This post is both about venting my spleen about issues in my household, and a lesson in Pagan leadership, particularly event organizers. I live on a farm in a rural area, and the top of the silo half blew off in the storm last week and is now bouncing around precariously. Some parts have fallen, the rest needs to come down. I live with my boyfriend and his wife, and it turns out that my boyfriend’s wife (ie, my metamour) is highly emotionally abusive. It’s a complicated situation and the abuse impacts the rest of the scenario.
Getting back to the silo, my partner had a plan for doing this on Tuesday on his day off. (He works third shift on a rotating schedule of 12-hour shifts. This weekend he works Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night, so he’s pretty wiped out by the end of that.) We talked through how I could help with the plan, and waiting til Tuesday gives me time to finish up some of my own backlogged to-do list.
My metamour, however, decided to just do it today on her own. This didn’t go well. But first, the backstory.
My boyfriend planned to borrow a friend’s truck with the appropriate towing capacity (his car can tow a lot, but not a full lift), rent a lift, and use his saw to cut through the straps holding the aluminum sails to the top of the silo. Since my partner works with tools and metal professionally, I was reasonably confident that he knows what will work. to remove the top of the silo.
We also talked through a backup plan so that, if needed, we could move my storage box from beneath the silo. this is the box part of a truck and I use it to store art supplies and ritual decor.
My boyfriend’s relatives rent his land and farm it, and they have a vehicle that could move the truck box. However, that would require me to unload a fair amount of the items because it’s a lot of fragile glass stuff. But, doable in about an hour, if it’s both of us and if we have my cart assembled, and maybe his car on hand to hold some of the stuff while the storage box gets moved.
I’m not going to be really useful on the tools and cutting end, but I offered to help spot him. My boyfriend is really bad with heights; I’m not totally comfortable but I literally took a job hanging lights in a concert hall to be able to cope better with heights, so I’m used to dangling on lifts.
Ok, so we have plan, and backup plan. Except, nope.
The metamour borrows the friend’s truck yesterday, and today goes and rents the lift and hauls that over. She gets it set up at the foot of the silo. It’s a very windy day, and to be honest, if we had that kind of wind, I’d have opted to cancel and reschedule the lift rental. But she goes forward, except, she has not planned to have anybody go up in the lift with her to spot her, or anyone on hand to help if there is an accident, except the 11-year old highly-distractable boychild. My boyfriend’s not available because hes’ in the middle of his 3-day work cycle and he sleeps during the day. I sleep during the day too, but I wouldn’t be available to help her anyways because I cut off all contact with my metamour when her emotional abuse became apparent. Again, part of a longer story, but the context is important.
Apparently, she couldn’t get the lift close enough to the silo to cut the top off, so she decides she’ll just move my storage box on her own without asking me or talking to my partner. She contacts the relatives with the vehicle that can move it. Fortunately, my boyfriend has woken up for work by this point and tells her no, she can’t just move it, it has to be emptied.
She insists that he told her it was empty, and he says “No, I said it didn’t have anything really heavy in it, but it’s full of fragile stuff.” So she cancels the relatives coming over to move the storage box.
What that leaves us with is several hundred dollars spent to rent the lift, and nothing to show for it.
Pagan Leadership, Planning, and Control Freaks
Here’s how this is a lesson for Pagan leadership, especially event organizers. So many organizers really fail to plan. Add to that the tendency to be micromanagers/perfectionists/control freaks, and you have a real problem.
My metamour, for instance, is absolutely certain that nobody can wash the dishes as well as she can. It’s also impossible to use her “system” to do the laundry and succeed at it, you’re guaranteed to fail. She is also convinced that some of the household carpentry was done wrong because she wasn’t the one to do it herself.
And sure, she knows more about carpentry than I do, and she’s far more of a neat freak than I am, so maybe she’s more attentive. That being said, I assisted her on a building project to build a cabinet to house her massage table and other related items, and the cabinet ended up being fairly crooked. It wasn’t so crooked that it couldn’t be used for its intended purpose, but it definitely wasn’t square. I was just helping hold boards and taking direction.
Feedback or Abuse?
Historically, my metamour gets upset when my boyfriend points out places where her lack of planning, or her control freak tendencies, have produced results that have actually been harmful to the household. She says he’s being abusive and attacking her. Having been witness to a few of her failures to plan, to her control freak behavior, and to their conversations, I realize how much of a similarity there is to problems I’ve witnessed in Pagan groups.
A lot of leaders feel attacked by feedback. And it’s true that being a leader means you have a target painted on your back. You’re going to get blamed for all sorts of stuff that isn’t your fault. And yes, I’ve been on the receiving end of feedback that ranges from useless to abusive.
But, when someone offers genuine feedback about an event or something else, you have to be able to listen to that.
I’ve seen a lot of Pagan event organizers especially start planning an event and they just pull the trigger on doing something that has drastic consequences for the rest of the event. That ranges from going forward with an event without having enough volunteers, to promoting an event before the venue was rented, to focusing on designing t-shirts (and buying them) before there’s even a solid plan for the event itself. I’ve seen event organizers make a ton of assumptions about how things will go; failing to plan enough space between vendor tables, failing to create a workable schedule.
I’ve made some rookie mistakes as an event organizer, and I’ve also had the problem many organizers do where I assumed that someone would do the job they said they would, and then they didn’t, and I had to do the job myself, and I did a less-good job of it. That stuff happens. But there’s a real problem when there’s a consistent failure to plan ahead, or when the failure to plan harms others.
And especially, when the person who failed to plan is called out for it with clear feedback and instead of listening to the feedback, they fire/exile the person for it, or they claim they are being attacked, bullied, and abused.
Worse yet is when the person is convinced that there wasn’t a problem in the first place, that they are right and they know exactly what they are doing.
I know a thing or two about this; I consider myself a recovering control freak, and I’ve written a few articles in more depth about this tendency in leaders. And here’s the breakdown: Sometimes, it’s worth it to be a control freak and a perfectionist. If you’re running an event where there’s a particular artistic vision you’re holding onto, and there are specific tasks that you really are the best person to do, ok. You get to be a perfectionist there and focus your efforts on getting those things done.
This is a balancing act that I do with a number of my rituals and events. There are specific things that maybe nobody else on the team has the skills to do; maybe nobody else is an artist, or another skillset. In my case, I want the altars and decorations set up a particular way, so I plan to have enough time to do that myself. Helpers can help me unpack the decor, and break it down for packing at the end, and can haul things around and save me a lot of time. But I want it set up a particular way and I know there’s no good way to communicate that to a volunteer, so I just take the time to do it myself. It’s actually one of the ways I center myself to prepare for a ritual.
And, I get enough positive feedback on my ritual decor, and my artwork in general, that I’m reasonably sure my sense of aesthetic has a positive impact on the work.
Often enough, though, a control freak isn’t actually the best person for a particular job. They may have this delusion that nobody can do it better than them, but as it happens, they aren’t actually as good at Task A as someone else. Or, maybe it’s a thing that someone else can do just fine, but they’ll do it in a different way.
Are You Sure You’re Right?
Given her history, I’m pretty sure my metamour decided to cut off the top of the silo with at least one of her motivations being she believes that nobody else was going to do as good of a job with it. I’m also pretty sure that my metamour still thinks she’s good at planning, even though I have two years of evidence to show that she isn’t. Everything from family trips to getting the day passes from 4-H to get the kids into the cat show to construction efforts; she wants to be the person who can do the thing, and her failure to plan has cost the household in time, money, and frustration.
Just a few weeks ago my boyfriend had to flip his schedule from nights to days (flipping schedules is really exhausting, if you haven’t done it) in order to attend a graduation of one of her family members. She got the time wrong by several hours. He slept for all of a couple hours, got up, got dressed, they got the kids packed into the van and began the drive. My metamour called a member of her family to confirm the time, after they began the drive, and found out that the graduation wasn’t til the afternoon. It was a 1-2 hour drive, so they turned around, he tried to take a nap, didn’t really get any sleep, and then got back in the car and tried again. This has a real cost to him and his health, plus I have seen her then turn around and get mad at him for not getting XYZ tasks done when he was dealing with all the extra work from her failure to plan.
Again–mistakes happen, but a consistent failure to be able to plan means that an event organizer really needs to consider if they are the best person for the job.
What if You Aren’t a Great Planner?
Often in Pagan groups, there are only so many people with the “bug” for event planning. There are only so many people with the drive to go and get it done. That being said, if a failure to plan is causing strife on your team, if it’s costing money, if your vendors, performers, speakers, or attendees are having issues that negatively impact them, you may want to take some time to consider what to do.
here are options that divide out roles, for instance. Let’s say you’re the go-getter-git’r’done person who can make the thing happen…but thinking ten steps ahead in chess moves is not so much your thing. What do you do? One potential solution here is that you can work to collaborate with someone who can talk through things with you.
In the Myers Briggs personality test, I (and probably my boyfriend) test out as an INTJ. That means that I have a plan, a contingency plan, and contingency for the contingency plan. I love strategizing and noodling out planning details for projects I’ll never even be part of, because I’m just that kind of nerd.
I can be annoying in the ideation phase of an event because I can see the problems in the details way before most other folks. Like, “Hey, let’s do an event at ____location. We can save money by catering it ourselves.” Me: “I’m pretty sure they require a caterer on their approved list.”
Yeah–that kind of thing can be annoying, but really it’s way better than renting the venue and then getting pissed off that they require a caterer, but you’ve already paid them, and then you have to tell people, “Sorry, there won’t be any food at all at this all-day event, and there are no food sellers within walking distance, and no, you can’t bring your own food onsite.” It’s a small detail that can blow an event.
When it’s Just Toxic
However, there’s really no hope for an event organizer that can’t plan ahead, and who is a control freak and thinks they are right all the time. That kind of disorganization, and micromanaging, is a toxic combination. Usually folks who do both of those also have a number of abusive tendencies, in my experience.
Sometimes the folks who don’t plan well get away with it, at least for a while. They’re charismatic and talk people into helping them out, or they luck out and wiggle their way through. My metamour, for instance, is charismatic and flirtatious. She often gets her way by flirting with people. I have frequently heard her say, “I’ll just show my tits to them and get them to move the furniture,” or some version of that. She delights in manipulating people to do what she wants, particularly through sexual flirtation. That can work for a time. Heck, this kind of abusive personality can even make you feel good about being manipulated if they are really skilled. It’s still toxic as hell.
If you’re noticing any of these behaviors in yourself (failure to plan, or being a control freak) don’t worry–there’s hope. If you can acknowledge you do it, you can usually work through it.
If you’re working with someone who is in total denial about those behaviors, or about any manipulative or abusive behaviors–the only advice I have is, cut ties. That toxic and abusive behavior is unlikely to change.