My name URL is an erotic fiction site, and it's been really good for my mental health
Well, that's unexpected
Ok, so please excuse the clickbait-y headline, but hear me out. I will not link to it, but the URL that is my name is the website of an erotic fiction writer, and it has done wonders for my mental health.
It's a weird thesis - and as this substack is usually about goats and chickens and urban farming - a bit of a departure from my usual fare here.
Over a decade ago, when everyone was snatching up the URLs associated with their names, I went to buy my name dot com and stumbled upon an erotic fiction writer who was using my name as a pen name for some . . . stories.
It used to be a source of amusement with my friends. This writer apparently went through the requisite vampire and werewolf phases, then an odd obsession with storm-related "love" stories.
I remember one hilarious party where the topic of discussion came up when someone looking for my work stumbled on her site. It ended with us all a little drunk off wine doing dramatic readings of some of the short stories, and finally laughing so hard we were doing that gasping crying laugh where you wonder if your lungs will explode.
Despite the years, "Kelly Maher" keeps plugging away and still occupies the little part of the internet that contains my name. I have had the URL on backorder for well over a decade at this point - should she ever decide to move on - but so far, she hasn't.
12 or 13 years ago, I emailed the contact info on her site and asked if she would please give me my name back. It's not her real one; she just picked it seemingly randomly. It felt unfair that I was living with my name every day, and she could just slip in and out of it (to coin a phrase - ha) to write her fantasies and then go back to whatever name she has in real life.
I wondered what amount of money it would take for me to buy it; she sent a polite response that the URL wasn't for sale and it wouldn't be. There was really nothing to do at that point. She got it first, and as long as she continues to maintain it, it's hers.
Occasionally people will make jokes about it, and some have tried to use it as a line of criticism, which I find odd. A few years ago, I remember giving a speech where the introducer mentioned it: "Kelly Maher is well known, but don't go to Kelly Maher dot com - that's not her" to a mostly confused crowd. That day I'm sure the site experienced more traffic than it had in a long time just from the searches.
At this point, I mostly laugh about it. It's just one of those things that people bring up to me sometimes. "Has anyone ever told you that Kelly Maher dot com is . . ." "Yes, I'm aware."
One of the side-effects of my name URL's content, though, is that I don't keep a google alert on my name. Not having a google alert on your name when you work in politics is uncommon. The entire business is built on a platform of reputation management, and you can't manage a reputation if you don't know what it is in the first place.
I had alerts briefly, as Kelly Maher is not so common a name that it was unwieldy, but after a few months of vampires biting their love interests fairly graphically described in my inbox, I canceled it. I haven't had it since.
A few weeks ago, one of my close friends received a google alert on herself. She found an entire chat room dedicated to people anonymously attacking her. Not just her stances; they attacked her parenting, family, and even her marriage. She took it in stride, but I was hurt for her.
We all know there is no way to put yourself out there without opening a line to attack, and there is no way to grow a megaphone without detractors. Cloaked in the anonymity of the internet, some find power in cruelty.
The internet is the wild west of jerks. Different friends I know handle it differently. Some ignore it because giving any oxygen to the detractors fuels their fire. Others blast out the criticisms for their supporters to shout down. Yet others respond with snarky condescension. I've tried all these approaches myself - none are a silver bullet. To a person, though, I don't know of anyone who doesn't notice.
We all justify it to ourselves. "This is what I signed up for when I decided to live my life publicly." "It's the cost of standing up for what I believe." "These aren't real people anyhow." In their most vulnerable and honest moments, though, no one isn't hurt by it. Even those who seem to be fueled by troll hatred feel that divot worn into their souls.
Humans come pre-wired with a negativity bias. We can get 47 messages of praise, and the one person who says something mean is the one we'll remember. Deep in our brains, it's the thing that helps us to recognize danger and threats. It's a primary reason that it's so much easier to wound someone else than to build them up.
The same brain that used negativity bias to help keep us alive for hundreds of years was not built for a world of digitized social interaction. Social media online is a volume game. In just a few months, a person today can have an entire lifetime's worth of social interaction of a person 100 years ago.
I, too, as a human, have a negativity bias. I try not to give credence to those criticisms I believe are unfounded or that I simply can't help. But fighting it is a rational conversation I'm trying to have with my monkey brain, and it doesn't always work.
One of the advantages of a lack of google alerts is that I will often just miss the criticisms altogether. I have routinely found pieces and posts about me from months or even years ago that I never saw at first. They can still sting but lose a lot of their bite when stale.
It's also nice because old stuff doesn't require a response or thought, or even the thinking about responding, which itself can get me all wound around the axle. It’s just an old thing that somebody wrote.
When someone writes something nice about you will often send it. "Hey, I wrote this! Here's a link!" Yet, when someone comes in for the brutal sideswipe, particularly those that are cruel and unfair, they'll usually slither back to their corner of the internet, hoping you'll find it yourself.
So, for me, one of the best things that has combated my negativity bias is simply ignorance. If a tree calls you a jerk on the internet, but you don't read it, does it make a sound?
I guess I should be thankful to the erotic fiction writer who uses the pen name "Kelly Maher." If I think of all the things I missed over the last decade because of her, it's probably for the better.
Just, don't visit her site, I don't want her to get the traffic. Maybe someday she'll sell it to me.
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