Epiblogues: Fallen Idols

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)


Anonymous | 9:46 AM

How beautifully written. Love this post.

With that said, I'm going to BlogHer and am fully prepared to shatter the dreams of all 3 of my readers. Hoooha!

Green | 10:17 AM

I found my way here after BMC bragged about you more than once to me. I met Paul Reiser and when we talked he made a funny-yet-mean joke - it made me like him a tiny bit less.

I understand why you don't want to go to the conference. That was a deep post (so was the previous one you linked to) and I liked it.

Anonymous | 11:37 AM

As another East Coast Blogger too lazy/chicken/whatever to get her ass to Blogher I'm also looking forward to the stories.

Maybe next year.

Anonymous | 11:48 AM

I really appreciated that perspective. I just don't have the money to go South of the border and pay for hotels and what not, so I won't be going.

I know what you meant though. It's easier to be witty, likable, smart and present how you like to when you are sitting behind the power of cut and paste, spell checker, and lots of time to plan your words.

Blog Antagonist | 11:54 AM

I had sort of the same experience with Edna St. Vincent Millay. I have loved and admired her since I discovered poetry in 8th grade. Recently I read "Savage Beauty" and found that she was really messed up. I was shattered.

I also completely understand your feelings about meeting other bloggers. There is nothing wrong with maintaining a little mystery. I think those who remain somewhat enigmatic are those who continue to intrigue and inspire their audience.

Look what happened to Tom Cruise! It used to be that every woman over 10 and under 80 with a pulse had a serious thing for him. Then we all found out what a tinfoil asshat he is, and his career is going to hell in a handbasket.

Sometimes, illlusions are best left unchallenged.

Cristina | 12:53 PM

I hear what you're saying. Keeping the mystery there is kinda nice.

But I have been considering going to BlogHer for a day. I live awfully close to where it's gonna be so I am tempted to go for that reason alone.

Anonymous | 12:57 PM

I wrote a fan letter to an author when I was in the fifth or sixth grade. I asked her what books she liked and she recommended Dear Mr. Henshaw. A book about a boy who writes to an author. When I read it then, it seemed the author was often irritated by the fan.

It changed my opinion of the author who recommended the book. I remember thinking, "Subtle, bitch. Real subtle."

Chicky Chicky Baby | 5:39 PM

You read my mind. I keep telling myself...

"Perhaps next year."

Here's to next year.


Mom101 | 7:13 PM

I absolutely understand the conflict here. It's exactly what I was getting at (a little awkwardly) in the post where I first posted my photo. The anonymity can both allow you to create a facade and tell your truth. Depends how you spin it.

The reason I "came out" was to hold myself accountable to the real truth. Like when I read women complaining about their thighs, then see their photos and they're thin as prepartum rails--I think, who is this character you've created? I suppose that's the conundrum huh. We are all characters, but that character changes not just based on whether we're writing but who's reading. Or who we're with in the real world.

I love your final paragraph about technology separating us from experience. This is why I try so hard not to blog about blogging. There's more to life!

Amazing post, R. I have a lot to think about.


Movin Mom | 9:41 PM

When I was 18 I met a guy on the phone (wrong #) Stupid I know but did I say I was 18?

On the phone it was amazing. We were both so witty with each other, funny, sarcastic, sweet etc...We did this for a year and 1/2. Then I built up enough inner self to meet. It was great for about an hour and then spiral downward into whatever one may call stage fright, nerves, or maybe just the inability to live up to who he thought I was. Apparently (according to him) I was not the same person "in person" but we continued our phone thing for a while longer.

I also have no interest in going to BLOGHER!

Her Bad Mother | 8:57 AM

Ah, I really think that I shuld go away and think about this before I comment, but, no impulse control, so here goes.

I deliberated for a long time about Blogher. For me, the primary issue was (I thought) imposter syndrome - why should *I* go? I've only just started, I won't know anybody, what if the girls I like are interested in knowing me, what if I end up in a corner, sad and disillusioned? But I think now that all of those feelings were a variation on what you're describing: I want to go so that I can make contact with these women that I admire, these *writers.* As you say, one always risks disappointment with such things. But it goes beyond that - I risk exposing myself, I risk disappointing, I risk not being liked. I'm nobody's Erica Jong/Colette/Nin, but what if somebody thinks 'I thought she'd be smarter/funnier/prettier/cooler'?

And, and. This thing about 'coming out' in such an open, public environment. We are not each other's Erica Jongs, however much we might admire each other, because there has already been so much intimacy, however virtual. How strange it will be to meet people that you think of, however presumptuously, as friends, in such an impersonal environment. What if it does, really, feel impersonal? What if the bubble of writerly intimacy that has been fuelling me lo these many months gets burst?

Mom-101 said it perfectly - taking the leap (whether by posting a picture or daring a meeting) has something to do with trying to be honest and open in this forum, beyond this forum. But as with all such things, so dangerous.

Like many, I would love to meet you. In a very short time you've become one of my favorite writers, a writer that I am awed by, a writer who, I tell myself, I would like off the page. But still... would I blither incoherently, awkward fan, and make you uncomfortable? Would we both be thinking about Erica Jong?

I doubt it. But that's the thing about disappointment - it's always unexpected. But that's also why it's always worth risking, because its opposite is usually something that we very much want.

Andrea | 9:52 AM

I think some of the difference between meeting a blogger and meeting a revered author is that, while editing may polish us up a bit on our sites, we still try to write the truth about ourselves, whereas authors (excluding memoirists) usually write about a topic or plot that has nothing to do with themselves. These thoughts have some significance for me since you and I have been corresponding via email and I have wondered if our impressions of each other are accurate. I like to think that one day, if our paths cross, because I was reading about you and about your son and your thoughts on your blog, that there would be no pedestal for you to fall from. Of course, I don't think my impression of you is 100% accurate because we don't interact in person, so how could it be? On the other hand, my impression of you can't be completely wrong because I didn't meet you in a bar or coffee shop or bookstore. It's just different.

As for BlogHer, I do think a little mystery keeps the readers intrigued. I'm personally not going to BlogHer simply because I don't have the money, and frankly I'm a little intimidated, because I'm fairly new with the whole blog world.

But a reader enjoying someone's writing doesn't necessarily put the writer in a realm of airbrushed reality. I don't think merely being a writer facilitates that impression. I'm sure the reader goes a long way in that airbrushing just as much as editing and spell check do.

zinalasvegas | 3:33 AM

I'm with you on this one and I was afraid to even articulate it. I am intrigued with BlogHer, but ain't no way I'm going. It would be some kind of freak sensory overload to have everyone revealed to me and to reveal myself. I think what's beautiful about writing and creating is that it is not you--it's a creation you made. There's a reason jacket covers never look like the person. When we read personal, autobiographical things we assume we know the person. But we can't. Short of opening a vein on the page, all you can do when you write is present a persona--a piece of yourself.

BTW, I'm with ya on stalking Nin and Miller. Henry M. has long been a love and fascination for me--one of the few writers I think would NOT disappoint in person.

Anonymous | 10:09 AM

I don't know, I've met some great writers I've really admired and yet I've also seen them when they are off or having shitty days. I think it's only natural to mythologize someone and then grow disappointed when they turn out to be human. poor dorothy parker, imagine having to live up to 1937 dorothy parker for the rest of your life. poor erica kong, having to live up to 1978 erica jong, poor rebecca wolf, having to live up to 2008 rebecca wolf for the rest of her life. . .

[with fingers crossed, that is!]

Anonymous | 7:52 AM

Interesting perspective. I guess I approach BlogHer - as I do with just about any introduction - with tempered expectations.

I'm fortunate to be sharing a room with a friend whom I've known since well before I was blogging, and if the whole thing turns out to be a bust, at least we'll have a girls' weekend together.

But I don't think it'll be a bust. I'm truly not expecting people to be exactly who they are on their blogs. I know I write differently than I speak, and I wouldn't expect anyone else to be a carbon copy of their work either - bloggers, authors, actors, politicians, and so forth.

Anonymous | 1:13 PM

I am also not going to blogher-- not because i don't want anyone to be sadly disapointed in me, but because, as i am pregnant, when i see the disappointment in their eyes, I cannot be utterly wasted and not care. heh.

I have a feeling the blogging has this built in community that novel writing doesn't cultivate. It mitigates that anxiety a little. That and cocktails in the hotel lobby.

yes, am pondering 2007 too.