I checked twitter today and spotted a digital car crash. I should have looked away, but didn’t.
Without going into the details, a few folks on twitter (authors and publishing types) were rounding on author Matt Haig.
I don’t know Matt personally, but as fellow authors we were once booked to speak at the same (but didn’t meet) and we’ve have exchanged pleasantries on twitter. I’ve read his book THE HUMANS and enjoyed it so much most of my extended family have received a copy last Christmas.
He’s recently written a non-fiction called REASONS TO STAY ALIVE, which I haven’t read simply out of lack of time (so consumed with the day to day business of staying alive) but I understand it’s an honest and open account of struggling with depression and has helped a whole lot of people be strong with their personal situations. That’s a really good thing. Life is pretty tough and any tool that gives folks more resilience is a positive thing in my book (or in his book, if you want to be technical).
I’m assuming assuming from the book’s retail proliferation that it’s done well and has probably made its publisher, and hopefully Matt, “a lot” (in publishing terms) of money.
Enter the haters.
I noticed that Matt was framing the twitter trolling as a reaction to depression / mental health, but I suspect the ill will was coming from something deeper, more ancient. Ol’ fashioned envy.
Brits (and post-colonials) love the underdog. (note: I could do a separate post on the unique outlook of Americans) We love cheering for the struggler, what the Aussies affectionately call “the battler.” But once the struggler succeeds, the tables turn. I’m no illustrator, but I scribbled this sketch of Matt climbing a mountain to demonstrate the point…
This is sometimes called “tall poppy syndrome;” there comes a point when our underdog gets too successful that he must be taken down a peg.
Crabs in a bucket and all that jazz.
Matt has essentially commercialised his mental health issues. Good on him. It’s probably both cathartic and clever. I don’t know a single author (myself included) that I’d call “normal” (whatever that is) or well adjusted — we sit in silence, dream stuff up and write it down…somewhere in some textbook that’s got to be a definition for maladjustment — and I suspect there’s a boatload of other authors who are silently (and a lifeboat of others no so silently) who are kicking themselves for not doing what Matt’s done so successfully.
I think it’s no accident that Matt’s loudest detractors are fellow authors. Publishing has gone through what I call a “Hollywoodification,” whereby the big authors are getting bigger and the rest are getting squeezed. It’s akin to the “1%” phenomenon and we’ve all seen the Occupy movement in reaction to that. People get angry when they think things aren’t fair or the deck is stacked against them.
The world is tough enough without needless negativity (online or elsewhere), but because we’re all flawed humans, sometimes the most ancient instincts get the better of us.
To Matt, sending out a digital hug. To his detractors, even more hugs.
Life is tough, publishing is unfair, and sometimes it’s really annoying when someone’s seemingly on top of the mountain and you’re still climbing. But we have to love the climb, not the summit.
Our greatest gift is to write….not tweets, but stories. You make the world a better place by telling your tale around the global campfire. Let’s keep doing that….and cheering each other on, no matter where you’re at on the mountain.
On we go.