Come back, not-so-little Sheba, or: When writers finally grow up

Between fiction and self-deceit: A writer’s fable

4 minute read
No one understood why, nearly two decades ago, "Sheba" (not her real name, subsequently here known as "She") gladly tossed aside her barely scuffed 27 pairs of second-hand cowgirl boots and tottered away from her vaguely glamorous if sodden dream job as a professional, um, mainstream journalist to move to New Jersey or Mexico (or was it Montana or Vermont or Venice Beach or maybe even back to Philadelphia?).

Only now, nearly but not quite completely recovered from her ensuing dissolute downward spiral of booze, drugs, pretty boys, whips, chains, Ben-Wah Balls, capsicum nipple paint, intermittent hooking, petty theft of rare '50s flea market finds, compulsive fellatio, pizza binges, Margarita orgies, filthy public poetry performances, sordid swing and swap scenes, bulimia, rampant hypochondria, fetishizing rejection and abuse as sexual foreplay, stalking, lascivious solo shows at the Fringe Festival, exorbitantly witty phone sex banter, garden-variety exhibitionism, and general self-indulgence and excess in the name of art, can She reclaim the multiple personas She abused during that troubled, dissolute decade and offer them to the world for possible, um, explication.

Hunger for attention

Hard to believe, but all her life, or at least up until then, She actually believed She was well balanced. Silly girl! How could She be the last to discover She probably suffered from a maladaptive emotional syndrome known as "Hysteroid Dysphoria"— meaning, someone pathetically obsessed with being the center of attention through any means possible: lurid language, loud clothing, intrusive laughter, exotic jewelry, excessive cleverness, peculiar-looking male companions, bitchy whining, aberrant sexuality, weirdly human pets, spellbound hangers-on, you name it?

No wonder She's never been able to finish reading her favorite book, Marie-Louise von Franz's elusive Jungian masterwork, Puer Aeternus. Wikipedia says von Franz even described "active imagination," a kind of conscious dreaming: "Active imagination is a certain way of meditating imaginatively, by which one may deliberately enter into contact with the unconscious and make a conscious connection with psychic phenomena." What a goddess!

Hey! When Literature becomes Life, watch out!

For instance: She fixated on a fascinating 2004 documentary film, Pola Rapaport's The Writer of O, highlighting the unusual story behind the creation of The Story of O, which overwhelmed her with parallels between "Pauline Reage's" classic 1954 novel and, yes, her own, Swanson's Swansong, which, She confesses was, to her deluded mind, the 21st Century's Story of O.

Scandalous Story of O

Naturally, her logic was illogical. The Story of O was a scandalous, elegantly written, controversial sadomasochistic novel, shocking for its time. But as it turns out, it wasn't the autobiographical account of sordid ecstasy it might have seemed, but actually Reage's pure fantasy, a luridly imaginative work by a meek and mild and rather plain middle-aged woman, intended as a literary "gift" for her married lady-killer lover, a work created out of an obsessive need to hold his interest, to please him and recapture his flagging sensual attention, since the author was, at the time, in her 40s.

And so She believed her book, like Reage's, was also a scandalous sadomasochistic novel, similarly created out of literary obsession, inspired by a year's enthrallment with a powerful and anonymous imaginary "lover"— the quixotic, and yes, very married Colorado cad and bounder Sal DiBreviary, who became transmogrified, in her book, into a witty, literate "conceptual artist" and girls' high school home-ec coach, who never reveals his real identity and never converses with her on the telephone but nevertheless exerts an amazing power, via language, over our heroine through the bondage of the written word.

Embracing her inner Venus

She's certain that her book, like Pauline Reage's, also explores "the thorny relationship between sexuality and power, submission and freedom, liberation and non-being," as well as the spiritual component of such self-abnegation. She saw her book not only as the definitive work on this issue but also, of course, as Cerebral Chick Lit, Reality Fiction, Seinfeld in Cyberspace, picaresque post-modern metafiction, dancing on paper, and more.

Sigh. She's better now. Aren't you glad?

This is her truth. What is life, after all, but a series of interlocking narratives?

Finally, via intensive psychotherapy with a pitiless Aussie domme-shrink until her health insurance ran out, She has unlearned her addictions, curbed her rampant promiscuity, embraced her inner Venus of Willendorf, stopped dyeing her hair that silly shade of Putrescent Eggplant, and erased the oh-so-fine line between fiction and lying.

There's more, some of it tragic, but this will have to suffice for now. Yes, She is deeply shallow. So what? Deal with it.

Meanwhile, She lies in wait, a languorous odalisque on a red-velvet Empire settee, seeking yet another comeback some day soon, hoping She'll be snagged by the right book publisher/literary agent/ movie director/TV producer/cab driver. Stranger things have happened. If an erstwhile Onion editor's screenplay for The Wrestler can enrapture Hollywood, why can't She?

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