It Might Hurt, but I Refuse to Toughen Up

It’s been more than three weeks since I’ve written anything, other than an e-mail to a friend and some private messaging on Facebook. Ever since I finished off my word count for National Novel Writing Month (also known as NaNoWriMo…or insanity) on November 30th, I haven’t felt the slightest urge to write a single thing. There was a writing contest I had intended to enter for The Prepper Journal, but I could not bring myself to even seriously contemplate a topic. Maybe I’ll send them something at a later date and ask if they’re interested in publishing it, but I desperately needed to take a step back from working for a little while. Luckily it coincided with the Christmas break for the show I produce, because I’ve been a completely lazy git for the last three weeks.

Not that I can blame myself for it. Most people don’t write a book in the course of less than a month, edit it in three weeks, and then write half of another book, while overlapping the editing of the first book. For two and a half months I worked every single day, usually from the time I woke up, until I finally fell asleep about twenty hours later. I’d take the odd break here and there, usually to binge-watch the X-Files with my daughter (we just finished season five and watched the movie a couple of days ago), but mostly I worked. Not that it felt like work at the time, because I was enjoying the hell out of it, but in reality I was busting my butt.

The problem didn’t really come until after my book was published and I started receiving negative reviews. The first couple were great, and I consider the majority of them to be positive. However, the negative ones were pretty bad, and in some cases downright rude or wrong. Believe me when I tell you that writers are very sensitive to criticism, though we’re told we just have to suck it up and move on. It’s not anywhere near as easy as it sounds. Even when a review is dead wrong (to the point where you believe they didn’t even read the book, or they skipped half of it), it gets in your head and plays a tune on you whenever your brain gets a little too quiet. I tend to have a lot of quiet time, so my brain poked fun at me quite a bit.

So, since the end of November I’ve been having a pity party along with my burn-out. In addition to that I’ve had to suppress my irritation with people. I mean, unless you’re stupid you don’t respond to the reviews on Amazon. It’s bad form, for one thing. For another, it’s a no-win situation. Not only is it rude to the person who left the review, but then other people start thinking you’re a jerk. For that reason I’m not going to talk about specifics even in my blog. People should be allowed to review. I do think Amazon should consider their review policy, such as disqualifying reviews from people who haven’t bought a product, or who are blatantly attacking or bullying someone, but other than that people have to be allowed to express their opinions.

I just can’t imagine expressing my opinion in such a rude fashion as some people do. Maybe it’s because I’m Canadian, and the whole mud-slinging thing is anathema to me, but there are rude Canadians, too, so I don’t think that’s entirely the issue. I think it’s simply a change in how people behave when they’re allowed to be anonymous. There’s an expression I like that applies to this.

“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” ~ John Wooden

We’ve all seen what’s been happening online these days, particularly when it comes to inflammatory issues. Women are subjected to rape and death threats online, just for stating an opinion. Muslims are seeing hateful rhetoric in a constant barrage. Gun-control advocates are getting threats that they’ll be shot by ‘responsible gun owners.’ If these people were sitting face-to-face, in most cases the majority of their words would not pass their lips, and that comes from all sides of the arguments. It doesn’t matter if a person is a liberal or a conservative, a man or a woman, a Christian or a Muslim. We’re all guilty of it.

When it comes to my personal situation, I tried to make myself feel better by looking at reviews other authors had received, and it actually made me feel worse. Sure, I felt like I was in pretty good company. Well-known authors (such as Nora Roberts, Karin Slaughter, and J. K. Rowling), were subjected to major abuse in their Amazon reviews. I started seeing that the reviewers who spoke like that had some issues. Often they were extremely hateful. Teenagers were leaving nasty reviews about the Harry Potter series, and I have to wonder how they even have access to leave comments. In order to review an item you have to have made a purchase on Amazon, which means you must have a credit card of some sort. In most cases that would mean it’s the parents’ accounts, and yet the parents are okay with their kids leaving those sorts of remarks. It doesn’t bode well for the future of society.

I honestly thought I would feel better about my own bad reviews if I was in good company. I mean, hey, if it can happen to some of the best (or even most popular, whether or not you agree they’re the best), then it should be okay that it happened to me, too. Instead I feel scared by it. I’m scared of what we’re turning into when it becomes okay to belittle people online. I know that there are people that get off on hurting others. I know there are trolls and bullies. I know some people try to feel better about themselves by showing off and criticizing other people for doing something they themselves cannot do. I see it all the time on Facebook. I’m a member of some movie groups for some reason, and I see people panning movies left, right and centre, when I sit there and think, “I’d like to see you do better!” If they can’t do it themselves, then at least they can cut down someone who has already done it, in other words.

That’s the real test, though, isn’t it? A friend of mine reminded me of that saying, “Those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach,” and said he didn’t think that was a fair thing to say. I agree completely. You can’t teach something if you don’t know how to do it. He said those who couldn’t would just criticise those who do, and again I agree. But I’m still very worried about society. There’s a damn good reason I don’t leave the house much. When people think it’s okay to issue threats over books or articles, there’s a serious breakdown in our humanity. People are shooting people over idiotic things. Young men think they have a right to kill a bunch of people because young girls won’t send them naked pictures of themselves. The sense of entitlement on this planet is growing all out of proportion with what we actually deserve.

Part of me is saying that I should just toughen up and get on with my life, and the other part of me is saying that’s entirely the wrong thing to do. Why should I toughen up? Why should I be any less sensitive than I am? The real question is, why should I change because of what other people are saying and doing? Yes, I will have to suffer if I don’t toughen up, but I also won’t lose the part of myself that refuses to become desensitized to aggression and violence – and that’s what it boils down to. People are being rude and angry toward other people, for no good reason. They’re taking out their own insecurities on others, and we have to stop tolerating it.

I don’t believe in all the old-school manners and etiquette, but by the same token we should treat one another with respect. Even when another person has shown they don’t really deserve it, we do not need to sink to that level. We become that other person if we do. I’ve made it a habit the last few months to simply stop arguing with people the moment they become rude. I refer to one-on-one encounters online. If a person calls me a name I tell them I’m done with the conversation for that reason, and then I actually leave the conversation. I don’t care what they say after that, because the name-calling just invalidated their argument for me. A debate is fine. Even an argument can be fine. When you step across the line to abuse, I’m done with it. And I wish more people did the same. It might teach these rude people that it’s not socially acceptable to do what they’re doing.

Of course, far too many people thrive on drama, and often cause it. It’s like those people who like to gossip. I can’t understand why they have so much of an interest in someone else and how they live their life. It makes no sense to me. And yet they sit there and talk about another human being in the worst possible way. It might sound terrible to say, but I honestly don’t have that much concern for what other people are doing, so long as they’re not hurting anyone. I’m more than happy living in my own little world, while everyone else lives in theirs. I like my solitude. The only people I make an effort with, to find out what’s going on in their lives, are the people I love. Other than that, I can’t be bothered. I’ve got too many other things in my life to do, that I find far more interesting.

Today I finally wrote an article for a friend of mine who asked me to contribute to his online magazine about a month ago. I wrote about dealing with criticism, because it was what I’ve had on my mind for some time, and his site is about happiness and mental health. I’ve worked through a lot of it, though I still get somewhat irritated when I stew about it too much. In my case I can’t resolve the criticism with a confrontation, so I have to vent in other ways – like this blog post.

I don’t want to be a whiner or a wimp, but I also don’t want to lose touch with my honest feelings. I’ve distanced myself from people in many ways, in order to prevent loss of emotion on my part. It may sound counter-intuitive, but I find too much interaction with people I don’t know can result in me shutting down my emotions just to get through it. I did it when I worked in the corporate world, and I worked too hard as a teenager to regain my emotions (after a childhood of abuse) to lose them now because of strangers.

So, instead of toughening up I’ve examined the criticisms, learned what I could from them, determined what parts might be accurate, and then tried to get a handle on why people would feel the need to behave in such a fashion. Allowing myself to understand their motivation has been a big help. Any disparaging remarks will hurt, but knowing why they were made makes them easier to deal with. And of course, just because someone has an opinion, doesn’t mean they’re right.

Be Afraid…Be Very Afraid – There is No Such Thing as Anonymity

Be Afraid…Be Very Afraid – There is No Such Thing as Anonymity

When I started publishing my writing, I took a step away from my personal information to make it more difficult for anyone to physically find me. I’ve been stalked before, and I knew the dangers. To this day, however, it scares me when I see how frighteningly easy it is to find people who are online – and even those that aren’t. In fact, that’s part of my job as a producer for The Kovacs Perspective. Sometimes there is a particular guest we want to have on the show, or even just an expert on a particular topic, that doesn’t come through our usual route for guests. Then I have to go online and find their contact information. It usually takes me less than five minutes, even if I don’t know their name when I start out.

That should scare you. Yes, you. Every one of my readers needs to understand how easy it is to find someone online. I can track down almost anyone, and I do not have access to police searches. Nor do I subscribe to any credit reporting service. I Google it. If a person is online in any fashion, their contact information is usually there for the taking. If someone even mentions their name online, I can find them. It happened today, in fact, when I was looking for a guest for the show.

Admittedly I have very good research skills, but you don’t even have to know how to use any of Google’s advanced search options. I used them years ago, but now I don’t even bother. I don’t have to. I don’t think there is anyone that I have looked for that I haven’t been able to find. Even people who do not have Facebook or Twitter accounts.

Some people just shrug their shoulders at this – either because they don’t understand the danger, or because they’re already cynical about it. I can only be grateful that my stalker did not have access to the tools back then, that I have access to now. It was more than twenty years ago, and the internet wasn’t in everyone’s home yet. My parents had it, but I didn’t know anyone else that did. I didn’t even know how to use it, because I didn’t live with them anyone. It certainly wasn’t the indispensable tool then that it is now.

Imagine, though, that you’ve got a neighbour who doesn’t like you. Maybe they don’t even know your name, because you’ve never introduced yourself. A quick look online to match your address to a name listed in the White Pages, and suddenly they’re harassing you on social media because you waited an hour longer than usual to bring your garbage can inside. Yes, I’ve had neighbours that were like that. Not that incident specifically, but similar in magnitude. They didn’t like how fast I drove up to my house in my own driveway. Confused? Yeah, so was I. They almost killed a couple of friends of mine by messing with the tires on my car, which later caused it to flip over multiple times. It was a very good thing they were wearing their seat belts. They also thought it was a lark to siphon gas from my car, leaving me stranded many miles from a gas station.

Those kinds of people are everywhere in the world. They think you looked at them funny one day, and suddenly they’re justified in taking a crazy revenge on you, when what you were really thinking about at the time was that you forgot to buy sugar and you were really ticked at yourself. Now you have a mortal enemy you were completely unaware of making.

The fact that I’m very opinionated about certain things and express those views online, makes me a target as well, but at least I went into that knowingly. Every once in a while I have to take a break from it, because I don’t enjoy being called names. However, my beliefs don’t just disappear because someone calls me a political psycho or an idiot. It’s kind of like what Jon Stewart said about values.

I do not consider my values to be hobbies, and though I might not like how people speak to me, and the disrespect I’m occasionally subjected to, I don’t generally take it lying down. When I do take a break it’s always with the intent of coming back full-strength again.

I recently did that with Facebook. I was getting some strange characters commenting on some of my threads – people who were not friends of mine, but rather friends of friends. It was getting to me to the point where I stopped being polite and was on the verge of spewing my own vitriol. That’s not acceptable behaviour to me, so I walked away, figuratively speaking. This illustrates the complete lack of anonymity perfectly, though. People who don’t even know you will spew hatred toward you because they disagree with your views. You can’t stop them. You can only resist engaging with them.

There is a lot of hatred in the world, and a lot of anger. When I say I’m a feminist it raises a lot of hackles. All I mean is that I believe men and women are of equal value and deserve equal treatment. It does not mean I think women are superior, or that men are jerks. It does not mean I’m a lesbian, or that I refuse to shave, though I stand up for the rights of those who are gay or don’t want to shave. My ball-busting is limited to those who treat me as less worthy than a male, and I don’t care whether it’s a male or female engaging in that behaviour. Of course, it helps that I’ve broken a vast majority of the stereotypes myself, and that provides credibility when I speak.

I still keep in mind, however, that I should never assume a determined person won’t find me. They will. If they really hate me enough, I can be found and my safety can be threatened. I haven’t been threatened thus far, and I intend to keep it that way if possible. That means I try to see more than one side of an issue, and acknowledge that others may have good reason for disagreeing with me. I’m not always successful, certainly, but making an effort helps. I’ve written articles for feminist publications and actually had people thank me for acknowledging the abuse and rape that occurs against men. I’ve had friends subjected to both that were were male so I’m well aware it happens, and it’s no laughing matter when anyone is hurt that way.

On the flip-side of anonymity, there are also those who perform criminal actions online, and those people can almost always be found as well. Very few people even bother with a proxy server when they commit certain criminal acts. There have been a number of 12-year-old-boy types who have been found that were threatening to rape and kill women. That sort of thing is usually seen in gaming culture. For some reason they think it’s okay to issue those threats, and think they’re safe from anyone knowing who they are. It’s one thing parents need to spend more time actively teaching their kids these days. It wasn’t so much of a problem ten years ago when it might have applied to my daughter, because online gaming hadn’t hit the levels it has now. I severely restricted her internet time back then, too, to make sure her homework was being done. If it wasn’t, she was grounded from her computer for long stretches of time. ‘Forever’ to a teenager.

There’s a good reason children under the age of thirteen aren’t supposed to have a Facebook account. It’s bloody dangerous. I honestly think it’s a terrible idea for them to have an account before they’re legal adults. Pedophiles search for victims online, and find them all too easily. Teenagers think they’re invincible, which doesn’t help, and they also have no knowledge usually about how to protect their personal information online. I’d be monitoring my daughter’s account constantly, if she were still a teenager. She didn’t have an account until she was an adult, though it had nothing to do with me. She just didn’t want one. Even now she limits it to friends she actually knows, rather than just letting anyone friend her, and she’s inherited some of my paranoia about personal information thankfully.

Even if it’s not a stalker looking for you, there are always those that chase down credit card information, or want to steal identities. The latter is very very easy to do, by the way. I know exactly how to do it, though I have not. If you’ve ever misplaced your wallet, even if it was returned to you, you really need to monitor all activity under your own name, and you may have to do it for the rest of your life. Keep an eye on your credit, and make sure there are no alternative addresses associated with your name. Do yourself a favour and don’t keep your birth certificate or SIN or SSN card in your wallet. Only have it with you when you’re going to need it for something specific. If someone manages to make a copy of them, they can use that to get other ID, and the ID will be the real deal, unlike having forged documents. This is especially a problem when you can change your information online through official government websites. Their website security will mean little if someone else has all the right information to get past their security checks.

Here’s the bottom line. I’m not some hot blonde that shows her cleavage in every ID photo. I don’t do ‘duck face’. Ever. I’m not young. I’m not a famous celebrity. I’m not rich. I still take precautions, and so should you. I’ve chosen to have an online presence in order for my voice to be heard every once in a while, but just because you haven’t chosen that doesn’t mean you’re any less vulnerable than I am. A lot of information will already be available about you online, no matter what you do. Just don’t add to it and make it even easier for someone to find you