Look out, this is a long one

On July 10, 2012 by Eden M. Kennedy

The last few years it’s been hard to enjoy blogging as much as I used to, and I eventually came to see that my lack of enjoyment was actually a lack of trust. Lack of trust in the ability of the Internet to play nice, but also lack of trust in my own ability to properly assess the impact of what I write as it comes out of me.

Back in April, for example, I wrote a post about life coaches in general and Martha Beck more specifically, as I was reading one of her books. The tone of the post was skeptical, to my ear, but I can sort of understand how you might read the post and hear bitchiness or dismissiveness, or any of a thousand other things that I have no control over because your tinfoil hat prevents me from manipulating your thoughts because everyone’s tuned to different frequencies. I tend to look for a funny way to talk about things that make me nervous, like feelings and my deeply repressed spiritual nature, and so my writing about these subjects can come off as immature. I’ll own that.

Anyway, my post hurt the feelings of some people who took the time to tell me that life coaches had helped them tremendously, as well as the feelings of people who were life coaches and felt kind of bummed that I didn’t get it. After which I felt bummed that I didn’t get it, because deep down I did get it; I got it very, very much, but I was deeply afraid of admitting how much I wanted such a miraculous person as a life coach to come and fix me. So I made fun of them.

Listen, it’s not always fun being a suburban, middle-aged white lady who can’t handle her own stupid feelings.

And commenters can be really smart. They can point out your flaws so quickly sometimes, weaknesses you’ve spent a lifetime carefully papering over can be stunningly obvious to them. They don’t always call you on it very nicely, unfortunately, but I think it’s the job of anyone who writes online to examine themselves when someone cuts them to the quick, and ask themselves, “Is it true?” It doesn’t have to be 100% true, but if it’s even 1% true you have to own that 1%. Because if you mindlessly take the road everyone who loves you and wants to protect you tells you to take, the road where you get to say, “don’t feed the trolls” or “they’re just jealous” or “ignore the haters” or the time-tested “fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke,” you will add another brick to the wall that will eventually turn into an airless room containing just you and your ego.

Just to make things worse, eventually I got a comment that began, “Hi, Eden, it’s Martha!” Martha! didn’t seem to like what I’d written about her profession. Actually, I had some doubts that the comment was truly from Martha Beck, because I was pretty sure Martha would know the difference between “Augean Stables” (the ones Hercules had to clean out as part of his many labors) and “Aegean Stables” (stables that are just Aegean in general). I didn’t think Martha would really be out there Googling mentions of herself in blog posts, but maybe she had a staff member dedicated to preserving her glorious image online. The e-mail address left with the comment pointed to someone @marthabeck.com, so who knew! Life coaches are crazy, right? Right? Oh, God, please tell me I’m right.

I knew I was in trouble because I’d violated such a cardinal rule of Internet blogulating that I couldn’t even believe it: don’t talk shit about people as though they can’t hear you, because 9 times out of 10 that person is going to end up on your blog, reading what you said about them, and then chanting for your slow, painful death from stomach cancer.

Over the years I’ve done a lot of yoga, and one thing I’ve learned that I can carry into any situation is that your weaknesses often point directly at what you need to work on the most. And one of my most persistent weaknesses as a human being is that I check out emotionally when things get tough. So I alternately hid from, beat myself up for, and tried to ignore the fact that I may have pissed off Martha Beck — who never did anything but write a book that I found helpful, for fuck’s sake — for two and a half months.

Then, last week, I watched as someone I admire angered and then shot back at a whole lot of people, thought deeply and clearly about why that happened, and then apologized like a pro. And I knew what I had to do.

Hi, [person at marthabeck.com], a few months ago I wrote a blog post talking about how I was reading Martha’s book “Finding Your Own North Star,” and in this post I expressed some skepticism about the profession of life coaching in general. (The link is here: http://www.fussy.org/2012/04/selvishness.html .) On this post, a person left what I felt was an angry-ish comment under the name Martha Beck. I felt terrible, of course, because I was coming to admire Martha’s writing tremendously, but at the time I also felt like the comment might have been left by someone just pretending to be Martha so I let it sit.

But since your e-mail address was the one left below their comment, and this has been nagging at me for more than two months now, I felt I ought to put on my big girl panties and apologize, if the comment was indeed left by Martha and she was indeed ticked off by what I wrote. Friends have told me not to worry about it, but friends don’t have to live in my skin and walk around feeling like I’ve offended someone I’ve come to admire. I haven’t even finished reading “North Star” because every time I open it I feel like I don’t deserve to have Martha help me. So I thought a good way to get past that would be to apologize and go forth and try not to be such a dick in the future.

If the comment wasn’t Martha’s, at least I got all this off my chest! Sorry you had to witness it!

Eden

A couple of hours later I received this reply:

Hi Eden,

Thank you SO much for your email and for reaching out.  I read the comment and double checked with Martha because it was definitely not something I felt she would ever do or say.  She responded with No no no. We are deeply sorry someone used her name. She also asked that I send you the message below.

Attached was a kind message from Martha Beck herself (I’m pretty sure, unless this is a really elaborate ruse involving a weapons-grade e-mail cloaking device). Not long after that I also heard from the CEO of Martha’s company, who was unbelievably nice as well and had no problem with my post whatsoever.

So that pretty much made my day.

This story has a couple of morals, as I see it.

  1. Internet commenters can be lying weirdos with unfathomable agendas, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing
  2. If you hurt someone’s feelings and the reason you did it points at a fault within yourself, own it
  3. Thou shalt not commit adultery
  4. Buy the kosher hot dogs
  5. Don’t let the pigeon drive the bus

Comments

comments

54 Responses to “Look out, this is a long one”

  • You know what I like about you, Eden? Well, lots of things, actually. But specifically, I like that you are a real class act. (Though it occurs to me that “class act” is a weird idiom.)

  • Holy poop, every blogger ever needs to read this over and over, amen.

    “And commenters can be really smart. They can point out your flaws so quickly sometimes, weaknesses you’ve spent a lifetime carefully papering over can be stunningly obvious to them. They don’t always call you on it very nicely, unfortunately, but I think it’s the job of anyone who writes online to examine themselves when someone cuts them to the quick, and ask themselves, “Is it true?” It doesn’t have to be 100% true, but if it’s even 1% true you have to own that 1%. Because if you mindlessly take the road everyone who loves you and wants to protect you tells you to take, the road where you get to say, “don’t feed the trolls” or “they’re just jealous” or “ignore the haters” or the time-tested “fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke,” you will add another brick to the wall that will eventually turn into an airless room containing just you and your ego.”

  • One of the reasons I read your blog (And squee happily when my rss reader says you’ve updated) is because you and I have similar irreverent senses of humor about being…well…kind of a nutjob. (a word I use in the most loving way) Your blog is cathartic and wonderful, and if there is any merit in this next sentence I hope you get it:
    I understand where you’re coming from.

  • Thanks. I’m just trying to figure out a way to continue to blog that allows me some peace of mind.

    • For purely selfish reasons, I wish you the best of luck with finding that balance ;)
      Anyway, if there’s anything I can do to help, etc. Good point about the pigeon. Hmm.

  • Who gives a fuck what other people think? You can’t be interesting without pissing some people off from time to time. I LOVE your blog. I thought your Martha Beck piece was witty and awesome in every way. It made me laugh out loud! I truly don’t see how you could have offended anyone with it. You were sharing your personal experiences/thoughts – which you have a perfect right to do on your PERSONAL fucking blog. If folks don’t like it, they can go elsewhere. I think it’s great that you are trying to be sensitive and apologize, but I don’t think you need to bother. Folks need to toughen up, get a sense of humor, and get the hell over themselves. Grrrr!!! I love your writing. I love how funny and honest you are. I’m always looking for more entries. I bet that, for every lame-ass kvetcher out there, there are 20 people who love what you have to say. Write for them. And don’t apologize for yourself again.

    • I wish I could think this way but I don’t know how to get there honestly, so I’ve had to look for another way. I may not be right. But I appreciate the tough love.

    • My feelings exactly. In fact I knew when I read the selvishness post that you would get tremendous shit for it, and I wished you a thick skin and worried that you’d quit blogging. Honestly ANYONE who reads this blog will know your heart. You are not a hater. I have no sympathy for people without the ability to be discerning in their criticism, and/or have no sense of humor. You poke fun at yourself first and foremost. GAH. I hate the idea that you sensor yourself because I love your mind.

  • Amen to the kosher ‘dogs.

    (And also the rest of the things. I think you’re a swell gal.)

  • Oh Eden, you always say things that hit me right between the eyes.

    I’d explain but I can’t take more time. Have to get the keys back from the pigeon.

  • The pigeon asks so nicely–but we always say no to him.

    Great post. I could feel the relief spread through me as I read their response to your note, so I can imagine you felt like floating after receiving it. I’d hate to see you change anything about the way you blog, because I love your style.

  • I do get trying to be kind in our writing but then again it seems Americans cannot handle criticism, satire or ‘tongue and cheek in’ writings. Writers have the right to write and commenters can comment away. I just choose to not read a blog if I don’t agree with the writing over time. Anyway, It is beyond silly that Americans think everything has to be positive and ‘Oh, look at my rainbows and unicorns’. I get a little sick of the constant happy, positive, be perfect posts!! Lastly, I took your post as playful with sarcasm and tongue and cheek mixed in. Thanks for listening :)

  • Let me lay some Zen on you: Expectations cause suffering.

    Some people write things on the internet intending to connect to other people and gain some understanding… but as writers ourselves, we can’t expect our writing to do anything.

    Also, people have poor reading comprehension and miss a lot of signals about tone.

    And, as one of my favorite baristas says, “I ACCEPT YOU!”

    • I guess since I can’t make some readers accept me, I have to accept their non-acceptance. I like the stress on intention, because I’ve never been so royally screwed as when I’ve written something online asking for forgiveness. Wrong venue.

      And it sucks when people read you wrong and then make you responsible for something you never even said. That is definitely something I don’t want to accept, but it’s a reality of blogland.

    • I second this, totally.

  • Hey Eden!

    As the aforementioned CEO, I can tell you that no one over here at Martha Beck’s company was offended in the least bit. I didn’t think your post was even strongly worded and after Martha single-handedly and categorically pissed off the Mormon Church, well, you’d have to do a lot more than that to get under her skin. Seriously, it was a great post!

    On a personal note, I agree that it’s tougher to have thick skin when you’re putting yourself out there online and being edgy. (I had a little Ghetto Fabulous Life Coach experiment I played around with on Facebook for a bit.) It’s easy for people to be pissed at you for “backing down” but at the end of the day, it’s just you and your peace of mind and if it’s not feeling good, don’t do it or take a step back. But I will say that my “ghetto fabulous” experiment taught me to understand that whenever we stand out, people are going to disapprove. It’s actually the sign of standing out! I just look at it as they got really clear that I am not their cup of tea–great. And, I love how you talk about doing the gut-check within yourself, if I do something and feel like I need to clean it up with someone else, I will, just as you did. No shame in that–that’s always your call. So for what it’s worth, I hope you do find a way to express yourself in a way that feels good. Because it sounds like you have things to say. Whoops, I just got all life-coachy and farted rainbows and unicorns.

    Unicorns are cool.

    You go Eden!

  • And this is all great but I’m going to write my next post about how much I like the word “dicksneeze.”

  • I love your writing. I love the things you write about and how you write about them. I can’t figure what you might have written that would upset people enough to make you hesitant to post. You’re not political, you don’t talk about controversial issues (well, except life coaches apparently.). I don’t get it. But I do miss the old posting frequency and would be very sad if you boarded up this place went away. You’re good. You’re really good.

  • Well can I just squeeze in before “dicksneeze” to say that we the people look up to your rapier-like wit and will defend you to the end?

  • Someone once wrote to me that ‘commenters’ is not an actual word, that what I was looking for was ‘commentators’ which I interpreted as just his way of saying ‘it’s all just small potatoes.’

  • I’m a life coach. One of the things I share with my clients a lot is that what someone says to you (to the internet, to the press) is about THEM and how you react to it is about YOU.

    Think for example about something you are really proud of about yourself — maybe it’s that you are well-read. If somebody said to you, “Well, if you read a book once in a while, you’d know what you are talking about!”, you’d think that they were off their rocker — you wouldn’t internalize their comment as an attack on you, but rather understand how little they actual knew or understood you.

    But if someone says something you are sensitive about, like, for example, “You are a real meanie-headed meanie that hates nice things!”, you may feel awful. You might have been bullied before and really would hate to be thought of as a bully, and so then you worry that the commenter is right. (To be clear, I am making up both of these examples. I don’t want the examples to push any buttons — you aren’t a meanie-headed meanie and I have no idea how well-read or not you are, but that has no bearing on this discussion :). But really, the commenter is just speaking from their own life experience, insecurities and buttons and your reaction is about your own life experience, insecurities, and buttons.

    To me, then, the cap-lock, knee jerk comment bombers are just speaking loudly about their anger management issues, or insecurities, or deeply-held values on whatever the topic.

    Your reaction to the comment bombers is up to you. The fact that you were concerned enough about being misread to apologize says a lot to me about your own integrity and general good-heartedness.

    My personal hope is that we all keep striving to understand one another, and remember that we are all real life people, not just pictures on the internet, and write and comment with that in mind.

    And rainbows. And unicorns.

    (It’s life coach by-law #687.)

  • Holy goodness, Eden. I love this post a thousand ways. I also loved your Selvishness post, though…so what do I know? Apparently I should have been protesting or throwing a fit of some kind. Gracious, I just never do the right thing. At any rate, I freaking love your blog and your writing and your stumbling and self-deprecation—all of it. It makes me happy, and somehow it makes me believe in myself. So…high five, or whatever makes sense to say in closing.

  • OK, I’ve been on some hormonal treatments for infertility so take what I say here with a grain of salt perhaps but…

    I was reading this saying NONONONONONONO and tears were springing into my eyes because I was SO AFRAID that you were going to say something like “because people were offended I raised questions about the self help coaches I am now apologizing…” Or worse: “Now I’m blocked as a writer and will never write again…” Especially the second, because you are my favorite.

    I think I was more upset because oh Lordy overall blogging is having a sucky moment of mediocrity and it can’t be totally unrelated to the oppressive culture of censorship and self-censorship that’s arisen to squash any moment of authenticity, challenge or originality. Is it because there ARE these mean people and no one wants to be like them and so no one says anything anyone would really disagree with because it’s the only way to be 100% sure one isn’t like them? I don’t know. But it bugs me simply because it doesn’t seem right that there is only pablum or vitriol and nothing in between. Nuance, complexity, a recognizable point of view–it is possible, even among the personal blogs.

    An apology would be a horrible defeat for the actual intellectual necessity of expressing a critique of some portion of the written world that should invite critique–A BOOK FOR GOSH SAKE. And of course, what the book is about and the person who wrote it. That kind of goes with the package.

    Then I had this freak out about how maybe one of the critical comments was MY comment. I have a conversational mode of starting theoretical arguments on the internet that people sometimes read as criticism but is really much more related to my profession and the blogs I usually go on.

    The way I read your original post was that it was all about nuance–you were describing your reaction to something and I thought it was an understandable–nay even a fully justified and admirable–reaction.

    But finally I got to the end of this post and realized that there is still much nuance to be had at fussy.org.

    Now I will say a terrible thing that will offend everyone but I do think you aren’t getting enough of the readers you deserve. And it would be worth it to turn off comments forever to keep yourself writing. Another terrible tragedy of blogging is people get stuck in genres and niches and people go to the internet only to read what they already believe and expect (or maybe I should say ‘skim’). So if there were any justice in the world you would get thousands of readers who want to read someone trained in poetry who is also funny and a terrific prose stylist but there is no justice so you will always get dumb comments. (I do not exclude my own, actually.)

  • P.S.: Now I will offend more people and say that it is women who are attacked much more often for expressing opinions about the world and it is often women who are attacking them. Why is that?*

    *All caveats apply, particularly ‘I could be wrong.’

  • Well. I had no idea that there had been such a kerfuffle over that post. I assume that that is why you’ve been silent here, although I am sure that isn’t the only reason – it wasn’t as if that post was the throttling of the fire hydrant of posts, the frequency of your posts here has been slowing for quite some time now. (What a run-on sentence, huh? Even I didn’t think it was going to end.)

    I am sorry that you’ve suffered so, and that it has raised doubts in you about what you do here. I miss what you have to say and the way you say it. I think you have a gift for expressing yourself and am grateful you chose to share it for so long.

    I have no unique take on this situation, I echo what others have said above that (given you are honest in your motives) you are not responsible for how other people react to what you write. Too many people will not or can not assess what they are feeling and why and the easy way out is to blame other people. I say this knowing that I too take unto myself the faults others find in me. It takes a lot of strength and self-awareness to be able to assess what others say to and about you and reject that which you know is untrue.

    I guess it is my selfishness that wishes that you will figure out that you can and want to continue to be fussy. However, having reached the opposite conclusion several years ago and stopped blogging myself, I do understand that times change and we change. I will conclude by saying that my one true wish for you is that you discover the way to peace of mind – whatever path it takes.

    be happy. you deserve it.

  • I’ve always felt that if I can’t say it to the people I’m sitting with at the lunch table, then I probably shouldn’t say it online. This of course only works about 75% of the time because thoughts enter my brain and fall right out of my mouth and I forget to use filters. You can’t please everyone all of the time.

    I think you’re the bees knees and you handled the situation like I thin grown up should handle it. You’re brave and smart and please, please, please don’t stop writing here.

    Thank you.

  • Seriously? Because I read that post and was totally blown away by your humble ‘I tend to think this might be shit but what do I know I should probably give it a chance’ willingness to really grapple with Martha Beck, life coaching, and taking advice in general. But I am generally calcified in my thoughts and ways, and easy to impress. Though seriously, I did not come away with the impression that you were either dismissing it or taking it lightly.

    That said, good for you for owning things and following up. You’re the adult I’d like to be (which makes it sound like I’m not an adult. I am. High school was a high schooler’s lifetime ago for me. Gah that is depressing).

  • I just love you and your fabulous brain.

  • I wish html had a tag to denote sarcasm. The potential backlash of free expression on the internet has made me a slightly better grammar editor, but I miss the openness with which I formerly communicated uninhibitedly.

    I understand your restraint in posting given the situation you described. I support your pursuit of writing style in whichever style suits you. As much as I enjoy your brilliant edginess, I respect and appreciate your desire to be compassionate and refrain from acerbic rants for the sake of vitriol.

  • One of the most valuable things I’ve learned over the last several years is the value of humility. I am quite certain that it has saved my sanity and my sobriety. I consider myself “witty” and oftentimes that’s come with hurting people’s feelings when I thought I was just being funny. I used to just puff up and think, “well, that’s just their problem if they got their feelings hurt.” But there was always a sense of guilt scratching at me. As I’ve gotten older, that guilt emerges more strongly than ever and I’ve learned that it’s OK to go back to that person (or people) and admit I was wrong and apologize. And that always comes with such a sense of relief!

    • Whatever. Eden doesn’t need to apologize to anyone. She wrote one of the best blogs out there, and now she’s stopped. That’s a bummer.

  • i’m happy to see that you’re here again.

    your humor and honesty, i admire. your first official hair growout entertained me during a painful (and a little lonely) surgery recoup in ’04. your more recent post about eating a lunch break sandwich in the car rather than in nature, well, i read it to my husband; he refers to it when i suggest we eat outdoors at panera.

  • First of all – make no mistake about it – YOU ROCK EDEN!

    When I read what sounds like snarky-ness on your blog, I love it – it totally resonates with my snark-ness – When you call yourself out on shtuff.. that’s somehow tied to the snarky-ness I identified with..I’m humbled because I realize it’s some sort of wound or issue I myself need to confront….damn you Eden. And you set this humble example of self confronting that causes me to look int the mirror. I guess that makes you a double hero – First for making me laugh and relate and Second for making me confront myself.

    Your life coach post caused all sorts of stuff – I worked for a life coach…whom I’m still sorta friends with – I commented on your post and then (without thinking – because I do that a lot) mentioned your post in passing to her…to which she read…to which she identified my comment – to which caused all sorts of conversation. All’s well in the end though.

    But seriously – your writing is amazing….please do more of it.

  • That wasn’t such a long post, but man, that’s a lot of comments to slog through. So if someone else said it, and I was too lazy to read it, I apologize, but I think (hope) that it’s OK to think out loud online. And then to re-think out loud online. We can’t think all things that anyone ever anywhere will think and then adjust to accommodate them all. You are allowed to be a work in progress. In conclusion: I like you.

  • In this case, it seems like the act of apologizing was for you alone, since the “target” wasn’t even offended. It was what you needed to get past a painful incident and to see yourself for the kind person that you are. I am often ascerbic in my comments to friends and loved ones who know I would walk through fire for them. I can’t be that way with others, because they don’t know about the fire-walking part of me. I have no idea how you work that on the internet, which is why I have stalled out on starting a blog for, oh, about three years now. I mean, I sweep ants up, follow their path, gently shake them out the door, and apologize. And yet I’m capable of searing comments that can really hurt people.

    I think you are getting the hang of it though. Be yourself, both the fire-walker and the delightfully witty, slightly bitchy, damn funny human being.

  • This post is the very exact reason why you should continue blogging. The world needs more, not less, of people like you contributing to the global voice. Thank you for being human, for owning it and for remembering that the pigeon should never ever be allowed to drive the bus. The moped, maybe, but never the bus.

  • I don’t remember exactly what you wrote about Martha Beck, but I don’t remember it being negative. In fact, I actually bought the book after you talked about it. I share that skepticism about self-help books and life coaches and probably would ignore the opinion of anyone who was too enthusiastic. So I hope you continue to write and offer your insights for a long, long time.

  • When I first thought about writing a blog, a good friend advised me, “I recommend you write a craft blog, because people leave the nicest comments there. Don’t blog about design, opinions or humor unless you’ve got a really thick skin.” So, I immediately registered for ihavenoopinionsaboutanything.com. Seriously, though, every time I write a post, my thin skin and I think about how to not offend my Catholic mother-in-law, eight-year-old niece, or anyone in Utah who might read my blog. But… oh, how I admire YOU. And Louie CK. And Jon Stewart. And all of the people who are willing to share their hilarious and uncomfortable and honest selves. The world is less of a lonely place when people like you are willing to say what people like me are thinking.

  • o, you are so lovely, eden. every single post you write is why i read this blog. thank you.

  • thank you for being you.

  • You rock and I adore you!

  • You know, I remember that post; I bought Martha’s book because of it, and I bet I’m not the only one.

    You have a right to be funny. It’s a blog, yeesh. And your good heart shines through. People get het up about shit and you’re a good person for examining your conscience and trying to make it right, but remember: it IS the Internet. It’s the fucking Wild West of interpersonal communications. Once again, you’ve handled something awful like a class act.

  • You seem to be a very honest lady, and I like that that includes calling bullshit on yourself too. We all (should) struggle with this type of self-awareness everyday, but it takes balls to do it with an audience. Just another reason I like reading your stuff.

  • You’re the person I wish I could be.

  • There is your genius, girl — that teeny little *dicksneeze* comment you snuck in there. Go, you darling reprobate, you. :)

  • I truly believe that ‘kerfuffle’ is an underused word. Also, learning ‘dicksneeze’ has possibly changed my life. (And thrilled me a little because it indicated more blog posts after hinting that they may end.) But not as much as being invited to breakfast on the final morning of Camp Mighty last year in the cafe by Fussy and Alice. You know not what you have done, and I thank you.

  • Unbelievable response in these comments! Doesn’t it make you feel good to know you are generating so much discussion? Great work by a blogger, Eden.

  • Adore you. Keep writing.

  • The length and thoughtfullness of these comments is knocking me out.

    And the post is good too.

  • Love your writing. Bought Martha Beck’s book in your honor. Please don’t ever stop blogging!

  • I’m really late to the party, but I feel like I need to chime in.

    I’m with Rebecca. This is YOUR personal blog. Your blog in which you write thoughts that come from your very own stream of consciousness. And although you don’t need my permission or anyone else’s, I wish you and many, many other great bloggers and writers could just own that and be themselves. Own your thoughts & words & accept the fact that sometimes, people’s feelings might get hurt. And that’s okay.

    And kudos to you for apologizing. For what it’s worth, I didn’t think you were being a dick on your original post, but your honesty about your guilt here was pretty refreshing. You’re a great writer, and I hope you continue here for a long, long, long time.