So. I'm at the very excellent National Arts Club
for my book party. I've basically been waiting my whole life for this moment (see yesterday's post
on writer desires ? Number one desire? A really great party, of which you are the star). I'm wearing a gold spangled thing. I'm not having any wardrobe tragedies. Life is good. And so, incidentally, is martini number three. Or maybe four. I'm hanging out with several of my best male friends, some of whom are ranking ex-boyfriends. A guy is standing on the outskirts of our conversation. He looks reporter-ish, and there are a bunch of press people at this party, most of whom I've never met. I wave him in. Graciously. This, of course, is totally my writer fantasy. Ahh, the press, the press!
"Yes, I have a soundbite for you!"
"Yes, I'm ready to give you a witty little Dorothy Parker-ish comment!"
And yes, I'm going to spill my martini. Again. Martini glasses are dangerous for people like me, who talk with their hands.
The reporter-ish guy moves in. He's got dyed black hair and a goatee. He puts his hand out. I'm thinking we're going to shake, but no. The hand keeps moving. Up. Up. Up. Is he going for my breasts? No. My necklace? No.
Of course not.
He's going for my chin.
Without any foreplay at all, he penetrates my dimple with his index finger. For a moment, I give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe I have food on my face. Maybe he's trying to assist me.
He starts caressing the dimple. In a really creepy way. As if there's any other way other than creepy to caress a stranger's dimple.
Since, apparently, this isn't upsetting enough, he coos the following:
"Has anyone ever told you that you look like a really hot..."
Let me pause for a moment. Since my book came out, people have been saying a lot of odd things in regard to my looks. Enough that I'm wary. Sometimes, things are flattering. Sometimes, just plain weird. For example:
And the random folks on the Internet, who early on, before I learned that I should never read links sent to me in random emails, debated for several pages, not the authenticity of my dialogue. Not the authenticity of my stories. Nope. Apparently the question of the day was the authenticity of my breasts. Which are a 34B, thank you very much. If they were fake, let me just say, they'd be bigger.
They had other things to say about my looks, too, and whether or not it was feasible that I could have gotten as many dates as I did: "Weird-looking pixie bitch." And my all-time favorite, in regard to my smile: "She looks like a boa constrictor about to unhinge her jaw and eat a hamster."
And they wonder how I got so many dates.
The really depressing thing about my life, though, is that I've never managed to get a hamster in sideways. My jaw only unhinges up and down. All the other boa constrictors make fun of me. As another web-commenter pointed out, "She looks like she swallows." Sometimes, though, due to my malformed hinges, I choke. I mean, I've never managed a chinchilla. Never a marmot, or a ferret, or even a wussy little bunny. Sigh.
I thought that the boa constrictor thing was going to win, but that was before I met the dimple-molester.
"Has anyone ever told you that you look like a really hot Kirk Douglas?"
Not since junior high school, and then only once. It was, however, memorable. In the same way that, say, the time you got food poisoning while confined to a middle seat on an airplane is memorable. Or the time the condom broke while you were sleeping with someone you should never have been sleeping with. These things tend to stay with you. Forever.
If this was the fantasy version of my life, my knights in shining armor would've defended me. Because it is reality, my men move as one to three feet away, from which vantage they make dimple-raping gestures, point at me, and generally convulse with laughter. I eyeball them. They've dated this dimple. Can they not protect its integrity?
The freak goes on to tell me that he has a dimple of his own, hidden under his goatee.
He tries to get me to touch it.
I go mentally to another place, a place where nothing like this ever happens, because I am not me. Unfortunately, I AM me. This kind of thing happens all the time. People become bizarrely galvanized by my looks, and since the book came out it's only gotten worse. Sometimes they think I'm hot. Sometimes they think I'm hideous. There is no middle ground. (Except, maybe, with this guy, who is looking for Kirk Douglas in all the wrong places.) When I published The Year of Yes, I should've known there'd be debate about my looks and/or lack thereof. I convinced myself otherwise. It's a book, I thought. No one will care what I look like. What I look like doesn't matter, because my looks didn't do the writing.
Wrong. If you write about your love life, people are going to talk about your tits. Well, at least they are if you're a girl. Currently, far more people have seen my headshot than have read my book. It's easier to send a photo around the web than it is to send an entire book, and it's definitely easier to decide whether or not a photo is attractive than to actually read a whole book. And frequently, it seems, their feelings about my headshot will be the deciding factor as to whether or not they'll be reading the book at all. There was an article in the New York Times a while back about author photos. Specifically, the photos of Marion Ettlinger, who has a knack for making the authors she photographs look very, very serious. Basically, if you want to be a serious author, you or your publisher must pony up for the Ettlinger headshot. You must practice your thoughtful, slightly wounded expression. (I don't have one of those. My face is stuck in a permanent smile. I will never be a serious writer, I fear, because I cannot master the serious look that makes one a serious writer.) You must allow her to see you through a lens, darkly, and interpret you as the Voice of Your Generation. Her photo will help your book sales. Ettlinger is such a force that her name has become a verb: "To Ettlinger." "To be Ettlingered."
If Ettlinger Ettlingered me, I guarantee, I'd end up looking Muppet-ed. The smile would curl up part of my mouth. I'd look twitchy, dangerously optimistic, and on the verge of singing. There is no other option, as far as my face is concerned.
My name, however, has become a terminology of its own. A friend sent me a Craigslist posting the other day, entitled "Do the Headley." In it, a man requests a "dressy, Headley-type lady" to say yes to dinner/show/stroll/hike. He also mentions, helpfully, that he has his "own hair and teeth."
When, in the history of the world, has this ever even been possible? Do the Capote. Do the Shakespeare. Do the Euripides. Not until now. Author photos plus Internet, plus, in my case, memoir, have resulted in this bizarre circumstance. My looks suddenly define my book. My book is a dressy, Headley-type book. My life is a dressy, Headley-type life. I am no longer myself, but some strange photographic overlay, of which the largest question is this: Is She Hot Enough to Write This Book?
Maureen Dowd had a similar problem with Are Men Necessary? (admittedly, a provocative title). The Internet suddenly became populated with commentaries on Maureen's looks and speculations on Maureen's personal life, or lack thereof. It didn't matter how hot her author photo was. The hotter her photo, in fact, the more people sent it around, muttering about how she was a bitter spinster. And looked like Kirk Douglas. No, wait, that was me. Mine got sent around, and people muttered about how they personally would never ask me out. Or would. Or would sleep with me but never date me. Or would marry me but never sleep with me. Or would date me, IF and only if I was the last girl in the world. Mind you, some of these people had also made available photos of themselves. And I just have to say???!!!#%%$@$!!!? Random people, with websites and opinions on what kind of face is appropriate for love, judge not. Obviously, I'm not everyone's type. It's interesting, though, how this fact has caused plenty of people to decide that the way I look makes my book not their type of book. Or the reverse. I've gotten a few marriage proposals via email from people who apparently didn't make it all the way through the flap copy.
Whatever happened to the marketability of authorial ugliness? The good old days, when a few chins and some warts signified a deep and tortured intellect? When we could swell like Hemingway and spectacle ourselves like Joyce? When we could suffer the slings and arrows of outrageously unattractive moments? When no one put us in pancake make-up?
We're writers. Unless there's been a freak of fortune, we're not meant to be hot. Not really. If we spend our time plucking at our eyebrows and learning how to apply mascara, we will never get writing done. We're obsessive. That is both our joy and our downfall. If we could be beautiful all the time, we'd do that instead of writing. The best we can hope for is an author photo that actually looks like us and a book that we've actually written. (Otherwise, beware! There will be fallout, the moment someone does a candid shot and discovers that you only look like Sophia Loren if you squint a certain way, wear layers of makeup, and cover the lens with a scarf.) My pictures look like me, dimple and all. Some people like them. Some people don't. I don't care. The pictures aren't the point. Nor is the fact that I can unhinge my jaw ? although that's an interesting side note. Am I Hot Enough to Write This Book? Who knows. If you consider a Hamster Swallowing/Kirk Douglas Dimpled/Shirley Temple-ish/Smushed-Up Jennifer Tilly/Pixie Bitch hot, then yeah.
Some people do.
The world is weird and wonderful, and for that I thank it.