You’re Such A Character!

I became a crime victim about 12 years ago, carefully chosen by a con man for my loneliness and isolation.

The most chilling and unsettling aspect of having been selected for predation by a career criminal was discovering that my home, my habits and my patterns had been so carefully observed. Like a vulture spying a sick, weak animal, he swooped in and did his work. It was instructive.

I had been the watched one.

As a journalist for decades, my job is to observe and analyze, to sit back and formulate hypotheses about the world and test them. I have always wished for the superhero’s power to become invisible, to literally disappear into the walls so I could gather every scrap of intelligence possible about my subjects without detection.

How odd to become that subject. The object.

I thought about this watching a new film this week by Adrian Grenier, an actor best known for playing an actor in the HBO series Entourage. One day, besieged by paparazzi, he noticed a 14-year-old boy in the pack and befriended him. The kid, named Austin, a strikingly handsome blond in a purple hoodie with a precocious self-confidence, became the subject of Grenier’s documentary, “Teenage Paparazzo”, broadcast on HBO.

What’s a 14-year-old kid doing in the feeding frenzy of pro shooters? Jonesing for his own fame, it turns out.

The film is sad and weird and makes you wonder what sort of life the kid has beyond that of adults. He’s never seen interacting with kids his own age.

In a world where we focus so much of our attention, literally, on people we don’t know and will never meet – i.e. celebrities – it’s too easy to forget that we’re all characters in our own right, whether stars or bit players in others’ stories.

In a culture where technology has made us the center of our world, does anyone even wish to remain marginal, observing quietly from the sidelines without hungering for the center of the circle? The joy of being a journalist, for me, has been the privilege, which it is, to enter strangers’ lives and hear their stories, whether the horror of a woman whose husband was shot dead point-blank beside her or the joy of an Olympic skier exulting in his skills.

I hate the idea of being famous, which drives millions of people onto reality television so strangers can recognize them. It doesn’t, for most people, pay the bills. It won’t make your partner love you or safeguard your health, the things that matter most to me. You’re just…famous. The appeal totally escapes me.

What value or comfort does the attention of strangers offer? (Other than building a business or career. I get that.)

I recently finished writing a memoir. It’s not my memoir, of my own private life up until this moment, but about one portion of my life, the two years and three months I worked as a sales associate in a suburban mall selling clothing.

It has meant an uncomfortable shift from focusing on others to self-revelation and candor.

When you write a memoir you become, de facto, both narrator and a character. You choose which facets of yourself to display, which to downplay, which to omit.

In editing your own life for public consumption, re-creating scenes and dialogue into some sort of coherent narrative, you’re creator, puppeteer and puppet — both Geppetto and Pinocchio. TC mark


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  • Madison Moore

    the first thing i do when i read articles like these is to look at the author's background. i think it's one thing to say that one doesn't approve of/like fame or the obsession with it. but it's quite another to when you claim to be anti-fame and yet have published in all of the leading newspapers, journals, and magazines such as yourself! not a criticism, i love your article, just a teensy observation!

  • poncho peligroso

    i think thomas pynchon has the best kind of fame

    i aspire to be famous but not at all a celebrity, in a situation where people will recognize and admire my work but let me hide in a small darkened room and never pay attention to me

    like right now, except plus being famous

  • Caitlin

    Madison, I agree! I knew someone would notice…

    The challenge of being a writer — who needs to build an audience (and the largest one possible) in order to sell my books and other future projects — is that we have to assiduously court the kind of public attention we might *personally* (i.e. not professionally) avoid.

    It is not terribly comfortable exposing all your stuff to public scrutiny by thousands of strangers whose opinions you can't possibly predict, but that's the cost of trying to (gag) build your brand. These days, ambitious writers are expected to be totally shameless in this regard. I've been told (!) I also have to start Tweeting soon. Believe me, I really would rather not….But when all your competitors for “share of mind” are doing so….if you don't, you're left way behind.

    • JNew

      It might be time to start hating the game and simply feeling sorry for the player.

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