A fellow Carolina alum named Bill wrote to me today, and I hope he doesn’t mind that I will respond to his long, thoughtful letter here on the blog. He had two things to say – first, regarding yesterday’s entry, he proffered that artists don’t betray their fans, they just move on and follow their muse elsewhere. When you say an artist betrays you, it is way more about you than the artist. While my opinion was simply an emotion – “I feel like [insert ’80s artist here] really let me down” – I think Bill is totally right. I didn’t have the perspective in 1986 to understand that my favorite bands (who were entering their thirties at the time) were changing focus, while I was still being 18. He’s right, also, that there was a cottage industry that sprang up around REM, and “the album where they started sucking.”
Bill’s second point was that I have essentially done the same thing to him. To paraphrase his letter, most everything I’ve written here on the blog pales in comparison to the writing I did back the college newspaper, and he wants to know what the hell happened to me, and transitively, my writing.
First, a little backstory to those who weren’t there: I wrote a column called “Wednesday’s Child” in the school newspaper back in Chapel Hill that was a wilder success than I could have ever imagined. It covered all topics diverse and irrational, allowed me access to the social realms of UNC that I’d thought unapproachable, and got me into the New York Times (and ultimately, into my first book). Somehow, writing a weekly column on a vibrant campus came easily to me, and it gave me the confidence to do this for real.
livin’ the Carolina high life with Debi Teitelbaum, Laurie Dhue and Tom Dunphy, spring ’89
After I had two books out in rapid succession, in 1994 I nosedived into a deep depression, culminating in a novel that would never see the light of day. Overwritten and suitable only for cannibalizing, I wandered into the late ’90s doing the occasional magazine story and then concentrating on the screenplay for The Pink House. I spent three years in Los Angeles that were so bad I have a hard time recollecting it, even now.
Moving to New York in 2000 changed everything in a heartbeat. Not only did I start dating one of the greatest women in the solar system, but also I wrote two short plays that were enthusiastically received by great crowds. It was the first kudos I’d had for my writing in about seven years.
Not long after the World Trade Center attacks, I was thrown into an anxiety-ridden depression that had much to do with unresolved kiddie issues and the usual apocalyptic dread. I fought my way out with three things: therapy, Celexa, and although it was supposed to be just a personal side project, this diary.
If you look back at the early entries from 2001-2002 (I mean, why would you bother, but I’m just saying) they are mostly about the drug, and how it was affecting my psyche. Gradually, I stopped obsessing about Celexa, and just wrote what was happening. Then things got political, they got weird, we went on mammoth trips, I ended up being a Google favorite (still don’t know why) and now there are a lot of you coming here every day, for which I am terribly flattered and thankful.
But let’s be honest about what a blog really is. It is not a weekly column. When I was writing Wednesday’s Child, I purposely steered clear of all politics, kept the mood joyous, and even had a rule that I would discuss no romances of my own – all three of them being favorite topics of the other columnists. I was careful to create the persona I wanted – and while it was about 85% me, I was definitely leaving out the rest of my being, which contained the horror of my parents’ breakup, gnawing illness, deep affirmation issues, and what was probably a low-level sexual addiction.
Now, I think I could write a fun column like “WC” again, and in fact, have plans to do so soon. But anyone coming here expecting it to sound like the raucous insights of a senior in college waxing insane about the day he visited Duke will occasionally be disappointed. First off, you can’t keep up that energy every day in the blog. I think I’ve done pretty well, having written in here almost 450 days straight, but you’re occasionally going to have to read about my pumpkins.
Second, if “journalism is the first draft of history,” then blogs are the first draft of your own emotions. If you’re writing daily, you have no perspective on your own feelings. I already wrote where I thought blogs fall in the list of levels of expression, but I’m not even sure they are all that useful to determine a writer’s true character.
Bill thought my recent rants about Republicans and the Bush administration were no more original or trenchant than the “talking points” issued to Democrat figureheads before a Sunday talk show. I’m here to tell you, he’s exactly right. Part of a blog’s incredible healing power – like banging on a piano with both fists – is the way you can find instant release of your fury. Anger is the least subtle of emotions and makes a hash of all nuance, which is why my political diatribes are among the silliest stuff in here. All I can say is this: our government makes me furious, and in the first draft of emotions, the diary will often runneth over with rage.
But mostly, Bill, I want to say this: to borrow your point, it might be you that has changed. So much of what you love comes from the environment where you discovered it, and even if I were being the most observant, powerful, funny motherscratcher in the blogging world, if you’re not 19 years old, it’s going to sound a little different.
In the last few weeks, I’ve thought about stopping this blog altogether. At first, I swore to write an entire year, every day, and after I reached that milestone, I continued out of habit (and probably some weird ego shit about the page hits). Perhaps when my brother Steve changes this over to Moveable Type and I get some “comment” buttons, this will get easier, but for now, I feel like I’m shouting in a vacuum – and it probably reads like that as well.
For now, however, I want to thank everyone who keeps coming here, regardless of my sour, damaged moods. And for suffering through long, self-involved entries like this one. And for people like Bill, who obviously care enough about strangers to wonder what has happened to them.