SOME WEEKS AGO I RECEIVED a copy of a book -- a lovely personal memoir -- written by a woman I know slightly. In a lengthy acknowledgment at the end, she stops to thank pretty much everyone who helped with the book's creation: her parents, her in-laws, her husband, her agent, her babysitter. Mostly I felt glad to see such a long list: It's my experience that book acknowledgments traditionally are the place where the male author stops to salute "my wife, who typed all 57 drafts of this manuscript," and it was good to see that nowadays there are women who -- though obliged to do their own typing -- are given the time and space to do so by those who love and believe in them.
At the same time, when it comes to thanking people, I have to confess to feeling more deeply stirred by the somewhat tarter thank-you speech made, also recently, by the athlete Lance Armstrong. As everyone knows, Armstrong is the great bicyclist who, while being treated for testicular cancer, was fired by the prestigious French racing team Cofidis. Thus spurned, Armstrong reentered competition under the humble sponsorship of the U.S. Postal Service and went on to win this year's Tour de France. Afterward he gave what must have been one of the most satisfying speeches ever delivered, pointing out that half of his victory was for those with cancer and those who treat them; 25 percent was for himself and his teammates; "and 25 percent is for the people who never believed in me."
Aside, say, from childbirth, what greater single moment could there be than stopping to point out that you have accomplished something difficult and singular despite those who thought you couldn't -- those who actively worked to ensure your failure? Is there a word for the feeling Armstrong was expressing? We have Schadenfreude to describe the all-too-human emotion of glee at another's sudden failure; what is the word to describe the equally human emotion of glee at one's own unexpected success? Gloating?
The purest human joy?
Whatever the word, I admit that Armstrong's speech recalled a secret thought I sometimes have, of how satisfying it would be -- were one ever to write a fabulously lucrative bestseller or win, oh, say, a coveted international award -- to craft an acknowledgment saluting not so much those who helped as those who didn't. I'm not talking about getting even with actual enemies; just stopping to take note of the run-of-the-mill discouragement that characterizes so much of life.
"I would like to thank that influential pioneer of new journalism, John McPhee," I myself would say -- for example -- in this little fantasy acceptance speech/acknowledgment page, "who did not admit me to his prestigious writing course in college, a dispiriting rejection indeed.
"I would like to thank my junior-year adviser, who gave me no useful feedback for the papers I wrote except: `Your use of that and which still bothers me.'
"I would like to thank the three professors who administered my graduate orals exam, and who, when I left, could be heard to burst out laughing.
"I would like to thank every editor who ever rejected any manuscript or job application I ever sent; your words (`devolves into pedestrianism' . . . `somewhat juvenile' . . . `you might want to apply to a third-tier newspaper' . . . `indefinite hiring freeze') are burned eternally into my brain.
"Specifically, I would like to thank the potential employer who, in declining to hire me as an editor, said, `You see, you're really a writer.' "
As well as the potential employer who, in declining to hire me as a writer, said, "You see, you're really an editor."
And of course the potential employer who, in declining to hire me as either an editor or a writer, said, "We've given you every opportunity to prove yourself, and time and again you've failed."
For good measure, I would also like to thank anyone who has ever said anything insulting to me in a bar.
As well as all those awful dinner dates.
And everybody who never returned a phone call.
And everybody who ever returned a phone call only to yell or lie.
And my cats, who always walk on top of my notes.
And those editors who, once I did get a job or an assignment, made me execute their dumb ideas.
And those editors who, when I rejected their dumb ideas, let me execute my own even dumber ones.
But most of all I'd like to thank those careful readers who, entirely unprompted, generously gave of their time, tirelessly calling, writing, faxing or e-mailing whenever I committed the slightest error of language or logic.
Barring this, I'd like to thank Lance Armstrong, for living a moment the rest of us can only dream about. Not just for persevering -- and winning -- when so few believed he could. But for taking a brief, priceless moment to mildly point this out.
Liza Mundy's e-mail address is email@example.com.