How Creative People Become Internet Trolls

This week a friend sent me this amazing collection of photos by Queenie Liao, placing her baby in a series of imaginative scenes like this one:

Photo by Queenie Liao, via www.boredpanda.org

Photo by Queenie Liao, via http://www.boredpanda.org

While I scrolled through the photos, each more creative, colorful, and delightful than the next, I was surprised to realize how quickly my thoughts turned vitriolic:

“Aren’t you supposed to nap when the baby naps?”

“How many of these were ruined with the baby waking up?”

“Well I’m glad you have all kinds of free time and colorful cloth but some of us have jobs.”

“If I had a professional camera I could do that, too. Except I don’t have a baby but…you know. I could use a teddy bear or a sleeping cat.”

These thoughts are rude and assuming. The strangest thing is, as I was thinking all these things, the photos were making me chuckle. I was smiling at the sheer brilliance of it, but inwardly thinking, “How dare you be so creative? How dare you do something I technically could have done?”

Therein lies the problem. I’m not bothered by someone’s success when they do something that I know I can’t or don’t want to do (like climb Mount Everest, paint the Mona Lisa, what have you). But when it’s something I technically could have done—I technically could have thought of that cool idea, I technically could have put those sheets in that position—I get jealous.  And that jealousy spits out of me, lashing at the creative person who has done nothing wrong.

Maybe this sounds crazy or maybe you can relate, but when I get that jealous feeling, suddenly I feel like this person has done the last creative thing and has left nothing for me. There is no space for this person’s awesome creative idea and MY future awesome creative ideas. They hogged it all and now I am left with nothing. It’s not a rational thought, of course. But my irrational jealous brain is terrified that I’ll never do something as cool as what I’m looking at right then. This is why I lash out: if I can take down this person’s creativity, if I can make it seem less great, maybe there is still space for me and my own work.

I imagine some parents looking at these photos feel less worried about their own creativity than their own abilities as parents (my sister recently shared an article about this exact thing, so I will defer to that). As for me, I’m sticking with the creative jealousy track in this post.

If I know internet commenters (and I think I’ve watched enough YouTube videos to say that I do), I was pretty confident that I’d see more than a few trolling comments to Queenie’s photos. I hoped I was wrong and everyone would say only nice things…but I was right. In fact the very first comment is, “mom obviously had nothing else to do LOL” (Don’t you just love passive-aggressive LOLs?) followed by a number of people saying the baby looks dead. Which…what? Have you ever seen a sleeping human being before?

Thankfully, most of the comments about these photos are positive and encouraging. And that is what Queenie deserves. But for perhaps the first time, I think I understand the trolls. I know why they said those things.

I should only be thinking how amazing these photos are and how great they will be to look back on when the baby is older. But instead I can’t help but think, “Well well, Ms. Moneybags. Looks like someone must have stayed up pretty late to make sure these photos looked perfect.” Not only is it mean-spirited, even if it’s in my own head, but it doesn’t help anything. It doesn’t make me more creative. And it also doesn’t give my own creativity any credit, because it’s totally fear-based. Other people can be creative and I can still make something awesome. There is room enough for all of us on this big creative earth.

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