An Open Letter to the Woman who Stole my Words
Dear Fellow Human,
In 2016, I had my first adult piece of writing published on a public forum. I was thrilled. I’ve wanted to be a writer since before I knew how to form letters. My earliest stories were scribbles on lined paper because I didn’t know how to write any words. Writing has always felt like breathing. I can’t go more than a day or two without writing something. Anything.
Seeing my words on a real website with my name attached, was a moment of magic for me. Someone read my story and thought it was worth sharing. And then thousands of people read it.
It was magical and beautiful and validating. People were reading my story about what it feels like to be me. And people were clicking “share” and “like” and taking the time to comment on it. So I began submitting more writing to a variety of websites and finding a wider audience. I could call myself a “writer” and mean it. I had been validated.
And then I was faced with the question: does my story belong to me? We live in a world where it is so easy to claim things as your own. Throughout history we have lived with a finders-keepers mentality whether it is over land, borders, property, possessions, or people. If I want it, I can take it, and now it is mine. We write national anthems and stand proudly under flags on land that used to have different flags and different anthems and we accept that now is the true way. 1000 years from now there will be new borders, new flags, new anthems, and new stories. And those will be truth as well.
Two years after that magical publication moment, I awoke to multiple comments on that first story. 46 comments to be exact. I scrolled through the comments and came across yours ...
You wrote: “I already wrote this! The majority is my writing with a few changes.”
I was so taken aback that I actually reread my story to make sure every single word was mine. My initial reaction to you was shock and anger.
Over the course of the day I had so many thoughts about what I could write to you. The things I came up with were not very kind. Kindness and compassion are my guiding principles so I couldn’t even speak the words that went through my head.
My pause in responding made me think about the impulsivity of being at a keyboard. With a few key strokes and a “send” I could harm someone. We live in a world where our amygdalae are allowed to go wild if it involves a sense of anonymity on a screen. Reactions are immediate. You don’t need to stop and think. You can click-click-click-send in mere seconds. I wondered for a moment if that’s what it was like for you. I wondered if you copied, pasted, revised, and submitted without a pause in your thought process.
What surprised me was how people replied to your comment; they immediately jumped to your defence. How awful, they said. One person even pointed out that my article was published 13 months earlier than yours, but used that as further evidence that I plagiarized you. Which is backwards. There it goes again - that impulsive need to type and send without a pause for thought and reflection.
I thought more about what I would say to you if we had the chance to meet. Could I be kind and compassionate? Was it okay for me to feel this anger? Was “betrayal” too strong a word? I googled your name to see if you actually had anything published under your name; not only did I find the story you referred to, I found that it was line for line mine. My story. Not only did you draw attention to your theft of my intellectual property, you did so on a site on which I am a regular contributor. Further research uncovered that your version of my story is also on another prominent website. Under your name.
This was not an intellectual article. It wasn’t research-based. It wasn’t something that could be judged as “similar”. It was a personal narrative about a day in my life. Your version is word for word MY life experience. And yet is it published world-wide under YOUR name.
This evening I am reflecting on my choices. Instead of addressing it in a public forum, I emailed the editors and informed them that the comments were to be deleted from my contributor page, and that your stolen version of my story be deleted.
It has been a few days since your revelation. My anger has not subsided. However, my compassion for you has grown. In what world could a person copy and paste someone else’s personal story, submit it for publication, and then have the nerve to publicly claim ownership? What must your life be like? What might it feel like to be you? To struggle to the point where your only form of expression is to use someone else’s words as your own?
Life must be hard for you. Life must have been hard on you. I send out warmth and love to you with the hope that you can receive support for whatever it is life has thrown your way.
In the meanwhile, my story is still my story. I am angry that my story sits on other people’s screens with your minor changes and your name. I’m angry that human adults seem to be giant 3 year olds who take what we want with no concept of the impact it has on anyone else.
Dear Fellow Human, I ask that the next time you are in front of a screen and you have typed out words, before you press send, ask yourself:
- will I still think this in an hour?
- will I think this in a month?
- do I want the world to judge me based on what I just wrote?
- will I feel good about my words later?
- who will be affected and how?
- would I say this to someone I love?
If you haven’t taken the time to reflect on yourself and to answer those questions for yourself, you aren’t ready to press “send”.
The written word lasts forever. No matter who claims ownership.
Kira, a Fellow Human
If you would like to share your story, or other writings or art, please email your submission to Kmccarthy@sheenasplace.org
If you or someone in your life is struggling with an Eating Disorder, you can contact the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) at http://nedic.ca/
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