Payback

I met Tony a quarter century ago in a small class of budding writers who were handpicked by our Trinity professors to become Writing Associates. Class convened around a conference table where we discussed writing, and writing about writing. We were an eclectic group of college kids: a scientist (me), the stunner (Julia), the talent (Lisa), the boy who knew all of the big words (Ran), the comic genius (Nancy), and Tony.

Tony, despite his bespeckled, Philosophy brainiac persona was essentially a jock. A Jock in the Writing Center. Tony regularly threw balls to and snapped towels at boys I would never know. As a rather serious Biology major who divided her time between the library and the lab, my tiny social circle would never overlap with Tony’s. And yet there he was, all fit and baseball-capped and talking and writing in ways that defied my prejudices. We became fast friends.

Today is his birthday, and I’m all wistful about those moments in our early twenties when Tony and I were sure we were the smartest and most interesting people in any room. One of those rooms was the 35th year reunion for the rather infamous Class of ’63. We were on campus for our own 5-year celebration, but Tony was invited to the swanky dinner with the silver foxes as a special guest: Tony was the first Class of ’63 scholar. They were expecting a witty and pithy update on their investment.

Tony and I quit our classmates and headed across campus. Memory fails, but I probably insisted that Tony let me tag along to dine with the titans of industry and lords of Trinity’s yesteryear. I’d always liked men who were older, men who knew things. They were infinitely more interesting than the boys in the tent on the quad who were lying about their jobs or groping drunkenly in the name of nostalgia. We grabbed drinks, Tony introduced me to our tablemates, and the speeches began.

It went something like this:

Tony (whispering): I have no idea what I’m going to say.

Me: You just graduated from an Ivy League law school. I think they’ll be, you know, proud of you.

Tony: Ok. Yeah. I got this.

And on cue, Tony was asked to stand and share a few words. With a knowing grin that can only mean mischief —which you know well if you know him— Tony stood, probably winked at me, and began:

“I’d like to introduce all of you to my friend Britt…”

The next five minutes he devoted to how we met, my academic accomplishments and accolades and research, his certainty about my bright future, and probably some nod to how pretty I looked. Their first Class of ’63 scholar gave a thorough report about… me. He might have thrown in at the end some little snippet about their support of his college years that led to a law degree and a coveted job at a Boston law firm, but no one would have been surprised if Tony dropped to his knee and pulled out a little box. His very public lauding even made it into their Class Notes, where they wondered, in a very gentlemanly, Class of ’63 way, if Tony’s speech had led to some other action ‘neath the elms.

Though I love Tony madly, we’ve always been buddies. And I’ll always recall that dinner with a giggle. Tony took a moment that should have been all about him, and made it all about someone else because 1. It would make a great story later, and 2. It would be hilarious in the moment, and mostly 3. No one was expecting that. That bizarrely fun evening 20 years ago is a fond memory of a boy who remains a treasured friend. When we’re together, we are still pretty sure we are smartest and most interesting people in any room… and we’re still writing, and talking about writing about writing. In so many fabulous ways, nothing has changed—which is how forever friendships work.

Happy Birthday, to my still sporty, ever-the-jock Tony. I may have embarrassed you the teeniest bit in the very public affirmation of my longstanding affection for all that you are. But payback’s a bitch, old friend, and you’ve enjoyed a 19 year reprieve.

(And if now you want to know more about Tony, go here. It’s fabulous stuff.)

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Tony: lawyer, jock, stud, philosopher, and friend

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Social media gaffes… or when Roxane Gay got mad at me

This will be on my can’t-sleep-at-night regret loop for a while. And it’s exactly the sort of fuck up I’m constantly telling my kids can happen. We tell them, “The Internet is INDELIBLE… it’s written with a Sharpie… you can’t take it back… it will haunt you forever. Words are powerful and permanent and can be misinterpreted.” And then we screw up, ourselves.

Well, I did.

Admittedly, I might have been looking for a shout out for my fundraiser. I’ll be honest about that. We had fantasies we could get this SUPER FAMOUS FABULOUS actress/author as our keynote speaker for our annual gala, but she was busy with a book tour. I’d known that for months. But maybe she’d be free next year?

We’re trying to raise big $$ here for a program that is doing great things. Three Steps to Success students got full-ride scholarships this year! I’ll climb the rafters and tweet at celebrities to champion this nonprofit and the accomplishments of the students it serves. When our whole community is involved, this wraparound care of programming begins to feel and function more like family. Spreading the word is how we get more people into our orbit, and social media is supposed to be a useful tool for that. So when I saw that our unavailable book tour babe was going to be speaking with another of my favorite writers, I thought… ooh what fun! But what I wrote was this:

“We were trying to get G for our fundraiser, but looks like it’ll be more fun (for her) with you in LA! Have a great evening!”

Or something like that. Without any context for tone, those parentheses are tragic. It was perceived as snarky: “Y’all suck because instead of headlining my teeny fundraiser, you’re being busy and famous somewhere else!” Which I didn’t intend. And the world famous author called me out for tweeting a manipulative guilt trip. Which is how it sounded to her in that moment. Maybe I need to use more emojis. The only worse response I’ve gotten on social media was when I admitted on Facebook that I don’t make my boys do chores. (They’ll do them wrong.)

Immediately, I was a terrible person– and suddenly there was tweeting proof of it. Disgruntled readers flocked to my “Asian by marriage” Twitter bio and didn’t read that as a silly quip encapsulating 16 years of wedded bliss, but proof of exactly what sort of tone deaf white girl I am. And attempts to clarify my BUT HEY I LOVE YOU GUYS WAIT WAIT WAIT explanations were read as lame and victim-y.

It’s really enough to make a girl want to log off forever. I mean, I’m a writer, dammit. Well, sort of… in that I write stuff and sometimes people read it. I should be able to make my words plain. I’m going to have to ask the teenagers how they navigate this land mine of wordsmith-ing every single day. The very idea that we expect them not to screw up is ludicrous.

An easy remedy is to stop tweeting @ famous people. Or use emojis that convey “Yay, everything!” Either one. Probably I’ll do what I keep telling my boys to do: proofread every email or message as if it were being read aloud to the entire class.

Also, apologize when we forget to do that. The great writer forgave me… I think. Hard to tell without emojis.

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