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[censored] and the city
publish the personal, or the personality?
by michelle von euw

With very few exceptions, in my life cable TV equals sports. I can tell you where to find ESPN, the Deuce, and Fox Sports on the cable box, but don't ask me where MTV or TBS is. So even though it's a frequent topic of conversation on entertainment websites and among my female friends, I've paid little attention to Sarah Jessica Michelle Jennifer Parker and her HBO show, "Sex and the City."

But an unexpected snowstorm stranded me in a hotel room with nothing but a marathon of the show to entertain me, I gave in. And after sitting glaze-eyed in front of the TV for several hours, one particular aspect really bothered me. It was not the amazingly high heels, or the bizarre clothing combinations, or even the gold necklaces with the lead character's name emblazoned on them, just in case she forgets who she is. (This particular accessory also means that Carrie can't participate in the game of "give a false name to the random drunk men to entertain my friends," but I'll save that for another article). I wasn't even distressed by the fact that Carrie and her three single friends sleep with more men than can fit on a New York subway car.

The thing that most surprised me about the show was this: Carrie actually publishes the details of not just her own, but her friends', sexual adventures in a supposedly reputable newspaper. Each show ends with some clever chatter about Samantha's latest conquest or Charlotte's waiting-for-my-white-knight optimism, which the TV audience is supposed to believe will appear in Carrie's next column.

Yeah, right.

How does Carrie get away with it? How has she not been sued, or at least punched in the nose, by the Yankee, the Candidate, or Mr. Big, not to mention Mr. Big's wife? How does she retain readership? You know her fictional audience in the Queens picks up the paper every morning and has got to be saying, "Yeah, yeah, we know, your friend Samantha is a slut, branch out a little. Do some research." As I've mentioned, I'm not an expert on the show by any means, but has Carrie ever even visited this newspaper office? All her writing seems to occur in a very large apartment and very little clothes.

Obviously, Darren Star and the other creators of the show have gone out of their way to give Carrie a fabulously exciting lifestyle, but I don't buy it. I don't quite believe that lots of columns about lots of sex would, in your average publication, sell very well. It's not as if Carrie works for Playboy -- although there's an idea for a titillating show.

But as someone who writes on occasion, I am chilled by the idea of sharing so much of one's private life in such a public forum. In my other long-term writing gig, I stuck to the news, branching into columns only on the sports page. The most intimate detail I revealed about myself then was my hatred of the New York Yankees. It took me a year of writing Intrepid columns to even mention my fiancé's existence; other personal details have emerged slowly, as a way to highlight points and theories, and not much else. My reasons are two-fold; one, unlike the absolutely reprehensible contestants of "Temptation Island," I prefer the idea of keeping my personal life personal; second, I don't really think that Jane in Atlanta would find the details of my day-to-day life all that interesting.

However, it appears I'm in the minority. It's not just reality TV shows and HBO series that delve into the deeply personal. Some of the most talked about (and best-selling) books last year were extremely personal memoirs. Dave Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius about raising his orphaned brother received much press attention and critical raves, as did Mary Karr's second memoir about her own troubled past, Cherry. Dave Pelzer had similar success with his memoir about overcoming childhood abuse and neglect.

This is not a new trend (hello, Frank McCourt) but it raises a big question for columnists and memoir writers alike: what is too personal to share? For many writers, the ideal of letting one's readers into their own world is an appealing one; it leads to an understanding, and lets people feel connected. The more painful and intimate the details are, the more a reader is likely to empathize with the writer.

But on the other hand, many writers feel a deep desire to keep their writing persona separate from their day-to-day lives. Mixing personal matters with work issues rarely ends well, and writers, too, need to create distance between their job selves and their private selves.

I guess I need to realize that "Sex and the City" is just a TV show, and as with any good fantasy, it chooses extremes over realism. So excuse me while I put on my Manolo Blahnik pumps so I can go tell my shrink about my tragic childhood and how it destroys all my adult relationships --

-- I'm sorry. Did I share too much?


Originally from Boston, Michelle is a writer, editor, instructor, obsessive sports fan, loud talker, quick laugher, new mom, and chances are, she watches more television than you do. Follow her on Twitter at michellevoneuw

more about michelle von euw


my mother's daughter
reflecting on one day and two lifetimes
by michelle von euw
topic: writing
published: 5.8.09

taillights fade
a fictional addition of one girl, 690 votes, and 1,300 miles
by michelle von euw
topic: writing
published: 1.8.01


jeffrey walker
2.7.01 @ 12:59p

I'll be honest. I've never heard of Dave Eggers, Mary Karr, nor Dave Pelzer; Though I do know of Frank McCourt from an NPR interview and I did rent the movie. But I don't read for fun.

I'll tell you this, however. The premise of Carrie being a writer is irrelevant. People (of both sexes) regularly watch the show with a burning of the loins wishing that they had sex partners with such beauty and frequency. Personally, I'd write columns about it all day if I was sleeping with a babe like Charlotte.

adam kraemer
2.7.01 @ 3:49p

Well, first of all, I think I come under the heading of one who shares the details. Definitely. So I can understand wanting to let the reader in on your life. I do it a lot.

Second, the show is actually based on Candace Bushnell's sex column and some of her life, I believe. So it's not that unbelievable if it happened, right?

joe procopio
2.7.01 @ 8:37p

You know, my first idea for intrepid was exactly like Sex and the City. Oh Sweet Sarah, the column space I could fill. In other news, I agree with you Michelle. There's an art to column writing, esp. opinion column, that dictates how much of your personal life you can throw in there and still be interesting, or at least universal. A good writer leads a good life, so to speak. For more on this topic, I shamelessly point you to the following.

jael mchenry
2.8.01 @ 9:00a

I strive not to share details unless they're really, really, really pertinent. Generally they're not.

Adam, you think you come under the heading of "one who shares?" Need I give examples?

adam kraemer
2.8.01 @ 9:54a

Can you remember examples? Heck, they happened to me and I already blocked them out. I don't know, though. I do share from my life, but it's my style and I like to think that the alternative would make my writing terribly boring. Check out my Russia column (10/9/01) for examples.

jael mchenry
2.8.01 @ 10:41a

Actually your Russia column was what brought it to mind, but the primary example from a previous column was something like "she appeared to think a casual sexual encounter with me was a good idea."

jeffrey walker
2.8.01 @ 1:13p

I think the answer is a delicate blend of personal and not. I tend to only add things of a personal nature if they are either overtly interesting or quite funny.

Also, and especially when the issue is sex, there is another party involved. You aren't always at liberty to disclose another person's details. HOWEVER, if the person being talked about is left anonymous, who is being hurt? Example - my December "I'm not laughing with you." I didn't hurt anyone by divulging who did the stupid things; I only described the things. In this sense, it is personal yet still removed. Perhaps this level of description without specifics would be what protects Carrie from would-be lawsuits.

lee anne ramsey
2.9.01 @ 1:15p

(Oh god, is this column about me?)

I would say that my biggest "writing issue" is this: trying not to make it all about me.

joe procopio
2.9.01 @ 2:08p

If I had my way, Lee Anne, every column would be about you.

Okay, on topic: Chris Rock has a saying about this. He has his real wife, and his comedy wife. I like to think I have my real life, and my writing life. The challenge is, how can I bring those two worlds together without having them collide?

lee anne ramsey
2.9.01 @ 4:16p

I guess I always assumed that it's wise to keep those two worlds apart. Or at least, that's the accepted convention.

jael mchenry
2.9.01 @ 5:11p

This has nothing to do with your writing, Lee Anne, but after recently watching the first season of Sex & the City on videotape and then reading this column I was indeed reminded of you, if only because you've written about this. (Wait, which I guess means it does have to do with your writing, doesn't it?)

lee anne ramsey
2.13.01 @ 5:06p

Jael, reminded in a "good" way or a "bad" way???

Note: I am not so self involved that I actually think Michelle is writing about me in particular... but I think I fit the bill for the type of writer she writes about. (Was that a sentence?)

lee anne ramsey
2.13.01 @ 5:14p

I have numerous spiral notebooks and computer files full of writing that I think is good, but which I am afraid to show anyone due to the deeply personal nature of the writing. When I read Elizabeth Wurtzel's schlocky book Prozac Nation, the first thing that came to mind was: oh my god. If she got paid for this crap, I could get paid for my stuff. Which could be what spurred the personal memoir trend...

jael mchenry
2.14.01 @ 9:17a

lee anne, reminded in a nonjudgmental way. You might have something there with the idea that memoirs are spurred by the realization that lots of horrendous memoirs get published. I, of course, know that my life is not nearly interesting enough to write about, but many people don't have that internal sensor. These are perhaps the same people whose pix are up on amihotornot.com.

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