i have a question...

Friday, January 19, 2007

But Enough about Me...

I read Jancee Dunn's book and related to it so much, I wrote her a fan letter and sent her this review, hoping to get some attention as a writer.

It didn't work.

But the book is still really good.

A Nobody Finds Herself
--June 2006

I recently had a birthday, and my mother asked me what I wanted. I hadn’t thought about possible answers to that question for years because the answer is always inevitably “money,” as impersonal as that seems. But since, this year, my mom is a little strapped for cash, I gave the question its due attention.

I spend an embarrassing amount of time surfing the web at work. I pore over celebrity news and entertainment blogs, almost as compulsively as I check my personal email. One of these blogs had an announcement about Jancee Dunn’s memoir, “But Enough About Me…a Jersey Girl’s Unlikely Adventures Among the Absurdly Famous.” It was one of those purchases that I probably never would have been able to justify making myself, but I was eager to read any and all celebrity factoids (since my livelihood and social life are greatly based on useless celebrity trivia), so I added it to the list of things I wanted for my birthday. This list also included My So-Called Life, The Breakfast Club, and Say Anything…on DVD. I figured my mother could make a more educated choice, and I would be more surprised, if I gave her a range of items to choose from.

My birthday arrived and I opened my package from Amazon.com. Inside sat Dunn’s book, and, after I finished the book I had been reading, I eagerly began it and found I couldn’t put it down.

Written as part handbook for young journalists and part memoir, in which the passages dedicated to her parents and her sisters are the most vivid and moving, the book flies by before your eyes. It’s the kind of book that’s perfect for reading on the New York City subway (the same one you imagine Dunn may be riding, once you discover she lives there too!), the kind of book that is so engrossing you almost miss your stop and never hear the music you’re listening to on your iPod while you ride to work in the morning.

We follow Dunn from her awkward and self-deprecating adolescence to her awkward and self-deprecating adulthood. Even her dedication at the beginning of the book declares, through the words of Emily Dickinson, that she is “nobody.” From her mid-teen years in New Jersey, when New York City seemed like a whole other country, to her stumbles through employment at Rolling Stone, MTV, Good Morning America, and New York Magazine in the city that once seemed so far away, and finally to a reconnection with herself and the family she hadn’t even thought to learn more about. It struck me, though, that for someone to have such luck in the writing and entertainment industry, there’s no way she could be as awkward and fumbly as she portrays herself. This woman may be a self-proclaimed geek, but that doesn’t mean that she isn’t cool.

Her first cringe-worthy Q and As at Rolling Stone, with the odd couple of Mary Tyler Moore and Johnny Rotten (not simultaneously, of course) affirm her early admission of geekdom. But the interlude chapters that shed light on how to make the best of sticky interview situations prove that Dunn eventually hit her stride beautifully. It is Dunn’s honesty and earnestness that are undoubtedly the traits these “absurdly famous” respond to. Dunn seems to be a wide open book, eager for connection, and desperate never to make a fool of herself or anyone else. She is on the celebrities’ side. She wants them to look good, and she wants to tell the truth about them, even when she has to ask them about their very public mistakes. She is as relieved as we are when they respond thoughtfully (thank you Robert Downey, Jr.); and she writes honest and generous articles about her subjects (the anecdotes about Loretta Lynn’s and Christina Aguilera’s reactions to her articles about them made me almost weep openly on the subway, as Kelly Clarkson belted “Breakaway” in my ear).

Dunn is not shy about pointing the interrogation lamp at herself. She is brutally honest about the fights she has with her family (about college and money and her need for independence), her unlucky love life (with the abrasive and immature Ritchie, the controlling and dull Sean, and the lazy and irresponsible Trevor), her uncertainties about marriage and motherhood (as she observes her friends and her sisters beginning to settle down and create their own families), and the serious mistakes she makes as she begins to forget who she is in the fog of her “Rock Chick” lifestyle.

In the end, it is her family that holds her up and gets her back on her feet (literally after a severe coke binge, her brother-in-law Patrick carries her to the toilet so she can vomit, after generously making her a grilled cheese sandwich and regaling her with his own pre-sobriety stories). It is her father’s constant cheeriness, her mother’s strength and unexpected vulnerability (another tear-inducing episode on the train), and her sisters’ unfaltering loyalty that remind Dunn who she is and has always been. And the “happily ever after” ending doesn’t hurt either.

“But Enough About Me…” is a veritable blueprint for ambitious writers and young people trying to make it in this potentially crushing city. But the most striking and resonating message I was left with is that, absurdly famous or not, we are all human. And in this culture so fixated on success, when we beat ourselves up because we don’t look like the women in the magazines and haven’t yet made our first million, when we become impatient because we don’t even know what we’re doing with our lives yet, it’s a lovely reminder.

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