For Mother's Day I received a copy of Erica Jong's new book, "Seducing the Demon: Writing for my Life." If you read my long-winded post about coming of age through disappointment, specifically Erica Jong and her appearance at the L.A. Times Festival of Books you will understand why I am posting the following text, the opening few paragraphs from Chapter Two:
*When I was fourteen and at the height of my adoration for writers, I went alone to the 92nd Street Y to hear Dorothy Parker. Her stories and poems were alive for me, so I had no idea they had mostly been written more than thirty years earlier. She took a long time to come to the stage. The crowd grew fidgety. When she did appear- a little dumpling-shaped woman in her sixth of seventh decade- she was short for the podium and had a hard time finding the mike. Then she began to read in mumbles punctuated by long pauses. Her voice was nearly gone and clearly she was drunk. It was impossible to understand anything she was saying. I was so disappointed as I sat there clutching my copy of The Best of Dorothy Parker, which I had hoped to have autographed by my idol. Now I didn't want her autograph... I don't want to be her.
She goes on about alcoholism and the authors who drowned from drinking, but what I was so struck by, reading the above passage is that we have no idea what kind of impression we are making on our readers in the flesh. (And I'm talking about every one who writes- Novels, Blogs, Essays, Letters to the Editor, Letters to strangers we meet on the internet.) It is always quite different than it is on the page. No one can ever live up to the expectations of their carved and crafted identity.
I know that many of you are attending BlogHer and though I think its a fantastic idea and I cannot wait to hear your stories I personally have no desire to go. Not because I don't want to hug all of you and ching-ching my glass against yours and tell secrets and talk about words and where they come from, but because I do not want to cross the line, not with so many people at once. Silly as it sounds, especially after meeting a handful of online friends and loving every one of them/you, I kind of want to maintain some kind of flesh-and-blood anonyminity. I know, right? As my photos and son's photos are plastered all over the site. But for me anonyminity has nothing to do with photographs and names used and stories told. It is the 3D version that is real. Really. One can hide behind words forever, define oneself by what they write but there is more. There is truth. By staying home I don't have to wear my sunglasses and search squinted eyes for expectations. I can stay safe on my island and edit my thoughts so it all comes out sort of understandable and once in a while, interesting or funny.
After reading Jong's book, about her subsequent disappointment with one of her literary heroes, I started to draw parallels to my own experience and the post I wrote about her disappointing me. And then, duh! It was so obvious. No one who writes is ever able to live up to the expectations of their words. I have the real-life proof! It has happened with men in my life. It has happened with women and just as I have been disappointed, so have they with me. We all look different drenched in vowels, crawling with consonants, holding up photos (only the best!) and re-publishing drafts when we later catch our typos. (I hope no one read that! I totally misspelled petunia picklebottom!!! Damn spellcheck!)
Perhaps this is why the finest writers receive their greatest praise posthumously. Perhaps this is why the greatest minds were "always crazy." Because how could they be anything other than crazy and arrogant and disappointing in person, after being read and studied and praised for creating something bigger than themselves? Something more beautiful and interesting and edited.
So what to do? Lock oneself up and exchange words rather than handshakes? No. I don't think that's what anyone wants. I am glad I saw Jong speak, even though she disappointed me and if Nin and Miller and Sartre and Colette were alive today, I would hunt them down and spy with my nose in the dust of their keyholes for clues- knowledge, just to know their truths, the other truths, the kind you cannot read but have to see, touch, taste, smell, with your fingers insead of imagination. The kind that runs the risk of being disappointing.
As technology brings us closer in spirit and story, it seems to be doing a wonderful job at separating us from experience, the kind you need to leave the house for, the real adventure. Yes. Hmmmmm. BlogHer. Perhaps next year, I'm thinking.
*Erica Jong: Seducing the Demon- Writing from my Life (p 113,114)