Of the hundreds of blogs I’ve written, my most popular pieces are Atheism 101 and Bobby Kent and My Anxious Parenting. This kind of shocks me because, for the most part, I am a humor blogger and a sometimes YA novelist. It was even more shocking when the meme from the Atheism 101 blog was stolen the first time. It took me all of five minutes to make it, and since I’m pretty sure only my husband and my mom actually read my blog, I didn’t think anyone would actually see it. But see it they did, which was followed by stealing it.
The first thief took most of what I had written and created an entirely new meme, changing a couple of the entries. In my opinion, this person ruined the meme. Over the past year and a half, I got used to seeing my meme plagiarized every couple of months. Every time I saw it, I did some research and I wrote to the person, asking them to stop using it. If they weren’t making any money from the meme, I just sort of left things alone. That was my line in the sand. I didn’t want people making money from MY meme. I even created my own Café Press store to try to make money from my own meme. Well, let’s just say that I still have my day job. So, when I found out the Atheist Agenda was going around again and even being sold as a t-shirt on a site called Skeptical Generation, I was pissed!
I went into rabid bloodhound mode and hunted down the creator of the t-shirt. I sent threatening emails with words like plagiarism and lawsuit. I figured I would just be ignored like I always had in the past, but I wasn’t. I got an email from an 18-year-old woman named Marilyn, chastising me for picking on a teenager. Then, she asked if I wanted her to remove the t-shirt from her site or just give me credit for the design. She was giving me options!
After I read her email, I felt kind of bad. I was really harsh on her. Also, the English professor in me knew that this was a teachable moment – for both of us. I wanted to teach Marilyn that she can’t just take someone else’s ideas and turn them into cash. She taught me that there are actual human beings on the other side of the computer screen. Of course, I KNEW this already, but like a lot of people, I can be quite terse in writing because I’m not seeing someone’s face in front of me. Being the mom of a 19-year-old son, my maternal instincts kicked in. When I talked to my son about the situation, he told me that people see “popular memes” as kind of public property. I was flattered that my meme was considered popular and I kind of understood where Marilyn was coming from.
I think all creative folks just want credit. I mean sure, enough money to pay the bills is nice, too, but I have a cushy day job and a good life. I gave up actually making a living from writing long ago. So, I thought about it and asked her to put a link to my blog under the shirt. I didn’t ask her for a percentage of the sales or anything because she is a young person starting a business, and I have plenty of everything. I’m just not a greedy person.
I honestly didn’t think she would actually put my link with the t-shirt. After all, I had never met Marilyn. For all I knew, she could be a 53-year-old fuzzy knuckled man in Detroit who makes a living from selling pirated movies and stolen memes. I was wrong. Marilyn had the link to my blog posted with the t-shirt in under two hours. She also shared the meme on her Instagram and linked to my blog there. For a couple of days, I had A LOT of readers, not just my husband and my mom.
I have emailed back and forth with Marilyn since then, and I asked her how she felt when she received my email. She said she was terrified and “literally shat bricks.” She had just started watching Orange is the New Black and thought she was going to end up in jail. Poor girl! I can’t believe I caused someone that much anxiety. I have suffered from anxiety and panic attacks my whole life. I would never want to cause anyone that much hell.
I’m really glad I got to know Marilyn, and I’m really proud of her. It is not easy to be an atheist in this very religious world. I know this from personal experience. To see a young person really put herself out there like she does, makes me happy. So, if you are looking for an Atheist Agenda shirt or other funny shirts, check out Skeptical Generation. Honestly, Marilyn’s shirts are way better looking than the one’s I half-assed designed and never sold. You can also follow Marilyn on Instagram, where she and her co-admins post a lot of atheist humor.