Hard Heart

I’ve been writing about Orlando over at Pith this week in various forms and on Thursday, I had a post about gun liability insurance. I heard, then, yesterday, from quite a few of my friends who are gun enthusiasts who wanted to talk about my post, and who, yes, utterly disagree with me.

But they were being awesome. They wanted to talk and to be heard and to try to have some kind of understanding.

It’s me. Something has happened to me. In order to write publicly like I do for Pith, in order to open the emails from strangers and see the things they want to show me, in order to be able to reassure my mom or my friends that the things they’re reading about me aren’t going to translate into something bad happening to me, I have had to do something ugly to myself.

And I try not to think about that ugly thing too often, but I felt it yesterday, seeing these people I care about and who I know care about me trying to have a respectful conversation with me and I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t let the hardness recede enough to engage with them, to be their friend.

A thing I had not appreciated until I got into my 30s is that this is a truly unpleasant aspect of “fame.” I’m using the term very loosely here. If “being famous” is a universe, I’m “famous” at a small pebble in that universe level. What I mean by “fame” is that some group of people knows of you and has opinions about you that come to form some level of reality for you when they don’t actually know you. To use a very concrete illustration, it’d be like, if some guy, let’s call him Joe, Joe owns a restaurant and he reads my blog, He learns that I’m allergic to strawberries and so, when I go to his restaurant–even though I don’t know him or know he reads my blog–I’m never served strawberries. At that level, I guess it’s fine and kind of nice and fun. But what if Joe reads my blog and decides I don’t like men? I might not actually notice if I never get a male server, so maybe that doesn’t matter, but what if he’s back there spitting in my food?

Every one of us has a thin layer, a protective vernier, that is other people’s interpretations of our actions–the way they see us that is not necessarily how we see ourselves. One of the great delights in having dear friends is that you both simultaneously have someone you can trust who shows you the difference between how your perceive yourself and how the world perceives you and who will come close enough to you that they are inside that bubble–they see you for who you perceive yourself to be.

But being famous, for better or for worse, involves a thickening of that vernier. Some of it is intentional. I think I have hardened my heart intentionally so that I can do the work. But a lot of it is done by people who don’t know you to you. They develop these ideas about who you are and they interact with, or attempt to interact with, their ideas of you, not you.

It’s really disconcerting, unsettling.

It’s as if you enter a conversation with someone and come to realize that they’ve mistaken you for someone else. Possibly someone worthy of the hatred they feel toward them.

So, you build a thicker layer so that interacting with people who mistake you for a person they hate isn’t so fucking grueling.

Maybe you even begin to perform the layer so that you can feel like no one can touch your soft, vulnerable innards, because they won’t even suspect they’re there.

Maybe, at some point, you yourself forget that you are not the fake layer of misinterpretation that has been generated around you.

I don’t really have an ending to this post. I guess, just, at my level, way, way, way down here, this very tiny, inconsequential level of fame makes me feel like I’m losing my mind and my ability to interact like a normal human being with the people I love.

I genuinely don’t know how anybody with real fame does it.

(Also, there’s something terrible and funny about the fact that “fame” in this case just means I blog for an alt.weekly and people hate my opinions.)

4 thoughts on “Hard Heart

  1. Betsy, one of the things I admire about you is your zealous advocacy for your beliefs. You write with great passion (as well as style) on issues about which we ought be, as a people, passionate. Even when I disagree with you, it is impossible not to admire your opinions.

    In that light, this post is curious.

    Are you surprised that people get angry being called racists and morons? Do you not think that there are people out there who worry that you might spit in their food if the situation were reversed?

    You cannot trash people in public, often thoughtful people, and expect them to say ‘Thank you so much for showing me how stupid and vile I am, O Awesome One.’

    You should either embrace their anger. Take comfort from being better than the people you write about.

    As a very wise man once observed, the best test of your character is your enemies, not your friends.

    After all, like most celebrities, your fame comes from your choice to be in public.

  2. Mark, yes, but in my analogy, I’m not writing about the restaurant owner. The weirdness and the problems don’t come from the people I wrote about.

  3. I would just point out, too, that the weirdness of the situation is such that a reasonable person immediately assumes that my problem must be with people I’ve made angry and not with people who imagine themselves…something… to be in some kind of relationship with some imaginary version of me they’ve created.

  4. I think my dislike of friendship stems from the belief that attraction begins with someone who agrees with you. I do not ‘suffer’ from your fame – to quote the Thacker comment, ‘even my own mother has trouble remembering my name’ – but I am aware that life divides our species by this simple analogy. Two armies face each other. They are equal in destructive power and carnage is bound to follow. Then one of the commanding officers has an idea. He tells his soldiers all to lay down their arms and advance upon the enemy with their hands held open before them in a gesture of friendship. For a few minutes it works. Many of the opposing soldiers have no wish to maim or kill. But then the other commander gives the order to shoot…

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