Anthology of Anger

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By: 
Matt Geiger

Today, I read an anthology of anger in the form of Yelp reviews. A single person had rated a dozen businesses, and she had never given out anything higher than a single star, which is the lowest possible score. In addition to her ratings, she offered delightful accounts of her various experiences. She was like the keynote speaker at an outrage symposium. 

“I needed a right brake light replaced and had the misfortune to stop at [this mechanic]. Whilte the price of the light bulb was reasonable at $4.57, they then had the audacity to charge me $5.40 for two minutes of their precious time to replace it.  Oh, well, at least I know where NOT to go in the future. ;-)”

You might notice a few typos in these reviews, but I believe she is not a fan of my editing, so I’ll leave them as they are here. 

She distributed her wrath equally and was unhindered and unconcerned by geographical or ideological boundaries. Her reviews ranged from Wisconsin to Texas to Colorado. She was serially aggrieved wherever she has traveled, it seems, and has the bad fortune of only coming into contact with people whose conduct was universally disappointing. 

My favorite was her review of carpet company: “I was thinking of calling [them] for a rug replacement but after hearing the same ad from them for the last six months (a boy with muddy feet walking across a rug), I have decided to go elsewhere.  After all, if they don't have enough money to change their ad once in awhile, how financially soluble are they?

NOTE TO [THEM]: Your ad is aired WAY TOO MUCH and the  ‘It's not my fault’ over and over is incredibly annoying.  Please, people, have mercy and put up another ad!”

One review was of a veterinarian who helped cure her dog of an infection. For some reason, the people at the clinic got the impression she – the person, not the dog – was hard to deal with. She took her dog to the clinic in Colorado, where there was a long wait. In her retelling, there was some kind of vague scene in the waiting room, and she was asked to wait outside for her medication. 

“Several months later, I asked for a refill and a copy of my dog’s medical records and noted they had written the following in my chart:  ‘nasty and mean when she came to the appointment and when she called to request a refill.’  Hmm.  Very professional. I only hope that whoever wrote this never has to wait in a parking lot having an asthma attack while the staff takes their time in filling a prescription.  Oh, well. At least, I never have to come back here.

She seems to have the worst luck when it comes to customer service, or, as she calls it in one of her reviews. 
“custome rservice?”  

She posts in creative bursts and nearly always ends with an all-caps bang. 

My advice: DONT DO BUSINESS WITH THIS BANK!!!!

DON'T SUPPORT THIS BUSINESS IN ANY WAY!

She even recommended that Yelp change its insufficient review system, which stifles her creativity with its one-to-five scale: “My only regret is that I have to give them one star. It should be -10.”

Say what you want about her negativity, she is certainly an innovative thinker. 

When she had to see a physician assistant rather than a doctor, she was beside herself. “That was their first mistake.”

“This place seems to have a monopoly on dermatology in Southeast Wisconsin which is too bad. My suggestion to anyone considering coming here for an evaluation is simply this: GO ELSEWHERE!!!”

She has a noticeable narrative technique, in which she begins with a fairly straightforward account of what happened, from her perspective, then explains in increasingly agitated language how this has wronged and/or offended her. She tends to end her reviews with a flourish of exclamation points, just in case the reader is unsure whether or not she is yelling when she switches to all caps.

She was mad at a bank because she had trouble opening an account online. She was angry at an attorney who wouldn’t take her case against someone. She gave a one-star review to an animal preserve, and she gave one to a property rental company that she apparently had never actually dealt with: 

“I can't believe this company actually expects people to pay $2.25 per square foot of carpeting as a pet deposit for 1 cat.  For the place I was interested in, that would total over $1,000 for one tiny cat.  Way to go, [Real Estate Company]. You've found a unique way to take people's money.”

In the comments below her review, a man from the business she critiqued pointed out that she had confused his company with another one that has a similar name. 

She often winks at the end of her reviews, as if to say to the reader: “;) You get it. You understand how they have wronged me.”

You might wonder why I was reading this person’s reviews, in the first place. Well, I was reading them because someone sent her review of me, to me.

“I once had the misfortune to work with Matt Geiger as a freelance writer with the  Middleton-Cross Plains Times,” she wrote last week. “His constant criticism and negativity regarding my work was rude and demoralizing.  It was not until after I left and began working with an editor who gave me positive feedback that I realized how obnoxious my previous editor was.

My advice to freelancers thinking about working with Matt Geiger: LOOK ELSEWHERE!!”

Here’s the thing. I’ve been an editor for close to 20 years now, I don’t recognize the woman’s name at all, but perhaps she uses an alias for her Yelp reviews, like a customer service vigilante. On a side note, I was never the editor of a publication called the Middleton-Cross Plains Times, but I assume she was referring to the Middleton newspaper I actually did (and still do) oversee, and simply got the name wrong. Perhaps it was a very long time ago. Who knows?

When someone first sent the review (technically it was a review of the Star News, which I also manage and which she apparently never wrote for), I scratched my head and tried to think of who it might be. I felt bad. What if this had been a green writer who did not yet understand that editing IS criticism, and it is done in service of the story and out of reverence for the writer’s aspirations? You edit stories to make them better, which, if the writer is receptive, makes the story–and by extension, the writer–stronger and more beautiful. And because most writers love their stories in a way only a parent can truly understand, it is rare that someone’s ego is wounded by constructive critiques. 

But it does happen.

When I wrote my second book, one of my editors, who had been my boss at Coreweekly Magazine many years earlier, and who I edited when he wrote a brilliant series called “The Heroin Blues” that appeared in several Wisconsin newspapers, tore me apart like a ravenous hyena tearing chunks of misplaced modifiers out of the body of a sloppily-written zebra. He sent me literally hundreds of edits, probably close to 1,000, including many that stated, simply, “Terrible.”

Early on, he wrote: “This screams sophomore slump.” (It was my second book.) At the end of the manuscript, I felt emotionally defeated but artistically inspired. He had made me feel worse, but more importantly he had made my stories better. After he had made his final edit, he sent me one additional note. “Everything I did, I did in service to your stories.” It was, after many cruel notes on the margins of my work, one of the kindest things anyone has ever told me. I still feel indebted to him for it.

This week I received a small, silver award for that same book from the Midwest Independent Publishers Association, so I think it’s fair to say his edits were beneficial. I seriously doubt they would have liked the book without a good editor’s help. 

“How awful, that this person was so wounded by me, and she still is angry about it, and yet I don’t even remember her!” I thought. “I should reach out to her, and apologize, and try to explain why editors can be so fierce, and why she shouldn’t take it personally.” 

Then I read her other reviews, all of which were negative, and I was reminded that I had wandered onto the Internet again, a place where anonymous people spout vitriol as a hobby, and there isn’t much point in trying to change their minds. 

As I read through all of her reviews, my resolve waivered and I wondered if reaching out to her to apologize was really a good idea. 

The one thing I took away from the reviews, honestly was that someone was suffering. She, the reviewer, was suffering. What other word could describe this state of perpetual outrage? 

In fact, more than one person was suffering, because I have a feeling some of those veterinarians and physician assistants and bank tellers suffered, briefly, too. And I’m sure if you asked each of them, you would get a very different story. Not because the reviewer’s stories are wrong, but because that is the way stories work. The telling of them matters, so incredibly much. That’s why editors exist, to help you tell your story, which is part of the big, sprawling story, in which we all play our little parts. 

The words that spill out onto the page of a magazine, or a book, or a newspaper, or a Yelp page, become real once they escape the strange and unique confines of our own minds. Once they are part of the world these stories can be challenged, but they can also be cared for and bolstered and infused with great strength. They can be laughed at, and they can be added to, and retold, again and again, if they are any good. Because when your story is retold, that is when it really takes its rightful place in this vexing but often delightful world.

 

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