This week I watched with interest a YouTube video that went viral. It was a response from a local CBS news anchor in Wisconsin to a viewer who had sent in a nasty email calling her fat. She called him out for what he is – a bully stating the obvious.
After seeing the video I got to thinking of this letter, which I’ve had tucked away in the second drawer of my desk since last November.
I hesitated before writing a post about this for a couple of reasons. I don’t want to do anything to give this guy the attention he so obviously seeks. I don’t want to give him the satisfaction I knowing I held on to this letter, especially since until today I didn’t really know why I kept it.
I have a job that puts me in the public eye and with that comes a trade-off. I get the attention and ego boost that all us sad insecure media types so desperately seek in exchange for regular brushes with the odd and absurd behavior some people bring our way. Thankfully, around here it’s generally a harmless exchange – so please don’t misread what I’m about to say as a complaint. The positives out weigh the negatives fifty to one. But for a moment, let’s discuss this one.
So why did I keep this letter? There have been others that have been much worse and I toss them right after I open them. People can disagree with my work, mock my talent, tell me I sound horrible, that I’m uninformed, unprepared or just uninteresting – and it washes over me. Listeners – all of them – are entitled to their opinion, and I give each the same consideration. I try to make sure I treat the compliments the same way. It may sound like a harsh comparison but if my job was to wash dishes all day I wouldn’t put too much weight into what everyone else thought of how I did it. I know what I expect of myself. I know what my employer expects. I strive to those standards everyday. After ten years in politics and media my skin is thick enough to take the rest with a grain of salt and not let it deflate or inflate me either way.
Yet, here’s this letter. In my drawer. For almost a year. Why?
I kept the letter because I agreed with it. I couldn’t dismiss the message. It doesn’t say I’m bad at my job. It doesn’t detract from anything that I do. It has a pretty clear message. I’m fat, I’m heading to the grave, and I’m embarrassing. I read it at first with hate. The ransom-note scrawl would have been easy to attribute to someone who just wanted to get to me. Some criminal I talked about on air, or an interview subject who thought I pushed them too hard or too far. Those who end up being covered in news are usually having one of the best or one of the worst days of their life. We’re celebrating a high – some accomplishment they’re proud of – or, and more often than not – it’s one of their lowest days. I say your name and your family shudders, you co-workers learn about what you did, and for that day you feel like the eyes of the everyone you meet are judging you because I reported what you did or are accused of. That leads to anger and that anger often comes my way as random expressions of hate and disgust. I don’t like it but it doesn’t stick with me. It’s part of the job I signed up for.
So what gave this guy credence was that if you just read his words without hate in your voice I really couldn’t find anything to disagree with. Regardless of the author intent I found the content to be a true reflection of where I was and what I felt as I sat there reading it. How would those words, softened just a little, sound coming from someone that I love? What if my mother, through teary eyes, told me I was putting nails in my own coffin? What if a girlfriend swallowed enough of her own guilt to say out loud what I know she thought – that I was physically embarrassing. Those words would hurt. They would knife me. And they would confuse me.
When I weighed 460 pounds the conflict within me was constant. I desperately didn’t want to be that large. I didn’t want to be unhealthy and without energy. I didn’t want to suffer the social withdrawl that was pulling me further and further away from the things I loved. Yet, I built a life around me that allowed to me get through most of my day without thinking about that. I lived in a blissful bubble where my being 460 pounds wasn’t really a problem. A life where killing myself a bite at a time wasn’t really a problem.
There were only certain moments that would shock me into actually confronting what I had become. They were usually awkward, painful moments that would remind me just how much I had disconnected who I was from what I was.
Opening this letter with three people in my office was one of those moments. I read the letter out loud laughing at the absurdity of it all. Then I realized the awkward silence in my office when I had finished.
When one of them finally spoke he said “What an asshole, sending that!”
There was no arguing the truth of what was written. Maybe he was an asshole for sending it, but not one of us in that room said he was wrong.
This stranger, for whatever reason, hit me with a truth that neither myself or those closest to me were really comfortable talking about.
So I tucked it in the back of my drawer, and in the back my mind, until I was ready to deal with it.
Watching the video of the anchor in Wisconsin showed me I’m ready to deal with it, and I have a different approach than she does.
I’m ready to thank the author for writing it and sending it my way.
If your words were a sincere warning – I offer a sincere thank you.
If your words were fueled by hate it will drive you mad that I’m working my ass off to take those nails out of the coffin everyday, and I hope that pisses you off, more so with every pound I lose.