I’m an Internet author stalker. Almost two years ago when I made the resolution to embark on a writing career I began studying a variety of things; publishing, plot structure, classic literature, principles of fiction– all through the highly reputable University of Google. Someday they will send me an MFA, I just know it. But of all the time I have spent on the Internet reading about writing, the one thing I can never get enough of is author biographies. The minute I come across a lauded book review, moving essay, accoladed author, or hell, even a great blogger, I want to know who they are and how they learned to write like that? It’s a bit of an obsession, really.
My fingers soon found themselves clicking away on her website to find out who this woman was and what else she had written. I got consumed. So far, I have yet to find an essay of hers that has not moved or inspired me, sometimes to tears. Cheryl’s (we’re on a first-name basis in my head) way with words has gotten me all hot and bothered and not in entirely good ways.
The downside to any obsession is that at some point it makes you feel like shit. It’s kind of a prerequisite for an obsession really, sky-rocketing highs followed by soul-crushing lows.
I was elated to have discovered another kindred writing spirit, a contemporary that spoke to me literally. Maybe we’ll be BFFs someday? I mean, she only lives three hours down the highway in Portland. It’s possible, right? Just as I was mentally planning our next meeting over coffee wherein we would brainstorm about plot structure, theme and the symbolism of geraniums, in came the soul-crushing low.
I discovered her educational, writerly background.
She has an MFA from Syracuse University. Hm? That might be a tad more respectable than my one from Google U. What else? She has always wanted to be a writer, has been writing for years and years and years and has oodles of well-respected writerly friends like Pam Houston, Elizabeth McCracken and Ursula Hegi. Wild, is also her second, critically acclaimed book and among her awards is a Pushcart Prize. The more I read, the more the critically acclaiming, self-bashing, winner of no prizes, voice in my head starts prodding my weak places with a sharp, red, editing pencil.
“What were you thinking telling the world that you wanted to be a writer? What’s wrong with you woman? You have a BA in Psychology and Communications from a shitty state school for God’s sake. Who do you think you are? If you think you can spin a story (let alone a sentence) as elegantly as Cheryl Strayed then you are a damned fool. Do you hear me?! A DAMNED FOOL! And now your damned fool mouth went and told the whole world you planned on becoming some kind of writer. Ha! Ha! HA! I bet you can’t wait until you see all those people on Facebook in real life? Won’t that be fun you big-mouthed fool!? Why don’t you just go back to slinging surgical devices? At least you were good at that? And while you’re at it, why don’t you stop talkin’ ’bout spirituality and God like you got somethin’ figured out, you self-righteous foo’.”
Incidently, my inner voice sounds a lot like Mammy from Gone With the Wind.
It’s always difficult to go back and place my pointer fingers on F and J and watch that little line blink at me incessantly when I’m in the throes of an author crush. Everything I write suddenly appears amateurish, immature-ish and overwrought with cliché. I am deflated.
It’s not that I’m trying to imitate Cheryl Strayed because I don’t want to be her. Really, I don’t. I like being me. I just want to know how to use my words to do to other people what her words so profoundly do to me.
As I type this, Cheryl Strayed has just finished signing her books at my favorite Indie Bookstore in Seattle, Elliott Bay Books. As she was probably starting her reading this evening in that low-hung ceiling basement to a crowd full of admirers in folding chairs, I was putting my infant son in the bath. As she was standing there in front of a backdrop of a packed bookshelf, wrapping up and answering questions, I was singing “You Are My Sunshine” to my toddler daughter. That’s my life and I love it. I love it so much that it makes me ache when I can’t render it with my words as beautifully as Cheryl Strayed does with hers.
Over the last two years I have found only one cure for the heartaches of my author crushes. It is to put one pointer finger on F and the other on J and precede that blinking line with one word at a time until I fill a line, then a page, and finally, hopefully, a book.
Brought to you by the University of Google.