C. D. Hermelin on Being a “Roving Typist” and Dealing with Internet Trolls

C. D. Hermelin has published a wonderful, personal post on what it’s like being hated on the Internet. As a struggling writer, he went out to various locales in New York City with a vintage typewriter (he dubbed himself a “roving typist”) and offered to write short stories for people on the spot, asking for a modest, voluntary donation in return (“Stories While You Wait”):

I started at Washington Square Park. My cousin joined, which was particularly nice, since it started raining and he held an umbrella over my head. Barely anyone stopped, but there was a grand piano player and dancers to contend with. So I tried the 5th and 59th street entrance to Central Park, and was lost among the Statues of Liberty, the bubble guys, the magicians, the stand-up comic, the free hugs guy, the jugglers. At the Hans Christian Andersen memorial statue, I was writing post-card size stories for grade schoolers, mostly in the vein of Pokémon and Disney. I didn’t make a lot of money—only enough money to grab a slice of pizza on the way home.

When I set up at the High Line, I had lines of people asking for stories. At seven to 10 minutes per a story, I had to tell people to leave and come back. It surprised me when they would do just that. I never had writer’s block, although sometimes I would stare off into space for the right word, and people watching would say, “Look! He’s thinking!” Writing is usually a lonely, solitary act. On the High Line with my typewriter, all the joy of creating narrative was infused with a performer’s high—people held their one-page flash fictions and read them and laughed and repeated lines and translated into their own languages, right in front of me. Perhaps other writers would have their nerves wracked by instant feedback on rough drafts, but all I could do was smile.

And then he hit the front page of Reddit, and immediately the collective hive mind labeled him as a hipster (online bullying):

I woke up one day not long after I started “Roving Typist” to a flurry of emails, Facebook posts, text messages and missed calls. A picture of me typewriting had made it to the front page of Reddit. For those who don’t know, being on the front page of Reddit is hallowed ground—the notoriety of being on the front page can launch careers, start dance crazes, inspire Hollywood. In other words, ending up on the front page of Reddit meant a decent chunk of the million-plus people who log on daily saw my picture.

But the overwhelming negativity towards me, and the “hipster scum” I represented, was enough to make me get up from my computer, my heart racing, my hands shaking with adrenaline.

The author describes his reactions:

I did not ready myself mentally for a barrage of hipster-hating Internet commenters critiquing me for everything: my pale skin, my outfit, my hair, my typing style, my glasses. An entire sub-thread was devoted to whether or not I had shaved legs. It was not the first time I had been labeled a “hipster.” I often wear tight jeans, big plastic-frame glasses, shirts bought at thrift stores. I listen to Vampire Weekend, understand and laugh at the references in “Portlandia.” I own and listen to vintage vinyl. The label never bothered me on its own. But with each successive violent response to the picture of me, I realized that hipsters weren’t considered a comically benign undercurrent of society. Instead, it seemed like Redditors saw hipsters and their ilk as a disease, and I was up on display as an example of depraved behavior.

The whole thing is worth reading, but this paragraph was a sigh of relief:

For all the hateful words that were lobbed at me, it barely ever bubbled over from the world of online forums and websites. I received zero angry emails, only a few mean tweets. My Facebook was never broken into and vandalized—my typewriter remains unsmashed, no one has ever threatened violence towards me in real life. Instead, there are these pockets of the web that are small and ignorable, filled with hate for a picture of me, for this idea of a hipster—for the audacity of bringing a typewriter to a park.

A great story. If I were in NYC and saw C.D., I’d definitely offer a few dollars for a short story. I think this kind of creativity is awesome and welcome and these accusatory Redditors boggle the mind.

If you enjoyed the story, I suggest going to the Roving Typist site and supporting C.D. by ordering a story of your own.

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