Forty-Five Days

Forty-five days ago, I gave up.

I did not want things to end the way that they did, but sometimes fear and confusion seem insurmountable, and there’s only one choice: Run.

And that’s what I did. I hid all of the content that I spent years creating. I couldn’t figure out how to hide the posts en masse, so I spent hours clicking on each post one by one, and couldn’t help but read them. When I finished each entry, I chose the ‘Hide’ toggle, and pressed ‘Submit’, before moving on to the next entry. I was numb and kept clicking.

It’s weird to read things that I’ve written months, and some cases years, after the fact. Things that seemed so emotional and significant in the moment weren’t even registering on the radar of my current reality. The emotions were still there somewhere, but the hysterics of knowing that I was erasing a site that I poured hours of work into took precedent on the grieving pyramid. Maybe I had a stomach ache the whole time, but when I hit myself on the hand with a hammer, that was all that I could feel.

I wrote a post that required several rounds of edits because it was largely incoherent. Even after submitting, I spent an half hour cleaning it up because I left out chunks of words, put too many words much in others, and I felt an anxiety that I’d never experienced at the keys before. I was done with Baseball-Prose, because the world had failed me. I was done with the Internet, with the community that I valued, and even with close friends. After a week of being threatened, being violated, and feeling worthless and shamed I was DONE.

I shut down my laptop and put it on the top shelf near my bed. My cellphone vibrated on the bedside table, as alerts came in so quickly on Twitter in response to my news that the phone couldn’t get a full chime in before trying to make the next one. It should have felt flattering, but it was just a reminder that I’d failed on several levels, so I turned it off for three days.

I sat in the bathtub for almost two hours, a water prison that was quiet, aside from the motor that keeps the jets pumping geysers that create an undertow. I pushed my hands against the jets, watching water squirt into the air soaking the travertine floor. I gave zero fucks, even though the pulsing was painful. I tried to read a book, but 30 pages into a book set in 1800s, I threw it against the wall because I was frustrated that the characters lived in a simpler time where any harassment they received came in the form of a duel or the postal service or carrier pigeon or something.  I dunked my head under the water, leaving just my nose and mouth exposed, feeling my hair swirl violently as it tangled against my shoulders from the manufactured waves. I eventually got out, but I don’t remember sleeping.

I spent over a week off of social media, which normally seemed difficult, but this time it wasn’t.  I didn’t log into Gchat for days, because I didn’t want to answer any questions, and I never checked the email address that’s associated with Baseball-Prose…until today. I’m not sure what prompted me to log in to that account today; perhaps it was just the morbid curiosity and torment that comes with mourning or maybe it was just the right time. It took me three tries to remember the password, and when I finally had it, I was shocked at the number of emails, because outpourings are frightening and embarrassing to me.

I’m demonstrative and affectionate, but the idea that friends and readers were sending their best regards or caring at all felt as awkward as the first time a guy told me he thought I was attractive instead of just intelligent. It was supposed to be a compliment, but hearing stuff like that and reading those emails felt a lot like attending my own funeral, as I blushed and felt a range of emotions from elated to validated to appreciated to miserable.

Some people just wanted to share their support and did so in a variety of fashions. For that support, I’ll succinctly say: It is appreciated–Oh, and sorry for being delinquent in saying that, because that’s certainly rude.

Some asked for copies of stories that appeared here before—including one girl who asked if I’d be okay with her using one of my early musings as her reading for a Forensics competition. It reminded me of fear of public speaking in parochial school, when we were forced to participate. We’d search stacks of books in the library and look for the perfect work to memorize and stumble over and in front of a large audience, while adults with ill-fitting suits and glasses hung on every word, waiting for you to fuck up. Turns out, elementary school may be more of a precursor to life than we realize. I packaged up the ones that everyone requested and sent them over via email—mission accomplished.

Others demanded answers, but this one is a bit harder.

The joke about baseball writers is that, “you know when you’ve made it when everyone thinks you hate their favorite team.” It’s more a statement not of your opinions, but that people actually consider what you think to be relevant. It’s never about trolling—okay, fine, sometimes it’s about trolling—but having an audience, whether it’s ten or ten thousand, opens the writer up to certain criticisms. But I wasn’t just getting the normal harassment– I was getting deeply disturbing messages of vitriol and danger, mostly regarding my gender. But it’s not just men who are mean–there were women who participated as well.

The other joke amongst…really anyone on the Internet, actually, is do not read the comments. No matter how tempting the discourse, no matter how poignant the discussion, or idiotic the fallacies, it’s the writer’s job to exhibit self-control and stay the hell away from temptation. But really, that advice is bullshit. No one should have to turn a blind eye to hatred, and it’s not something to advocate. Silence is condoning, and more people should feel that way. Still, as a writer, it is your job to spend hours crafting words and arguments, submitting to an editor, and then spending all of eternity handcuffed to that stage while you’re praised, embarrassed, ridiculed—or worst of all, threatened.

It takes tough skin to live publicly, but it also takes common sense. For instance, if a commenter calls you a cum-guzzling gutterslut (his words not mine), it isn’t the gospel, even though it’s irksome. When folks insist that you’ve fucked your way to the top of your craft, no matter how outlandish their claims and implausible their arguments, it’s easy to just dust them off your shoulders, because you and the people who matter know the truth. But when they turn your honesty against you and go for the kill, it’s not about having calloused skin: it’s about safety, more than mental security.

And that’s what happened. There was a series of events that involved emails, public ridicule, harassing phone calls, and misogynistic degradation so severe that it caused a ripple well beyond my own sensibilities. There were libelous comments that not only stung, but also were actionable, but there were things much bigger than that, including death threats. The hardest part was knowing that I had provided some of the ammunition.

After all, the photos that were posted on a website that prompted a graphic discussion about my sexuality, in which they compared my looks to a porn star and talked about gang-raping me? Well, those photos were from a Google Image Search. And the tweets I received telling me that they hoped my ill mother died? Well, they’d read about her on this site. And the credible threats about knowing where I lived and the things that they wanted to do because of it? There’s no better word than terrifying.

So, I quit. I let people and fear get the best of me, and for 45 days I’ve been absolutely miserable, unable to function with my new routine. I was no longer rushing home to make a quick dinner and locking myself in my baseball festooned office to write. Even if I wasn’t publishing every day, I spent hours at my laptop typing and sipping Bulleit, letting my fingers dance anxiously on home row, thoughts becoming more fluid with every gulp of 90-proof.

Since I shut down Baseball-Prose, my Macbook has been a paperweight, an enemy that’s remained on the shelf as I tried to remember that writing was once fun and that I didn’t always have such anxiety when I hit the submit button. But to be honest, without the writing, I’ve floundered. I’ve watched countless hours of television, which confirmed my suspicious: I hate idle time and I hate television. I’ve read eleven books, just for something to do. I’ve organized pantries, bills, filed my taxes early. One night, for no good reason, I read a 74-page lead paint report for work, just because I had nothing else to do. The only nights I don’t regret are the ones I spent with dear friends in some of the nicest restaurants in the city or at the gym, because those get away from me when I’m writing too much.

But leaving was bullshit. The people who have threatened me (and others), whether credible or not, are frightening. That’s not because skin-thickness; it is because there’s no way to mitigate craziness. But even though there’s no good solution for harassment, other than seeking legal counsel when it’s extreme, there’s one thing that’s clear: They don’t get to be in charge.

It took me 45 days to accept that part, but today I’m embracing it. As I continue to write, there will undoubtedly be days where I have to unplug the laptop and shut off the phone, because the idiocy is rampant. There will be days when I’m called a cunt, an ignorant bitch, a fuckable broad, a whore, a cum-guzzling gutter slut, and I’ll do my best not to ignore them, but to continue crusading for the things that are important to me—equality, fairness, justice, and safety of anyone who’s willing to remain in the stocks and pillories on the Internet square daily.  And while I hope the worst days are behind me, there will probably be days where an email or phone call  threatens my safety and makes my stomach do backflips while I take screen shots, block numbers, and involve lawyers.

Those days will be the hardest, but they will be full of lessons. Those days will remind me that no matter how many allies I have, the world can be full of danger. Those days are also reminders that there are some conversations best had in private, and there’s such thing as too many personal details, no matter how poetic they seem.

But if I’m lucky, and I certainly was this time, those are the days that people rally around in large volumes. They offer their resources, their support, and their love. And even on the worst days, I think now it’s going to be easier to accept that there’s nothing I’d rather do than spend my evenings and mornings writing. It might take me another 45 days to publish again, but it certainly doesn’t change the joy of hitting ‘submit.’