Saturday, January 07, 2006

Double Entendre

According to Atwood in her collection of essays (Negotiating with the Dead) writers exemplify the double personality, the yin-yang, the Janus, the doppelganger, the jekyll/hyde, "the one who walks beside me," the nobody/superhero, because, in the split infinities of creation we posses and combine both detachment and identification.
There's some truth in that, Alice.
Which is why it is difficult to meet a writer.
Have read shocked accounts by readers who at some soiree or the other find the sweet-faced grandmother in pink and pearls writes their favorite erotica. Writers don't always resemble the actors hired for the movie version or the novel's covers but people like to expect that they should.
Unfortunately, we are often so very ordinary, so au contraire.
Atwood notes that "wanting to meet an author because you like his work is like wanting to meet a duck because you like pate."
On the other hand, writer's often pass off responsibility for their words on the evil twin who wrote them "when no one was looking", or use the insanity/MPD defence to justify their guilt/deflect criticism of their pecularities over being a writer( "hey, I can't help it, I'm crazy"), or to assure themselves that in their secret identity they really are a genius. Cue unheated garret/dead-end job music here.
Some writers go to the length of deliberately constructing alternate personnae on blogs - to protect their mild-mannered other self, I assume. The one who de-fleas the dog, is president of the PTA , and is allergic to chocolate. The other soul who does not reside in a garret, work at Burger King, who does not jet set or run a bordello, or who does jet set or run a bordello. Which ever.
Not this one, I haste to add.
I don't have the energy and I don't lie well.
What you see is what you get or something like that - sans pseudonyms and camouflage. The usual caveats apply, of course.
In the obverse, I might say it's equally difficult to meet a reader.
They have other sides to their heads too.
The middle-aged check-out clerk is sometimes Eleanor of Brittany and the car-wash attendant may be Lieutenant Leary, Commanding, reflecting a yearning within the soul.
Ephiphany is the point these alter egos, these pseudopods, meet.
Writing is a gamble after all.
Double or nothing.


Tsavo Leone said...

Surely the issue of author identity is no different to that of actors and/or musicians? I've been (un)fortunate(?) enough to have met a variety of both of the latter in my time, and can state quite catergorically that they're no different to any other variety of human bean that I've encountered: They come in all available flavours but appear to have a higher-than-average percentage-by-volume than the regular human bean who pumps gas or stacks shelves, but purely by virtue of their apparent rarity.

Actually, many of them would (and did) quite easily fit under the banner heading of "Professional Nice Person", which is about as backhanded a compliment as I can make.

William Shatner = Captain Kirk?

Sean Connery = James Bond?

Stephen King = scary guy from Maine?

Samuel L Jackson = coolest, most righteous man on the face of the planet?

Tom Cruise = complete professional or love-sick pillock?

Marilyn Manson = a David Bowie wannabe with neither the talent nor the invetiveness?

It came as quite a pleasant surprise to me when I suddenly realised one day that they're all exactly the same as me (well, in some respects) and that they aren't the mythical beings the media would have us believe them to be.

I believe the same argument to be true of politicians and lawyers (though I have it on good authority that lawyers are genetically engineered and hand-reared by specially trained foster families)...

Bernita said...

There's a lot of double images at work here.
The fan expectation, the media image,the PR package, the self image, the artistic vision, and "which twin has the Toni?"....
Atwood makes distinctions on the basis that talking/singing is very old. And writing/reading is not,for the majority, that reading is a removed abstract involving decoding without a "live" audience. That "first contact" between the writer and the reader has the different parameters of a printed page.
She also mentions, inevitably, Dorian Gray.

Ric said...

Interesting topic. I found, when I had a newspaper column that insisted on running my picture, that people were dissappointed when they discovered I write much more fluently than I speak or interact one-on-one.

Stephen King, in person, is a tall English teacher with thick glasses and a bit shy - not scary at all.

And writers with a wide range of tastes and interests can be deeply romantic and feminine in one work, and, in the next, create a dark sadistic madness.

The reader is left to choose which of these reflects the real writer, though in reality they may never know.

Bernita said...

Possibly a pursuit of a phantom reality, Ric.

Dennie McDonald said...

I find that, after meeting many writers in my genre at the conferences, that I was dissappointed when I learned they were just like me. In my mind I had elevated them up and wanted to reach the perceived level they were at. When I realized that they did car pool and laundry just like me ... well it dissappointed for a week.

Then I realized I can do this and work even harder now because if they can do it ... so can I!

But yes - we can have an alter side - when you write about murderers and whatnot - it's not the PTA cookie baker in me that I am drawing from! (unless they are laced cookies and I sell them to my eldest's 4th grade teacher...) sorry that was just wrong!

Bernita said...

Dennie, you made me wonder how many writers cultivate an image in the style of Ann(e) Rice or Tom Wolfe's white southern suits?
We'll ignore the pipe, patches and turtlenecks ( is there a female equivalent, I wonder), of those who "are going to write a book."

Anonymous said...

Atwood notes that "wanting to meet an author because you like his work is like wanting to meet a duck because you like pate."

OMG-laughed out loud on that one.

Nice topic, Bernita. I appreciate that you are how you appear here. Direct. Sharp. On point. Clearly uber educated. Although I do use a pseudonym to protect my stuffy lawyer persona, I am pretty much how I appear also. Maybe a bit funnier and irreverent in person.

Ric said...

Creating an image. Mystery writers should all be like Jessica Fletcher - a little dowdy, but feisty, doesn't drive, writes on a manual typewriter.... and after a number of books/seasons, you wnat to make sure you don't live near her lest you become a victim.

Writers, I think, for the most part, are just like us. Like the earnest woman behind you in church, the slightly aloof young matron at PTA, the guy hunched over his laptop in the comfy chair at the coffee shop.

You just never know.
The wannabes with pipes are always going to be there.

Phantom Reality. Nice concept

Bernita said...

Thank you,Jason. That's one of the very good reasons for the use of pseudonym.
Of course, writers are just like us, Ric.
I don't particularly discriminate between areas of creative impulse, whether it's rug hooking,architecture, jewellery making, writing, etc.etc. All involve a manipulation of mental images at some point in the process and an attempt to make something unseen real and visible.

M. G. Tarquini said...

You mean that all the other writers aren't skinny, with dashing good looks, who look like Gregory Peck with glasses?

As for actually meeting me...I mean, you can, but the Target togs and sneakers are likely to disappoint.

As for real-life persona - aside from an almost painful shyness, I fear I'm very much like what I put on the blog.

James Goodman said...

I would say that I'm a mixed bag. When I'm writing on my blog, I tend to write the way I talk, but when I am writing a novel, it is like I become another person altogether.

When some of my friends read the story that is about to be released, the common response was, "YOU wrote this?"

Sandra Ruttan said...

I don't see anything wrong with wanting to meet authors, but as a writer I'm more interested in discussing craft with them. Non-writers usually don't understand some of the challenges we face, so it's nice to talk to people who know what I'm talking about.

Almost everyone has different personalities that emerge under varying circumstances. I tend to be very blunt and irreverant on my blog, but in person I'm pretty serious and considerate. The real root of this goes to McLuhan: "The medium is the message." We don't start a blog to be shy and mysterious about who we are and what we think. In person, I am very shy (though I have an extreme extrovert button that can be engaged) and try not to say anything that would hurt someone's feelings.

I have a teacher's cap and a "Sandra" cap and a "don't-know-you-well" hat and a "don't-give-a-damn" hood as well.

As for using pseudonyms, I write under my maiden name, but there are many people who have always known me under it and I worked in journalism under it - I actually consulted a professional advisor about my name because I was offered the feedback for free - what they told me concurred with what I thought, so it eliminated the shadow of doubt that had been lingering there.

Though in the day-to-day, I'm Mrs. E....... Although I hate being called 'Mrs.' 'Hey you' would be preferable to me.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I agree Bernita, but you didn't touch the really fun paradox of men writing under pseudonyms in womens fiction.

No, Ric...put down the hammer...this is not directed at you!

Bernita, I defended you over on Romancing. Apparantly 'Willa' directed his whole tirade at you before he realized it was the next poster. Him and I were posting at the same time, so his apology got in before by comment!

Bernita said...

James, I would have given them intensive interrogation about that, "What do you MEAN, did I write this?"
And watch 'em squirm.
It sounds as if you achieved the balance business of detachment and empathy Atwood references.

I hope you are, Mindy, it's so very engaging.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

You got it, girlfriend...Us women have to stick together...uh, huh...Hi, Ric...I know you're lurking!

Bernita said...

Thank you, Bonnie, for having my back.
I know he caught it and tossed me a field dressing while I was lying there bleeding from a salvo of friendly fire - and then he retreated from the field. I really appreciate your defence.I was stunned.

Sandra, the meeting authors business was a two-camp thing, as I read it, ie. readers wanting to meet authors and somehow expecting to absorb the entire complexity of personality in one fell swoop.
Different situations bring out different aspects of personality.I do have a warm and fuzzy side. I really do.

Sandra Ruttan said...

"I do have a warm and fuzzy side. I really do." LOL Bernita - I don't doubt it!

I have a cousin who is a country music artist. One of the strangest experiences I had was googling his name and finding this:
Oreythia's Den : Deric Ruttan
An adult den for ramblings and not so secret musings.

Going on forums and reading people write fan fic about someone you know is just... wrong!

Of course, sitting with him after a concert as girls come over and ask him to sign their upper chest region is pretty wrong as well. Thank God we writers don't have that problem!

Bernita said...

"Thank God we writers don't have that problem"
Umm, Sandra, I wouldn't be toooo sure about that.

Ric said...

I'll sign wherever, whatever, whomever.

Get a picture, Bonnie.

Bernita said...

I think most of us would, Ric.

R.J. Baker said...

I'd agree writing is a gamble kind of like Russian roulette.

If you have the balls, you write, throw it out in public and see whether people respond.

Some will some won't.

If you believe in what you are writing, and are steadfast in your convictions, then you stand in the company of some great company.

Van Gogh, Mozart, Fitzgerald ... folks who's work barely made them a living during their lifetime but made them immortal.

Sela Carsen said...

I think I'm a good bit like my blog, except with the edit button I don't appear to have in real life. When I went to RWA this year, for some reason I had it in my head that I'd be able to recognize people just because I "e-knew" them so well. For the most part, they looked just like I expected them to look -- with a few notable exceptions. Some were even prettier!

Sandra Ruttan said...

"Umm, Sandra, I wouldn't be toooo sure about that."

Noooo! I don't want to sign anyone's chest!

Ivan Prokopchuk said...

I kinda know Ms. A, but that quote
about duck and pate reminds me of SNL's recent character. Is it Debby Downer?

Bernita said...

Don't know, Ivan.
Atwood said she pinched it from a magazine.
Negotiating with the Dead was published in 2002 but no way of knowing if this chortle was included in the original lectures in 2000.

Ivan Prokopchuk said...

Better get my big toe out of that hot water.

You've got some wicked stuff up on your blogs and equally righteous comments, to introduce an oxymoron.
Got a feeling this is bigger than the bunch of us.
I've just put up a chapter of my very first novella, The Black Icon up on my web, along with some comments about my hero (everybody's hero? Not everybody's hero?) Norman Mailer.
All of you guys are obviously busy, and I may have stumbled on a major author's support system here (Canada Council backing this?), but have a look at my new posting if you can find the time.

Bernita said...

Major author?
~looking around~
What t'hell are you talking about, Ivan?
We're mostly 'gonnabes" and Atwood is incidental.
But I shall come and look.

Bernita said...

Hope you come back again, r.j.
We all clank when we walk.

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