I’m supposed to be doing something else right now–working on editing the next chapter of my novel, maybe, or getting started on school for the day. But I can’t concentrate. Every time an online blow-up happens, I feel sick. Distressed. Afraid.
The weird thing is, there’s not much for me to fear. I typically stay out of it. I may throw in a comment or two, but I don’t choose a side and then engage in battle. I don’t find that kind of thing meaningful, and it often takes away the limited energy I already have. In fact, I more or less quit tweeting for two months, in part because of my health issues but also because the constant tension was making my health worse.
Last night, I tweeted this:
I know I’m not the only one. When I’ve mentioned it before, I’ve gotten–not surprisingly–unpredictable results. As I reflected, though, it occurred to me that it isn’t (for me) as much a volatile parent as a hostile school environment.
For many years, I was bullied at school. The terrible thing was that I could never, ever figure out what I had done wrong. I couldn’t think of some thing I’d said or some person I’d hurt that caused the problem. I thought maybe I just wasn’t cool enough or pretty enough or trendy enough. Funny thing was, I wasn’t even popular enough for other kids to “ruin” the way bullying seems to be portrayed in movies–you know, the popular girl whose friends turn on her. I wasn’t even good enough for that.
The funny thing is, when I decided to become more serious about my writing, I ended up inadvertently sitting at the popular table. I made connections. I became one of the “good ones,” landing on several people’s lists of bloggers to watch. I never enjoyed the kind of success some have, but that wasn’t terribly important anyway. I was at a season of my life when I was stuck in an offline social environment that wasn’t good for me, and I needed the shelter of like-minded people.
Through that, I discovered that I never, ever want to be popular again.
Being popular is not at all the same thing as being liked. It’s merit- based–you are only as popular as your followers want you to be. We can argue about whether or not some people deserve pushback (hint: they do), but that really isn’t what scares me. I’m absolutely not anywhere near the top of the power structure in terms of blogging. So I’m a lot more concerned with people bullying at the micro level and whether or not that could potentially happen to me.
As much as it is not okay for powerful people to bully those with less power, it is also not okay for less powerful people to bully each other. There is absolutely no excuse for that behavior. “He did it first!” is not a reason, especially if the recipient of the harassment isn’t even the one who attacked. Neither is “But that person over there needs to stop!” Of course they do. There is no question about that. But that isn’t license for passing it on.
I quit the popular table. Keeping up appearances is wearying. I’m not going to police every word I say to make sure that a particular subset of a subset of the population isn’t upset, bothered, or even offended by what I say. For example, if I want to write about forgiveness and healing, I’m not going to try to contort myself finding a way to say it that validates the small number of people who actually enjoy carrying so much turmoil around that it spills onto everyone else.
That kind of emotional and intellectual pretzelizing has stunted my growth as a writer. For months, I refused to write fiction because I lived in terror that some people–again, a small but vocal number–would read meaning into it that I never intended. There’s a common belief that if someone writes something, it must automatically mean an endorsement for that thing and that thing alone. All writing must, in some form, be a kind of social critique. Well, I don’t write that. I write the sort of fluffy, cheesy stories one might choose to read curled up with a cup of cocoa or to pass the time on a long flight. It’s not rife with hidden agendas.
This fear was causing my soul to shrivel. I needed time to clear my head and discover what it is that I’m looking for. What I want, I think, is not to be popular. I don’t want to be heralded as a blogger who “gets it right.” I’ve lived a lifetime of trying to meet someone else’s standards for being a good person–whether it was the popular kids at school or the leadership of my churches or the self-appointed Guardians of the Internet. I’m done with that.
What I actually want is to be liked. No, I don’t mean my blog. Hey, that’s great if it gets read. I don’t mean my fiction, either, though that would be cool too, if I ever publish. I mean I want other real people to like the real me. Not because I’ve earned my Ally Cookie or my Feminist Badge or whatever but because we both enjoy My Little Pony, the New York Yankees, and long walks on the beach.
Is that even possible? I don’t know. I’m determined to try, though. While still writing about the injustices within the church–which, let’s face it, I do better than trying to be the perfect activist anyway–I’m going to reconnect with people who I might find enjoy the same things. I had that, once upon a time, but I let it go. It’s time to find it again. This time, I’m going to hold on to it. Having something real is more important than being popular.