January 27th, 2010 / 1:59 pm
Web Hype

Bio envy

Self Portrait, William Gaddis

If you’re going to write a book, who asked you to? It is, in fact, quite an act of ego to sit down in a room, while others are getting on trains and subways, and put one’s vision on paper, and then ask others to pay to read it. Not only to pay but say, “Isn’t he brilliant.”

— William Gaddis (1980)

Seems hypocritical since, um, he wrote a bunch of books, and thick as hell I might add. It is interesting that he evokes transportation to work (trains, subways, etc.), as he struggled at a full-time job (he was a clerk at a law firm) during his early career. A little resentment goes a long way, as if Gaddis is solemnly nodding to his past approvingly, almost preferring his indignation.

In author bios, you never read “[So and so] works at [company name] as a [profession],” apprehensive about the “reality” of one’s day job, as (unless you’re successful or broke) most of us have. Good for the adjunct, lecturer, or professor who teaches writing, seriously, I mean that. But the unspoken thing is most of us have unrelated day jobs, which is never mentioned, ignored like Down syndrome.

I often struggle with my author bio, feeling that I need to “impress” journals with publication credits or honors, uncertain if they’ll think I’m so charming once I say what I really am, which is an administrative assistant (ppl. who have “failed” in life). Writers are pressured into offering themselves as more interesting or accomplished than they are, resulting in cloying tales of the minutiae of one’s life: has lived in n number of continents; nominated n times for a pushcart (or “lesser” award); “splits” time between New York and [other metropolitan city, preferably in Europe]; is also a [insert other artistic vocation]. There’s a mix of glibness and desperation in these long drawn-out bios, as if the writing weren’t enough. Save the narrative for your characters, not your bio.

This is less about hubris than compliance. Writers — implicit in this industry — need to be interesting, the same interesting that earns you a fuck at a bar. Life, apparently, is a dating show. I enjoy reading the contributor notes in the back of anthologies, just to see how far people will go. Thank you for letting me know your dog’s name, or that you are a member of the Anarchist Party. I painfully repeat the same 3 points in my bios: my job, my geographical location, my wife — that’s all I have. I actually grimace when I write “lives in San Francisco,” just seems so cliche and inadvertently interesting. (SF is not interesting, just a smaller New York in slow motion and more pot.) How embarrassing; not my life, my bio.

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