26 November 2014

Out of the blue

The offensive email gave few clues as to what was upsetting the writer, but she seemed to be referring to my "Textile taxidermy" article in Through Our Hands.

Quite apart from being unsigned, the email was so uninformative that I decided to ignore it ... but then wondered if someone's email account had been hacked and similar emails sent, by some malignant person, for unknown reasons, to others who had written articles in the magazine.

On contacting the editors, it transpired that they knew the writer - and they got in touch with her about the matter. She quickly sent me an apology.

But I couldn't reply to her ... I simply didn't know what to say. Either the writer was a person with strongly held beliefs who was a poor communicator, letting emotion get in her way, or else she was having things going on in her life that pushed her into unfortunate behaviour. Yet......even if either of these were true, that email should not have been sent.

On receiving another apologetic email, which gave a bit of background to the story, I finally mustered a few (rather stern) words to the effect that such emails hardly win hearts and minds ... and now I hope that's the end of it.

It's a bit of a shock to the system, and has given me a tiny insight into the effects of bad internet behaviour. May it not happen to you!

**Addendum: I was a bit hasty in publishing this post, for two reasons.

Firstly, it's not clear from what I wrote that the writer of the email had reacted to the topic - specifically the word taxidermy - without looking closely at the article - she didn't realise that "textile taxidermy" in no way involved dead animals.

Secondly, I've received further communication saying that she's not usually like this, she doesn't know what came over her. Which I believe ... and sympathise with ... who among us hasn't sent a frustration-fuelled email to someone at some time, probably more strongly worded than if we had been calm and rational?

Also, I didn't make clear the point of writing about this incident ... I've written about a personal reaction to bad internet behaviour, and my dilemma over whether to engage with the writer and the possibility of consequences. I was lucky to have an intermediary, and to have a good outcome, but in so many cases of trolling it is otherwise.

The incident has raised my awareness of the devastating effects that sustained attacks must have on people - think of teenage girls being bombarded with hateful messages, texts, and social media  and what that does to their self-esteem. We've probably all suffered some bullying at some time, and know how unpleasant that is - what makes it worse on the internet is a kind of undertone  that it's ok to send nasty emails because, hidden behind a screen, you are (a) anonymous and (b) beyond reach. Not true!


Deborah C. Stearns said...

Wow. I'm sorry you got such a vitriolic response to your article. I suppose that I can understand someone being distressed by the art itself, but your writing about it seems careful and thoughtful -- hardly worthy of such an angry response.

I'm reminded of an essay Shirley Jackson wrote about the avalanche of (mostly) angry mail she got after publishing her story "The Lottery" . . . and yet that is her best-known work. I suppose that when we put our work out into the world, we simply can't predict the audience's response, either in the short or long term. But it's hard to encounter such hostility and takes bravery to continue afterward.

Sandy said...

Did she misunderstand that it was cloth and not actual animals?
Strange. Or did I not read the same article? To me it is basically a different form of a cuddly toy.

Olga Norris said...

I was thinking the other day about how hypersensitive some folks were becoming as a kneejerk reaction, leaping to mistaken conclusions in an ignorant as well as over-hasty way. When I mulled over your out-of-the-blue email, I wondered if for taxidermy the reader, nay glancer, had concluded vivisector, and her knee had jerked her fingers to explode the vitriol.
Like you, I worry most for the young and the vulnerable who are plagued by such rubbish.