So if you’re a writer, or just a person who consumes words on the Internet, you have likely heard of the “Who Is The Bad Art Friend?” a New York Times Magazine story. It appeared to be about an obsessive narcissistic writer who may have donated a kidney for attention and fixated on a more successful writer and the story she may or may not have written about said kidney donation, to the point where she stalked her and tried to ruin her career over plagiarism that she might have exaggerated. And maybe there was some White saviorism and racisms happening, as well musings about how unfair it is for writers to have to limit their imaginations when it comes to real life ? Also again stalking and antagonistic lawsuits.
And if you kept reading the words about this situation, you may have found that the story behind the story is actually about plagiarism that the successful writer actually admits to the point where she had to go back and change details, a confirmation of who the actual originally litigious party was (note: The more successful writer) and a shocking amount of gaslighting, escalating bullying back and forth in private emails and text threads from the organization both writers worked with, including an administrator vowing to destroy the less-successful writer and kidney donor, and the discovery that she’d been referred to with an abbreviation that includes an expletive. Lovely. Also there’s healthy use of charges of racism that seem, as we look into it further, to be a reflective defense meant to shut down all discourse. As a Black woman, that obviously plays into people who like to use words like “race card” to dismiss all inferences of racism, real or not.
Writers, of which I am one, come off looking petty, gate-keepy and shockingly dumb about something very basic, that maybe their elitism clouded for them. What is shocking to me is not that adults, even successful ones, can’t stop being jackasses to people they consider less important than them, but that they were apparently so sure of their superiority that they kept receipts. Like, extensive ones. And they kept going, which is where the information that seems to exonerate the kidney donator comes from because they couldn’t help themselves.
Have I taken part in some text threads that I would never, ever want people to see, that I am not proud of? I do. Do any of them involve bullying people, or things that admit actionable activity that could be subpoenaed? I DO NOT. Because I’m not a bully and because I don’t write that stuff down. Because I am a writer, and also a Black woman, and I understand the concept of receipts, both the “Per my last email where you agreed to pay me” kind and the “GIRL, DON’T TRY IT BECAUSE YOU SAID WHAT YOU SAID AND HERE’S THE TEXT” kind. I try to be the person with the receipts, and not the one being handed them. There’s a good T-shirt slogan.
The “Bad Art Friend” story has probably taken more of your time that is necessary, but I can’t stop thinking about it as a writer who is not famous but does have a reputation that I hope to never use to gatekeep, intentionally or otherwise. Also, as a writer, I know that so many of us became writers because we’re sometimes insecure used words to write about that insecurity, and it’s interesting that we use that to exclude other people.
Don’t do that. But if you do, don’t keep receipts that prove it.