The Help Desk: Stop me before I troll again

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

There’s a local writer I hate. You’d know his name. He’s awful. Sometimes I have to get into the comments and tell him how much I hate his writing, and sometimes I know I go overboard. I don’t threaten him or anything, but I do make some rather dramatic claims about parts of his anatomy. It’s awful. I’m awful. I don’t troll anyone (or anywhere) else. I even surprise myself sometimes with how much I love to troll him.

I try to ignore his writing, but he’s on a site with other writers who I love. I’ve blocked him on Twitter and Facebook, but I still encounter him on a regular basis, and I hate what my hatred for his self-satisfied prose is doing to me. What do I do?

Bob, Mountlake Terrace

Dear Bob,

You're looking at your hatred of this writer the wrong way. Who we hate says more about us than the object of our attention; these individuals represent qualities we despise, qualities we see in ourselves (that we despise), or qualities we envy. For instance, I tend to despise emotionally dismissive drunks, liars, cowards, hairy spiders with enormous pedipalps, and people who thread toilet paper the wrong way on the wheel.

So stop for a moment and appreciate this man as a foil for all you find good and right in the world – perhaps you dislike him because he uses his platform to singularly write about himself or his few navel-gazy interests, or he never has anything insightful to contribute to public discourse. Pinpoint your specific irritations with this man, and then, when you happen to come across his writing, privately pity him for his shortcomings.

Trolling is not only toxic, it's pretty ineffective. Most people who've worked on the internet and social media for any length of time have learned to dismiss trolls – it's the only way to do your job and stay sane. Harassment barely registers; pity is the arrow that strikes the heart.