Friday, May 14, 2010

A Tyra Tirade

Tyra Banks, novelist. Someone shoot me now. Seriously. Put me out of my misery.

According to various news outlets, Banks is under contract for a three-book young adult fantasy series called "Modelland." It's about a girl trying to keep up with the beauty game at an elite school for supermodels, or Intoxibellas. I am not making this up. Tyra is (or, more likely, someone on Tyra's payroll).

I know it shouldn't bother me. Anymore than Lauren Conrad getting a book deal or the fact that Nicole Richie has an ISBN to her credit. But it does.

It bothers me because I've always wanted to be a writer. Lauren Conrad just wants to be famous. Ditto for Nicole, who also dabbles in TV and designing jewelry and clothes (as does Conrad). Writing isn't a calling, it's more like a pair of shoes for these girls--something to try on and discard if it doesn't fit or goes out of fashion.

Banks made a name for herself as a model, but has of late become more of a media personality, one who's admitted she's bent on Oprah-like world domination. Wikipedia lists her as a "businesswoman" and I imagine that, for her, inking a three-book deal was a simple transaction. A means to the end of extending the "Tyra brand."

For me, it would be a halleluia, tears-of-joy, pop-the-cork-on-the-champagne moment. The culmination of a life spent toiling in anonymity, sitting in front of a blank computer screen, staring at a blinking cursor that refuses to magically transfer the thoughts in my head into words on the page. Affirmation of my very existence. I might even tweet about it.

The first story I remember writing, back in the first or second grade, was a mystery involving a jewel heist. The thieves had hidden the stolen gems in a roll of Charmin for safe keeping, which Mr. Whipple discovered when he handled the toilet paper. It was not squeezably soft. Hardly the stuff of Jane Austen, but it was a start.

I won't bore you with all of the twists and turns that my life has taken since then. Suffice to say that I did not become the Next Great American Novelist. After a long and winding detour into the corporate world, I'm back at square one, trying to convince editors that I'm worthy of writing for their web sites--for free.

I would like Tyra to feel some of that pain. Before she pens a single word of "Modelland," I would like her to listen to lectures on structure and voice and narrative distance. I would like her to agonize over whether to use a semi-colon or a dash. I would like her to debate active versus passive verbs. I would like her to sit in a workshop and have her writing critiqued (aka, ripped to shreds), by her fellow students, to her face. I would like her to live with the knowledge that she'll never be great, and then to question whether she's even passably good. I would like her to have a passion for this one and only thing--writing--and to never have that dream come true.

The day Tyra's deal was announced, I received the latest in a slew of rejection letters. I spent two days staring at the envelope before I worked up the courage to open it. I already knew what was inside. When you see your own handwriting on your own self-addressed stamped envelope, you know the tidings won't be glad. I'm not sure which is more insulting: the fact that I have to pay for the postage to have news of my non-acceptance communicated to me or the fact that I mailed out a 30-page essay, which took painful months to craft, and in response I got a form letter that dared to wish me "best of luck!" when the deliverer of this chipper drivel was fully aware that the best of luck would have been having my essay published in their magazine.

I can't even soothe my wounded pride with a hefty dose of trashy TV. I flip on "Gossip Girl," only to see Dan, a high-school student for Christ's sake, have a piece accepted by The New Yorker. It's a wonder I ever get out of bed.

One could argue that Tyra has felt the sting of rejection as well. After all, models try out for lots of jobs that go to someone else. Sorry, I don't care. The mere fact that you call yourself a model suggests you have a certain impression of your appearance, which is that you're better looking than 99.999% of the other humans on the planet. If your ego gets taken down a peg or two, best of luck.

Except for that, according to Wikipedia, Tyra was a phenom out of the gate. I quote: "Within Banks' first week in Paris, designers were so entranced by her presence on the runway that she was booked for an unprecedented twenty-five shows--a record in the business for a newcomer." (I have a slight suspicion that this copy was lifted from Banks' PR materials. Who, in the Wiki-universe, says "entranced"?)

That's what really ticks me off. Tyra already won the genetic lottery. She's tall. She's beautiful. She turns heads. She has a commanding presence. She's a freaking supermodel. That she gets to add author to her resume isn't fair.

It isn't fair to anyone who's ever clutched a copy of "Jane Eyre" as their personal bible, as proof that the shy, bookish, average-looking woman eventually wins the day with her smarts and her wit. We'll concede categories such as modeling and acting and the chance to win The Bachelor to the pretty girls as long as they keep their long legs and perfect hair out of our Plain Jane territory--writer, anthropologist, Green Peace activist, Supreme Court justice. We'll allow Tyra & Co. their superficial rewards as long as we're left with everything else of substance.

Tyra Banks, author, blows my world order out of the water. It doesn't just rub salt in the wound of "best of luck," it shoves a bayonet in it, twists it and rips out my guts.

At least I get to write about it.


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