TROLLS ON THE INTERNET

We blog for a variety of personal reasons. Some of us want freedom — to express our art and opinions. Most of us want a connection to the larger world, to join our voices with others in support or opposition to ideas and events. For me, the primary reason I wanted a site was to own a piece of cyber turf where I felt safe to be myself.

I had been moderately active on social media for a while before I began blogging. I had Flickr and Facebook accounts and a second Facebook page dedicated to antique dolls. I was active on a number of photography forums. I wrote reviews on Amazon.

From these places, I was driven out by trolls. On one photography forum, I was hounded until I resigned … and then (the same?) trolls found me on Amazon.

TROLLS - John_Bauer_1915

There’s nothing exceptional about my experiences because I don’t know anyone who has been active on public forums who has not been attacked.

The trolls are usually anonymous, but always vicious. They use fake names. Why do they pick on some people and not others? Who knows. You’d have to get into their heads to figure it out. It has happened to so many people, from well-known authors to folks like me — perhaps the attacks are random. Are these the schoolyard bullies of our childhood, using computers instead of fists?

The trolls are forever searching for new victims, seeking vulnerable people to hurt.

About a year ago, I reviewed a book on Amazon. I thought it was racist and said so. I got so slammed by trolls who clearly hadn’t even read the book, whose only goal was to “get me,” I gave up. I took the review down. I know defeat when I see it staring me in the face.

The trolls were banned eventually (I was not their only victim), but Amazon (and other sites) are often slow to deal with cyber bullies and trolls. I suspect (but can’t prove) they don’t necessarily mind a little ugliness, if it keeps people interested, reading reviews, commenting. Buying stuff.

I needed a safe place where I could play by my rules, have a civil environment where we treat each other with a modicum of respect. Without name-calling. I was tired of being bullied, picked on or taunted.

Authors are frequent targets of cyber attacks. Writers are sensitive. It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been doing it. Every piece we publish is our baby and that makes us ideal targets for cyber bullies. We put ourselves out there with a target painted on our foreheads. It makes trolls very happy. If we didn’t exist, they would have to invent us.

Trolls love causing pain. The more misery they cause, the happier they are. There’s no effective way to fight them. After all, we live in a “free” society where everyone is supposedly “entitled” to an opinion. To the best of my understanding, no one is “entitled” to an opinion. Our laws say we can’t stop you speaking your mind — no matter how baseless, ignorant, cruel or illiterate. But protection under law isn’t an entitlement, nor does any opinion automatically have value.

Most trolling comments aren’t opinions. Just meanness. They don’t represent a position, nor are they part of a disagreement between opposing viewpoints. Their intent is to spread ill-will and hurt people. Nothing more.

In this place, my space — I’m the Queen. I make the rules and enforce them. I try to be fair, but in the end, I decide what’s fair. This is not a public forum. Want a free-for-all, maybe provoke a fight? Go join the mobs on Facebook. In this place, I will protect any guest who comments and I will protect myself. Because finally, I can!

Serendipity is a troll-free zone.

THE NOT-SO-HALCYON DAYS OF YORE – PURE TRASH, BETTE A. STEVENS

There are so many television shows and movies, not to mention sappy posts on Facebook and other social media sites about “the good old days” … kind of makes me a trifle queasy. As someone who grew up in those good old days, I can attest to their not being all that great. There were good things about them, but it was by no means all roses.

Good is a relative term, after all. If you were white, Christian and middle class … preferably male and not (for example) a woman with professional ambitions … the world was something resembling your oyster. A family could live on one salary. If you were “regular folk” and didn’t stand out in any particular way, life could be gentle and sweet.

The thing is, an awful lot of people aren’t and weren’t people who could blend in. If you were poor, anything but white or Christian, or a woman who wanted to be more than a mother and homemaker, the world was a far rougher place.

author-bette-a-stevens

Pure Trash: The Story: Shawn Daniels in a Poor Boy’s Adventure: 1950s Rural New England is set in rural New England in the mid 1950s. It’s a sharp reminder how brutal our society could be to those deemed different or inferior. Not only was bullying common, it wasn’t considered wrong. I remember how badly the poor kids in my class were treated when I was going through elementary school. How the teachers took every opportunity to humiliate kids whose clothing was tattered and whose shoes were worn. I remember feeling awful for those little girls and boys. Not merely bullied by their classmates (who oddly, didn’t much notice the differences until the teachers pointed them out), but tormented by those who were supposed to care for and protect them. Bad enough for me and the handful of Jewish kids as Christmas rolled around. For them, it was the wrong time of year all year round.

In this short story, Shawn and Willie Daniels set off one Saturday in search of whatever they can find that they can turn into money. One man’s trash can be a poor child’s treasure. Bottles that people throw away could be collected and turned into ice cream and soda pop. Shawn is excited. It’s going to be a terrific day. Until the real world intrudes and Shawn is sharply and painfully reminded that he’s different … and not in a good way.

The story is about bullying, but more important, it’s about being different and being judged without compassion, without understanding or love.

It’s a very fast read. Only 21 pages, the story flies by. I was left wanting more. I want to know how the boys grow up. I want them to become CEOs of big corporations so they can thumb their noses at their whole miserable society. An excellent short story leaving plenty of room for thought.

Though set in 1955, the story is entirely relevant today. Despite much-touted progress, we still judge each other harshly based on appearance and assumptions. Everything changes … but maybe not so much.

For lots more information about the book and its author, stop by the authors’ website: 4 Writers and Readers. Pure Trash is available on Kindle and as a paperback from Amazon.

Jo Joe, by Sally Wiener Grotta

Pixel Hall Press, Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) Members’ Titles
314 pages, Publication Date: May 6, 2013

It would be hard enough growing up any different kind of kid in a small rural community. Growing up the only Jew in a poverty-stricken mountain town would be significantly harder. So what would it be like growing up a brown-skinned Jewish girl — the only Jew, the only person of color and the only foreigner — in an inbred narrow-minded fundamentalist Christian town with a strong skinhead militia contingent and longstanding prejudices against anyone who is at all different?

Add it together and it goes far beyond difficult and moves into the realm of nearly impossible.

Judith Ormand spent her early life in Paris, France, the daughter of a Black man and a converted-to-Judaism white mother. After her mother dies of causes never clearly explained, she ends up being raised by her Moravian German grandparents in a small insular Pennsylvania mountain village.

Her growing up years were punctuated by racial attacks, by violence, hatred and fear. Her only protector? Joe Anderson, a handsome blond football player, son of a drunken father and a skinhead, drug-dealer brother. When Joe — her beloved best friend — turns against her, her world is shattered. She vows, encouraged by her grandmother, to never under any circumstances return to Black Bear, Pennsylvania.

But Gramma and Grampa are gone and despite any promises she made, Judith — Jo — must return and face the nightmare of her growing up years and uncover the truth about the people she loved and lost.

The book is a compelling  psychological drama and Judith Ormand is a fascinating character, a perfect target for bigoted small town residents. I found the story gripping and honest …. until it approached the end.

All of a sudden, the book went into overdrive, as if the author had reached her page limit and now had to quickly tie up all the loose ends and somehow give this sad story a happy ending. I didn’t believe the ending. I didn’t find it emotionally honest and didn’t think it made sense based on everything that had gone before. After such a very promising start, it was a big disappointment.

For all that, the book is worth the read. The misery of a child who is so very different trying to find happiness in a frightening and hostile environment is heart-wrenching. I wish the author had stayed the course and written the ending with the same integrity she gave to the story’s beginning and middle.

Jo Joe  is available as a hardcover from Amazon. It will be available in paperback and on Kindle in June 2013.

A coming out story

Marilyn Armstrong:

Being a different kind of kid in America is hard. And this is a good post about it.

Originally posted on Sunday Night Blog:

Last year at this time a facebook status, some stories in the news and a number of You Tube videos on “coming out” compelled me to write on a topic I might have otherwise avoided.  As you will see below, I could not find a dramatic You Tube video at the time on the harrowing coming out story to which I referred.  I subsequently found it and posted it in a follow-up article.  I have linked it to Angel‘s name here if you would like to see it.  It is a tough 12 minutes.

Despite everything that has been in the news lately, I thought I would shy away from this topic. It is often a political hot potato fraught with emotional arguments that have little to do with rational thinking. There seemed no reason to be another voice among the already countless raised voices. Then I caught a…

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That Rosy Glow

With the big day coming up — the 50th high school reunion to which I am not going — I’m getting deluged with emails from The Reunion Group. I no longer read all of them, but every once in a while, I open one up and I’m always sorry I did. The primary area of discussion has moved on from each person telling the story of his or her way better-than-mine life to reminiscing about the school song, almost the definition of “from the sublime to the ridiculous.”

We never sang that song. Not at assemblies, not in chorus, not at all. Almost no one knew the words. I knew the words because they were so funny to me, given the real school and who we were, that I memorized the words for kicks and was usually the only kid who knew all three verses.

Here’s to her the school we love,

Jamaica, tried and true – oo,

Source of all our dearest aims,

Dear School of Red and Blue.

Red and Blue

Red and Blue

School of Red and Blue!

In love our hearts go out to her,

Dear school of Red and Blue!

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If that doesn’t make you cry, you have no soul. It makes me laugh, so what does that make me?

What compels otherwise sane folks to transform a mixed experience rich with the good, the bad and a big dollop of indifferent, into “the best years of our lives?” It wasn’t. Not for anyone.  They cancelled the Senior Prom due to lack of interest. I know because I actually had a date for the prom, but he and I were the only two people to sign up, so they cancelled it. What does that say about reality versus memory?

A few people go way back. We didn’t merely attend high school together. We also went to elementary school and junior high school in one big batch. We got to know each other a lot better than we wanted, a huge dose of too much information. By junior high, I was too miserable to remember much of anything and was being actively bullied by the same mean girls I swear are still hanging around hallways and school yards today. Maybe they are clones of the same girls.

Thank God for the special program that got me through three years of junior high in two years. At least the misery was shortened by a year. Pity about never learning fractions and all. It certainly didn’t improve my shaky math skills.

So all of these people are singing (literally in some cases) the praises of the school and the school system. It was a better than average school academically, but fantastic? It was huge, crowded and if you didn’t measure up and get yourself into the “brainiac college-bound” group, you got nothing from the school except a place to sit in class. The school was academically better than most, but otherwise was no better than every other overcrowded New York city high school. I had some interesting teachers. I had a few really good teachers, and at least one that seriously influenced my future. There were also one or two memorable ones, though not always in a good way.

With current planning involving all these aging nerds and geeks singing the school song, I cannot begin to imagine myself standing around (probably sitting since my arthritis is pretty bad) howling a school song no one ever sang while we were going to school. I think I’d collapse from laughter, genuine ROFLMAO stuff.

What urge makes people cast a rosy glow over a time that wasn’t rosy for them?  So many of my classmates seem intent on reliving a past that didn’t happen at all. Is it because we are getting old and want our youth to have been much happier than it was?

Life was what it was. I am not a fan of revisionist history. I occasionally get an email from someone who has found my blog or my Facebook page. They want to renew our friendship. But we weren’t friends. Ever. Some of them are from that group of “mean girls” who turned my life in elementary school and junior high into a small personal hell. Now they want to be my pal? Really? Why? Have they actually forgotten the way it was? Why does no one ever talk about the one really cool thing we had: a gorgeous Olympic-sized swimming pool. Maybe I was the only one who always chose swimming instead of gym. I didn’t mind getting my hair wet, but apparently I was unique that way.

Is this whole collective stumble down memory lane a bizarre form of self-hypnosis whereby we erase real memories and replace them with stuff that never happened? Are we that old and out of touch?

I remember. Many of us suffered from, as did I, difficult home lives. We did a lot of acting out, each in our own way. I buried myself in books and didn’t emerge until college. Fortunately, that turned out to be a lot less destructive than other possible coping mechanisms. I’m watching my granddaughter do her own version of self-destruction for reasons painfully similar to mine, minus the abusive parents, but adding in social ostracism impossible until computers and cell phones. I have serious doubts about the human race and supposed social progress.

But here I go waxing philosophical again. Hell, I’m still trying to figure out exactly what point God was making when he took Job, beat him to a pulp, then told him he had no right to question why it was happening to him. That’s my very  favorite Bible story. Life in a  nutshell. Shut up Marilyn. Apparently everyone but me has been highly successful and had insanely perfect lives. It’s just possible that I didn’t live the past half century on the same planet as they did. It doesn’t sound like my planet. Does it sound like yours?

This is far too weird for me though it makes good fodder for writing. And inserting lots of question marks in my tired old brain.

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Life hurts

My granddaughter and many of her friends are having big problems in high school. Their problems are identical to those of my generation but this generation is even more clueless than we were. They have no idea how to cope. They are like those monkeys raised with wire mothers, at a loss to relate to other monkeys. 

They don’t know the difference between a real friend and a casual acquaintance. The glib labeling from social media is, for them, the real deal … until they discover it’s not.

Becoming a misfit in high school is easy. If you are different, you are going to have social problems. How large these problems loom is a function of the vulnerability of the individual.

In the “good old days” when I was growing up, rumors and lies spread no faster than however long it took to pass the word from person to person. Today, with the click of a mouse on a Facebook page or mobile phone, the same meanness, backbiting and gossip that has always been with us can be distributed instantly to hundreds, thousands, even millions of people. It’s the same stuff, but it gets around faster.

Schools can’t deal with the problem. It’s too amorphous. They can’t control the Internet, text messages, and social media sites. It’s so easy to pick on someone. It doesn’t even have to be intentional.

A moment of pique, thoughtlessness, a casual reference, ordinary gossip can do an enormous amount of damage to a fragile adolescent ego. The electronic world is as real to them … maybe even more real … than traditional relationships. I’m not sure they understand there is a difference.

I’ve watched the dynamics of this first generation of young people for whom cell phones and computers are as ordinary as electricity was for us. I’ve watched them sit together in groups preferring to text each other rather than talk. I’ve wondered how in the world they would ever learn how to have a real relationship, to make the kind of friends that last a lifetime.

The answer is that they haven’t learned. They are lost.

They are starting to pay the price of hiding behind electronic communication. They have used it as a substitute for face time, conversation, of really being with other people.

Shy kids have had no motivation to get over it. They can’t handle even the simplest conversation. They don’t get it that people can be two-faced, dishonest, and just mean and that it isn’t personal. People are what they are. We older people could help if they let us, but we’re fossils, stupid old people suggesting they talk to each other, spend time together, that you can’t become “best friends for life” by exchanging emails.

They’ve relied on words alone, out of context of the rest of the package: facial expression and body language.  They have never learned to “read” people. They can’t see when someone is lying.

Growing up is hard. Being a teenager is rough. It was as true 50 years ago as today, but we never had the choice of hiding behind a computer.

A lot of young people have had only minimal contact with other kids. There are a lot of forces at work, not only the hyper-availability of technology but also the fearfulness parents, the limited availability of free time, the overly structured lives kids have. They can’t just hang out. They aren’t encouraged to do stuff  independently.

If my generation suffered from unwillingness to discipline our kids, this generation of parents not only doesn’t discipline kids, they smother and over-protect them from life itself. They label everything as bullying. They do not encourage their offspring to face problems and assure them they can handle it, that you don’t get emotional strength by avoiding life. Instead they buy into the endless psychobabble and make their kids feel even more helpless.

I’m not surprised at the problems. Despite my son and daughter-in-law’s contention that kids are meaner than they were, I don’t agree. Kid, people, are no different than they ever were.  The difference is that parents are afraid to let their kids work out their problems. They don’t let them grow up. Sometimes, I think they don’t really want them to grow up, as if they want them to stay permanently dependent and childish. They have no idea how much they will regret it.

It’s natural to want to protect your children from hurt, but you shouldn’t protect them from life.

Life hurts. Life is also wonderful, rich, rewarding, exciting. But never pain-free.

There’s no turning back from technology. Nor would most of us want to dump our computers and cell phones. There does need to be a better balance. Technology won’t produce relationships. Exchanging words is not bonding. Sending texts and emails can’t establish closeness.

It’s a tall order convincing teenagers that emotional pain is part of growing up. Nothing but experience will help toughen them up so they can function in the world.

No one gets a pass from pain. Money won’t buy it. Private schools won’t keep life away. There’s only one way to become a survivor — experience. These kids need to get out and live. Put the cell phones away and talk to each other. Get involved. Let life happen to them, be swept away by events and emotions. Learn that feelings are manageable … with practice.

They aren’t getting the message. Maybe if they read it on Facebook?