I have a writer idol, actually several, but one in particular has always stood out as the be all and end all of how I’ve wanted my skillls as a writer to be perceived. She’s got this unique and amazing way of stating things simply, but capturing the complexities of whatever she’s writing about. And she can flip a metaphor—a woefully lost art I “met” her once. I was an intern at a publication she used to write for back in the day and she dropped by the office to pitch a story idea to the EIC. I knew who she was as soon as she walked in, but I just pretended she wasn’t there and I wasn’t either. I buried my head in the laptop and eavesdropped on the conversation. Like what do you say to someone you hold responsible for reshaping the course of your life, from lawyer to writer?
A decade later, the Idol and I would come to have friends in common. I would ask through the writer grapevine for The Idol to do me a solid and she agreed. I was humbled and beyond honored, which I said to her.
I was “supposed” to meet her another time too. I say “supposed” because there was no formal arrangement or anything. The Idol was in town speaking on a panel and I planned to go and introduce myself, thank her in person for looking out on that thing. But I didn’t make it.
Around that time, I’d started rolling in a different circle and was impressed by the doors that were swiftly opening. I’d been invited to a fancy banquet where I’d rub elbows with a different set of boldface names—names I knew, who suddenly wanted to know my mine. So I skipped the writer event in Harlem and headed to Midtown.
For the hour-long ride, I kept trying to talk myself into taking the train up to the Schomburg, knowing I wasn’t going to, but I wanted to pretend that there was a chunk of the “old” me left if only because it made me feel more like I was growing, and less like I was losing myself.
There was a time when I wouldn’t have missed that event for anything, but a fork in the road had emerged, and I was going the way I once said I would not. The right way? Unsure. But still, I had no real desire to change course, figuratively or literally, or else I would have gone to Harlem, even in my ball gown.
Anyway, a couple months after that night, Chris Brown had one of his infamous Twitter meltdowns. In this one, he was goaded by a comedian, took the bait, and went nuclear on her. She cried victim—despite antagonizing him for a year prior-- and the media was ripping him like she he started it. My take?
“He’s not the bad guy here. Or better: He’s not the only bad “guy… there are no victims here. I only see two people, neither of whom are funny, who talk too much $hit, don’t know when to stop and long ago should have blocked each other’s tweets.”
“In Defense of Chris Brown” happened to be one of my more popular stories. The Idol caught wind of it and promptly ripped my piece—publicly.
Everybody’s not going to like what I write and that’s par for the course given my occupation. Vibe Vixen once headlined a story something like “Demetria L. Lucas Singlehandedly Resurrects Colorism” (lol) after I wrote “In Defense of Light Skinned Women" for Clutch. My homie’s site, “Single Black Male” chin-checked me after I wrote “A Call To Action: Help Single Black Men Keep A Woman” (they missed the satire of the piece). Curly Nikki got at me for writing in Essence about a WaPo feature about what Black women are spending to maintain their natural hair and accused me of trying to convince women to stay permed like I was at the time. (Not at all the case.)
What’s said in comments’ section of my articles, or articles/posts about my articles and/or what’s asked on my former Formspring page? Let’s just say everybody is entitled to an opinion. I charge all that to the game.
The Idol isn’t everybody though. She is to me what Nas is to J. Cole, and while she never appointed me “The One” or anything remotely similar, it hurt just as bad when I got from her the equivalent of J. Cole hearing, “Nas heard your single and he hate that shit.”
I’m paraphrasing here, but in general, The Idol didn’t get why, whether Brown was right or wrong in this instance, a Black women’s site would publish a story defending him when he had beaten a Black woman, not bothered to give more than a half-assed apology, and still carried on with the immature antics showing that he hadn’t learned his lesson. And on top of that, in this instance, his responses were incredibly demeaning to women.
Admittedly, it’s a fair argument. But just how Jay-Z would have appreciated a phone call from Harry Belafonte instead of a public spanking on his lack of public service, I would have preferred a DM, an e-mail, a phone call, some sort of head’s up. I’d have taken anything over signing into TweetDeck, scrolling through my responses and seeing a host of strangers asking me, “did you see what [The Idol] said about you?”
Too boot— or to credit, depending on which way you look at it— she added that the critique was nothing personal, although (and this is what really… hurt) she said I’d subliminally come for her one time.
I didn’t and wouldn’t. She did me a solid, and I told her when she did I considered it a great honor. Why would I do something sideways to her? And better, why would she accuse me of it publicly?
I did what Jay Z should have done in response to Belafonte: I shut the f*** up (but understand why Hov didn’t). A public spat with The Idol, someone who has publicly and personally looked out for me, and paved the way for me, wouldn’t have been a good look. She was allowed not to like my work—or me. It wasn’t worth it. I respected her even while she was publicly dissing me. The latter didn’t cancel out the former.
An too, I knew nothing I said was going to come out or across right. I’d seem ungrateful and petty. Or, ugh, sensitive. I wanted to say something though, a lot. I was defensive and pissed.
I chalked the whole exchange up to “life happens” and dropped it… for a few days. And then I picked it back up, tracked down her personal email and wrote her a long letter… that I never sent.
Like what was I supposed to say? “Hey, you think I said some wild ish about you, but I didn’t.” It sounded like I cared too much, which I did, but I didn’t want her to know that.
Or better: “I saw that you blasted me and it hurt my feelings… ” I just didn’t want to be that vulnerable, especially not to someone who whether intentionally or not had already shown they gave zero fucks.
I’ve gone for one colleague openly and publicly, a blogger who I’d looked out for once—and kept my mouth shut about when she went entirely left-- who publicly announced I quit my last job before I did. (Can you say livid?) A few months prior to that, she’d launched a social media campaign that I didn’t participate in because I didn’t agree with it. She called me out publicly for not supporting her. I thought I’d done her favor by keeping my mouth shut when I had nothing nice to say. Then months after that, she co-opted a story I’d written as evidence that I supported a project she was working on—the one that I’d privately told her I wasn’t on board with AFTER she publicly commented on my lack of participation.
I’d lost all respect for her, hence why I didn’t bother calling around for personal email address, just kept it public and one hundred when she pissed me off a third time.
Had the story I’d written about Breezy, or whatever The Idol thought I said about her been that bad enough for her to lose all respect for me too?
Maybe. Which begged the question, if I hit her up to discuss it, would she be reasonable? Understanding? Screen shot whatever I wrote and blast me again? Ignore me? I didn’t know, so I didn’t take the chance.
I swallowed it, but never digested it. A month later, I was sitting on a stranger’s sofa on another continent after too many glasses of red wine, wondering and whining to a mutual friend of The Idol and I at 3 AM, “like what the f*** did I ever do to her?” If he had any profound insight, he didn’t offer it. (Or maybe I was drunk and don’t remember.)
Months after that, The Idol, who I still followed on Twitter, tweeted a story about meeting one of her own idols, and how she wished she hadn’t. On the night The Idol encountered her own idol, the author was surly and rude. I RT’d it with “<<< !!!!!”, half because I was glad I hadn’t skipped the Plaza event to meet The Idol, half because I wanted to be the passive aggressive asshole she’d already accused me of being.
I wasn’t over it. I clearly wasn’t going to really get over it anytime soon, and I wasn’t willing to do anything to resolve it. The best I could do was not make the situation any worse. The next day, I unfollowed her for my own sanity.
I have no idea if she noticed, or if she cared. And obviously, there’s still a part of me that wishes she did both.
“Long live the idols/ may they never be your rivals”— J. Cole, “I Let Nas Down”