I wrote that quote inside my brain several years ago after reading something that made me angry. I said out loud, to the wall, "THIS MAKES ME WANT TO BREAK SOMETHING!"
Because it did.
A lot of things have made me want to break things over the years. I've wanted to break voices, specifically anonymous ones (who aren't so anonymous anymore thanks to commenting systems like disqus. I love disqus) and computers (specifically mine) and the ambush-style mobs that select their ambush-du-jour and blindly follow the Emperor's New Pitch Fork without thinking for themselves.
"Make, not break."
Because we all have a choice in this space... we can make something or we can break something. We can be constructive with our criticism or we can become hysterical, hateful, creating false identities to attach our own destruction.
Make, not break...
It isn't hard to write a post that people will love. We all know how to do that by now, don't we? And those posts are important to write because there is beauty everywhere. There's also a lot of shit. And when we gloss over the shit, we kill the magic in those truly epic moments. We become numb to nuance because there can only be two camps, GOOD and BAD.
"You are a good mother. Wait, no. You're are a bad mother."
Fuck that, there is no such thing.
There is no such thing as either because the words themselves are empty and polarizing and uninformed.
Sometimes I choose to focus on the positive, address the beauty in all things, highlight a moment where I have succeeded and my kids have succeeded and we all have succeeded.
But that isn't the whole story. The story is the bedtime struggles and the ER visits and the trying to figure out how to parent four distinct (and very much themselves) personalities all at once while trying to maintain a marriage, a job, a dream, a house, a brain, a heart... all while rats invade and bathrooms cave in and lice is a thing and lunches need to be made and bills need to be paid and everyone wants something needs something, always...
My heroes in and beyond this space are not heroes because they get their kids out to door on time, but because they recognize their own humanity and do not bash others for theirs. That includes all writers and memoirists, essayists and speakers who share fearlessly online because there is no other way -- who open themselves up for criticism every day. The kind that is not constructive. I actually think criticism is important in this space and I hope everyone feels comfortable enough, here, to disagree and participate in an exchange of ideas that are not marginalized by ambush-style hate. We shouldn't have to pretend to share the same perspective "just to be nice." Harmony can only come from numerous voices who sing in different keys and I applaud the conversations that happen between those who respectfully disagree with each other. But this year (more than most) I have been blown away by the mob mentality of the Internet and how blindly rage-filled it has become.
I have witnessed, time and again, women come out with their stories, tell their truths only to be ambushed into silence. Not only on their websites and books but in the comment threads of blogs and social media until suddenly the best this space has to offer is gone because, it's not worth it...or as one friend said to me the other day, "I don't have the skin for it anymore."
What a loss to lose that voice. What a loss to lose ANY voice that feels she cannot contribute out of fear -- who feels she cannot tell her story and not be shamed by it, misconstrued, ridiculed, or cut down... who must argue for her place to speak from her own platform.
"Don't read the comments," I tell young people who want to be writers. "Don't ever read the comments at the end of stories. They will scare you away from telling them."
That's awful, isn't it? And yet... the option is, what, to hold back? To write less? To say nothing? To respond? To scream into a pillow because WHAT IN THE...!?? COME ON!!??? (This post is for all the times I didn't respond, by the way. A sort of epiblogue to last week's Mom.me column. And the one before that. And the one before that and that and that. Sometimes there are words that need to be said and these are they.)
Because, if we can't talk openly with one another out of fear of being ambushed... if we can't stand up for each other out of fear of being criticized... then what stories could we possibly be telling each other? And in their place, what stories will we have scared away?
It is far easier and much less time intensive to break someone's idea than it is to build your own perspective. However. It will ALWAYS be more effective to build.
I use this analogy with my kids when they're playing "who can build a better Lego structure." You can destroy your opponent by crushing their building or you can destroy your opponent by building something stronger.. taller... more colorful... interesting... Wouldn't you rather use your brain than your fist? (Some people can't, is the thing. And I get that, too. But if they tried? If we all tried?)
MAKE... DON'T BREAK.
It will always be more effective to build OUR argument than it will be to break someone else's.
I have developed a fairly thick skin over the years but for those just getting started -- for the young women and girls who are launching their voices in this space, sharing their ideas, trusting an audience of strangers (of us?) to hear them and respond, how can we, the adults, elevate the conversation so that it MAKES?
Trolls do not speak from platforms, they speak from basements. And yet all that knocking from below our feet takes its toll.
"I can't do this anymore," I hear myself say.
"I can't do this anymore," I hear friends say -- incredible friends -- storytellers -- writers who change lives with their truth -- with their willingness to open themselves up, to share their triumphs and failings, be imperfect and fucked up and weird and late and different and out of the ordinary.
"It isn't worth it anymore..."
BUT IT HAS TO BE.
It has to be worth it.
You can't win, here, in Internetland, friends. Even more reason why we MUST write of our losses!
We need your voices, ladies. We need your ability to SPEAK up and SPEAK out and SPEAK honestly... even if it's imperfect and messy and frowned upon-- hell, ESPECIALLY if it's imperfect and messy and frowned upon. Because nuance is the only true voice of reason within this space, and without it we're all going to die and explode into a million pieces and be dead and gone and dead. Death by dying deadness...