Today’s guest blogger is Michael Goldhaber, senior international correspondent at ALM Media. A former college classmate of Elizabeth Wurtzel (author of Prozac Nation and, more recently, an associate at Boies, Schiller & Flexner), Goldhaber offers his views on the controversy surrounding Wurtzel’s latest article (“Elizabeth Wurtzel Confronts Her One-Night Stand of a Life”) in New York magazine.
Like Liz Wurtzel in her latest self-confession, I am a 44-year-old graduate of Harvard College, Yale Law School, and Prozac Nation, who threw out my law degree in favor of writing. Unlike Liz Wurtzel, I compromise. I live in Brooklyn, and practice the sort of “good, workmanlike journalism” that she complains she is never assigned. From age 37 to 40 I acquired a wife, a mortgage, and, in her words, two “basic children” who I tell “everybody. . . are talented and gifted.” And unlike Wurtzel, I never did heroin, and I passed the bar exam on my first try.
I don’t disagree with the verdict of the blogosphere that Wurtzel is rambling and self-indulgent. (See, for instance, here, here, and here.) Wurtzel could use an editor. And for her emotional health, I would urge her to read the books of George Vaillant, who has shown through the lives of other Harvard grads the value of mastering the Eriksonian stages of adulthood (notably intimacy), and using mature ego mechanisms of defense. Escapism, denial, and projection are not among them.
But the harsh tone of some criticism (including mine) perhaps reflects the resentment of less established writers, and the usual resistance of the bourgeoisie to dangerous social solvents. Rambling and self-indulgent are also apt descriptions for Emerson and Thoreau (whom Wurtzel was tickled to find herself lumped in with in a Harvard alumni brochure). I discovered all three infuriating essayists during my sophomore year of college (see here for a sample of Wurtzel’s youthful work), and never much liked them. Yet even workmanlike journalists, or lawyers who assemble binders for a living, must concede that in the murky clouds of these provocateurs’ prose hide bursts of epigrammatic wisdom, which gather their force from the margins of society. If Wurtzel’s searing honesty speaks to youth and provokes her peers, then surely it has artistic merit.
To our readers in the trenches of legal billing, my own life choices may appear as radical as Wurtzel’s appear to me. I don’t presume to judge those who compromise more, or those who compromise less. May Wurtzel find peace in 2013, and may she never lose her ability to shock.
Goldhaber can be reached at MGoldhaber@alm.com. He writes the Global Lawyer column for Am Law Litigation Daily.