By Kristina Wright
I have been knocked unconscious once in my life. It was a one-punch knockout, too. I guess I have a glass jaw. Of course, I was in the fourth grade at the time, so maybe I could take a punch now. I'm not keen on finding out.
My tale begins with an older, bigger boy. He was in fifth grade, but he had failed at least one grade, maybe two, so he towered over me and outweighed me by a lot. Our altercation actually had nothing to do with me. I was a pretty quiet kid-- kept my head down, nose in a book, did well in school, had a few close friends-- no one really noticed me. Not even the playground bully.
So what provoked my knockout? Ahh... well, you see, I'm very loyal to my friends. Like, mama bear loyal. On that particular day, the mild-mannered fourth grader in me turned into a defender of the helpless, which happened to be my best friend. The bully crossed paths with my friend and knocked her lunch money out of her hand. She began to cry and I came charging. Of course, I failed to acknowledge I wasn't any better equipped to deal with the situation than she was, but that didn't stop me. With Denise crying, I went toe-to-toe and nose-to-chest with her bully. The conversation went something like this:
Me: That was mean! Pick up her money.
Bully: No! It's mine.
Me, picking up Denise's lunch money: Oh no, it's not!
Bully: Give it to me or you'll be sorry!
Me: You're nothing but a bully. I'm not afraid of you.
The next thing I remember, I was opening my eyes and staring at the blue sky. My first (and last) boxing match lasted one round and I never even got in one punch.
I wish I could tell you that was the last time I put myself at risk to help a friend. But regardless of how ill-advised it may be to fight (or attempt to fight) someone else's battles, I have returned again and again to the metaphorical ring, usually unrequested and often unneeded. Why? Because I despise bullies. I hate their tactics, I hate the way they get their way by brute force. I hate that they win only because they're bigger and meaner. The bullies of my youth gave way to the verbal bullies of adulthood. The ones who attack with words. The ones who don't fight fair because they only know how to fight dirty.
Earlier this week, I ran into another bully. One who had his sights set on a friend and didn't even know I existed until I provoked him. I won't mention his name here because I don't want him Googling himself just to sling his garbage at the OGG blog, but he responded to a column written by Alana Noel Voth at PANK. (You can read her thoughtful essay and follow the comment thread here: Dear Tracy Morgan.) I had intended only to comment in order to praise Alana's writing, but the previous commenter had me seeing red. He had written a personal attack on Alana, someone I like and admire, and rather than ignore it (as I probably should have), I responded.
In the end, I didn't do anything to deter this bully from further attacking my friend, I only served to draw attention to myself. Within hours, the bully had visited my blog, spent a total of 3 minutes and 22 seconds there and then sent me the following email:
you called me a misogynist, so I checked out your blog and thought I'd give you my impressions:
You can't construct three sentences that don't kill a reader's attention. Everything you write is intensely boring. Also, you write articles about sex toys and you call your writing erotica/romance/whatever. It's hack material, is what it is. Whenever someone has to struggle just to meet the merits of a genre, it means they're working without the necessary tool: talent.
It's time someone told you, you are a talentless hack.
This is not me being nasty, this is truth. You are incapable of capture a reader's attention and you'll never acquire that ability, because it's an innate one.
My first reaction was to respond with a correction: I hadn't called him a misogynist, I had referred to his attack as "misogynistic vitriol." I hate inaccuracies, don't you? But after reading his email again, complete with the header Subject: fan mail, I just laughed. How could I not? He spent less than four minutes on my blog and said "everything" I write is intensely boring. It's a ridiculous insult, not worthy of a response. He said I write sex toy reviews-- I did for awhile, years ago, but how is that relevant? He said I was a talentless hack. Possibly true, but certainly subjective since I have credits and editors to suggest otherwise.
So I ignored the bully's email. It seems I should expect another round of anger to be directed my way, as that is his MO, but it doesn't bother me. Not at all. I was offended he insulted my friend, a woman I admire and respect. I was horrified at the things he said to her in a public forum as if he has the right to publicly judge her life just because she published a column. I am still utterly indignant about the attack he inflicted on her. But me? Eh. Nothing he said about me (thus far) is more than a mild annoyance. A yapping puppy nipping at my ankles. Nothing more.
The theme for this week is "sympathy for the devil" and this experience, along with my lovely piece of "fan mail" made me flash back to that event in fourth grade and the reaction I had after the swelling had gone down in my face. I felt sorry for the boy who knocked me out. I still do. Face-to-face, he seemed like an intimidating creature, someone to be feared. In retrospect, even at that age, I saw him for what he was: an unhappy child no one really liked, not even the teachers. The child who stalked through the halls at school scowling at everyone and making other kids cower, but being laughed at behind his back for failing a grade, for being a foot taller than every other kid, for not fitting in, for not having the social skills to make friends. As an adult, I have even more sympathy for the boy who knocked me out with one punch-- he was a little boy, even if he was the biggest little boy in school, and the only way he could get anything from anyone was to take it. So sad.
And now I try to find sympathy for this bully who attacked my friend publicly and me in email. I could use this forum to rant and rail against a man who decided to offer his unsolicited opinion about me after maligning my friend. But I find I simply don't have enough anger or energy to go down that path and respond to such hostility with more of the same. I assume this man is an adult, though I don't know if he's 19 or 59. Regardless of his age, there is a childlike quality to his unprovoked anger; a lack of sophistication to his venomous attacks. He is lashing out at the world, fighting whatever his own personal demons might be and taking it out on others. He goes after those he perceives as intellectually inferior and physically weaker-- women writers. At the end of the day, the person he is most angry with (and likely hates the most) is himself.
Whether it's the talent he resents or the attention or the idea of women claiming their sexuality, or all three, he is enraged and can only be soothed by hurting someone else. He punches at the sensitive spots, attacking with broad generalities and shocking crudities, much like an adolescent boy swinging out to hit a smaller girl. Whatever he might be in real life, in this landscape he is a playground bully, nothing more. Nothing more. Could there be a sadder phrase?
Whatever anger I had at my initial introduction to his malevolent tirade has faded to little more than pity and embarrassment for him. I find myself hoping he's using a pseudonym, as surely his hateful antagonistic words will come back to haunt him if and when he ever buries his demons and comes to terms with his own issues. He is a little boy crying out for attention, for understanding, for... something. Love, maybe? A mother figure? Or maybe he's just a mean-spirited fellow in an unhappy job with a lonely life and he needs to make others feel as bad as he does. Whatever his issues, he's not to be taken any more seriously than the three year old who screams, "You are the meanest Mommy in the whole world!" because he didn't get a cookie before bedtime. He is ineffectual because he hides behind his words and maintains his anonymity while attacking those who are brave enough to put their name, their face and their credentials alongside their opinions and beliefs.
It's heart-wrenching, really. What makes a person like that? What makes one human being turn on another in such a senseless way, especially a stranger in a public forum? I've been pondering these questions all week and have no answers. So my sympathy goes out to one who is not a devil at all, but a damaged soul in need of more than he's ever likely to find on the internet.