Review – “I Am Jennie”

This is an irritatingly difficult challenge.  Since I began blogging, I’ve asserted that you can’t write about yourself with complete accuracy, no matter how hard you try.  When we tell our own life stories, we portray ourselves as we imagine we are and have been, and it’s inevitably subject to all our biases, the self-protective and the self-destructive ones.  No one is merciless and/or fearless enough to do it.  That’s why I’ve always said I’m writing here about a character based on me.  To be COMPLETELY honest will bore any audience.  The thing to strive for is truth, not the whole truth, but the parts that will make a good story.  We all know that much of life is spent doing housework, waiting in lines and picking up poop.  It’s not interesting enough for others to read about. I do have enormous admiration for anyone willing to try this hard to “tell-all” about themselves.

My fellow blogger Jennie Ketcham is a woman I’ve never met in person.  Like others on my Blogroll, and many of you who read and comment regularly, I have respect for the important relationship we do share.  We enjoy each other’s work, and we write messages of encouragement to each other.  I’m game for that kind of friendship as long as she is, and that goes for the rest of you too.  I learn something from every comment, positive or negative, and I appreciate them all.

Jennie set for herself the daunting goal of writing the story of her former career as a porn star, why she began and why she left.  She says she wrote it to help herself, and to help others, and I believe that’s true.  Of course there’s also another dynamic in play outside of Jennie’s healing process.  She gained an audience (as herself) by appearing on reality-TV shows about recovery.  Those shows are over, and will be forgotten soon.  If there’s money to be made from a book (and maybe movie) about her redemption, it has to be now while those audiences still remember.

It’s a good story, but not unusual except for the character of Jennie herself.  The book works because you care about the heroine.  But the story arc is fairly predictable.  Girl from broken home acts out by becoming promiscuous at a young age.  Girl walls herself off from pain by any means available; drugs, booze, lying and cheating.  She tries to shut off negative emotions and begins losing the ability to feel in general.  In that state of numbness, porn is relatively easy money, at least until those pesky addictions catch up to you.  Jennie lives for eight years as Penny Flame, an alter ego invulnerable and in control, but incapable of emotional intimacy.

This memoir includes some extremely funny stories, and some weird ones, and there’s also more degradation to read about than I prefer.  Jennie apparently felt an obligation to confess every interpersonal act of indiscretion or betrayal she could recall having committed.  As a reader, I got a bit weary of the soap opera middle of the book, the part where she expends so much energy running away from real love.  If this story does end up onscreen, I expect many of these characters will be combined or dropped.  It is, however, hard not to like someone who is so sorry for having been a bad girlfriend.

As in Dickens’ or Jane Austen’s stories, Jennie’s innate good qualities ensure an uplifting conclusion, an honorable life earned through hard effort.  The energy picks up at the end, when Jennie gets sober and works to make amends and re-establish relationships with her estranged family members.  She also begins a normal, supportive, romantic relationship.  Jennie has always referred to him as “Mr. Man” on her blog.  If you buy the book, you get to find out his name.

The origin of lasting compassion, empathy and love is pain.  You can’t get to that golden sunset without embracing it.  And you can’t tell real from fake if you’re always trying to perceive it through drugs and alcohol.  When Jennie went on the rehab show, that’s what she learned.  She began her blog right after the first rehab stint, and has been working her sobriety program and building an honest life ever since. She’s also nearly completed a Bachelors in Psychology.  Because she’s worked so hard to understand her own struggles, I think Jennie is gaining important insights into family dynamics, trauma, addictions and compulsive thinking.  If she doesn’t decide to concentrate solely on writing, she might become a therapist.  I would trust her.

Overall Verdict:  Highly readable, informative, amusing and inspiring.  Too explicit for children, but acceptable for teens or older.  Three ½ out of Four Stars.

(I discussed the cover in a previous post, entitled “Jenniconography”.)

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19 Comments

Filed under Ethics and Morality, forgiveness, Literature

19 responses to “Review – “I Am Jennie”

  1. Yes, you are completely correct that not a single person could really be capable of telling the truth of their past. We humans love to embellish or leave out the bad parts of our lives. However, during my last few months on blogging leave, I decided to go on a quest to meet as many people as possible. It has been quite a summer. If I were to write a book, it would make millions of dollars. Basically, I decided to pretend it was the 1970’s again just to see where life would lead. I do not know why it just came to me one day to pretend it was the 70’s out of pure boredom. I have met some of the most interesting people and had the most fun of my life over the past few months (although not without some trouble).

    Let’s just say this has been the most interesting summer of my entire life. Wish I could write the truth, but as you stated we cannot really ever tell the truth. I am glad to hear that someone is actually trying to write the truth about their ife. I will have to check out her blog.

    Love your new posts!

    Liz

    • Thanks, Liz. I’m glad you liked the articles. Jennie’s blog is one of the first I became a fan of here at WordPress. Her work on her own problems and projects has often inspired me to work on mine.

      It sounds like your time away was quite the adventure! I would encourage you to write about it. It doesn’t have to be blog posts, or even a book, but if you write it down for yourself in some personal journal form now while the details are fresh, you’ll have it to look back on and draw material from.

      • Yes, actually I could write a book about it. It was quite a mystical adventure. It wouldn’t be suitable for WordPress. It would be rated NR or whatever the rating after “R” is, but not “X.” I will have to write the book after the kids are grown because they would be thoroughly embarassed. :) Thanks Mikey for the advice. I did not write it down yet, but you are right. I should write it down while the details are fresh!
        Thanks! :)

  2. I want to read the book. Thanks for sharing. I am reading memoirs this summer as research. I have just finished writing my own and am in the editing process. I find that reading other books by non-writers helps me in telling my own story.

    I believe you are correct in saying that we can never write completely honestly about ourselves. We can only write about our perception of ourselves. I have written my story also based on the character of me. It is the ”truth” as I see it.

    It becomes even more even more dicey with me. Having had a brain injury, I have pieced the story together oftentimes by interviewing others, diaries and other written records, and my memories.

    • I would LOVE to read your book, Debbie! Keep at it. As far as it being a good read, I don’t think it’s dicey at all. Your truth is a valid position from which to share, even though I get picky about defining the difference between personal viewpoint and objective fact. I like piecing it all together through the funhouse mirrors.

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    Basically all I have to say is F-You! I’m doing this for free, for fun, and for practice.

  4. Great review, Mikey. It definitely sounds like a book I’d love to read. I find that the most inspiring people are those who are not only able to overcome past transgressions/mistakes, but also share them in an effort to help others in similar situations.

    • Thanks, B. She earned a lot of support from her TV shows, being a rare “celebrity” who wanted to get over it and have a real life. Besides wishing to be supportive by buying the book, I wanted to speak to the impossibility of doing this complete confessional thing perfectly. It’s hard to separate the fact that I like reading and commenting at her blog from examining this work about her past, so I admit my own bias in the review.

  5. Jennie sounds like a person who is stronger than the sum of her parts.

    Deep down she knows she has the ability to be bigger than her addictions and vices and that in doing so she will ultimately find the happiness and peace she couldn’t find on the darker side of life.

    It takes bravery to do what she is doing… I hope it will be an inspiration to many troubled kids that the road can be an easy one to go down but a nightmare to come back from.

    We all leave out the mundane in our writing… I spare my readers knowing the fact that I needed to give one of my kids “time out” four times this morning when he’s only been awake for a few hours, (he doesn’t appear physically able to listen… I think his ears must have dropped off somewhere and I haven’t noticed yet?)…if my readers are spared knowing this then maybe I am also spared the thought that I might not be a 100% perfect mother.
    (which of COURSE I’m not, …who is?) The sound of illusions shattering is one of the most painful sounds on earth…. no wonder human beings shy away from the sound.

  6. As usual, you have a great way of getting to the essence, KD, in this case about editing our own stories. The whole story is the one we live, but audiences have their own lives to live, so they only have enough energy left over to pay attention to the “tell-worthy” parts of the stories of others. Aware authors keep that in mind.

  7. In Dutch we don’t wish people “good luck” but rather : strength.

    In Jennie’s case it seem more than appropriate to wish her “sterkte” because addictions are an ongoing battle that she will face for the rest of her life.

    In fact we could ALL use more “sterkte” than good luck, because usually luck has very little to do with it, it’s about staying strong to good moral, ethical and emotional convictions each and every day and addicted or not, that consistency always takes strength.

    Sadly the media is usually more interested and focused on people who fall off the wagon in moral, emotional, ethical ways than it is in celebrating those who stay on it.

    maybe we need to look at ourselves critically and ask why the train wreck individual gets more attention than the balanced solid people who give hope and spread good deeds in communities.

  8. It’s misleading to believe that we can show the true essence of ourselves as a blogger. After all, blogging is like an autobiography: we only include details about self. We control that as a blogger.

    This is why I’ve chosen not to rant negatively about loved ones alot in a blog : just that footprint gives the wrong impression in the future:
    a) I want people’s comments….to drive traffic
    b) want other people’s sympathy, etc.

    Then on top of all that it can weaken any good intentions of fostering a real in-person relationship with a love one, by airing a pile of stuff which the other person featured in the blog post, may never agree/like with you.

    Some blog posts written about self, might be better written in 10-25 yrs. later when the blogger has acquired more perspective or has a changed relationships with the person featured in the blog post, has more life experience.

    For certain, some of the blog posts I’ve written this year, I couldn’t have written same blog post topic, with the same depth of perspective 20-30 yrs. ago. It doesn’t mean I’ve learned from all my experiences, but there’s just more different life experiences to compare / to present as personal “evidence” to support a blog post theme.

    • It’s interesting to compare Jennie’s blog and her book. It illustrates the differences in medium, as one is in stasis and the other isn’t. She’s still early in her process of recovery, so she couldn’t write the book as if she was entirely cured from the damages caused by traumas and addiction. But in the blog, she’s continuing to learn and heal bit by bit.

      I’m sure I’ll look back on some of what I write now and feel differently about some of it in future. I enjoy that process of change, even though I’m impatient about it. Thanks for your thoughts, Jean.

  9. Pingback: Trying to Move a Discussion to Your Blog? Try again…Bad Idea « ec·cen·tric

  10. Put a link to this post in my new post, as a perfect example of a review of another blogger’s post, as I already commented on this post above. I often use your site for examples, because your site helped me to learn so much about blogging and etiquette, and great writing techniques.

    Please let me know if you wish for me to remove the link from the article.

    Liz

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