Saturday was the eve of my sister’s birthday. That morning, we were in the kitchen with coffee, bowled over by our success. The lounge we’d secured was exclusive, but the restaurant was something pulled from a treasure chest. I liked the menu, but I liked better the story it invited you to compose. It was one where, after perhaps a lifetime of drawing short straws, you were finally entering a place that said aloud what you’d always suspected about yourself. The interior was moody and gilded, and the restaurant was in the sky with a view over London. It was a scene that would flatter anyone, the sort of prospect that made you act, not think; which is why later that day, we had to leave the restaurant without eating.
“Some people think they’re beyond scrutiny,” is what I said at birthday breakfast the following day, amused for being so annoyed.
And too, there are moments where one is beyond scrutinising another. That’s what had happened, why we’d arrived at the restaurant to find our table had been given away, and why we were left standing in the middle of a glorified penthouse waiting for another to be cleared. While we stood there, like unwanteds in a secondary school diner, we started to look at things with better eyes. In the faces of the people seated was not vivid joy, or smugness, or anything especially. The food was already in front of them, the bills were already racked up, so what did it matter? The pictures had been taken, the plans for them, already made. There was vested interest in suffering the fantasy and upholding it. We were all there after all. We’d all brought the mocktails, at least.
My sister and I left without dinner because we couldn’t miss our second reservation, and would not be disgraced a second time; yet our presence, all 40 minutes of it, had still helped to buff the lie– my sister’s new dress and my white 60s boots; the effort that had gone in, and all of that prior belief. We’d wanted looks to be everything, had not consulted google reviews to consider information that does not need pictures.
They say scrutiny does its best work when no part of the examiner is aggrieved, but I’d beg to differ, as do the 1 star reviews from people with no significant following on social media. Anger for being shamed by the restaurant that had only ‘appeared’ superior, and anger for not knowing what we should’ve known is what has inspired multiple written warnings, and a blogpost of many paragraphs. Here we are, helping one another, saving potential victims while nursing the wounded. I haven’t mentioned the restaurant by name, because enough is out there to save the scrupulous. And I’d much prefer it if I could criticise for sounder reasons– if I could scrutinise my own heart first, and find far less resentment.
“I knew that what I was writing was not particularly novel, even prosaic,” said a blogger I read in her Sunday newsletter, “but I was tired, too pregnant to second guess myself, so I accepted the unoriginality.”
The next bit of the newsletter was a recital of an email reply from a reader, which concluded with an instruction,
“DO BETTER YOU SAD COW!”
I took a pause to say a silent prayer for myself, that when the day comes to receive more feedback than I’m sincerely comfortable with, that I’ll be ready for it. Later, a few minutes on, I accepted that I never would be. A few paragraphs down from the included response, the blogger noted that the email’s author was definitely sad, maybe mad too. The email had been feedback, yet, the kind that little can be done with, because the place from which it had come was as scummy as my Saturday night. The reader resented the blogger’s existence, like I and some others want to see the penthouse restaurant torn down in the near or far future, however long it takes. Criticism is useless when it comes from an unexamined heart.
Sometimes, what is obvious and unoriginal is what we most need reminding of. Some scrutiny is too violent and contemptuous to be of any real significance. It’s a tool in the hand of a novice, a weapon in the hand of a person blind with rage. The wielder is too much a part of it. Mostly, we are all out for revenge, shouting on account of being punched in the face, or, we’re full of derision for reasons both known and unknown to ourselves. We would do well to first try removing the foreign object destroying our own vision, and then see if we’re still irritable enough to ‘say what needs to be said’. If we find then that we just want to help, then it is strongly advised to help those who want it. Leave the others for the one with whom we have to do.
Artwork is ‘the parable of the mote and the beam’ by Domenico Fetti