The other day, a friend posted Rielle Hunter’s HuffPology to the world on my Facebook page. I saw that she’d written a book, and I was like, “Ugh, whoa, well, she must need money.” And I thought about what it would be like to be her—how she gets up every day and does whatever she does, another person trying to live their life, trying to decide what to eat, how to feed her kid.
Five years ago, I read that Rielle Hunter was having an affair with John Edwards. I had met Hunter several times—we lived in the same place at different times and crossed each other’s paths fairly often as a result—and my mind started spinning about telling encounters we’d had. It took me about 45 minutes to write a piece about her, which I sent to a friend who worked in the now gutted OpEd department at the LA Times. They published it. They paid me $600, which was two or three hundred dollars more than usual, because it was published on a weekend. I was stoked. I had been published before, but I was really proud of this piece. For one thing, it was all totally, miraculously true. More importantly, it made me laugh out loud.
Others may recoil in horror, but writers will know what I mean: I was utterly delighted with myself.
It wasn’t a particularly nice piece. I made fun of her. I recalled a private conversation we had had. It wasn’t private in the sense that we were lifelong best friends and she was confiding in me, but it was private enough—two guests at a party chatting about their lives, nothing one of those guest might years later expect to see in publication. Unless, of course, I told myself at the time, one of those guests years later slept with a public figure and happened, within that previous conversation, to have divulged creepily telling information about her later behavior. On the off chance you don’t feel like going back and reading the LA Times piece, the meat of it was in Rielle’s having told me, back around 2003, that she was going to manifest meeting a famous man, and that she was going to use the “amazing energy” I’d left behind as an occupant of the room where she lived at the time to do it. There was some other stuff too, but that was what I felt America really deserved to know.
And perhaps they did. I mean, the whole thing was pretty weird. It was a weird thing to say, it was a weird thing for her to actually have been successful at, and it was weird that what she’d actually manifested (if that is indeed how the whole thing came about and, hey, who knows?) was probably not the fairytale she’d had in mind. Or maybe it was.
A few years later I found out through a friend of mine that Hunter had been hurt by what I had written. I can’t recall exactly what shenanigans had taken place at the point where news of her feelings had finally reached me, but at that point, the affair was the least of it. I can tell you I didn’t care at all. I was like, if you don’t want people talking shit about you, don’t be such an idiot.
And then, a weird thing happened to me the other night. I was reading my Twitter feed (and, granted, I was in a hot tub but I was not stoned), and I was like, “Wow. People are so mean.” Everyone was making fun of Jonathan Franzen. Miley Cyrus was an idiot (and an acupuncturist was writing about her tongue), Sinead O’Connor was an idiot, Michael Kinsley was an idiot, Boehner was an idiot, everyone in Congress was an idiot, the new incarnation of Newsweek sucked, Dave Eggers’ new book sucked, the Counting Crows sucked. Jimmy Kimmel and Kanye West were in a fight and the whole world was watching them tell each other that they were idiots and then make up and back and forth. I thought about all the stuff and people I had ragged on in my life as a writer and how good it felt to feel like you were smarter and better than someone else—the rush you got from being absolutely flabbergasted by people’s stupid behavior and ideas and then translating that into language that was funny and caustic.
I’d here like to make it clear I was not sitting there reading Twitter thinking that I was the first person in the world to think “ragging on people is bad” and I’d also like to point out that I absolutely 100-percent value criticism and think that the “be positive” ethos borders on fascism. But in that moment I was sickened by cleverness and all of people’s brilliant ideas about how unbrilliant and horrible everyone else was. I thought about the piece I’d written about Rielle, and how it must have felt to be her and to read it. I thought about how it would feel to have someone I talked to five years ago at a party for 20 minutes step forward and describe me in unflattering terms. Then I thought about how it was a given to me and to pretty much everyone else that Hunter deserved it. And how we think that Miley Cyrus deserves it, because she stuck out her tongue, and that Jonathan Franzen deserves it, because he doesn’t like Twitter, and has the nerve to be older than 50, and how everyone deserves to be taken apart when they’re not doing stuff right because if we were in charge we would do stuff right and if we were them we would never stick out our tongues like that or hate Twitter or have sex with a Senator who spends a lot on haircuts and whose wife was dying of cancer.
I am on the verge of not liking how I sound above. (And I feel also like it’s not fair to put John Boehner up there, because what else are we supposed to say about him?) And I don’t mean to suggest that I found God or something. I didn’t, not even close. And I hardly want to be that person who is like, social media is ruining us, though I do feel better the less of it I consume, but that’s just me. And I don’t want to suggest that we all just get along, because that’s not democratic, and it’s certainly not fun. I guess all I’m trying to say is that I would probably never again write an article like that about anyone. Everyone else’s enjoyment of my taking apart another person used to seem to me like a reasonable exchange for that person’s pain, and it no longer does.
All I could think when I saw her apology and that she had written a book was what an unpleasant task it would be at this point to crank out a book like that, to revisit again the portion of your life in which you were at your worst, all the while knowing people are not interested in anything else about you, and, quite possibly, no longer even interested in that. I thought about her just sitting at a desk, alone, trying to come up with something to say that people would read or care about, and I wanted to call her up and say, “Hey, I’m sorry I made fun of you. I’m a jerk too. We’re all jerks.”
Photo via telstar/flickr.