Saturday, July 9, 2011

Bristol Palin! Advice for the new author!

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Some children lead extraordinary lives because of their great intellectual gifts or performance in the face of adversity. Helen Keller and Anne Frank come to mind. Other children linger in our collective consciousness because of their ability to leverage charisma. Shirley Temple, for example, or Michael Jackson (circa 1971).
But most of us spend our childhood in ordinary fashion, in the grip of our parents, attempting to obey, circumnavigate or flaunt their rules. Our adolescent accomplishments and failures are commonplace -- of interest, in most instances, only to our families and close friends.
And that’s a good thing. Childhood, after all, remains the time we attempt to forge identity. We flop around a lot and do silly and sometimes inappropriate things. If we are lucky, that behavior remains unnoticed by most of the world and forgiven by those closest to us.
Bristol Palin was a child whose behavior was noticed by much of the world. Her story is undoubtedly familiar to most: In 2008, at the age of 17, with her mother the GOP nominee for vice president, she was paraded in front of the nation, pregnant and unmarried but engaged to Levi Johnston, the baby’s father. Her son Tripp was born later that year. Bristol and Johnston broke up in 2009 and got back together, briefly, in 2010. Last fall, Bristol became a contestant on  “Dancing With the Stars” (and placed third with her partner, not bad for a girl who played basketball and football -- that’s right, football -- and ran track in her younger days). In December, she bought a home in Arizona.
Now Bristol has written a book “Not Afraid of Life: My Journey So Far,” with Nancy French. It’s not a particularly well-written book (too many exclamation points, among other sins) and the anecdotes within speak to a pretty ordinary childhood -- until the national spotlight/pregnancy thing.
Now, an ordinary childhood is nothing to be ashamed of. And these days, it seems, neither is single motherhood. But if you’re going to write a book about your journey into the spotlight, Bristol, please do something to warrant our attention. Be painfully honest about the emotions you experienced during these last few tumultuous years. Or dig down deep and share some sort of extraordinary insight into your travails.
Don’t indulge in what might be perceived as propaganda -- about your your mom’s politics. “I turned fifteen the day my mother announced she was running for governor of the state of Alaska.... Many people had called her to complain how about the government had gotten out of control, how they were ‘sick of politics as usual,’ and how the oil companies weren’t drilling and were robbing hardworking Alaskans of job opportunities.”
Really? You were really thinking this as a 15-year-old?
You sound much more like a normal kid when you write about an encounter with Levi: “We had sex again. It was part ‘thank you,’ part ‘security deposit.’ After all, it seemed Levi had needs. If I wasn’t going to fill them, I feared he’d go back to his old ways. And I hated the idea of him being with other girls.”
Does it sound like something a teenage girl would say or think? Yes. Is it interesting? Not so much.
We live in a tell-all culture, inundated by memoirs of  men who drank themselves into oblivion, of women who slept with their fathers. We witness confessions on "Oprah" or "Dr. Phil" or "Jerry Springer." And  a good sex tape doesn't seem to keep some people down.
Bristol, the truth is that you can’t compete with the supernovas of our trash culture.
Nothing wrong with that. And there’s nothing wrong with stumbling and picking yourself up and stumbling again. Many of us did a  fair bit of that in high school. 
It’s just that we haven’t written autobiographies.  Why would anyone care?
It was, however, fun to look at the photos that fall in the middle of your book. You’re a cute girl with a beautiful son, and despite my lack of enthusiasm for “Not Afraid of Life,” I’d probably urge you to ride the fame gravy train as long as you can. Save your book advance and your speaking fees and put that money into a college fund for Tripp.
If you’re lucky, you might be able to shield him from some of nonsense you had to deal with. And one small, final thought: Perhaps you shouldn’t keep copies of this book around the house.


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