198: Writer Judy Gruen Pokes Fun at Pop Culture that Dismisses Real Life

We’ve been looking at how to hang onto our Values in the midst of rapid change and, so far this week, we’ve shared with you the perspectives of Pew Forum researchers — as well as an explosively creative comic book artist. But, when it comes to balancing the values in our lives, one of the toughest challenges is simply appreciating our ordinary, everyday lives — when the whole world keeps throwing the lives of the rich and famous in our faces.
   What happens at the end of your day? Most of us finally get a chance to relax and we shake our heads, pondering the spiritual question: “Hey, did I do anything today that truly mattered?”
   Our Guest Writer today is the award-winning memoirist Judy Gruen, whose new book “The Women’s Daily Irony Supplement,” is racking up one award after another. (See the link at the bottom of today’s story to learn more — or click on the title or cover of her book to jump to our Amazon store and buy a copy to enjoy Judy’s work yourself.)
   Judy invited us to share with you a sample chapter of her book — and I chose this one to share with you today, because I think it’s a perfect answer to that almost universal end-of-the-day question. Judy calls this chapter:


My agent was at it again. Always trolling for ways to nudge my career forward, he asked if I could please try to think of something exciting in my past that would prove grist for the publishing mill. More exciting, that is, than parenting a passel of kids in the age of reality TV, international terrorism, Internet smut, and other newfangled inventions.
   ”You’ve got to face facts,” he said. “Publishers like celebrities, and since you’re not Paris Hilton, or even Paris Hilton’s dog, you need a fresh angle. Talent alone just won’t cut it anymore.”
   ”That will come as a shock to Paris and her dog,” I noted.
   ”Don’t be cynical. Crime sells, as long as you’re the real deal. There’s nothing lower than someone pretending to have a rap sheet when all they’ve ever really done is rap,” he said, oozing disapproval over these ersatz criminals. “Besides, you don’t want Oprah taking you to the woodshed for making things up. If you’re going to show needle marks, they better not be from Botox, capish? Think hard: Haven’t you done anything illegal in the past?”

   Dutifully, I sat and thought. Suddenly, a shameful memory rose to the top of the cerebellum. “I can’t discuss it,” I said. “It’s too humiliating.”
   ”The more humiliating the better!” he said. “Come on, out with it!”
   So I confessed: at age 7, I shoplifted two squares of Bazooka bubble gum from the gas station’s mini- mart. I couldn’t sleep for two nights after.
   My agent was unimpressed. “I had assumed you had shown more literary promise in your early childhood. Okay, work with me here. Maybe crime isn’t your game. How about family dysfunction? Everybody has that! Who in your family was alcoholic? Abusive? Were you molested? I’m sure you were. Traumatized by a psychotic uncle who later had a sex-change operation? I know an editor who’d pay big money now for a story about a psychotic uncle who had a sex-change operation.”
   I thought again. My childhood was not pain-free, but did I want to spill the sludge in the open market? Besides, who would want to plunk down $24.95 to read about Great-Aunt Lilly and her delusions that she was really Catherine the Great? How-To books sell well, but what did I really know, anyway, other than 100 ways to make low-fat desserts that taste . . . low-fat? I walked around the room to wake up more brain matter. Other than the time that Jimmy Dougherty tried to kiss me after school in the fourth grade, I couldn’t think of any situation where I had felt so miserably exploited, abused, and near death. I wasn’t sure that would qualify to get me on Larry King Live.

   ”You’re pushing me here,” I said, “but once I got an obscene phone call from a guy with a foot fetish.”
   He leaned in closer. “Now we’re getting somewhere. What happened?”
   ”I hung up on him, obviously!”
   He threw up his hands in exasperation. “You never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity, you know that? Do me a favor. Next time you get an obscene phone call, at least have the courtesy to meet the guy. Talk to him. See what’s driving his voyeurism. You could be sitting on an inspirational story of obsessive infatuations, forgiveness, redemption and triumph. I see movie rights also.”
   As he spoke, I realized with dismay how boring my life had been. How could I compete with women who have been kidnapped by crazed Heavy Metal guitarists and dropped in the Amazon, or women who adopted 14 special needs children, all from Moldavia? They got book contracts. But unless I wanted my writing career to sputter to a halt, I’d have to do something equally bold and adventurous. Unfortunately, my current commitments involving constant grocery shopping, chauffeuring kids and laundry don’t allow much time for foreign exploits.

    “You probably were so traumatized in your childhood that you’ve covered it up,” my agent said helpfully.
   Finally, an optimistic note. “You must be right! I’ll hire a past-lives regression analyst who can help me remember whatever it was that happened,” I said. “If I’m lucky, I’ll discover that in a previous life I was a CIA operative whose tryst with a South American dictator nearly led to the collapse of the entire banana export industry. Or perhaps I’d recall an existence where I’d been a quiet, dutiful Amish jam-maker who suddenly released her inner crazy, hitchhiked away from Pennsylvania and went to Hollywood, where I became a Playboy bunny.” 
   ”Now you’re talking. By the way, one of my authors just discovered that her husband’s been secretly gay during their entire marriage, her son was just diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome — and she developed a very rare, weird rash on her hip that no dermatologist can get rid of.”
   ”We all can’t share in her good fortune,” I said. “If the past lives regression therapy doesn’t pan out, how about a memoir by a traditional Mom who is desperately trying to maintain her grip on reality in a world where the America’s most watched TV moms are chopping off fingers of ex-lovers, checking themselves into psych hospitals, and passing out drunk in bars while their kids’ birthday parties are hosted by Mom’s sexaholic boyfriends? As a boring Mom, I’m an oppressed minority!”
   ”You could be onto something there,” he said, pacing the room. “But when you write it, can you at least try to develop a rare, yet curable blood disorder?” 


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