Lee Radziwill’s book was bizarre. Pretty to look at — I especially loved the picture of her and her daughter on the right above (can that be me and mini?!) — but bizarre. In it, she assumes everyone knows the plot-points of her life (possibly fair? — I didn’t, though, and resorted to Wikipedia), dispenses of narrative, and instead lightly annotates a series of beautiful photographs depicting that jet set life with brief, superlative notes — “so-and-so is the most incredible cook,” “so-and-so is the most fabulously talented designer” — etc. In essence, she keeps the reader at arm’s length, obliquely exposing her outrageously stylish life through her photographed liaisons to many celebrated, wealthy men and women and a puzzling, multi-page facsimile of a series of letters she wrote to esteemed art critic Bernard Berenson as a teen. The letters are far from interesting; as with many of the photographs in the book, their presence instead establishes her camaraderie with the cultural elite. All in, it’s a vanity project, but how can I blame her? It’s beautiful to look at, and I bought it with the voyeuristic impulse that made the project possible.
That said, I found one observation in the book fascinating: Lee wrote that she finds that people tend to be either “life enhancers” or “life diminishers,” and that she works to avoid the latter. I couldn’t stop thinking about it — we all know the types of people who leave us feeling bad about ourselves, or who somehow bring out the worst in us, vs. those that leave us feeling whole, full, the best versions of ourselves. I hadn’t thought about categorizing acquaintances in this light, and while I’m generally squeamish about reductive formulas along these lines (INFJ, ENTP, BARF), it’s a striking litmus test. A few days later, I read Liz Adams’ honest reflection on how motherhood has changed her, and she had this to say about social media as a new parent: “I find myself unfollowing so many accounts that make me feel like my life isn’t good enough.”
At the same time, I was taken back to some of your insightful reactions to this post, where I shared a critical comment by one of my readers. One of you (heyyy A.!) wrote:
“…I think you were right to give [the critical remark] a little reflection rather than just dismissing it outright. I think you’re ultimately right about the reaction being largely a misunderstanding of tone (or maybe something just hit a nerve in a weird way for that person), but there is value in knowing that someone has misunderstood something (even it seemed so clear to you!)”
I could not agree more; the reader’s comment has made me more aware of some of the things I take for granted, and has also — I hope — made me a more sensitive writer. I don’t want to come off as a glutton for punishment, but sometimes unpleasant, challenging interactions with others have forced me to acknowledge my faults, put things in perspective, and grow.
So where does this leave us? On the one hand, I tend to agree with Lee and Liz: why would we clutter our lives or feeds with those who make us feel badly about ourselves? On the other hand, conflict, cognitive dissonance, challenge can lead to change — and I certainly don’t want to live in a world of yesmen and yeswomen.
Am I conflating two different things, though? What say you, Magpies?
Post-Script: Le Truly Random.
+Did anyone else LOVE the movie Grease growing up? My sisters and I must have watched it 2000 times — we all wanted to be Sandy, I had a crush on Kenickie, and my baby sister once mimicked Rizzo, loudly, with no concept as to what she was saying: “I can get my kicks and get ’em while I’m young, too.” Anyway, if you share our Grease obsession, you might enjoy this remake of You’re the One I Want, which I’ve been playing on repeat.
+This precious coat is on sale!!!
+I’m very excited about this movie. It’s been a minute since a good chick movie came out, hasn’t it?
+These are GENIUS! Single-serve popcorn makers for le microwave?!?! Would make a great gift, along with some Anson Mills popping corn, which Mr. Magpie gifted me as a stocking stuffer last year! (If you place an order from them, though, BE SURE TO BUY A BAG OF THEIR GRITS. They are next-level.
+This dress has turned my head.
+Love the vintage vibes of these placemats. Since Mr. Magpie and I have a small dropleaf dining table in our petite Manhattan dining room, it’s been hard to find a suitable runner/tablecloth, so I’ve resorted to chic placemats. These ones are the list!
+Love this pretty throw pillow.
+While home in DC the weekend before last, I noticed my mom had this sponge holder — genius! Is it shameful to admit I’d been just leaving my sponge on the rim of the sink? This will be so much more sanitary, and tidy!
+These chic gift enclosures are on sale!