Monday, January 3, 2011

the dilettante dilemma: Real Housewives edition

This is tough for me to say. But we’re friends right? I told you about my obsession with bad dance movies and you stuck by through that so I feel I can tell you now about this other, far more shameful predilection. Deep breath, here goes: I love the Real Housewives.

I know. I KNOW.

By far my favorite of these televised train wrecks is Atlanta. I just can’t help but love these ladies. For one thing, they seem like they all sprung fully-formed from the imagination of the late, great E. Lynn Harris (one of my favorite authors I’ve ever worked with) and from what I can tell they start in on the wine at about 10am.

The ‘housewives’ in the title is something of a misnomer, a more accurate title would be something along the lines of ‘Real ladies in tight, cheap-looking-but-actually-expensive clothing with minimal taste, no shame and sublimely ridiculous side projects of X fancy zip code’ since most of the cast members do not actually in any way fit the bill of ‘housewife’ in the traditional sense.

Oddly, a handful of the them seem rather down-to-earth and are even quite accomplished. Such is the case with Atlanta cast member Kandi Burruss, a Grammy winning music producer and very talented recording artist in her own right. A more perfect foil could not exist for this hard-working, passionate heavy hitter than her cast mate and frenemy Kim Zolciak who decided seemingly out of the blue last season that it was her lifelong dream to be a singer.  

For the uninitiated, Kim is a chain-smoking mother of two who has no discernable employment other than her wig line (she’s financially supported by a married man cringe-inducingly referred to as ‘Big Poppa’). Also, she cannot sing. At all. Nonetheless, last season with the help of Kandi she recorded a single on which she is auto-tuned to within an inch of her life. In the beginning she seemed sort of in on the joke but now, after her fist single has became a campy dance hit you get the feeling she no longer recognizes the vast difference between her and Kandi. Her delusion in the face of her complete lack of talent and work ethic is oddly compelling and moreover, it’s familiar.  

Every writer and publishing professional I know could tell you a dozen stories about run-ins with literary Kim Zolciacks: people who upon hearing what you do immediately exclaim that they too want to write a novel despite never having written anything before or even reading novels on a regular basis. This happened to me once on a first date with an investment banker (there was no second date). I’m not talking about people who’ve always wanted to write and finally find the courage to do so and commit themselves to the practice in earnest, I’m talking about the people who talk about writing a book the way they would going sky diving or swimming with dolphins, a one-off thing that one might do just to do it as opposed to something that involves a lifetime of reading and refining one’s craft.

Being an artist is hard but if you truly are one you suffer through the attendant rejection/ low pay/ day job/ sacrifice because you feel like the only other option is to deny yourself that which make you you. Honestly, being a writer isn’t all that glamorous even for the people who are really successful and why someone would want to spend the hours and hours in unpaid solitude if they didn’t feel some deep, undeniable need to write is just beyond me.

How do you deal with these well-meaning dabblers?


  1. my take on the "i want to be writer" from the likes of people like snooki (who has a FICTION NOVEL about to be released which by the way makes me puke every time i think about it even though i'm sure she's merely the name on the cover to appeal to a market of readers left untapped because there are few books about hanging out on a jersey shore in between one-night stands and 30-minute tanning sessions) is because these people want to appear more intelligent than they may be. I'm not saying kim or snooki or who ever the next publishing sensation may be isn't intelligent. they just aren't promoted that way and want to be.

    and i love real housewives too. how about the first season when kim was drinking wine and singing in her car to sheree??? best tv ever! (not in a mad men tv way, but you know). i'm going to have to read lynn harris now for sure.

  2. I don't get a lot of this from would-be writers because I keep my writing life to myself. But as a photographer I hear this sort of thing constantly, from people who think all they need is a $3000 camera and an 8-gig data card.

    In photography, as in writing, you need to OBSESS. You need to be consumed, driven, frantic for the next picture or completely besotted by the one before. Lukewarm passion makes for mediocre work.

    There's a kid at the UPS store who's always asking me about my work (I ship my film to the lab once or twice a week). He asked me to critique his work, which I did. I thought he had a really interesting eye and could do something with it, but when we spoke about it a couple of months later, I learned he'd shot nothing since then. He's full of excuses, but the point is, he's not obsessed and he needs to be.