a cautionary tale AND i was wrong, so I owe someone an apology

This is a little bit of a catharsis, so I'm just gonna be real. You'll find a curse or two below. So, don't read if offended by such things.

The apology is at the end and as I consider it the most important part of what I have to say, you might want to read it first.

A couple days ago I found myself mired in one of those horrible, badly-behaving-author debates that I never thought I would ever find myself within a hundred miles of and to make matters worse, I was on the wrong side of it. When all was said and done, I sat back,  looked at it and thought, ‘How the hell did that happen? How the bloody hell did I just end up defending something I don’t even believe in myself?’

You see that’s the danger of the internet. It’s so incredibly easy to respond only to another’s comments, narrowing a huge issue and even the most well reasoned opinion to an 8 line reply that shows none of the shades and contours of ones thoughts. And as such, it’s really, really easy to get nudged farther and farther into an extreme stance as you try to just make the other person understand. 

In this particular case, it’s all complicated by the fact that one of the participants is a well versed blogger with a fairly large following, who then took the debate from the Goodreads (GR) comment thread and wrote a scathing (and well written, intelligent, relevant) post on her own blog about it. I was quoted in the beginning, though she was kind enough to not call me by name and I appreciate that. It would have felt extra accusatory, but I’m not trying to hide from this.

The thing is, while I wasn’t the person who wrote the GR blog post that set this all in motion, I was the person she and another went round and round with. So a lot of the issues she aired were from communicating with me. But I agree with her. I agree with 95% of what she said in her bitch-rant blog post about the things I was saying! (And I don’t mean bitch-rant as derogatory, somethings need a bitch-rant.) This is the danger of the internet. I just wish I hadn’t needed the reminder, but apparently I did.

Now, beyond what’s necessary for the discussion to make sense, I’m not dragging all the specifics of this debate out. That would turn this whole post into a whiny ‘but let me tell you my side’ plea. That’s not my intent. I want to show how incredibly easy it is to become something you’re not in 15 or so comments. That’s what happened to me (and it didn’t take 15 comments to get there, but by about the 15th there was no chance of my changing anyone’s mind—and I tried).

I can see it so clearly now. Partly because I’ve had some time to think on it, but largely because I had the opportunity to see myself quoted completely in context but not meaning what I meant when I said it. And also because I eventually felt heard by the other person involved, allowing me to finally see past my own indignant, ‘but that’s not my point, let me tell you again’ to look at the whole situation, instead of just my own little part of it. (At least I think I was heard, I might have just been placated so that I would go away already.)

The general circumstances are these, someone who friended me on GR and I friended back, but have had almost no direct communication with (I’ll call him G.S.), wrote an inflammatory blog post in which he called out a reviewer. That’s not actually even an accurate description. He called the reviewer a dipshit for the way he reviews books.  So there’s no way to get around that his intent was to insult the reviewer.

I think he expected a lot of community support to flood his way. You know, ‘what an ass-hole’ kind of comments. The closest he got was me saying, ‘I wouldn’t have an issue with it but….’ (This was my first mistake and it was enough to bring down a shit storm.)

What he got instead was a whole lot of flags that eventually got the post deleted, probably an official warning from GR and a couple irate readers who didn’t like him calling a reviewer out by name. We can’t do that with fake five star reviewers, why should he do it with more legitimate 1-2 star ratings? You see, I agree with that.

As the back and forwards commenced, I made three very small but incredibly important mistakes. First, and most importantly, I forgot that context is everything. I’d read G.S.’s post before commenting. I got the gist of it. But I didn’t really pay that much attention to IT. You know, to its tone, its purpose, its why of existence.  I then threw out one of those quips-like comments that anyone active online probably writes a dozen of a day. Not a lot of thought in it. No real consideration for the long-reaching effect of it. In fact, I forgot about it moments after I wrote it.

But it was more than that to others. To other readers it was a seconding of G.S.’s opinion and a second strike to the attack perpetrated in the initial post. Did I mean it that way? No, but unfortunately in such environments consensus is king and the consensus was that I, like G.S., was attacking the reviewer.

Too bad for me I didn’t realise that at the time. If I had, I could have corrected the impression. I could have been clear about my position, but I didn’t. I forgot context. I forgot nothing I, or anyone else, said in that thread was free of the influence of the post that started it and given that my statement could pretty clearly be read just the way others did, my lack of intent be damned, I’m as guilty as if I had done it on purpose. Sometimes ignorance really isn’t an excuse.

So, that was comment one. Comment two was where things really started to go downhill and my second mistake occurred. I responded to someone in anger. My initial comment was admittedly a throwaway comment. Like I said, I didn’t really think much of it. I sure didn’t think out the implications of even touching someone’s pissed off rant post.

You see, it came out later in discussion (and not from the initial poster, who fled as soon as the first person challenged him) that the reviewer in question had written an acerbic review of his book. Making his post little more than a retaliation. Wish I had known that in the beginning. But I didn’t and by the time I did, I was off trying to make another point altogether and didn’t have the wherewithal to say, ‘oh, shit, never-mind entirely then.’

The first comment after mine was about how inappropriate attacking a reviewer was and she was talking to me. I even verified this, because it struck me so out of the blue. But yes, she was talking to me. ‘What? I didn’t attack anyone,’ I thought. I then wrote a quite impassioned response about how if the reading/reviewing community is to grow, people needed to be able to discuss things and a person’s actions could be discussed without it being a personal attack.

It was, I thought, a fairly neutral point that admittedly required people to step back and look at an issue somewhat academically. However, given the umbrella I was writing under that wasn’t going to be possible. It was unreasonable to think that it would be. The whole topic was already contaminated—by the negative connotations of the original post, the fact that I already appeared to be in a certain camp and by the idea that there really is only one acceptable script for the circumstances we were in and I wasn’t following it.

Having forgotten this, I also missed the fact that the comment that I made in defence of myself only, was being expanded into defence of the blog as a whole, so that what I actually said was, ‘no-one’s been attacked.’ That’s completely different from ‘I didn’t attack anyone.’ It’s also completely wrong, because an attack was definitely perpetrated.

See how that works? It’s so easy, so simple, honestly so human. But this was where my 3rd active mistake crept up. Because I kept at it, trying to make my point clearer and clearer and largely baffled why I kept being seen as more and more of a problemmore and more as one of those people (I could say authors, but my writing wasn’t brought up at any point. I don’t imagine it was missed that I was one, though.), who attack reviewers for their honesty and think authors should all be treated with kid gloves. Within two posts I had somehow solidified my persona as ‘one of those.’

Those of you who read this blog on any regularity know that’s not true. I may not be at the far, far extreme of the ‘do anything you want, while remaining above reproach’ side of the debate, but I’m pretty squarely in the ‘you have the right to review anyway you way want, even if I don’t like it’ position. But I ended up in the ‘all reviewers should only spout praise, rainbows and happy thoughts’ camp and then was shoved farther and farther into that corner and I couldn’t figure out why.

Well, the why is because I forgot context, I responded in anger and I wasn’t willing to stop and walk away. I forgot how easy it was for my comments to not be about myself, but about the issue that started the discussion. Hell, that’s even the most reasonable assumption. And I forgot.

Yes, I could try to pass some of this blame off on the fact that at least one of the people I was communicating with came in either already wound up by previous comments or angry about the issue in general, because he/she started with guns blazing—seeming to read everything in such a pedantic way as to find fault with almost everything I might say. This is a hot-button issue, after all. And when faced with anger I responded in kind (drifting farther and farther from my point as we went). Afterwards, I even felt cause to say I didn’t deserve to be attacked for daring to simply discuss someone’s actions…and how ironic is that, given that, from my point of view, the primary question at hand had been whether that very conversation constituted an attack on someone else or not.

I can also honestly say that it felt like I had been so securely ensconced in the immutable, pre-formed image of a reviewer-hater, that no matter what else I said, no message but the first one was received. Even 36 hours later I was still saying, ‘no, that wasn’t the point I was trying to make’ and being responded to about the very issue I had just stated I wasn’t trying to discuss. (I’m nothing if not dogged.)

There was no removing of the cloth I had been draped in. But while that’s all true (at least from where I was sitting), and a major part of why I just wouldn’t walk away (I didn’t want to drop it having been misunderstood or rather as focusing on a secondary point instead of my primary one.), the blame still resides primarily with me. This was a culmination of my mistakes.

In a way, this post is as bad as the one that started all this. It’s me writing a post to flush my emotions on a subject. That’s dangerous. I’m rationalising it by telling myself it’s different in its intent and it is, but it’s still much the same thing. Honestly, L.H.’s is too, but it also served an informative function.

In the grand scheme of things, this is a blip. Even in just the realm of the internet this has pretty much run it’s course. G.S.’s original blog and comments has been deleted. No one has commented on the subsequent, external blog post in a day or so. It’s essentially over. But it’s still hanging over me. I had been held up as a poster-child for the side of a debate I consider myself staunchly entrenched on the other-side of. And that bothered me. It bothered me a lot. But more than anything else, the whole thing embarrasses me. I was wrong. I tried really, really hard not to be wrong but I was. Not in what I was saying, but in where I was saying it and therefore what my own words meant.

I can’t call it my most embarrassing moment. I’m fairly sure the time I unknowingly sat chatting with the lifeguard of the public pool while he pretended not to notice that one of my breasts was exposed (and not even in a sexy way) tops it. I wouldn’t even call it my most embarrassing internet moment, because the time I accidentally hit the like button of a fairly graphic yaoi sex scene, thereby posting it to my public Facebook page for my mom to see was more embarrassing. But this is up there. This is up there because it wasn’t a momentary slip, it was a prolonged refusal to see things as they were. (I wish I could call it inability, but if I had stepped back for a moment, I would have seen what was happening.)

This is me being bigger, hopefully not giving too many excuses and saying I was wrong. And to the person this whole thing revolved around (who I won’t name because the poor guy has already been tossed around like a tennis ball), I hope someone point you this way. Because I own you a personal apology and I don’t see that there is any appropriate way for me to give it.

Maybe you’re lucky and never knew this was happening, but I doubt it. I imagine someone clued you in. You showed incredible restraint in staying out of it, even when I addressed you directly in an attempt to tempt you in—since, even at my worst, I don’t like to talk about people if I can talk to them—(or maybe you didn’t care enough to bother). Either way, I respect that and I’m sorry.

Emotionally, I really, really want to equivocate here and say, ‘I’m sorry that what I said was interpreted as an attack, because I never meant it to be,’ but that would negate everything I said above about being conscious of context and how a statement can mean something different if said under the wrong circumstances. So, instead I’ll say it as I should (and mean it), “I’m sorry. You got the raw end of a jagged stick and didn’t deserve to and I was a large part of why. I may not have started it, but I was certainly the reason it didn’t die the quick, unnoticed death it should have.”

Ok. done. I’ve had a bitch-rant of my own (of sorts) and I really hope it doesn’t come back to bite me in the ass. I don’t really expect much to come of it, but maybe (hopefully) this whole kerfuffle can serve to remind someone else to remember where you are when you open your mouth. You may say a lot more than you mean to.

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