Thursday, April 11, 2013

An imaginary conversation with Elizabeth Wurtzel...

I "get" difficult women. I know a lot of them. I've worked for some and am related to several. I am one. I appreciate the stick-to-her-guns fuck you mentality of not caring (at least, appearing not to care) about what people think about you/her/us.

I read Elizabeth Wurtzel's memoir, Prozac Nation, when it came out. I was in college. It spoke to me. I even saw the movie. It didn't speak to me. In the late 90s, I (still in college) read Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women. You probably heard me cheering about it at some point. I read her second memoir, this one on addiction, a few years ago. I don't remember a lot about it, but I know I identified on some level. I've never met Lizzie (but in my mind I call her Lizzie because I follow her on Twitter and that's what she calls herself and I think if we met in person she'd be cool about it), but in the past couple of years - since she's popped up again writing pieces for The Guardian and New York Magazine - I've been paying a little more attention. She seemed to drop off pop culture's radar for a bit, and I had the sense that she had gone through something similar to my own (hate to call it mid-life because I know I'll live past 80) crisis. A loss of voice. And these pieces, varied as they were, attempts to find her voice again. Kind of like I've been doing for a while now. Except a lot more public. And with comments. On the internet. It feels like an odd question to ask about someone who wrote a book in praise of difficult women, but I also wondered why all the hating on Lizzie?

She's a little bit older than I am, but I consider her a sort of contemporary. And when I read her most recent piece in The Atlantic, "I Refuse to be a Grownup," I promised myself I wouldn't read the comments. Then I read the comments, or the first 20 or so. I wished I knew her in real life so I could tell her that she's doing the right thing, this writing she's doing to get her voice back. And this is the most "back" I've seen her since the 90s.

If you know me personally, you probably know that I rehearse conversations in my head (and come on, you do too, right?). On my way home from work, during that cursed/blessed worst Austin traffic drive time, I had one with Lizzie. It went something like this:

Me: Hey, so good on you for the Atlantic piece. I hope you didn't read the comments.
Lizzie: (leaves her sunglasses on, which is fine because I am kind of the sophomore to her senior in this scenario) Nope.
Me: I mean, I don't know who has time...but the one from the "TL:DR what's the point?" guy...he didn't even read...
Lizzie: I don't read the comments. I don't care what people think.
Me: Hey, that's really, you of you. There was that one "psychologist" who comment-diagnosed you with narcissistic personality disorder and that isn't even a thing anymore; it's not even in the latest DSM...
Lizzie: (icy silence)
Me: I wanted to tell you that I get it. I hate that you have to see criticism all over the freaking internet when you're just being honest, I mean who isn't a narcissist? What's wrong with not wanting to grow up? For those of us who choose not to get married, not to have kids, to remain, I want to say... immature? Why do people care so much?
Lizzie: I don't. So I wouldn't know.
Me: I wanted to say that I'm on your side. Write all the crazy. Just write. Let the haters hate and do it anyway, even if it's just for lines like "I wish people were judging each other a great deal more, and more carefully, but they are not. Knowing this, I have no trouble being myself. It works well. I will die screaming." BECAUSE ME TOO, LIZZIE, ME TOO.
Lizzie: Calm down. (exhales vapor from her e-cig)
Me: OK, so I'll let you go, but just one more...
Lizzie: No.
Me: DidyoutotallyfreakoutthatChristinaRicciplayedyouinthemoviebecauseherforeheadOMGherforehead...
Lizzie: No.

And that was it. She probably wouldn't like me in person. Nor should she. I wanted to tell her about that one time I was on Prozac because my best friend died when I was 23 but it didn't work and how my mom is a therapist and told me the worst thing with mental health issues is to "be in the system" so I always made sure I saw private shrinks, off insurance, sometimes under assumed names, and I think talk therapy is overrated and that most people think I'm younger than I really am too because I don't really have responsibilities, but I do have one cat and one dog just like she does but the cat has hated me for 14 years now and also sometimes I am ridiculous too. When people grossly underestimate my age, I assume it's not based on my appearance, but on my behavior. I don't behave like a person who has the weight of other people's problems on top of my own, rather, I behave like a person who thinks her problems are the only important ones. And, BAM!, right back to narcissism.

Hate her or don't. Hate me or don't. I have had worry. I have had grief. I have had despair. None of these things permanently damaged me. Not even a line on my forehead (yet, but totally fine when it does happen, because it will). So to the critics, to the commenters and trolls, to anyone who cannot follow her stream of consciousness while she reaches for the voice she might think she lost by detouring to law school and relationships and doing things other than writing - pay attention. You're not. She is. And she says it better than I:

"Nothing is more bracing than not being concerned about what other people think. I have no idea why anyone cares. Trust me: No one is looking. I know: I am looking. People are self-involved."

p.s. If you don't know who Elizabeth Wurtzel is or if you were in a coma in the 90s, here are all the Tumblr posts in the world tagged with her name. Enjoy.


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