A Personal Statement About Online Bullying and Abuse

(The immediate impetus for this post is a string of events affecting the literary and publishing communities in which I live my life, but I’m sure that everyone reading this has seen similar incidents online, in other areas. And I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. This is the moment it felt right to step forward and say something.)

My perspective on online bullies is shaped by the fact that I used to be one.

When I first got on the Internet as a graduate student, using a university account, the web had yet to become a significant platform, so one of the biggest games in town, perhaps the most significant, was Usenet—a collection of threaded conversations, tagged and sorted by a many-layered hierarchy of subject matters, diverse enough that you could find a “newsgroup” for just about any topic you were interested in discussing. It was a forum where knowledge and the ability to write well could contribute much to your social reputation, and I took to it immediately.

At some point, I acquired a separate account from a commercial Internet service provider, and for a number of reasons I chose to post from that account using a pseudonym. At the time, I could and did give a whole spiel using postmodern theory about distinguishing “the author-function” from the writer and how online technology enabled us to reshape our personalities and the way we present ourselves to the world, but the bottom line is I liked the freedom of “performing” in that voice, that persona, in ways that were unlikely to bring about the consequences they would if I behaved the same way offline.

To be blunt, I was able to behave like a complete asshole.

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30 September 2014 | uncategorized |

Life Stories #82: Maria Venegas

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Life Stories: Maria Venegas

photo: Ricco Long

In this episode of Life Stories, the podcast where I talk to memoir writers about their lives and the art of writing memoir, Maria Venegas talks about Bulletproof Vest. It’s the story of her father, who brought his family to Chicago from Mexico, but then abandoned them to avoid being arrested for killing one of their neighbors. But Venegas doesn’t just recount this and other violent episodes from his life; she also writes about the abandonment (and the eventual reconciliation) from her perspective, coming to terms with the ways her father’s past shaped her own emotional development.

During the interview, we talked about how she’d originally intended to write Bulletproof Vest as fiction, and why it ended up becoming a memoir—and about how she came to writing through acting first. It was acting, she says, that first enabled her to deal with the emotions she’d been suppressing for much of her life, but then writing enabled her to grapple with the actual sources of those emotions. And she’d only hit upon acting, she revealed, because of an elective course her last year of college, after she’d already met the requirements for her economics major. She described the impact that a class she’d only signed up for because she thought it would be fun:

“It was really exciting when I realized I could access these emotions and express myself through acting in a way that I’d never known to be possible. But, you know, with acting it’s also… you’re using your own well of emotions to fuel this other character, so you’re still slightly removed from it, whereas with writing I feel, you know, that’s me on the page, and it feels a lot more vulnerable in a way.

Listen to Life Stories #82: Maria Venegas (MP3 file); or download this file by right-clicking (Mac users, option-click). Or subscribe to Life Stories in iTunes, where you can catch up with earlier episodes and be alerted whenever a new one is released. (And if you are an iTunes subscriber, please consider rating and reviewing the podcast!)

16 August 2014 | life stories |

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