Sunday, October 17, 2004

On Being a (Literary) Outsider

I call it Insider Envy. The only way to recognize it is to be an outsider. To be inside is to be swayed by the fancy furniture, the snug, elite shoulder-brushing with other insiders, the various and assorted badges one gets to pin, shiny and new-smelling, to one's fashionably unique insider-self. It is only from the vantage point of the outsider—at a long, cold distance from that which is trendily exclusive that one can see exactly what one is missing.

I have always been an outsider. From the ruthless geometry of kindergarten four-square (afraid of the ball) to the Banana Republic attired chic-ettes of my college days (problems with color coordination), there has always been a clique I could only watch but never join. I coveted the outdoors jocks—but my skin was too pasty, my muscles too jiggly. There were the art house bohemians—but cigarettes made me cough, and I couldn't tell Kandinsky from Miro. But never have I been more of an outsider since the day I decided to be a writer (publicly that is). I've written longer than I've done anything else, but coming forth into the boisterious roadhouse chaos of the modern writing scene has been to stand, unknown and alone, jostling for a drink as those with hardcover first novel sales, articles in The Believer magazine, exclusive invitations to 826 Valencia Street parties and other kinds of clout crowd the bar.

The truth about being an outsider is that you always want to be an insider. I desperately wanted to be one of those under-30 ingenue first novelists who garner loads of attention and quotes from the big leaguers, who get sent on 25 city book tours and have cocktails with the greats in the lobbies of New York hotels. Now that I'm 30 it's not as sexy. Even if I were to sell a novel in the next five years, even though I have no kids, I'm still more soccer mom, less sparkly-eyed literati.

I then would have settled for landing a piece of dazzling short fiction in any one of a handful of top literary magazines. I dreamed of my byline in the New Yorker, The Paris Review but settled for publications that accepted "camera-ready" work.

Now I stand, with my cheeks pressed against the glass of McSweeney's, the Believer, New York's KGB Bar wondering what I could do to get in:

--Fake a tell-all memoir replete with celebrity-author dirt and slander?
--Lie that I had sex with Dave Eggers?
--Use my radio show as a forum to create my own movement, one that is elite, hip, crowded with people of letters and existing only in my head?

If you would like to help me find my way in to any one of the tres chic, hermeneutically sealed literary cliques, send your ideas to:

Next installment: What happens to an outsider who becomes an insider?


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