I wrote an essay long ago (more than ten years is “long ago” to me) called “Home Page” that was fairly well-received. I can’t remember any longer if it ended up in the first Bad Subjects book anthology … I know I was asked to use it as the basis for a conference presentation (yes, I’ve done a few), where I did OK but was on the same panel as Constance Penley talking about pornography … she was better than me, and definitely more entertaining. I’m too drug-addled at the moment to reread my essay, but I suspect it’s dated (six years later I wrote the sequel, which addressed the rising new fad, “blogs”) yet not without some truths about identity. Mine, at least. I started that essay with a quote from Emily Dickinson, and anyone who knows me can attest that quoting poems is not the norm for Dr. Rubio. But the quote was so perfect, for my essay, for me; I couldn’t resist. “I'm Nobody! Who are you? Are you — Nobody — Too?”
A couple of weeks ago, a new magazine started showing up in our mail. I don’t remember subscribing to it, which usually means it was offered as a freebie to Salon subscribers and I figured what the heck. It’s called The Week, and it purports to offer an overview of stuff from the worldwide media. On the cover it says “All You Need to Know About Everything That Matters” and “The Best of the U.S. and International Media.” It strives for a non-partisan approach, which through two issues means it’s pretty bland, if fairly broad in its subject matter. It’s like a cross between USA Today and Jim Lehrer, only a weekly instead of a daily.
An example of how bland they are comes from a piece in the latest issue … and damn if this isn’t the longest post I’ve ever written just to get to some quote I want to stick on my blog before I die from kidney stones. Tara Ison, who wrote the screenplay for Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead and a highly-regarded first novel, A Child Out of Alcatraz, writes, “He loves my company, he tells me, my humor, my intellect.” I found the piece, an essay about dating a “relatively famous person,” fun, hunted down Ison on the web (OK, I was looking for gossip, trying to figure out who the “famous” person was), found the original essay from which The Week had extracted its version, and started noticing differences. Like the sentence I just mentioned, which in the original reads “He loves my company, he tells me, often, my humor, my intellect, my way with sex ….” That’s The Week in a nutshell: they’ll tell you about everything that matters, but they’ll leave out the sex.
There was a lot more in the original that wasn’t in the edited version. For one thing, in The Week the title was “Is That Really You?” The original title, though, was “Are You Somebody?” And yes, Ison led with the same Emily Dickinson quote I had stolen back in the day. Her title comes from an anecdote of her semi-famous person that didn’t make it through The Week’s editors:
He tells me the story, recently, of being on location in Dallas, of eating his late-night dinner with crew members at a local Mexican dive, when a woman approached him, staggering a bit from the salsa-thick humidity and beer. She jerked a thumb over her shoulder at another woman, a Texas sister-woman at the bar, squinting at him through smoke.
“Mah girlfriend over there says yer sumbuddy. Ur ewe sumbuddy?”
OK, my stomach is rumbling from the remains of too many Vicodin … I have to get to the point, which is largely unrelated to the above. I just wanted to quote something from Ison’s original piece, and then I’ll get out of here, point never having been made. But this quote hits me like Emily’s does: it is perfect for me.
The first night we met he made reference, at some point, to some short story I’d written, or some job I’d once had, I don’t remember which, and I was startled out of the hyperanimated 1st-date flow of conversation; it wasn’t something I had mentioned, it surely wasn’t something my friend would have told him. Then, I realized: Did you Google me? I asked. He chuckled, a bit sheepish, conceding. He’d read up on me, yeah. And I was delighted, thrilled – that there was something about me to Google, stuff out there to read up on, that I have some small visible presence in the world beyond my family and friends and colleagues. That I had a kind of a level of fame, too, the virtual equivalent of fifteen minutes. I was acknowledged, seen. My name, my writing, a few sentences on a few websites, and I felt it even’d us out just a bit, made for a balance. That I was somebody, too.
But I have no idea how it feels to be famous. I wrote a screenplay once that turned into a movie that millions and millions of people saw. I wrote a novel that thousands and thousands of people read. Those are my small claims to fame. But writers don’t get famous; the words do, if we’re lucky, they dance out on stage and let us hide behind the scrim of paper and ink.