Fans, friends, and trolls–publishing my first piece on Tablet

So, Tablet published a piece of mine this week. It’s been a crazy experience.

In the first place, writing the piece was a bit out of my comfort zone. While I usually write fiction, this is a personal essay. In brief, the story is about confronting my inner teenager as I’m approaching 40 and relates an episode where I thought a younger man was checking me out in a cafe.

Troll

Trolls don’t only live under bridges.

The subject matter was outside the editorial policies of the chareidi magazines that comprise my usual stomping grounds, so I had to find an alternative publisher. Afraid I might embarrass my husband, I almost decided not to publish it at all, but he assured me that he didn’t mind. And when I shared an early draft with writing friends, the strongly positive reaction encouraged me further.

Tablet accepted my query, then the completed essay. They had it up in a matter of days. Whoa. It didn’t leave me much time to prepare myself. And, boy, did I have to prepare myself.

You see, there’s a lot of differences between a Jewish, but broad-spectrum, online magazine like Tablet and print magazines in the chareidi world. The biggest difference is the comments section.

In a print magazine, there is no comments section. If you want to write a letter to the editor, you have to look up the address, take time to write the editors, maybe invest a stamp, and after all that, your message will likely not be published. I’ve gotten fan mail a couple times, but no complaints. Even frum websites closely moderate comments, and offensive or hurtful comments are either not approved or quickly removed.

On Tablet, there’s a comments section. It’s largely unmoderated and pretty much anything is tolerated. A couple of seconds, and readers can post their thoughts for everyone to see.

The majority of readers were lovely. I even appreciated the people who read my article and didn’t agree with me, but had obviously thought long and hard about what I’d written. That’s pretty flattering. It was like debating friends in college–you might never see eye-to-eye, but you’d hash it out nonetheless.

But then there were the trolls. You know them: they post personal attacks and non-sequiturs. They just want to provoke a response.

I thought I’d prepared myself for the trolls, but can you really? How much chareidi-bashing and sexism can one stomach in a day? I’ve conscientiously responded to the comments that are legit, but have studiously ignored the trolls. I don’t think they’re getting my message.

I suppose I walked into this of my own volition. I have only myself to blame, and I’m not sure yet if I should chalk this up to experience and keep going, or if this serves as a cautionary tale: nice frum girl walks into a secular magazine and gets eaten alive.

Have any other writers/bloggers/whatever out there experienced trolls? How did you react?

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11 thoughts on “Fans, friends, and trolls–publishing my first piece on Tablet

  1. First of all Becca, congrats on getting that article in Tablet magazine. It is a really witty article. Secondly, I am impressed how you handled the trolls. I think those folks just like to instigate discussion. I once read somewhere that when readers give negative feedback, the best response is no response. Allow them their opinion but do not engage. That being said, I recently was published online by chabad.org and received many comments within the first few hours and then days. Now some more trickle in every so often, but the difference there is that they have a moderator. All the comments I read were non-provocative and only positive or neutral. I wonder if I would have had your stamina…again congrats!

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    • Oh, how I long for moderated comments.

      I think that since Tablet uses Discus for the comments, they have to accept Discus’s features, and I don’t think the program allows for moderated comments. 😦

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  2. I agree with OmaOrBubby: you handled the best you could. Unfortunately, the Internet provides an anonymity that fosters bullying, snarkiness and general grumpiness. I don’t think you should silence yourself in that arena because of that–it’s just as likely to happen anywhere online. Think of it this way: while you will haven’t had any effect on those who are close-minded (because no one will), you enlightened those who are open to it.

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    • I actually miswrote–when I said “you handled the best you could” it understated what I meant. I agree that you handled them beyond admirably. I think your discussions were incredible. I can only dream of your level of diplomacy and elegance in responding to ignorance.

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  3. Hello Mrs. Klempner,

    Let me begin by saying, “Mazal Tov” on your publication. You deserve it, for a job very well done. You pointed out the spiritual and practical benefits of modesty in a very accessible manner, and presented it from the perspective of a real human being who has experienced both sides of the issue. Consider me a “fan.”

    Regarding the issue of haters, or “trolls,” I have some very strong opinions. First, understand that being Jewish and presenting yourself as a proud, committed Jew means that some people definitely will try to intimidate you. Being a writer, by itself, also attracts a dose of haters. You’re doing both tasks; despite the high quality of your work, some people simply enjoy putting others down. It’s an inane pleasure that I’ve never understood. Sadly, sexism still exists and probably always will. One line in your piece summarized it well: “But the funny thing about attention is that you can’t filter out the kind you want from the kind that is unwanted.” Writing from a female and Jewish perspective carries that job hazard, and your best defense is to fortify yourself.

    One writer who has had success with several novels said on her site that a successful writer needs two traits: thick skin and steel nerves. Yes, there are spiteful jerks whom you will encounter in nearly every profession; so what? Ignore them. Many ignorant people enjoy posting their moronic venom in public forums. Those fools don’t deserve the attention or the validation of a response. They’re not worthy of a response, nor do they deserve the permission to hurt your feelings or to prompt you to doubt yourself as a writer.

    I have a long-time friend, more strongly opinionated than I am, who writes a blog and several columns. One that I’ve sometimes read is for the Communities at the Washington Times. He gets both praise and criticism for his opinions. Much of the criticism is ignorant, lame, crazy, and/or anti-Semitic. What’s his approach? Often he just ignores those buffoons; at least he gets publicity out of it. (“Say whatever you want about me, as long as you spell my name right.”) Sometimes he goes into the comments section and refutes them. Other times he deletes the comments or has the commenter banned. What’s amusing is when he shames them. Once a month, his blog is titled “February (or whatever month it is) Hate Mail.” He’ll take some of the most ridiculous, even bigoted, hate mail he’s received, present it, and ridicule it. For example, he once received the identical email over and over again from some girls at Brandeis University (I’m 39; they’re “girls”) who were probably told by someone to copy and paste that response to the right-wing loony whose column she didn’t like. My friend posted the letter and ridiculed it. I must admit that this friend often makes me laugh.

    I’m a long-winded, deep-thinking, opinionated guy, so there’s even more to say; however, I have an office job to which I must now attend. To sum up: enjoy the praise and figure out which response to the haters you prefer: either ignore them completely, refute/insult them back on the same public forum in which they tried to intimidate you, or go a step further and shame them. My choice is ignoring them. Either way, never let them discourage you.

    Have a great day, Hatzlacha rabbah, Nathaniel Wyckoff

    Sent from my iPhone

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