When the Trolls Are Silenced

I started following the Humans of New York Facebook page, not only because of the incredible photographs and arresting captions, but because the comments section was so positive. It was this big upbeat community, and it was like a miracle. How amazing that people are able to rein in their nastiness in support of HONY’s subjects, who are really making themselves vulnerable by agreeing to be photographed.

It wasn’t long before I realized the comments must be moderated. I’m no stranger to comments sections, and people’s behavior in this one was atypical. Sure enough, Brandon addressed it himself.

“Been getting some emails from people who have been banned…the moderators have very clear instructions: ban anyone who is attacking the subject…feel free to joke. We aren’t stiff or prudish. But we do know the difference between being funny and being a dick.”

That was written last year, and as far as I know, he hasn’t addressed it again since. At the time, HONY had 5 million followers. It’s now up to 16.3 million. In other words, not allowing commenters the freedom to be an absolute shit to someone is not limiting his readership. It is helping it.

The beautiful thing about this is that HONY moderators are setting a standard of behavior that the members of the community help enforce. If someone says something nasty that gets missed by the mods, the community members chastise that person. We love our safe, supportive, troll-free space, we love to read people’s stories. We want people to pose and talk when Brandon shows up with his camera, not run screaming.

I’m a member of a women’s writing group. The group has guidelines, and it is moderated. It is another troll-free zone. The moderator, Barbara Bos (who runs Booksbywomen.org, in addition to this writing group) is smart, dedicated and no-nonsense. She has said she has zero tolerance for trolls. She doesn’t announce that something will be deleted or call the person out; she just makes the comment disappear (and, I assume, the commenter sometimes.)

We are none the wiser, and that’s okay. If I knew, if she hinted, I would feel myself wondering,“Who? What was said? What happened?” It would make me a little outraged and feel a little more guarded. But we don’t know. It’s rarely mentioned, and I don’t have to wonder.

The result is a warm, compassionate and supportive group of writers. When I joined, there were under 1000 members. Now we’re nearing 7000. Not a week goes by when someone doesn’t mention how safe and supported they feel in this group. I have met some amazing people and made dear friends in the space because I felt safe there.

A lot of people say,“You need to toughen up and learn to deal with criticism.” I wonder how often the people who say that are ones who are fond of criticizing but who are upset when others push back.

Yes, there are some areas in our lives when critiques are necessary: when we are learning something new, when we are on the job, and (most importantly) when we are voicing opinions about other people’s realities.

But I really think the last thing this world needs is more toughened people. I feel like that “toughen up” cry is just a bunch of bullshit said by people who don’t want to be called bullies so they can keep bullying. The fact is, this world is starving for more compassion and less toughness.

The smallest acts of kindness, the unexpected shows of compassion, the little pictures and videos that make us smile, these things are trending now. This is what’s going viral.

In Western culture, we are sold the lie that toughness equals strength. That’s more bullshit. That is demanding that people change their reactions to attacks instead of demanding a stop to the attacks.

Toughness in the face of constant, unrelenting and unrepentant negativity isn’t strength; it’s a tragedy. It demands that we disconnect ourselves from our hearts and our feelings so people can’t hurt us. That is expecting that the good parts of ourselves should be changed, damaged or denied so trolls can’t get to us.

And guess what: You can never be tough enough for a real troll. If you don’t react, there will always be escalation until you do.

Actual strength is being authentic and vulnerable, and understanding that it is right to be hurt when people are hurtful. Actual strength comes from allowing others in the space to be authentic and vulnerable safely, as well.

There are people in this world who thrive on negativity, who feel like they can only make an impact with their fists, who feel so threatened when someone challenges the status quo, that they have to stomp on that person. Their voices are not meant to share an idea but to stop other people from sharing. They demand the freedom to deny others a voice through intimidation.

But a funny thing happens when you silence trolls. People start opening up, sharing their experiences more, seeing different points of view and supporting each other. I know I do.

When I know I can speak without getting stomped on, I will speak. Maybe I don’t need to. Maybe I can and should keep myself to myself. But it feels good to connect and share. It feels good to read someone saying, “ME TOO!!” It makes me feel less alone. It makes me feel inspired and hopeful, the opposite of the way I feel when I am in a space overrun with negativity.

We are social animals, and we tend to take our cues from one another. If a community is mostly positive and welcoming, the expectation is that others will be positive and welcoming, as well. Most people there are already that way. Some people will begin to act that way because others do. Some people who are that way naturally will be drawn to the environment. And some people will not conform and will be negative. Often when this happens, the existing community members will speak up to maintain the benefits of their positive environment.

A while back, there was a TED talk given by Monica Lewinsky. Nadia Goodman and three others had the unfortunate task of deleting the negative comments on the Facebook feed. She said it was some of the nastiest most vitriolic stuff she had ever read. But after several hours of boosting the positive comments and deleting the vitriol, the trend began to shift. A lot more supportive and positive comments started being posted.

People who moderate spaces and make them safe from trolls often experience outraged push back. “How DARE you silence me?! This is oppression!! You are being cowardly by not allowing a lively debate!!” they might be heard to shriek.

veruca_salt

No, Veruca. That’s not how this works. When has this ever been the way things work? In what area of the real world, are you free to storm into a community conference and call the presenter a stupid fuck? When was the last time you were invited into a women’s meeting to weigh in on whether or not you believed them to be a bunch of uptight feminazis? At work, are you encouraged to publicly provide your opinion on your coworker’s attire and if it makes her a slut?

Freedom of speech is the freedom to express your opinions without being arrested. That’s all. It is not the freedom to enter people’s homes, studios or businesses and shout your opinions in their faces. If you want to talk about it in your own space, talk about it. But don’t expect to be welcomed in and handed a cup of tea and a microphone.

I have found myself becoming relieved when there are no comments sections, especially connected to articles and posts about women’s issues. These are a lightning rod for nastiness, as well as dismissive and violent rhetoric. Not having a comments section makes me feel safer as a reader. It saves me from my own sick compulsion to view the opposition to the very simplest of women’s concerns, which are my concerns, being a woman and all.

Recently, my mom was telling me about the people she met on a cruise and how wonderfully kind and friendly they were. She was high on humanity. Then she asked how I was, and I said I was depressed by how miserable everybody was.

Mom was like, “But haven’t you been listening? They’re not!! I just met a whole ship full of good, nice people.”

I was being influenced by all the nastiness I was seeing everywhere. But the nastiest people are not a representation of the whole world. They are just the loudest. It’s really hard to remember that.

Yes, I know I’m comparing the outside world to the internet. But we can’t keep pretending that online is something separate from real life. There are still human beings on the end of these wireless signals. A lot of people ONLY interact with others online. Some are lost and hurting, maybe waiting to see which way the tide is turning: hatred and vitriol? Or positivity and compassion?

So what will I do? Well, first of all, I need to spend less time on the internet. But beyond that, I will stay in safe spaces and help build safe spaces. I will promote the positive and try my hardest to disregard the negative. I will ignore outright nasty trolls, but speak up when I see bullying. I’ll share the good stuff and not give a voice to the trolls.

Mommy! Mommy! Look at me!

Capture1

Watch this! Look what I can do! Did you see that??

I have a kid under ten, so I hear some version of that about a hundred times a day. I look up (patiently, and/or excitedly, I hope) every time to witness the clever, odd, incomprehensible, hilarious or frankly alarming things my child does. Sometimes, with the “Did you see that?”s I say, “Yes! That was awesome!” But I didn’t. I know, I suck, but that’s probably not the worst lie a parent can tell.

It does get a little tiresome, especially when I don’t really understand what I’m seeing: tiny action figure performs tiny stunt mostly hidden by tiny cupped hands. “Wow! How did he do that?” I ask, which is the parenting equivalent of saying someone has a great personality.

Or when I have seen it a thousand times.

Or when I’m sure “it” will result in an injury. “Look!” he says jumping off the chair onto his knees in the carpet. “Be careful!” I call again and again, because in my mind the chair is fifty feet tall and the carpet is made of stones.

I’m not complaining. I know that too soon, he won’t care if I’m looking, and too soon after that, he will very much NOT want me looking. So I look, I see, I watch.

Honestly, I can’t look enough anyway. His cheeks are so chubby and cute, and his eyes are so bright, and his laugh is so infectious. And he’s always changing.

Every time I look, I can feel the minutes slip into days and splash into years, and I’m always trying to re-memorize him.

I marvel at my irrational soul that manages to be as eager for my boy’s independence as it is heartbroken at the prospect of it. I wonder if all parents feel the same. I wonder if mine did.

A few days ago, my mom called to say she didn’t think she and dad were going to be up for the journey to see us this winter. I totally understood and wasn’t really surprised. Dad had back surgery recently, and Mom has joint problems that make traveling hard. We would just plan to go see them instead. No big deal.

But.

Something occurred to me after I hung up that put a little chill in me and made everything a little grayer: What if she didn’t just mean “this winter?” What if she meant “ever again?” It’s not like traveling long distances gets easier with age.

I have recently (fortunately) found myself with more time on my hands. I had vague plans to use some of it beautifying my home. Or at least making it seem more like a home than a gigantic toy box. I thought about rearranging furniture, getting some new accessories, painting (that last one might have been a bit of a stretch).

After talking to my mom, my ideas seemed drab and pointless, and they didn’t really feel worth the effort. I realized that all of those plans, like so much of what I do, had centered around the thought, “What would mom think of this?”

So there it is. Thirty something years later I’m still saying , “Mommy! Mommy! Look at me!”

As a mom, that comforts me. He will never not need me.
As a mom, that terrifies me. He will never not need me.
As a daughter, I am sobbing into my pillow. I will never not need her.

I’m No Doctor, But Your Throat is Probably Fine

overreacting

People are really super concerned about their throats lately. Specifically, they are worried about things being shoved down them. Rarely a day passes when I don’t hear about someone’s worry over their throat. It is generally worded like this:

“I get it, you’re trans; you don’t have to shove it down my throat.”
“I’m for equal rights, but don’t shove your feminist agenda down my throat.”

These statements suggest that it is perfectly okay to be whatever and whoever you are, as long as you keep it really quiet and feel ashamed about it. And don’t rock the boat.

A gay couple touching in public might be described as “shoving it down my throat.” In actuality, a gay couple holding hands is only likely to do your throat any harm if they are really tall, and they are running right at you, with their arms stretched at throat level. And they clothesline you. In the throat.

Possibly, people are being less literal than I assume.More figuratively, then, I would not define, “shoved down your throat” as being required to acknowledge that there are people who are different from you because you see an example of one. I’d describe “shoved down your throat,” as having laws made about what you can do with your body or where you can go to the bathroom, or which consenting adults are allowed to marry.

Being exposed to the issues or even the existence of a group of people who are different from you is unlikely to do any harm to your throat. In fact, it might even help it! Tolerance strengthens vocal cords and open-mindedness contains antioxidants, such as Vitamin C and riboflavin*.

*These claims have not been tested by the FDA.

So don’t worry, your throat is probably fine. If it actually hurts, though, you may want to get it checked for strep. You don’t want to mess with that shit.

Spirit Shredder

*Click*

*Click*

*Click*

*Click*

This is me, constantly these days.
I don’t know why I’ve gotten worse. Or obsessed. I don’t know why I’m clicking more, and clicking right where I know it will upset me most. I don’t know why I read and respond to shitty comments from shitty people. Even reading their words gives them more power than they deserve. There is no winning an argument with someone whose only purpose is to be nasty. There’s no convincing them to be nice. Being nasty makes them feel good. There’s no compelling reason for them to stop.

I don’t know how to tell the difference between news I need to know and news that is just shredding my spirit.

I care. I want to know. Knowing has helped before. Hasn’t it?

Maybe. Probably not.

My husband asks me, “Did you hear about ___?” “Did you know ____?”

Yes. Yep. Yeah. I did. I hear about everything the minute it happens, whether I need to or not, whether it makes a difference or not. Thing is, it does make a difference. It upsets me, and keeps me from delighting in life.

I used to click to connect and be entertained and to know what was going on with my loved ones, and to see pictures/videos of cats. That is so little of what I read now. Even the cats are down 90%. Now if I see animals, they are homeless or abused. More outrage. It helps, right?

I don’t know how to be objective about this anymore. I am not cherishing life. I’m cherishing outrage, and there is so much of it to be had. I’m getting sick and fat on it.

So, I’m putting myself on an outrage diet. I know from previous attempts at this, it won’t be easy to quit cold turkey. There will be starts and stops, but I have to take the first step, and be firm with myself when I stall.

The news I need to know is: 1) Is there real danger in my area? 2) When is Frank Turner coming to town?

I can count on my beloved friends to tell me either of those things.

Now, I need a little outrage antidote. Maybe you do, too.

If so, please enjoy:

This AMAZING story about wolves changing the river
wolves

Patrick Stewart dressed as a lobster sitting in a bathtub

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A porcupine eating a pumpkin

Do yourself a favor here, and watch with the sound on, because there has never been anyone happier eating anything than Teddy Bear is eating this pumpkin.

Porcupine Eating a Pumkin

Jack White showed up to his neighborhood potluck, and NOBODY recognized him! 

jw

Frank Turner singing Reasons Not to Be an Idiot

(or honestly, anything else)

reasons

I will add to this. There is a lot of outrage to undo.

Sharing for an Author Friend: K.M. Hodge

It’s time to come clean, ya’ll. So I’ll just come right out and say it: I’ve got a new series coming out (Book Cellar Mystery Series)!! The first book in the series, “Walker Texas Wife” can be found on Goodreads. Make sure you add it to your to be read shelf and mark your calendar for February 1, 2016. 

As you might have noticed I am not alone in this endeavor (I got hitched y’all!) I am so excited to announce that I  have partnered up with my dear friend and sweet romance writer, Melissa Storm. Yeehaw! Melissa writes real fiction for real women. Her stories are bitter sweet, hope in the darkest hour tales, with true-to-life characters that stick with you long after you put her books down. I love all of her work  (one of her original super readers) and am so thrilled to be working with her. 


Now some of you may wonder what this dark, thrilling suspense writer is doing with a sweet romance writer like Melissa Storm. Thought we may seem like an odd pairing, we both feel perfectly matched for each other. We will bring together the best of both of our worlds to create a perfect storm for our readers. The team of Storm and Hodge will bring you thrilling tales of suspense with a aching sweetness that will have you glued to your kindle. Read us, if you dare! 


ABOUT BOOK #1 “Walker Texas Wife”



(Cover by Mallory Rock )
Their
lives are perfect… if only from the outside.
At first glance, the residents of Herald Springs
lead charmed lives. But behind the dazzling smiles and inside the large brick
homes, they all have their secrets. Most are harmless, but then again Annabeth
King never did quite fit in.
This newest neighbor is harboring a special secret
of her own, one that could prove deadly. Will the members of the “drink and
gossip” club figure out what Annabeth’s working so hard to hide before disaster
comes knocking?

With Storm’s signature bitter-sweetness and Hodge’s
thrilling intensity, Walker Texas Wife offers a fast-paced, addictive
romp that fans of Desperate Housewives and Pretty Little Liars will
find themselves falling hard and fast for. This debut in the new Book Cellar
Mystery series will leave you wondering: just how well do we know our neighbors
after all? Coming February 1, 2016.




ABOUT AUTHORS 



K.M. Hodge grew up in Detroit, where she spent most of her
free time weaving wild tales to spook her friends and family. These days, she
lives in Texas with her husband and two energetic boys and once again enjoys
writing tales of suspense and intrigue that keep her readers up all night. Her
stories, which focus on women’s issues, friendship, addiction, regrets and
second chances, will stay with you long after you finish them. When she isn’t
writing or being an agent of social change, she reads Independent graphic
novels, watches old X-files episodes, streams Detroit Tigers games and binges
on Netflix with her husband. She enjoys hearing from her readers, so don’t be
shy about dropping her a line.
Learn more about her and her current projects on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.  You can sign up for new release emails
at:
The Land of Hodge. 



****


Melissa Storm is
a mother first, and everything else second. She used to write under a
pseudonym, but finally had the confidence to come out as herself to the world.
Her fiction is highly personal and often based on true stories. Writing is
Melissa’s way of showing her daughter just how beautiful life can be, when
you pay attention to the everyday wonders that surround us.
Melissa
loves books so much, she married fellow author Falcon Storm. Between the two of
them, there are always plenty of imaginative, awe-inspiring stories to share.
Melissa and Falcon also run the business Novel Publicity together, where she
works as publisher, marketer, editor, and all-around business mogul. When she’s
not reading, writing, or child-rearing, Melissa spends time relaxing at home in
the company of her three dogs and five parrots. She never misses an episode of The Bachelor or her nightly lavender-infused soak in the
tub. Ahh, the simple luxuries that make life worth living. Learn more
about Melissa’s business at www.NovelPublicity.com. Learn more about
her other author alias at www.EmlynChand.com. Learn more about her
life on FacebookPinterest,Twitter, or Google+.

Of Honor and Paper

That hotly contested piece of paper is about the good stuff — love and devotion and the future. But there are reasons it’s so important besides the good stuff. Because, inevitably in life there will be hard stuff, too. There are rights you need when the hard stuff happens.

The right to
Visit a loved one in the hospital
Make medical decisions based on what you know the person’s wishes are, because of years of devotion to and discussions with each other.
Sign papers, discuss referrals, talk with insurance companies
Advocate in the hospital
Pick up prescriptions
Receive information from doctors and nurses
Make end-of-life decisions
Celebrate the person’s life with the perfect music, words, and rituals
Stay in your home afterward to grieve in the place you lived and loved together.

These are rights that were granted to me automatically when I was caring for my sick husband, and later when I was planning his funeral. I know people whose families have interfered because a marriage license was not possible, partners who worried about being shut out of hospital rooms, who had to fight to keep their homes.

These and other rights that come with being legally married have been fought for and have now been won. There is no honor in breaking the law to prevent someone from having this tenderness, safety, and security.

Here’s what I know from this action: A god that requires such a supreme lack of compassion is not my God. A religion that celebrates that kind of “bravery” is not for me. It never will be.

Life is beautiful and diverse and really hard sometimes. Love is a necessity. Simple.

Taking a Dive, for My Writing (and My Sanity)

This was originally a guest post for the lovely and wonderful K.M. Hodge. Do check her out. She is the most gracious author I’ve ever met.

My brother used to be a sore winner. He’s not now. He’s one of my best friends in the world, now. But he used to be miserable to lose to, and he always won. I used to be a sore loser, and I always lost. (It might have been fairer to start the story there, but it’s my story. He can tell it how ever he wants.)

Anyway, one day we were playing racquetball together. I am slow and uncoordinated, and he is not. He was kicking my butt and celebrating every point in the obnoxious way only a 17 year old boy can manage. I was fuming and indignant, sweaty and tired.

Suddenly, something occurred to me: I didn’t give a crap if I won or not. I never had, really. What a waste of effort for something I was monumentally not enjoying. At the realization, I started to have fun. I made ridiculous dives for balls that had passed seconds before. I tripped, I spun, I swung at the air.

“Oh fiddlesticks!” I cried. “Another point for you!”

I was no fun to beat any more, and he gave up. He might have even laughed by the end of our time on the court. He certainly laughs about it now. He always says I taught him a lesson that day. But really, I was the one who needed the lesson.

Writing a book and getting it out there takes a LOT of effort. If every moment of that effort is monumentally not enjoyable, I’m dooming myself to be that indignant, sweaty and tired loser, playing a game I hate.

I feel really fortunate to be writing at this moment in publishing. There are so many options now, and so many ways to play. There used to be only one way: Write your book, query an agent, if you manage to sign with an agent, hope she could get you a publishing deal.

I know, because I know me, that I would not have finished my first book under the old rules. Once my characters starting introducing themselves to me, I fell in love with them. I couldn’t have allowed their story to play out knowing I was leaving their fate to the dubious discretion of some dude in an office. I would have been too disgusted.

It wasn’t just the unlikelihood of the book being selected for publication, what with its unusual genre (Magical Realism) and its female author (me). It was the idea that IF my book was selected, someone else could change these characters who had possessed me and were making my life so fun. They wouldn’t be mine anymore, and I wouldn’t be theirs.

Someone in a dingy office could reject them for who they are. Maybe an editor would have a problem with two of my major characters being gay. Maybe someone would want to clean up one of the characters’ cursing. Maybe they would want to take out my tiny tributes to artists who have inspired me, James Hance, Doc Hammer, Frank Turner…

Writing query letters and (eventually, if I was super, duper lucky) battling with editors about my babies was NOT a game I wanted to play. I conceded that point (goofily) to the industry. Not that it cared.

There are other games I have joined and taken a dive on, too. Trying to work Facebook, trying to figure out Amazon rankings, keeping up with Twitter. These are all tools that have their place, but it has become clear that they are too saturated and arbitrary to make or break me as an author.

I’m taking my time now. I’m enjoying writing; I’m hiring good editors and artists. I’m okay with not winning right away. I do like this sport, and I’m treating it more like an endurance event than a competition. The only score I have to beat is my own, and the only way to win is to keep moving.

I have to learn, train, try and fail, and try again. I have to keep enjoying myself and celebrating my small gains. I have to, because writing these stories makes me happier than almost anything else I’ve ever done. And I intend to keep it up. I once trained for and finished a marathon. This feels like that, and I know I can do it. (Oh yeah, that was 26.2 miles. Take that, racquetball boy! Just kidding. Love ya, bro.)