It is what it is. “I yam what I yam,” as Popeye said.
My mother has worked all her life trying to turn me from a bookish, basically introverted, overly emotional intellectual into the bouncy, popular cheerleader/Laura Bush type that she always THOUGHT she wanted. But she must’ve really wanted what she got, for the subliminal messages were too strong and I turned out the way I’m made to be. I can do the extroverted thing now for several hours at a time (that’s called “developing your shadow function”), but it’s still not the core of me. It’s not “the Melanie routine,” as I used to call it when I first developed it, after a fellow drama class member who actually WAS like that; now the outgoing bit is part of me. But it’s taxing, and after I do that for a while, I need to recharge. I am what I am (though I don’t know whether that’s ALL that I am.)
When I got back from meeting a few friends for a noontime bookstore expedition (and getting a look at a malfunctioning book signing–we took pity and bought copies), I found the TV tuned to the Robin Williams/Nathan Lane film “The Birdcage.” Although I came in late (missing my favorite scene, in which we realize John Wayne really walked like that), that was OK, as I have it just about memorized. This time through, it made me think about theme.
You’d think the theme of this one is tolerance. Prejudice/not pre-judging. Hypocrisy. Politics. But these are minor thematic material.
The theme of this one is “Be who you really are.” Because it was trying to be someone you’re not that started all the trouble.
Trying to be somebody else doesn’t work for most people. It might work for sociopaths, psychopaths, con artists, and a certain class of method actor who doesn’t have a huge well of “self” inside to access, but can slip into the guise of a character and fill it with unexpected truth. But for most of us, it just won’t ring true. It won’t be fulfilling. It’ll lead to a breakdown or a “going postal” in whatever form it takes. Or, at best, to a shallow, wasted life.
Now, I don’t say that sometimes a person shouldn’t work to find a true self. Some people try on different roles, appearances, careers, and so forth for a lifetime. Jane Fonda recently said to Larry King that when her daughter was told that a biography was going to be made about her mother, she replied, “Why don’t you just have a chameleon walk across the screen for an hour?”
Ms. Fonda (whom I admire–no need to argue about it, though) has certainly gone through changes and tried on, if not different identities, at least different projections and self-beliefs. She has finally found peace (and Christianity, she says) and would like to “own her face,” so she isn’t going to continue using up her life-force energy trying to look and be perfect. I applaud her new attitude.
I’d like to be the kind of writer that New York would like me to be, the kind they want to publish. But that isn’t who I am. My voice is not like the ones that are now in demand, and it can’t just morph into something it’s not. I can’t “be” the kind of writer who can do a YA chick lit (the newest “hot property,” soon to burn out, of course.)
I know this because I sent in some samples to an agent who was working with a book packager. It may have been the same packager that’s now in the news. My samples weren’t their bag, which was fine. But an acquaintance of mine did meet with their approval and went into story conferences. She no longer answers e-mail at her old address, but I wonder what life she has taken on, and whether she enjoys it. It sounds as if it could be lots of fun, if you’re the type of person who can work by committee.
My biggest hurdle with YA chick lit is that I wasn’t even like those heroines when I *was* that age. At fourteen-fifteen-sixteen, I was deeply into the theater and into literature. My dad was pretty sick by that time, and I took on some adult responsibilities aroudn the household. I wasn’t interested in what my peers said was The Thing–at the time, mostly pot-smoking, going to the lake to make out, and going to rock concerts. And not being interested in anything scholarly. When I was fifteen, Daddy died, and our lives changed even more. I channeled my energy into preparing for college (including doing the math, as that was his talent, and the family expected that it should be my choice as well) and making sure that our family continued to “make it.” I never felt that I missed anything, though. I mean, I dated; my science lab partner and I went to several dances and to a Science Fair exposition (ha–laugh, go ahead) and played tennis a few times, and we remained friends until he moved away after college. I group-dated with the others in Drama Major Studies. I had a small but tight-knit group of friends who were interested in straight As and knowing everything. We made out just fine. But we were content to wear T-shirts and jeans and listen to the radio. If I wrote about that, it would be nostalgia at best.
Anyway, you can imagine that it’s even tougher now that I’m over-thirty for me to try to put myself into the mindset of the modern fourteen-year-old, a person who never knew a time with no laptop computers or cell phones.
Erotica/romantica is also hot (pardon the pun), but it’s not something I can do well, either.
In fact, I don’t know if there *is* a category where I could fit. I’ve tried most of them on, too.
The worst part about coming to terms with this is that right now, I don’t even like books any more. I mean, it used to be that when I needed renewal, I could turn to books. But when I walked through the bookstore and followed the others around, checking out what they were looking at . . . none of it interested me. What the others handed to me left me cold. When I picked up this or that and browsed through, nothing pulled me in. It’s as though I could see all the scaffolding: start with big-time (false) action, have the hero come in by page three, make them flirt sexily although they don’t even know one another, hurry toward the next plot point.
And everyone writes alike. I can hear the critique groups now echoing through the lines of prose on the page, taking out all those “-ing words” and any “passive stuff,” and substituting only the approved type of language. It was all very tiring. I wasn’t even intersted in browsing around in the classics section. I’m just . . . tired of story? That can’t be. Anyway, maybe what I need is a break.
Or maybe I’ll just go break something.