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Tuesday, July 10, 2012


I wrote this three years ago, and am posting it because the subject matter came up in "comment conversation" on my other blog.

This morning, while linking to my online bank account to correct a GIGO error in my automatic billpayer, I noticed a little-used link to the Pajiba review site. I couldn't think of any movies/books I was interested in, but it had been so long since I'd been there, I clicked the link.

And goddamnit, there, large as life, was a review of Sarah Vowell's newest book "The Wordy Shipmates". Funny? Irreverent?? When the hell did this happen? I remember going to college honors english classes with Sarah Vowell at Montana State University and can tell you she was probably one of the most humorless people I'd ever met.

I remember debating the merits of an author's argument in one of our assigned texts (the text itself is lost to my memory) with her during a classroom discussion where she was frustrated to tears. Or angered to them. Someone told me about it after class.

So here is Sarah Vowell. . . geeky, awkward, Sarah Vowell transformed not just into a writer (my absolute dream "job") but a fucking GOOD writer. . . with positive NYTimes/Kirkus/Washington Post reviews, a syndicated gig on NPR radio, and magazine columns. And I'm envious.

The ultimate revenge for Sarah Vowell (who I strongly suspect could not give two shits about getting revenge on me for something she doubtless has pushed from her memory or got over immediately following the class in question) is that she won. She's doing what I wish I was doing, and is doing it better than I could hope to do it.

College was a long time ago and I certainly have my regrets, but it occurs to me that my regrets with regard to Sarah Vowell are not so much that I hurt a kid who was away from home and feeling lost and a little lonely. . . awkward and exposed by a verbal bully (ie, me) . . . but that I did all that to someone who's made good, gotten famous, is successful. . .

I don't know. I think to myself, if I didn't know Sarah had gone on to much bigger and much better things, would I even give it a second thought? I flatter myself and upbringing by thinking I would to some extent. I mean, I can think of dozens of kids I bullied with my brain (hindsight being twenty-twenty, however, nobody with brains quite so big as hers) and made look silly or feel miserable that I DO feel bad about and do think about from time to time. But I don't know if I feel nearly as bad about any of them as I do about Sarah.

And part of me thinks. . . I should reach out to her. . . apologize for the boy I was and congratulate her on her success, but I REALIZE that there's some part of me that's just doing it because she's famous. Like I want to be acknowledged indirectly as an influence in her life or something by REMINDING her about something I did that affected her (at the time). And because I can't be sure that it's not more about trying to get her to acknowledge that she remembers me from college. . . getting an ego stroke from a celebrity, so to speak. . . I'll never do it.

Soooooo. . . Because this will never make it back to Sarah:

Sarah, I hope you don't remember what a douche bag I was in college. I was (if you can believe it, dear reader) even more shallow then than I am now. I didn't see a cool, funny girl, who was shy and probably could have used an ally. I saw someone I could use to boost me up in the eyes of my classmates by making her look silly. I'm really sorry about that. You weren't the only one. I think what you're doing with your life is amazing. I wish I was talented/intelligent/broad enough to be doing it. I will be buying one of your books in the very near future. My daughter loves Violet from "The Incredibles", by the way. Good luck with your life and your career.


Okay okay. . . i'll leave that last part out. I'm envious.


  1. Oh, sigh. Yeah, I love her. So much. She was probably not so much humorless as really quiet & with a dry sense of humor - that's the take on her I get from her books, anyway. I haven't heard her on NPR. Talk radio makes me sleepy. I know. I'm a bad liberal and probably should be locked up or something. (I recommend her book "Assassination Vacation." So, so amazing.)

    The only famous people I knew in college had bit parts on some Comedy Central shows about 10 years ago. I know, FANCY.

    We were all immature jerks at one point or another in our lives. Luckily, most of us grow out of that and are able to feel terrible about it. (Some of us to the point that we can't sleep at night about it. What? Just me? OK then.)It's the person you are now that matters. And that person is kickass, yo.

    1. She probably DID have a kickass sense of humor, but she was shy, and awkward, and that made her an easy target for someone like me. That kind of bullying probably made it even harder for her to come out of her shell and show her personality. In hindsight it's one of those. . . "What if she were my daughter" things that lends so much perspective and. . . regret. . . to my college reminiscences.

      In a weird way, it makes me look back on it almost like I wasn't a participant, since I regret it so much, and view it like a movie. . . she's the downtrodden geeky kid who blossoms and thrives while I was the snarky bully who she leaves in the dust. And I cheer for her in that movie. . . weird, right?

    2. meanwhile, I probably wasn't NEARLY as smart as I thought I was, and who knows. . . maybe she was making ME look like an idiot, but we were all just too dull to see it. I don't know. Anyway, I'm strangely excited that she's a kickass author.

    3. "What if she was my daughter?" I wish more grown men would think that way. I work in a Firm with some major male egos who all have daughters about my age or younger and I always wonder how they would want people to treat their daughters. Would they be upset that some jerk was talking down to them like they were idiots? I actually had someone tell me that I would make an excellent housewife someday. Would they feel sad knowing that someone had made their daughter cry into the fur of her little chihuahua after work? Jk about the last part...sort of.

    4. I worry so much about the bullying that I feel like I'm constantly doing everything I can to build her up. . . to handle assholes like I used to be! It's weird. It's all very very weird. In a strange way I feel like I'm uniquely qualified to prepare her for dealing with douche bags.

    5. Aw, Jim. I think you're way too hard on yourself. I can't even imagine you were as big of a douche as you think you were. And if you were? Well, you're just about the least douchey person I know now. You've totally redeemed yourself. Believe me - I have a really sensitive douche-o-meter. You don't even make the needle move the slightest bit.

      I think you'd like her books a lot. She has a really wry, dark sense of humor, and she writes beautifully - really creative, intelligent use of words. I highly recommend them. They'd make you laugh (and you'd learn things, because they're so smart! I always do!)

  2. I think that everybody has had a similar experience... your situation is unique because the person MADE it. But either way, I think that what you did (in writing the letter, even if she doesn't see it) is an important and humbling experience that everyone should try.

    Additionally, I think you should check out Dude Write. We would love to have you contribute... especially this post.

    1. Thanks for the feedback. I appreciate the offer. I may even take you up on it at some point. I just took a hiatus from my other blogging gig in order to focus on some personal stuff that's taking up a lot of my schedule, but when I free up a bit I maybe look you up again.

  3. I’m so glad I stopped by to see this post, Jim. It was so beautifully written. Your well-chosen words painted a strong picture that tugged at my emotions. You’ve related a tale that so many can relate to...from either the perspective of the remorseful bully or the person who’d been bullied. While you may not be working at your dream job as a career today, Jim, that doesn’t mean you lack the skill, not to mention the innate talent, to become a published writer. If you still dream of being a writer, I have news for you. You already are. And a good one! I strongly encourage you to pursue your dreams of becoming published. :)