Once upon a time in far away land, an editor told me, “never write about the job”. He was correct in saying I shouldn’t insert myself into a story covering garage sales or murder; my feelings on the matter shouldn’t cloud the details.
But if I’m plunking my picture up there, it’s different. As a columnist I am reminding you with every sentence that these words are filtered through my experiences. You’re not supposed to love what I love, be tormented by what torments me, and feel the same slings and arrows in the same way. I pick a topic, and then hopefully hold up a prism. Let the light land where it may, in whatever patterns it chooses.
Nearly ten years ago, my very first letter from a reader told me I was a terrible mother. I remember shaking – I’d been unmasked so quickly. But as her email rambled away explaining why I should be stripped of my ovarian rights, it dawned on me the writer was not entirely lucid, nor did she have a basic grasp of the concept of irony. Or, if I may be so bold, wit.
The internet is spectacular for providing feedback. Just read the newspaper sites and forums to see all the supportive comments. See how forgiving everyone is to those who have stumbled or find themselves in need of a kind word or a couple of bucks. Yup. The wilds of the web, a succor to those in need of understanding. As if.
A lifetime ago, if you had a quarrel or a laurel regarding something you’d read, you composed a smart rejoinder hoping the editor would print it. You put your name at the bottom, as well as your contact information. They could make sure you were real and ascertain you were willing to stand behind your words.
What a concept, that willingness to be accountable.
I’m torn, actually, between the spontaneous interaction of other opinions and viewpoints about what’s happening in our world, and the cowardly darts thrown by too many. There is a brew of misogyny and racism and intolerance that sends up hot, fat bubbles in a pit of boiling tar. Some publications are worse; some better. Some simply close comments on contentious issues, but the problem now is everything is contentious. Everything.
Writers tell each other, “don’t read the comments”. That’s unfortunate if you believe as a writer you have an obligation to your readers. But several swipes through the gutter of what brave, anonymous people will call a woman they’ve never met have forced a rethink. Reading a sample of a colleague’s emails made me understand her tears.
If an alien landed and scoured the internet, they’d quickly see all we hate: women, young men, poor people, old people, black people, brown people, fat people, stupid people, people with children, people without children, single people, married people, drivers, cyclists, liberals, right-wingers, pro-choicers and pro-lifers. They would also think our world is run by cats, but that’s another column.
The anonymous hatred bothers me, but you get a rhino hide or you get out. Writers get tough, but their subjects sometimes get caught in the crossfire. No, I’m more fearful of what this cauldron will brew for the future – my kids have never known a time of full accountability. I read some intense bitterness knowing there is a real person behind those words just as surely as there is a real one behind these.
Tear down the curtain, and it’s just some little guy pulling the levers.