A Moment of Jen
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Monday, November 18, 2002
posted by Jen at 11/18/2002 11:35:00 AM

As God as my witness, someday I'm just going to quit reading things about myself.

I'm going to go cold turkey, same way I did with Amazon reader reviews. I'm just going to say, "This isn't healthy, and it isn't productive, and it isn't any fun, and I'm done with it."

But until that day comes, I can pass along howlers like this one, which appeared in what was mostly a wonderful piece -- Debra Pickett's column in yesterday's Chicago Sun-Times:

The "hook" that's helped propel both of Weiner's books onto the best-seller lists is that her heroines--journalist Cannie Shapiro in Good In Bed and lawyer Rose Fuller--are plus-sized women. And the evil women who variously try to steal their men, make them look bad at work and do all sorts of other terrible stuff to them are all thin. The one thing you know about every single female character in Weiner's books is what dress size she wears. And, from that, you can determine virtually everything else about her. Large women are smart and hardworking. They eat right and exercise and always do the right thing. Skinny women are lazy and troubled. They chow on junk food and never have to work out. They mindlessly step over people, since the world lays out a red carpet for them.

First of all, given the way the tabloid's designated hitter typically treats her subjects, I know that I got off pretty easy. But....well, she's either read my books wrong, or she was so busy trying to translate my bio into a series of how-to tips that she never read them at all. There simply isn't a big-girls-good, thin-girls-evil conspiracy pervading GOOD IN BED or IN HER SHOES, no matter how hard you look for one.

Gabby, Cannie's coworker from Hell, is even bigger than she is. Samantha, Cannie's best friend, is thin. So is Maxi Ryder, who becomes Cannie's fairy godmother. Amy, Rose's best friend, is thin -- as is Maggie, Rose's sister, who's arguably the heroine of IN HER SHOES. (Also, Maggie and Rose's last name is Feller, not Fuller. Which is really neither here nor there).

Thin girls don't have a monopoly on being confused and behaving badly, nor do the big girls own the eat-healthy-and-exercise franchise. In my books there are healthy, happy big people, and healthy, happy small ones, and craven, covetous, miserable big people, and nasty, jealous, grasping small ones. In other words, it's a lot like real life.

I'm grateful that Pickett's brave enough to put her jealousy right up front --- in the first sentence of the first paragraph of the article -- rather than letting it quietly pervade her piece, like the stench of something rotting in the corner.

And I know how she feels. I used to be a reporter, so I know, probably better than most, how the process works. Reporters -- particularly the ones my age -- have been told their whole lives how smart and talented and what wonderful writers they are. They do well in high school and go on to fancy-schmancy colleges. They spend their higher-education years lulled by the chorus from professors and parents about how great they are, how smart, how sharp, how insightful and funny. They graduate, believing they're going to set the world on fire.

Then they get jobs at newspapers and magazines penning features and profiles that require them to shut their mouths, set their healthy egos and oversized dreams aside, sit quietly behind a notebook or a tape recorder and chronicle the doings of people who, in many cases, are less smart, less talented, less interesting than they are. At least, that's how I frequently felt when I was a reporter. How did this happen? I'd think, as the starlet or singer or politician or comedian du jour babbled away. How is it that she's rich and famous, and I still have to type in the school lunch menus? What went wrong?

Combine that natural jealousy with editors who've had a few decades to stew in similar feelings of inadequacy and envy -- and every newspaper I've worked at has had its share of those types -- and you can wind up with pieces that are less about presenting a fair and balanced portrait, and more about making the successful subject look evil or foolish or phony....or, if they can't quite manage evil or foolish, and can only hint at phony, then supremely, ridiculously lucky. And woe betide the subject who had the misfortune of being both successful and young. I'd try to be balanced and I'd try to be fair, and I'd always try to be funny, but sometimes, in spite of myself, the green-eyed monster would get the best of me, and come peeking through in a biting description, a cutting anecdote, a joke in the lede that made my friends and colleagues laugh but I knew would probably make the subject miserable. I thought I was terribly clever when I wrote about how don's daughter Victoria Gotti was an enigma, wrapped in a mystery, wearing a very short skirt...or how deposed Cosmo editor Helen Gurley Brown didn't look 78, but didn't look particularly human, either....or how long it took songstress-turned-poet Jewel to come up with the name of another poet whose work she admired. But I'm sure that none of my subjects thought I was being amusing -- or, really, very nice. Which, I figured, was just part of the deal. The celebrities knew that taking shots was part of the price of fame and glory....and as for me, I knew I'd never see or hear from these people again. Feature writing means never having to say you're sorry.

You'd think that, knowing what I know about newspapers, I'd understand the perils of being a newspaper-reporter-turned-subject-of-newspaper-reporting. You'd think, having made my share of sausage, I'd be a little more blase about going through the grinder myself. I guess I was naive, or optimistic, because every time I read one of these pieces starring the Bizarro version of myself -- the Jen who hates thin women, per Pickett, or the Jen who never got over the slights of seventh grade, according to last year's Hartford Courant, or the Jen who's so witless and and lacking in talent that all she managed to do was transcribe actual events from her dysfunctional workplace and screwed-up family, change a few names and plop it into a book or two, as last month's Philadelphia Inquirer would have it -- it stings.

But I know that my readers get it, even if the writers don't. And I know that if being misunderstood in a couple of newspaper profiles is the worst thing that happens in my life, then my life's going to turn out just fine.

On to happier topics. I'm home again, finally, and the sun is shining, for once, and I hope to see all of you Philadelphia readers at the Kenneth Cole store at 1422 Walnut Street tonight for a reading and shoe sale. Call 866-583-8608 to RSVP.
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