Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Feeling Superior (For Once)

...well, more accurately, I'm feeling not-inferior. Details to follow.

I am currently corresponding fairly actively with a couple of women who share my propensity to obsess over the right archetypal hero. They, and probably you as well, know what it is like to find a character or a celebrity who seems to embody certain qualities that you value very highly. In certain special cases, that person will capture your imagination so powerfully that your imaginary version of him takes on a life of his own.

This guy is embued, by your own imagination, with powers that sometimes seem staggering. That's the nature of the beast, this animus-thing. It can be hard to separate that from the real faults and foibles of the fellow upon whom you are projecting all this power. If you thoroughly confuse your animus figure with the real person, you can end up like that guy who tried to kill Reagan to impress Jodie Foster.

But even those of us who are sane about our obsessions sometimes struggle with a feeling of inferiority to our hero. After all, the real guy is probably pretty impressive or he wouldn't have attracted this kind of admiration, true? Now if our respect for this hero was not tinged with worship, it would be easy to simply say, "He's gifted, that's great." But the problem with animus-bearers is that they make us want to feel somehow worthy of their admiration in return, even their hypothetical admiration.

When an animus figure inspires you, motivates you, energizes you, it's obviously a good thing. When he makes you down on yourself, it's not...that's just you feeding your own insecurities.

I am an author, occasionally even a fantasy author, and the danger of my taking the imaginary Neil Gaiman for a muse is the temptation to compare myself to him. I get fan mail, but not by the truckloads full so that I must hire an assistant to deal with it. I get good reviews, but not from the New York Times. I have received one piece of fan art so far (one of the highlights of my year), while artists and musicians etc. galore dedicate their best work to this guy. Good lord, he has to be one of the top ten most successful writers in the world today, certainly in terms of how fame is measured. For me, small potatoes me, to compare myself to such a writer? Not to mention he's pretty much a genius? Bad, bad idea.

Well, it so happens today was a nice reality check for me. Today I read an (admittedly very early) story of Gaiman's that I actually recognized as weak. Well, weak to my mind. The introduction to it told of how difficult it was to sell (until after he was famous), and I could see why. For the first time I had a glimmer of the reality of this author's history: Like any other writer, he was once not this good. Like any other writer, he has his moments of glory and his (admittedly extremely rare) moments of mediocrity. How about that! He seemed, thank heavens, a bit more human.

Wait, it gets better.

Then I read the story "Tastings." And before I did, I read the intro, in which Neil explains how it took him four years to write this eight page tale. Why? You aren't going to believe it: The story is about sex, and quite graphic, and he was...wait for it...really embarrassed to write it.

This from a man who has penned horror and blasphemy and all manner of things so repulsive I can't understand how he can think about them? Embarrassed to write sex? HUH???

Wow, I wanted to say to his picture on the inside back cover, "Hey, I've written going on a hundred sex scenes now, baby! What's the big deal?"

Wow. Neil Gaiman, embarrassed for four years.

You can't imagine how liberating this knowledge was to me. For these past months I have been like a mouse with a lion when it comes to this guy. Now I still feel like a mouse...but he's become an elephant who is still imposing and scary, but just happens to be terrified of mice. Hooray!

Yeah, yeah, I know he's only human. And it's not like being shy about sex is any kind of flaw...actually, I like that in a guy. And it was certainly big of Neil to admit such a thing right in his book; just goes to show he's a pretty humble fellow who doesn't need to feed his own ego.

Whereas, as you can see from this post, sometimes I am all about feeding mine. Pretty dang audacious for a mere mouse, hey?

Well, don't worry, this high won't last. I'm sure the next story I read will blow my mind and Neil will morph back into a lion. In the meantime, I'm going to bask in this moment of glory while it lasts.

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