Thursday, March 18, 2010

Elizabeth Wurtzel: Addicted to Drama

As a writer Elizabeth Wurtzel has real talent. While her opinions do not rise to the level of her dark and edgy prose stylings, still, her talent is real. It deserves recognition.

It is fortunate that she writes so well, because otherwise people would have difficulty reading about the anguish and drama that has characterized so much of her life.

Having been the poster child for Prozac, Wurtzel graduated to an engaging and wild study of "bitches." From there she moved on to ritalin addiction, recounted with muted and less satisfying prose, in Here, Now, Again: A Memoir of Addiction.

If you want to listen to Prozac, you cannot just listen to what the psychiatrists have to say about it. They have, after all, a vested interest. It is worthwhile to listen to a patient like Elizabeth Wurtzel, a child of the therapy culture, who somehow got the idea that she could do what she wanted, when she wanted, with whom she wanted... because Prozac had her back.

Or, it did until it didn't. However much Wurtzel indulged illicit drugs, she suffered her worst addiction-- to ritalin-- under doctor's care and using doctor's prescriptions.

Whenever I see Wurtzel's byline I immediately want to read what she has to say. Not so much because her opinions are especially enlightening, but because I like to read good writing.

Sometimes I miss something she has written, like last May when I inexplicably failed to notice an article she wrote for Elle, entitled: "Failure to Launch: When Beauty Fades." Link here. I found the article yesterday when it was linked on the HookingUpSmart blog. Link here.

In her article, Wurtzel is meditating on what it is like for a woman to possess great beauty, the kind of beauty that is catnip for men, to grow older. Now that she feels that her beauty is fading, she looks back on what she did with what she was given.

If she were more theologically inclined, she might have noted that beauty is a gift from God, to be cherished, surely, but also to be used wisely.

Having reached the age of 41 Wurtzel looks back, with some regret, on her youthful escapades. Yet, she never once mentions the rather intimate connection between female beauty and female fertility. Would it have been too politically incorrect to note that age 41 is a time when the decline of female fertility accelerates, and when male attention becomes more fleeting and less intense?

Perhaps Wurtzel never wanted to have children. Fair enough. But that does not excuse the ideological spasm that causes her to overlook the obvious, and the simple, in favor of a convoluted complexity.

It is not easy for a beautiful woman to write well about being beautiful, but Wurtzel is up to the challenge.

Beauty has been her friend, but she did not have to do very much to have and to hold it. Beauty has given her value in the sexual marketplace, and she has exploited it mercilessly.

But, beauty is also a perishable commodity, one that needs to be deployed judiciously if one is going to use it to make a life. It seems that Wurtzel had to go to law school and to work as an attorney to discover the meaning of: judicious.

Even before the term entered the lexicon Wurtzel was a queen of the hook-up culture. She used her beauty to collect men. It has not been a happy experience. In her words: "Men have piled up in my past, have fallen trenchantly through my life, like an avalanche that doesn't mean to kill, but that is going to bury me alive just the same."

Clearly, there were a number of one-night-stands, but more often Wurtzel was trying and failing to sustain a relationship. The relationships failed because there was more drama than affection, more chaos than order, more trauma than routines.

It is impossible not to think that beyond her addiction to medication, Wurtzel was addicted to drama. After all, that is what the therapy culture prescribes.

In her words: "I attract (and seek) bottle throwing, foot stomping, door slamming, pot clanging, hair pulling, and, above all, a lot of loud screaming and walking out in a huff-- usually leaving me crying, wondering what just happened, or, more often, too astonished to cry."

But this is not the usual kind of addiction. Wurtzel is a natural-born writer. Writers need material. For a writer who writes, for the most part, about her own experience, she needs to feed the beast, and the beast, the writer's talent, needs to be fed with drama.

When you live at a time when memoirs are all the rage, when women writers are supposed to expose themselves to the public at large, the better to strike a blow against patriarchal notions of modesty, a woman writer is almost obliged to write about herself. That is where the market is; deny it at your peril.

And yet, this has clear downside. The kind of man who does not mind being written up in someone's memoir, on on their blog or Facebook page, is probably not the kind of man you would want to marry. But if you find a man who is enough of a drama junkie to play out the scenes that Wurtzel made into a staple emotional diet, then the chances are good that your relationships will have no future.

Once, Wurtzel confesses, she found a man who would make for a good husband, a man she could see herself settling down with, living a normal life with. As you might guess, he was not an alpha male, not even a pillar of the community. He was an "inveterate" graduate student who used to rub her feet every night with peppermint lotion from the Body Shop. He was a metrosexual before his time.

Whether she could not stand his fawning, servile attitude, or because she was feeling trapped and imprisoned, she felt compelled to destroy the relationship. Or perhaps she just sensed that a stable, normal relationship would not make for very good material.

Of course, she could have written about something other than herself. Most great novelists eventually get around to it. But if she was facing a choice between a life of drama that would make good material and a calm, contented life that would be so boring she could not write at all, she chose the former.

So, she did not sit down and have a talk to break up with this inveterate graduate student. She decided to precipitate a crisis by hooking up with as many men as she could. The relationship ended badly.

This does not just provide material for a writer; it also provides material to fill many therapy sessions. I am not surprised to see that, in other ways, Wurtzel is a child of the therapy culture.

Toward men she describes herself as "forward and forthright." Evidently, she has never read The Rules.

How does her approach work? Not very well. Her flirtatious behavior does allow her to score all the men she wants. But only momentarily. In her words: "... all this pretty persuasion is a big pull for men, but then they're gone. All of them. Somehow I can seduce and be seduced for a moment here and there, but I can't meaningfully connect."

Perhaps some of those who aspire to be queens of the hook up culture should take some counsel from Wurtzel.

Why can't she connect? Because drama is not about connecting; drama offers an imitation connection that may serve for a time, but that will never provide the kind of satisfaction that a normally constituted person wants.

All the time and energy you have put into drama is time and energy that is not being used to learn the social skills required to sustain a relationship.


Susan Walsh said...

This is fascinating - the idea that someone would live a life for the express purpose of furnishing material. I hadn't thought of it, but it makes a lot of sense. I envision her stepping outside herself, like a Director, making artistic choices about how to play the scenes of her own life. This strikes me as quite tragic.

As her youth and beauty fade, how effective will this be? Poor choices and drama in an aging woman are far less engaging, and tend to mortify. Grey Gardens comes to mind.

DaisyCrazy said...

Just read Prozac Nation and all the way through I had this feeling you so aptly state here: that she's addicted to drama more than anything else.
I think this addiction is the hardest to shift, since it's so long lasting.

Anonymous said...

It is typical that a woman who throws mud at stay-at-home-mothers, is also a woman who has had massive failures in her personal relationships and never had children. Perhaps Wurtzel is simply bitter because practicing feminism did not bring her the happiness she assumed it would. Its also interesting that she entered a heavily saturated career field (law) and still thinks she is contributing more to society than a stay-at-home mother does. Its not like our society needs any more lawyers. As for writing a book about yourself, well, anyone can do that.

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