Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Larger than Life

Mata Hari
A work assignment recently led me to a person I was really reluctant to get involved with. A volunteer for a local organization, Dr. Frogs (she insists on using that title) is notoriously difficult to work with. She's demanding, critical, and at every step of the way she is compelled to tell you how important and talented she is, while at the same time bemoaning the fact that no one appreciates her.

I needed some information from her, though, so I ended up on the receiving end of a long stream of bizarre email. As usual with Dr. Frogs, it included grandiose claims, accusations of ill treatment, and pleas for recognition. At the end were a half a dozen hyperlinks, which all led to her own website. So I went there.


Harrison Ford and Karen Allen in "Raiders of the Lost Ark"
You can get lost in Dr. Frogs' website for hours. It is a full blown glorification of her illustrious life and career, written in the third person. If you believe her account, she led a "life of high adventure, royal romance, and scientific discovery." She traveled to exotic mountain kingdoms in Asia, romanced a royal prince, wrote a book of her travels at the tender age of 21, and hitchhiked through the Congo.

Amelia Earhart, from Wikipedia
She piloted a DC-3 over the Himalayas, was involved in cold-war intrigue in Greece and Hong Kong. Imprisoned in an Eastern European police state, she barely escaped an assassination attempt. Noted Broadway producers clamored to set her life to music.

Greta Garbo in "Queen Christina"
She received multiple advanced academic degrees, appeared on stage at the age of three, was a pioneer of computer technology and biochemistry, and was commissioned by one of the richest men in the world to catalog his art collection. She spearheaded historic preservation in her home town; revitalized a small-town music organization with her management skills, and aided the FBI in the capture of one of the world's most wanted fugitives.

Modesty Blaise, comic character created by Peter O'Donnell
 One of the concepts of literature is the idea of the "unreliable narrator." This device filters a story through the point of view of a flawed character - someone who may be delusional or who is deliberately trying to deceive the reader, or lead readers to a false conclusion.

At every step of the way, Dr. Frogs tells us how she was before her time; her talents were unappreciated; she refused to be co-opted and corrupted; she worked pro-bono for what she believed in. International intrigue swirled about her - Zelig-like, she was on the scene at crucial moments in history, broke important news stories, and outwitted sinister forces of dictatorial governments who tried to silence her. Everything about her is extraordinary, as described. So - not only does she tout an article written for a journal; she also makes a point of telling us that it is the LONGEST article ever published by that journal.

Marie Curie and that guy she married.
An amazing woman, wouldn't you say? Do you believe it? I somehow can't - yet on her website are digitized newspaper clippings that seem to corroborate some of her tales.

Or is it all just hyperbole? A flirtation with a handsome gentleman becomes, in her telling, a legendary romance. An invitation from a pilot to visit the cockpit of the plane becomes, in her telling, her taking the controls. A tourist trip becomes an assignment as a foreign correspondent. A phoned-in tip to a crime hot-line becomes "assisting the FBI." Crack-pot letters to the editor become "breaking news stories." Unsolicited feedback to manufacturers become collaborations on developing products.

But maybe she's on to something. How would your ordinary life read if it were told as a swashbuckling tale of high adventure?


smalltownme said...

I would be Martha Stewart (without the time in prison).

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

It is a full blown glorification of her illustrious life and career, written in the third person.

That's it! I'm changing my blog.

No one wants to look at pics of birds and butterflies, when they could be reading the movie script of my life's story instead!

Anonymous said...

I used to work with a woman like that. We used to say she believed all the stories her other personalities were telling her. Some days she actually dressed the part too. She was a very strange woman.


Jen said...

Have you ever heard two different people tell the same story, but in very different ways? The story truly IS in the details. This woman sounds like a genius to me - an eccentric genius, but still.

Thank you for your comment on my blog. I enjoyed reading yours, as well. Children can be so cruel to each other, but I'm glad it had positive results in your life.