Yesterday I was saccharinely sweet to someone over text at whom I was enraged. I was trying to be all Christ-like, but I was really fucking pissed. I do this all the time. I so hate conflict, which may come as a surprise because I think a lot of people -- or some people -- think of me as somewhat aggressive, obnoxious, rude, in your face, inappropriate and other fun adjectives. In reality, I would nearly sever off my limbs rather than say, “That really pissed me off. Fuck you.”
Instead, I internalize it. I just swallow it.
I think I don’t have a right to my feelings. I also hate conflict because it’s such a waste of life. When we could be laughing at all of it and just moving on to the next thing. Right? Maybe?
So when I wrote a dating column for The Post, I was putting myself out there in such a way, that I was courting conflict -- a lot. I knew, by that time, that my first chess move was to set myself out there as a sacrificial lamb because that’s how that game works. Here you go. Make fun of me."
And then you are an Object That Gets Made Fun Of. There’s a name for this strategy when people are actively working for it in press. If it involves another person, it’s called “Feuding Up.” (There is also “Fucking Up” and “Failing Up.” I suppose “up” is the operative word here.)
As so often happens when you court press, you have signaled that you are now a public figure and it is all fair game. Things started to get more confused the longer I went on with the dating column at The Post, and I was pretty much dating one guy, and it felt serious at the time. I had a lot on my plate and sought out an intern on Craigslist, and lo and behold, a Gawker writer named Sheila McClear decided to write about it and take the piss out of me.
She wrote about what a stupid thing this was for me to do, and how when I did the dating column for The Post everyone was laughing at me -- not with me. She said other things, but that was the cruelest line. For anyone who considers themselves funny, to be told that you are actually simply a laughingstock is a jab.
Then I met Sheila McClear. The woman who wrote this piece. I semi-confronted her. She said, “No, I was making fun of myself.” So we made fake-nice and were frenemies then. And then she got hired at The New York Post. Sitting next to me. Right next to me. I emailed my boss and told her how she had written this thing, and just to be wary. Or something completely sell-out-y and shitty on my part, but I was still pissed. I was still wary.
And then somewhere along the way, perhaps it was when I finally summoned the courage to say to Sheila directly, “You wrote that shitty thing about me,” that we talked as actual people. Then we kept talking and then we both discovered that we liked a lot of the same things, and then it became some weird circumscribed space where we understood that the world is so small, it is not worth it for us to throw away our relationship for something so small, simply because we were pitted professionally against one another by our News Corp. and Gawker Media corporate masters, especially when the world is so filled with people who don’t get it at all. And why not be friends. Why not trust each other. Why not test it out.
Sheila and I started making trips to the third-floor of the News Corp. building, and because I knew that certain managers didn’t like me, and I didn’t want her to bear the brunt of that, we would meet secretly, leaving at different times, like we were having an affair. Then we began to tell each other our most intimate details of our lives.
We came to understand, I think, that we were just soldiers pitted on different armies before -- and that the armies are all ephemeral and meaningless. Her task at the time had been to write about me negatively (and she hardly even thought of the people she was writing about as people, she tells me now), and my task, had I ever been tasked with it, would have been to write about her rival media organization in the same way. And what was the fucking point in being as small as those agendas.
I think that was the collective epiphany that we had. What was the fucking point of holding on to a fascist sports-team-style resentment? Sheila turned out to be a complete punk rock badass feminist shit-stirrer.
She had worked in a peep show in Times Square. She had a book coming out. We kept testing each other out. Little secrets. She called me crying the first time. I called her crying the second.
She said, as the secrets became bigger, “Off the record. 4ever!" You see there is a weird language and code between people in the press. If you screw someone over, and sacrifice a long-term relationship for a short-term hit job, then that is a choice that you are making. It might also make you a very bad person. It also makes you a very good reporter. Then again, it also makes you a very shortsighted bush-league could-never-maneuver-to-get-actual-access reporter. It's a delicate balance. I try to use my gut.
It also makes me think of that old journalism problem set I was given at Northwestern: "You see a man. He's about to jump off a bridge and kill himself. You're a photojournalist. Do you talk him out of it or get the picture?" I was the only one in my class who made the wrong choice. I saved his life. I am a bad journalist.
My hunch deep down is that savvy media people, smart ones, recognize what a corpse-crunching game it all really is. When you realize that you are pitted against one another, "Hunger Games" style in this game of clicks and hits and links and stories and takedown bullshit, you see through it. If your brain works mathematically at all, you can see it for the equation that it all really is. The blood of sport is always readily spilling, so is it actually worth sacrificing a real friend to get the ripest kill that day?
Now, Sheila, just last month, left the clutches of The Post, and while she is too classy to ever say a bad word about the place, she is now free from participating in that tabloid arena, and ready for the next one to conquer. And because we didn't let the meaninglessness of words on the Internet drag us down, she's emerged a beautiful lifelong friend. All because I initially summoned up the scary honesty and uncomfortableness inside me to tell her what I thought about that crap piece she wrote and told her that she could fully fuck off. And, because, from one reporter to another, she understood.
It was my way of telling her: "I love you."
Find Mandy long-form at http://tinyurl.com/stadtmiller.