#13 "Absolutely insufferable"
On being a person the internet sometimes hates
I wrote the following essay,“Absolutely Insufferable”, about being called absolutely insufferable, two weeks ago and after writing it decided to write and publish another essay, #11 Do you Miss Drinking, instead. I spent a pretty severe amount of time trying to shape it, but it didn’t work originally. I came back to it this weekend because I think it maybe doesn’t belong in my draft graveyard (I mean, you be the judge of that.)
I’ve written a lot about the internet, social media, the press; or being misunderstood or judged or trolled; or not reacting to those things and giving my power away to Strangers on the Internet; or even using those terrible interactions as ways to choose peace instead of war; blah blah blah social media blah. At least five of the 12 essays I’ve published talk about this shit (#1 Being all of it, #2 Any press, #3 Persecution, #4 When everything that mattered stops mattering, #8 What to do with the things you don’t want.)
Internet stuff has been a theme here, so far, because it’s been a theme in my life the past decade. How people treat me on the internet is something I got used to filing away and I didn’t consider it for a long time because I didn’t want to consider it; the same way I ate meat for the past decade and kept filing away the nice conversations I’d have with cows on my runs, pretending I wasn’t just going to eat their friends for dinner that same night. My choice to actively engage in and use social media and to do that day after day required a kind of self-abandonment that you can’t fully reconcile. Cognitive dissonance can be our friend if we let it, so too can disassociation, numbness, self-delusion, and so forth.
But something happened when my book came out: I stopped being able to pretend it didn’t matter. I remember, vividly, handing my account over to a Tempest marketing person when I posted my NYT op-ed to Instagram; she lasted a full three hours and eventually just turned off the comments saying she couldn’t emotionally and mentally manage it; it hurt too much and these words weren’t even meant for her. I remember thinking she was weak (!!), but I also remember wondering (as I turned the comments back on and jumped back in) that perhaps she wasn’t really weak but that I was maybe dead inside. Still, that was a turning point; I could no longer ignore that it didn’t completely fuck me up. I’ve posted about 100 posts since the pandemic started; for comparison’s sake, I posted 2000 posts from 2015 to 2020; it’s not a huge decrease, but it is.
Which is to say, if I seem to be talking about (the internet) a lot it’s only because I stopped being able to pretend it doesn’t matter. And in some weird way—for me at least—the letting of its mattering somehow makes it matter all that much less. It’s like those sayings “the things you cannot be with won’t let you be” or “the things you don’t shine the light on grow in the dark”; this (perhaps over-)indexing on exploring the ways Being a Person On The Internet hurts or fucks with me means somehow it has stopped hurting and fucking with me (as much).
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I'm in Italy. I didn't really plan for it, as in I didn't do much besides find someone to take care of my cat and buy a plane ticket with all those coupons I still have from my canceled book tour and ask a friend if I could stay with her. Today I'm in Paestum, which is a small town with ancient Greek temples I've wanted to visit for years. I'm staying at a small farm where mostly I'm sleeping a lot and trying to write and listening to pigeons make that purring call that reminds me of the central valley of California. I'm reading a best-selling fiction book which I actively dislike.
Here's a thing about me which I've talked about before: I don't like saying mean things on the internet. My recovery is founded on an idea that I alone am responsible for the world I create, and I no longer want to participate in petty meanness I'll later regret. What we say anywhere—especially on the internet because it seems like there is so little consequence for our actions—counts. This means I've had to catch myself from participating in flippant internet behavior I think is absolutely senseless and harmful. I (mostly) stop myself from getting into fights online, leaving snarky or inflaming comments just because I want to and I can, responding to the shitty things people say to me with equally shitty things disguised as an innocent’s wisdom, trolling people that have wronged me, or leaving bad Yelp reviews.
Here's another thing about me I've never told anyone: sometimes I hate a book so much I feel compelled to leave a review and I have an anonymous profile on Amazon so I can completely tear into it with abandon and without traceable consequence. This is a major confession.
As I was saying, I'm reading a popular fiction book which I actively dislike, and this morning my temper got the best of me and before I knew it I'd left a scathing review under the pseudonym [REDACTED], which felt good for about ten seconds but then I got that sick feeling I get when I've done something completely out of alignment with my values. Minutes later I took it down, and then deleted the other six bad reviews I've given over the past five years, then I took down this one review I'd left on Good Reads (publicly, shamelessly) about Face, and then I deleted a bad review of a hotel I left a few years ago on Trip Advisor. This all happened over breakfast, and then I started about my day walking toward the park of ruins, mildly musing about karma. I stopped along the way for a second breakfast because pastry, and there I opened up Instagram and went through my DMs and found that karma was indeed waiting for me in the form of a simple note from a complete stranger that said I had become "absolutely insufferable.”
I recently tried a thing where I turned off my DMs, which was actually extremely nice, but also sometimes I get really important communications there. For instance, the question answered in newsletter #11 came from a DM; half of my real life friends came from a DM.
I was talking to my friend Laura about it all tonight, a writer who told me that her DMs are full of vitriol, because she writes about race and racism and she's Black. She said she imagines it like she's running a race and someone throws a ball at her head and all the sudden she's derailed, and she doesn't need to be derailed. Meaning, opening her DMs is a thing she does that completely and unnecessarily takes her off her game, so she doesn't do it because who fucking needs that; I turned off the DMs again after that conversation. But that was tonight, and this morning I hadn't; this morning I read that stupid comment, and I couldn't shake that some rando whose handle has the words “happiness” in it and who runs a website about divesting from the patriarchy took the time to tell me I was an insufferable human being, for being.
It was 60 degrees, cloudless, forever blue sky and green fields covered in white and yellow flowers. I was walking around in the first dress I've worn in seven months, feeling the first kind of contentment I've felt in who knows how long, letting the sun hit my face and staring up at these huge monuments to worship that were erected nearly 3 millennia ago by people who had zero clue that one day we'd spend a portion of our lives dedicated to managing a pocket computer that says mean things to us. "Absolutely insufferable" kept nagging at me and I wanted it not to so I sent a screenshot of the conversation to my friend Max and asked him if it was true and he reassured me it was not. I set the thought down for a minute, somewhere between the temple of Hera and the mini-colosseum, and I watched a child roll around on his back like he was stuck in the snow and I laughed and forgot myself entirely, but by the time I made it to the temple of Athena it had bobbed back up to the surface and ruined everything again. I considered seriously: maybe this new version of me is insufferable; maybe it hurts because it's true. Then I sat down in one of those flower covered fields and did what probably all the searching humans who came before me on this land had done, which is pull out a journal and do Byron Katie's four questions.
Without getting into what doing Byron Katie’s “work” in a field even means, the result of doing it was that I realized my discomfort had nothing to do with internet person not liking me at all; she'd just said the exact thing I was worried about anyway. Which to be honest is always the case, isn't it? Don't we only feel totally nailed by the things people say to us that we secretly believe to be true? If we didn't find them true at all wouldn't we just disregard them? I know I've never been upset by someone calling me boring or stupid, because I don't secretly think I am those things. But vain? Self-absorbed? Insecure? Fickle? Too much? Unlikeable? Insufferable? Check, check, check, check, check, check, check.
Doing that journaling was kind of a freedom, a relief: I made sense of why I might be so bothered about that specific interaction and isn’t that the point, to get to the truth? But it also was kind of exhausting because I am so fucking tired of introspection. It didn’t end there, I walked around and played with this new information and self-talked myself through it. This compulsion to examine it all and then examine it again is helpful to a point; then it’s just fatiguing. Yes, it was helpful to know that I’m secretly harboring this judgment of myself that I’m so unlikeable. But that’s not even news anymore. What I’m saying is so hard to pull apart, because in a way it’s like recursion, like holding up a mirror to a mirror. It goes on forever and you never get free. You’re just digging up bodies at some point.
The part of all of this that was interesting and not tired, was the part that came after all the self-analyzing. At some point I got the hint that I was just being exhausting, and that the issue didn’t start with internet lady sending me that DM; it started when I thought she should not have sent it, that I should not have read it, that I should not have reacted to it, that I should not have spent hours walking through a place I’ve been dreaming of visiting for years paying attention to it. At some point it occurred to me that the content of the whole experience didn’t matter at all; my resistance did. At some point I realized: I could just be okay with all of this. This could all just be a normal day, funny things, life unfolding, people judging, people obsessing. People humaning. I could not hate myself for holding onto it or believing it or being mad at her; I could not be mad at her. I could just unwind the whole thing. It could just be what happened. And in fact, that was the trick in this case. I just let it be what happened, and from that vantage point, it was all somehow kind of cute, instead of what I had made it, which was un-ironically absolutely insufferable.