My blogger friend Matt tells himself and the world that he’s an Orthodox Jew. He doesn’t blog on Shabbos. He walks to his Orthodox shul. He’s a member in good standing. He tries to keep his sins quiet. Unfortunately for Matt, not many people buy his “Orthodox” act. Certainly not his Orthodox community (what there is left of it).
So when Wednesday, September 29, came around, Matt faced a dilemma. He faced three holy days in a row (the first two days of Succoth, and then the Sabbath) without any invitations for meals. Matt doesn’t get invited out much because he’s an ass. At his last meal, the hosts put him on time-out with the kids because he was telling stories about marching with Martin Luther King that struck some of listeners as patronizing at best and racist at worst.
Wednesday night, Matt faced a choice. He could sit at home and celebrate Succot by read the Mordecai Richler novel Barney’s Version. Or he could live Barney’s Version by sneaking out to the LA Press Club/Reason magazine party in Beverly Hills. Given his empty social calendar, Matt really wanted to go to the party. But he felt like he would be betraying his religion if he did. Matt has been in this situation many times in the past.
What usually happens is that Matt decides to do what he wants, and then thinks up ingenious excuses for his misbehavior. Matt faced the problem that he had already piously emailed his LAPC friends that his religious obligations would preclude him from attending the party. So what’s a Jew to do?
Well, it’s only three miles away from where Matt lives. He could plausibly say he was just stopping by the party (which began at 6 p.m., while Succoth began at 6:25 p.m.) for a few minutes on his way to a mythical Succot dinner just up the street where he would follow in the 4000-year-old tradition of his ancestors.
Then Matt remembered how the presence of God accompanied him everywhere he went, and that he could conceive of this presence as a Succah, a booth, and therefore he wouldn’t be lying if he said he was on his way to a Succah.
The party proceeded swimmingly. Matt looked around for some chicks to hit on. Melissa from Reason pointed across the party to a woman called Mary, who was the Reason receptionist. And single. Matt ambled over and interrupted the conversation between Mary and Kevin Bleyer, a writer for the Dennis Miller show. They were finishing off a book on relationships for St. Martins Press.
Matt launched into a graphic lecture on why he didn’t like to go down on women and followed it up with an elaborate complaint that American women move too much in bed. He said what he was really looking for in a woman was good values.
“You should meet Lori Gottlieb,” said Kevin.
“Lori Gottlieb?” said Matt. “I’ve got a crush on her. She’s a great writer. I read her columns in the Jewish Journal.”
And then Matt returned to detailing his sexual obsessions. When he paused to take a breath, he let his eyes travel down Mary’s neck, below her chest, to her name tag, which read, “Lori Gottlieb.”
Matt flushed bright red. While talking filth to a receptionist was perfectly ok in Matt’s morality, it was not the way he wanted to introduce himself to author Lori Gottlieb.
“I think I might get a column out of this,” said Lori (who doesn’t look anything like her picture), walking off.
Rabbi Gadol writes: "Both the CDC and the helpful lesbians at Toys in Babeland agree: oral sex is not safe sex. When you go down on a woman and satisfy her carnal urges not with your penis, as God intended, but in the manner of a Frenchman - with your mouth - you are exposing your mouth to every kind of bacteria and virus that the "Sex in the City"-watching woman has to offer. And yes, they can infect you. Unlike torah sex, there is no condom that you can slip on the organs in questions to protect yourself. No my friends, oral sex is not safe sex, and the wise man avoids it at all costs. In fact, I am pretty sure that oral sex has sickened more men than has eating at Taco Bell. (Don't give me any lectures on the use of dental dams - it's one thing to slip a tube of rubber on something that we cannot see - our penis - and quite another to be staring at a sheet of plastic during sex, and tasting same. Blech. It's like looking at a brochure from the CDC warning you not to have oral sex while having oral sex.) So ladies, stop whining for us to do that to you, unless we are married to you or set to get married to you. And even then, most men hate doing this for most women."
Normally I never read books about suicide, alcoholism, drug abuse, eating disorders and other such self-destructive behavior. I suspect that these are primarily secular problems. I find it hard to believe that religious homes that do not have a television have the same percentage of daughters with eating disorders (I understand that anorexia nervosa and the like is primarily a white disease). I heard Dennis Prager citing his wife Fran as saying that anorexia nervosa and the like are primarily attempts to avoid growing up and taking on adult responsibility.
For months now, I've been enjoying Lori Gottlieb's columns in the Jewish Journal. It's the best stuff these days in the Journal. I had the privilege of meeting Lori last week. So when I was at the library this week and saw her memoir unabridged and on tape, Stick Figure: A Diary Of My Former Self, I checked it out.
One night when I couldn't sleep, I began listening. It starts out thus: "I'm Lori Gottlieb and what you are about to hear are entries from my diaries when I was eleven years old." I immediately thought, "No way!" No way could this book be entries from her diaries when she was eleven years old.
As I got caught up in the book's vivid scene-by-scene construction, I was renewed in my belief that there is no way that there is more than a paragraph or two in what I had heard that was unchanged from her diary. This book, as many reviewers point out, reads like a novel. As many of the customer reviews on Amazon put it, it reads like the sensibility of an accomplished woman in her twenties writing a novel.
So I arose at about 3 a.m. and Googled the book. In all the press about the book, I couldn't find any examples of a reporter looking at Gottlieb's original diary and comparing it the published book. Instead, in every interview on this, Gottlieb sticks to her claim that the writing is from when she was 11. It was then edited by her to form a narrative.
Then I thought - what's the big deal? Memoir is a genre that exists between fact and fiction. But it still bothers me that the book presents itself as the diary of an eleven year old girl when it reads like the novel of an accomplished writer of, say, 27. Maybe I am so bothered because I'm jealous. Because I still can't write as well as Lori does in this book, let alone when when I was eleven.
Lori writes on Salon.com: "Does writing a memoir give people carte blanche to analyze your life?"
She relates this comment from somebody looking at her book: "Wow, this picture's so glamorous. It doesn't look like you at all." While that remark was rude and I don't think I would ever say something like that, Lori does look completely different in person from her press photos. In her press picture, she has chubby cheeks. In person, she's slender (which is why she still gets bothered by boors asking if she's eating enough).
The pictures I use on the top of my blog and in my books are all from 1994-95 (the last time I was professionally photographed (for my acting head shots) and got a copy). When you put yourself out there as much as I do, and Lori does, one has to expect comments on one's looks and if one's pictures are misrepresenting one's reality.
I wholeheartedly agree with Lori that just because one publishes intimate and touchy information about oneself, that does not make it ok for others to throw it in your face. Publishing sensitive information about oneself does not make it significantly less sensitive for oneself. Good manners requires that you use the same tact in dealing with a person's personal stuff whether it is published or not.
Now I'm off to read Lori's latest book -- Inside the Cult of Kibu.
Lori Gottlieb's Nerve.com singles profile: