Wednesday, April 7, 2010

How not to be a tortured artist, pt. 1

One of the things that surprises me about book events is how eager people are to hear about my personal life. Why did I marry a man from Saudi? Where did we meet? What was the marriage like? And, crucially, why did we divorce? That’s the question everyone wants answered – the climax to the mini soap opera.

I can’t tell them. It’s not allowed.

To be fair, I have spent most of my life giving out information on a strict Need to Know basis, except for certain times when I remember I’m with friends and that I do not work for the CIA.

I consider book signings a “Kind of Need to Know” situation. When people ask personal questions, I give straight answers. And everyone knows that straight answers subvert the completely confusing and complex truth.

The weird thing about book events is that you’re presenting your work and yourself. If you were to reveal, say, that you are a compulsive gambler who has a personality disorder, a penchant for grand theft auto, and three illegitimate children with a Haitian sorcerer, people might not buy your book. Unless it was an Oprah pick.

So what are you supposed to do?

Put it in the pantry with your cupcakes, that’s what. Besides, can YOU come up with a good two-minute explanation that conveys the story of your divorce? Including the fights about the cat and why the television ended up in a tree? What about the psych ward? And the FBI? And don’t leave out the childhood friend who came to stay for three months, who claimed he stole a finger from the wax Hitler at Madame Tussaud’s and who turned out to be a telepath and a murderer.

That makes it sound fun. I love writing, because it does that. But the real tortured artist is going the way of Hitler’s finger. Where is she? She’s on book tour, acting like she’s never had a psychotic break. Trying to summarize a personality in the space of a one night stand, when it needs a marriage. Wondering what would happen if she did reveal herself, and it wasn’t pretty or particularly amusing, just something the family puts in the pantry.

Let’s face it, madness just isn’t fashionable anymore. Sayonara, Miss Plath.

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