Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Poet from Hollywood - My (Mostly!) Spoiler-Free Response

On page 37 of I'm Stalking Jake!, in the middle of a chapter called "The Saga of Stephen, Father of Jake," there is a footnote alerting readers to the fact that there's an alternate version of the story they're reading:  A Poet from Hollywood, by Cantara Christopher.  I offered no commentary on Cantara's take because at the time of publication, I didn't know what Cantara's take was.  None of us did, actually, until a couple of weeks ago, when Cantara herself started to circulate an advance PDF copy of A Poet from Hollywood, having at long last finished it.

If you've read I'm Stalking Jake!, you undoubtedly already have an opinion of Cantara herself.  She is a character if ever there was one, and my relationship with her has had so many ups and downs in the last six years that I've lost count.  As I finished reading A Poet from Hollywood last week, I wondered how best to comment on it.  At first I thought perhaps a short review here.  Then I thought maybe just a private e-mail to Cantara.  I compromised with what's below:

As someone who knows full well the cathartic release of writing a book to work through the complex aftermath of expending emotional energy on a male member of the Gyllenhaal family, I hope that you feel the relief that I did once my story was written down and out in the world.

It was somewhat surreal for me to read your book. It was a little less than six years ago that I walked into a poetry bar in New York City and learned one of the biggest lessons of my burgeoning adulthood: that fame is hollow, and so is the act of admiring it.

Optimistic art from my pre-Babygate self.
I remember that night a little differently than you do (my meticulously detailed account of that weekend in New York and its immediate consequences takes up three lengthy chapters in my own book) and I don’t recall the conversation with me that you recount from months after… I was so angry about it all. Angry at Stephen.  Angry at you. Angry at myself for giving the two of you enough power over me to invoke anger in the first place…

But where we don’t differ in our accounts is in the honest acknowledgment that emotions were running very high in October of 2006. You were at that reading for one Gyllenhaal and I was there for another. That Jake was supposedly outside the poetry bar, waiting with his mother, was a detail you offered casually, but it amounted to probably the biggest shock of the entire book for me. If true, what a tragic miss for my 24-year-old self. Maybe more tragic, even, than my miss the following night. I have never felt more invisible than I did on a cold sidewalk in New York City, bundled in a ratty coat and ripped jeans, while a movie star in a tuxedo turned his back to me and kept walking as I yelled his name.

No, wait. I take that back. There was a time when I felt more invisible. Ten minutes later, when the movie star’s father, who had dressed me down at length at his poetry reading less than 24 hours earlier, caught my eye and looked away again without the slightest hint of recognition. Nothing.

For the longest time, I took that as a reflection on me, an indication of my memorable-ness and worth. It’s hard to believe, thinking back on it, that there was ever a time in my life when I would have cared that much what he thought, or (and I say this without any hostility) what you thought. I truly believed you guys had it figured out – you, the Gyllenhaals – and if I could just prove to you that I was worthy, you’d let me into your club, and I could have it figured out too…

Yes, the 24-year-old me would have fallen all over herself had she seen Jake Gyllenhaal standing with his mom in the shadows outside that poetry bar…

A couple of troublemakers.
By my own recollection, Stephen listed Jake’s whereabouts as Martha’s Vineyard that night. Although with the portrait you paint, it’s difficult to know whether or not Stephen ever really knew what the hell he was talking about, so I guess that one will remain a mystery. What isn’t a mystery is the inaccuracy of my initial perception of all of you, the misguided outcome of youthful naiveté. Of course you didn’t have it all figured out. No one has it all figured out. And I applaud you for so openly laying out the faults of the characters in your book.

There were parts of the book that made me sad, because they reminded me of the lost potential of that era. They reminded me that as late as 2008, I cared enough to slog through all 332 pages of the grim, disturbing mess that is Stephen's unpublished novel, Liquid Motel. And they reminded me that it wasn’t until March of this year (less than six months ago!) that I posted a final entry on I’m Stalking Jake!, the blog I wrote in the spirit of Jake Watch to promote the book of the same name. Writing that blog almost broke me. Putting on my “Prophecy Girl” costume and trotting out cutesy one-liners required putting aside all the hard-won peace I’d gotten from writing my book. While I waited for it to be published, I had to pretend. Pretend to value fame.  Pretend I still cared about Jake. Pretend I wasn’t bitter that after all I’d accomplished with my writing, I was reduced to selling myself in order to sell a few books, because despite all the traveling to New York for poetry readings, instead of connections, I’d walked away from Jake Watch with nothing but dead ends.

But here I am now. And it’s been a long, slow, but oh-so-rewarding process to move past all of it. None of it has any power over me anymore. Everything that I wanted to say about that era of my life has been written down and released into the world. Both literally and figuratively, the end of my book - and its blog - meant I could let it go.

Stephen infamously once told me that “it’s all about learning,” and over the years, I’ve hijacked that phrase for my own personal use; I like the sentiment behind it. I don’t know what he learned, if anything, from the many failed creative ventures you detail in your book. I think what I learned while reading was just how distant my past has become.

And as for you, Cantara, I hope that you now feel the unique freedom that comes from having told your story the way you want it told – having given it life outside of yourself. We don't remember it the same way, in some cases not at all, but a common theme in our two stories is the two men with the same last name who never quite managed to live up to our expectations. Wrapped up as they were in their own lives, they failed to see the bigger picture.

Their loss…


  1. I totally love you! :)


  2. I read this blog already yesterday, and still I don't know what to say ...

    I have the feeling like my own "bigger picture" is getting in the way ...

    but still I wanted to let you know that I read it and really found it eye opening in some ways, now if only my brain cells would get out of the grey - I can't articulate what I think/feel reading this lol


    1. This is a hard one to respond to! I had a lot of mixed emotions while I read...mostly in terms of digging up past emotions. But I did realize as I went along that I did myself a great service by writing my book, because I don't know if I could have moved on as well as I have if I hadn't! Those were pretty crazy times in my life...

      And it's never a bad thing for your own "bigger picture" to get in the way! I'm a big fan of the bigger picture. :)

  3. Quite possibly my favourite post you've written [not counting cheap beer of the month club ;)]

    So honest, and sums up what me and my friend were talking about today. She was contemplating having to deal with her 3 year old daughter as a teenager and 20-something (she likes to plan ahead!). It got us thinking about some of the things that we got so upset about and wrapped up in when we were younger, and how in the grand scheme of things they just weren't that important. And even if we could go back and tell ourselves that, it wouldn't change anything because at that time it was our whole world.

    Bigger picture and learning is what it's all about :)

    1. Clarabel, EXACTLY!! This is actually the second version of this that I wrote because the first didn't come out right. But I'm so glad this one conveyed what I meant for it to. Because you couldn't be more right. We look back on things in life and can't believe how wrapped up we once were in them, but at the same time, the very fact that we *were* so wrapped up in them is how we came to be the people we are today.

      Thanks for the comment, and your friend is lucky to have you! And your friend's daughter is lucky, too. :) Most people never think that far ahead, and we never *know* what's that far ahead, but an appreciation of what we've brought with us to this point is something not everyone stops to recognize...

      (And on a lighter note, maybe eventually I'll get another Cheap Beer of the Month Club entry going! It's been FAR TOO LONG. ;D)

  4. Excellent response, Becky. I wish I could come up with an excellent comment.

  5. I'd be interested to read her reply, if you'd post a summation of it.

  6. I'm at Chapter 14, having started last night. My only technical critique of this is that I would have liked her to date things a bit more - instead of "that following October" or "we met up with him at [insert venue] in December" that she would specify a year with that. I'm finding it hard to follow the timeline while reading.

    Granted, this is a one-sided view of her encounters . . we do not have Stephen's accounts . . but she does paint him as quite the douche. It's interesting to hear some of the backstory we are not familiar with - such as his and Naomi's marital collapse, Jake and Maggie being more uninvolved in "Team Gyllenhaal" than what he liked to portray, etc. Also, unless Cantara was recording all of her conversations, the situations she presents are from her interpretation of memory and what she can recall. Plus, they're presented from her point of view. I'm not saying she isn't right or wrong in her portrayal . . just that this book is very subjective. However, I'd be willing to bet she's more right on the money with her viewpoints as not. ;)

    All in all, I'd have to say . . they're more "normal" in their family unit than what they like to admit. Meaning . . when evaluated, most everyone's families can be categorized as "dysfunctional." I don't know anyone leading the Cleaver lifestyle. The Gyllenhaals have their own trials and tribulations just like everyone else. They aren't the perfect family, that's for sure.

    I think your book and hers go hand-in-hand describing a person you both seem to agree on personality-wise. If I were him, I'd be embarrassed to see how people perceive me like this. I think he needs a wake up call but I'd be willing to bet he either is oblivious or does not care. Too bad.

    1. Leslie! Thank you so much for your analysis! I will start by saying I don't know that Cantara has read this. Because I was planning on making it public, I didn't send it to her in e-mail form; I just posted the link on Google+ as always and on the ISJ! FB page because of the subject (both of which she's connected to me through) and figured it's out there.

      I purposefully didn't go into how my account differed from hers in this entry because I didn't want those details to get in the way of the bigger picture of what I was trying to say. But truly, those details were many: it was not my first trip to New York, as she indicated; I was not there solely for the poetry reading or only for one day, as she said I was; she knew about the cards in advance - in fact, the cards were at least partially her idea (and not my idea at all) and she handed them to me at brunch to give to Stephen, having printed them off herself at her house; I very distinctly remember handing the cards to Stephen myself; there was a third girl with Ally and me that night who got the lecture from Stephen; I don't remember ever talking to her about another Jake site, though I did write her a lengthy e-mail (that she didn't mention) expressing my dissatisfaction immediately after I got home (which she took two full months to respond to, and sent and addressed the reply to Susie and me both, because it was most definitely Susie and not me that she was keeping up with Jake Watch for); and I could go on!

      None of that really matters, of course...EXCEPT. If she took that much liberty with the tiny role that I played in this story, that does influence the way I read all the rest of it...

      Having said all that, I completely agree with you in your assessment of her general portrayal of the Gyllenhaals!! Not only does it jive with a lot of my experiences, but it also is in line with many, many stories that I heard back in the day but have never written about or commented on. As far as an overall portrait, she seems spot-on. They *are* dysfunctional. But they're also *real*. (Which makes the dysfunction all the more believable.) Unfortunately, Stephen used her. He used her for attention, he used her for her publishing abilities, and he also used Michael to do a hell of a lot of work for him.

      (*whispers* is that *really* that different from her using Susie and me to sell his book, or work on an official website for him so she didn't have to, or promote his work by writing about his films in the hopes of having us do some legwork on her behalf?? It's just one more step up this crazy ladder!)

      I couldn't have possibly summed it up any better myself by saying Stephen's oblivious or doesn't care, because I think that's unequivocally true! I just keep going back to feeling sad when I think about it, because there really was an astonishing amount of potential during that time period. But it just never went anywhere...