A friend told me I should write something funny today but funny is not my default mode, especially when my mind is so cluttered with concern. Sure there’s war, terrorism, and hunger in the world, but what do I fixate on? The undoing of what used to be my favorite magazine and my favorite podcast. And is there anything I can do to stop it? No. They’ve done this to themselves. All I can do is withdraw my support from the magazine and re-share all the stories that are now flooding Twitter that support this sad truth. Why? Because I wasn’t there but I will say this: I had a gut feeling about Cameron Strang and it wasn’t a good one. I just never knew how to articulate it or if it even had any kind of foundation beyond a feeling.
It began on Thursday evening when I saw Andre Henry’s post on Medium. I wasn’t following Andre yet. I was actually following another former employee, Ryan Hamm, who was also following him. Ryan had been a regular on the Relevant podcast when I first started listening back in 2009 and then quietly vanished. I didn’t think much of his disappearance at the time. People come and go from jobs all the time. That’s just life, right?
So Andre posted a link on Twitter to something he wrote on Medium. Ryan liked that tweet and I suppose that’s how it ended up in my feed. That and the word “RELEVANT” was in it. I was a subscriber to RELEVANT magazine, a follower of their Twitter account, and a regular listener to their podcast. Andre’s news at first seemed to come out of nowhere that is, until I looked deeper. Then I realized the evidence was there all along. I couldn’t deny it.
I really should trust my intuition more, but I’ve always leaned more toward self-doubt. This makes sense when taking into account my diagnosed mental illness. Not the garden-variety, mind you. We’re getting pretty good at talking about depression and anxiety these days. A couple years ago I even went to a seminar at a local church about mental illness. But no one addressed the mental illness I’d dealt with – the delusions, the euphoria, the psychosis, and the hyper-religiosity. My experience with my particular brand of mental illness has taught me to question everything, especially my own thoughts and emotions. Nothing has been more invalidating than others pointing out my distorted thinking (or my presumed distorted thinking). Repairing this damage is an ongoing battle. But I think in Cameron’s case my intuition wasn’t imaginary. My frustration toward him came from a very real place.
Here’s where, if I were a professional journalist, I’d have to dig up specific evidence to prove my point, but I’m not a professional and I don’t have the time or energy for that. I will say this: Once, when Eddie Kaufholz stepped away from cohosting the podcast for a bit (although not permanently) to support his wife’s calling to go to law school, I tweeted Relevant Podcast about how Eddie was my favorite. It’s hard for someone like me to explain that in a short tweet, but I tried to be clever and funny enough to get noticed.
The fact is, Eddie and I both like musicals and it was obvious to me that he was sensitive toward how other people felt. So in the tweet I ranked him second only to Jesse Carey because Jesse never failed to make me laugh. But, in all honesty, if I ever met them face to face, of those three guys Eddie is the only one who I can imagine wanting to talk to me.
Why not Cameron? Cameron always seemed sharp and goal-oriented which I suppose are important if you’re trying to grow a business. But he didn’t seem like the kind of person who’d tolerate anyone who wasn’t like him. In fact, shortly after Andre shared his experience in long-form and Rebecca Marie Jo shared hers, I actually wrote a letter to Cameron. Crazy, right? He’ll probably never read it and it’s as much revealing of my ignorance as it is anything else. But I was scared for Cameron because, let’s face it, I have a mental illness and I know what it’s like to want to die. I don’t want him to go that route and I truly believe he can be a better person. It will start with his willingness to admit that he messed up and hurt several people.
Admitting wrongness has never been a problem for me, probably due to the combination of being part of a religious culture that rewards selflessness and having a mind distorted by mental illness with an intellect that could never quite keep up with the crowd. No, my problem lies more with seeing myself as a good person who is smart enough to take part in the conversation. That’s why I was over the moon when Cameron read a question I tweeted on the air. But it was Annie F. Downs and Jamie Ivey who spoke real encouragement to me that day. And, as usual, Jesse Carey brought in the laughter. Still, I thought it admirable that Cameron would choose my question, mostly because it was a serious one that came from a place of deep brokenness that he could never have known. Even now this memory gives me hope that he can and will change.
I also enjoyed hearing my name read on the air. It’s the closest I’d come to even attempting to be a guest on the podcast because I knew they’d start with asking me what I do for a living and I was too ashamed to admit I was disabled by my mental illness and living at home. How would they have dealt with that? They’ve never had anyone Skype in who couldn’t hold down a regular job.
I’m worried about Cameron, it’s true. But he’s not the true victim here. If it were just him and Andre (as I initially thought it might be) I’d think reconciliation would be easy. But it’s not. Every day this weekend more former Relevant employees have added their voices and experiences to the conversation. Cameron didn’t even wait for them all to pour in before deleting his personal Twitter account. And I’m sure we all know that Cameron has other personal struggles at the moment. But the truth needs to be told, no matter what. I just have to remind myself that Cameron will survive. He’s got people in his life who care about him and will help him. We just need to witness his act of repentance and see real evidence of change (which will take time). I believe he’ll get there – he has to – but it won’t be easy.
RELEVANT magazine and podcast helped sustain my faith at a time when I really needed it to. But now I have no problem letting it go, especially knowing that, in doing so, I might aid in accelerating change. But in the end, I am not, and never was, the victim here. Still, I have to take a stand. I have to let go of the magazine I used to love.
It feels much like breaking up with a toxic friend who you have some happy memories with. Like, there’s a part of you who wants to stay because you think in doing so you’re helping them. But that’s just not the case. You see, I’ve been that toxic friend and it wasn’t until I realized that I was losing friends left and right and would end up sad and alone if I didn’t change that I finally got the help I needed. After I made the effort to be a better person and my friends saw real change in me, most of them returned. I’ll return to Relevant, too, but only when I see real change in their leadership and structure. As subscribers and consumers of this brand, we truly need to hold Cameron Strang and Relevant accountable. It’s time to step away and give them a chance to repent, change, and rebuild.
Andre Henry says it best here: “How the RLVNT story became about Cameron Strang”