Some people speculate the rift between writers Henry Miller (Tropic of Cancer) and Anais Nin (journals, Spy in the House of Love) concerned money (he owed her). I propose it was a much deeper betrayal, akin to what I have just experienced.
Marianne Boruch, multiple Guggenheim recipient, founder of Purdue University’s creative writing program, and all-round recognized poet (nine poetry books published) wrote her first prose book, a memoir, the glimpse traveler.
I was on a plane, flying from Chicago and our 50th St. Patrick’s Academy all-girl high school reunion, reading her book on my Kindle. A memoir, I thought. At the reunion, she had read parts of it detailing the outrageous and daft advice from a Sister of Mercy to her religion students. The reading had promoted much laughter. Girls were warned of the necessity of taking a Chicago telephone book on a date. Why? Should they need to sit on the lap of their date, the phone book would protect both their purities.
I soon found myself thinly described as Crazy Alexandra. Many people had called me ‘crazy’ because I had a tendency to lapse into a fugue state and had highly unusual thinking patterns: I was dyslexic and thus a top-down thinker from concept to details while most people go from details to concept. Crazy Alexandra was okay. Nothing new. My disguised name was close to the name I had given my dead, unborn fraternal twin brother, Alexander.
But her poetic license with my behavior was shockingly upsetting. It was not true. When I finally realized ‘the truth’ she was masking, I remained upset. She had taken a deeply significant event between my first love and myself and reduced it to a glib, superficial abhorrent lie.
Readers may remember the infamous Oprah Winfrey 2006 incident when James Frey marketed his book, A Million Little Pieces as a memoir. After much coverage, he returned, apologized and declared it was a work of fiction.
Boruch? A memoir with poetic license?
Even her disguised name for her hitchhiking partner and my first love – named “Shawn” in my memoir Men as Virgins – was extremely close to his real surname. Nor was her depiction of him realistic. No, he was not a returning hero-soldier from Vietnam. Nor was he, from my experience and her later description of him, a loquacious, socially adept hitchhiker who charmed their drivers. Boruch romanticized him so much, it seemed she had fallen in love with him and thought I was an Idiot. To dump him.
Who lied? My love or her?
Or was it simply poetic license?
When Boruch describes Emil White, Henry Miller’s secretary and a painter, she treads a very thin line of balancing his lechery and kindness. Unlike me, he was famous, well-known and well-loved by the Big Sur community where he lived.
I later visited Emil White, on Boruch’s recommendation. He wrote me, using his notecards.
No other person in her book is left unscathed by her sarcastic wit (mean streak) – except my first love. Perhaps Emile White is presented with care because he was famous? And my first love because she had fallen in love with him?
After the false description of what occurred between myself and my first love, I considered abandoning Boruch’s book. She had been my first friend in high school. My first friend since the age of nine, when everyone at my grammar school had shunned me because my mother had been in the looney bin. But perhaps Boruch’s high school friendship had also been a disguise? To get confidences to betray me and join the in-crowd at our all-girls high school?
I kept reading, unable to believe her. Boruch does present a vivid and captivating impression of the hippie life in the early Seventies. But her mean streak renders most of what she writes as superficial.
Perhaps, at the end of her book where she says she never saw her two hitchhiking companions again, is a half-lie? She states she and my first love had exchanged mailing addresses. He had a habit of pouring out his heart in letters while being inarticulate in person. I had even advised his new his wife, when we three rendezvoused in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park years later, that when they fight, she should ask him to write her a letter.
I thought I would propose a ‘Write-off’: her poetic license mean streak book against my honest and deep memoir. But even there, she’d probably win.
Because the majority of modern readers may prefer her short, glib and superficial (224 pages) book the glimpse traveler to my more honest, challenging and complicated (476 pages) book Men as Virgins.