Writing for internet publications is a funny thing. I have been blessed to be published widely, and it is thrilling to be able to connect so readily with my audience, and get paid for it! As a writer who wrote primarily for print publications for years, I rarely had feedback on my work. If I did, it was mostly from friends and family, not total strangers.
I have been blown away by the positive comments on things I’ve written—people who have been moved to tears, people whose lives feel changed by my words (at least for a minute!). Yes, there are haters out there, but that’s par for the course, and I don’t usually let it get to me. I mean, I’ve had a post go viral in which I talk about breastfeeding a (gasp!) two-year-old, and there were some ugly responses, all of which I let roll off my back.
So I was pretty shocked when a post I wrote for Kveller got slammed by comments, replete with personal attacks on me and my family. It’s an honest, blunt piece about how in this season of my life with young kids at my feet, making phone calls is annoying and nearly impossible.I should mention that the response to the article was overwhelmingly positive. It’s been viewed by over 14,000 users (and counting), it was shared publicly by the actress Mayim Bialik, and the comments on Facebook are mostly from mothers who identified with it and found it refreshingly honest.
But the comments on the website itself were just… well, you should read them yourself. I was called self-centered, pathetic, insufferable, and my kids were described as ill-mannered brats. Not only was my parenting slammed, but I was also declared to be a terrible friend and an even worse family member (because, you know, my family will die eventually, and I haven’t appreciated them enough while they’re alive).
All of this because I don’t have time to call people on the phone. THE PHONE. THE PHONE. Is that really the only way for people to connect? What?!
It doesn’t matter that I say in the article that when someone really needs to talk, I am more than willing. The article is about the fact that catching up, making chit-chat, shooting the bull—the kind of phone conversations that are just check-ins—they are what are difficult. The article says nothing about how often I see my extended family (which for the record, is OFTEN), my friends, or anyone else. It doesn’t say anything about all the other ways I show up for my family and friends. It was simply about the fact that I don’t prefer talking on the phone. Period.
I know that these comments aren’t really about me. These people are venting about their own problems. And most people don’t think of authors as real people who might read what they say (I don’t read every comment, but I check in to get the gist). Commenters have this feeling of being removed from the situation and feeling like they can spill any shit they want on the page, unleash all their rage and anger about someone else’s words.
My Kveller article is not a literary masterpiece. Maybe I could have made certain parts clearer, certain parts less snarky. But for goodness’ sake, when you read something that someone has written about her life, you are only seeing a small slice of that person. To make judgments about the writer’s moral character is not only insensitive, but ridiculous.
I NEVER comment on my own posts—but, because I felt that my piece was being misunderstood, I stepped in to clarify. What happened next was even more appalling. Even when the commenters knew they were speaking directly to the author, they were still rude and insulting. It was awful.
I am left wondering what it is that touched such a nerve with these people. I can understand people getting into heated arguments about politics or religion—but phone calls?! Maybe these people have been burned badly by family members who don’t stay in touch. Perhaps they don’t realize that in this day and age, phone calls are becoming obsolete and many people prefer email or texts. I, for one, would much rather have someone stop by my house to say hello than talk on the phone. Maybe it’s that the piece points to the fact that my children are the center of my world right now (because by gosh they are little and won’t be forever), and some people think that is exactly the wrong way to parent (those people can eat my foot).
Whatever the case, I am basically over the whole thing, and I kind of regret engaging with the commenters at all. None of it will stop me from writing and putting my thoughts and opinions out there, but boy oh boy has it made me wonder what the hell is wrong with the world.
UPDATE 7/21/2015: Happy to report that Kveller took down some of the worst comments. Criticism is one thing. Critiquing a kind of parenting or kind of writing is usually fine too. Direct insults, name-calling, blasting the character of an individual and her kids? Something else entirely. Being mean on the internet is the same as being mean. Period. All of this has caused me to think even more about what I post on the internet. We all need to be certain we are practicing kindness, in real life and online.