Sarah Hepola on lighting ourselves on fire

Saturday, August 11, 2012

This morning I did that thing that relaxes me most of all—tapped into my iPad, read from the New York Times, watched the weekly A.O. Scott and David Carr Times video.  (Have you watched them?  Do you like them?  How can I explain my addiction to this reliably circumlocutory conversation?)

Tucked into the Magazine was an essay on Cat Marnell by Sarah Hepola.  Hepola, among other things, selects and sometimes writes those often controversial, lightning-rodesque personal essays for  Years ago, when the internet had not yet become so prone to anonymous nastiness and viral cat fights, I wrote for Salon—occasional essays and reviews.  I shared a community there with its early founders and creators and co-writers—Kate Moses, Susan Straight, Camille Peri, others.  I stopped when the stakes grew too high, when I could no longer see the value add of putting one's life up for grab by the increasingly ridiculing masses.  I have watched friend after friend get burned in that forum.  Insta-fame, yes.  The costs:  high.

Hepola's entire piece on Marnell and Marnell's own unfiltered confessions makes for fascinating reading.  But it is this penultimate paragraph that should, I think, be required reading for us all.  I share this as memoirist and as a teacher of memoir and, also, (does this make it better or worse?) a writer about the making of memoir—how it gets done, what happens when it does (the themes not just here on my blog but in my forthcoming book, Handling the Truth). 

Here is Hepola:  
I worry about anyone who is lighting themselves on fire for our enjoyment. I worry about the bloggers and viral stars who have burned up so much of themselves for the prize of a few thousand followers. Our attention span is so short these days. One minute you’re a meteorite lighting up Google Trends, the next minute you fall back to earth, another piece of ugly, busted-up coal.


Melissa Sarno said...

Thanks for sharing the article. I had never heard of Marnell but I just find the self destruction described in the piece incredibly sad. Not only do I wonder why people are compelled to share these confessions but it makes me feel worse that people are so compelled to read them.

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