When I announced the Backbone Project two weeks ago, I expected to get some practice at writing essays that weren’t terribly conciliatory, at responding to people who disagreed with me, and at addressing subjects that I might normally hesitate to talk about. And I was right, to a point; I did in fact get practice in all of the above. But I learned a lot more than I anticipated.
First off, I learned that Ferrett is right (which probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise to many of you). Here I’ve been spending all this energy softening the expression of my viewpoints and trying my hardest to keep everyone happy, and it turns out that’s not so interesting. People respond more when I’m less nice, less perfection-geared, and less careful, as you can see from the amazing comment threads on all three of the Backbone Project essays.
Also, when people disagree with me or even dislike me, I don’t spontaneously combust into flames. Instead, I have a feeling of strength. There’s something bracingly exciting about saying: This is who I am, and this is where I stand. You don’t have to agree with me, but here I am, like it or not.
In a small, private-ish corner of the internet, I even stirred up a tiny hornet’s nest. Yes, indeed, there were all sorts of strangers saying, among other things, how judgmental and smug I am, how if I’ve had problems with not drinking, it must be because of my attitude (otherwise known as victim blaming, but whatever), and that it is completely not a big deal to not drink. At first, I felt terrible. I should have chosen my words more carefully. I was an awful person, both to write such an essay and to not want to drink in the first place. That second assertion snapped me out of it and instead I felt defensive. They hadn’t read my essay! They definitely hadn’t read the comments following it. They didn’t understand. For awhile, I yo-yoed between the two states.
And then I realized it wasn’t a big deal. The conversation wasn’t even about me. Anybody who no longer liked me or no longer wanted to read my blog probably wasn’t my friend or ideal reader in the first place. “Congratulations,” my husband said. “Having people tear you apart on the internet means you’ve leveled up. You have more influence now.” Oh. Who knew?
Meanwhile, I was busy being educated, and the remaining small rough patch of alienation caused by not drinking alcohol was being healed as I found solidarity in a completely unexpected way. As all of you shared the ways in which you are different, told your stories about being child free or hating to be photographed, not wearing shoes and being vegetarian/vegan, not driving and being polyamorous, I began to feel not so much held apart by my differences as brought closer to all of you who have had similar struggles. Indeed, our differences became something we have in common. I learned so much from all three conversations, and I’m looking forward to many more.
Of course, while my goal for the Backbone Project was to write three essays, in reality the project is ongoing, which is great, because it supports what I’m doing in the rest of my life as well. I’m going to keep trying to avoid the wishy-washy and to write strongly and bravely. I know I won’t always succeed, but my guess is that the more I do it, the better I will become.
And remember, you have until tonight to send me links to your own Backbone Project essays. There have been some really awesome posts going up this last week, and I can’t wait to share them with everybody!