Thursday, March 19, 2015

"Mallory Ortberg"

Gabriel Metsu, The Letter Writer Surprised

An open letter to "I Hate Myself Because I Don't Work for BuzzFeed," whose letter to was featured in The Concessionist's column over at The Awl.

Dear I Hate Myself Because I Don't Work for BuzzFeed,

I read your letter—and The Concessionist's condescending reply—and I felt as though I should reach out to you. Hello.

You and I are birds of a feather. You're a hack journalist; I'm a hack novelist. We're also both hopeless cases. I know too well what it's like to feel like the proverbial ugly duckling, striving and continuously failing to molt into the happy, successful swans we imagined our writing would help us become.

The sad fact of the matter is that The Concessionist was lying to you. (People in the media world only tell the truth to people who are in the loop.) The most important things in this life are how many strangers on the internet are paying attention to you, which journalist/blogger/literati cliques you can claim to belong to, and your Followers/Following ratio on Twitter.

The Concessionist is speaking to you precisely as any gracious winner addresses a loser. That is how things stand with us, you know. The Concessionist writes a column for a widely-read web publication. I don't know about you, but I call it a good day when my pageviews creep close to the triple digits.

But that's not the most pernicious of The Concessionist's untruths. He tries to tell you that success, visibility, and popularity aren't all they're cracked up to be. He even suggests that people like Mallory Ortberg, Lindsey Adler, Gabby Dunn, Amber Gordon, and the staffers at BuzzFeed and Vice aren’t leading perfectly charmed lives, but are people, like you and me, with foibles and problems of their own.

Wrong. I hope you weren't naive enough to be taken in by his talk about burnout, financial insecurity, shitty apartments, and the experience of human suffering. It's a smokescreen that successful writers like him employ to conceal the truth of the matter from mediocre rubes like you and me. They are happier than us, their lives do amount to more than yours or mine, and this is because they are better than us.

Let's take Mallory Ortberg as an example, only because the Concessionist betrays himself by giving her a shoutout, interrupting a missive about why you shouldn't be beating yourself up for losing the popularity contest to boast of his acquaintance with her. It’s not like he could help himself. Famous people are the celestial bodies of the social cosmos; to invoke one’s association with them is to receive, share, and shine with their radiance, to momentarily blaze like Venus in the twilight.

(You and I are not so lucky. We are nearly invisible; an extremely powerful telescope is required to spot us. But then why would anyone want to, right?)

But let's go over what we know about Mallory Ortberg. She is the co-founder of The Toast, a popular feminist/general interest website that gets (according to the Alexa abacus) 51,000 visitors and 122,000 pageviews every day. She has 45,300 followers on Twitter, Forbes named her as one of its "30 under 30" media superstars, and her first book was a New York Times bestseller. (Taken as a sum, these things come very close to amounting to a job with BuzzFeed.)

If we take off the blinders that The Concessionist tries to clap around our heads and assess the situation in the cool light of reason, we can draw some fair conclusions about what it's really like to be Mallory Ortberg (or any popular writer on the web with a lot of connections).

Let's start with the basics. Mallory Ortberg is happier than you or I. Mallory Ortberg is more talented than you or I. Mallory Ortberg makes more money than you or I. Mallory Ortberg has more friends than you or I. Mallory Ortberg's apartment is nicer than yours or mine. Mallory Ortberg has fewer problems than you or I.

I think you'll agree these are all logical——even inescapable——conclusions.

To continue: Mallory Ortberg has never felt awkward. Mallory Ortberg has never been dumped. Mallory Ortberg smokes only one cigarette a day. When Mallory Ortberg smokes, it doesn't stink, she doesn't cough, and she crackles with the elegant magnetism of a 1940s film starlet. Mallory Ortberg has never once had a bad idea. A single post by Mallory Ortberg is imbued with more value than all the books, poems, and essays you and I could ever be capable of writing. The words of every book that has ever been written and will ever be written are etched in tiny glowing letters on the insides of Mallory Ortberg's eyelids. Mallory Ortberg disdains people who take breaks or stop to think. Mallory Ortberg is indefatigable. Mallory Ortberg already has it all figured out. Mallory Ortberg considers nothing she does as work: for Mallory Ortberg, the act of writing is unalloyed joy, its perfection unlabored. Mallory Ortberg does not need money: cashiers, bartenders, landlords, surgeons, and airlines take Mallory Ortberg's smile as payment. Everyone offers Mallory Ortberg a sincere greeting wherever she goes, even in New York. (Especially in New York.) There is nothing at which Mallory Ortberg does not excel. Mallory Ortberg could earn a handsome living in the pursuit of any one of her hobbies or interests if she so pleased. Self-doubt would be a totally foreign sensation to Mallory Ortberg, were she ever to experience it. Mallory Ortberg doesn't use a day planner. Her time management acumen is innate, as is her ability to sense the direction of magnetic north. Mallory Ortberg's vision extends into the infrared and ultraviolet, and she sees in four dimensions. Mallory Ortberg drinks decaf. Mallory Ortberg does not get sad in the winter. Summertime lives in Mallory Ortberg's five-chambered heart. Mallory Ortberg is immune to disease. Mallory Ortberg has never stubbed her toe. Mallory Ortberg is incapable of experiencing tedium. Mallory Ortberg does not get wet in the rain. Mallory Ortberg's bees bring her fresh honey every day. Mallory Ortberg goes about as she pleases, unhindered by the constraints of space, time, and gravity. Mallory Ortberg replies to every message in her inbox, and her replies leave her fans transformed into happier, more effective versions of themselves. The sheer weight of significance in a minute of Mallory Ortberg's life would crush us like the Venusian atmosphere if your or I were to experience it ourselves. Mallory Ortberg is pure spirit. You and I are mud mixed with shit beneath a flat tire. Mallory Ortberg always gets what she wants. Mallory Ortberg could take over the world with only a tweet if Mallory Ortberg so desired. If there were only two life jackets left, the other passengers on the ship would insist that Mallory Ortberg get yours and mine, in order to maximize her chances of being rescued. Mallory Ortberg's posts about art and literature on The Toast will determine the English canon henceforth. Any book, author, or artist not acknowledged by Mallory Ortberg during her lifetime will be divested of all posterity and fade away in the mists of time, not to be missed. Mallory Ortberg is constantly drunk on the ecstasy of life, on the knowledge that she and nobody else is capable of being Mallory Ortberg in all her stellar effulgence. Mallory Ortberg has been informed by a reliable source that there is an afterlife, and a spot in its most blissful neighborhood has been reserved for her. Mallory Ortberg will never be forgotten. Humanity will think only more of Mallory Ortberg as time passes, until the single glorious thought of this Earth is Mallory Ortberg.

Again, Ms. Ortberg is just an example. All of this holds true for pretty much anyone who works at BuzzFeed, of course. Or Vice magazine. Or who gets stuff published in n+1. Or anyone who, as you mentioned, earns a custom Twitter avatar from @darth. It's just that good to be them.

But you already knew that.

So don't be taken in by the treacherous gaslighting The Concessionist tries to pass off to you as advice. You're not crazy. You're right about yourself and about the state of affairs in the journo-literary world, and you're correct to ground your self-worth upon your relative popularity on the internet. Don't listen to anyone who tells you that comparison is the thief of joy: the value of a human life is, after all, mathematically commensurable with the value of any other human life, which is easily quantified in units such as dollars, pageviews, and Followers. Anyone with more of any of these things is happier than you are, and you should be ashamed of yourself for not being good enough to be as happy as them.

So, best of luck, I Hate Myself Because I Don't Work for BuzzFeed. Drop me a line sometime, or follow me on Twitter! (Don't expect me to follow you back, though.) Hang in there, and keep beating yourself up for not being somebody else. It's the only way you'll learn.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go look at myself in the mirror and hit myself in the head until I get dizzy enough for the face blinking back at me to seem like Tim Rogers'.


Patrick R


  1. Replies
    1. I think I've been getting too much sun lately.

  2. Mallory Ortberg has all sorts of problems -- it's just that her problems are so much more interesting than yours or mine!