Alexander Hellene

The Healing Power of Spite

I’ll never forget it: I was eighteen, at a bass lesson one morning with my neighbor who used to be the music teacher at our high school but had since started teaching at our local university. Not only did he tell me I’ll never be a good jazz player because of “the color of your skin” (an actual quote (he was white too)), but he told me I would never make All-State Jazz Band for the wonderful state of New Hampshire in the Year of Our Lord 1999 (a most blessed and cursed year). “I just had my other student in before you,” he said (I’m paraphrasing now), “and he had a great lesson. I mean, just spectacular. He kicked your ass.” This other kid played an actual, honest-to-God double-bass—obviously, he was a truly serious jazzer—while I had a simple electric which, to be fair, was a Fender Jazz.

Anyway, I did the audition for All-State Jazz Band and made it, while this other kid didn’t. “He must’ve had a bad lesson or something,” my bass teacher said.

And so, if you’re reading this, Mr. Williams, fuck you.* I’m still bitter about this. And also, thank you for being such a dick that you inspired me to practice and play my little heart out and make All-State Jazz Band, even if I didn’t have all that much fun there (it was all right). No, I’m thankful for two purposes: one, I’m glad that your wunderkind student didn’t make it, and I hope he’s still bitter, and two, I’m happy that I pissed you off.

And therein lies today’s lesson. No, not that I don’t like jazz musicians, something I’ve already covered. What I’m getting at, trying to stress the importance of, is the motivating power of spite.

Sometimes, you just have to do something because it really sticks it to somebody else.

Cone of shame covering all

You’re only happy when you’re pissing me off

Cone of shame covering all

I’m only happy when I’m pissing you off

Faith No More, “Cone of Shame”

I am not the most charitable person sometimes. I impute my own manner of thinking onto others. I like to think that a lot of martyrs refused to renounce their face, not only because they truly believed it but so their last act in the land of the living was to spit in the eye of the Roman governor or ISIS jihadist with the blade to their neck. Ha ha, guess what? You might have killed me, but I STILL didn’t do what you told me to.

Maybe this makes me a bad Christian. I like to think that, as long as this attitude is directed towards the right ends and against the right people, I’ll be square with the Lord come the end.

It’s all part of being a proverbial happy warrior.

*     *     *

Spite can be unbelievably powerful. Spit in the devil’s eye. If you feel low and like you can’t go on, just look at what the powers-that-be want you to be, and do the opposite. Why? Well, generally, being the opposite of what society wants you to be; that is, jacked, intellectually curious, and refined instead of fat and stupid with zero taste; is better for you, but it also drives them nuts.

They, ultimately, want you dead. What better way to spite them than to not only keep living, but to enjoy yourself while doing it?

Use the power of spite to keep you going in these troubling times!

Read that book you’re not “supposed” to. Think those thoughts. And germane to the focus of this blog, keep creating.

What are the things that writers are not supposed to do in the Year of Our Lord, 2022? For starters, you’re not supposed to use terms like “The Year of Our Lord.” Second, you’re not supposed to write outside of your lane. Are you a straight white male? Don’t you dare write a gay black woman! Or if you do, you’re supposed to submit them to sensitivity readers.

Says who?

Says the gatekeepers!

Who are the gatekeepers? They’re in part the big publishing houses who pay authors who can’t write books anybody wants to read? So don’t go through the big publishing houses. Eschew agents. Don’t participate in #PitMad inanity (unless you’re hijacking the hashtag to prank it). Stop abasing yourself for the approval of people who hate you.

And do that which specifically sticks a finger in their eye. Because it’s funny. And they deserve it.

They are not cool.

I think if you call yourself an “aspiring writer” and you’re on this side of the great divide, you might feel like you don’t have what it takes. That you’ll never “make it.” Let me tell you something: with that attitude, you never will. I’m here to tell you that you do have what it takes. And I’m also here to give you that extra fire that will motivate you to get your work out there. Are you ready? Here it goes:

By remaining passive, you’re doing what the powers-that-be want you to. They want to cow you into silence. Don’t let them.

Whatever your creative medium of choice, there are forces arrayed against you to make sure you don’t step out of line. My exhortation to you is to cross it, even if it’s just a toe at first. That first step may be small, but man is it powerful.  

It feels good to be transgressive, especially when the transgression is righteous. You have to be smart about it. Tactical. You have to pick your battles so that the powers-that-be, who still a considerably large banhammer, cannot remove you from the battlefield. Yet even a little bit is good. It all adds up. I like to call this stacking the grains of sand. What you do is not pointless. It makes a dent, however small, in the universe. Soon you—and by extension, we—will have created a mountain. 

What’s more, the competition has never been weaker. You are contending against people so afraid of putting a foot wrong they’ll never create anything of value.

So let the spite fill you. Let that righteous indignation drive you to great heights. Let the fact that people don’t think you have what it takes push you to prove them wrong. Because it’s awesome to rub it in their faces.

Nothing makes the demons governing this world and their master whose spirit animates those who follow him angrier than you not listening to them and laughing about it.

The devil . . . the prowde spirite . . . cannot endure to be mocked.

Thomas Moore

If you’re going to spite somebody, aim high.

– Alexander

*Swearing is gauche, this I know. But two points: First, I’m trying very hard not to take the Lord’s name in vain. Whenever I fell compelled to do so, I drop an F-bomb instead. It’s crass and vulgar, but it’s better than using the Name of the Most Holy as a curse and surely far more forgivable. Second, sometimes no other word can convey what you feel so much as a well-placed profanity. So please, anyone put off by such a rude term, kindly forgive this humble writer.

One last point: Mr. Williams was actually an okay dude. In the off-chance he ever reads this, I like to think he’ll get at least a chuckle out of it. This is all in line with his sense of humor.  

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5 thoughts on “The Healing Power of Spite”

    1. SonomaSage,

      Thanks for the comment, and the link!

      You raise good points about righteous anger, righteous hate. Being anti-hate is just a ridiculous proposition as you point out: doesn’t that mean that one hates hate itself? That is hatred. The people who say they don’t hate are lying. They hate that which they think is evil. Better to actually hate what is evil. Luckily, we have an objective guide as to what that is.

  1. Alexander,

    I agree spite can galvanize creators to produce interesting works. However we can rely on it all the time to stimulate creation. The alternative is what if? I like that and mixing it with a touch of spite can really push the creative juices.

    In my case, I’m not writing out of spite but to fill a missing gap. I’ve mentioned the genre several times so I won’t repeat it. If I were to write in English, the spite factor would increase but there’s still would be a what if and explore themes. The one that I obsess on is the what if? What if you have a main character who’s brave, conscientious and likable but isn’t the alpha protagonist a la Doc Savage, etc? How does he come to terms without succumbing to jealously and stay true to his moral compass? How does the alpha protagonist react and mentor the character, or can he? I want to mix various tropes(man against himself, man against society and the like)


    1. Xavier,

      Spite can indeed lead to burnout. As an actual storytelling ethos, “What if?” is far better than “Who will this piss off?” My point is that if one has a story in them that is likely to piss off all the right people, go for it with gusto.

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