I Was on Jeopardy!
This has been a pretty incredible week for me and Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place, which is essentially me in website form. Earlier this week, when I congratulated “Weird Al” Yankovic on finally receiving his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, he volunteered to copy-edit and proofread the book that will eventually come out of the The Weird Accordion to Al project. I’d like to think that’s a reflection of his affection for the column but it’s just as likely an expression of his abject horror at the grammar, spelling and punctuation on the site. I would not blame him.
Yesterday, I discovered that I was a Jeopardy answer. Yesterday, for 1200 dollars, the answer was “In 2007, Nathan Rabin coined the phrase, MPDG for short, to describe Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown.” I found out from a member of my Facebook group Society for the Toleration of Nathan Rabin and my first response was predictable.
“Holy motherfucking shit!” I thought. “That is incredibly exciting! What amazing validation that Alex Trebek, a man I grew up watching, and possesses all known wisdom in the universe, or at least behaves as though he does, said my name on television, and the show assumed that I was somehow well-known enough that it did not have to indicate that I was a movie critic, or pop culture writer, or author, not to mention failed mommy blogger, failed film critic, failed music critic, failed staff writer, failed film critic on television or failed major publisher author."
My next reaction was just as predictable, but far less gracious or admirable. I thought, “That’s great, but where’s the fucking money in it?” I hate that my brain works that way sometimes. I hate that when Ronald Reagan Jr. interviewed me for my memoir, The Big Rewind, back in 2009, my response was a similarly dyspeptic and myopic, “Well, that was certainly an honor, but it will probably sell exactly zero copies of my book.”
Granted, both things were probably true: it was an honor to be interviewed by the son of the President I held responsible for destroying my family’s life (and he was a real nice guy to talk to as well!) and it also probably didn’t move the needle, sales-wise, as they say in “the biz.” But looking back, I am frustrated and disappointed in myself that I tainted what could have been, and was, a really amazing and unique experience by reducing it to what it could do for my book sales-wise and what it could do for me professionally.
I’m obsessive by nature but I think growing up poor made me hyper-conscious about money. The wolf was perpetually at the door, so I lived in constant terror of what would happen when what little money and resources we had ran out. And while age and experience have given me some perspective on the value of money, as well as the ways in which money is also valueless and destructive, in some ways I’ve never entirely stopped being a neurotic group home kid who put a huge premium on money, security and stability because I grew up without any of the three and have had such a hard time holding onto them as an adult.
We do ourselves a terrible disservice when we reduce the value of experiences, of joy, of being overwhelmed and humbled, to a dollar amount. Yet it’s so hard not to see things in those terms when our culture tells us that that’s the easiest, truest and most accurate way to keep track of people’s worth as human beings, writers and artists.
I was a Jeopardy answer. And this was just two months after being told that the column that birthed “Manic Pixie Dream Girls” had run its course and was being retired. Oh, but the universe can send some mixed messages, but I am going to delight in my good fortune. Because, oh sure, other pop culture writers might have “jobs” and “benefits” and “money” and “options” but every morning I wake up and it’s entirely possible that something like this will happen, and that’s worth a whole lot of uncertainty and a whole lot of instability. I love what I do, and I’m lucky to have done it long enough to have a lot to look back at with pride. And the money? I’d love to be able to say that it will follow but I know that’s not necessarily true, but there are days like today that make everything worth it, and people like you, who give me a reason to think the future can, and will be different, and better than the past, and that we don’t have to accept what the world gives us because we can chart our own course.
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