Fallen Idols

A Perfect Post

Maybe the bible was right. Perhaps mortals weren't meant to be worshiped like Gods. Perhaps those on the highest pedestal are not there because they earned it with their talent and goodness but because they simply got there. Every mountain has it's highest peak and thus every (wo)man is bound to fall. Still it's disappointing when they do. It was disappointing as a child and it is disappointing today.

As a very little girl, Alice from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was my heroine. My first bout with envy was perhaps the fact that Alice was friends with the flowers and I was not. I tried having conversations with them but they did not talk back. And though I looked to the crescent moon, hoping for the smile of the Cheshire cat to emerge, it only did so when I was alone. "I just saw it! I swear! I was alone and no one saw it but me, yes but it was there! The cat fell right out of the sky and onto my lap and now I have a piece of the moon."


I read every
Lewis Carroll book. I tapped the mirror and searched the infinite faces for a fantasy world all my own. I knew Jabberwocky by heart and dreamt of playing croquet with flamingos in the lawn. I was a child with a vivid imagination and a pair of imaginary friends to accompany me and blame things on. I found myself within myself and in books, through the power of words and the worlds that materialized from them.


Around 4th grade I recognized that being quiet and whimsical and dreamy was strange. If Alice went to La Costa Heights Elementary school, she would have been laughed at too. If she was to get caught talking to herself in the fields, she would be called names. If she was to pick up a tarantula instead of screaming, "ewwwww, gross" she would be crazy. And I was all of these things. I would have been interesting as a character, instead I was that girl.

I blamed my imaginary friends on Alice and her stupid adventures for tricking me into thinking I could have my own. Out of everything that mattered, nothing was real. No one could possibly understand me except for Alice and she was trapped in some silly old book. And no matter how card I tried, I was far too large to squeeze myself on to the page beside her. I was alone. I cursed books and the characters in them. I hated the voices in my head because they made me different and when I wrote, I hid my poems away from anyone who could read.

Through my childhood I don't remember idolizing anyone of pop-significance. Much like boys worship Superman and run around playing G.I. Joe, I played the characters in my storybooks and soon, started my own. There must have been a point when I realized that Alice was Carroll (or in fact Alice Liddell, Lewis' young muse but a product of Carroll nonetheless) and Stuart Little was E.B. White and Rebecca of Sunnybrook farm was Kate Douglas Wiggin and so on down the line. I think that was when I began worshipping the authors. I discovered that it was their wonderful world(s) I longed for as my own.

And while I held these writers on pedestals, I grew up into a teenager who worshipped Erica Jong and Marge Piercy most of all, and for many years I believed they were the two greatest living women in the world. I read everything I could get my hands on and devoured their prose. In highschool I spent a year working on a project about Marge Piercy's poetry and when I finished, proud of my A grade and the ten-page essay I had written about her, I drove to Los Angeles to hear her speak and proudly hand her a copy of the report.

I waited until after the last person had their book signed and then I came to her, explaining that I was her biggest fan. I had her poetry memorized. "The Moon is Always Female is the finest collection I have ever read!" and she thanked me, looking not into my eyes but out the window, seemingly bored and unphased by my enthusiasm. When I finally handed over my bound report and explained that I had written it about her and wanted her to have it, she shrugged, shook her head and said, "I have far too much luggage to bring this with me but feel free to mail it to my agent if you want. I can't promise I'll get to it but..."

I was crushed. She could have humored me, taken it with her and threw it away. She could have at least looked me in the eye when she broke my heart. She did none of those things and ever since, banished to the back of my bookshelf, I haven't opened a single one of her books. Her work was suddenly meaningless because she, herself seemed villianly. Or was I just being immature? She is only human after all. An old woman with a busy schedule and fans everywhere she turns. Is it a worthy excuse? Should it have mattered when I loved her writing so?


All of this brings me back to the present. I went to see Erica Jong speak at the L.A. Times Festival of Books this weekend. As a teenager, Erica Jong influenced me more than any woman during a time when I was soul-searching and exploring my independence. Isadora Wing was a flawed whore and I loved her. She was extraordinarily perverse and funny and intelligent and seemed so unlike anyone I had ever known. She taught me about sexual power and freedom and independence. So when I read that Erica Jong was going to be speaking at UCLA I jumped at the chance to see her. My girlfriend and I had front-row seats and when Jong walked up the podium I almost lost it. I wanted to hop up on stage and hug her like a crazed Morrissey fan. I wanted to raise both hands and ask a million questions.


Through her entire lecture, she did not remove her purple sunglasses. I never saw her eyes. Perhaps like Marge Piercy, she did not want to make eye contact with her audience. She could see us but we could not see her. She spoke of politics as if being liberal and anti-Bush wasn't redundant at a Los Angeles Book Fair- preaching to the choir to kill time. She rudely snapped at an older man, rebuffing him with her quick-wit and sharp-tongue, shaking her head and huffing at him like a teenager. She spoke of her various blowjobs (zipless fucks) and poetry prizes and seemed to manufacture herself before us. She spoke of telling the truth and yet, I felt she was hiding hers. She spoke eloquently but disappointed me. It wasn't her fault, it was mine. I, per usual, had expectations. Instead of waiting in line for her to sign my book, we walked away.

A character cannot disappoint you, not like their human creator. It is the opposite of God in the biblical sense. Everyone, no matter how brilliant and life-changing is only human, even the greatest of idols. We cannot be edited, not in the flesh. So as Marge Piercy crumbled before me and most recently, Erica Jong I ask myself what inspires me more? The work or the worker? Is there a difference? Am I far too sensitive? Why must I expect a master to live up to masterpiece? Is the heroine the fiction or the fact?

I know a lot about imaginary heroes- the characters that live in your head. The imagination is full and yet an imagination is for children. It is a little bit sad to grow up and look to a sky empty of stars. It is a little bit lonely, too.

I wonder what distant stars Archer will look upon. Will he build them out of his own ideas? Will he, like me struggle with the possibility that heroes and heroines can only exist in books, edited, perfected, touched-up, flawlessly flawed.

I think about who Archer will want to dress up like on Halloween. I think about the disappointment that happens when you realize that "being Spiderman when you grow up" is kind of impossible. Will I tell him the "truth" or will I find myself a child again, flying with him on his journey, reciting "and hath thou slain the jabberwock? Come to my arms, my beamish boy!"

Idols stand on their unbalanced pedestals and it is only a matter of time until they fall. Just like when I stopped worshipping Isadora Wing, looking instead to Erica Jong for all the answers. Little girls wish to be like Alice and women wish to create her. Perhaps its maternal, or maybe its just growing up. Of course, the truth is that Jong and Piercy and Carroll do not hold the answers and they never did.

And so one stroke at a time, I draw my own stars upon the barren sky.

GGC

28 comments:

Anonymous | 4:12 PM

lovely.

Wendy | 4:26 PM

that was simply amazing, R...

sunshine scribe | 4:52 PM

What a beautiful post. I could feel that right through. And I could relate so much.

But you know what it sounds like a little to me. Through all of this you found that your own idol is inside of you. And what fun it will be to share the journey with Archer.

reluctant housewife | 5:39 PM

...being quiet and whimsical and dreamy...is wonderful. Happy people keep their imaginations alive, and it is our job to share them with our children.

Beautiful.

heather | 5:41 PM

what a gorgeous post.

Marla | 6:11 PM

Stunning post.

lildb | 9:07 PM

Hey, gorgeously talented writer. I am in no way attempting to compare my ability to write to you; but I empathize with the experience you had as a kid regarding your closeness to characters. I was made endless fun of, due to recreating a scene from (corny disclaimer) the first book in the series by LM Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables. Or maybe it was the third book, the one where Anne and Gilbert get engaged. I did this in the fifth grade, and everyone in the class (and most of the grade, by the end of the day) had decided I was the biggest nerd alive. While being fine with that status now, I was horrified at the time. Also, I realize that the Anne series is pretty prosaic in comparison with the books/authors you were diving into, but I remember how much it stung to realize that, while those characters were alive to me, no one else felt that way (or at least, no one else dared admit it). I appreciate very much your lovely, verbally filigreed explanation of that time, is I guess what I'm saying. So, thank you.

mommy on the verge | 11:10 PM

Great post. Thank you for taking the time to write it.

Andie D. | 6:13 AM

Wow.

I was a very similar little girl. I learned quickly to hide the fact that I was one of "them" (someone who was able to lose herself in the power of words) in my family of non-readers. Reading became a private sanctuary for me.

One of my greatest hopes is that my children will become one of "them". Until now, I never thought about how they might be affected by being among the literate.

I will continue to strive to make sure that they feel loved, accepted, and supported whatever their choices. Reader or not.

But man I hope they love to read.

Her Bad Mother | 7:05 AM

This is my favorite post ever. EVER. Really. A Perfect Post Award just doesn't seem to suffice. It's better than perfect. I'm going to have to start, on my blog, a sidebar box of My Favorite Posts of All Time. This one will be the first.

Yes, I'm blithering, BLITHERING. Slobbering over with the admiration and the gush.

For a long time, as child, I left my bedroom window open every night, just in case Peter Pan should turn up. I wanted to go to NeverNeverLand, and be one of the Lost Boys. During those same years - and probably for longer than I'd care to admit - I demanded weekly visits to my grandmother's house because she had an attic room with an old-fashioned looking glass that I just *knew* I could fall through if I thought about it hard enough.

The greatest gift that comes from reading is that wild, imaginative world that you describe. Living with your heart so embedded in imagination can be hard, and heart-breaking (it was for me at times), but I still want it so desperately for WonderBaby. I want her to look at flowers and hope that they might speak to her. And I want her to regard writers, spinners of tales, with awe, even if they end up disappointing her. I want her to want to read and write and read and write some more, because to do both is to wakefully dream. To read and to write makes life immeasurably richer, for adult and for child. It allows us to create our own heroines and heroes - and to better know what to look for in everyday life. And, I think, to be able to recognize, and shun, the frumious bandersnatches.

(Blither, gush.)

Thanks for this.

(OK, done with the gushing.)

Andrea | 7:26 AM

[standing enthusiastically and clapping so hard my hands hurt and my palms miss occasionally, fingers ablur] Bravo! Bravo!

I'm stunned almost speechless, goosebumps up and down my skin, and I just don't have to words to justify how much this post spoke to me, especially considering my imagination block right now. Sometimes the timing of things is eerie and you just brought back for me what I love so much about reading/writing: the imagination of it all.

Noelle | 9:22 AM

Incredible and amazing. I relate to so much of that. I was that girl. I wanted to live in The Little House in the Big Woods, and disappear down the rabbit hole, and fly with Peter Pan. I wish I knew better how to keep that magic alive now. Thank you for sharing!

Mommy off the Record | 12:51 PM

What a beautiful essay you wrote.

I really admire your love of literature. It really comes through in this post.

My feeling is that there IS truth in characters, but that the truth presented in the character is only a slice of life, a perspective on the human condition, a commentary maybe. But that there is truth there (for that author, at that point in time, if he/she is writing honestly.) And if you believe in and relate to that character, that is what brings it to life. I think that it is when WE change, that the character's we once loved may not seem so true anymore.

BTW, I think Marge Piercy should have taken your essay and thanked you for it. I don't care how many fans were around.

Again, wonderful post.

kittenpie | 2:21 PM

Fantastic. I was sorta that girl, too. An avid reader with a wild imagination, who talked to animals, ate dandelion salad, read under the covers, and crept down the hallway back-to-the-wall if I'd read something scary. Hell, I still stop to talk to squirrels... and I show pumpkinpie how, too.

What an amazing guide and companion you will be for Archer as he wanders his way through the worlds of children's literature and of your own neighbourhood with magical stars in his eyes.

Mrs. Chicky | 5:06 PM

Wonderful and lovely. Thank you for reminding me what being a 10 year old girl, lost in her own imagination and stacks of books, felt like.

motherhooduncensored | 6:56 PM

I love your versatility - your ability to write raps, silly open letters, and deep monstrocities like this.

For me, I used to imagine being able to run away forever. Rough home life does that to you. Books and music saved me - I read a book a long time ago (I forget the title) about a girl named Liberty who got lost in her daydreams. That was me - even up until a few years ago - I used to hide in my own world.

I'm still learning how to come out of it sometimes and try to find the hero in myself. Mainly for my daughter.

scarbie doll | 7:48 PM

I was also like you. The worlds in the books I read were far easier to live in than the one I had to face each morning. Like you, I also "toned it down" in order to be cooler, but my love of books never went away, just diminished.

I went to Oxford, only to find that the bookshop where Carroll would stalk the real Alice was closed. Disappointed, we wandered about, thinking of how to waste time until the bus went back to London. Our aimless walking turned into a Carrollesque adventure, going through tiny doors that lead into giant courtyards, finding hidden doors in 500 year-old walls, discovering a miniscule church with an enormous organ. (heh.) Carroll didn't have to look far for inspiration.

Later in life, I became a PA in film production. I would meet artists I'd idolized, people whose every film I'd seen, and they'd always be just "enh" if not total assholes. (Oh Jared Leto, you just killed it for me) Heartbreaking every time. So I totally get it. Like one night stands, people you admire are better in your mind. Reality kills the fantasy every time.

You're kicking ass girl. Archer is already badass because of you. You will only continue to inspire him to grow into his fabulous destiny.

My float | 3:33 AM

I love this post. I too learnt as a child that reality and fantasy walk diffrent paths. Like when I saw the film version of Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester was short and fat. WHAT?

I love the saying "Why sometimes I've believed in as many as six impossible things before breakfast". In fact, it's on a magnet on my fridge. SUms it all up, really.

I can't remember where I stumbled across your blog...but I like it so I'll be back.

Kristin | 7:06 AM

I just found you through Scarbiedoll. Brilliant post, thank you for it. I'll be bookmarking you.

the weirdgirl | 12:15 AM

I didn't recognize that I was strange for a king time. Or maybe I was too stubborn and just didn't care. i think I've mentioned before that I was called weirdgirl in highschool. I don't think I ever really grew up either. Or more likely I grew up too early and so I managed to hold onto a little wonder but still have a clear perspective about some things. I never idolized the authors. Humans are fallible but art is not.

The thing is, hon, that the authors might not hold the answers, but the art really does. It's like how they describe it in writing class (if you ever did this exercise) good poetry, good writing should be a ring. It's a complete circle but there's a hole in the middle. And it's the hole where the reader fits, where they place their experience, their perspective, their truth. That's what writing should really be about; it's about the author but it's about the reader too. What you got out of Jong and Piercy is important even if they were schmucks.

And not all authors are such assholes. I heard Adrienne Rich read once. She was simply lovely.

the weirdgirl | 12:17 AM

I've drank too much wine. That was supposed to be "long time" not "king time".

GIRL'S GONE CHILD | 8:54 AM

I think "king time" is perfect. better than "long time." :)

gingajoy | 1:15 PM

That is one of the best posts I have ever read, GGC. I can so relate to you over the author falling of the pedestal thing. For many years, I idolized Jeanette Winterson--each and every one of her works. And then I made a tragic mistake of hearing her talk. Like Jong/Piercy she was standoffish and abrupt and clearly an utter snob. Suddenly, I was reading her work with her voice in my head, and I found myself thinking "she is SO Rammed up Her Own Arse..."

I've returned to her, because her work is poetry, but from now on I steer clear of hearing authors speak. Unless I know that they known for self-deprecation and warmth.

GIRL'S GONE CHILD | 1:29 PM

Wow! Thank you. I will never see Winterson speak then. She is my favorite living author and i couldn't put myself through that.

Mom101 | 8:04 AM

TWO perfect posts, one better than the next. Congrats (but you already know how I feel.)

bubandpie | 1:38 PM

For me, it was Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon. I was clamorous to read anything I could get my hands on about L.M. Montgomery, and then one day I found a biography that commented on the ironies of her life - she wrote romantic, idealistic novels, but turned away from the man she loved because he was her social inferior and married instead a man for whom she had no more than a friendly admiration.

It's hard to convey how crushing this was for me - I felt betrayed, and deeply afraid that life did not always end rightly and happily as it did in books.

Amazing how pervasive an experience this is - thanks for writing about it so eloquently.

Suburban Turmoil | 8:13 PM

Wow. This was just wonderful. I loved Erica Jong and Marge Piercy in college (just bought Jong's memoirs, actually), so I found your stories about them fascinating. Screw Marge. What a dope. The Erica story doesn't surprise me- she seems overly concerned with her fame.

I have spent a lot of time interviewing celebrities for my job and am always afraid to interview the ones whose work I admire, afraid they're going to end up being lame or rude. It happened recently with Emmylou Harris- my all time favorite singer. I interviewed her and while we were waiting for the camera man to finish setting up, it came up that I had had a baby two months before. "Oh," she said. Just "Oh." NO ONE just says "Oh" when someone says they had a baby two months ago. I was disappointed in her self absorption, which was so pervasive that I'm sure she doesn't even realize it exists. *sigh*

This was a perfect post indeed. I've got to read you more often. :)

MothePie | 6:00 AM

For those of us who love to read, igniting the imagination and learning that hope and dreams are fundamental to good literature....your writing was a piece of work. But I would dare question perhaps your conclusion... We learned to admire our heroes because they spoke to us of their times and what they said ignited both emotion and thinking within us.

Once we become parents and grownups, we look at the world with mother-rose glasses. Sometimes it makes the hues softer and reality more understandable. Othertimes it makes us put away the things of our youth. And sometimes it allows us to see that a spade is a spade.

Just being pensive here.
Your piece was incredible and wonderful to read. Congrats.