Still, this story has the best possible ending, because I am telling it.
This was the moment when I had to pause in my hate-read of Elizabeth Wurtzel's recent article and take a deep, cleansing breath. I'm not sure what I expected her to say that would make me anything besides annoyed or sad, but I went into the article hoping for the best.
When I was young, I had this mostly-inexplicable tendency to put successful women on a pedestal when I knew very little about them. Wurtzel was one of these women. She published Prozac Nation at 25, and I wanted to do that too; I wanted a successful book out by my mid-twenties. I wanted to be played by Christina Ricci in the movie based on the book based on my life. I wanted to be important enough to be a public storyteller. I built these strangers up--they ranged from Shirley Manson of the band Garbage all the way to Margaret Atwood (the most repeated name on my older sister's bookshelf)--as idols simply because they were allowed to speak in public, and often. This was in a time before a seconds-long web search could turn up the details of even the most obscure person's life. Most of the power I gave these people was imagined. But it felt real.
It still felt real when I was in school and reading for my thesis project. I spent a long time winding my way through sections of the library, reading broadly and trying to find voices that resonated with me. Wurtzel's book Bitch came onto my radar because of some list of essential feminist reading, but I was almost instantly discouraged by her hateful tone. I made it through three chapters before realizing that I was internalizing all of the anger inherent to the text. Granted, the book is supposed to be a history of difficult women, but instead of delighting in that history, there is very little substance beyond the anger Wurtzel has towards society for labeling these women difficult in the first place. That anger is important, but another thing that's important when rewriting history is to make sure you produce a more dynamic picture than the one you are seeking to replace. Instead of replacing a history written by men with something more complete, she simply swapped it out for another incomplete retelling.
I returned the book to the library and have not read Wurtzel since. Until, that is, this article showed up in my Twitter feed. I was curious. It's been years since Bitch; so had she moved past being so enraged at the world around her by now? The image I had constructed of her was one she could never live up to; I had already dismantled it trying to read Bitch. She is, after all, a person, not a deity. And as any writer knows, everything you produce cannot be perfect. But I held out hope that there was some place I might connect in the rambling essay. As she sorted through the many unconnected reasons she is glad to be rid of 2012, I waited for some kind of clarity. She didn't seem as angry anymore, which was positive. But her anger seemed to have been replaced with a weary disdain, which is just as destructive. Instead of reflection, there is inventory. I'm not happy in the conventional way, or maybe at all, but kindly read on as I'm not yet through complaining. What a dismal thing to celebrate in thousands of words in a major publication.
"Still, this story has the best possible ending, because I am telling it." With an outlook like hers, there doesn't seem to be a best possible ending at all. There isn't even a clear ending at all. Anger doesn't die, it only transmutes into some other toxic thing. My main complaint about Wurtzel is how angry she seems in her writing, but here I am being negative too.
I am angry. I am angry at myself for admiring her before I knew her writing, most of all because when I see her by-line, I feel compelled to give her another chance. I am angry for having such a visceral response to everything she wrote. I cannot deny that she is talented. But I can't abide writing so deeply narcissistic that the author deifies herself. It's one thing if a fan makes you a god; it is quite another if you drink your own Kool Aid. Anyone in the public eye for as long as she's been is bound to have some warp in their self-image, but it seems that she has a very consistent self-talk loop dedicated to affirming her decisions in the face of continued unhappiness. There is one place that I agree with her--you don't have to live life by conventional wisdom in order to live fully. But, at least from the picture her article provides of her life, she hasn't yet found a healthy alternative.