On regret and anger and not being a part of The Cool Girls Club

Having been on an extended break from writing at Thematically Fickle, I’d forgotten how treacherous the blogging world is. It’s pretty great that we humans have this place where we can write anything we want, for anyone to read, any time they want to read it. The down side, of course, is that we humans have this place where we can write anything we want, for anyone to read, any time they want to read it. Once you put it out there—hoo boy!—there it will stay, no matter how much you might later regret it.

Case in point: Several years ago, in a piece I’d written for CityBeat—which was later published (with my permission) on the now defunct Women’s Colony—I wrote about WalMart shoppers in a sarcastic, satirical manner. At the time, WalMart and Amazon were in a bidding war to lower prices on books, devaluing writers everywhere by offering newly released hard cover books for $8.99. Here is what I said:

Now, I was as startled as the next person to hear this outrageous story. They can’t be fucking serious, I thought. Wal-Mart actually sells books? To whom? Do Wal-Mart shoppers even know how to read?

Oh, I heckle the Wal-Mart shoppers. Of course, they know how to read. And now, thanks to Extreme Price Slashing, The Corporate Edition, they will be able to indulge that first-grade reading level on the cheap: The former first gal of Alaska’s Going Rogue is among the 10 or so hard-covers being offered at black-market prices.

(The piece can be read in it’s entirety here if you really feel like it.)

I got a lot of positive feedback on that piece, and many people understood that I was joking. But there were also a lot of people who were personally offended; they wasted no time in grabbing their virtual pitchforks, and proceeded with a painful and public flogging. I spent nearly a week in fetal position. It was not a confidence builder, I will tell you that. And now—lucky me—these two sentences in a 1,000-word piece, have come to somehow define who I am for a few folks, as was made clear the other day when two different people, brought up the WalMart remarks in the comments section of my first blog post of any worth, in nearly two years. That was a tough re-entry. 

In particular were the remarks left by my friend, Joe, who was pretty much repelled by the way I’d written Ree Drummond Doesn’t Know Jack* About Teaching Diversity post. He pointed to the WalMart post as an example of…well…I’ll let his words speak for themselves:

I like your style when you write from a place of joy and enthusiasm — but the parts where you spout curse words and tell people how horrible they are as human beings (off the top of my head I’m remembering a post where you make fun of Wal-Mart shoppers mercilessly for being idiots with a 3rd grade education) for doing things you disagree with, it flies in the face of the zest for life, generosity, and kindness I have experienced of you, in abundance over the years.

That was a super thoughtful comment which gave me pause. After getting some other feedback from Joe’s eloquent, kind, diplomatic, sincere and open-hearted wife, Leah, I’ve been thinking a great deal about how I choose to say what I have to say. And I have something to say about that.

With respect to the WalMart shoppers dig specifically, I have come to the conclusion that I missed my mark. I absolutely think WalMart is evil for a whole bunch of valid reasons. But there are people who struggle everyday to stay afloat, who don’t have the luxury to be concerned about whether WalMart locks it’s employees in at night, or whether their business practices have a negative effect on communities, because they are busy figuring out how to make it until tomorrow. Of course they can read. They simply don’t have the luxury of choosing between WalMart and Whole Foods, or even Vons for that matter. What I said was classist and I wish I’d found a better way to say, Dudes: WalMart keeps it’s employees below the poverty level, and Sarah Palin has a 1st grade grasp of grammar. Ah, the missteps of being a writer on the Internet.

As to Joe’s other issue of preferring my kinder, gentler style, all I can say is: That’s great and thank you and I appreciate you reading. But the fact of the matter is that sometimes I’m angry. Sometimes when I write from anger, I screw up. But most of the time, I hit exactly the right tone that I am going for. It just so happens that, in my post about teaching diversity, I said exactly what I had to say, exactly the way I had to say it. I do not apologize for it. I do not wish I’d said it differently.

A series of recent events in my life have led me to what might be called an a-ah! moment, if it were only a moment. Instead, it is a prolonged evolution, an awakening, a metamorphosis, and I am angry. And what I am going to do with that anger is write from it. I’m going to point it toward injustice and call bullshit where I see it, even if the bullshit is coming from a World Famous Blogger, who is probably a perfectly nice person, but who has an increasingly influential platform that she used to write something that I find regrettable.

It’s not personal, it’s just personal.

I have nothing to lose by doing it, and I have everything to lose by not.

To be clear, I do not pretend or claim to be and expert when it comes to race. I’m only an expert in my experience of it. But this I know: The last thing the Internet needs is another polite, comfortable, palatable-for-white-people conversation of race in America, where nobody gets hurt, and nobody takes responsibility, and everybody feels like they’ve done their part, and nothing ever changes. Mocha Momma is right: It is not about cake. It is about so much more than cake.

I will not be changing the way I write, even if it means I sit on the outside always looking in. Even if it means I lose readers. Even if it means I lose friends. Because I couldn’t live with myself if I became the author of drivel like “The Help.”

11 Responses to On regret and anger and not being a part of The Cool Girls Club

  • Paula O. says:

    It was so good to have met you last month. I appreciate your voice and your willingess to speak up and out, even when it feels scary to do so; it gives me the courage to continue doing the same.


  • Melanie says:

    I think most of the people who were upset over the WalMart piece were not your regular readers. We “get” you. I agree that WalMart can and should do better by their employees. But. I shop there occasionally because the prices allow us to save money here and there and that keeps us on our path for the financial goals we’re trying really hard to stick to.

    No one should ever change the way they write, especially on their own site.

  • aaryn b. says:

    @kizz and others: Believe me, sometimes the way I write terrifies ME. Sort of like looking in the mirror every morning…

  • Kizz says:

    Sometimes the way you write terrifies me. That’s why I love it so much. I wish I were that brave and firm in my convictions. I hope I can learn from your example and stand up for what’s important in the way that you do.

  • Jenn says:

    I like your voice when you write from a place of anger and when you write from a place of joy.

    And in regards to writing about race, that the more people who are willing and able to address it head on, and honestly (we are so clearly NOT past our issues as a society) the better. We need to get real. so thank you, because racism affects us all, it devalues our society.

    BOTTOM LINE: keep writing. I may not always agree with you, but I appreciate your voice and your point of view and your sarcastic Walmart comments :-) and I’ve missed your blog terribly.

  • kerryanne says:

    The way you write is the **reason** I’ve been a fan for so long. Everyone makes regrettable choices in the way they say/write/present something at one time or another- but that makes one human. I remember that walmart piece and did not immediately think you were labeling everyone who shops there an idiot. If people read any of your other posts they would know that, too. You call out injustices and things that just suck in a way I wish I could.

  • aaryn b. says:

    @Joe: Thanks for coming back. And for your comments.

    @Mocha: I think you’re pretty cool. But then…consider your source. As for swearing, well, I will do it all for you. Of course, I’m blocked by the San Diego Unified School District, so I think that means I’ve arrived.

    Thanks for stopping in. I’ve been dormant for quite a bit so there isn’t much to read of interest here unless you’re digging.

  • Mocha says:

    If there’s a Cool Girls Club I am most definitely not in it. They would never accept me. I think anger is good and I’m using that to fuel my writing. But honestly, I can’t even cuss in my writing (though I don’t censor anyone’s comments!) because of my job and the number of people who work for me (and students) who might see it.

    I’m pretty certain I’m losing followers, but not friends. My friends know exactly where I’m coming from. Anyway, I’m off to read more stuff now!

  • Joe Crawford says:

    Anger is awesome. Meanness is not. Takes guts to balance them.

    Considering you choose to write about race in the USA in 2011? You got guts aplenty.


  • God, woman I love you when you’re angry. Actually, I always love you, but your eloquence in anger is actually stunning sometimes.

    I know a little bit about missing the mark on a point you’re trying to make–but, hey, at least we’ve got a point to make.

  • San says:

    What I love about you is your straight-forwardness, Aaryn. You’re provocative and sometimes you might say something that you like to take back later, but you’re always eloquent and to the point.
    I applaud you for that.

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