Cyberbullying for Adults: 101, and the REAL Me

This is a big post for me. I’m revealing more about myself than I ever have, publicly and overtly, thus far:

I have severe, negative self-image issues that are hard-wired to key people in my past. I abhor talking about my looks; I shut down when that happens. If you say I’m pretty, I have enough good manners to say “thank you,” but it’s like I become dead inside. I know you’re just being nice. I know I’m not pretty, no matter what words come out of your mouth. I’m working on getting over this. But I’m telling you this about me up-front because it’s possible that my own views on good netiquette are skewed, due to my “preexisting conditions.”

Maybe, maybe not….

—–

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The original FB profile photo, in question.

Evening, a few weeks ago. I’d been home from work for about an hour, helped the little kids with their homework, cleaned up, and was just about to take my teenage daughter to the store (her, practice-driving!), when a friend, with whom I’d been texting all day, suddenly FB-messaged me that she liked my previous FB profile photo better than the one I currently had up.

What? WTF? Where did that come from? I was shocked, confused, and defensive. Who judges people’s Facebook profile photos?

Instead of letting the raw emotions win, I messaged her back:

"Feisty tonight, aren't we?"

She then proceeded to message me again, saying how she thought my current photo made me look too harsh, and the previous photo “made you look softer. And like you had hair.”

What!?! Then I really did get upset.

in memory of peter owens

The 9/11 tribute.

First of all, the only reason I’d had that photo up is because on 9/11 (a Thursday, this year) I’d put up a tribute-photo to a family member who’d died in the Towers, and then I’d hastily changed it out with a photo of me that was (a) recent and (b) that I hadn’t yet used for my profile. I knew it was obnoxiously close-up (one of my cousins commented that day: “Extreme close-up Friday?”), and I’d intended to take a new selfie and swap it out soon. But by now it was the following Monday evening, and I hadn’t yet had a chance to sit down and do it. So I had that level of defensiveness going on. (Okay, already, I’ll get to it!)

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The hasty, post-9/11 replacement.

Secondly, I didn’t think it looked that bad — certainly not bad enough for someone to go out of their way to comment on it and let me know. Indeed, some of my friends seemed to like it. Regardless, I didn’t hate it. It reminded me of a lazy afternoon at the pool. Which it was.

And thirdly, it was my freaking Facebook profile photo, not a beauty pageant. Not something to be judged-on. And, again, it was my freaking Facebook profile photo. It was my own expression of myself, that I’d chosen to show the world at that moment. I hadn’t asked for anyone else’s opinion, let alone a negative one. Yes, unfortunately, Facebook announces to the world (or at least your entire newsfeed) when you’ve made a change to your profile picture. And, unfortunately, they allow comments. And they can’t stop your friends from messaging you, either. But didn’t we all learn in Kindergarten that if you don’t have something nice to say…?

Seriously, I have never, ever told someone I disliked their FB profile pic (or even insinuated it by saying that I preferred another one). I’ve either “liked” it or said nothing. My friends are my friends because of who they are inside. It’s none of my business to tell anyone else how to present herself among her own circle of friends. Each person has her own vision of who she is in a given moment. Amiright?

I was pissed, and I felt unduly, negatively judged. And ugly. After dealing with my kids, I grabbed another spare moment and inserted a pic of me and my kids from the day before, at the park. But the damage was done. My friend and I stopped talking. (She said she didn’t want to deal with someone around whom she felt like she had to walk on eggshells. Can’t say I blame her. I’m not fun to deal with all of the time.)

Sadly, my ordeal wasn’t over.

—–

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Yesterday’s pic.

Yesterday. I changed out my FB profile picture again. I got a few “likes,” a few nice comments. And then one of my cousins — a wonderful, supportive, gorgeous creature, whom I’ve worshiped since childhood — told me she preferred two previous pics to the one I’d currently chosen. She happily offered to show me which ones.

"No, please don't...!"

I messaged this to her and explained my recent episode with my friend. I also explained about my negative self-image issues (which I’m not sure she’d understood about me, previously), and how being judged for a profile pic on FB triggered all of this in me. I also explained how I considered it rude to comment on peoples’ FB profile pics, when they hadn’t asked for it (i.e. “stuff that is no one else’s business”).

My cousin apologized. I think she felt bad, and I felt bad for making her feel that way. I told her I didn’t think she’d meant to be harmful or rude, but that, seriously, who’d asked? She said she and her sister tell each other stuff like this all the time. (Maybe I should be flattered that she treated me like her sister?) But the whole thing made me really not want to be judged anymore. Especially by my “friends.”

So I deleted my FB profile pic and haven’t replaced it yet. I’m a blank silhouette now.

—–

Fresh start: This morning, I decided that if the world was going to judge me, they were going to have to judge the real me. Usually people see me with all of my makeup on:

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But before I look like that, this is the real me. This morning, fresh out of the shower:

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Ugly? Not pretty? Yeah, I already know. And, yeah, maybe I’m taking a page out of Colbie Caillat’s playbook. But so what? There is no call to judge people who don’t ask to be judged. Not about things that don’t really matter.

Like how a person looks on the outside.

 

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New Day

WP_001042I am the Dawn.

I am the Light

and

the Darkness.

I encompass both

and many nuances in-between.

Little miss Sunshine? Ha! Not quite.

That’s not my description.

(Chin up, Buttercup: you’ll make it through the black.)

You see me radiant,

and you want the light.

Always the light.

Only the light.

But to know me you must know both.

And to have me you must accept both.

For the darkness, though difficult, is equally rewarding —

a promise I do not make lightly.

Listen to the sounds of the night. Become one with them.

Embrace your own darkness

and you can begin to embrace me

and mine.

Only then can you truly see my blaze

and become one with it.

It is always darkest before the dawn.

But

I am the Dawn.

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A case of laziness or self-defense? You decide….

I was going to write about my first two, never-saw-that-coming(!) weeks back in the workforce after fifteen and a half years of being a stay-at-home mom. But something else has wiggled its way in and needs to be blogged about first. It happened three days ago, on Thursday.

I was on my way home from work and made a quick pit-stop at the liquor store for a bottle of wine. Back outside, the neck of my paper-bagged bottle in one hand (which, the thought crossed my mind, made me look like a wino, but with better shoes), and my keys in the other, I was about to open my car door when a voice called out.

“Excuse me!”

I looked up to where the woman was standing, about twenty feet away, under the awning of the convenience-mart adjacent to the liquor store. From the distance, she looked about my age and was sensibly dressed, in pants and a winter jacket. But I felt myself get instantly wary… and then berated myself for going to the inner-suspicious place.  Maybe she’s just going to ask for the time, I reasoned. Nope.  

“Are you going this way?” she asked, pointing left, up the block.

This was, of course, the way I would have normally headed to go home, a mere mile and a half away. It was just after five, dusky-ish, and any warmth from the sunny, January day was quickly diminishing. I wouldn’t want to be outside in the cold if I didn’t have to be. Empathy for the woman began to push against my caution. I could hear the echo of my kids’ voices chanting “Stranger danger!” But the echo wrestled with my mother’s voice, saying things about “acts of charity” and helping others in need. My spider senses were tingling. Or were they? Maybe, I worried, I just being uncharitable and didn’t want to be bothered with the hassle of taking an extra five minutes out of my day to help a fellow human being. Historically, I’d always tried to make people happy and help them. I was a people-pleaser. And a conflict-avoider.  (The easiest way to avoid conflict with someone is to just say, “yes” and give them what they want.) 

Then again, I was still wary.

I felt my head shake and a “no” croaked out of my throat. The woman kept talking, as though she hadn’t heard me (which she probably hadn’t — I hadn’t spoken very loudly).

“I just need to get up there — it’s just by the middle school — and I don’t want to have to walk that far with my prosthetic leg.” 

Oh, great. Now, not only am I being uncharitable, but if she’s telling the truth, then I’m stranding a cripple! The middle school was a half-mile away. Not that far, but maybe it would seem like it if you had a prosthetic leg. The guilt of that thought, however, was accompanied by a Big Red Flag. What I mean by this is that I had the sensation — instinct? — that something was fishy about this whole scenario. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I could feel it. Something was off. I’ve learned to identify when I’m getting the Red Flag signal and to pay attention to it. Unfortunately, I’ve had too many times in my life where I’ve ignored these types of sensations. Always to my detriment. (People-pleaser!)

Suddenly, the words of my two self-defense instructors came into my head: “The best way to get out of a bad situation is not to be there.” Pay attention to the Flags and get out of the scenario before you get into a position where you can’t.

“I’m not going that way,” I said, clearing my throat.

“You’re going that way?” she exclaimed, her face lighting up. A brisk wind picked up, sending a shuddering preview of the rapidly dropping temp. My heart wavered at her hopefulness. Was I doing the right thing? Or just being cruel. Or even lazy. But I wouldn’t ignore the Flag, for whatever reason it had popped up. Yeah, something was off, here.

“No,” I said firmly, shaking my head again and opening the door of my nice, warm car. “Sorry. I’m not going that way.”

I got in and started the engine. Then, worried that the woman might be vindictive or mentally unstable, I actually went right instead of left. Because what if she saw me go left, and took down my license number and tracked down where I lived? Overkill on the paranoia? Probably. What should have been a three minute drive home took more like ten. I was resentful, too, that she’d put me in that position. And that I was too much of a coward to have made the left-hand turn. Then again, I’m around to tell the tale.

So: what would you have done?

D-day

I’m not usually given to poetry, but sometimes the story just wants what it wants. This is how it came out today. Let me know what you think.

—–

Shots pop from all around
Exploding chunks of turf near where I stand
Bullet casings that turn to mortar shells

I dodge and take cover from where I think the enemy is positioned

But then, a grenade to the gut
Bounced off my shelter from somewhere behind
Stunned, I whirl
And blink

Et tu, Brute? Et tu?

Were you the lone sniper all along?

No, it seems there are others
Just as hidden as you
They blast away, even as your grenade shreds my insides,
Rocking the earth with violent spasms

Until my feet have no ground to hold

You had drawn the enemy lines long ago
It seems
And I was on the other side
But did not know it

Mea culpa.
But why?

Now, as I fall
Limp and useless
In agony
Into the void
You despise me for bleeding
And crying

It is strange to see so clearly now

White hot pain
Blinding, searing
Destroying utterly
Completely

What was is no more

A nod to anonymous bloggers

I started this blog almost six months ago, at the end of September 2012, because I was supposed to. It’s the “writer” thing to do.

For non-fiction writers, a blog is another venue for establishing platform which, in turn, helps sell books. For fiction writers, like me, we don’t really have “platforms” the same way that the non-fics do (despite the title of my blog). But if I can develop a readership for my writing, I can then go to an agent and say, “I’ve written a manuscript…, and oh, btw, I have a blog with X-amount of followers, and I get XX hits a month.” This sets off a light bulb for an agent, because if he likes the manuscript, he knows he has a little something-extra to help sell it to a publisher: blog stats are quantifiable.

Business people (i.e. publishing company execs) love things that are concrete and quantifiable because they can be translated into dollar figures. Publishers know that an author’s good blog-following equals a certain-percentage of already-sold books. (For example, if an author has 3,000 followers and 20,000 hits a month, it’s going to guarantee at least 1,000 books sold. Or something like that.)

So for right now, that’s one of the reasons I’m here. I’m playing around, trying to find my correct blogging niche, which might, one day, help me sell my books. I try to be as real and approachable as possible, but I’m showing you my “public” persona — you know, the one I play at dinner parties or when I volunteer at my kids’ school. Me, but dressed-up and wearing makeup. I actually disclose very little about what goes on behind the silk curtain.

But there are those among us who have not only pulled the curtain aside — they’ve torn it down, shredded it, and thrown it away. They’re walking around the dinner party with no makeup on. And they’re naked.

You know who I’m talking about: the anonymous bloggers.

Some choose the path of anonymity for the complete sense of freedom that it provides — the ability to pour out one’s heart and soul, in whatever manner it comes tumbling forth, without fear of being judged by anyone who knows them. Sometimes writers are afraid of criticism of their work at this stage in the game, or of backlash because their genre would be frowned-upon by family and/or friends. Writing anonymously emboldens them to let the muse out, in whatever form she takes, and to get past their fears.

But many other anonymous blogs are written by people who are not necessarily “writers,” and who are going through difficult, often painful times in their lives. Their blogs read like online diaries — not your average dinner-party chatter. Probably not stuff they can discuss with their co-workers. Maybe not even their neighbors. In some cases, not even their best friend.

Yet I submit to you that it is these blogs, in all of their raw, unedited glory, that are among some of the best writing in the blogosphere.

The authors expose parts of themselves that, perhaps, they are unable to show in any other way. I’ve read post after post on which whole hearts and souls were bled open. The Anonymouses parade their ripped, dirty laundry with unabashed abandon for the whole world to see, holding it up to point out the various stains. “This is the one where I was raped.” “This is where my mom became an alcoholic.”  “This is where my child died and I started doing drugs.” “This is the one from when I cheated on my wife.” “These are the ones from where I’m still cheating on her.” In some cases the authors are proud of themselves. Mostly, though, they express the deepest levels of doubt, anger, fear…. Guilt, shame, humiliation…. Despair…. But the common thread running through all seems to be an elemental quest for answers and meaning. Truth.

Unless they are blogging under a pen name that they intend to use when publishing, there is no business reason (read, “no potential financial incentive”) for them to be doing what they’re doing. It’s all personal. These blogs read like stories, the most intimate glimpses into the darkest corners of the human soul, and I find myself cheering for each and every one who is brave enough to put himself or herself out there in this way. The blogs, themselves, become like giant, interactive diaries, and I’m constantly impressed at the decorum and restraint shown by commenters, whether or not they agree with the actions and ideas of the blog’s author, and the openness with which the authors respond to the different points of view presented to them.

If you haven’t yet discovered the hidden gems of anonymous blogs, you might want to treat yourself to a WordPress search. Just type in a topic of interest, and spend an afternoon with a fascinating real-life read. And who knows? You might even find one that resonates with something inside you.

 

Entering social media as me… for the first time!

Squeak! My gut feels like it’s shoved tight up against my diaphragm. There is a peculiar, not-comfortable, constricted sensation running from the top of my stomach, up my sternum, all the way to my neck. And I have to focus if I want my breaths to be any more profound than the edge of a zero-depth pool. This is me, Mouse, entering not just the blogosphere, but the entire realm of social media as myself, for the first time.

To clarify: I’ve had a website before. For about two seconds. It was back in the stone ages, even before MySpace. I used it to post pictures of my kids, and I’m pretty sure the only people who visited it were family members, so it felt pretty safe. I’ve also joined discussion boards in the past. Four times, to be exact. But never using my real name, so that felt safe, too. (Also, I don’t post on those sites anymore, for reasons I will probably never discuss here.) However, it is my goal this week to change all of that, and in the process change my life. (Hey, it ain’t gonna change itself.) Two days ago I joined Good Reads. As myself. Today, I’m writing my first blog post. As me. By the end of the week, I am going to get up the nerve to create a Facebook account.

I’ve frowned on social media for a long time. I’m an aspiring writer, butI don’t think my life is interesting enough that people would want to read about my mundanities. I write fiction for a reason. And I have no desire to cultivate farm animals or have people throw penguins at me or whatever. So I’ve shrugged it off. Avoided it like it’s a food allergy. But I’ve come to realized I’ve been lying to myself.

The reason I haven’t put myself out there is because I’m scared.

First off, I’m afraid of rejection. As I mentioned, I’m an aspiring writer, and I deal with rejection all the time. But I’m not very good at it. Every rejection letter from every agent cuts me to the bone, no matter how nice they try to be. Because I let it. I have to get over that. And I have got to get over my fear of putting myself out there, because the self-doubt is crippling me. (Not to mention, I can’t go crying to my good friend Bourbon every time someone turns me down….)

Then there’s Facebook. Facebook terrifies me. (So much so that I can’t even type “Facebook” properly: I’ve had to redo it three times now for typos.) Facebook presents the possibility of people rejecting me not just for my fiction, but for the reality of who I am. I don’t want to admit to the world that I’m not at all successful or where-I-want-to-be with my life. Also, there’s the paralytic thought that someone will find me who I don’t want to find me. Yeah, there’s a specific someone like that for me (again, something I will probably never discuss on this blog), but I have to get over my fears!

Otherwise I might as well go live in a closet.

I don’t expect anyone else to read this post, since it’s my first and I have no idea how to publicize it. But if anyone does, I’d be curious to know how you got past your fears (whatever they were), and how you deal with rejection.