Giotto: The Seven Vices - Envy (1306, Fresco, 120 x 55 cm, Cappella degli Scrovegni, Padua, Italy)
PRAISE THE GODDESS, things can certainly get heated on Facebook. A recent posting by a friend of mine, a writer, garnered some very angry words from Facebookers she had never met. She had written about her envy of a very Successful Author. The Successful Author’s cyber-pals took umbrage and spewed comments, not only attacking my friend for slights she did and didn’t make, but for being envious at all.
Envy is human. The early Christians named it one of the Seven Deadly Sins; that must mean everybody has it. Like lust. And gluttony. And lying on the couch watching back-to-back episodes of Say Yes to the Dress. There has been personal nonfiction ad infinitum about overeating, promiscuity, and inappropriate anger. Why is it so scary to talk about our ambition, our wants, our desire to be flavor of the month? It doesn’t make us the Kardashians. Come on, Sisterhood — the guys have been measuring their dicks for centuries.
The comment thread was lengthy — 67 at last count — and read like small essays. People had a lot to say. They wrote about their own work and how the Successful Author’s work had changed their lives. They said that no one should even think to say one bad thing about this person who was so important to them. No one did any actual name-calling. I was once called a “pernicious cunt” by an anonymous commenter, but there was nothing like that here, just scolding and hand-wringing. Still, I know my friend felt attacked and misunderstood.
Finally, the Successful Author herself chimed in. First she said it pained her to think the “positive attention” her book received had made anyone else “feel like shit” and she goes on, “many worthy writers do not receive the attention they deserve.” Very nice. Very humble. Later she says she wishes “you’d left my ten extra pounds and shoddy clothes out of it.” She postulates those lines are what made her friends rally to her defense so strongly. Really? Is that the ultimate Sisterhood taboo: our appearance? Say whatever you like about my book, but don’t mention the size of my ass. That puts the Sisterhood back about 50 years. Then, the Successful Author and my friend, the At-The-Moment Less Successful Author, had a private chat off-line somewhere. They came back and told everyone all was well.
Sort of. It left me with a gritty feeling in the back of my throat, a post-nasal drip of Schadenfreude. Every writer I knew was talking about the post and the comments. Most said they would never comment, but they loved to read what others wrote. They liked the essay because it revealed something they would never admit. I wondered after all these comments and discussions, did we get anywhere? Did anybody feel better? Did anyone admit — even to themselves — why this essay makes us so uncomfortable? Of course we would never write this, it was so desperate, so raw, and while we felt superior, we couldn’t look away. Want is so unattractive. Like the older single woman sitting alone at the bar, like Henderson the Rain King’s voice within chanting, &ld...read more