The Color of Milk

Over the weekend I tried to write a bio. If you know anything about me at all, you’ll realize I’m a high school dropout with no credentials whatsoever and not a single accomplishment to my name, so asking me to write about my life is like asking for a page of lyricism about the color of milk. I drove out to the desert and sat for hours in the silence with my blank notebook in front of me and thought about how much time I’ve spent in my own head, the only sure escape from many an intolerable situation.

It’s strange to be at this point, to be asked to step out from behind the work and answer the cold-blooded question, Who are you? Who have you been?

Truly, no one. No one at all.

I became desperate eventually and sent back a bio that read like a litany of johns from the Mayflower Madam, because what is true of me is that my life has revolved around men. It always has and probably always will. Women are my sisters, one and all, but men are something else, more difficult and complex and tricky to deal with, harder to please, a wall of muscle I can never break through. I gravitate ineluctably toward the men most likely to inflict psychic pain when I fling myself against them. This is why I write the way I do–the fascination itself is my credential.

The bio was poorly written, with a wit born of shame, but I am sure as hell not going to volunteer the rewrite. I don’t want to think about me.

What’s your fatal fascination?

69 responses

  1. For me, its the other way around. Men are easy to please while women are all puzzles. But I think neither is what compels me.
    When I taught high school, I thought that all hs teachers must have been arrested at that stage of development so that’s why we chose our field– to relive the trouble, to heal old wounds. when i quit, i thought i had finally graduated. now i don’t know if that’s true for everyone, but it felt right to me.
    So when you say what’s your fascination i translate that as “where are you stuck?” or “what sticks you?” i keep writing about young girls. 11-13 year olds. i think i might be stuck there, for some reason.

    • Men are easy to please physically, romantically, but intellectually? Hard as hell. Which is why I’m always chasing their approval.

      The 11-13 years are a good place to be, in many ways, because everything seems brand new. I wouldn’t mind being stuck there.

  2. Oh the dreaded bio! I was so relieved when I found out I could write a short one.

    I’m with you. Talking about me is never of interest to me. File this under obvious, but I think we writers do what we do so can create OTHER people to discuss.

    • Right you are. It’s far more fun to write about other people (especially when they’re fictional) than to try to find something interesting to say about oneself. I think I would have managed it, except that the bio was supposed to be longer than short, and after two sentences I ran out of things to say.

  3. Such loaded questions you ask these days! I’d answer but I have to go wash my hair.

  4. The only way I can write my bio now, whenever I’m “supposed to”, is to pretend I’m a part of a story and try for atmosphere more than fact. I haven’t been in a position to find out how the very few were received, but back when I tried mere fact, a job counselor couldn’t quite put into words how wrong she thought it was. I did understand the “keep trying” part, though, which pretty much made me do the opposite.

    My fatal fascination is similar to yours. From wanting to be hugged and told I’m okay by the daddy/uncle types, to wanting to understand the inner workings of all the different regular kinds of guys, to finding one who can thrill me and make me the object of his affection, I just simultaneously become curious, smart and stupid where they’re concerned. The stupid, though, has morphed into that weak-kneed tongue tied sort of thing rather than actual stupidity. So that’s progress.

    • Hand over the job applications, I can bullshit my way through one of those like nobody’s business. Maybe I should rewrite the bio like a resume: Averil is dependable, conscientious, and always licks the appropriate boot.

  5. First things first. You are NOT a person with “not a single accomplishment” to your name. My God, woman. Didn’t you get your GED? Don’t you have kids? Don’t you know a thing or two about how to make a superb photograph? And for fuck’s sake, haven’t you written a book that’s just been picked up by an agent any one of us agentless folk would love to get even a partial from? It’s not like you’re some trailer-trash meth-head wallowing in your filth while your neglected brats run wild and the man-of-the-week slaps you silly. Jeezus Effing C!

    Okay, I’m calmer now. In your bio, just say who you are and what you’ve done. Keep it simple and keep it concise. And remember–you owe no one any apologies. As far as that goes, how do you know that, if you had followed another path–maybe a more normative path, a path that maybe the ladies at the country club would approve of–how do you know that if you had done that, you wouldn’t be miserable?

    Fuck all, this is not coming out right. Fact is, the boss keeps coming around expecting me to do what he pays me to do, so I gotta bail here real shortly. I didn’t answer your question, but I will say my fascination for your blog could be fatal to my job if I don’t hie myself thither. (“hie”? “thither”? them’s words? really?)

    • Mmm-hmm. I love it when you’re mad at me. See how I am?

      I know it sounds sometimes as if I feel apologetic for my background, but it’s not that exactly. My lack of education has always been a thorn in my side, not because I think I’m stupid or lacking in curiosity–I know that’s not the case–but because I quit. It’s the lack of effort that pisses me off.

      Ah well, we can’t go back. Now I have a bio that reads: Averil landed her GED, survived the birth of three lovely children, and has (so far) not resorted to meth. Also, she can operate a light meter.

      (I’d harp more on the light meter angle, but I’m afraid your lens might get stuck at the long end, hot stuff.)

      • Some people quit, and that’s where they stay. You quit, but you didn’t stay quit.

        You and me, I’ll bet we’re not so far apart. I don’t know your background, but I’ll wager you were not born anywhere near any silver spoons like the kind we hear of some people being born with in their mouths. (Ouch. What a painful delivery that must have been.) I wasn’t either. My father was a sergeant and my mother was a housewife. I’m the first person in my family to get a college degree, and I worked my way through school. We’re common people. And we’re uncommon. Look at what we’ve accomplished and what we’ve been willing to do to get it.

        The latest issue of Poets & Writers has an article about a writer who has done well. More power to her for that. The article tells how she is the daughter of a successful television writer, went to Harvard, turned down a job at Random House, taught and traveled in Asia, entered the MFA program at NYU, and took a job as the assistant to the executive editor at The New Yorker, “which led to the break that jump-started her career.” I read that line and I thought, Whiskey tango foxtrot planet did that article writer come from? The break that jump-started that writer’s career happened the day she slid down her momma’s vagina into her playpen of privilege, silver spoon in mouth (Ouch). The wonder would have been if she’d had all that going for her and not been able to make something notable with it.

        But for people like you and me, Averil, people who in another time would have been servants expected to know and stay in our proper places–and there are some gold-plated folk in this country who would still have it such–the fact that our bios don’t include the fancy schools and privileged connections, but encompass
        the common tales of the salt of the earth, are more than enough for us to have no shame for where we’ve been and what we’ve done. Because look at what we’ve done.

        • No silver spoons. My dad was in the Navy, then worked as an electronic tech at the test site, and my mom was a nurse. No one in my family, no one close to me, has a college degree. We are intellectually curious, self-educated, and smart, and we have one hell of a work ethic–which I wouldn’t trade for any institutional education, actually. And it’s my work ethic that failed me, back in the day.

          Still, as you say, it’s not failing me now. I’m working my ass off for this book. I’m filling out my future bio.


        • The 50-cent word for self-educated is autodidact. And you should always make someone else write your bio. I’m sure any one of us could do it. (Sorry to interrupt, but that’s how I am.)

        • Yeah, but autodidact is too painfully self-conscious for a dropout to throw around.

          I’d make August write my bio–he’d infuse it with the appropriate amount of self-loathing. But I think one of his friends may have secured a six-figure deal last week because the positive energy at Betsy’s place is clearly working his last nerve. He’s so adorable when he’s cranky.

  6. I’m fascinated by new and shiny and puzzling.

    This can be a problem, as everyday life, everyday responsibilities, and even the last few scenes of a WIP are often old, dull, and been there-done that . . .

  7. Yeah, fuck that. Serious bios that list pedigrees are boring as shit. Want to know the best bio I’ve read in a long long time? Shanna Mahin’s over on her blog. I read that and think, YES yes yes, I want to read anything that woman writes.

      • Sure, maybe, but really Poppycock. I read the first paragraph and then “This is her first book.”. Period. All the other stuff really is irrelevant.

        In my MFA class, when a famous writer said, “let’s spend tonight talking about publishing,” it was met with stony silence. It was painful. Just because someone is in school or has awards doesn’t mean a thing. Only 2 people in my graduating MFA class are pursuing publishing or even finishing their books. Period.

        Go and grab what you’ve worked for. Because you’ve worked for this.

  8. I got accepted to a writer’s retreat and then was asked to send a bio. Compared mine to everyone else’s and determined they would rescind my invite the minute they read my late blooming, barely published lines. Winced and sent it off and so far I’m still going. But I think every day they’ll change their minds.

    What I know for other people is this: there are all kinds of writers. Stand up proud to be the one you are.

    • I know exactly what you mean. Sometimes I’m afraid to open my agent’s emails, in case he says, You know, Averil, I’ve changed my mind. . . .

  9. My fatal fascination are bad parents. When I find one, part of me wants to run as far away as I possibly can but then another desire, this one much more overpowering, takes hold and forces me to watch as horrible decisions are made, humiliating remarks are said, and an obvious feeling of hatred toward their offspring is felt. I watch. I study. I shiver. And I never once understand.

    • I saw some really strange behavior from parents when I was photographing children. The child would be smiling really naturally, goofing around with me, being sweet and silly or whatever, when along would come the perfectionist mother, telling the kid to sit up straight and smile differently, etc. You could just see the child stiffen up and all the joy would leave his little face. So awful. I used to ask those kinds of parents to wait elsewhere, and then I’d begin the long process of returning the kid to his former state of bliss.

    • I heard a mother yell “shut the fuck up!” at her kids in the parking lot the other night. I know we all get mad, but it really bothered me. They were 3 little ones, the oldest probably 3 and I could feel when I was little and scared, when the people who were supposed to be protecting me were raging and I was too young to understand. I felt like crying.

  10. I’m so glad Tetman took you to task on the “no accomplishments” thing. Honestly. I’ve been bragging on your writing to anyone who will listen and even some who must be tied down to get them to. Not that they mind being tied down.

    My fatal fascination is easy to figure out. That thing I can’t have. The one just out of reach but never out of sight.

    • “My fatal fascination is easy to figure out. That thing I can’t have. The one just out of reach but never out of sight.”

      I hear you, sister.

  11. Hmmm. You know, when I pick up a book I never look at the author bio. I only see that at the end. That being said, I remember Jane Smiley saying (in defense of writing long) that the problem nowadays with the clean spare books that are getting kudos is that it is clear they have been workshopped to death. There is a New Yorker quality to them, fitting a certain format, almost a paint-by-numbers. She would rather read someone who f’d up completely and went big, than the perfection of an MFA group effort (of course this doesn’t apply to all). I mention this because when I read someone with the pedigree (say, a recent Pulitzer winner…) I can see it. There is a studied quality, an OCD about its cleanliness. Averil Dean-When not busy counting paperclips or mourning film photography, she wears teddies under her sweats to the grocery store while planning her next book. Not great, but that’s the bio that makes me cheer.

    • Why Lyra, however did you know about the teddies?

      That’s interesting about Jane Smiley, and I can see her point now that you mention it. There’s something to be said for nonconformity.

      I was thinking about you yesterday when I said see ya later to the office job. We’ve really got to start digging a tunnel under the wall for you.

      • If you have some spare time before the move, and a shovel…

        I wanted to add, when I said “not great” I was referring to my quick attempt not the you tidbits. I’m with Teri and think you should use Shanna’s as a template and just stop before you get to the award stuff.

    • I’m glad you said that Lyra because I don’t read bios until the end either. In my opinion they don’t matter whether I read or not. It’s all in the writing.

  12. I hate those bio things. As if life isn’t full enough without having to explain it.

    You could write about your aspirations to be a plant water-er. Use a fancy term like horticultural specialist, if you want. Once, on a random bio form, I listed some of the expected stuff, but ended by saying I was a Vermeer enthusiast. That got some conversation. A lot, in fact.

    We’re fiction writers. No one expects the truth from us!

  13. For reasons I won’t bore you with, I found this post and the comments inspirational. The lives we’ve led, the fact that we’ll never believe our accomplishments are good enough, the knowledge that there are people like the daughter of the TV writer who feel they need breaks–all that shit keeps us going, keps us pushing ourselves to do better. Averil, your book will be published. And your next book will be even better, unlike the self-indulgent, formulaic pabulum that comes from the laptops of the anointed.

    • Yeah, I’m with you and Tetman, puzzled that the writer of the article felt the impulse to explain where the Harvard graduate’s first big break took place. I wonder whether she feels a sense of accomplishment, or thinks of all the things she would do differently if she could begin again.

  14. Ugh – the bio.

    Shanna’s bio is very good. Do some research – find a few you like and steal their approach. And I know it won’t be poorly written.

    Reading between the lines above, are you gone baby gone from that job?

    • I am!!! Hooray! And I’m gone baby gone from Vegas too, but only for a week. I just arrived at my room in the mountains, courtesy of the hubby, to finish some work on my manuscript before it goes out looking for a home. Lots of peace and quiet here, and probably on the blog as well until I get home.

      I am one lucky chick.

  15. Enjoy the mountain air. I wonder if you’d have written a different bio away from the hot junky air of Vegas. I’m curious to hear how the new atmosphere makes waves in your work.

    I never thought too hard about writing my bio. I’m also a dropout, a non-achiever, the family’s black sheep and non-prodigal daughter. I think I have three versions depending on who I have to spin to. The best I ever read was a son-of-a-famous-author who said something like, Tom lives in Redfern in a house with a red door.

    • You might be right about that. Vegas has a bad effect on me. On the other hand, it’s beautiful here in the mountains. Patches of snow still on the ground, swathes of pine trees and feathery dormant aspen between them. And the place is practically deserted, which means of course, writer’s heaven.

      I like the idea of your three-version bio. Whip out the appropriate one and you’re all set.

  16. Are you still ruminating on the bio front? A year or so ago you asked what our favorite line was from a movie. I answered that it was from Something Wild. Your Gravitar picture reminded me of it. I think your last line should be”…she likes big things between her legs.” I really do believe last lines should be reserved for a chuckle.

    • I’m confident on Tuesdays and Fridays, with occasional openings on Sunday afternoon. The rest of the time I return to my regularly scheduled insecurities.



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