Care and Feeding of Trolls

JordanMy Big Mouth, Writing. Practice.

Don’t feed the trolls, we writers remind each other when a new piece goes live online.“Trolls” is the term we’ve given those bottom-dwellers who hide behind anonymous names and avatars and fill up the comments’ sections with their outrage and disgust. They tend to get personal, attacking a writer’s character (what kind of idiot thought this up?) and premise (the problem with this article is…) with little logic and lots of outright name calling. Having difficulty with your parenting? Stupid people like you should never have kids! the troll shrieks. Writing about the complexities of marriage? You are ugly and your partner should get out while s/he still can.

Do you write about controversial issues of race or gender? There’s a troll for that. Well, then, you must be safe if you write about kind, gentle fluffy things like cute animals and babies? Nope! There’s also a troll for that. In fact, according to some friends in my writer’s group, the trolls are particularly vehement in anything to do with animals—even if you’re pro-animal. In troll-ese, you are probably too dumb to own an animal, much less live. And while you’re at it, if you can’t figure out how to properly feed your pygmy goat, well your kids are probably running around feral in their own filth. Call CPS.

Just like the 80s movie Gremlins, which gave me nightmares for a week straight as a kid, if you feed your cute cuddly little Mogwai after midnight they turn into havoc-wreaking, sticky-fingered murderous demons who want nothing more than to destroy you.

Don’t feed the trolls.

For the trolls lie in wait like ticks looking for a warm-blooded mammal to walk by. Where do they come from? I wonder if any of them even have jobs.  Does the troll class consist of people who have never left home, the independently wealthy, are they hired by the publications themselves to keep clicks coming? One has to wonder.

Still, despite everything I know about the care and feeding of trolls, I didn’t listen. A piece of mine was published at the the Washington Post’s On Parenting section, which the teaser headline “Forever a First-Time Mom” and “What it Means When You Have an Only Child” when you click on the link. (Comments were much kinder on my piece Why I’ll Plan to Hover When My Son Becomes a Teen at Stir Journal and Jo March Saved My Life at DAME Magazine)

Like most of my parenting pieces, I fall on my sword and examined my own less than perfect behaviors as a parent, dissecting them in order to better understand both myself and my own interactions with my son. It was also a meditation on the fact that as the mother of only one child—I never get that second chance to do it again, learn from subsequent children.

The trolls descended. They questioned my intelligence. Told me how ridiculous I was, and how whiny and annoying. One woman went on twitter to suggest that only children lead lonely existences (despite plenty of research, and my own experience, to the contrary) and my poor child was doomed. When I tried to point out that some people can only have one child, she put virtual hands on hips and went after me again:

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Why did I engage?

Because on that particular day I didn’t think of these trolls as nameless text on a screen; I imagined actual people sitting at their computers somewhere writing these words with intention. Did I not really exist to them because they hadn’t met me in person? Could they not put themselves in my shoes and imagine feeling hurt by such statements. Despite myself (don’t feed the trolls!!) I got mad. As did writer Lindy West recently, when she confronted the troll who was using her dead father’s name.

So I engaged them, and just like with small children, engaging only made the trolls shoutier.

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The moral of this story is that sometimes sitting back and letting people trash you feels just as bad as ignoring them—and that once in a while you make a human move to stand up and be heard even though you know you’ll just be stoned in the midst of it. Because you feel like fighting.

But, at the end of the day the golden rule is there for a reason: energy you spend fighting with your trolls is just that—energy spent that you can’t get back.

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The Second Annual Plot & Scene Writing Retreat with Martha Alderson happens at the Mt. Madonna Retreat Center, May 1-3, 2015.

JordanCare and Feeding of Trolls