A while ago – a long while ago – I was folding my kids’ clothes and I commented to my first husband, “I’m such a terrible folder.”
More than 20 years later, I remember this because at that moment — as if struck by a bolt of lightning — I became aware that I was constantly putting myself down.
It reminded me of a female comedian (I can’t remember her name) who said, “My boyfriend and I have two things in common: We both love him and hate me.”
Until then, I’d always been lightning-quick with abrasive comments about other people — but even more so, about myself. I was my own worst enemy and I thought putting myself down was clever. Perhaps because I grew up in a house where being sarcastic was the positively ordinary way of speaking. A classic example:
Diana: “Mom, do you love me?”
My Mom: “I have to. Who else could love you?”
I didn’t know that wasn’t regular. I thought the point of talking wasn’t to communicate feelings but to trade barbs. Wasn’t that what intellectuals all aspired toward? I longed to be at the Algonquin Round Table, where writers including Dorothy Parker, Alexander Woollcott, Robert Benchley, and Edna Ferber met for lunch. Parker, in particular, was the goddess of the comeback. She never had a problem with treppenwitz, the perfect comeback line you remember after you’ve already walked down the stairs. She always knew exactly what to say to make you plotz.
“The first thing I do in the morning is to brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue,” Parker said. When Parker was told that Clair Boothe Luce was even kind to her inferiors; Parker replied “Where does she find them?”
It’s wonderful to be witty. But I want to stop shooting myself in the foot – or through the heart. Just like I don’t tolerate people talkin’ ish about my kids, spouse, or friends, I shouldn’t tolerate me talking ish about myself.
This blog post wasn’t what I wanted to write. I actually wanted to write about writing but I’ll save that for my Weekend Writer’s Report (always scheduled for Fridays). But I got an email from my friend, Joelle, that made me think of it. And sometimes, what is so incredible, is that I sit down with my fingers poised above the keyboard like Chopin about to play a sonata (yeah, right) and words I didn’t expect to write start writing themselves. I guess this was what I was meant to say.
Do you allow yourself to be the target of your own bitterness? It’s important to remember that we shouldn’t gossip – even about ourselves. If we want to be a hero in our own lives, then we have to stand up for the little guy. That’s us.
P.S. I also happened to see an article in The New York Times about writers’ best sentences. Not all witty, just beautiful writing. See them here and let me know if you have any other favorite sentences. What is your favorite Dorothy Parker line and why?