Everybody loves to see justice
Done on somebody else
-- Bruce Cockburn, “Justice”
Start with someone who has difficulty parsing the English language, add some bits of willful misrepresentation, mix liberally with inflammatory statements, and top with a hazy love of all things Flower Power that can’t recognize the ambivalent nature of the Summer of Love. That’s a recipe for slander, and I got a big dose of it yesterday.
Okay, I’m starting off all wrong. I wish this didn’t bother me. I wish I could just shrug it off as a difference of opinion. But it doesn’t seem to be in my personality to be able to do that. Yesterday the new issue of Paste Magazine (with the fantastically bearded Iron and Wine on the cover) arrived. As usual, there are about a hundred pages in this issue. But within minutes, all I could focus on was the two inch by three inch text square in the Letters to the Editor section that vilified me for my recent column on The Summer of Love. In that remarkably small text box I was informed that “Andy Whitman” is a pseudonym for ultra-conservative G. Gordon Liddy, that I am ignorant, that I don’t understand irony, that Paste needs to find an editor to ensure that tripe like mine isn’t published, and that, thanks to my ill-informed tripe, the letter writer will be cancelling his/her subscription to the magazine. So a few hundred thousand people got to read that, if they cared to do so, and it was enough to keep me up for about half the night.
Look, criticism comes with the territory, and I understand that. I just wish the criticism was based on an accurate understanding of what was said. It's more than a little frustrating to be vilified for views I don't hold, and taken to task based on a woeful misreading of what I wrote. But beyond that, I spent a fair amount of time last night, tossing and turning, simply thinking through and praying through why I react the way I do.
It’s the injustice of it all that gets to me. Okay, I don’t like criticism. But I really don’t like criticism when it’s unfounded. If I screw up, then call me on it. I may not like it, but I’ll probably eventually come around to your point of view. But when you totally misrepresent who I am, and when you just don’t have a clue about what I’m saying, then it pains me, to the point of sleeplessness, to contemplate what is being communicated. I start concocting elaborate revenge fantasies involving grammar lessons, a flaming pyre of Paste Magazines at the feet of the heretic, Jimi Hendrix’s highly combustible guitar, and Allen Ginsberg thumping on a tambourine and chanting “Ohhhmmmm” as the spectacle rages around him. Burn, baby, burn. That was part of the dazzling, golden sixties, too.
And it’s all wrong, and I know it. I don’t want to respond this way. So I spent a fair amount of time praying for grace, for compassion, for forebearance, for the opportunity to impart some basic grammar lessons and principles of literary interpretation to … You see how quickly it goes awry. It’s a battle. I find myself angry. And I find myself praying all the time. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. But it’s so much fun being called “ignorant” in a national forum. It’s so much fun to read that in print at Barnes and Noble. I know. Most people won’t care. Most people I know won’t care. I understand that. But I think I need to pray some more.
Bruce Cockburn had it right. Justice is what we want to see inflicted on others, and the last thing we want to see for ourselves. So I pray for something that goes completely against my natural personality: grace. It's not deserved. That's the point.