I’m not a ginormous person. Not hulking. Not alpine. I couldn’t, like, take down Ann Coulter in a cage fight, although I’d really enjoy trying. But at five-foot-ten and prone to heels, I’m on the lanky side.
Still, I’m astonished how many readers meet me and make this exact comment:
“Wow. You look so much … shorter in your photo.”
I get it all the time. As if it were a perfectly rational thing to say. As if they believed my column mugshot were actual size, and the rest of my body should be six, seven inches tall.
“You’re big,” people inform me. “We thought you were this petite little thing.” They don’t say it in a “Wow, life is full of fun surprises” kind of way. They say it like it’s disconcerting. Like I’ve forever destroyed their ability to trust themselves.
One woman actually held up my book, pointed to the author photo on the back and said to her friend, “Look at her! That’s a small person, I’m sorry.”
The first few times it happened, I let it go. Chuckled, shrugged, tried not to feel like a freak. Maybe squatted a bit, trying to slowly, surreptitiously shrink down to the size folks picture me to be. The size they really, really want me to be.
But it happens so often these days that I can’t help but wonder: From whence does this assumption spring?
I like to think they have me pegged as one of those feisty little firecrackers like Dr. Ruth, Rhea Perlman, or Reese Witherspoon, who make up in attitude what they lack in altitude. (“I’m about as tall as a shotgun,” Truman Capote was known to say, “and just as noisy.”)
But what if it’s something else? What if I simply seem smaller in print: inconsequential, trifling?
It’s always surprising to learn that a favorite actor — an action hero or romantic leading man — has to stand on a soapbox to look a female costar in the kisser; we tend to think of big stars as big dudes. It follows, then, that readers who think I’m a teeny-tiny woman may well consider me an itty-bitty writer.
It’s not untrue, actually. I have a penchant for zooming in on the small stuff, click-clacking out whole columns on speeding tickets, sex tapes, and a personal body-piercing incident that’s best forgotten. And I confess that when you’re as tall and uncoordinated as I am, the act of navel-gazing can be both painful and unsightly.
But to me, writing should eschew the grandiose and illuminate life’s niggly bits. It should remind us that we’re all sort of smallish in the greater scheme of things. And it should convince us that — petite or prodigious, stocky or slight — we’re far more alike than different, coping with the same frustrations and insecurities, buoyed by similar hopes and humor. It should make us feel deeply, mercifully understood.
Clearly you can’t judge a scribe’s stature by her stories. I’m a full foot taller than literary giant Margaret Mitchell. I tower over best-sellers J.K. Rowling, Danielle Steele, and my personal hero, Erma Bombeck. I’ve even got an inch or two on O. Henry and F. Scott Fitzgerald (though Michael Crichton and Maya Angelou both dwarf me).
In showbiz they say there are no small parts, only small actors. Could it be there are no short stories, only short authors? And no tall tales, just tall tellers? It’s an idea worth exploring, but I have to stop typing now.
I’m short on space.