RANT: Eyes on a Plate, A Rant About Expectation

I’ve been thinking for awhile about the expectations we hold for creative people. We’ve been talking in the comments about author biographies that paint the authors as less than perfect and therefore disappointing, as in, “How could somebody so rude/cruel/thoughtless/choose-your-own-sin write such good stories?” I have a history of being yelled at for my views outside of my writing (“Jenny Crusie loves plagiarism!”), not to mention what’s in my writing that some readers find betrays their concept of me by promoting the gay agenda, animal abuse, and birth defects, among other things. What I don’t understand is why these people think “creativity” equals “person I’d want to have lunch with.” Okay, I did go off Dilbert when I read Scott Adams’ comments on women, but that’s because whenever I see Dilbert, I think he said those things. But Robert Frost was a complete bastard, and he still wrote the best thing about work I’ve ever read (“Two Tramps at Mudtime”). P. G. Wodehouse made funny radio broadcasts about being interned by the Nazis and people labeled him a collaborator and I didn’t care, his writing still makes me laugh. It made me crazy when Steve Jobs died and so many people said, “But he gave nothing to charity;” his vision revolutionized computing, that’s not enough? When Bill Gates dies, people are going to say, “But Microsoft was awful;” yes, and his charitable foundation is doing incredible good internationally, he’s saving lives. I’m pretty sure if somebody comes along who transforms the world AND does good works, somebody will say, “You know, his house was always a mess.” If he’s that famous, he should be perfect. (Perfect in the way that I define “perfect,” of course.)

I do get that connection you feel with a favorite writer/musician/whatever, that “if we met we’d be best friends” thing, but I do not understand the assumption that creative people should be kind, loving, thoughtful, and attentive, plus clean, brave, and reverent. It’s not that it’s impossible, it’s just difficult. If creative people were normal, they wouldn’t hear voices and see visions and be obsessive enough about their ideas to change dreams into reality. It used to drive my daughter crazy that I’d stop in the middle of a sentence and stare off into space as if she weren’t there. It’s not the “squirrel” thing because you point that out to others (“Look, a squirrel!”). Instead you go into the flow of the thought and it swamps you and your forget other people are there to the point of rudeness and neglect. Because there’s this THING you need to think about, you need to think about it a lot, and then you need to do it or make it, and then you need to do it again to make it better, and then you need to start over again because of what you learned doing it the first time, and then you need to stare at it awhile and then you need to go back to it . . . I’m sorry, was there somebody else in the room? Who are you? Go away, I’m MAKING SOMETHING IN MY HEAD.

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If people want saints, they shouldn’t go to writers, painters, musicians, actors, and visionaries (ironically). And actually, the little I know of saints makes me think they must have been real PITAs to have around. “Don’t wash my hair shirt!” “These arrows? I suffer for you, you ingrate.” Or my fave, “Here, look at this plate. It has my eyes on it.” That’s Saint Lucy. From what I’ve read of Lucy, I think the whole eye-gouging thing was added later because she hadn’t suffered enough enough without it. “They just stabbed her because God wouldn’t let them take her to a brothel? Not good enough. Put in that they gouged her eyes out before they ran her through. Also, her house was always a mess.” Every time I see a picture of Lucy with that plate, I think she’s thinking, “I cured my mother of a blood disease and gave all my riches to the poor and was so strong they couldn’t drag me off to a brothel even when they tied a team of horses to me so they had to kill me where I stood, but that’s not enough? FINE. Here’s my eyes on a plate, you morons.” Because you know, she always still has her eyes in those pictures. I kind of love Saint Lucy because I think she knows the game.

And I think that the biographers and journalists and commentators who get all bent out of shape because writers and musicians and visionaries and the rest of the Weird Who Make Things aren’t the Nice People they want them to be just want Eyes on a Plate. And now I kind of want a business card with eyes on a plate on it so I can hand it to the people who yell at me because I’m promoting homosexuality, birth defects, animal abuse, and plagiarism. “I’m really sorry I’m not what you needed me to be. Here’s my eyes on a plate.”

Yeah, definitely getting that card made. In fact, I think everybody should have one of these cards to hand to anybody who said, “You’ve disappointed me by being who you are instead of what I needed you to be.”

Edited to Add:
Then I found this painting. I love Lucy’s expression here. That’s her eyes on the plant stem. It’s like a visual typo: eyes on a plant. Allposters has this poster, but it’s fifty bucks. Tempting, but no.

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104 thoughts on “RANT: Eyes on a Plate, A Rant About Expectation

  1. I love what you wrote. I think I will make some of those cards. My cousin is continually telling me what a bad friend I am…this, while I was extremely depressed. It would have been great to hand her a card when she took me out for my birthday a few weeks ago and told me all over again what a bad friend I’d been over the last year and a half. I could have handed her the card and walked out. Tempting.

    I saw you on Bookmark yesterday talking about “Maybe This Time” and your books with Bob Mayer. It was great to see you talking and laughing and to hear your voice. Now I feel like I know you…well sort of.

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    1. Oh, you probably do know me. I’m not deep, it’s pretty much what you see is what you get.
      So I wasn’t awful in the interview? They sent me a link, but I hate myself on film so I never watch.

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      1. I was flipping through channels and saw the bookmark hoping some day I’d see your name and there you were. I started jumping up and down yelling Jenny Crusie is on TV! My cousin thought I was nuts. It was a great interview and you were very funny, but as you said, you hang out with funny people…it tends to stick to you when you hang out with special people. Anyway, I enjoyed watching you. Getting your voice to go with the books. I’m listening to “Wild Ride” right now and just finished the other two with Bob. I love those books. Especially Agnes. Thank you for the books.

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          1. I saw the interview also (well some of it because I forgot). It was good. You would be fun to lunch with.

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      2. I saw it, too. No you were not awful. You were witty and fabulous.

        Like always 🙂

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    2. Just delurking to note that your cousin was not projecting an idealized personality on a person she knows nothing about; she was being extremely inconsiderate and condescending to someone she actually knows, who was dealing with a challenging illness at the time. Talk about being a bad friend! I wish you did have that card, maybe with some reference books on depression so she 1) can learn something about it and 2) doesn’t come across as awful.

      I’m sorry if that’s reading into it a bit too much or was too judge-y. As someone whose dealt with major depression for more than a decade it just irks me enormously to hear anecdotes like that.

      Back on topic, I’ve been fairly good at separating the work and the artist when the artist’s behavior is just in the range or normal person differences, less so when it crosses over into criminal or absolutely immoral (e.g., child molestation). Of course, I’m still the person making the judgment call on what I consider “normal,” so I guess it’s inescapable that some of my hopes about the artist might bleed into that judgment.

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  2. I love your rants! : )
    Peoples expectations of total strangers, because that’s what artists/creators are for most of us, has always struck me as odd. I can have admiration for an artist, even think I might like them in real-life, but I don’t want to remake them in my image. That’s what it’s all about, I think. The ego.
    As Billy Currington sings: “God is great, beer is good, people are crazy.”

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  3. Tangential to your rant, which I also loved, I’m convinced everyone has some secret weirdness. Some blip on the radar of normal that would make most people do a double take. Maybe people who get along well have complimentary weirdnesses, I don’t know.

    So far, I don’t find you strange at all.

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    1. I was at a conference once, and a woman I knew well enough to have lunch with said one day, out of the blue and with real anger in her voice, “Why does everybody LIKE you so much?” I said, “It’s a mystery, isn’t it?” I mean, what could I say? In the first place, there were people at that conference who loathed me, so it wasn’t true. To this day, I have no idea what prompted that.

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      1. I am constantly amazed at what people are willing to say. That was not only rude and intrusive, it was flat out unkind. The good news is between being you and being her, you clearly got the better deal.

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      2. I know the statement sounds rude and I wasn’t there and didn’t hear the tone, but I know myself well enough to know I would say something like this without even realizing how rude it sounded. I would be asking either because I wanted to be liked more or thought about how some snarky comment could be said by you and people would laugh but by me it would be rude or harsh. I think it might have been something that was at the end of a rabbit chase that happened in her head and only the last bit of the story or the thing she was making came out. Or I could be completely wrong.

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        1. An author friend was giving a speech and listing what she’d learned from other people, and she said that what she’d learned from me was that it was okay to be a bitch as long as you’re funny. I THINK that was a compliment. I liked it anyway.

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      3. Some people work really hard to be liked – I guess they think it is like a formula they can capture. And it annoys them when someone does it by being themselves. Personally I’m way too lazy for that shit. Opinions and flaws are what make people interesting.

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  4. Your comments made me think of Simon Illyan’s quote about Miles Vorkosigan in A Civil Campaign….’Perfection takes no risks with itself, you see. Miles was many things, but never perfect….Ultimately his career ran aground in disaster. But before it ended, he changed worlds.’

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    1. Now, see, those are definitely some characters I want to have lunch with. And move in with. It would be hard to find out that a person who creates my favorite people ever isn’t someone I’d like.

      When have you ever promoted animal abuse, Jenny? WHEN???

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      1. I think it was all that chicken marsala. My characters keep eating meat.
        Oh, no wait, it was that they kept eating. Seriously, the letter was on Bet Me and it was something about overeating from a PETA member. I got a little lost in that one.

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        1. Just remember that PETA also stands for “People Eating Tasty Animals”. I wonder how eyes on a plate taste? Seems to me Indiana Jones ate sheep’s eyes in one of those movies.

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        2. I was a little taken aback with “Crazy for You” when the bad guy kicked the dog…but since it promoted his craziness, I guess I had to accept it. Normally any kind of animal abuse in a romance, (to me anyway) is uncalled for and I stop reading that person. I guess it didn’t bother me since it just showed what a rat the bad guy was, that I continued to finish the book. I’ve never gotten the feeling you promote animal abuse or I’d be long gone.

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      2. I was wondering that, too. Also, how *does* one promote birth defects? I don’t remember that from any of your books. Maybe it’s time to re-read them all.

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        1. I can only begin to imagine, considering the animal abuse explanation. Too many of her characters have glasses?? Min’s non-skinny genes?

          Sometimes you have to accept that there are complete nuts out there, and if you’re unlucky (in this circumstance, anyway), they’ll pick you to be nutty about, I guess.

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        2. Maybe a female of child bearing age was drinking wine in one of her books?

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        3. It’s my older heroines. They’ll get married and want to have babies and they’re too old to do that because they’re in their thirties and forties so I’m encouraging birth defects. My daughter was running my website at the time, in her thirties, and trying to get pregnant with her second (she has three now, and everything is fine) and she was enraged. She said, “I’m going to write her back.” I said, “Don’t poke the crazy people.” She said, “She poked me first.”
          The thing I found oddest was that she assumed that everyone who fell in love and got married would want kids. The second thing was that she totally off on the whole don’t-have-kids-in-your-thirties things, but really, all people want children? Myopia.

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          1. “Don’t Poke the Crazy People” Can someone needlepoint that on a pillow for me?

            Thanks for clearing up the birth defects things. Although really, WTH?? All I could come up with was mutant cherries and I was pretty sure it wasn’t that ;-).

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  5. “Here’s my eyes on a plate.”

    ROTFLMAO. Moreover, HAH! Since you promote plagiarism, I’m gonna copy your cards, once you’ve had them made.

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  6. So now you are all going to know I’m weird, but those eyes on a plant? I used to dream there were two figures (I assumed they were men) at the end of my bed and they had these eye things on stalks that they dangled over my bed to spy on me sleeping. Very creepy, but now I see that it must have been St. Lucy and a companion. I feel much better about those dreams now.

    I’ve spent my whole life being good, being nice and kind and pretty much people pleasing myself to death (and boy I wish I’d spent it being something else more fun) AND I write one book, ONE, where something bad happens to some animals and now I am the devil incarnate. Say what? And you know what, nobody ever complains about the dead people and some of them were lovely and innocent and now they are dead. Fictionally, of course, but still.

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    1. I am going to admit that hurting/killing animals in a story can turn it into a did not finish book for me. You can kill off people, preferably with the violence off stage like in a cozy mystery, and I’m not too bothered, especially in a mystery. I think it is because people understand what death is but animals don’t or just that I like animals better.

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      1. Yeah. I don’t read Paul Auster any more because of the way he mistreated then killed off the dog in “Timbuktu.” My mini-protest against animal maltreatment.

        Maybe I like animals better too…?

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      2. I’m with you Kelly. My Ex used to complain that I cared more about animals than people…and your point is????

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      3. I can’t abide animal abuse, either, or child abuse in a story. Just can’t go there. Sorry, it’s my free time, and I’ll spend it as I please, NOT reading about the helpless in fear and pain. Nope. Nope. Nope.

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    2. The eyes on stalks make me think of “Pan’s Labyrinth.” The rare movie that was beautiful enough (I’m not normally a visual person) for me to recommend even though it’s so sad.

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  7. Oh, did I need that laugh today. Totally unexpected. That was a very funny rant. (I think in my head I replaced the words “creative people” with “moms.”) Thank you.

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  8. I think Hollywood in it’s early years pandered to the public, putting actors on pedestals for the common man to worship. If you look at the old newsreels showing these actors having fun at the beach, barbecuing, or just being a normal person, they are always smiling and waving and being friendly to animals. Then we find out Rock Hudson is *egad* gay and Bing Crosby *oh no* spanked his children. No wonder Greta Garbo just wanted to be alone.
    I don’t know how many times I’ve heard “I met (insert your favorite actor/writer/famous person here) and I was so disappointed…”. The way I see it, some people are assholes, some are not. Famous people are not excluded from this just because they are famous.

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  9. Oh wow! The trailing off in mid sentence? I do this to my kids _all the time_. I actually kind of scare myself sometimes, but I’ve always done it, and always daydreamed. I’ve always felt very guilty about it, because of the way my grade school teachers would say things in report cards, etc, and by being called “pokey Pete.” (And, these were actually teachers that were pretty good overall)
    In fact, it was very important to my husband and I to tell my oldest’s teacher to let my daughter daydream if she wanted to to _give_her_space_to_think_. She turned out just great.
    Anyway, thanks for the perspective. I’m going to own my thinking time.

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    1. Oh, and of course, St. Lucy is very cool. Eyes are becoming a theme for me – it must be time for me to think about them again.

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  10. I’ve shared this particular irritation for years. Someone wins a gold medal, gets his face on a cereal box, and then — whoa — we’re just so shocked (shocked, I say) to discover he smoked pot in college. Really?

    Frankly, being fully aware of my many failings in life, I find it comforting to see other people are flawed as well, even those who are particularly admirable for some one thing or other. I think it takes the pressure off.

    I don’t quite get why others prefer famous people (or everyday people, for that matter) be perfect. Or why a person’s worth must be judged by their worst moments. Or, anymore, even by simple personal disagreement. I don’t need actors to vote the same way I do to be moved by their art. I don’t need that every public utterance pass my personal muster.

    I think the demand that it does so has just left us with spin doctors in control. When was the last time I heard a public apology (which I didn’t need in the first place) without thinking that I was hearing what the publicist had put together as the statement designed to be the least offensive to the greatest number? Real people are just so much more interesting.

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  11. My eyesight’s not as bad as Lucy’s, but I took a quick look at the second picture and thought she had an ermine on her shoulder.

    But to get back on topic, I wonder if the reason some people “think ‘creativity’ equals ‘person I’d want to have lunch with'” is not that they really think this, but that they feel it. In other words, perhaps what they really want is to have lunch with the characters they love, or they want to get the same feelings from meeting the author as they did from reading the book.

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  12. Oh, yeah. Creative people give their best selves in their WORK. Take the work, and leave the artists alone to be only human.
    Except when they have fun web pages, which they can ignore when necessary.

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  13. This is an oft repeated discussion with my sister. We’ve reached the conclusion that context matters big time. Ex. Martin Luther King Jr. had affairs, but he accomplished unbelievable things, we don’t know the context of his personal life, and it doesn’t devalue everything else he did. On the other hand, if we were to learn he beat his wife, that would bear considering.
    On the creative side, it is something I struggle with. Orson Scott Card is a homophobic bastard of the first order, is active politically with a radically conservative agenda, and incorporates those views into much of his writing. I loved Ender’s Game (where much of that isn’t apparent in the writing), but it has been soured for me. It’s easier to ignore the political and personal failings of historical figures. It’s more difficult to ignore those of present day people, especially with media coverage, blogs, FB, etc. But it is possible as long as they are not incorporated into the art form. (And it is certainly important to distinguish between art and reality in the reverse too.) But in the end, I think you need to draw a personal line- Alec Baldwin is a jackass to his kid, but I love 30 Rock and the two have nothing to do with one another; however I probably won’t be going to see Ender’s Game in the movies because money from that will be going to a man who donated heavily to support Proposition 8.

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    1. I think when the politics or whatever actually enter the work, it’s a deal-breaker.
      But I do think if the attitudes aren’t in the work, the work stands alone. I didn’t know that about Card, but I knew I liked his book on plotting. I’ll probably still like his book on plotting.
      OTOH, can’t stand Ayn Rand or her books because of what’s in the books.
      I think it’s harder with actors because you’re looking at the guy who said or did those things even if he’s playing somebody different. That is, you can read Ender’s Game without seeing Card, but you can’t watch Lethal Weapon without seeing Gibson. There’s a bigger space between reader and author than there is between viewer and actor.

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      1. I think the fact that there’s a bigger gap between author and reader makes readers feel as if they have more of a right to the identity of the author. The author isn’t right there being a PERSON, so the reader constructs this idea of what they’re like based on the precepts in their own mind. Then when the writer fails to live up to this construct, the reader gets all bent out of shape because they invested themselves–their ideals, goals, dreams, whatever–in the straw man that’s been shot down. It doesn’t matter to them that it was never real, it was real to THEM and that’s enough reality as far as they’re concerned.

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      2. Orson Scott Card has made such an issue of his beliefs (and his active support for bigotry) and they’re so very widely know that it would be quite hard to divorce him from his work these days (and given that the world is full of books by authors who aren’t hateful bigots, I’m not particuarly anxious to personally make the attempt).

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      3. I boycott Charleton Heston movies because of the NRA. I don’t want to be any part of any residual royalties or whatever that his estate gets on the off-chance that it goes to the NRA.

        He always had the almost saintly sort of Ben-Hur-ish patina. So I had the role and actual person confusion, which was (thankfully) blown. Now I can’t separate the man from the organization he was president of… The patina is gone.

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        1. However, he also marched with Martin Luther King and advocated for starving people in Africa, by actually going to Africa and bringing attention to dying people. So I give him big points for that.

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          1. Okay, I might cut him a bit of slack for that. Too bad he ruined it at the end.

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          2. I think I would have liked Young Heston but not so much Old Heston. Young Heston marched for civil rights and supported gun control after Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. Old Heston was president of the NRA and when asked why gun-related homicide is so much higher in the United States than in other countries, said it was because “we have probably more mixed ethnicity.”

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        1. Whereas PG Wodehouse didn’t have a strong ideology, besides his optimism and nostalgia. Of course, on top of that he was a great writer.

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    2. I also make a distinction between attitudes or beliefs from say 1520 or 1870 versus what people put out in 2013. Antisemitism is morally repugnant, but Richard Wagner was a man of his time, who happened to be born a musical genius. He was not a good guy in general, but he was a great artist who created great work.
      I would say more, but the cat just sat on the mouse, and is moving it all over the screen. I guess I’m done afasdgjhk 36WYTE

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  14. My husband and I have talked about this a few times. In the age of 24/7/365 “news” coverage of every little thing, not to mention access to the internet where interaction directly with artists is possible in a way it never was before, the general public knows certain things (or *thinks* it does) that it mostly has no business knowing. I try to take things with a grain of salt and figure that most times the public is getting only one small window into the truth and I do my best to reserve judgements of the negative kind. Plus, I’ve worked at a company while it was enduring a scandal and got to see firsthand how things can be completely turned around and misinterpreted so as to increase shock value and titillate the public.

    Having said that, I am guilty of going off artists when they exhibit behavior that offends me. Every person’s threshold of offensive is obviously different, but things like opposing political views or differences in raising children don’t bug me (assuming they aren’t abusive) (and specifically regarding Wodehouse, I figure the prisoner of war gets to decide how he wants to handle his incarceration, not the general public), while things such as deliberately causing trouble or hurt, or going out of the way to be sexist or racist crosses a line for me. Then I’m like that line from Pride & Prejudice where Darcy explains that once his good opinion is lost, it’s lost forever. There are authors I won’t read after observing them make brutal and derogatory comments about others online, or in one case, acting actively rude to me in person in a way that was impossible to misconstrue.

    My husband couldn’t understand this at all – to his mind art should stand on its own merits and one’s opinion about the artist shouldn’t change how we think about the art. He couldn’t understand, that is, until Mel Gibson’s meltdowns became public. Thereafter, he couldn’t watch Mel Gibson in a movie without having bits of his meltdown bleed in and color his perceptions of Mel’s performance.

    Perhaps it’s entirely unfair that I can’t completely divorce a work product from its creator and continue to enjoy a book or movie once I think the artist is a total jerk. But then again, I feel confident that the standard of behavior I’m looking for is achievable…all I’m looking for is a relatively decent human being. We don’t have to have the same sense of humor, share a political party, have the same religious thoughts, or believe in the same things – in fact, some of my closest friends have completely opposite views from me and I love them to bits anyway. But relatively decent behavior and respect for others? Non-negotiable, whether I know the person for real or just think I do thanks to their work product, or the news, or the internet.

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  15. Er… “I do not understand the assumption that creative people should be kind, loving, thoughtful, and attentive, plus clean, brave, and reverent. It’s not that it’s impossible, it’s just difficult.”

    I fell in love with Rock music when I was 8. It was Queen’s video for “Breakthrough” that did me in. Saw that, and I was a goner. I must’ve been 11 (or so) when Freddie died and was already an avid newspaper reader. (By age 9, I was reading Reader’s Digest and by 11 it was from cover to cover.) So pretty young, I learned about “the Gays” and “Aids” (before my friends did) and didn’t let that sully my love of the music.

    Ever since Freddie, I don’t think I’ve EVER expected any creative to be what I wanted him/her to be. I didn’t know enough about him/Queen to form an expectation, so when details were published, I simply accepted. Young enough to be shaped, I guess.

    As time went on, I’ve grown to enjoy Metal and more, so clean was never a consideration! 😀

    I got over personality-challenged authors when I read Enid Blyton was “not a nice woman.”

    I do expect writers to write. But ever since Neil Gaiman said “Goeroge RR Martin is not your bitch” I’ve stopped saying “write another damn, book, _Who Ever___!”

    I expect courtesy on a general level. But then some creatives can be right bastards, so I’ll learn to let that one go soon enough.

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    1. I think that if we’ve sought out the connection–booksignings, conferences, etc.–then we should be polite. But even as I say that, there are people who have caught me at the tail end of conferences who got a lot more of the Real Jenny than they wanted.

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      1. Fatigue does that to most anyone, I’d expect. You’d have to be a Lama or Swami or really, really, really evolved not to get tetchy in that situation.

        As for my comment, if it reads that Aids or Homosexuality is “wrong” in some way, that’s not my intent. I just mean to say that I thought differently from the prevailing attitudes.

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          1. Sometimes, my typing runs away from me and I don’t check before I hit submit.

            And dudette!! Jennny Crusie acknowledged me. When we meet we’re gonna be bffs! (Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha)

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      2. This popped into my Twitter feed and I just saw it now. Contains Bruce Campbell. His response is classic.

        —-@GroovyBruce: “@bytenbug: @GroovyBruce In my eyes, you are the best friend that I’ve never met.” Touching – in a creepy kind of way.”—

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        1. Lani used to say that she’d read my books and think, “If I met her, we’d be best friends.” Then about six years later she moved in with me. That must have been an eye opener. (I have MANY flaws.)

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  16. Well, I dunno. I wouldn’t have thought I love a specific writer because they are creative, but because they have created a character I like and identify with. And I can’t help believing that the writer’s world view must be coming out in what their characters (both protagonists and antagonists) believe and do. I mean, I’d love to have lunch with J. K. Rowling because Harry Potter is such a decent guy and Dolores Umbridge is so horrible.

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    1. You know, I would have thought that, too, but I can tell you that one of the best writers I’ve ever read (now retired) was not a nice person, and I know lovely lovely people whose books I find unreadable. You do not have to be a good person to write good stories. It seems odd to me, too, but it’s true.

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      1. I would think that creativity is exactly what makes it possible for a not-so-nice person to write characters whom readers love. People who aren’t as creative just keep writing themselves over and over again.

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          1. Oh, I think *versions* of oneself are all right. It seems a bit like Method acting: in order to portray a character convincingly, you have to draw upon something in your own life (real or imagined) that can generate the emotions you want to convey. But I would guess that if you’ve got a plot totally different from real things that have happened to you, the character isn’t recognizably like you by the end because s/he has been changed by the plot and the reader’s perception of the character has been shaped by her reactions to all these fictional occurrences.

            E.g. I’ve written the beginning of a story in which one of the main characters has been an witness to (and possibly unwitting tool in) a terrorist attack overseas. This is something that’s never happened to me but would be a life-changing event, so I think even if I wrote the character with some exaggerated characteristics of myself (prone to being absent-minded and unsuspecting) that are how I could see someone getting into her situation, she still wouldn’t be *myself* because most of the book is about what happens after she’s gotten into that situation, and thus is about a person I’ve never been.

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  17. I think that the people who have such unrealistic expectations are approaching creativity from a well of ignorance. I would expect that they have never lived with or grown up with a creative person.

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  18. I think it’s human nature to want your idols and favorites to be, well, perfect. When I was younger, bad behavior from my favorites was an immediate turn off of their work. For instance, I couldn’t listen to a Mariah Carey song after seeing her interview on Oprah, where she came off as the biggest narcissistic and egostical b**** on the planet. It left a bad taste in my mouth and I couldn’t divorce the music from the person. Was it totally irrational? Sure was. As I got older, I learned to never make ANY assumptions about people no matter how good their work is. In fact, I have very low (if any) expectations of artists. If they turned out to be thoroughly kind and generous souls, it would be an added bonus. If not, well…Mariah may have the biggest ego around, but damn she can sing. I’ve learned to judge the work, not the person. It’s less work.

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  19. Cat Stevens. I love his music (his old music, I’m not sure what he’s doing any more.) My husband refused to listen to Cat’s music the minute he turned into a fundamentalist whichever religion. It wouldn’t have mattered which one my husband has problems with most religions.

    But I could separate the music from the person. I actually didn’t ever really get involved in politics back then so I don’t really know what Cat did that was so horrible beyond getting religious – and that doesn’t bother me. So.

    I still love his work. It’s genius.

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  20. Here’s something I wondered as well. All the stories about creatives being tortured souls, or crazy or whatever. Have any studies been done? I sometimes question if my particular brand of crazy is related to my particular kind of creative.

    Sometimes tortured people have trouble behaving well in certain situations, so expecting perfection is doubly damning.

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  21. What am absolutely great post and discussion. I’ve always thought it was wrong, wrong, wrong to let the actor/writer/musician reality bleed over into my opinion of his/her work. Until I found myself refusing to watch an actor who had dumped his wife in a particularly humiliating way. And until I learned enough about a favorite writer to realize that we’re not going to lunch buddies (still love the books, in that case, so not impacting the income stream for that person). I guess what this all means is that we’re all just people.

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  22. Jennifer, you’re absolutely correct. Creative people are never perfect or even balanced. They’re often bastards too, in the broad sense of the word. I think we’re all born with the same amount of some elusive quality that makes us human. Let’s call it X. But the distribution of X is different in all of us. In normal people (non-creative), X is distributed more or less evenly between our emotions and abilities, so we have nice, balanced people. In creatives, X is concentrated in one area – art, writing, music, you name it – but the other areas suffer from the lack of X. That’s why talented people are seldom nice or balanced and frequently not even exactly sane. That’s what makes them talented. The more talented a guy is, the less X is given to his other parts. The extreme case would be an autistic savant, but many talented people lean in that direction. Does it make sense?

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  23. Ooh! There was an episode of Star Trek: Next Generation where Geordi La Forge got to meet the famouse engineer/creator of the warp coil or something. Geordie gotten so used to his holodeck interactions with her that were based on character simulations from lectures, speeches and her journal articles that the real *grumpy* person was a shock to him.

    Ok, I’m going now.

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  24. I am very much one of those people who can’t separate the person from the art, but I’m also one of the people who believe that an artist doesn’t owe me anything and I have no right to make demands of them. If I decide I want to be a consumer, I pay for the right and that’s where the contract ends. If I don’t want to consume something because the person who created it gives me a rash… I don’t have to. I don’t get to bitch about them (any more than I can bitch about anyone), but I don’t feel obligated to appreciate their “art” just because they created something.

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  25. Oh, boy, where to start? First of all, those eyes just stopped me in my tracks — they looked like something out of Beetlejuice (-:. Lucy, Lucy, Lucy. That all means something really deep, but I’ll need time to dig into it.

    I agree with you that people shouldn’t equate the work with the human being behind it — at least in theory. But I still have trouble reading Lewis Carroll again because of the bad press he got. Nothing was proved, but . . . how often are those things proved? The thought of him using those stories to seduce a little girl squicks me out completely, even though the stories themselves are brilliant. This little girl was seduced . . . .

    But, these days, I do try and separate the work from the artist. I got a great shock a couple of months ago. I was researching John O’Hara (trying to find his golf clubs story) when I read that he was the second-most hated author at the New Yorker. OK, fine — I haven’t read his work and he did have a rep as being difficult. But then the complainer went on to say that James Thurber was the MOST hated. James Thurber? That poor blind man, with the very, very funny sense of humor and huge inferiority complex? How could he inspire hate instead of pity??

    Well, perhaps he was a great manipulator. Doesn’t matter. I never had to put up with Thurber, AFAIK he wasn’t guilty of any felonies, and his work is absolutely brilliant. I won’t let anyone drag his work off the pedestal I own.

    I have more to say, but this is long enough. The fan/artist relationship is such a strange one — sometimes touching, sometimes a pain in the ass for both parties.

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    1. I can live with orneriness of brilliant people. I think perfectionism is a hard task-master and that “nice” people are often nice because they are willing to compromise. Brilliance is often achieved by the completely egocentric belief in oneself and one’s vision — the other side of that coin is: “everybody else is an idiot.” Which, of course, is not “nice.”

      I can also accept that people from past times were products of their eras. While their behavior is unacceptable now, it was not unacceptable then. What mores do we here in 2013 have that may be viewed negatively in 50 or 100 years??

      But I draw lines when people have done things that I cannot condone — like Mel Gibson’s bizarre behavior. It always creeps in as a filter (plus, like I said above, I don’t want to support this person via royalties).

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  26. I stop in the middle of sentences all of the time. Luckily my husband and daughter are used to it so it doesn’t drive them too batty anymore. Unfortunately, they do try to get me to finish what I was saying instead of letting me stay with whatever stray thought had latched onto my brain. It’s kind of nice to know that I am not the only one that checks out during conversations like this.

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  27. When I lived in Seattle before, I sometimes went to these parties that a lot of local authors went to. Mostly SF/Fantasy, but also some others. And I attended Clarion West and went to the weekly parties for that and met the authors who were our teachers. And I learned an awful lot about having opinions about what an author might be like in person (Vonda McIntyre is nothing at all like I had always pictured her as, but I did still like her) and also in being a raging fan (one author had this whole coterie who surrounded her all evening at any party she attended). Some of the authors I liked, some I didn’t, some just kind of blew my mind but make for telling interesting stories to other people. 🙂

    I’d kind of like to get to know some of the local authors again, just because I like talking with other writers; non-writers don’t always ‘get’ what other writers do. But I’m glad I went to those parties. It was a good learning experience.

    That said, sometimes I will allow myself to be influenced about a person’s work by what I know about that person and sometimes I won’t. And sometimes it’s not a choice.

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  28. Loved the blog entry.

    Just made a LiveJournal post yesterday, http://gary-jordan.livejournal.com/2013/06/03/#post-gary_jordan-231578 titled “Jennifer Crusie’s ‘Maybe This Time'” It starts out, “Hi. My name is Gary, and I’m a Crusieholic.”

    I labeled you one of my favorite authors (a moving target) along with Lois Bujold, another Ohio woman who doesn’t publish *every* year. (She lives in Minnesota now.) You didn’t earn that accolade by being charming and witty with me, and now I’m remembering a scene with Henry Winkler in “The One and Only” where he begs whussername, the kid from “True Grit” to tell him she picks her nose, because she’s Too Perfect. “I pick,” she admits. I’m not looking for an author to be my BFF, or even my AAF (Adequate Acquaintances Forever), I just want them (you) to entertain me. You always have, before.

    Thank you.

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  29. I guess we need our heroes, and we need them to be wonderful people. So maybe sometimes we’re better off if we don’t know too much about their background and are able to just enjoy their work. The moment I find out something that disgusts me, however (which must be worse than just being grumpy and unsociable at times), I decide that I’ll spend my money on other things than on products which these people get money from. This is true for bigots as well as tax dodgers (big discussion here at the moment).

    I don’t remember if it was you who mentioned that Rainer Maria Rilke missed his own daughter’s wedding because he needed to write at the time. I really love his poetry but it’s still hard for me not to remember this and hold it against him, but I guess it says more about the way I think about missing your own kid’s wedding (for other reasons than force majeure) than about his personality of which I don’t know so much.

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  30. I once read a comment by Al Pacino saying the reason he so rarely gave TV interviews was that the more people saw him as himself on TV, the harder it would be for them to see him only as the character he was playing when they were watching one of his movies; and his job was to be seen only as the character when he was in a movie.

    There’s a lot to be said for that. In the modern era of the full-court press of 24/7 connecticity where everyone is Tweeting, blogging, Facebooking, Tumblring, podcasting, guesting, 500 TV channelgs seeking “celebrity news” content,YouTube clips, etc. there are fewer and fewer novelists, actors, musicians, etc. whom we see only in their craft/art and about whom we do NOT have the distraction of seeing them as themselves in competition with reading their novel, watching their performance, etc.

    And I can easily think of many, many instances when that distraction has, moreover, turned distinctly negative. So can everyone else here, too, I’ll bet. It may be because if the quirks of the individual viewer/reader (“I didn’t realize you were a pagan in your personal life. I can’t read a PAGAN! I’ll never buy another of your books!”), or it may be because the author/actor/whatever takes a public misstep (sometimes a big one, sometimes MANY missteps, whatever) and alienates a lot of readers (or viewers) who used to buy her books (or watch his show) but now, regretfully, can’t get that negative/intrusive/offensive commentary or image out of their heads, it’s just too much of a distraction–and so so audience is lost to a real-life gaff. (Obvious example, Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic rant when arrested for drunk driving. I realized while typing this paragraph that although I really enjoyed some of his movies, such as WHAT WOMEN WANT, I’ve never again watched a Gibson film since then. It wasn’t a conscious decision–it’s that, if I thought of watching a Gibson movie, an anti-Semitic drunkard immediately entered my mind, which was such negative distraction that I passed on the film and chose something else.)

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    1. That’s smart of Pacino. As it is, even with his movies it was starting to feel like the same gravelly voiced ethnic guy over and over again, to the point that when I saw him live as Shylock in Merchant of Venice at Shakespeare in the Park a few years ago, it was impossible to get fully into thinking of him as Shylock, even though an angry oppressed revengeful Italian is basically how I already thought of most of his characters and I just needed to append “Jewish.” And this was a Pacino-specific problem — I saw Denzel Washington in an August Wilson play once, but I think his characters have been sufficiently different enough from each other, and also the character he was playing on stage not as iconic as Shylock, that I didn’t have that problem.

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  31. Thanks for this post. My son’s teachers are constantly praising how smart and intelligent he is but then wipe out the good feedback with comments on how perfect he would be if he was more outgoing and spent less time in his own head. It creates conflict for him as he feels he needs to be something different to make them happy. I just tell him that he is awesome just they way he is and it’s his damn head so he should spend as much time in it as he needs. That is where the great work they praise is coming from after all! I am going to have him read your post.

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  32. I find the less I know about anybody (except my husband, relatives and friends) the better.

    Sometimes I even go to the opera and not read the surtitles. I just let the music wash over me.

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  33. Before about 2006, I’d been reading for most of my life and knew very little to nothing about the people who wrote the books. Since then, I’ve met many of my favorite authors, or at least heard first hand accounts about them. Happy to report, so far so good.

    I don’t know that I’d give up an author because they behaved or acted in a way I didn’t like. As mentioned, it depends on what they put in their work. It’s more difficult with actors for me. The Al Pacino story is the perfect example. How difficult is it now to watch Tom Cruise in anything and not feel every second that you’re watching Tom Cruise? And I’m not judging who or what Tom Cruise is, but his persona has become so large, you can’t disconnect him from the character. Makes it hard to really sink into the story on the screen.

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  34. I can’t tell you how many people over the course of my life have said to me: You are JUST like me! Well, I am not, and in most cases I am unspeakably delighted not to be because those people were freaking crazy.

    I’ll take a pair of eyes on a plate any day.

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  35. On the flipside, let’s not forget the things that are https://ruined-by-fans.herokuapp.com. (I can’t see the explanation on the page itself, but it is: ” For those of us who prefer to spend our days enjoying things, it is a fact of life: Lots of disagreeable people like things that might otherwise be pretty cool. In early 2012, Tag, David, and I, using nothing but a Google doc and our combined grade-school knowledge of mathematics, attempted to quantify the ways in which these madding crowds might be messing up our lives.”)

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  36. Ha, I was part of a discussion just this weekend on much this same subject. There’s a danger, always, of putting people up on a pedestal, of course, because when they turn out to be just as flawed as we are, it’s devastating. But the fault lies in ourselves for putting them up there in the first place. There’s an author whose books I really, really enjoy and I think she does incredible character profiling because I always find myself thinking “OMG, I KNOW this person!” So a few years back I wandered over to a website I heard she frequented and was heartbroken to read her views on various things. I had to step away from reading her books for a while because it influenced me, and I think I was angrier about that than I was her actual views. Notice I’m not saying who it was or what those views were; it doesn’t matter. Eventually I got over it, because her opinions weren’t morally reprehensible or anything, just disappointing, and I can enjoy her books again because I realized that the only expectation I have a right to is the quality of her books because that’s what I’m paying for. I’m not paying for her to be my best friend.

    But I learned a lesson from that experience which is the danger of thinking you know someone just by their books.

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  37. Great rant! I used to have a really hard time separating the artist from his/her art. Now I’m a lot better at it. The only thing I don’t forgive is bullying. If an artist attacks someone for no apparent reason, I have a hard time letting that go. I love Morrissey’s voice, I love the lyrics he’s written, but some of the comments he makes about people leave me baffled.

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  38. I agree with Cindy – great rant!!! People are really stupid sometimes to not see or think beyond their own little realm of things.

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  39. I read a biography of Picasso when I was a teen – it was extremely critical of his treatment of the women in his life and of his children. I wrote him off as a horrible, misogynistic prick. Years later (after studying art and design in college) I went to an exhibit of his drawings and I was BLOWN AWAY – they were so incredible. He made it look so easy (and it’s not – I know, I teach drawing). I had a bit of a crisis – how could I like something created by such a horrible person? But how could I discount his work? I still don’t know – but as I get older I think it’s (a little) easier to hold the contradictions.

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    1. Not arguing or disagreeing here, Cleo, just expressing an almost perpendicular experience. I know absolutely nothing about Picasso as a person. But I’ve had the opportunity on two separate occasions, on separate continents, to visit large special exhibitions of Picasso’s work at museums.

      And my instinctive reaction at both exhibits was that artist hated women. I saw in Picasso’s work the art of someone who desired women sexually, but who was extremely hostile to them.

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      1. That’s pretty much true, but he’s not mistreating women any more, so I’m with Clea, still blown away. I wonder if that has an impact, the knowledge that whatever bastard things the artist/writer/whatever was doing in real life, he/she isn’t doing them anymore because, hey, dead now.
        Although since that sensibility is still there in the work for you, it’s part of the work, not a projection, so probably not. You didn’t come to that through an outside source, it’s there in front of you as part of his painting. That’s completely different, I think, because you’re responding to the work itself, not the bio. If I read something that bothers me, it doesn’t matter what I know about the writer, it’s the work that bothers me.
        As crazy as some of the things are that people have written to me about, I do get how upset they are with the work. So possibly I’m off base with the people who were objecting to things in the work.

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  40. Saint Lucy is particularly venerated in Sicily. When I was born, I had badly blocked tear ducts–so bad, they did not clear up on their own and required an operation. My Sicilian grandmother and great-aunt prayed to St. Lucy. The day before my operation, I got the flu and the operation had to be postponed. When I recovered from the flu, my tear ducts were fine. An icon of St. Lucy held a place of honor in my bedroom for years thereafter, terrifying me every night with those eyes on a plate.

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    1. I’m putting up a picture of her in my workroom when I get it done. Probably the one with eyes on a plant, though. I love that expression so much.

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