Last night I watched a fascinating documentary about the American Nanny/Photographer Vivian Meier – Finding Vivian Meier (Netflix).
Yes, that wasn’t a typo. She worked as a Nanny, looking after well-to-do American children for most of her adult life and in-between or frequently at the same time was a photographer.
The story begins with the chance discovery of a box of photonegatives by John Maloof who made the documentary and spent several years exploring Meier’s unusual life.
I won’t describe the film here; please go and watch it on Netflix if you are interested. It is only around 90 minutes long.
You might now wonder why the title, or its relevance to Vivian.
I am not sure.
Watching last night somehow made me think about my own life experiences. Who I am, what has led to me being and behaving as the person I am today.
The documentary attempts in as much as it is possible to understand Meier’s personality and motives. Why, for example, did she take so many photos? Upwards of 100,000 yet never show them to anyone, why did she work as a nanny when she has enough talent as a photographer to make this a career? Why did she speak with a pseudo-French accent when she was born in New York? Why the floppy hats? Why all the trinkets? Why the self-portraits?
We don’t know and is it likely we will never discover her entire back story.
What made me?
Last week I was out for a meal at a pub in the tiny village of Wortley. I had fish and twice-fried chips. The conversation meandered onto the topic of racism. I tried to explain the origins of my recent blog ‘slap in the face’ alongside my perceptions (or not) of racism.
I talked about my own small-scale racist experiences growing-up in Glasgow. I was most frequently called chocolate boy as each summer would roll-around and my skin would brown, and my pale-skinned (peely-wally) classmates would burn. There was the occasional Jew-bug, and my family were convinced one of my teachers disliked me (Mrs Firth) because of my Jewishness.
As a 20-year-old I once bumped-in to Mr Firth in the newsagent’s, Fletchers. I stared at her for a second then walked away. I didn’t know what to say or do. She would wear her hair in a tight bun that progressively greyed with age.
When I attended the Cubs (precursor of the Boy-Scouts) again there was a suspicion that latent racism was at play. I was never clear about the details although it was something my family discussed. One explanation was their repeated misspelling and mispronunciation of my surname.
Ironically, two weeks ago when some photos I took of a recent trip to Florence were published in the local Jewish newsletter, they manage to mangle my name there too. I don’t think they were being racist. Most likely incompetent.
No, I am not sure that people have been particularly racist towards me, although it is impossible to know what is inside peoples’ hearts.
Now, bullying, yes, I have been bullied.
Have I been bullied because of my looks and my religion or something else? Hard to determine.
I was bullied at primary school in Glasgow. I was probably bullied when I lived in Israel.
None of this really kept me down although it likely shaped my behaviour, my sense of self and level of confidence.
The first adult bullying was around 2000 when a consultant at work, in my first job as a doctor made my life a misery. In hindsight I think he probably bullied everyone who worked for him – he was a bit of a bastard. An awful surgeon too. The next doctor I worked for; another surgeon was also quite an arse. I remember him inviting all the junior doctors on my team to a Christmas party and not asking me. He gave me a hard time. (Blindboy would call him a ‘prick’).
Sorry for the swearing.
Fast-forward eight or nine years and I was bullied by another doctor when working in Barnsley. This was in the early years of the internet and email. He sent me a PDF explaining that I was the worst doctor he had ever met, and I should leave medicine and never return; he didn’t quite tell me to go and kill myself although that was implied.
Then a gap of perhaps a decade and my most recent encounter. He was a guy who tried to micromanage me and managed to crush my spirit.
It took me years to recover.
Is this level of bullying unusual?
Well, first I should provide a definition.
From my own learning, bullying is not a thing. You can’t calculate or weigh it as it is subjective. It is determined by the victim.
It is possible that one person’s bullying is another’s ribbing or joking or extreme-rough play.
Yes, I am sensitive, my skin, whatever its colour is thin. If you say something mean to me, I will likely listen, take it in and think about it. A lot.
Last week (it was a busy seven days) my daughter reported her English teacher asking her to remain behind at the end of the lesson. Her response was the same as mine would have been, ‘Crap, what have I done?’
He wanted to complement her on the homework she had submitted.
For me, no matter how many positive experiences I have I always think the worst. If you say, ‘Can I have a word with you?’ No matter the context, I will hear, ‘You have done a bad, bad thing, I want to tell you how very bad.’
I related this to a colleague at work (also last week!) I had said something similar to her. She was unfazed. I could tell by her expression that she took the ‘Let’s talk about that later,’ or whatever I said, as it was intended.
I asked, ‘When you hear things like that doesn’t it make you feel anxious?’
She replied, ‘Why would I feel anxious?’
The thought had not crossed her mind.
She is a Stoic. Marcus Aurelius would be impressed.
I am not.
I am the opposite of Stoic. Not sure what that might be, perhaps ‘victim’
As to why I am the victim, I don’t know.
Some of it relates to my sensitivity.
Part of this is my personality.
Forgive me for who I am or am not.
I have an innate sense of justice.
When things are wrong, I find it difficult to sit on my hands. I question. I challenge. It gets me into trouble.
Within months of my first consultant appointment in 2007 in Doncaster Royal Infirmary, I was upsetting the establishment, challenging the status quo, the variability of patient care and experience, the behaviours, and attitudes of colleagues.
‘You aren’t making any friends,’ a fellow doctor once told me.
I didn’t reply, although I should have said, ‘I can’t help it!’
That didn’t lead to bullying although there were clashes.
I am the man with the itch who scratches.
It is part of my temperament. Who I am.
Apologies for being me.
I am almost 50.
I wonder if there will be future bullying instances ahead.
I think it likely.
As to how to avoid the bullies or the racists or the bad people, I am not sure.
I can’t keep my head down; it is unfortunately sticky-uppy.
Bullying in 2022 UK is more of a thing. It is more acknowledged, and I might have a better grasp of what to do or how to handle the attacks.
The thing about bullies, for I haven’t really talked about them or their motives in this blog is that although the systems are becoming more sophisticated (In work we have ‘freedom to speak up’ and several anonymous ways to report concerns), the bullies themselves are becoming more cunning, the subtlety of the interaction can skew the response, the fear of appearing paranoid or neurotic can influence your actions. It is likely these people aren’t going anywhere any time soon. The racists will be hanging-around too.
All photos by Valerie Meier.
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