I joined Medium back in the Olden Tymes (2015). It’s where I posted my first personal essays, my first opinion pieces, my first viral humor thingamabob. Medium, along with McSweeney’s, have everything to do with how I built a career separate from my advertising work. These two writerly places that exist in air are where I became a writer-writer, tricked an agent into signing me, and ended up writing a book.
During those first couple of months, I had maybe seven followers. It felt exciting to be a part of a community that loved writing but weren’t a bunch of snobby-snobs about it. You could write a thing, put that thing up, then obsessively check your stats because maybe it sucked! Maybe it was good! We cheered each other on. We heart-ed (then clapped), tweeted and shared.
Lisa Renee was one of my early followers and I’m pretty sure she’s the first-person-I-didn’t-know-personally who I followed on Medium. I loved reading her work and admired how she interacted with so many writers, being specific and empathetic in her questions and comments. This, I thought, is an online writing community unlike any other. A place where your writing could actually go somewhere, to new eyeballs. And a place where you could find writers and comedians and commentators you liked, not to mention cartoonists, illustrators, and publications that were incredible too.
Lisa was kind enough to mention me in her recent piece, In Praise of the Literary Ladies of Medium along with two other writers I also discovered on Medium—Abby Norman (I am halfway through Ask Me About My Uterus and am completely mesmerized by it) and Stephanie Wittels Wachs whose book Everything is Horrible and Wonderful is one of my favorite books of 2018. Stephanie also became a great pal who will answer my dumb questions like, “Uh, how do you do a reading?” Medium did that. Olden Tymes Medium did all that.
But like all nice cozy spaces where ladies hang, dudes just gotta show up and poop all over it. I mean #NotAllDudes but Jeez Louise, it just doesn’t take that many. All it takes is writing a piece or two or three that get traction and that’s like a Bat Signal to certain men that their bullshit opinions/ insults/ condescension are needed and required. And they are also needed chop-chop to (I guess?) insult me by calling me a Millennial (!LOL!) or tell me I should swear less (howsabout FUUUUCKKKK YOOOOOUUUUU) or any of a number of other Hot Tips that would be more useful if placed on the literal hot tip of a fireplace poker and shoved in their own cakeholes. Once the Anonymous Men of Medium showed up and started barking at the moon as if the rest of us care, that’s when Medium became Long Form Twitter for real.
For a solid two years I responded to every—and I do mean every—comment. Even though my friends kept telling me, “Don’t read the comments!” and “Jesus God, don’t engage with those people!” and especially “You know you don’t have to respond to every comment, right?!” I still felt like it was somehow my duty.
My logic went like this:
• If I’m a writer on the internet then this was the deal. I was obligated to travel this two-way street and interact with whomever might read my writing. Even if some of those readers were abusive fart hogs.
• At the minimum, it was an excellent opportunity to work on my comebacks. I had moved on from trying to engage anyone who insulted me in serious debates because it only wasted my time, expended my energy, and exploded my anger for no discernible benefit. What I learned over time is that this is the most effective way to shut down an insult thread — -> :(
• ^ You’re welcome.
• But perhaps if I’m being honest, a big part of it was that I still operated with an unshakeable project manager mindset. I empty my e-mail inbox almost daily. Having all those Medium comment e-mails stacking up drove me mad. So I handled them and checked them off, like the good little list maker that I was (and still am.)
But after awhile, like so many women on the internet, I just got tired. It was an energy suck with no end in sight. I asked Medium if there was any way I could close my comments. I no longer cared about connecting with anyone or even hearing a nice word or two. I just wanted it all to stop.
I was told by Medium that, no, that wasn’t an option. But I could turn off my notifications, smiley face! I’m exhausted by platforms solving their shitty user problems by telling women to ignore them, as if there’s just no other solution these Titans of Industry can possibly think of.
I didn’t want to delete my account. I wanted to stay. And for some unknown reason I wasn’t ready to hide the responses. So I turned off every notification and e-mail alert I could. Instead of comment bombs arriving in my inbox every day and knotting up my tummy and making steam shoot out of my ears, they fizzled out in Medium comments purgatory, unread. But so were nice comments. And funny comments. And encouraging comments. And high fives. I don’t need those to keep writing, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t miss them. And that I don’t miss the community-building that those interactions inspired.
Sometimes when I post a piece I’ll dip into the comments for a bit. But all it takes is checking my notifications and seeing a few anonymous profile pics, male-sounding names, and COMMENTS WITHOUT CLAPPING and I know everything I need to know. So I bounce.
The sad part is, some of my biggest supporters both in real life and online are dudes. I love men. Men are great. Men are funny and look good in pants and have great ideas and hair, write excellent books and tweets, and do all sorts of things that make the world a sometimes fun and interesting and sexy place to be. I just wish those men could cancel out all the other dudes who are walking-talking-ticking online-abuse-bombs.
So when I saw Lisa’s name—and all those other familiar lady writer names—I felt nostalgic for the early days of Medium. It made me think back to how thrilled I was to travel along their journeys of getting agents and book deals, or watched and cheered (and shared) as their pieces went viral.
Medium is something special. The current home page and platform, mix of pieces, voices, perspectives, and level of discovery is the best it’s ever been. I still consider it my writerly home. I just wish I could go back to feeling, well, more at home on it.
Kimberly Harrington is a regular contributor to McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, the co-founder and editor of parenting humor site RAZED, and a copywriter and creative director. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, and right here on Medium. Her first book, AMATEUR HOUR: MOTHERHOOD IN ESSAYS AND SWEAR WORDS is out May 1st from Harper Perennial. You can preorder from Amazon or Indiebound or Barnes & Noble or Books-a-Million. Follow her/me on Twitter.