ON INTERNET INVISIBILITY
I feel the White Queen, a TV series about the War of the Roses, needs more Richard. But Aneurin Barnard is rocking it so far. I think he’s just fantastic.
But this reminds me of watching the White Queen on Sunday night, and tweeting that I was yelling for Richard, just a sprinkle more Richard, RICHARD!
I was about to launch into a series of tweets about the White Queen, including my eagle-eyed search for the zippers in the costumes, when the writer of the TV series tweeted at me that there would definitely be more Richard soon!
… ‘DEAR SWEET GOD,’ I thought to myself. ‘SHE CAN SEE ME! ABORT! ABORT! THIS PARACHUTE IS A KNAPSACK!’
Now, I’ve got nothing against the screenwriter seeing me, or talking to me. It’s all fine. I’d just forgotten that she could, and remembering gave me a shock.
You get into the habit of thinking that the internet is your living room, and then you think to yourself:
Wait. This room is made of glass, and being broadcast to a billion channels.
AND I’M NAKED.
Internet invisibility is something we all believe in, and it’s something that’s never true.
Which brings me to—being on the internet, and seeing stuff, not about your writing, but about yourself.
Of course, it’s tricky to disentangle the two: sometimes people will say ‘SRB’s not funny’ and they will mean ‘SRB’s books do not tickle my particular funny bone.’ I remember one writer getting sent a link that said ‘SCREW YOU AUTHOR NAME’ and they were like ‘WHAT OH MY GOD’ and they were told it wasn’t personal (and indeed, the link had specific book critique in it and not specific-hatred-of-how-the-author-smelled) but said writer, of course, found it very hard not to take ‘SCREW YOU, MY NAME’ personally. It was their personal name. This stuff is TANGLED UP.
But if we try to separate out the writing stuff from the personal stuff, though that is difficult… I’ve seen a lot of crappy stuff about myself on the internet. I saw it—because it was on the internet, and so was I. Sometimes I found it, often it was sent to me. There is a LOT OF IT.
I’m not thin, I dress so badly, I behaved very rudely that one time, that joke was so inappropriate, I’m not a lady, I should think of the children more, I’m often wrong about stuff, I shouldn’t be talking because I’m an author, as an author it is my absolute responsibility to be talking but I should be saying different stuff, please engage and learn, DO NOT ENGAGE, I’m a bitch because of a conversation that happened, I’m a bitch because of a conversation someone made up in their head because they don’t like me, I think a lot of myself don’t I, I’m not as smart as I think I am, I’m not as pretty as I think I am, I’m not as awesome as I think I am, I have the wrong friends, I chose to write on the wrong topic, I’m wearing the wrong bra. (No, really, the bra came up.)
And of course, boy, it’d be nice if I was wrong a lot less often, I appreciate being corrected so as to be less wrong in the future. And quite often an author shouldn’t be talking—an author weighing in about their own book (‘That’s not what that meant!’ ‘My work is a timeless masterpiece!’ ‘You misinterpreted me!) is often a conversation-killer. Also, a writer could potentially get their readers to go after someone, and that is deeply uncool. It’s not always appropriate for a writer to talk, and sometimes I’ve misjudged that badly. Some of the crappy stuff about me on the internet is quite true! But all of the crappy stuff builds into a strange twisted picture of a monster.
I’ve seen a lot of really nice stuff about myself on the internet, too, and that’s awesome, but it isn’t any more me than the awful-bad-wrong-nightmare-monster of me.
Sometimes I wonder why I keep looking at stuff on the internet, and I wonder why in God’s name I keep talking about stuff on the internet.
I mean, I have looked sorrowfully about myself, and thought, there are mega-popular authors who have done things I think of as utterly awful who are not getting flak in the same way as I am. And there are ways to avoid being criticised a lot: don’t talk about important stuff, be very apologetic, shut up, don’t talk to anyone who might cause a problem in future, don’t talk to anyone who has a problem with you, back off, shut up.
But trying to make yourself invisible doesn’t work. You can make yourself smaller, but while you may be less noticeable, you’re also… well, smaller, trying less, avoiding more, doing less.
Internet invisibility isn’t true, and that goes for me and for you. But there are benefits to the great glass internet elevator. I have read Diana Wynne Jones’s essays, and thought ‘I wish I’d known she thought like that, I wish I’d had a chance to talk with her’ and the internet gives more of us a chance to communicate more. I think that’s great. I know I’ve learned a lot from the internet: I’ve had some people tell me that they’ve learned something from me, and that’s awesome and humbling.
I think it’s important to keep talking and to keep listening.
I remember seeing once ‘I wish Sarah Rees Brennan would act more like (Author Name Redacted).’
I remember it especially because Author Name Redacted had actually written to me saying she wished she could speak out (about feminism: that was the subject under discussion) but she was terrified of the reaction if she got it wrong. And I was like, well, yeah, I hear you, getting it wrong feels awful!
But then I saw that, and I thought to myself: well, that’s someone saying, boy do I like it when a woman is silenced because she’s afraid. She’s much better than when she’s talking. If only we could do that to more women, specifically THAT ONE, GET HER.
And oh my friends and oh my foes, I’m not here for that.
Being a person on the internet is complicated: if people have any idea who you are, they probably have a very weird idea of you.
Internet villains and internet heroes are pretty easy to create. If someone’s decided to think negatively of someone, everything feeds into that. If someone’s decided to think positively of someone, they’ll often think much too positively of them.
Of course, positivity can turn into negativity, especially for ladies, because ladies are held to very strict standards and you know, once they’ve made a mistake, they are worthless wenches indeed.
Plus, the longer a lady’s around, the older (horror) and more outspoken (DOUBLE HORROR) she’ll get and the more time she’ll have to make mistakes, as flawed people will.
I have a good friend who says that women have a ‘three-year rule’… that’s the longest a lady can be in the public eye before people start to hate her.
Of course, that’s famous people. I am not talking about famous people. Famous people often just cannot be on the internet. Angelina Jolie and Beyonce are not on it for obvious reasons: they would go completely doolally if they saw all that stuff on the internet. Same goes for J.K. Rowling or Suzanne Collins, who you really don’t see a lot of on the interwebs either. There’s too much nastiness and too much worship to cope with.
I am distinctly not-famous, so I can’t even imagine what that would be like. I’m not saying everyone should be on the internet, or that people shouldn’t take breaks. Everyone has to decide what they can cope with.
But for those of us on the internet, who have a little bit of that stuff to cope with, and who are thinking about how to cope with it…
I remember going on a website, and seeing someone say ‘sarah was a flawless princess, as she always is’—and that was pretty awesome to see! But a year later on the same website, I saw ‘SRB, that dumb bitch, so tired of her.’ Which was not awesome. But neither of them were true. Neither of them were about me, not really.
I’m not a flawless princess. I’m not a dumb bitch, either. (Sometimes I’m a smart bitch. Sometimes I’m kind of dumb but likable. Sometimes I’m a princess, largely of imaginary lands.)
Being a person on the internet is complicated, but that’s because being a person is complicated, and in the new internet-tastic age there are new ways to be a person and interact with people.
We are not, ever, invisible or unheard. And that’s terrifying, but it’s beautiful too.