I’ve been battling to try write a piece on keeping my mouth shut sometimes … because mainly I am ok with the things I’ve said. I know they made my life difficult, that I made enemies who held a grudge, that I hurt feelings, and that I ended up getting fired at least twice because of it. But I can honestly say two things: what I said was mostly true and honest, and the consequences, however bad at the time: turned out ok.
But not always.
When I started this post – I was thinking something else. I was thinking that I would write about all the times I wish I had kept quiet and not said what was on my mind. “Keep your mouth shut sometimes”, was part of my advice to a 17-year old me. And it is good advice. Sometimes it is best to say nothing.
It would have been a good decision when I corrected my boss. I was 20 or so and we all were sitting after-hours in the company bar and he was holding forth about Taoism. He is one of those men that smile with his teeth. The eyes don’t get involved. I corrected his pronounciation – he fired me a few weeks later. I know why I went there. This supposed paragon of zen virtue was banging one of the art designers. And taking his wife and kids out for dinner after. While my pal sat next to my desk and cried.
I got fired again a couple of years later for refusing the advances of a man I worked with. Actually, it was more than that – there were a cabal of guys at the office that felt women should be shut in cupboards until they were needed. I disagreed with most everything they said. And said so. My immediate boss, TJ, kept me safe as long as he could. But then I said No to a mean man, when I was expected to say Yes. And suddenly I wasn’t the remotest bit amusing anymore.
Now there’s a time I should have said something – it may have saved my job. But I was afraid I would become a marked person in the music biz – and be unemployable. So I shut up. And he got away with it. Though, he was sent to Nigeria a year later for generally being an asshole and useless. Which had been my point all along. I got to pay off my debts with the serverance pay, and go on to get the job at Warners, where I worked for almost 19 years.
But the stress of trying to find that job in a London ravaged by recession, was massive. And something I promised I would do my best to avoid by learning to keep my thoughts to myself. Until I couldn’t shut up again.
What you see is what you get with me. I have this need to be transparent, I battle to lie. I won’t cheat, steal or connive. I don’t like being managed and I won’t promise something I can’t deliver. I don’t know where all that came from – oh come on, who am I kidding? I do know: Catholicism, guilt and shame – overall, have served me well.
My favourite boss at Warners told me early on that I had to learn to speak English. “You may think you speak the same language as they do. You may think they understand you because you use the same words, but trust me mate, they don’t.” He (an Australian who was talking what he had walked) was telling me to observe the social conventions, to follow conversational rules, and to shut the hell up sometimes.
I am not malicious nor am I unkind. I am always mortified to discover I have hurt someone. And will apologise unreservedly immediately (especially if I love them). So I am ok with that part. The bluntness is the thing that most scuppered me … my friend Carla remembers overhearing a business phone call – in which I asked someone: “What part of the word ‘No’ don’t you understand”. She was horrified – and quotes me to this day. Not my finest moment. The person on the other end of the line had been badgering me for days and his conversation had devolved into threats. I had had enough.
I won – but I made an enemy. One that unseated me, many years later.
And therein lies the rub. That’s why the advice to my younger self. My frankness, need to be right, to prove myself, to have a say, to get involved … all caused people not to like me. To hold grudges. To think I was unpleasant. Sure my opinions were usually backed with experience and thought – and would often play out the way I predicted. But that didn’t matter – I infuriated, bruised egos and stepped on toes along the way, too.
And that tripped me up.
Nowadays I don’t say as much. Mainly because I have learned to pick my battles. To hold my tongue. I like a simple life and this is the price of admission. But there’s another reason: I keep quiet because, frankly, I don’t give a damn. About being honest with people who don’t matter. About what other people are getting up to. About whether something is good or not. About sharing what I know with someone who won’t appreciate it. Most of the time I just can’t be assed – so I simply nod and smile.
But I haven’t forgotten how to shoot from the hip. And, when I need to, I will. Because, there are times when something has to be said. And I am ok with any hit I may take for saying it.
(All images found in the public domain.)