Sometimes I am seized by this terrible fear that anything I write will either hurt somebody, offend somebody or, worse yet, bore somebody. As Joan Didion said, “Writers are always selling somebody out.” I know it’s true, but I can’t decide which is worse--mean-o-phobia or yawn-o-phobia.
The problem is compounded by the fact that I am a multiple personality. At last count, astute reader-therapists have identified at least seven distinct characters in my columns--Jokey, Nasty, Softy, Lefty, Righty, Sunny and Joan Didiony.
It gets so confusing that I’ve thought of joining a selves-help group. Compounding the problem is the fact that each personality has her own supporters. Take this letter that recently arrived for one of the seven faces of me.
Dear Alice: I am a big fan of yours. Please don’t lose your edge. I have two words of advice for you: get cruel.
I answered him as best I could:
Dear Mark: Thanks for your kind letter. Get cruel, huh? OK, drop dead.
Occasionally, some readers will fall for Sunny and then get mad when Sunny turns blue and begins to beget Nasty. Recently, I got two letters attacking me for making fun of two notoriously unsacred bulls. How dare I laugh at Donald (“the nicest person I ever met”) Trump, one reader complained. Another reader went even further:
Dear Alice: I can’t believe what you said about Richard Nixon. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
Well, pinch me, but am I the first person to crack a Nixon joke? The truth is this: No, I don’t have anything nice to say about Richard M. Nixon. And I will defend to the death my right not to say it.
Some people tell me they like only my “serious” columns. Others like me only when I’m politically correct/left. One woman came up to me on the street and said, “I saw you on TV and you said something that didn’t sound liberal and I was wondering what was with you.”
“Oh, it must have been the editing,” I said. “You know how these TV shows just want a sound bite. They must’ve cut out the part where I said, ‘Let’s expropriate all private property. . . .’ ”
All this factionalism is making it hard for me to work. I start out the same way every morning. While I’m putting on my baggy pants and T-shirt, I imagine I’m a samurai putting on my warrior clothes. Or maybe a priest laying out my vestments.
Then, as I’m eating my Shredded Wheat and banana and drinking my coffee, I imagine that I’m bowing and praying for courage before the god or gods of my choice.
I face my word processor like a gladiator. I’m off to do battle.
Someone in the crowd yells, “Nasty!”
Someone else yells, “Sunny!”
(No one says a word about Cher.)
A guy in left field screams, “Social responsibility!”
My friend Judy pleads, “Don’t quote me!”
And I tell myself that I have made a solemn, sacred covenant with the readers. I will try to the utmost of my ability not to bore you, and you will try to the utmost of your ability to get to the end of my column.
And when we get to the end, we never know who we will find there. Today, it appears to be Lady Liberty, the self that treasures freedom. Not just that I am free to be you and me but that people everywhere just gotta be free. From columnists to communists, from Berkeley to Beijing.
So today we salute Richard Nixon, the man who brought democracy to China. I say this knowing that I’m selling out several of my selves. But there’s plenty more where they come from.