On What's Going On With Me

Before I get into anything else, and particularly because this isn't brief, I want to acknowledge that there are people who don't care about what I want to say here. I accept that and don't expect anyone who doesn't want to read this to do so. In truth, I’ve largely hesitated to write anything for public consumption for these past months in part because I wasn’t sure if it was the appropriate time to speak, or what made sense to say. My first priority hasn't been turning to the public to do some kind of cynical damage control, or rushing out a contrived, capital-S Statement, but I am sorry that as a result this is so late coming.

Ultimately, I'm writing here now, before the year is out, because I don’t want to give the impression that I refuse to face all of this. I know that there are some people do want to know how I respond to everything and there are many things I do need to reckon with and things I do want to say for those who are interested. I want to be as clear as possible, so I'm going to talk about three things: The list allegations and my professional life, my pre-professional life, and consequences/what I'm going to do going forward. 

The List

If you somehow don’t know about the list, you can read in the piece linked here (or just google it, there are a lot of pieces). I’m not going to share the link to the list itself since it was never meant to be made public in the first place and because the vast majority of the people on it haven't dealt with it publicly yet. But the essential premise is that it documents misconduct committed against women in the media sphere, you can find it easily enough, and I’m on it under “Emmet Rensin”. So, in order of severity:

  • That I've engaged in inappropriate communication with women in media while an editor: I believe this refers to my time as a deputy editor at Vox (that is, the only time I have been an editor) when a freelancer I knew through college social circles alleged that my editing and related communication with her was severe to the point of being unprofessional. However—and the result of an investigation by two senior female editors who reviewed all of our communication concurred—there wasn’t a sexual undercurrent. I wasn’t lewd or solicitous (indeed I don't believe a sexual undercurrent was alleged in the first place). I was abrasive. As it happens, the investigation found that I was heavy-handed toward several freelancers, men and women. That isn't something I'm terribly proud of, but it didn't enter into the realm of sexual harassment or abuse of power.

    (Nor, despite what some people online inexplicably seem to have concluded, was this the reason I left Vox, only to have it “covered up” by an excuse where I was “fired” over a riot incitement tweet. First, this took place in January of that year, while the riot tweet affair took place in June. Second, the riot tweet incident resulted in a one week suspension, not my termination. Third, I left Vox as planned at the end of my one year contract in order to go back to school, a month after I came back to work from my suspension. The entire coverup theory is bizarre and untrue. As rocky as it could be sometimes, I really enjoyed my time at Vox and it's unjust to try and tar them for handling this case incorrectly. I still have records of my communication with the freelancer in question. I don’t think the whole internet has a right to them and I'm not trying to win some online fight over this, but if anyone I actually know or some future potential employer wants to see them and judge for themselves, they exist.)

 

  • That I have retaliated against women in media: I don't know the origin of this allegation, but what I do know is that I have not used a position of power in order to retaliate against the life or career of anyone, including the aforementioned writer, whose piece was published shortly thereafter under the supervision of another editor. I have feuded with many writers in public but I’ve never sought to engage in blacklisting or retribution.

 

  • That I have committed serious sexual violence against women in media: I don’t know the origin of this allegation either. What I do know is that I have never assaulted a colleague, I’ve never been the subject of a professional complaint of this kind, and I’ve never used a position of power in media or organizing in order to assault anyone.

 

Before

However, none of the above means I’ve always been a decent person, or that I’ve never seriously hurt or abused anyone, or that I don’t owe anyone an apology. The truth is that while I don't believe I have abused power in my professional life, I was, before that, a genuinely shitty person much of the time. I want to be accountable to that here.

In my teens and early 20s, I was a profoundly unstable guy, one who was capable at times of treating other people extraordinarily poorly. I was mean to people, or I demeaned them, or I insulted them. I stole from them, lied to them, abused them, or was just generally a gross, sometimes scary sack of shit to them, even (especially) my ostensible friends and loved ones. I was erratic and impulsive, paranoid and selfish, usually for reasons that appeared totally inexplicable those those around me. In my early social circles, it was just widely understood that there was something seriously wrong with me and although it would take years for a professional to correctly figure out what, the group intuition was correct. Some of it, no doubt, was just that I sucked. Some of it was common arrogance and entitlement. A lot of it was a serious and ongoing mental illness, consequent substance abuse, and the consequences of my own abuser’s behavior. 

I don’t think this is the right venue to drag out gritty extended stories of my own pain or medical history here,  because I think it would be in this context that would be distracting and pity-seeking, and I’m not after that here. But I want to be honest about where I’ve been at different points in my life, then and now. Like many people, I'm skeptical of vague vows to "do better" made at the point of being accused of some kind of shitty behavior. So I want to be open about where I was earlier in my life and what was going on with me, so that when I talk about what I've done already and what I continue to do to keep myself stable, it make sense.

Until several years ago, I was immensely self-destructive. Beyond drug use and the ordinary stable of risky and frankly bizarre behavior that comes in waves with an illness like mine, I was cyclically out of control, putting myself in situations where I would be and often was injured, stolen from, detained by law enforcement, involuntarily committed to treatment, or otherwise hurt. But more importantly and more seriously, I could be and was impulsively destructive to others, to friends and strangers, men and women: what mattered wasn't who the other person was so much as where I was in a given cycle and how severe it was, if I was merely manic or entirely delusional or psychotic. I wish that it were just one person I treated poorly or one particular genre of predictable shittiness I inflicted, but it wasn't that rational or motivated.  I could be and was unreliable, erratic, inexplicably off-putting, and abusive to people around me in a wide variety of ways--physically, emotionally, financially, socially, verbally--without evident rhyme or reason. During the worst periods, I could become so impulsive, delusional, and paranoid that I could wind up hurting people through action and through inaction, whether I knew them or not, whether they liked me or I liked them or not, whether I'd appeared fine the day before or not, whether I appeared fine again the day after or not. Drugs and my failure to process my own trauma exacerbated and worsened everything, but at the heart of it was a mood disorder and associated psychosis which persisted untreated or misdiagnosed for years, even when I was sober or not actively troubled by own past. That is to say, at the heart of it wasn't some outside drug influence "making" me do anything or someone else's behavior that "made" me some way. It was me and the architecture of my brain.

I don't know how, really, to begin to apologize for so much. I'm sorry for all of it. I am sorry for every kind of harm, large and small, that I inflicted. I'm sorry for the damage--material, emotional, psychological, physical--that I've done to other people.  I’m sorry too that when I did finally start to get my shit together, when I finally found the right professional care and the right medication and the right diagnosis, I usually prioritized my own selfish desire to keep my mental health status relatively private and move on over an effort to reach out and try to make amends to those I’d hurt. I apologized sometimes, usually when confronted, but not enough or to everyone. I should have. Instead, I often just threw everything into a box labeled “bad past” and tried to leave it there, rather than making those who I know now aware that I haven’t always been OK, that remaining OK requires daily maintenance for me. Instead I spent energy trying to avoid being tagged "crazy", even though anyone could tell, tried to minimize how bad it could get, even though people who have to interact with me have a right to know. I'm sorry for that too. I suppose I was embarrassed and afraid of stigma, I still am, but that isn't an excuse either. 

To be completely clear: neither my illness nor any of its consequences exonerates me for being awful at any point. I’m still culpable and I don’t offer any of it as some reason to dismiss the pain I've caused people. It's particularly important to me to say explicitly that in talking about this, I don’t want to stigmatize the mentally ill and to be frank, that's another reason I hesitated to write anything. So let me emphasize that nobody should take this to mean that mentally ill people are unusually dangerous. If anything, we are more likely to be the victims of abuse than the perpetrators; I've been both. So I can only speak for my own case and nobody else's when I say that beyond the cycles of instability that come with my particular disorder, I went through years of incorrect diagnoses (some truly outlandish), consequent failures of treatment, self-medication, recovery and relapses, and that I dealt with all of it in the worst and most destructive ways possible.  I didn't know how to deal with my own shit. I didn't want to deal with my own shit. So that shit became pain for people around me who didn't deserve it.  The good news is that a few years ago, about a decade after my first contact with the mental health care industry, I finally got the right diagnosis and began the search for the right meds. These days I have therapy, learned coping mechanisms, and (after some trial and error) a regimen of the right, powerful medication. But I didn't before, and I hurt people, and I'm responsible for that.

This is all particularly shameful when so many people dealing with mental illness and addiction and trauma have managed to deal with them without hurting anyone. Most people with these issues never hurt anyone at all. That wasn’t me. The best I can say is that thanks to years of work, I've come closer and closer to leading a largely ordinary life. I can still be a jerk sometimes—point in case, two years ago I could be a jerk editor and a few months ago I was still getting into petty (and, often, out-of-proportion) fights with people online, as most of you no doubt know. I can still be insensitive and abrasive and socially off-putting sometimes, but at the very least, it is all within the realm of basic sanity now. I'm not a dangerous jerk anymore.

More specifically, I haven't had a cycle or episode so severe that I required law enforcement or medical intervention in years. I haven't taken a hard drug in years. I haven't been subject to inpatient treatment or any other kind of institutionalization in years. I haven't been subject to those things for so long because treatment, frustrating and slow as it can be, has been working. My moods are within stable boundaries. I don't suffer from psychosis anymore. I don't have severe delusions anymore. So long as I remain on medication, I shouldn't have any of those things again. I'm not promising--all of a sudden exposed after a career of unrepentant predatory abuse-- to “get help” in some vague way, or pleading previously untreated madness that I promise to get fixed ASAP, totally sorry now because I got caught after exploiting my power and status for years—new leaf forthcoming! It didn’t take a public crisis in order to convince me to get serious about my treatment and myself. That doesn't mean some magic switch got flipped a few years back and I got all better--mental health care doesn't work like that--but I’m fortunate that over the past several years, I've become a better and more stable person than I was before. I'm fortunate that there's a treatment course that works for me. There isn't  for everyone, and not everyone who needs treatment has access to those medical resources. I've been extraordinarily lucky in that way.

But of course that's all small comfort to the people I’ve hurt. While I'm grateful to be able to say that I'm doing better than I was, that doesn't make the past OK, or ameliorate the pain of the people I've mistreated or abused. My improvement doesn't do anything for them. So once again, I’m unequivocally sorry for all the harm I caused over those years. Nobody deserved to deal with my instability and shittiness.  Nothing that was going on with me makes my treatment of anyone less painful or less real. I'm responsible for all that pain, and I'm sorry.

I'm also sorry to my friends and my partner, not for any "embarrassment" or whatever the hell people keep saying in these things, but because as a result of my behavior, they've now been forced to deal with the real pain and confusion and betrayal of reckoning with my past, which they did nothing to deserve. My parents deserve a double apology on this front: both for the pain I've brought into their lives now, and for the manifold harms I inflicted on them as a young man, which were, if not the worst, certainly the most extensive of all. Please, of course, don't attack or go after anybody who knows me or is my friend or my loved one—they don’t deserve that either, and no matter what they aren't responsible for me. Similarly, please don't attack anybody denouncing me or attacking me over this--you aren't doing me a favor. I wish that were obvious but given how I’ve seen people treated in similar situations, and how I've seen some of them treated already, it feels worth reiterating. 

What Happens Next

For the most part, of course, I don’t know and it isn't entirely up to me. But I do want to give as clear a picture as I can of the consequences all of this has entailed for me over the past few months, as well as the steps I'll be taking going forward. 

1. Naturally and most critically for the future, I'm continuing with my psychiatric treatment, addiction recovery, and medication regimen. I’m grateful to be well down that path already. But it can be too easy sometimes, especially after a few relatively good years, to believe that you’re out of the woods. I don't want to forget that going back to square one is just a relapse or dereliction of treatment away. Despite everything, I want to remember that the years since I got on the right treatment course have occasioned the first time that I ever really had any stability in my life and was ever able to do anything but flit around between half-baked ambitions, debilitating depression, and cycles of self-destruction.  I don't ever want to throw my stability away, for my sake, but more importantly for the sake of others and their safety. 

2. I'd like to engage in some process of restorative justice, or at least to apologize to everybody I've hurt. I've apologized here, of course, but there's a difference between an apology trying to cover so much and apologies made personally and directly. However, I don’t want to start unilaterally sending out direct apologies and thereby impose myself and my guilt on people who would rather never hear from me, nor, if I am being honest, do I think I have a complete memory of every person I ought to apologize to. But for anyone who does want to talk, I'm here. Even if I haven't hurt you, I'm happy  to speak to you or answer your questions or just listen to you, now or in the future.

3. Beyond the inevitable social consequences of lost friends, broken trust, anger, and isolation that I've accepted, I'm accepting profound changes to my professional life. I know that accountability, at least for me, should include repercussions in the loss of professional power and income, even when the shitty behavior occurred outside the professional realm. So, first, while I enjoyed magazine editing both as a craft and for the relative financial stability that came with it (and had planned to make it the backbone of any financially secure future), I think it’s clear that I shouldn’t be one for the foreseeable future. Other people who have not been even rude to writers deserve those positions more than I do, and can be trusted with the responsibility of overseeing others more than I can.

Similarly, I’ve stepped back from all of my political work, including having resigned my position as co-chair of my local DSA back in October. Like editing, organizing has been something I've found deeply fulfilling (if not exactly a source of any financial stability) and I'd looked forward to years of work in that area. But it would naive to think that any organization’s work wouldn’t be potentially derailed by my presence, or to expect that fellow organizers indulge me when my presence might make them uncomfortable or impede their mission. No worthy political organization deserves that. Political leadership requires meeting an unusually high bar of personal integrity in order to succeed, and having not met that bar in my pre-political life, I don't have any right to ask for positions of organizing responsibility or power. I accept the end of that part of my life.

Finally, I’m not contributing to any publications as a writer right now. The only publication where I had any kind of standing paid gig understandably ended our relationship over all of this, a decision I accepted without resistance. I haven’t accepted new commissions from any other publication in months and haven't pitched anywhere else in months. In practical terms, this means the loss of all income outside my student stipend (i.e. almost all of it) as well as an obvious end to any career momentum I had going. I don’t tell you in order to solicit sympathy, but to give a clear account of the consequences that have come with this, since very little of this--the changes to my media life, to my political life, to my social life, to my financial life, etc.--involve big public announcements you can see without me telling you. But the consequences have been extensive and profound, as they should be.

I don’t want to pretend that I don’t want to write publicly again. Of course I do, and saying otherwise would be transparent bullshit. But I don’t know what any future published work will look like, or when I'll come back to it; at the very least, writing is one of the few lines of work that doesn't entail any official power over anybody, which is probably best for everyone. But it will be a good long while at least before I begin to think about it at all. We'll see. For now, I'm just a student and a friend to the friends I have.

I know all of this is a lot, but even at what already feels like too great a length, friends and peers will have questions and conversations they want to have. I'm off public-facing social media right now and probably indefinitely, but anyone who wants to reach out can reach me via email or the submission form on this site or by phone, if you have my number.

-Emmett