I have something to confess: for years, I've lived in the dark shadow of my persona. In fact, I can scarcely remember century's dawn, before my persona arrived, back when I was clear-skinned, robust, quick-to-smile, and unconcerned with embracing the duality (yes, duality!) of smashing the system/negotiating foreign hardcover rights.
Now I am but a literary persona – variably described as "smugly dishonest," "aggressively cruel and stupid at the expense of exhibiting basic compositional aptitude," "inconceivably preoccupied with pee pee jokes," "Norman Mailer with undescended testicles," "just plain riddled with sloppy writing," and "Asshole-esque" – obfuscating the fragile man-child at the heart of all my experience.
My persona was borne of ambition, I confess. My tone poems and earnest prose-form ruminations on tide pools and the profound beauty of a woman's menstrual cycle, while spiritually satisfying, were hardly registering within social and professional literary circles.
Then one day in the late summer of 1998, I remember sitting in my garden, Brahma-style, and sketching butterflies, when a thought flitted across my mind, not unlike the way a butterfly flits across some stuff. "Hey," I thought, on silken thought-wings, "What if I started writing about how big my penis is." This was piggy-backed by a second, flitting thought: "and how I aim to smack other writers with it, without even the slightestprovocation!"
And that's just what I did. I began with easier targets, to practice my craft and perfect my new persona. I typed up my first essay, "Judy Blume Beats Her Kids with a Length of Rubber Hose," and dashed it off to my mailing list. Right on its heels, I distributed "Syd Hoff Draws Like a Crippled Fairy" and "Hey, Frugal Gourmet – I Will Smack the Taste of Canola Oil Right Out of Your Mouth" That's when my writing started attracting publishers, like delicious chum in the literary seas.
Once established, I began publishing and reading my work under the name, Todd Levin, Sovereign King of Wordsopolis. And, miraculously, the press bought it – and invoked it with alarming frequency. The lecture series programs included it in my introductions. It was printed beneath my name in my first collection of essays, "IF YOU CAN READ THIS, YOU'RE STANDING TOO CLOSE TO MY SHAFT: A Shit-Talking Odyssey." It was shortly after the paperback publication of this book that my persona took over.
My persona told an auditorium full of aspiring writers, "Irony is dead; long live sincerity." Then it placed air quotes around the word "sincerity" and rolled its eyes. When one of the students questioned my sincerity on the topic of sincerity, my persona threw a mug of steamed milk at him.
My persona called Joyce Carol Oates, "A piece of sushi-grade tuna for which I would gladly risk mercury poisoning."
My persona confuses "your" with "you're" and "there" with "their."
My persona placed post-it notes in all the copies of Griffin & Sabine, warning readers, "THIS IS ALL FAKE. THESE PEOPLE ARE MADE-UP, SUCKER."
My persona did the same thing to all the copies of The New King James Bible.
My persona wrote the liner notes to Lotion's Greatest Hits.
The Banger Sisters? My persona made love to them.
My persona told people he once rode in Dave Egger's antique sidecar, but never explained that it was just Rick Moody driving.
My persona liked our first book better, too.
Hot Tuna acoustic? Me. Hot Tuna electric? My persona.
My persona wrote a hip-hop song titled, "Makin' Chinky Eyes." David Byrne produced it, and brought in sixteen Tuvan throat singers to lay down the chorus. Drunk on Michelob, I flared up at the throat singers after discovering their repeated inability to correctly pronounce the words, "Prolonged Inbreastigation of the Joint Chiefs of Stiff." Then I fired them on the spot, and threw $7.58 in their faces for cab fare back to Mongolia.
My persona is going bald.
My persona can't sustain itself beyond 2000 words. (Or, in this case, 500.)
My persona bit the head off a dove, though some insist it was a bat.
My persona came in second place in the Ulster County Peach Cobbler Gobble-Thon. He lost to a man named, "Jake Gutts."
My persona wants you to know he sold over 20,000 copies of his first two books, which effectively tells you A) he's not rich and, therfore, likable, and B) he sold 20,000 more books than you did – so whatever, jerks.
My persona is sorry about that.
And now it's time to officially bid farewell to my persona. I have worn it around my neck like a publicity-generating-and-profit-reaping yoke for so long. Now I'm ready to stop being Todd Levin, unprepentant jackass and literary middleweight, and start being Todd Levin, adorably vulnerable Dad with an earnest new collection of essays available for purchase in the fall.
You can pre-order copies of Mr. Levin's upcoming memoir, "Typing White Light Now: My Literary Walkabout," at amazon.com. The collection boasts a 16-page, full-color photo-insert featuring pictures of me crying at the birth of his first child, Sandy Koufax Levin, and a full-length pull-out poster of Todd Levin hugging an AIDS patient, without gloves or anything.
*i sort of understand the dilemma, but let's call a pr stunt a pr stunt, ok?