I was reminded, not all that long ago, that my online dating profile was ripped off. A reporter from the Wall Street Journal phoned to ask me some questions about it. Plagiarism isn’t a fun word, especially not to a memoirist. I do understand the accidental seep, if a line stays in your head for years until you don’t remember it was ever anyone else’s. Lifting paragraphs only to change a sprinkle of the words, however, is a different story. The reporter was very thorough, as one would expect; she’d even emailed some of the readers who’d left comments (this is one reason I now sometimes conceal email addresses). At first her questions were light and funny-ish, how bizarre that people would purposefully knock you off, ha ha ha, over online dating, ha ha, and with a name so similar to mine, ha, "But did you find it at all vengeful and malicious to post his photo on your site. Was it really necessary?" Ouch.
The reporter actually wasn’t personally attacking me. She was doing her job, and doing it well. I mean that’s what we all look for in a story: a truth. Put a new angle on an old idea, grab it by the braids, give it a shake, and see if she’ll scream for you. I didn’t scream; I totally respected her. And it wasn’t just the reporter who’d asked, as the question had first been formed in the comment section on the day I’d posted the impostor’s profile and photo. I hadn’t really thought twice about posting a screenshot of his profile and photo, figuring he had it up for months on a public website, so it’s not as if privacy was a major concern. He was fine presenting himself to the world as someone he wasn’t; I was calling him out on it. He’d clearly knocked me off, so he could deal with the consequences of his actions, I reasoned. But did I reason correctly? I could have outed him and still saved him some face (by not revealing his face). Or was it really that wrong of me to call him out, given that he showed no remorse, made no apologies, and claimed that his "friend" did it?
I actually did a writing exercise in my written journal (which I’d copied into a post and published onto this blog, before I’d created the writing exercise category), where I’d copied three lines, word for word, of the actual writing exercise, working it into my diary entry. I hadn’t remembered ever doing so, so I’d posted it online. As soon as I became aware that I did this, I removed the line (and publicly explained why I’d done so) and wrote to the author of the writing exercise to apologize. As unintentional as it was, I still felt terrible.
I cannot understand how people (myself included sometimes) can undervalue their own voice and thoughts and believe so strongly that the work (body, negotiation skills, oration style, cooking, painting) of others will always be immeasurably preferable than their own. It’s a self-esteem issue. Yes, without question, we can recognize and admire great talent, can aspire, or even come to terms with the fact that we’ll never be that "good." But what we sometimes fail to recognize is that we do everyone a disservice when we undervalue our worth, when we undermine the power of authenticity. I forget this sometimes and want to trash all my work, frustrated that in more skillful hands it would be done better. When we use the term "better" we’re hung up on convention, on how others choose to value and prioritize. Instead we should better appreciate (or strive to excavate) what it is that makes us unique. So quit asking your friends to write your online dating profile, dammit!