Every now and then, one reads something and one thinks, "Sheesh, whoever wrote this is a real asshole."
As a flawless human being, I am of course usually above thinking such thoughts. The world is full of beauty and kindness. I've learned this from observing Amos, my dog. If you look deep enough into anyone's eyes, you'll see that brightness. And if you smell their asses, you can tell if they're in heat.
The reality is that I fear even THINKING that some writers might be assholes, because I worry that, in some kind of karmic way, it'll come back to me and people will think I'm an asshole. In this age of interconnected blogorrhea, such boomeranging happens a lot. I'm not saying I don't have occasional assholish qualities. I'm just saying I don't want to have to read about them on someone else's site. My ego is too gossamer a thing.
Still, sometimes late at night when I can't sleep, my mind goes to dark places and I think about what it'd be like to judge people. Last night, it was specifically wondering what it'd be like to judge another thrice-named writerly type person: Rand Richards Cooper. Richards Cooper wrote this piece in The New York Times last week all about how people don't RSVP any more. See: It's My Party And You Have To Answer. He begins: "HERE'S an etiquette experiment for you: E-mail an invitation for a party, one month out, to 45 friends. Request an R.S.V.P. Provide a follow-up e-mail message, two weeks later, politely reminding them to get back to you. How many will?"
As a chronicler of things that are almost kaput, I found this an interesting read. I totally agree with him: We are becoming a society of bad RSVP-ers. The only people who are reliable any more are those who spent the majority of their lives in times where there wasn't so much technology connecting us at every moment. There's a section in OBSOLETE that falls under the same umbrella of cranky Andy Rooneyisms--it's about how people can't make plans in advance any more, nor can they keep dates they make. The whole thing where you tell someone that you'll talk on Thursday to confirm your plans for Thursday, or you cancel via text an hour before a dinner just because you can -- you know you've done. Long ago you had to actually call and explain yourself if you were going to do something that rude. I'm as guilty as anyone else. In fact, I've been called out, at times, for being particularly bad at this. But I blame Amos.
The Op-Ed in question is about Richards Cooper's attempt to corral a few dozen friends for "plans for an evening of food, drink and literature, with readings by myself and two other writers, at a restaurant. Not exactly a drop-in-if-you're-around kind of thing."
My tongue is saying all sorts of cruel things about this writer right this second, but I command my hands to type with caution. So, I'll just write this: I'm all for reading at restaurants -- if one has to sit through a reading given by the kind of person who invites people to hear them read their own "literature," one is best off having easy access to alcohol and sundry victuals. But I really don't think this can't be a drop-in thing. I'm all for dropping in! I hate how I have to make plans days and weeks in advance to see people who live within walking distance. Just come on by! It's cheaper for you to come over than it is for us to go out! And, if you cancel, I'll be left at home with my knitting and 30 Rock on Hulu, and really, that's almost as nice as having a friend come over in the first place. And more wine for me!
But, here is the crux of the issue: RSVP means Respondez s'il-vous-plait. (I don't know why it's in French. You're not expected to respond in French. If you did, this would probably be only more fodder for ridicule. Unless you are French.) What it means, however, is understand even if you don't parlez Frenchy. It means: IF YOU PLEASE. Literally. If it pleases you. Berating invitees because it doesn't please them to reply is the sort of bludgeoning-with-kindness maneuver that makes me wish that assholes didn't so often pretend to be nice.
If you're going to invite someone out, that's kind and considerate of you, even if your goal is to create an audience of people so you don't feel silly reading your own literature aloud alone. But then you can't go and whine about how annoying it is that others are not replying to your offer. Maybe the idea of your literature just doesn't please them! If you want them to respond, then say "Respond or I'll assume you're not coming." Hot tip: You don't even have to say it in French!
I'm not saying it's not rude to reply. It is. But so what. The Internet has only made people more rude in every singe way, so why point your finger at just this one thing. The funny thing is that it is so ridiculously easy to reply to invitations these days. Whether you are using Facebook, Twitter, eVite, email or text, you can pretty much reply with just a few finger movements -- and we've truncated every element of our textual lives so that you hardly ever have to do more than click a box or type "Yes +1" or "No but tnx!" In this way, the death of the RSVP seems almost comical: Just when it couldn't get easier, we decide to stop doing it.
Then again, maybe the medium is the thing to blame.
Once, in 2004, an editor of mine wrote a scathing newspaper Op-Ed about how she hated evites. In it, she quoted an evite I'd sent her a week before. Of course, I'm sure it was just an accident. Didn't I tell you that writers are such nice people? Her point, if she had one, was that non-paper invitations are tasteless. I disagree, but I do believe that they are more casual. They are definitely more suited to drop-in-y kinds of events (which evenings of literature should be, in my opinion).
If someone goes through the trouble of letter pressing an invite, I think it's more likely that others will go through the trouble of replying to said invite. If they don't, then that's one less glass you're going to have to wash. So: Solution? I vote for changing the nomenclature. Let's remove the suave veneer of Frenchness and just get straight to business. Let's call it IYCLMKIYCMITBCBIYTBTTATWNBTMTMWNRFA. That, of course, is short for: If You Can Let Me Know If You Can Make It, That'd Be Cool, But If You're Too Busy to Type a Three-Word Note Back To Me, Then Maybe We're Not Really Friends Anyway. Or, should the situation call for it, there's always IYWAOLMBOMIAORETWWIWTBYFIAC: If You Write An OpEd Lambasting Me Because of My Invitation And/OR RSVP Etiquette, Then Why Would I Want To Be Your Friend In Any Case?