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.
Lori Day says
Ah, trolls. Between the two of us we’ve devoted quite a lot of text and energy to analyzing what makes them tick. I’ve come to the conclusion that blogs feel intimate, and that people who read your writing are people you can’t help wanting to bring under the tent and into your world, even when they are contrary. You want to be able to help them see the light. But the thing is, as you say, it usually is impossible. They are anonymous and have interesting gravatars like smiling monks. It’s all pretty disarming. But I do believe that were we to meet some of these people face-to-face, they would not look or seem like monks OR gnarled trolls. They would be regular, flawed, often angry and/or mentally unstable human beings that in real-life situations we would avoid and give no credence to. There is another site we both visit where there seems to be not only a lot of troll baiting, but a lot of troll enchanting, which results in a sort of Stockholm Syndrome of writers appealing to trolls, giving up key values to try to connect with them and win them over, as if that is of value. I like your blog exactly as it is. It does not need to change, and neither do you. Forget the trolls!
Mikalee Byerman says
I do so love that you have a troll who is a snide Buddhist. Oh, the irony!
It’s interesting that you’ve heard the “you must be obsessed with your divorce” comment from Troll #2…that’s the EXACT same line my ex’s wife used when she posted five comments under five identities on my blog. Again, the IRONY that she is posting copious comments on my blog telling me to stop blogging. But whatever.
Anyhow, thank you for helping bring to light the fact that divorce with children is an ongoing ordeal. I’m so tired of the stigma in society about divorce. The message sent: “SHHHHH! Stop talking about it! Keep your head down and don’t mention it, lest you sound bitter and obsessed.”
Yes, I’m not sparkly and bubbly about the end of my marriage or the ongoing CRAP that I never invited into my life. And yes, I have a right to express myself about it and help others heal just as I wish someone had helped me.
And so do you, Pauline.
The only feedback I have about your name: I love love LOVE it, though there is one counter-intuitive aspect. The black-and-white, non-talky version of “Pauline” is so helpless and lacking chutzpah, waiting for someone to save her from the evil mustachioed villain. Yet you have chutzpah in spades.
Though perhaps that’s intentionally ironic — like the snide Buddhist?
Denise Emanuel Clemen says
With a Blogger blog one can change the title and the URL and keep the old content, is what I found. I was pleasantly surprised that over a couple of weeks my “links within” widget began to work and all of the old content that I’d written as Ex-in-the-City at His Big Fat Indian Wedding had somehow transformed to Leaving Divorceville. I didn’t understand that this would happen and was simply doing what the restraining order required. It’s pretty cool because His Big Fat Indian Wedding is gone, over…but its shadow remains. Kinda like divorce and the ex-husband.
Jennifer McBride says
I loved parts 1 and 2 of The Trolls! It’s so appropriate for me right now, too. I have one who has stopped commenting, but still stalks the blog up to 20-30 times a day. Even if I was a writing machine with nothing else to do all day, I couldn’t generate new content that fast, so it’s become a little creepy. I blocked his IP addresses, but even that didn’t stop him. His attempts to get to the blog (which were logged very nicely for me) shot UP, despite messages from me that said “Oh, rats.” and “The jig is up, the news is out…” and, finally, “You’ve been blocked.” I almost wish he would have continued commenting so his particular creepiness would be better cataloged. Anyway, I’ve always tried the validating, positive response and it usually works…unless it’s with that guy.
Just last week I wrote a post about how parents who are targets of parental alienation must be extra-careful when the post anything, because it can all be used against them with the kids. It’s something every relationship/divorce blogger has to be sensitive to, but targeted parents never know how twisted their words will become in the hands of a narcissistic, vengeful ex. I guess in that case, it goes beyond just being a troll. He/she becomes a gargoyle, sitting in silent judgment, waiting to pounce.
Michelle Lee Henning says
I feet I should start by saying that although I have read every installment of yours, I have never commented and usually don’t even read the comment section. The reason being that I don’t feel the need to be in on a discussion about what you have written. To me, posting my opinion is not really of much consequence since I do not know you (or any of the people commenting) personally, and I like to keep the reading of an installment clean (sort of like reading a magazine article) with no outside voices. But this time, since I can give my opinion as a loyal reader I wanted to weigh in about you changing your title or linking to a new page. And here it is: Who cares? As long as the reasons benefit you, and YOU feel the need. There is nothing misleading or unhealthy about your the title. You are divorced and that will never change. I don’t think you need a qualifier. Just because you are “re”married doesn’t make you “un”divorced. You don’t write so far off topic to make it confusing. You write within a realm of how past events continue to affect and shape your life in a seriously major way! I can’t think of one post that didn’t illustrate the central theme of how much this divorce has an impact on your daily living and relationships and the ever present “peril” of the scales tipping at any moment too far to one side or the other. For me, you do not read as someone who is trying to perpetuate the fallout from the divorce, but as one who is using the tools you have (writing, humor, compassion, and utter devotion to your children) to recover from it and persevere. I for one just assume that you don’t go around all day obsessing with unhealthy things. I imagine that this is a place to unload them so you CAN function as a healthy person. Even if you did, that is your business and I don’t have to read if I don’t want to, easy as a click of the mouse (hello trolls!). Also since I am here I wanted to thank you for sharing your perils. To state the obvious: you are a fabulous writer (one would not come back for more if you weren’t). I appreciate your dark humor and your insights and your sharing. I sense honesty. Despite the anonymity, you are so very real and straightforward with no idealized frou-frou crap about how life works or how to raise your children. I believe that is where my connection to your writing lies. Anyway, after my long response, my real opinion is that what ever you decide I just hope you keep writing!
Elizabeth Aquino says
I’ve always suspected that the Trolls that have visited my blog and left their mark were people somewhere in my community that knew me.
Anyhoo, whatever you do — I’m here, happily reading.
Christina Simon says
There’s a reason they’re called “trolls”…the hypocritical troll commenting on your post highlighted exactly what’s wrong with trolls. Great post!
Thanks for you feedback, Mikalee. It’s funny, but I picked the gravatar because I thought its “helplessness” conveyed something satrical, not to be taken at face value. although your comment made me realize that’s not necessarily what’s coming across. I have thought about “modernizing” the gravatar. For awhile I considered having a photographer take a picture of me (where you don’t see my face), in a petticoat and lace-up boots, one foot upon a dastardly man tied to railroad tracks. I didn’t follow through because the dastardly man is on a metaphorical level the father of my children and I didn’t want to be disrespectful. Still, it’s a more appropriate image. Something to ponder.
Lori, I love what you said about Trolls and Stockholm Syndrome! So true! I think trying to reach the inner humanness of trolls is like letting a tantrumming toddler run the show. If someone can get them to calm down that way, more power to them, but I’ve never observed that tactic actually working and I hate the idea of the reaonsable person, as you say, “giving up key values to connect with them.”
Jennifer, your troll stalks your blog upwards of 20 times a day. That is scary.
Michelle, this comment made my day. Maybe my week. I am so glad this is your reaction to my blog, because the way you’ve described its impact on you is exactly what I’ve tried to accomplish. So, as a writer, it’s incredibly gratifying to know what I’ve intended is happening — at least for non-trolls! I completely understand your philosophy of not commenting, but I do hope you’ll weigh in again if the spirit moves you. You have a sharp mind and an astute perspective on real life.
I only started reading and following your blog recently. I absolutely love it. I say screw those people – it’s easy to say ugly things from afar.
Thank you, Amy!
William Belle says
Dooced = to lose one’s job because of one’s website (Urban Dictionary)
Paulined = getting unfairly flamed by a delusional Buddhist monk wannabe
HAHAHA! Good one. I think you should start my wikipedia page.
Wolf Pascoe says
I like this series. If you ever do an ebook about it, you might call it “Care and Feeding of Your Troll.”
HA! Good one, Wolf.
I have to empathize. And laugh. And empathize again.
I admit, I don’t have a lot of trolls (thankfully). Partly, that’s because I tend to keep my head down (somewhat) – despite the more “visible” places where I write, and speak my mind – clearly, but I hope, diplomatically.
Still, I’m sick of those who resort to trite defense mechanisms like “why can’t you get over it” or “why can’t you move on” or “you must really hate your ex” or “you must really love your ex” and allmannerof superficial, judgmental remarks – (even if unintentional, and I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt) – but…
As you say (and I’m paraphrasing): When you have children with someone, you’re never fully divorced. And, in those cases of long and convoluted divorcing aftermath (the 100 years war?), few understand that your past isn’t the past, it’s the present.
So. Here’s to the Perils of Divorced Pauline –andto your enjoying a happy relationship despite the trolls of your previous marriage (to be interpreted as you will). I find that to be able to raise children and survive, and survive the sort of “scenario” that you (and some of the rest of us) do – to ever love again or marry again is an example of enormous emotional capacity, and (healthy?) trust in the universe. Or at the very least – in yourself.
Bravo, Michelle! My thoughts exactly (even though I do chime in occasionally w/a comment of my own). Dittos to Big Little Wolf about never being able to “fully divorce” someone w/whom you’ve had children… (I’ve gotten the occasional pop-psych analysis of my personal flaws too)
That’s why my comments are moderated – my blog, my rules!
Hi Tami — your perspective about the background of the Salon readers is interesting. And very funny about the scavenger being attacked for the olive oil. BTW, I’m no longer rich, my ex’s family pays for summer camp and most of my pix are taken with my iPhone, which, ok, is kinda first-world.
Gabi Coatsworth says
Everything in a person’s life goes into making who they are today. So the past is always with us, and writing about how it affects you is absolutely the right thing to do. And when I realize how great you are in spite of it, I’m inspired, as, I’m sure, are others. Onward!
WonderfullyPhenom (@OverWondeful) says
Recently activated comment moderation on blog to try and get discourage a troll that is just annoying me these days. I don’t like having the mod feature ON, but I am totally swamped for the next couple of weeks and can’t waste time getting sucked into the illogical trash-talking nothingness spurred on by the person drinking, what I can only presume to be, Hater-ade.
Trolls. Blech. People will always throw rocks at things that shine. That’s my motto. Most trollers are slow to understand that ignorance and jealousy go hand in hand. I would pity them, but they’re not worth it in the end.
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