All young people have idols. They are the people we strive to be like. But because idols are human beings, they have their faults. Some of their faults are larger than others. I could spend this whole article dissecting every single one of my idols, but because I am a writer, I decided to focus on my favorite writers.
Writers are an interesting bunch. The stereotypes of alcoholism, drug addiction, extreme libertinism, elitism and mental illness are stereotypes for a reason. A note on mental illness: I am not saying mental illness is a bad thing. The way in which my idols treated their own mental illnesses is what I am attempting to scorn.
F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway were heavy drinkers. If you’ve ever read any of their works, their pages are soaked with alcohol. Their drinking may have fueled their writing, but it also brought them both to an early end. Prolonged alcoholism brought the early death of Fitzgerald. Hemingway committed suicide due to his inability to write because of how deep his alcoholism hurt him.
In recent times, drug addiction has taken the place of alcoholism. While some authors, such as Ken Kesey and Aldous Huxley, were able to use drugs as a source of inspiration, others, like Hunter S. Thompson and William S. Burroughs went off the deep end. Thompson in particular drank a lot and experimented with enough drugs that his body was a walking chemistry experiment. Much like Hemingway, Thompson’s body was so destroyed from years of drug use and alcoholism that he took his own life.
Elitism is a feeling most college educated people can relate with. We’ve all done it. We’ve even thought someone was lesser than us because we read more books. You might have even called a good portion of the country last week morons. H.L. Mencken, Virginia Woolf and T.S. Eliot are all wonderful writers but would definitely be elitists today. Mencken in particular was a borderline social Darwinist that read a little too much pre-1950s edited Nietzsche.
Speaking of Nietzsche, Nietzsche was quite sexist, but not a nationalist or anti-semite. After his death, his nationalist sister edited and changed his works to make him appear like a pro-German Nationalist. One of my idols is still referred to as these horrible things.
Mental illness has inadvertently killed more of my favorite authors than anything else. Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway and David Foster Wallace are prime examples of writers who ignored mental illness until it was too late. I am still skeptical about putting Wallace in this section but it must be addressed that he did kill himself after giving up on receiving help.
After researching and admitting all of this, what should I do? Should I not read these writers anymore because their opinions and life practices differ from mine? Should I try to ignore these facts and continue wearing my veil of ignorance?
No. These writers have turned me into the person I am today. I am not an anti-semitic, sexist, racist, drug-addicted, ignorant or elitist alcoholic. While an author can inspire us, we live in a different world. While it was accepted to be all those things 50 years ago, our modern world has realized how horrible they all are. We can’t ignore a writer because he or she did something we aren’t comfortable with. We have to acknowledge it, but look past it and learn from it.
We all hope to be reborn as the next (insert idol here). But we should remember that we aren’t, and never can be, our idols. However, we can take what works they have left us and learn how to become great in our own regard through them.