There is no I-Thou moment with a troll. A true troll will never be smacked atop his gnarled head with a lightening bolt of realization that you, the addle-brained blogger, are entitled to your own opinion. Trolls don’t seek to uncover the wisdom, the divine “you-ness” within. They remain the almighty “I” and you are just a lowly “it” to be bludgeoned into enlightenment.
The sheer obnoxiousness and vitriol of the Troll makes it difficult to acknowledge that he (there are many she-trolls, but I’m opting for brevity here) might actually have a point. Recently, however, I found myself doing just that.
A couple of weeks ago on Open Salon I posted a piece on giving my 9-year-old a cell phone so she could communicate directly with my ex-husband. The post generated some conversation.
Some people were concerned with the possible health risks posed by frequent cell phone use, especially to a developing brain. Others felt that the age a child should have a cell phone completely depends on his maturity and the circumstances, regardless of the number.
And then the Troll entered the conversation. Only he didn’t look like a Troll. His gravatar was an image of a Buddhist monk, and if I’m not mistaken, Buddhist monks are supposed to be non-judgmental.
Let me tell you, it is an odd, cognitive-dissonance kind of experience being lectured to by a snide Buddhist.
This was Comment #1:
“You used this post to score a lot of points on your ex with a favorable audience while ostensibly talking about another subject. You used the word ‘inappropriate’ which has come to have other meanings in a man-child relationship; another point scored for you on your ex. Sort of a drive by flaming. Ugh!”
First of all — what the f**k was he talking about? That using the word “inappropriate” implies that my ex is a pedophile? And that outing my ex as a child molester was the real, subliminal message of a post about letting my child talk to her dad on her own cell phone?
The misinterpretation, the twisting of a straightforward issue into something sordid, was so bizarre that I chose to ignore his comment.
But, being a troll, mine was not content to leave just one comment. He skulked back, brandishing Comment #2:
“I just noticed that your username is Divorced Pauline yet in this post you talk about your husband. It is my sense that if you have remarried and yet are still so preoccupied with your divorce that you choose that name to represent your persona, there is a lot more unpleasantness going on in your head than some little crap with a cell phone.”
Once I did a few silent “oms” to calm myself down, I reflected on his comment. And using kind of a mental sieve to strain the pejorative tone from his statement, I had to admit there was value in what he said.
When I started Perils of Divorced Pauline, I was in the middle of a hellacious custody battle with a rich and vengeful ex. It was, hands down, the worst experience of my life. I couldn’t sleep. Eating made me gag. I slogged through my days in a state of wheezy hypervigilance, in which I saw danger at every turn.
Except that there was danger at every turn. My ex had hired an attorney who was incapable of negotiating. He had unlimited resources and I had limited resources which were being siphoned into my lawyer’s bank account as the months went on. There was a very real possibility that if I let the fight continue I could go bankrupt, certifiably bonkers, and my son — the center of the battle — would snap from the conflict.
I couldn’t afford therapy on top of legal fees and I didn’t want to burden my friends with unending tales of high drama. So I started a blog. My attorney advised me to write anonymously, which meant I needed to choose a nom du blog.
Before I conferred with my lawyer, I had written the first post under my real name (I have since excised it from the internet) and when a friend read it, she passed it on to her father because she thought it would make a good TV series. His response was, “when is the next installment of this Perils of Pauline saga?”
And lo, the name, and the persona of the blog, were born.
Perils of Pauline was a film serial in the early part of the 20th century and my gravatar is a still from that serial. The grainy, black-and-white image of a dastardly man standing over a helpless woman he has tied to railroad tracks appealed to my sardonic sense of humor.
I wanted readers to look at my gravater, and my blog handle, and immediately grasp the tone. I wasn’t writing melodrama. I was writing about something serious, but with a tinge of satire and, I hoped, a healthy dollop of humor. Keeping that tone in my mind helped me distance myself from the true nastiness of my situation. As my mother always told me, “you can’t get through life without a sense of humor.”
Tinkering with the original serial title, I came up with Perils of Divorced Pauline, which struck me as pretty damn funny in a black comedy kind of way. It took a horrendous subject — high-conflict divorce — and made it appear survivable.
One interesting note about the original Pauline, and another reason I chose to reincarnate her: she always got out of tight spots that seemed un-get-out-ofable.
When the blog started gathering a readership, and other survivors of gnarly divorces wrote me to tell me how much they related to my story, and that reading about it made them feel less alone, I knew I had a niche.
As any blogger interested in marketing and perhaps making some actual money will tell you, it’s important to specialize in a topic that will appeal to a particular audience. Moms of kids with autism. Moms who like to bargain-shop. Women reinventing themselves after 50. And on and on.
So I tried to impart my marketing strategy to the Buddhist Troll. In my reply to his comments, I admitted that now that the custody battle was behind me, I had indeed considered distancing myself from my divorce, but I wasn’t sure how to do that without losing my readership, and my niche. I ended my comment with a thinking-out-loud statement, “…I’m trying to figure out what to do…”
Cyberspace psychology expert Kali Munro states, “we are more likely to project when we are online precisely because we don’t have the visual or auditory cues to guide us in our interpretations.”
Giving my Buddhist Troll the benefit of the doubt, he may have read my comment and thought I was literally asking for his advice.
Or, acting from psychologist John Suler’s theory of projection in cyberspace, he may have transferred deep-rooted feelings from his family of origin onto me. Suler explains, “unconsciously, we may even assign a visual image to what we think that person looks like and how that person behaves…because that person may even remind us of other people we know, we fill in the image of that character with memories of those other acquaintances.”
So maybe I reminded the Buddhist Troll of his older sister who got all the attention. Or his ex-wife who got all the property. My Open Salon gravatar is a photo of my cat. Maybe he hates cats. Who knows. Anyway, here is Comment #3, his response to my musings on blog marketing:
“Well, for one you could purchase another name like ‘now Happily Married Pauline’, duplicate your blog there, change the title image picture and point the old url to the new one. Start posting as a healthy (because I am clearly sick in the head) married person who isn’t wrapped up with a years’ old divorce.”
I was livid. Livid at the comments of a judgmental, intrusive troll posing as a Buddhist. And what was up with his gravater, anyway? Did he really think his wisdom was on the same par as the Dalai Lama’s? Or did he think staring back at the reader with a kindly, wizened face would make his venom palatable?
But when the steam from my ears dissipated, I realized he had a point, and a clever idea about linking the new blog to the old blog to demonstrate a transformation.
I don’t want to be defined by divorce. I have a new husband, without whose love and devotion I might have crumbled during the custody battle. I have two kids I adore, and two great stepsons. I have incredible friends and family who enrich my life.
Once you have kids with someone you are never truly divorced. And as I have eight more years of not-so-co-parenting with a difficult ex, I figure I have eight more years of peril.
Plus, I am quite attached to Pauline. I like her innate pluckiness, her superheroine-in-distressed-damsel’s clothing. Now Happily Married Pauline doesn’t inspire me the way Perils of Divorced Pauline does.
I know those happily-married lifestyle blogs, and they’re beautiful. Each post is bedecked with professional photos of gorgeous, frolicking young parents and children. The moms craft, whip up gourmet meals, and singlehandedly landscape lush gardens. The dads lay tile and play guitar.
This is not us. I can’t craft to save my life, weeknight dinners are courtesy of Trader Joe’s, and I have an earthworm phobia so gardening is out of the question. Atticus is actually pretty handy, and he built a loft in my stepsons’ bedrooms. But he is a reserved person who’s wary of this whole blog business. He would not be comfortable being the centerpiece of a personal blog.
So I think I’ll stick with Perils of Divorced Pauline for now. Although, I’m open to suggestions for the evolution of the blog. If you have any thoughts about a new name, or a new direction, please leave a comment.
As long as you’re not a Troll.