Posted by GIRL'S GONE CHILD | Tuesday, May 02, 2006
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.