I’m pretty sure it was the wonderful feminist writer Katha Pollitt who once wrote that her idea of hell was to be stranded on a desert island with only the diaries of Anais Nin to read.
It was a great observation. If you haven’t read Anais Nin’s diaries, don’t bother. They’re the lengthiest, most tedious exercise in self-absorption and self-delusion that you’re likely to find outside a middle school classroom crammed with who-am-I adolescents. Fortunately, most adolescents outgrow this phase. Unfortunately, Anais Nin never did. Even more unfortunately, she published volumes of her diary — paeans to her own preening narcissism — and I was dumb enough to read some of them when I was younger.
At the age I was then — in my twenties, I think — I usually blamed myself when I disliked something that was supposed to be good. So I just kept reading. These days, with a shorter time horizon in front of me and the attention span of a gnat, I would have quit by page 3 and promptly gone into a stupor.
But I bring up the idea of hell and Anais Nin because I just read that once you publish 100 posts in a blog, you’re supposed to write an entry telling 100 different things about yourself. Jesus, that sounds every bit as boring and narcissistic as Anais herself. I assume I could dredge up 100 different things about myself, but who’d want to read it? I get comatose just thinking about it.
The truth is, I think that a person’s ideas of what hell is are more revealing and interesting than some laundry list of factoids, such as the little-known biographical episode that in 1958, I was on “Pet Parade,” a short-lived local TV show in Wichita Falls, Texas, with our parakeet, Baby. Unlike every other pet in town, Baby performed no tricks and couldn’t talk unless he was in the mood to talk, which he almost never was. Finally, out of desperation, they started playing the peppy “Pet Parade” theme song just to get rid of Baby and me, and marched us off to the sidelines, where we sat and watched some other smart-alecky kid with a pet that had a little personality walk off with the weekly prize. I was bitter for three weeks about that — especially after Baby talked in the car all the way home, repeating, “Baby bird! Baby bird!” till I almost had a mini-breakdown and everyone in the third grade made fun of me for having such a useless, trick-free pet. Our family never had smart pets. Just aggressive, neurotic pets.
But you see what I mean? Ideas about hell — even for an agnostic like me who doesn’t believe in hell — are always more interesting than biographical details. So:
MY IDEAS OF HELL (a continuing list)
1) Antonin Scalia as chief justice of the United States.
2) Reading Ulysses. (I know it’s supposed to be the greatest novel of the 20th century. I don’t care.)
3) Listening to the words that follow this intro: “Now, don’t take this personally, but … ”
4) Throwing a surprise party.
5) Having a surprise party thrown for you.
6) Being trapped into listening to someone who tells “cute” stories about his kids or grandkids.
7) Listening to someone who says, “My dog thinks he’s a person.”
9) People who eat and yawn with their mouths wide open.
10) People who are sure they’re going to heaven and the rest of us are going to hell. (Fine. Just as long as we don’t have to hang around with them for all of eternity.)
(TO BE CONTINUED … and please feel free to add your own ideas of hell )
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)