A while ago I was scrolling through Facebook when I saw a post that said, "What did we ever do before [insert hot writer-of-the-moment here]?"
We survived, I thought, choking down my disgust.
More recently, I saw another post on Facebook where someone declared that a famous writer was her guru.
Our culture picks a handful of writers at any given time and celebrates them to no end. It's like the popular girls in middle school. Sure, they were pretty and knew how to rock high bangs and acid-washed jeans, but so did a ton of other girls, who weren't popular. So why them, and only them? It seemed/seems kind of arbitrary.
These writers are plucked up and exalted, and they can do no wrong—every single thing they write, down to their To Do lists scrawled on Post-Its, is pure gold. When of course, there is no one whose every thought that flows out of their mind and onto a page is perfection. All writers write crappy stuff sometimes. But no one acknowledges that if you're famous and legions of readers are scrambling to make you their guru.
This is part of our celebrity-worshipping culture at large that grosses me out: the need to elevate people to ridiculous heights. First of all, whenever you put someone up on a pedestal, you are automatically diminishing yourself, placing yourself in a lower or less than position relative to them. And secondly, when you're at the top there's nowhere to go but down, and as easily as society decides to lift someone up, it will expend twice as much energy to topple them down.
For instance, after Lena Dunham's essay collection Not That Kind of Girl was published, a conservative website spent an entire month conducting an exhaustive investigation of one of her stories in an attempt to pick apart the details and prove that it was false. This is just one example of the appalling and intrusive scrutiny that Dunham's personal life received in response to her book. But maybe if we treated celebrities and famous writers like human beings instead of dieties, there wouldn't be the expectation that they can do no wrong, and the vicious need to tear them apart that naturally follows.
We put a writer up on a pedestal and decide that every word they utter is the brilliant, shimmering truth, that we need them in order to survive, to know what to think, to fully comprehend the meaning of life. In doing so, we're abdicating responsibility for ourselves by making someone else know more about ourselves, our lives, and our minds than we do.
I love to read. I love to curl up with a book and get lost in its pages. I love the feeling of not being able to wait to get on the subway so I can catch a few moments with a story I don't want to put down. I love being inspired and energized by someone else's words. But my life didn't start the day some runaway bestseller was published, and I don't want to worship the writers that our culture keeps telling me to, in my Facebook feed and on countless other media.
Good writers can illuminate something for you to think about, remind you about something you already knew, or even teach you something you didn't. They can inspire and challenge and uplift you. But they can't tell you something about yourself that you don't, somewhere, somehow, have the capacity to know. They can't tell you, without question, how to think or live or what to believe. They don't have some direct line to wisdom that you don't have access to. They are not more important or valuable than you are.
Read, read, read like your life depends on it, and soak in the knowledge and experience of the writers you adore. Writing is powerful, and reading will do many things, from enriching your life to making you feel less alone. Take all that writers have to give you from the page, but don't make a writer your guru. For that matter, don't make another person your guru. Let others inspire you and their words enliven you. But make yourself your guru. And above all, listen for, know, and follow your own voice.