thing about it is that the decision that I came close to making had nothing to do with unconstructive criticism, or even constructive criticism.  Anyone who knows me very well knows that as far as my writing abilities are concerned, I am open to most kinds of criticism.  As long as people are respectable in their opinions, I will listen.  In a lot of cases and in my experience, it turns out their points were valid, and helped me become a better writer as a result.

No, to begin this tale of betrayal and broken promises, we have to go back in time a dozen years.

It was September 2000, and the beginning of the school year.  I was trying to get adjusted to being away from home for the first time in my life, and I was basically a small fish in a gigantic ocean.  Though, it was strange...unlike the stench of insecurity and obnoxiousness that permeated the corridors of my high school, the university residence halls were filled with friendliness, compassion, and kindness.  I had never experienced those feelings at any point during my formative years.  As a result, I admit that I may have let my guard down for the first time in who knows how long.  And, ultimately, I think that probably contributed to what eventually happened that made me almost hang up my pens for good.

Anyway, a couple of people were looking at the bulletin board hanging up in the main hallway of my residence floor.  This was a board where work study program applications, upcoming floor parties, and university campus clubs advertised events.  As it so happened, one of the posters on the board advertised two of the campus newspapers, and both were looking for writers.  One of them was The Charlatan, which was the main newspaper of the university campus.  However, I was warned ahead of time by some upper-years that it was very difficult for first-year students to get their work published in there, so I dismissed that idea.   But the listing for The Resin - the newspaper delivered to students who lived in residence -  looked promising.  So, when the meeting was called in the cafe downstairs, I decided to go, to check it out.

And, I will say this.  From the first meeting, I was automatically blown away at how much opportunity there was to write.  The newspaper was run by students, and printed for students.  The newspaper covered a wide variety of subjects and topics that seemed interesting.  And, plus, you could also score free CD’s and go to movie premieres, provided you wrote a review for them.

And that’s what I did.  My first couple of months writing for The Resin helped add to my music collection.  The first CD review I did for that newspaper was “Maroon” by the Barenaked Ladies, and I guess the staff really liked it.  They liked it so much that they started to assign more CD reviews to me.  I reviewed albums by Great Big Sea, Kylie Minogue, Robbie Williams, Everclear, The Tea Party, and some other lesser known Canadian bands.  Eventually, I graduated to reviewing concert performances.  In one month alone, I saw performances by Blue Rodeo, and Wide Mouth Mason.  In the case of the latter, I ended up interviewing the band for an exclusive feature!  Those first few months that I wrote for The Resin were some of the best times I can ever recall.

I would estimate that before the Christmas break, I wrote about thirty articles for the newspaper alone.  Most of them were CD and concert reviews.  I ended up doing a few movie reviews during my time there, and I believe that I even wrote a few front page news articles for the publication.  I guess the only gripe that I had with my time there was that my work was largely ignored by the people who lived in residence.  Although The Resin was free to every residence student, nobody really read it.  I think I actually remember one person throwing their copy in the trash without reading it, which happened to be the one and only issue where a story I wrote was the dominant front page story.


But, you know, back in those days, it didn’t matter to me if people read my work.  The fact that I even had something in print gave me the illusion that I did have something good enough to publish.  As long as I had the desire and the will to keep on writing, I figured that my break would come.  I even sacrificed my weekends to work on the newspaper by copy editing and designing advertisements for businesses who sponsored the paper.  That’s how much I loved working for that newspaper. 

Or, rather, volunteering for the newspaper.  I never got paid for my work the first few months.  But, that was fine.  I could always use it as a reference for volunteering, and I had so much fun helping with the newspaper that I didn’t need to be compensated financially for it (though as a broke university student, it would have helped greatly, I admit).

As the calendar changed from 2000 to 2001, I was on top of the world.  I had done not too badly on my mid-term exams, and I still had a blast writing for the Resin.  But, then something happened that before the end of the school year was out, would have me taking back every bit of praise that I had for The Resin forever.

It all began in January 2001 when one of the editors resigned from his position.  The position of co-editor was posted, and I thought that I would apply for the job, just because I had the experience with working on the paper.  Unfortunately, the job went to another person who was a year ahead.  My disappointment was evident, but I kind of figured that I wouldn’t get the position anyway, so I wasn’t broken up about it.

Just one week later, we had our staff meeting in our usual place, and I was asked by the current editors to stay behind at the meeting.  Turns out that the editors knew I had applied, and apologized to me for not getting the job, and they came up with a proposition.  They worked out a deal with the university residential offices on campus to start paying me for my services effective January 11, 2001.  I absolutely jumped at the opportunity, thinking that all of my hard work had finally paid off.

But, as the weeks turned into months, I quickly learned how much a promise by The Resin was worth.

February 3 – After nearly four weeks, I still had not gotten any sort of payment from The Resin, so I asked the editors what was happening.  They assured me that money was on the way, but that it would be in the form of a lump sum payment.  That should have been a red flag moment for me, but as I was still wearing rose-coloured goggles at that time, I took their word to be gospel, so I waited.

By the February reading week, I still had not heard anything, but again, like a lot of other students, I went home during that time.  In all likelihood, the offices for The Resin were closed during that week, so it would have been a waste of time to try.

By the first of March, 2001, I was losing patience.  I still had not been paid a dime since I was promised that I would be.  Two months had passed, and still nothing.  It was beginning to be very frustrating.  At this time, the positions for editors were posted.  I had come to the conclusion that the current pair of editors that we had at the time would be moving off campus the following year, and since I was planning to stick around residence, I figured that I would apply for the job.  With my experience working for the newspaper, plus all the work I did for the paper, I was a shoo-in.  And, had I gotten the position, then maybe I could be persuaded to overlook the fact that the company had seemingly forgotten the first promise they made me.

Well, guess what?  I didn’t get the editor position.  And, guess what?  The people who did get the positions were the same people who ran the paper the year before.  I was thinking to myself “what was the point of even having the interview if the same people were going to be hired anyway?”

By this point, the rose-coloured glasses were yanked off and smashed on the ground.  I was fed up with being used and mistreated and lied to by an organization that gave me the runaround for two months.  I typed out a scathing letter of resignation to the editors of the newspaper, and I did not hold back.  I certainly didn’t use profanity or salty language, but I definitely was not writing a letter that was filled with sunshine or rainbows.  I was incredibly furious, and I let it all out.  I wanted them to know my anger.

But once I had sent the letter, it didn’t make me feel any better about myself.  Especially when I got a reply from one of the editors in response to it.  Upon first glance, it seemed as though the editor was trying to defend the reputation of The Resin...but reading between the lines, I could tell that she was really hurt by it.  Back then, I wanted an outlet to get all the pain and hurt that I was feeling out of there.  It’s only now that I see that the way I handled it was not the right way to go.  I should have hashed it out in a meeting behind closed doors rather than handle it the way that I had, and I do regret it. 

But, two weeks after that incident, I had gotten a call from the same editor in my dorm room, where she informed me that there was something waiting for me at The Resin offices.  I was warned by a couple of my friends to ignore the request, as the paper had already caused me enough frustration, but I needed to have closure once and for all.  So, I went to the offices one final time, and I had thought that it was the lump sum payment that I had been promised almost three months earlier.  I admit that I felt bad for how the situation had soured, but at the very least, I was getting what I had asked for, so in a way, I had felt it was a bittersweet victory.

But then I saw the amount that was written on the cheque, and my eyes bugged out...and not in a good way.  I’ll put it to you like this.  Just based on the amount of hours that I spent working on the newspaper over the last three months in both writing articles and copy editing, I reckon that I ended up making a little less than ninety-seven cents an hour.

97 cents an hour.

And, so, after getting the cheque, I walked back up to my residential floor, walked inside the storage room on the floor, and in the darkness collapsed on the floor and burst into tears.  It may sound a bit melodramatic upon retrospect, but I had spent so much time and energy on that newspaper, and for it to end so badly, I was absolutely exhausted.

As a result of this terrible experience, I swore to myself that I would never write another article, story, or limerick ever again.  If all that it led to was hurt feelings and getting screwed over, I wanted no part of it.  I was done with writing for good, and I had a brief period where I no longer enjoyed writing anymore.  That’s how negative of an experience it was at the time.

To me, the fact that I had finally gotten paid after getting the runaround wasn’t the issue.  Many of the people who lived on my floor told me that I should have just ripped up the cheque, and that the final payment that I had gotten was insulting.  But, you have to understand that during this time, I was a broke university student.  I didn’t feel any guilt for using The Resin’s money to do some laundry, or buy food.  The little payment that I did get, I was owed anyway.  I think I was more hurt and betrayed by the fact that an organization that I once looked up to and respected really used me to their advantage.  In the end, I was left looking like a fool.  If only they hadn’t had made that offer to pay me in the first place, things would have ended so differently.  I was enjoying what I was doing for free, and I was already getting a lot out of the job, such as free CD's and writing experience.  But because they made that offer, and reneged on their promise until I spoke up and said something, that experience was ruined for me.  I find that to be the most unforgivable part of that whole experience.

But, on the positive side, that was a learning experience.  I learned many lessons from that time in my life.

1 – I learned that when somebody makes a promise...GET IT IN WRITING

2 – I learned that when resolving a conflict to not let emotions get in the way

3 – I learned not to let one bad experience sour me on my dreams

That third lesson is arguably the most important one.  A few months later, 9/11 happened, and I was inspired to write an article about the effect it had on online communities.  Instead of going to The Resin, I pitched my idea to The Charlatan, and to my surprise, it was put in the newspaper as a feature article.  It was nice to see, and that moment helped me realize that writing was something that I still wanted to do.

The epilogue of the story is quite complicated.  I now realize that the fault of what happened to me in regards to The Resin scandal of 2001 was solely at the feet of the organization that printed the paper.  I realize that the editors weren’t exactly blameless, but I do also realize that I don’t blame them as much as I used to.  I honestly believe that they were merely pawns in the chess game that was being played with me by the owners of The Resin.  I actually hope that one day, I can run into the former editors once more, so that we can finally have the conversation that we should have had eleven years earlier.  But, when I left The Resin, I did come to a point of mutual understanding with the editors, so at least I can say that something positive came out of it.

It’s funny though.  I was used by The Resin, and as far as respect went, I certainly didn’t get much given to me, but as badly as it ended, I still have some fond memories from that time.  I never would have gone to concerts if not for them.  I wouldn’t have interviewed people if not for them.  I actually believe that I became a better writer from my time there.  Of course, most of those good times occurred before 2001, but still, those good memories are all that I have to hold on to, because they prevent me from becoming bitter over the experience.

Because let’s face it, the subject of bitterness makes for difficult writing.

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