So, unless you’ve been a complete hermit, you’ve left an internet trail behind you. Mostly, it’s innocuous. You’ll see a record of talks you’ve given — and forgotten about. Reviews of books, mentions of articles, references to your work. You’ll find it all when you google your own name, which is also known as doing an “ego search.”
Which is what I was doing a couple of nights ago. Almost everything I found was routine — till I stumbled across a review of my first novel, Don’t Think Twice, at some site called wikispaces. The review was fine and all that, but then the entry went on to biographical information. Here’s what it said:
“While she is a recovering alcoholic, Pennebaker has kept a positive attitude through her ability to see the humor in how alcoholism has effected (sic) her life as well as the lives of her family. Ruth says it like this, “Not only was I not an alcoholic, I realized. The truth is, I hadn’t drunk anything for years. It’s got to be some kind of metaphor for something about family life. You’re never the same after you have kids. You’re just deluded enough to think you are.
“Unfortunately, more background information was unable to be found regarding this outstanding young-adult author. Her life, on many levels, still remains a mystery.”
Good grief. Where to start?
First of all — and I know how hackneyed this sounds — some of my best friends are recovering alcoholics and I admire them tremendously (they know who they are). But I’m neither an alcoholic or recovering alcoholic. Proof: Since I’ve written about every big-time trauma in my life, including breast cancer, do you really think I’d ignore the drama of alcoholism. Very doubtful.
I do know where this misinformation came from, though. It’s from my own damned website, which means it was partly my own damned fault. I was recounting the story of how I was taking a drink one night while my husband was out of town — and noticed it had no effect on me. So I had another drink, also to no effect.
Later, when I was recounting this experience to my husband and Emerging Adult son, my son turned a brilliant red. As it happened, he and his sister had been watering down our liquor supply for years to cover their tracks. So: I not only wasn’t an alcoholic — I had only been drinking water, with an occasional drop of liquor in it, for years.
All of which I found amusing, in my usual Inappropriate Mother way. It reminded me of the time our son had gotten hauled into the middle-school principal’s office because he’d called some phone number listed as 1-800-SPANKME — some sex line or something. I found that so funny that I could hardly stand up straight without screeching with laughter during the principal’s very somber harangue. That’s the kind of mother I am, sad to say. It’s way too late to change.
One of my friends (she also knows who she is) and I have always reassured each other that we were good mothers, since we have very similar, rather slipshod approaches to maternity. When we talk, I’m always reminded of my favorite characters, Eddie and Patsy, in Absolutely Fabulous, as Patsy drunkenly assures Eddie — who’s about to pass out herself, since, after all, it’s midafternoon, and they’ve been shopping and boozing it up for hours — what a wonderful mother she’s been.
There I go again. I’m joking about drinking, phone calls to semi-pornographic call centers, and two of the worst — and most hilarious — female role models in history. Won’t I learn? But what else can I do? Announcing over and over that no, I’m not a recovering alcoholic and asking whether — for God’s sake — no one can take a joke these days strike me as ineffectual, really kind of pathetic, and clear evidence of denial.
Some day, I’ll have to learn to keep my mouth shut. Some day, I’ll become a serious person who never jokes about anything. Some day in the future.
It’s like St. Augustine said about something else: “Give me chastity and continence, but not just now.”
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)