Last month on another site where I had an internet presence, I was cyber-bullied and attacked. The most frustrating part of the experience was having it spill over into other areas of my life that I felt had nothing to do with the particular internet community in which I was engaged where the bullying took place. Someone even found this poetry blog somehow and left a comment on one of my poems addressing the drama at the other site. I was so incredibly offended by that. I believed that this blog was a place for my writing to be respected and taken care of by others who come by here on occasion; to ignore the content of the site and simply fixate on silliness happening elsewhere felt like a violation of what I thought was a sacred writing space.
I’ve since come to realize that no space can be completely sacred in the eyes of others. Anywhere I exist – be it in the virtual or real world – is at risk of disrespect from outsiders. I am fooling myself if I pretend otherwise.
So what do I do in response? Do I shut everything down, turn inwards, stop engaging in things I enjoy doing because of those with malicious intent who gain pleasure from tearing people down? When I took down my YouTube channels many people emailed me and said I was “letting them win.” I am still struggling with this idea. I was not making videos to “win” anything. I don’t have blogs to score first place in some internet race. I made videos simply because I enjoyed doing them, and they seemed to help some people, and those two things together made me happy.
My blogs motivate me to write. When I slack off, I know they are sitting out there, testaments to what I am capable of achieving but currently ignoring. Many times I come to this or my other online homes with no idea what I am going to write, or photograph, or say in front of a camera. Many times I have no motivation beyond the idea that I committed to starting this “thing,” and I should really keep up with it. But I start speaking, or writing, or taking pictures, and the content comes. This, to me, is the magic of the online communities within which I exist. The possibility of an instant audience is, in its essence, a gift. It is a blessing. One for which I am very grateful.
No audience is perfect however. There are always hecklers. There are always those whose desires do not match my own; who have an agenda I cannot understand but also cannot completely avoid. The truth is these spaces have never been sacred by the sole fact of their existence. It is what I bring to them that makes them so. If others bring negativity, insanity, or drama instead – well then, the internet and my space within it can become that to them. But it does not have to taint my connection to them as inspiring and important elements of my life.
There is a risk in putting myself out here for others to see that is somewhat different from what I thought it was before. I always knew my poetry could get stolen, or people could dislike what I wrote enough to leave unkind words in response to my work. What I didn’t know was that people can come here who do not respect any aspect of it; my hard work, my self-expression, my research, my struggle to communicate ideas of which even I am unclear. If nothing else, I can become more aware of my own vulnerability and resist the temptation to either hide away or fight back, as if those are the only two options available to me. They are people I do not understand, after all, and it is that which makes them frightening to me. Understanding them does not include behaving as they do or condoning such ugliness; but it does mean feeling less shocked and threatened by it all.
So the theme for the month is “Returning” – to my online homes, the communities that help keep them strong, and the aspects of myself that make me feel whole. I am engaging in Fiona and Kaspa’s “River of Stones” project for the month of January, and in doing so hope to build this space back up into what it was becoming before my confidence and sense of security were shaken. But – and this is important to note – I will do so wisely, with a deeper awareness of how vast the internet is and how its inherent neutrality can be used to negative ends as easily as it can for positive ones. I now know I am not wholly “safe” hanging out here in the virtual world, and hope to protect myself accordingly. I am thinking here not as much of this blog as of others I run, but I will remember it here too. I will return to this blog and my others, but wiser and better prepared for whatever negativity I might encounter.