How a Slugfest Became a Lovefest
You either love me or hate me. There’s no in-between. I’m not an in-between kind of person. I’m noisy and laugh too loudly. I’m jokey, and I tear up easily. I can be unconventional.
But I’m a tender-hearted soul and I have a story to tell you about love and hate. About like and dislike. About understanding ourselves and leaving the scissors that cut people down at home.
I’ll Set The Scene.
My first book. On Maggie’s Watch. My dream come true. Published by Penguin Random House, the same place that published Pride and Prejudice, 1984, and Of Mice and Men.
The little girl reader inside of me is swooning.
My book club is meeting at my house and the women have all read my book. I’m smarting from my divorce, recovering from pneumonia, and worried that people will hate my writing. I’m wondering why I thought I could do this. I’m thinking I should stop writing.
It’s 6:30 PM
The house is clean. The kids have a babysitter. I have two kinds of hummus. Two kinds! I have wine. I have veggies on a plate. The chairs in my living room are in a circle.
The book club is a mix of good friends and acquaintances, and both groups can be fraught.
You want your friends to love your book because you love them and don’t want awkwardness or discomfort. You want your acquaintances to like your book because they represent the world of readers.
Here We Go
The doorbell rings. They come in. Hugs are given. Wine is poured. There is talk of mothering, soccer games, long to-do lists. People sigh. Friends settle in. Acquaintances inhale, and the slugfest begins.
Two women who I know but don’t know start in.
First one: “Yeah. I didn’t get it.”
Second one: “Me either. I don’t think it was believable.”
Everyone else: Stunned silence.
First one: “I wanted to slap the main character.”
Second one: “Oh God, me too.”
The first or second one (at this point, I don’t know who is speaking): “You’re not very good at dialogue.”
“There were mistakes in the copy.”
“You need a better editor.”
“Explain why you wrote this book again?”
“I didn’t like any of the characters.”
Everyone else: Wide-eyed terror. Attempts to defend me. So much silence. Awkward drinking of wine.
Me: Doing my best to respond professionally. But this was an attack, not a discussion. This was not done with an eye toward helping the author write a better book.
I’m thinking, “Not everyone is going to like your book, Ann. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen…” and all. You know?
But do I have to get out of my own kitchen? I get that not everyone will like my book but do they have to tell me while drinking my wine, face to face eating my two kinds of hummus?? Two kinds!
Finally the night stutters to a stop and rolls into the ditch. People leave and I clean up, crying.
Pretty hard, actually. I call my friend in Minnesota. She wants names and numbers and is looking up the difference between homicide and manslaughter.
Then it’s days of, “I should have said this.” “Why didn’t I say that?” Those imagined post-conflict conversations where you are your best, able to fling back retorts and emerge the dignified victor.
What I Did.
That’s when I remembered a friend who told me about Tall Poppy Syndrome: The joy of cutting down others. Tall Poppy Syndrome occurs when people are attacked, resented, disliked, criticized, or cut down during their achievements and/or success.
The people with the scissors are competing. They believe they need to shove people out of the way to feel better about themselves.
The roots are in envy, jealousy, low self-esteem, and shame. I’m not immune to the quiet cut-down, the uncharitable thoughts. I’m not innocent. But I loathe myself when I notice myself doing it.
So, yeah, my night sucked. I cried. Gave myself a talking to and created Tall Poppy Writers. We are a group of writers and readers who work together to elevate women’s voices and help them find a way to connect and stay heard.
I created The Tall Poppies to remind myself to help others, speak with love, curb unnecessary competition because it’s not necessary to compete with your peers, friends, writers, people who live for the same thing you do: empathy, story, connection, and love.
There’s room for everyone’s staggered successes in the world. Lily Tomlin famously said, “The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.” And boy, Lily was right. I don’t want to be a rat or be treated like one. I want to be the sun.
There is more to be said about this. So much more. But I’m going to leave you with this thought:
You are here because you are like me. People either love you or hate you. There’s no in-between.
But here. You. Are. Loved.