After watching an episode titled "Back to Nature" on The Andy Griffith Show where Andy deceives Barney into thinking he has pioneer skills, I was offended. "It's a total lie", I said to my son, who was watching the show with me.
But as I thought about my obsession with striving for authenticity and honesty on social media--and where it's got me (don't ask--it's the liars and ass-kissers that get ahead)--I had to wonder if my child had a point.
Then, I happened to read James Frey's interview in the book Why We Write. You know, the James Frey that was burned at the stake by Oprah and the world for writing a fictional memoir (a book, by the way, that Frey tried to convince his publishers to sell as fiction--but they refused and went with memoir).
Frey loves making up pseudonyms, saying:
Being a writer is about creating a public mythology, creating a writerly persona, as much as it's about what you write.
On Hemingway, Kerouac and others, Frey notes:
[They] had big public personas, and their public personas almost destroyed them. They got lost. They forgot that there's a line between who you are at home and who you are in public.
After reading this, I realized that there's one letter separating "public" and "pubic".
But I digress...
Compared to losing a kid, losing a friend, having your heart broken--those horrific experiences as a writer are just bad days at work.
Frey should know; he and his wife lost their son Leo 11 days after he was born.
I had an epiphany after reading Frey's insightful interview.
Wow, I thought, maybe instead of striving for authenticity online--which always backfires--maybe I should strive for public artifice (otherwise known as "business as usual" for most other writers).
Instead of closing the gap between the "real me" and the "public me", I should widen it like a canyon--never allowing the two to touch, let alone overlap.
Maybe it's the "artist's life" (or "artist's illusion") that destroys so many writers.
Maybe writers are better off regarding writing as "punching the clock", while research, daydreaming and germinating are nothing but overtime.
When I'm at the machine, when I'm James Frey the writer, that evaporates. I have no fear. Nobody can hurt me, nobody can say shit that means anything to me. When I'm in the act of writing that's not ego, it's just work, just struggle and challenge. I keep a pretty strict wall between those things. People get into trouble when that wall falls down.
Wise words. More writers, including myself, would benefit from building a thick, high wall between their personal Self and public Self.
That's the beauty of it: all the bullshit in the world, and all that really matters to me, to readers, to history, is are the books good enough.
Isn't that the million dollar question? Are our books good enough?