Saturday, June 4, 2016

Cyber Bullies

There was a time, not so long ago (actually more like 5 years ago) when I got caught up in a cyber-bullying situation that really, really rocked my world. For years I haven't spoken about it. I keep my thoughts and opinions about some of the social media nastiness I witness (often) to myself, and I just do what I am on Facebook, or Twitter, or wherever I am trolling that day to do...I advertise my books.

Because ultimately, I have a personal Facebook page to keep in touch with my friends and family while we muscle our way through enjoy this expat adventure we're on, and I keep about 99% of my personal feelings about life, love, religion, politics, and the pursuit of happiness right there. My work Facebook page, or my work Twitter feed, are usually reserved for the surface-level stuff. Books, check ins, the occasional opinion on a particularly sleazy reality show I am know, the more benign content that won't ruffle too many feathers. Because I personally don't like ruffling feathers. In fact, I hate it.

I don't like my feathers ruffled, and I don't enjoy ruffling other people's feathers. No buena.

However, there are folks out there in the world--especially in the publishing world of cyber space--who love, love, LOVE to ruffle feathers. They, like me, hide behind their laptop or smart phone screens, cackling in their PJ's as they rock the boat and toss insinuations and insults out into the giant abyss, much like astronaut pee.....just WHOOSH! Out into the darkness, never to be collected again. Once they're out there, they're out there. And some (not me) enjoy that freedom.

I, on the other hand, have the type of personality that almost immediately regrets many of my words. Whether they're eloquent and intelligent, stupid and crass, or just poorly meditated...I almost always second guess everything I say. And I have the unique ability to rehash those conversations for years to come. Usually while I am in bed, trying to sleep.

Because my brain hates me.

But I digress...

So recently, an author friend of mine complained of a cyber bully she was dealing with, and her story sounded eerily familiar to mine. It was a former co-worker/friend, who she'd drifted apart from. Now the friend was feeling resentful of her success (though it wasn't in any way threatening to her own success--but bullies don't care about things like reason, so whatevs...) and she and her new coworkers (fellow authors, bloggers, Facebook and Twitter trolls) had started following her wherever she went on the web, only to negatively comment or poke fun at whatever she said online.

Sounds harmless enough, right? I mean, hell. We're all in our mid-thirties to early-forties, or close to that age bracket, I should say, and we're all adults with one thing in common: we're all writers, just trying to sell a few books, and make a career for ourselves. You would think that would bond us together, but noooooooo...

Often times, that drives an even bigger wedge in-between us all. And I hate it. Like, a lot.

My cyber-bully situation was almost the exact same scenario. We started off as friends, writing partners, supporters. But it quickly became clear to me that a partnership with this particular person wasn't going to work for me. No major reason. Our styles of critiquing were just too different, and I was spending most of my time apologizing for my critiques, instead of actually helping this person, because they had a thinner skin than I was used to. She needed more of a cheerleader, and I was more of a drill sergeant, if that makes sense.

So I moved on. I tried to stay friends, but just being friends wasn't enough. If I didn't work with this person, I shouldn't be working, period. And so the friendship quickly dissolved, too.

No big deal. Except that it was.

After a few weeks, I realized (through social media) that she'd found some new critique partners, and that they, too, had followed me on things like Facebook and Twitter. I thought, "Not a problem. The more the merrier." But I was wrong. It didn't matter what I posted, what I said, what I commented about, what my opinion was twisted and misconstrued. It was made into a drama of epic proportions, and I was being baited into online, public arguments on the daily. I was told that I needed to give up my career and leave the good writing to the ones who knew what they were doing. I was called names and told I would never get another contract again (though the joke was on them, I still get contract offers, I just choose to self pub. Go, me!) I was called fat, stupid, ugly, and untalented.

I was being made to look combative, snarky, untalented, and cunning to my readers. Some of my more loyal readers and book bloggers started sending me emails, asking why I was always in trouble online, and who so-and-so hated me. It was embarrassing and all consuming. All the relationships within the publishing world that I'd worked so hard to build up were becoming strained, all because I had this disgruntled acquaintance and their toadies following my every move on social media.

This is what it felt like every time I logged into my work Facebook account.

Now, I have to pause my story here to say: I was never told to kill myself. I was never subjected to the living hell that so many kids are put through nowadays. I have friends whose teens have been told their lives don't matter, that nobody likes them, and that nobody would care if they died. That never happened to me. Thank God. Because I have the type of heart that probably would've broken into a million pieces if that had been said to me. I'm sort of a sensitive having a career in the publishing world is challenging enough. But being told I am worthless? Yeesh. I can't handle it.

If your kid is suffering through that, TELL THE SCHOOL. Blow the whistle! Get them some help! Kids nowadays don't know how to see the light at the end of the tunnel. They will believe what these cretans are saying, and it's up to YOU to make them understand reason.

And if your kid is the one doing the bullying: your kid sucks. Fix this problem immediately. You should be ashamed.

During my bullying issue, I was told that my writing sucked, and that my life's work was pathetic and that I had no place in the business. And that, my friends, was a hard pill to swallow. I can't even begin to tell you how hard I took those words. I'd taken to crying all the time. Felt ugly and useless. Like I was a hack, and that all of my fans were going to find out that I was just a poser, and I was going to lose them all. I let their cruelty dictate what I did with my career for a very long few years. I quit my local branch of the RWA (Romance Writers Association) and stopped going to local writing events. I stopped doing as many book signings in my hometown, and skipped the big conference in Bellevue I loved attending. I  withdrew not just from my writing, but from my readers, and believe it or not, they noticed.

It took me a few years to come out of the fog that surrounded me after that happened. Once I blocked all of the bullies and established some clear, concise boundaries with all of the people from the writing/publishing world that I chose to continue working with, I discovered that I was perfectly capable of having a career, even if some other authors didn't like me very much. I discovered that really the only thing that could keep me from continuing my career was me.

But it took me a long time to come to a place where I know that without a doubt. I no longer require reassurance from my other author friends. I no longer need constant comments on my posts or Tweets to know that I am relevant. I don't need reassurance from other people in the industry, because I get all of my confidence from two super-duper important places now.

1.) My readers who loyally keep buying my books.

2.) Me.

I'm not sure why people--especially grown-a** women my age--feel the need to bully other writers. I don't know why they feel the need to create online drama and social media firing ranges. I don't know why oh why oh why oh why so many authors feel the need to tear other authors down, in order to build up their own readership. It's one thing to read and dislike a book. Nobody can like every book, and I'm not opposed to a bad review. They happen. I'm a big girl, I can take it. Yes, even from a fellow author. But a personal attack? Calling someone untalented, or useless, or fat, or ugly, or stupid? Come on, writers, we can do better than that. We're better than that. Seriously.

If your own success hinges on tearing someone else down, then is your success even legit?

Just food for thought.

All in all, I think my friend is handling her cyber bully much better than I ever did. She hasn't let it chase her out of her local RWA chapter, and she sure as heck hasn't backed down from any of her future engagements. I wish I'd been that strong. I wish I'd stuck up my middle finger to my cyber bully and their toadies and just went on with my life, as if they didn't exist. But since I haven't figured out how to go back in time, I'll settle for learning my lesson over the last few years of soul-searching and continued success. I commend anyone who, like my friend, stands up to her bullies and tells them to take a flying leap. Because cyber bullies are the worst kind of trash. They're too chicken you-know-what to say things to your face, so they hide behind their computer screens in their PJ's, destroying people's confidence, because they feel so rotten about themselves.

I'm glad that part of my life is over. I'm grateful that my cyber bullies moved on. I'm grateful that I was given a lesson in how to behave towards people, especially fellow authors, because I'm not sure I understood that prior to my own icky situation. Sometimes God gives you a lesson in the form of humble pie. :)