A few weeks ago my friend Megan recommended a book to me The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. At the time, Megan was discussing a particular mantra of the book – that the author learn to “Be Gretchen,” that is be the person who she is, not the person who she thinks she’d like to be. I finally got to that section of the book last night, and while you’d think I would have learned this lesson in my teenage years (my mom once actually said, when I complained that my friends never had to go to bed early, “Well, if they all jumped off a cliff, would you want to do that, too?”), I apparently haven’t because this section of the book really resonated with me.
You see, I’m a writer, and this persona, as conceived by the public, comes with certain accessories, accoutrements if you will.
First, writers dress with pizazz. We wear berets or cute dresses with suit jackets. We can sport boots and Hawaiian shirts. Thrift store sweaters are our standard fare. Aside from the thrift store sweaters (which I do adore), I don’t really dress with pizazz. In fact, I’m pretty simplistic – one pair of jeans, a lot of button down shirts, a large free t-shirt collection, some long skirts. Nothing too flashy, nothing too odd. Pretty simple. I even own dress pants.
Secondly, writers are supposed to be artsy. We should never have seen Titanic unless under duress (or intoxicated). We cannot read romance novels or pick up a new Stephen King book. Our music choices must never include the likes of John Mayer or, heaven forbid, one of the American Idol contestants. We are supposed to be odd and quixotic, quirky. I am not, at least I don’t think I am. I really like John Mayer, and I saw Titanic three times in the theater (I did doze off the third time, if that helps). I don’t read many romance novels, but I am developing a growing love of “chick lit.”
Third, writers are supposed to be tortured. We have mental illness or addictions that we are forced to cope with. The suffering of the world is supposed to sink more deeply into us than other folk. Our lives are supposed to feel like, at least metaphorically but perhaps literally as well, we are constantly walking on broken glass (to quote the great Annie Lennox). Too bad for me, I guess. I’m actually pretty happy most of the time. In fact, I’m really happy on any given day at least once. I love what I do, and I get to do it most days. What could be too suffering about that.
These are, of course, stereotypes, but they are ones that I often let myself succumb to on those nights when what I really want to do is curl up and watch The Unit or when K and I discuss going to see Hot Tub Time Machine (I love John Cusack – that’s my excuse.) I think I should be writing or thinking or reading or going to see some strange play that involves a man dressed as a Labrador. Sometimes when I get dressed (on the days I actually have to do so – see what’s bad about my life?), I think I’m not hip enough, not odd enough, not strange enough. Occasionally, I wonder when I will run out of things to say about my mainstream, fairly happy life.
What I have learned though, is that these ideas come from people who do not live this life. When I look up pictures of the archetypes of writing – folks like Jack Kerouac or Toni Morrison or Emily Dickinson (okay, she’s a little odd looking) – they look pretty normal, and they probably are/were pretty normal in their day to day life. I expect Jack (I like to call him “Jack” like we were pals) sometimes just sat around and stared into space, and I imagine Toni Morrison may catch a glimpse of a Lost episode now and again. Dickinson gardened. Just normal folks living their lives and writing. Nothing that different about that.
The truth is that each day I am becoming more comfortable with “Being Andi.” I was made to love the things I love – like quiet nights talking with friends before a bonfire or listening to really great music (Kings of Leon was just playing). I was also made to dislike the things I dislike – you will never find me at a dance club if I have my way. I am simply who I was made to be. Now, if only my writing could be as famous as Kerouac’s – do you think a beret would help?
– Jack Kerouac