I recently took down my “responses to hate mail” page. When I first started blogging, I wasn’t familiar with online politics and I thought the whole ‘responses to hate mail page’ was funny. I was so proud of my ability to hurt a person’s feelings that I felt the need to show everyone how great I was at being a bitch and how easily I could make these people who emailed me look like morons. In short, I was an arrogant asshole who thought she knew everything. And like any know-it-all, I am making this video my change of perspective announcement.
Let me explain the reason I had to to respond in the first place. I have a hair trigger temper and I’m intensely paranoid. I think a few of the readers of this very page have been victims of that. While I might not show it, I am the kind of person who can become extremely angry even over the slightest slight and hold onto that for years.
So when someone emails me, harshly criticizing my writing (often times without reading the article) I get blindly furious. I have been in my share of online fights, that extended all the way from angry emails, to digging up personal info and posting it online, to website hacking.
It’s also part of my industry. While I don’t read my reviews, I know many other writers who do, and even get into arguments with people who don’t agree with them. Lots of reviewers don’t behave any better, using their online clout to attack authors that they think have crossed the line. While I never actually got involved in any of these fights, I’ve watched them from the sidelines, eating my virtual popcorn and saying “wow, these people are all idiots. I’m so much better and more professional than them. Don’t they understand that they’re arguing in circles?”
Somehow, I thought that by only attacking people who attacked my blog, and not my books, I was being a better, more professional writer.
Then I met Russ.
Well, I’m calling him Russ to protect his privacy. We’ve known each other since I released an article called “No, You Don’t Have PTSD. You’re Just Being a Pussy.”
Russ was one of those people who did that thing that irritates me. He read the title of the page without reading the article. Then, he posted about 400 comments on my page and sent me an angry email. I did nothing to diffuse him. I did the opposite. I got angry at him. I deleted his posts, responded to his email by signing off “I hope you get cancer” and wrote an angry blog post correcting his entire hate mail message.
Russ later apologized, agreed to disagree, and then moved on…for about 3 months. Then, I said something that set off his own hair-trigger temper again. He sent another angry email. I again got furious when I read it. He flooded my page with angry comments, using a bot system in order to change his IP repeatedly so he could continue posting without going to spam.
So I found his phone number and posted it on the NSA section of Craigslist with a request for cock pics. Again our fight ended with him apologizing. We both moved on…until a few months later, when something I said angered him again.
I have been playing out this cycle for three years now, with the most recent cycle being him gaining access to my Facebook account and posting a fuckton of messages spamming products like Viagra and adult diapers. Russ has followed me for years. I should be angry and afraid of this man. He’s threatened me repeatedly, as well as threatened my family. He’s sent me emails in graphic detail of what he’d do to me if we ever met.
I should be afraid of him, but I’m not. I’m not because I have to admit that as fixated on me as he is, I’ve become fixated on him.
There’s something about the thrill of knowing you’re about to get into a fight. There’s something about wanting to top the person you’re arguing with and make them look stupid, that’s kind of addictive. It becomes easy to make it into the focal point of your life. It becomes easy to make it into the sole reason that you write. You get positive reinforcement for it. Whenever I argue with an idiot online, whenever I post about hate mail, my page views and likes go through the roof. People love a train wreck. They love watching it, breaking out their virtual popcorn and saying “wow, these people are idiots. I’m so much better and more professional than them.”
Because the people watching, they didn’t care about who was wrong or who was right. By the time they reached me, that was impossible to tell. Nothing was in shades of gray. My reactions to Russ’s emails turned me from being the bullied, into the bully. But in my riotous indignation, I just felt superior.
The fact is, no one cares about the argument. The only one who really cares are you and the person you’re arguing with. In the end, everyone else is in it for the enjoyment of watching a train wreck. It’s why people loved “Jersey Shore” and every other copycat show that’s been created since. It’s human nature.
The last time Russ hacked my page, I posted his name, address and social security number on Facebook. Per usual, Russ sent me another apology email. But this time, I decided I was done with this love/hate stuff. No joke, the dude has been threatening me and following me for three years. This needed to end. If he needed an argument, I was more than willing to be his Huckleberry.
So I told him I was done with his bullshit apologies and asked one question I never asked before.
“Why do you keep bothering me?” I asked, expecting some kind of explanation of how I reminded him of his absentee mother or overbearing aunt.
“Because you keep responding.” His answer was simple. Stupidly simple. Turns out Russ is reasonably smart, but socially awkward. He felt invisible. Getting my responses kept him from feeling invisible. How I gave him attention didn’t matter. It didn’t matter if it was good or bad. He barely even read or acknowledged my responses. It was the fact that I responded at all that made him keep coming back.
I was arguing in circles, getting into a fight with a person I knew would never agree with me, because actually agreeing with me would defeat the purpose of the contact in the first place. By arguing with him, I created a connection that neither of us was willing to let go of.
I wasn’t willing to let it go because something inside of me needed to make this stranger, this person who I had never met, agree with me. Make him admit he was wrong, and I was right. Make him admit he was the bad person and I was the victim. But I certainly never behaved like a victim. There were many things I did to him that were far worse than what he did to me, simply because I’m more tech savvy. I knew I had the advantage and I used it. At the time, it made me feel strong.
But after talking to the dude, it makes me feel like the kind of asshole that would beat up a person in a wheelchair. I’m not stupid. I knew I was dealing with a person who was not at the same level of computer knowledge as me and I used it against him.
Why did I do it? Did his opinion really mean that much to me? Or was I so desperate for attention, even bad attention, that I was willing to engage in an online war that I knew would end badly?
I knew I wasn’t doing it to make peace. I knew we wouldn’t agree on anything. But there was something so enticing about the argument that I kept fighting anyway.
But through writing, through interacting with people, I’ve finally grown. I’ve realized that when you respond to a troll argument, you never win. You are never going to make these people agree with you, because they know from the second they send a message that they are never going to agree with you. This is not what they care about., They only care about the response. They only care about you emailing them to prove they are not invisible. It’s a game and they want you to play with them.
I’m not playing anymore. I don’t want the cheap publicity an online fight will bring. I’m not going to be desperate for you to agree with me. There is a very good chance that we will never agree. There is a very good chance that our opinions on everything differ even at the most basic level. This is not something I can change.
I’m not responding anymore. It’s not because I think I’m wrong, but because I need to believe that things are going to get better. I need to believe that people are interested in more than petty arguments and stupid squabbling. I need to believe I’m a little bit more than a bad car crash on the side of the road that you pull over to look at.
I can’t stop you from saying horrible things about me. I can’t control the way you react. But I can control the way I react to those reactions.
Words are words and the words you use have no power over me. Use them whenever you feel like. I have a delete button on my computer and my phone for a reason. There is nothing in the world forcing me to interact with you. Unless you physically threaten me in person, we have nothing left to talk about. We don’t agree and I can be cool with that. It’s the whole “if a tree falls in the woods”, thing.
If an asshole says something about you that you never read…did he really say it?
I’m going with no. Unless you’re actually, physically in my life, you don’t exist to me. I am not going to argue in circles. I am not going to give you the attention you seek. We can disagree and I can be cool with that.
So the responses to hate mail page is gone. The responses to anything are gone. I refuse to be the online equivalent of the Jersey Shore. I’m better than that and I’m smarter than that. I’m not a fad or a car crash. I’m just Essa and I’m cool with that.
Nothing about me needs to change. It’s only the way I’ve responded to dissenting opinions that does. Trust this; I now, and always will, think I’m right about everything. Essa on Everything remains an aristocracy, with me earning the title of “Dictator for Life.” Your comments will be approved should they pass my stringent quality control test of not pissing me off.
Email comments will go into my spam email address to be reviewed every six months or so, much like the system I already have in place for reviews…where I delete them without reading them because in my opinion, life’s too damn short to spend it arguing over ‘the principle’.
Because my principle is this, taken from one of those 1980’s movies I love so deeply.
You want to hurt me? Go right ahead if it makes you feel any better. I’m an easy target. Yeah, you’re right, I talk too much. I also listen too much. I could be a cold-hearted cynic like you… but I don’t like to hurt people’s feelings. Well, you think what you want about me; I’m not changing. I like… I like me. My wife likes me. My customers like me. Cause I’m the real article. What you see is what you get.
That’s all there is to it people. I’m Essa and what you see is what you get. That is the very last response to hatemail I’m ever going to make and the only one that matters.
Because I like me, and I don’t give a flying flippedy fuck about your opinion on the subject.