If you're around a writer, mind your manners, or else you might end up a punchline
My ex- roommate sat on the edge of his big bed, which was at the time taking up most of my favorite room in the house (previously, and now once again, my gear room) and pouted.
“You had no right to write about me,” he said, angrily.
I had made the mistake of allowing him to read a few stories which were, admittedly, pretty funny, but only mildly so at his expense. I was using those stories to make a point, and I had done so with affection.
In all fairness, nowhere was he named, none of my friends had ever met the guy and nobody knew him other than by his first name. How he was to be identified is beyond me.
He had completely and utterly missed the point. Didn’t see the humor. Most certainly that I was both poking fun at myself and making an important point about how we learn to get along in a shared space. Oblivious. It was, of course, all about the Almighty ME.
For example, when he had moved in, my previously pristine, everything-has-its-place home, where I lived some 13 years, was turned into a bit of a college dorm (after a frat party) everywhere he inhabited. That annoyed the crap out of me, but I was working through it. I had teased him about the state of his downstairs bathroom.
I was doing my best to learn from the experience, and had written an article about how sometimes when we rub each other the wrong way we get blisters. They either suppurate and worsen (which happened to us) or we do something that stops the rubbing.
In this case, he made the blister a lot worse.
He shot back petulantly that my house was in “terrible shape” when he moved in.
In fact, I'd had my entire house professionally cleaned just before he moved in. Did again while he was there, an investment of more than $300, to which he contributed not a dime. The rooms were in gorgeous condition.
He was like Pig Pen from the Peanuts cartoon strip. He knew it. He didn’t like that others now knew it. Never will either. So the Big Emotional Show was for naught.
You can see why he’s an ex-roommate.
He was so angry that I had the nerve to out his bad behavior, to which I was regularly subjected. Which got so bad over the next few months that I was reduced to hiding in the gear room when he was home (which was a lot), and avoiding him at all costs because of his ugly tongue.
My writing was my only safe place.
The above title is a partial quote from a saying by Anne Lamott. The quote in its entirety reads:
You own everything that happened to you. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.
The reason I so love this quote, which honestly makes me grin every time I read it or write it, is that it returns our agency.
The roommate manipulated me into changing some of my stories so that he would feel better about himself. This is how we give away our power, rather than stand our ground. The SOB behaved badly. Don’t want me to use that as story lines?
Grow. Up. Learn how to behave like a gentleman.
Don’t want me to write a story about how you, my last Match.com date, who showed up at least thirty bulging, sloppy pounds overweight after you claimed to be "Athletic and Toned?"
Then state the truth: A few (a lot of) extra pounds.
Don’t want me to write about how you, on a first date, had the gall to challenge that I am not disabled? Then don’t be a right asshole and do such a ridiculously arrogant thing.
Don’t want me to write about how you endangered people on a wilderness trail? Were lazy and even a safety threat on a horse ride in Kazakhstan? Where someone you knew damned good and well was taking notes, taking photos and going to write stories?
Don’t get me started.
The beauty of life is that it is all story. You and I and everyone else are all running story lines not only in our own novels but in others’, and they have just as much right to tell their version of what you did for, with and to them as you have to tell yours. Short of slander, which is another issue. If you showed up as a jerk and it’s entertaining, you lost the right to be presented as heroic.
At the end of a recent wilderness trip, one of the worst offenders - someone who had endangered both people and horses repeatedly - approached me and stated (with a tone that implied that she would of course be treated with the respect she assumed she deserved),
“I look forward to your articles.”
I would be careful what I ask for if I were you.
The word oblivious comes to mind.
Part of why I have so much to write about is that I find my own foibles, falls and fecklessness hilarious. Because they are. My humanity, my ego and the trouble my vanity gets me into is the stuff of HBO comedy shows. The grace in this is that I have permission to laugh at myself.
I cannot possibly take myself seriously.
Given all the stupid shit I do? Puh-leeze. I am a walking punch line. I have no trouble taking pot shots at myself, ridiculing what I do, and making hay out of my heroically stupid decisions.
Besides, there are times I treat myself so badly (a la Lamott, and this is the whole point) that I have every right to eviscerate myself in print.
The roommate- as do most, and the prime offenders on these wilderness trips are included- had a terrible time finding the funny in what he did. He could joke about sex (that was about the only topic he apparently found amusing) but when he was the butt of the joke, even when done with love and affection, the knives came out.
Learning to be a writer is all about learning to really see, the way a comedian learns to look at the same things we do and tease out what’s hilarious.
You take lessons in improv comedy and I guarantee you will become a better writer. A better person.
There is a story in absolutely everything.
The trick is to see them. Most of us can’t because we are taking ourselves far, far too seriously. We’re too worried about looking heroic (the dates and the idiots on my trips) and how we are going to be treated by a writer. The ego is a right tender creature.
“I look forward to reading your articles.” Uh-huh.
Look. I’ve been interviewed for a lot of articles. A goodly bit of the resulting published material was mashed up, misquoted and mishandled. Get a grip. I found it funny.
If you're not a writer this is just growing up and growing out of being so damned scared of being a joke. We all get to wear a dunce hat every so often. But as the wonderful character Izogie says to young recruit Nawi in The Woman King,
...It is enough to make you cry. But it is better to laugh, yes?
If I show up as a shitheel in someone else’s life, they have every right to hang me out to dry. I own that result, just as they do. Whether I like how that story paints me isn’t their problem.
Photo by Andre Guerra on Unsplash
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