I was recently asked to write a piece for a fairly well-known national website. I was honored, and writing the actual, substantive post was fairly easy; I do it all the time. The problem, the thing that made me worry and sweat, was the requested “bio.” Being a clever girl, I looked at the bios of other writers of similar pieces. I would use them as a template, following their general contours and plugging in my own nuggets of history.
Here’s the thing: every one of the bios I read made me feel totally inadequate. After the third one, I considered writing nothing other than “Ann Nichols comes from the Midwest where she has done nothing particularly interesting for five decades. She did meet Richard Simmons once when she was working retail in Boston.” The women whose biographies I read were authors of multiple books, advice columnists, and writers and creators of successful sit-coms. The only one of them with less to say about herself than me was a twenty-five-year old. I have no doubt that by the time she is my age, she will have climbed Mt. Everest, set up a 501(3)(c) that saves all the world’s children from hunger, and had an art installation at MOMA.
That little exercise, culminating in the writing of my own, painfully short bio, made me sensitive to every life history snippet I encountered for a while. Catherine the Great did not die having sex with a horse; she may, however, have died having sex with her 22-year-old lover when she was 60. Broadway star Ella Logan started her singing career at the age of 3, in Scotland. Even the The New York Times’ wedding announcements traumatized me with their bevy of Fulbrights, corporate Vice Presidencies, Harvard Doctorates, Peace Corps service and chance meetings in Antigua. Did I mention that I met Richard Simmons once?
The bio that I actually wrote and submitted was all about the stuff I think impresses people – degrees, jobs, publications, that kind of thing. What I really think, now that I am recovering from the trauma of Inadequate Bio Syndrome (the other “ I.B.S.”) is that my real story is just fine. I studied hard, I made some terrible decisions, and I made some good decisions. I love my parents and my brother, and they love me. I love my husband and my son, and they love me, too. I never made much money as a lawyer, but I was good at it. I don’t make much money as a cook but I’m good at that, too – and it doesn’t give me ulcers. I’m a good driver. I pick worms off the sidewalk and put them in moist soil after a rainstorm. I have long, deep, true friendships and I find new people to enjoy on a regular basis. I can bone a chicken. I can change my oil. I can fix a leaky faucet.
I am pretty certain that the readers of the fairly well-known national website will not bother to read my bio; if they do, they may wonder whether I am the literary equivalent of an Outsider artist, the Grandma Moses of bloggers. I am, after all, un-credentialed, un-famous, with nary a talk show gig or a book. Well, I have credentials, but they are an odd mash-up of ServSafe certification, a Juris Doctorate diploma and a piece of paper that says I rode down a mountain in Maui. I also have a card that says I can do CPR, although I think it expired.
My real story is just fine. If I died right this minute, I would have been good to the people and animals I love, been mostly honorable, and served my community well. And maybe I can still edit the bio for the website to say that I met Richard Simmons once – it’s almost as good as a Fulbright………