False Alarms: Negative Comments and Deleted Posts

4 years ago

In the shower, mid-shampoo, I hear a blaring noise pulsing in my ears. I jerk the shower curtain open but can't place the sound. I step out of the shower, covered in bubbles, dripping with water, and fling open the bathroom door to discover our house alarm is going off.

Without thought or reservation, I bolt down the stairs, naked, wet, and soapy. I run full speed, leaving alternating watery footprints on each stair. I hit the hardwood floors and skid my way into the kitchen, where the keypad for the alarm system sits yelling angrily above the kitchen table. I furiously type in the code, desperately trying to figure out what tripped the alarm. Was the back door pushed in? Did someone break a window in the basement and now waits in the stairwell for me? But the screen pops up, happy that I've entered the code, informing me there is the presence of smoke in the house.

And where there is smoke, there's fire.

Image: Ben Schumin via Flickr

I immediately check to see if the gas stove burners are on. I see they are all safely off. I race down to the basement, still naked, still wet and now shivering. I look in the laundry room and check the dryer hose. It's secure and cool. I walk through the house, arms clasped in front of my chest and a pillow covering my bikini wax, checking outlets and vents and every appliance.

I find no sign of fire. And by the time I calm down enough to understand there's no danger of fire, I am suddenly aware all the window blinds in our house are raised.

When I yell this story through the phone to my husband, he quietly mentions that the alarm might have been set off by the steam from my shower. That my three minutes of sudsy panic, thinking I was about to be murdered or burst into flames, was my own steamy fault.

He knew better.

Last week I posted an essay describing the seven types of college students. A silly, harmless satire about the common types of students I've seen during my years of teaching. Before I post any of my writing, I always pause and question whether this might possibly offend someone, or a group of people. Not that I worry unduly about offending people, but when one writes about parenting, or feminism, or marriage, it's bound to rub certain people the wrong way. I worry that I've over-simplified or over-complimicated an issue. Or I'm not seeing it from all sides. Or I'm not being patient enough and appreciating the little things in life. More than worrying about upsetting someone, I worry about being insensitive or polarizing. This is why I rarely post about my favorite One Direction member.

But I do think about these things. Even if only momentarily.

And yet, with the most recent post, in which I argue there are only seven types of college students, I didn't think a thing about it offending anyone. It was written in good fun and meant as a joke. And so I sent it off through my typical social media outlets to reach friends, family and former college professors. The feedback was positive. (Well, Facebook doesn't have a "dislike" button.) And then, as I've been doing of late, I sent it out to the vast world of the internet, where strangers lurk.

And within minutes I got bitch slapped. Several times over.

The first comment (all were "anonymous") said that I obviously had such little regard for my students that I was clearly an unfit teacher. One wrote that my "reductionist view on society" clearly indicated I was a "raging lunatic." Another said it was obvious I was the worst teacher who ever existed. One simply said: "I'm a graphic designer. I work hard." (He might not have actually read the entire post.) One said that all God's children are different and unique and cannot be classified in seven simple categories. And another said it was apparent that I had no conscience if I was willing to throw my students under the bus to promote my worthless writing.

These hit me so hard, I threw up. In my hand.

Not that I haven't had criticism before. And I've certainly had much worse said about me. Behind my back and to my face. I've been made fun of more than I care to remember. It's nearly impossible to get through junior high with a severe limp. But these comments hit me in a place that I had no idea any nerves existed: my ego. Not only was my writing being called into question, but so was my teaching. This wasn't saying my cooking or vacuuming skills lacked precision. This was criticizing the two things I really care about, and the two crafts at which I try the hardest. These internet lurking sons a bitches should have just called me a shitty mom and put me out of my misery.

While I was reading the comments, my eyes hot and my stomach churning, I felt like an alarm was going off in my head. And while I wasn't naked and wet and shivering, I did feel extremely exposed. And vulnerable. Instead of logically thinking through the comments, instead of considering that I was proud of the post and I meant it as a joke, instead of calmly considering the humorless rat bastards who were pointing fingers at me behind their protective 13 inch screens, I instead, immediately deleted my post.

These "anonymous" turds had won.

This is the world of social media. And message boards. And blogs. An insanely critical world in which people think that owning a laptop makes them a New Yorker critic. And I have to allow this because if I'm allowed to freely post whatever I want, they are allowed to comment on it. And while I wasn't writing about anything of consequence -- thank god I didn't post my thoughts about military action in Syria -- I have to allow people to react. Just like if I insist on taking showers of skin melting temperatures, I have to accept the smoke detector calling me on it.

Momentarily, I allowed the negative comments I received to change the way I viewed my writing. I instantly believed what was being written about me and my writing was true. It's easy to believe things you read and hear. About the world. Or yourself. A smoke detector blaring means there's a fire. And harsh criticisms of you are facts. So I can continue running around the house naked, assuming what I hear is truth. And I can continue to delete posts because a handful of people say they are horrible.

Or I can develop a very important skill:

Detecting a false alarm.

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