When I got my first writing gig for a tiny local newspaper with a circulation of 2.3 people, one of the veteran writers on staff told me, “Just remember, haters are gon’ hate.”
Then he added, “So whatever you do, don’t read the negative mail.”
It was sound wisdom. The only problem with this advice is that negative mail looks just like positive mail before you open it. How do you tell the two apart? At first glance, there is no way to differentiate between a friend and a hater by looking at an envelope or an email.
After all, nobody writes in bold letters on the outside of their envelope: THIS IS HATE MAIL. Neither do people fill out the subject line of an email with the words: WARNING, THIS MESSAGE IS GOING TO RUIN YOUR DAY.
So you never know whether a message is going to be positive or negative until you actually open the thing and read a few sentences:
“Dear Sean, I just wanted to take a minute to tell you, from the bottom of my heart, that you are a greasy, disgusting, faux-deep-thinking, chauvinistic pig…”
Thus, my philosophy has always been to ignore negative messages. And mostly, I’ve kept pretty true to this idea. Although I do occasionally respond to unusually ugly correspondence.
Such as the time a guy recently told me to “go to hell.” I wrote to him, saying in all honesty, that I had already visited Hell, Michigan, and frankly, I’d rather spend everlasting eternity in Detroit.
And a few months ago, I received a critical letter from a literature professor from an extremely well-known university with a world-famously bad football team. He told me I was partially responsible for the “dumbing down” of the American literary mind by “writing for likes.”
Still, on the infrequent occasion that I respond to nasty messages publicly, I usually try to keep things lighthearted. I try to be jocular. I try to be myself. I don’t have the luxury of taking myself too seriously. For crying out loud, I write on the internet. This ain’t Hemingway. My IQ is average at best, and my dog has a higher pedigree than I do. And furthermore, I am not even one hundred percent clear on what “jocular” actually means.
So my only defense against the haters is to be moderately funny in my responses. Although, usually, haters don’t care for my cheap attempts at humor.
Here is an actual quote from some negative mail I received recently:
“I don’t like your writing. I find your ridiculous humor to be insensitive and ignorant. Your fake introspection and false empathy embodies all the hackneyed stereotypes about us, Mister Dietrik.”
Two things I’d like to point out about this message: (1) this was an extremely well-written letter, free of grammatical errors, with flawless syntax, and (2) my last name is not spelled with a K.
Even so, the main question that often arises in my mind when I get mail like this is: If someone already knows they don’t like my work, why read it?
Moreover, once this person has invested 5 minutes reading my godawful work, why do they choose to take an additional 20 minutes out of their busy day to write a 1500-word thesis asserting how sincerely and completely they detest it? And why, after writing this marathon treatise, do they spend ANOTHER 20 minutes checking their work for misspellings and typos before sending?
Why not spend that one hour of their life writing a letter to someone they admire and respect? Such as, say, their favorite world dictator?
So if I’m being honest, sometimes negative messages can totally wreck my day. I don’t like admitting this. I’m not saying I’m a wilting violet, I’m more of a regular violet. But also, I’m human. And when someone tells you, flat-out, that you’re an idiot, a tiny part of you can’t seem to forget that negative word.
Their negativity sticks with you. You go to the store and you remember that someone called you an idiot.
You’re pumping gas at the Shell station, and you wonder to yourself whether there are levels of idiocy, and if so, where, specifically, on the International Idiot Scale do you rank?
You walk around in a kind of funk, knowing that someone out there is telling their friends what a complete Knucklehead McSpaz-a-tron you are. Right now, they are probably locating pictures of you online, laughing at your $3 haircut until they pee themselves.
This is why when an unsavory email came in a few weeks ago I felt my hands go clammy and my heart started to beat quicker than normal. I was standing in the grocery store when the message arrived on my phone. I read it and nearly cried when they called me a few names that aren’t worth repeating.
I’ve received some humdingers in my day, but this one was special.
I started to wonder what I’m doing this for, this writing? Why have I given my life to writing a column/blog/stories/whatever-this-is for nearly a decade? Maybe these unhappy people are right about me?
Then it hit me. I know why I do this. I know why I write. I write because, yes, in this indifferent world the haters are indeed gon’ hate. But I believe the same can also be said about us lovers.