The Waldman Contretemps

We’ll weigh in, dammit, for the following reasons:

1) We were mortified by wrestling in high school, largely because the idea of clutching another scrawny teenager in a full-Nelson struck us as vaguely Roman (near the decline of the empire) and homoerotic at the time, and it also meant having to shower with said opponent. You do the math, whiz kid. Twelve years later, free from the shackles of a needlessly Puritanical upbringing and readily indulging in fellatio jokes before breakfast (even in our thirties), we have very little problems with male anatomy and sexuality in general. The important thing is that we are no longer afraid of penises, whether it be our own or another. Although we infinitely prefer lightly wrestling certain lady friends in intimate situations, moments that we would never dare share on this blog, because we recognize the TMI principle. Thus, we’ve earned the right to “weigh in.” To hell with the philological consequences.

2) Our one and only encounter with Ms. Waldman occurred last year, when we offered our hand and said, “Hey. How’s it going?” in lieu of the genteel fawning at the 2004 Northern California Book Awards. We suggested then that it might have been a mistake to introduce ourselves to Berkeley literary royalty this way. However, in light of recent events, we take our original assessment back, recalling the ashen expression on Ms. Waldman’s face, and her unnerving sense that she was encountering some literary huckster there only to talk with other authors and drink free merlot (partly true) and that this, as written in her frown and her dilated eyes, was in some sense a damning crime against the human race. Frankly, we’ve committed greater misdemeanors, many of which you’ll never hear about and many of which are ably recorded in private. We learned a thing or two about exhibitionism after about five years of blogging, hell even in the first few months of blogging. And back then, we were in our mid-twenties.

Which leads us to this and, more specifically, this, which in turn lead to this and this. Scout’s honor.

Still with me?


1. It seems to me that Waldman’s lead sentence is the mark of a clear sensationalist. And if she does indeed suffer from a milder form of bipolar disorder (Self-diagnosed! We should again point out that the diagnosis comes solely from Waldman and not a clinical psychologist. Waldman herself, last I checked, was not a shrink.), then I put forth to the peanut gallery that this is a very good way to get attention, that indeed we may very well have been conned into being titilated by another author’s neuroses (a Salon specialty, or had you all forgotten about last year’s Jane Austen Doe stunt?), perhaps another post-modern game to be played between husband and wife. (Note also that we have two clear links to the dynamic duo’s respective sites in the first two sentences. Whether this was a decision from Waldman or the Salon editors, self-promotion, even in the form of such apologia, has never seen such flagrant horn-tooting, even with that damn near unreadable He Who Shall Remain Unnamed novel-in-progress from last year.)

2. I’ve been in relationships, but I’ve never been married. But it would seem to me from a matrimonial standpoint that one would discuss suicidal feelings and bad juju with one’s spouse before exposing it all online, let alone to one’s kids. Or perhaps the key is to write it all down in a private journal. In fact, it strikes me as an altogether shitty thing to not even bother to call one’s loved one, one’s circle of friends or pretty much anyone who gives a damn about you after penning such confessional hijinks, particularly if you are a published author regularly writing and understanding that your words do indeed have power.

3. All this is not to make light of Ms. Waldman’s mental state, which is apparently quite imperious. We should point out that at least Waldman did the right thing in discovering her own personal limits about what to reveal. Even so, commenting upon this publicly in a major online outlet suggests not only a continuation of the very problem (which has earned considerable wrath from readers) but what Dana Stevens has recently referred to as “mental-health porn,” taking a cue from Elizabeth Wurtzel. What is most troubling is that Waldman is doing this to herself, and that this is not some nutty Norwegian director who may or may not be in on the joke.

4. Concerning the question of whether Waldman’s kids are harmed, this too is a disingenuous defense. The very idea that her kids will be “furious with [Waldman] for having stolen their lives and humiliated at the extent to which I have laid open my own” again resorts to a certain solipsism (also referenced by “occasionaly failing,” as if the idea of falling flat on one’s face was anathema to existence). It all suggests that Ms. Waldman can’t say no. Beyond this, if the kids did find out, surely such a revelation could be talked out, rather than worrying about the what-if wrath of a reverse Laurence Olivier moment with the offspring shrieking “I hef no mom!”

5. We should not forget that it is Salon’s editors who are exploiting Ayelet Waldman. Damn Waldman if you must, but never forget that they are the ones encouraging this. And, no, Ms. Smiley, it’s not a question of Waldman’s honesty, but what the reading public has clearly seen between the lines. It may not be easy to see when you’re blinded by bucolic glens and horses, but mental illness is a veritable powder keg. 54 million Americans suffer from it, but only 8 million seek treatment. I’m glad to see that Salon’s readers, at least, aren’t dismissing it as some pedantic overreaction.


  1. Dana Stevens is going to the source for the term “mental-health porn,” not coining it herself. From her slate article:

    `Wurtzel herself has a word for this: in her second book, Bitch, she coined the term “mental-health pornography” in a discussion of our culture’s obsession with beautiful, suicidal women.’

    Ed, can you handle this? Do you want someone to check in on you?

  2. O.H. — But the harm her writing has on her children does not depend on where the diagnosis comes from, nor does Salon’s ghoulishness in running The Ayelet Suicide Watch. You don’t have to have a doctor’s diagnosis to be depressed. The point is not whether she is depressed or not, it’s that she says she is depressed and discusses this in a way that harms her family — and Salon pimps it.

  3. Well, I was kidding a little, but two things:

    1) There’s a reason doctors go to school for a long time and that it can take years to be diagnosed correctly. I know we bright and bookish people think we can apprehend pretty much everything, and it’s certainly true that many doctors are bad, but they have a job, they know what they’re doing, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, if she’s REALLY bipolar she’s probably have exhibited so much someone would have forced her to go to a doctor way before this; no, I don’t consider writing a column exhibiting, etc., etc.

    2) The main problem I have with this “she’s hurting her family” argument is, who knows? I was desperately afraid my parents were going to die too, to the point of weeping — there was nothing wrong with them. You can never say what’s going on with a family, what will turn out to be dangerous, what is really really bad psychologically for kids, unless someone is beating, drinking, nastifying, etc. IT sounds weird to say of someone who’s being so public, but I don’t think it’s our biz.

    3. Salon’s not pimping. She’s of age and sound mind. If she wants to write a column and they want to print it, that’s okay. It’s not the protocols of the elders of zion. She’s just an abrasive personality.

  4. FWIW, I’m not sure that she’s self-diagnosed (Ed, where did that come from?). Her blog made repeated mentions of medication and of adjustments to her medication, which I assume happened under a doctor’s supervision. I think why her friends were urging her to see a doctor when she was suicidal was not to get a diagnosis, but to have her medication adjusted.

  5. bky: Thanks for the correction. And yes I can handle it. Can you? 🙂

    Carrie: Just because one is prescribed medication, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the doctor’s going to reveal to you the exact DSM-IV type you fall into. Or to put it another way, how many times have you gone to a doctor or a shrink and they’ve given you mediation without elaborating on the minutaie (unless, of course, you demand it)? Plus, the bipolar definition is bandied about like some catch-all identifier that, frankly, I’m a little weary of anyone using it outside of Kay Redfield Jamison. Waldman’s mental state is certainly more complex than even she lets on, and as readers and casual observers, we hardly know the whole story. But as the Hag suggests above, Waldman is hardly Sylvia Plath, both in regard to talent and troubled mental state.

    As for the Salon exploitation angle, I have to side with the fiery bky. Even if Waldman is of sound mind to submit these essays, I don’t see why an editor shouldn’t be any more ethically accountable for her actions than some tawdry schlock producer producing an exploitation film with rampant and altogether gratuitous scenes of penetration.

  6. Ed, I was kidding, but truth be told, I’m a little shaky. Fiery? On this side of the vast sea of zeros and ones it sounds like grandfatherly concern. Do you have some kind of grandfatherly concern-to-fiery filter installed? Also, I used to depend on this site for all my pharmacological updates. Wha’ happened?

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