I have a confession to make. I feel sorry for Britney Spears. Now, I don’t particularly like her, I’m not interested in her. But I do feel sorry for her. The media has a fascinating tendency to build up people as heroes or idols, and then tear them apart.
When I was 18 in a manner of speaking I ran away. At the time, I thought I was leaving all my problems behind me, as though they could be compartmentalized, boxed off and but away forever. It took a long time, a lot of countries to realize that you can’t run away from yourself. We all have things that shape our lives, that have contributed to making us the person we are, for better or worse. And over time we either succumb to those influences – the abused child becomes an abuser, the child of an alcoholic becomes an alcoholic themselves, for example – or we spend a lifetime trying to break the chains… or we actually succeed in ending the cycle. I learned that you can’t undo the past, that as much as you try to run away from it it can always catch up to you, and by trying to suppress it you give it power in your life.
This is why, on some levels, I understand suicide. I’m not saying I condone it. I’ve lost a brother-in-law, a cousin, and dealt with the aftermath of suicide attempts by close family members. What I understand is the overwhelming feeling of hopelessness that closes in on you and threatens to crush you, the feeling that you can’t breathe, where everything in life has just become such a mess you feel you can’t find your way out of it.
I guess I’m what some call tough. (Others use the word bitch.) If only they knew the truth. But as much as possible, I’ve tried to avoid mind games. I think what’s fair is to make your position on things known, so that people can avoid making mistakes with you. For example, I hate spam. This is no secret to most people who know me. And I’ve said something about it on lists and forums and whatnot whenever an issue of an author spamming people has come up. The result is, I’m not too popular with authors. By criticizing it I’m “against” them. An attempt to be completely fair – nobody has any excuse for not knowing of my hatred for spam – results in criticism. I went off lists where my email address was being harvested for spam purposes by other authors when nothing was done about it. Should I feel guilty? Not for a second. I have the right to my feelings. Now, I just set a rule on my email. Once an author spams me, they will find future emails go straight to the trash. Good luck to them when they send review copy requests. It isn’t like I haven’t warned people how I feel…
But I’m the bad guy. Okay, fine. I’m the bad guy. One of the things I’ve learned navigating lists and forums over the past few years is that a lot of people put on a nice, smiley public persona and keep their real feelings or opinions locked away. They become an illusion, a mask, a presentation of what’s acceptable. And it works. You need to look no further than Britney Spears for proof that the public image will be completely favourable until you’re proven to be a human being, flawed like everyone else on the planet, and then you’ll be torn apart.
We’ve seen it happen over the past year, even in the crime fiction community. Ian Rankin can recover from the misrepresentation of his remarks and intent from one interview, and all the people who’ve denounced him as a woman-hater and anti-gay as a result. He’s had enough presence, been around long enough for most to give him the benefit of the doubt, and there are enough people that love his books who’ll read them no matter what. And so the industry will not shun him, because he’s still a bestseller and award-winning author.
For others, though, the same cannot be said. Honesty isn’t welcome. You’ll find yourself judged and convicted by people operating off of rumours alone, unsubstantiated.
That’s been the last year of my life, anyway. There have been rumours of affairs I’m allegedly having. Rumours by people I’ve never even met (but I’ve seen the emails). Considering I live in a village in Canada and don’t see people in the industry for months at a time and have never had an affair in my life, I’m amazed at how I apparently get around.
I’m even more amazed that anyone is so pathetic they don’t have something better to talk about. I guess I’m of the opinion I’m really not that interesting. Believe me, the reality is nowhere near as spicy as the rumours.
I always thought the best thing, the fair thing, was to be as straight with people as possible. Not that I’m perfect, and there are times I hold back saying things because I don’t know how a person will take it, maybe don’t feel I know them well enough to speak freely, but at least I thought people could respect the fact that I try to be straight with people. Me, I don’t even need to like you to read your books. Or interview you. On some level, I think I assumed that people would at least be civil and give you a chance instead of writing you off based on what others say alone. I thought I was done with high school. Sure, I have my impressions of people, but have been pleasantly surprised on many occasions to find some who intimidated me to be delightful. I admit it (and he knows it) – I was completely intimidated by Mark Billingham for ages. There was just no rationale to that. It goes down to me, I guess, and my own weaknesses and insecurities.
Maybe it’s just my own peculiar delicate balance that’s brought me to this point, and maybe because of the damage I’ve seen from lies and pretense over the years, but I never wanted to feel like a fraud as a person. I can handle being thought of as tough if people also think I’m fair. What I can’t handle is being thought of as a flag, following the winds of popularity instead of having my own direction based on reason, tastes, integrity.
The problem is, once you’re in the public domain, you can and will be judged by those who are predisposed to dislike you, even if they base their opinion 100% on rumour and lies.
Something else I’ve experienced this past year.
I’m good enough myself at looking in the mirror and being critical about what I see. Most days I think of myself as pretty happy, and as having dealt with most of my demons. And then something comes up and all those insecurities and fears are right back.
But I’m not really supposed to admit this. I’m supposed to go to the next con and kiss some ass so that the industry people like me, and I’m supposed to be supremely self confident and pretend I’m perfect, so of course you should love my books because I’m a wonderful person and a fantastic writer.
You know, being a wonderful person and a fantastic writer has nothing to do with being perfect. Rather, it’s usually in exploring our own weaknesses and fears that we translate on the page what is of most meaning to the reader, because no matter what country we live in, the colour of our skin, our sexual orientation or our gender, we all know what it is to be human. We have hopes and dreams, and we face times of grief and loss. These are the things that bind us together. I guess that’s why I wanted to call this ms The Frailty of Flesh. The theme at the core is all about human weakness.
The one conclusion I’ve come to? I doubt I’ll ever feel as though I belong anywhere. And as long as I don’t base my own self worth on being accepted by a person or a community that will be okay.