I've been reading about the disappearance of Spaulding Gray in the papers the past couple days. I wasn't Gray's biggest admirer. His monologues read to me as cloying and too self-absorbed; every itch in his pants misinterpreted as a need for sex; the life lessons he learned in his adventures quickly forgotten with each sudden flare-up of his myriad neuroses. I remember four years ago I ran into two women who had tickets to a Gray performance at the Goodman Theater who walked out after twenty minutes. The walked along the concrete breakwaters of the lakeshore and came into HotHouse for a drink. When I asked where they were coming from, the petite woman of the couple said that they walked out of the performance and said, "He's a sad character. He's in his middle age staring at his belly button for answers to the meaning of life." Her partner was less charitable and spat out, "Fuck Spaulding Gray!"
I find myself empathizing with him a little bit now that I'm starting to read my stories onstage again and having gone to therapy myself. It does take a brave person to lay himself bare. I don't think any of us can truly do it- we can't completely separate ourselves from our emotions to honestly analyze our lives. We can write about it and, if we're creative, turn it into a positive. Maybe get some measure of relief in the laughter and applause of a rapt audience. But we still can't fully analyze the root problems. That's why we pay therapists to do that for us. Handsomely, I might add.
Still, I wouldn't wish whatever Gray may be going through on anyone, if he's still alive. A link I found at Bazima listed a Newsday article that says officials are investigating whether Gray may have jumped off the Staten Island Ferry to his death. As I was reading it I began to think of comparisons between Bazima and Gray. Neither of them has any shame in their game. And until recently, both carried the burden of living up to their alter egos.
I was introduced to Bazima's writing by happenstance. I was looking for on-line humor and a web search pulled up her old site. Her early writing concentrated on her dating exploits in New York City, so much so that the New York Press named her site "best blog" two years ago. Bas named names, didn't apologize, and moved on. It was entertaining and voyeuristic, but not much else.
Soon enough, the site became a one-trick pony as she tried to move past "Single in the City" stories and write about different subjects, with the regular visitors chiming in unison "We want to read about more sex!!". The breaking point came with a post where she wrote about a chance sighting of author Jonathan Safran Foer (Everything Is Illuminated) in downtown Manhattan. The comments link lit up with posts about how she couldn't have seen Foer because he was in Israel, or a book tour, or not in New York, or holed up writing another novel. Soon, the comments turned into personal attacks on Bazima, accusing her of being a liar, whore, starfucker, or any combination of the three. A common reply to the post was "How can you be so fucking stupid as to make a mistake like that?" Some were worse.
I remember it vividly because I posted the first negative comment to the post. It wasn't about Bazima, though. It was about Foer; the jist of the comment was "he seems like the type of writer who would bitch about not receiving a toasted bagel with melted muenster cheese in quick order." From there it snowballed and Bazima was totally "haterized", as she later called it. Soon after, she pulled the comments link from her posts and lay low for awhile. I, and untold others, waited.
Bazima came back during the Independence Day holidays with a vengeance and a newfound focus. Admitting that she was having a hard time living up to the Bazima character she placed in words, Bazima declared herself free from having to live up to her readers' expectations. That admission was like the removal of an albatross from her neck. Free to write about more than her dating life, Bazima gained an added maturity not seen in her previous work. An astute reader could see a burgeoning confidence brewing underneath her posts, which were less frequent but more meaningful. She was writing with more of clarity and humor again, even as her personal life took turn for the worse around the holidays. But she didn't flinch. In that regard, she was very much like Spaulding Gray. She doesn't post as much as she used to- she does have bills to pay, after all- but she doesn't have the pressure of having to live up to a character and post every day as well. Maybe that weight finally got to Gray.
Bazima's now living the freelance life in Brooklyn- a bold step in the city that never sleeps. Being no stranger to freelancing myself, I'd like to offer her two things about the freelance life she may add to her post "What I learned in my first week as a freelancer":
- Thanks to a favorable Supreme Court ruling, your apartment, phone bill, and any lunch receipt is now a tax deduction.
-There are other people floating about the ether wishing you the best.