The 8th Writer’s Commandment, Parketh Thy Jealousy At The Door.
Recently, I walked out during an author’s speech. It was a first for me. In the first few minutes of the speech, the writer began tearing down another author who was a bestseller. This author had found a level of success the speaker hadn’t. The speaker said that the bestselling author was not an expert, not qualified enough to write about the people or culture where the book was set. The speaker went on about the “other” book and I could tell it was clearly the enemy. The speaker got a lot of snickers and titillated giggles, but I was confused and grew uneasy, like I’d crashed a private club.
A few minutes earlier I’d settled in comfortably and had come hoping to be inspired. Instead, the author’s talk had turned toxic, and I timidly looked around and was startled to see some nodding heads in the audience. It was mean-spirited and felt like bullying, especially since the other author wasn’t there to defend themselves.
It made me feel dirty and mean by association, and I was suddenly mindful of the sage advice by a beloved, former literary agent, Nathan Bransford. See Nathan’s Ten Commandments For The Happy Writer, particularly Park Your Jealousy At The Door, 8th Commandment.
I sat there a few more uncomfortable minutes, mustering the courage to leave. Then quietly, I left the room and stuffed the $30.00 I had intended to use to buy the speaking author’s book, back into my purse.
It reminded me also of something else years ago when I’d moved into a new neighborhood and had begged to be in a book and craft club. The woman who ran the group always bragged about it. And I wanted so badly to join, I stupidly asked in front of a group if I could. The neighbor first asked where I had, of all things, gone to grade school. Before I could think, I said St. Thomas, the orphanage school I’d attended.
I’d never told a soul about that, had never talked to anyone about being an orphan. I was so ashamed of claiming what to me had always been the most tainted and ugliest word in the dictionary: “orphan”.
Still, I’d already let the name of the orphanage slip and asked her again, hopeful, “I’d love to join your club, may I?” She looked at me like I had sprouted an extra nose and said, “I have eight in my club, and I’d like to keep it at a comfortable eight.”
It was all I could do to cowardly mumble an apology, excuse myself and flee home, hide away from my husband and kids and bawl like a child.
It was very true I didn’t personally know the author being dissed at the event or even the author speaking. But here’s one thing this ol’ girl does know: There will always be someone bigger and lesser than ourselves—find inspiration in both.
What came to mind was something Kentucky author, poet, Wendell Berry said, “We’ve been talked out of love, mercy, kindness. We’ve got to take those things back.” Those words, plus Nathan’s wise ones gave me the courage to get up and leave.
In retrospect, I had been spared—spared marinating in the toxins of a gossipy, unkind neighborhood book and craft club, and more recently, spared from buying and reading the work of someone who operates without love, mercy, kindness.
A few days ago, I took that $30.00 I’d tucked back into my purse and bought that dissed bestselling author’s book, bought myself some kindness, mercy, and love. It was a wonderful read, an inspiration. I was left with a feeling of admiration for the book, and the author’s success gave me hope. It was a glorious taking back.