The cliché is that you have to be honest in your writing. But being honest has ruined my chances for any "white collar" jobs that require the pen or computer in any form.
Even if I was to soften the punch of my “history” and just ALLUDE to my past, a prospective employer only has to Google my name and over 25 pieces from various magazines come up. Said employer wouldn't even need to read the articles; just glancing at the titles would provide a jarring and crystal clear picture of who I am and what I’ve endured—the mental illness and drug addiction and sex addiction. And that’s not even counting the purposely lewd and salacious pieces I’ve written for avant-garde sexuality websites (or “porn mags," as my mother has referred to them.)
Most of these mainstream writing jobs want samples…..and almost every sample I have is some auto-biographical car crash. Nobody wants my objective editorial take on the political climate. They want the “inside me”—the raw unfettered bloody shameful and shameless accounts of what I’ve been through. They want me to talk about the things that everybody thinks or feels that nobody dares say. They want me to bare my ugly truth and fuck it if I look bad or crazy or impulsive or self-destructive. And I know I do. As Philip Roth says, “You must write as if your parents are dead.” I write as if my ex-husband and ex-boyfriends and ex-lovers and friends are dead too. It is only in that hideous barren honesty that some slutty lonely miserable cokehead girl in a small God forsaken town like Benton Ridge, Ohio can read it and think, “Holy shit, I feel that way too.” Or “I did that.” And most importantly, “I’m not alone.” (Yes, I get letters.)
But there is a hefty price to pay. I didn't understand that when, married and sober and dabbling in stand-up, I began this literary adventure with a little piece called “Sex and Dating in Sobriety” in The Fix in January of 2012. The editor knew I’d had an active dating life in the program when I was single and thought I’d be the perfect person to chronicle my social interludes with detailed abandon. But do I regret my transgressions into honesty?
Not one bit. Not for a goddamn moment. That writing kept me alive.
Nowadays, I have no secrets. If I am ashamed of something, I put it out there in writing or in person. Because it helps me to own it. If you feel ugly or fat or crazy or stupid, say it before anybody else can. My goal now is an addiction to truth. But better that than shitty coke or a cupboard so full of skeletons I can't even close the door.
Of course the flack I get isn't always pleasant. My exes call me callous and sick and crazy. My detractors call me selfish and disgusting and self-indulgent. Or so my friends report. I don’t want to know if people hate or love what I’m writing. I don’t want to shy away from details that people find disgraceful. And I don’t want to pander to what people find moving. Because the real truth is some knotted mysterious confusing mix of all of these and more.
I wish that “white collar” mainstream writing jobs saw overcoming addiction or depression as some transcendent triumph. Because I truly believe it is. But the reality is that they see me as a fuck up and a junkie and a headcase who might temporarily be in remission but who could relapse and be rocking violently in a corner in a dilapidated psych ward at any fucking minute. And maybe they are right. Maybe I am, you are, we are just ticking time bombs.
And the online dating scene only pretends to be more understanding. Even if I casually alluded to my struggles like “I have fought my demons and won” or “I have explored all the vices," a prospective date only needed to search my name and all was revealed.
Granted I didn’t do much to hide my past in casual conversation or on a preliminary coffee date.
“What do you do?”
“I’m a writer.”
“Cool. What do you write? I’d like to read something.”
“Mostly about addiction.”
“Are you a doctor?”
“Are you in recovery?”
Was I being overly revealing? Absolutely. Was it a test? Possibly. Could I stop myself? Not without feeling incredibly dishonest, as if I was selling somebody a baggie of baking powder pretending it was top shelf coke. Or maybe it was more like passing off some really dangerous blow as baking powder.
Anyway I am more comfortable with people knowing WHO I am BEFORE they meet me. Fair warning. And if you still want to have dinner with somebody who is “as mad as a box of frogs” as I’ve been called, that’s on you.