Before I posted Moms Tell Me to Drink on my Facebook page, I thought about something my friend Liz had asked a week earlier, when I was spiralling about something else.
Katie, are you writing to be the world’s darling, or are you writing to start conversations?
I thought about that question and I chose the latter, because who in her right heart would want to be the pliable darling of a world so imperfect-but-improvable as ours?
So I took a deep breath and posted the thing and immediately three people unliked my page, two of them taking the extra steps to “hide all future posts.”
And this is how that felt ^
But it was fine. Because I know it’s not my job to please everyone. I am not guacamole.
And also, I know hardly anyone reads my blog.
Except this time people did read. First friends started sharing it, then strangers, then organizations. I was having dinner with my friend Angel when the first readership boom happened. We were eating sushi and suddenly my phone started blowing up which terrified us both because she knows that only three people text me and if one wasn’t her then oh-my-god, what happened to Mom or Freddy??
“Is everything okay?”
I looked at the phone. “Yes… I think so.”
A child psychologist had shared my post with her audience of 300,000.
“Yeah. Holy shit.”
Angel left to the bathroom and I picked up my phone to scroll the comments. The first two were thoughtful and then:
But luckily, I’ve read Brene Brown and her words spoke louder than the Mean Girl in my head who was demanding I read every mean thing:
Stop walking through the world looking for confirmation that you don’t belong. You will always find it because you’ve made it your mission.
Wise woman, that Brene Brown.
So I put my phone facedown on the table and I checked in with myself in the last few moments before Angel returned. If many people were going to read this post, then I needed personal boundaries. I thought of another quote, Jack Canfield:
What others think about you is none of your business.
And I resolved that unless comments were made directly to me, they weren’t meant for me to read. Therefore: none of my business.
(It wasn’t too a difficult a thing to resolve because it is true and also because my ego is as fragile as a child’s paper building structure carried home on a too-crowded school; a collapse of snot and tears and drinking straws and popsicle sticks and un-stickified tape no longer supporting the thing nor holding it together)
So I refused to read comments that weren’t made directly to me – that is, those that weren’t sent through email or private message or my blog or facebook page or through text. People just kept reading and interacting, which was great, and I didn’t have to wonder what they were saying, which was even better!
(At the time of writing this post, over 15,000 people have engaged with the other one, with many more reading without comment, like, or share.)
But then comments started coming at me, directly. I began opening inboxes while holding my breath, thinking about how if I was rich I would totally pay an assistant to do this and let me live in a pretty, comfy, echo chamber. I also thought how those assistant are probably not paid enough. But mostly I thought, as I opened those new comments,
Please be nice to me.
And most of them were, by a long stretch. My page audience expanded, I was asked by four publications to contribute articles, and I was invited to speak on a podcast. There were people who hadn’t thought of the issue before, but saw its importance. There were comments from people who disagreed, but who did so thoughtfully. But for every thirty helpful sentiments, I’d get something sarcastic or judgey or rude (usually sent privately, which was curious…), and those were the ones I’d obsess about and hate myself for. Until I started to notice a pattern.
Once I noticed that pattern, the more negative comments began to feel a little more… interesting.
Because the same sentiment was expressed again and again:
I don’t know what culture you’re from, but around here…
Maybe it’s because I work twelve hours a day, and you’re at home…
You don’t know what stress is, I’m a single mom…
We don’t all live in a fairytale world like you…
Some people can’t take a joke…
Just because you had a problem doesn’t mean everyone does…
You obviously have a disorder, but the rest of us…
The people who had felt judged or defensive or angry enough to make a snarky comment after reading my post all took steps to express how I was different from them and our community at large, and how therefore my ideas were no longer valid. Instead of discussing the issue I presented, they instinctively “othered” me to avoid deeper thought.
If I could be labelled as different, then my views didn’t need to be considered.
If I was painted into a single smaller community (in this case, “alcoholics”) then I was voided from my bigger community (“mothers”).
And if I did not speak for the majority,
then I didn’t need to speak at all.
And there will be people reading this, rolling their eyes and thinking:
Yes, young, able-bodied, straight, cis, white woman, congratulations on your ground-breaking epiphany on othering.
Because they experience this every time our culture packs their viewpoints into special small boxes labelled minority or token or special interest.
And I’m not qualified to speak to that issue, but I do know this:
If we begin listing ways in which a person is different from ourselves and our larger community just because they’ve said something that makes us uncomfortable,
Then we really ought to think more deeply on what they’ve said.
Because something must have hit a nerve, and none of us are as different as we’d like to believe.
PS: Proof I get the joke.
(She was four and it would be ten months until I got my own punchline.)