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Are Writers Vain? Orwell, Doll Farts, & Facebook Movies Explain

Are Writers Vain?  Orwell, Doll Farts, & Facebook Movies Explain

*Check out my creepy short-short story, Dolls, on the Burlesque Press Variety Show!*

Last week everybody was posting their “facebook movies,” and I have to admit that I watched no one’s except for my own (it was so-so) and my boyfriend’s (only because he made me). I enjoyed my mom’s facebook post on the matter, though, which said, “Lovin’ all you guys’ facebook movies! I can’t share mine because the photos Facebook picked out for me include ex-boyfriends, my son’s former girlfriends, random pictures of a dead snake and a game of Blockus… it’s just not workin’ for me!”

Unlike my mom, I tended to agree more with someone else on facebook who posted, “Dear everyone, I don’t give a shit about your facebook-compiled movies.” It’s mean, but true.

Over the past decade, facebook has shown how vain we all really are. People post on facebook when they’ve won an award or had a baby or cooked something really awesome for dinner. They post quotes they think are clever  and pictures of themselves they sexy. Hey, I’m no exception. I post when I get stories published. I post pictures of myself looking cute. I post every single entry of this blog. The other day, I posted the following:

“Just taught myself to play a pretty easy Hole song on the guitar. Paul misunderstood me and thought that I had learned how to play a song called “Doll Farts.”

Followed by:
“I thought it was about a girl who was attractive but gassy,” he said.

Why did I post that?  To entertain people and make them laugh, mostly.  But there was also a little part of me saying,  “hey, look at me– my life is funny, and I’m teaching myself songs on the guitar… I’m awesome!”

I like to think what I do on facebook is not bragging or attention-seeking. I like to think it’s just sharing my news and thoughts with my (603) friends and family members. But the truth is, all facebook posts have at an element of vanity and egoism involved.

I worry a lot about being vain. Sometimes I feel vain when writing this blog. Sometimes I feel vain about writing at all. Do I really think I’m special enough, smart enough, enlightened enough to be sending my blather out into the world for others to read?

My facebook profile photo.

My facebook profile photo.

There’s a great essay by George Orwell called “Why I Write,” and in it he discusses four motives for writing prose. They exist in every writer, he says, in different degrees and proportions, and the first motivation is sheer egoism:  “Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one.”

As much as I hate to admit it, he’s right. A big part of the reason why I’m so desperate to publish a novel is not because I think the world is going to be a better place with my book in it, but  because I want to prove to myself and everyone else that I am special enough and smart enough to make it in the literary world. I want my ego validated.

Writers share these egoistic desires, Orwell says, with “scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen.” (And I would probably add musicians, actors, and doctors to the list.) But most people, he says, are not innately selfish after the age of thirty. That’s where I disagree. What Orwell didn’t realize was that social media like facebook and Twitter now make it possible for everyone to feed their egos and stay vain long after childhood is over.

George Orwell.  photo credit.

George Orwell. photo credit.

And yet, there is obviously a difference between composing facebook posts and writing a novel. As Orwell says, “writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.” No one would ever do it, he writes, unless they were compelled by a force they cannot quite understand. “At the very bottom of their motives,” he says, “there lies a mystery.”

And perhaps it is this mystery that keeps us writers writing, even though writing is often the opposite of ego-boosting. I have been rejected and frustrated by my writing a bajillion times, and yet I keep going back to my lap-top to try again. That’s not vanity; it’s more like insanity.

Life is a struggle for pretty much everyone, no matter what their profession or situation. Our poor egos are constantly being beaten down as we experience the failures and frustrations that come with being a person in the world. Maybe that’s why we go to facebook.  It’s a place to be vain and feel validated for even our smallest of accomplishments. (Hey look — I cooked a goat cheese fittatta!  Hey look — my son did a funny dance!)  I have yet to get an agent interested in any of my novels, but when I posted about “Doll Farts” I got seven “likes” in the span of an hour.  That’s the sort of instant gratification our egos sometimes require.

So Orwell was right — writers are selfish and vain — but so is everyone else.  And what motivates us all is often a mystery.

Related Watching:  

An Honest Facebook Movie

THE VANITY CONTINUES! Last week I posted a “two truths and a lie” question. Here is the answer….

Eva’s Two Truths and a Lie: Hollywood version
1. I once talked to Sarah Jessica Parker and told her I was sweating like a pig. – TRUE. I was sitting behind her on the set of Failure to Launch in New Orleans, and it was about a hundred degrees and a hundred percent humidity. The hair and make-up people were mopping sweat off of SJP, and she turned around to assure me that she was wearing antiperspirant. “Oh, don’t worry,” I told her. “I’m sweating like a pig.”

2. When I talked to the youngest Hansen brother on a movie set, I told him I loved “MMMBop.” – LIE. I did see the Hansens on a movie set, and I did overhear the youngest one saying, “yeah, I know everyone hates “MmmBop,” but I never actually talked to him.

3. I once had a speaking part on a TV pilot, and my line was “that guy’s hot.” TRUE. It was one of those TV shows where they re-enact unsolved crimes, and I was the friend of the girl who got abducted. It was set in the 80’s, so they crimped my hair. The pilot was never picked up, so I never got to see myself saying my line.

Here is a picture of me behind Bradly Cooper and Sarah Jessica Parker in Failure to Launch.

Here is a picture of me behind Bradly Cooper and Sarah Jessica Parker in Failure to Launch.



About evalangston

Eva Langston is a writer, among other things.

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