-- Karl Marx
"I used masses of opiates religiously."
-- Carrie Fisher
Last weekend I attended actress/writer Carrie Fisher's one-woman show, Wishful Drinking (you gotta love that title). I had enjoyed her as a speaker when she keynoted at the Maui Writers Conference about eight years ago, but more importantly, I was curious about someone who willingly aired her dirty laundry on a very personal level eight times a week. True, actors bare their souls -- and usually much, much more -- every time they appear on stage or screen, but an entire play, showcasing ALL your pecadillos, just in case someone had been on Mars when John Belushi overdosed and missed the part about you partying hearty with the SNL cast of the early '80s? That takes guts.
Celebrity writers enjoy a certain privacy that actors don't. We can hide behind fiction, or change names (including our own) to protect the innocent. Even then, I'm not sure I could ever divulge the apocryphal skeletons in my closet, stuff you'd read in a memoir and swear had been fabricated. Carrie Fisher explained that basically the only way she could cope with her difficult life is to laugh at it instead of cry. Now, I certainly do my fair share of laughing at my life (You think all of my protagonist's perils in Remote Control were from my warped imagination?), but some bits and pieces are definitely better left swept under the proverbial rug.
Fisher authored a handful of novels, the most familiar of which is probably Postcards From the Edge, a dark roman a clef comedy about the grown daughter of an erstwhile movie star struggling with life and love in Hollywoodland. It seems that while Fisher was in rehab, a major publisher called to ask if she'd write a novel based on her experience. Must authors be a little nuts (or at least have a slightly checkered past) to be deemed bankable? Unless I journal about my drug addiction, sex change, or defiant failure to recycle (only 1 out of 3 is true), I won't sell scads of books? Without a juicy scandal involving someone famous -- preferably in politics -- I'll never be a best-selling author? Does the Norton Anthology include only works of alcoholics with suicidal tendencies? It's not fair! I have just as much angst as the next author. Why do I have the rotten luck of being a functional dysfunctional?
One of my favorite movie lines, from How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, sums up my half-jest/whole-earnest impression of today's popular writing. At an editorial staff meeting at ficitonal magazine Composure, a young writer just recovering from boyfriend-breakup depression confesses that she hadn't eaten in three days. "Good for you!" congratulates Helen Gurley Boss. "Write about it!"
Angst again! In fact, can you think of any published celebrity biography or autobiography that depicts a life devoid of chronic misery? If you can, please email me. I'd like to know if there's a future for me as a happy, successful writer.