On That And Just Like That… Moment, Or: Asking A Writer Not To Write About Certain People Is A Particularly Egregious Form of Censorship

As trouble in “paradise” inevitably keeps mounting for the Bradshaw/Shaw reunion, it was plain to see that things were already going to be majorly problematic when Aidan’s (John Corbett) ex-wife, Kathy (Rosemarie DeWitt), called Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) to arrange a little sit-down. Although she tried to tell herself (and her friends) it wasn’t weird, Carrie is no stranger to the uncomfortable revelations that arise from meeting an ex-wife (as she learned with both Big’s [Chris Noth] ex-wife, Barbara [Noelle Beck], and Aleksandr Petrovsky’s [Mikhail Baryshnikov] ex-wife, Juliette [Carole Bouquet]). Except, perhaps even worse than learning something she didn’t want to about her current “steady” (in turn, perpetuating the insecurity that she’ll never measure up), Carrie is told by Kathy to restrict herself creatively. 

Getting straight to the point as soon as Carrie arrives at La Mercerie for their “date,” Kathy starts by mentioning that she read Carrie’s “widow book,” Love Lost (oof, that title). She then leans into the purpose of the rendezvous by saying, “I realize that you mine your personal life in your work, which I completely respect. But I hope you’ll understand when I ask you not to write about my boys.” At first, Carrie seems genuinely flummoxed. Not just because someone is telling her what she can and can’t write, but because she’s ostensibly shocked that Kathy would automatically assume she’s that exploitative. Of course, exploitation is what happens when you’re busy writing other stories. “Other” in the sense that you might not think it’s necessarily “unflattering,” per se, so much as the unvarnished truth. The person who the unvarnished truth is about, on the other hand, might feel differently. And this is a topic that comes up again, one episode after the Kathy/Carrie meeting of “A Hundred Years Ago,” in “The Last Supper Part One: Appetizer.” Specifically, when Che Diaz (Sara Ramirez) skewers Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) in her stand-up comedy act. Granted, she had no idea Miranda would be in attendance, but still. Artistic expression is artistic expression. And a large part of why it’s gone so downhill is because of how terrified everyone is of offending each other. 

Obviously, no one is more terrified of offending Kathy right now than Carrie, who just wants to cement Aidan as her monogamous hard dick. So naturally she promises, “Oh, okay. No, I, I do understand. Yeah, of course.” Which kind of makes it sound like, “Yeah, of course I’m going to end up writing about them.” Especially since one of them, Wyatt (Logan Souza), is already causing high drama in the relationship, as he’s blatantly threatened by Carrie’s presence in his life, therefore acting out in ways that become more overt than mere “curtness.” That is to say, running away from Kathy to Aidan’s farmhouse, drinking a few beers and then getting in a drunk driving accident on the way back (in the aforementioned “The Last Supper Part One: Appetizer”).

Needless to say, Carrie is going to want to write about this. But it hasn’t yet happened in the episode with the Kathy meeting, where she still doesn’t really believe Carrie when she insists she “would never” (said while clutching pearls) write about Aidan’s sons for the sake of “material mining.” Which is something absurd to ask of a true artist. For that’s always the “risk” involved in being with one, or in the orbit of one. And when you’re a mere “civilian,” maybe that’s more difficult to wrap one’s head around. Aidan, being the “Country Lurch” that he is, doesn’t really “get it” either. Even though he’s been alluded to in columns of yore before. Along with the three friends Sarah Jessica Parker briefly tried to say were all in Carrie’s head, Tyler Durden-style. But Kathy especially doesn’t. She’s even more of a normie than Aidan. 

This being why she keeps making it awkward by adding to her insistence with, “Yeah, I mean, even if you think it’s funny or flattering, or even if you use a pseudonym. I, I just don’t feel comfortable with…” Carrie, nodding along eagerly as Kathy says this, interjects, “No. I get it, I get it. Say no more.” Kathy adds, “I mean, I’m not a writer so I don’t even know if you’ve thought about…that. But you will be spending more time with them and, believe me, they’re gonna give you a lot of material.” Carrie laughs good-naturedly, her diabolical writerly wheels perhaps turning in the background with thoughts of how she can use the children to get on the NY Times Best Seller list again (side note: it’s a testament to the quality of said list that she was even able to get on it previously). Whether or not that’s the case, she tells Kathy that they are on her mind, but only vis-à-vis her latest real estate acquisition: a four-bedroom apartment in Gramercy Park. Not exactly an area for much “creative inspiration,” but then, neither is the Upper East Side. Even though Aidan tries to ominously warn her, “Gramercy Park is a very different neighborhood from what you’re used to.” As though she’s moving to East New York instead of yet another extremely affluent part of Manhattan. 

And here, too, it bears noting that wealth can tend to make artists rather boring. Unless, like Truman Capote, one takes to substance abuse and spilling the secrets of rich friends as scandalous fodder for the literary world. That’s sure to keep things interesting. Which is probably why Carrie never will be, and why she’ll have to resort to “mining material” from even more boring subjects: Aidan’s progeny. Or, from the looks of it, how Aidan’s sons (or rather, one son in particular) are going to keep him from being fully with her. And, if anything inspires Carrie, it’s relationships gone wrong. Except, when she does it, it doesn’t quite “sing” (or sting) the way the work of Nora Ephron does. 

And, talking of Ephron, it was she who offered the aphorism, “Everything is copy.” A platitude her mother told her anytime she came home with a tale of woe, consoling her with these words she would interpret as the gospel for putting oneself (therefore, anyone and everyone they might know) into their work. It was Nora’s son, Jacob Bernstein, who asked of that philosophy, “Where were the limits for her? What is the cost of ‘everything is copy’?” In other words, are you willing to alienate those closest to you for the sake of your art? Considering she learned from the example of her parents, screenwriters Phoebe and Henry Ephron, it was plain to see Ephron knew nothing of “limits.” In fact, she one-upped her parents plenty on using her life as material. Because, in the end, that’s what it is to be a writer. An artist. To pour yourself and the things that happen to you into the work. The only place where you can shape it, control it, make it “mean something”—all in a bid to try to understand what the fuck went on and why. 

Ephron was a precursor to someone like Anne Lamott. Unapologetically West Coast in contrast to Ephron, who rued the day her parents ever moved her out of NYC and into Beverly Hills, where she seemed to have a childhood not unlike Eve Babitz’s. Yet another writer who would turn the personal essay as short story-esque form into a work of art. Same with Joan Didion (who some still wrongly credit with, like, inventing Babitz). The point being that writers—especially writers who are women—being told they “can’t” write about something is not only like telling a woman of letters not to breathe, but it effectively castrates the creative process (not to “male-ify” the creative process, which is already male-ified enough). Restricts something that could be greater than it turns out because self-censorship was on the brain. The fear of “offending.” And yes, it should be noted that women who write seem to be told far more than men that maybe they shouldn’t say that. Or, “Oh no, that’s going too far.” But if someone like Ephron or Lamott or Babitz or Didion had listened to such advice, their writing might have been as hooey and disingenuous as Carrie’s will be (and already is, to be frank) as a result of listening to Kathy. 

What’s more, Carrie, as a moneyed middle-aged white woman, is already struggling for “affecting content” as it is. Her highly myopic perspective of “New York living” certainly isn’t going to have much resonance with a modern audience (nor did it realistically have one with the “antiquated” one that watched Sex and the City when it initially hit HBO). Indeed, what strikes one most about Carrie’s “echelon” as a writer is how little room there actually is for artistic expression in New York without “losing favor” with people. Particularly the people that might have the clout to “make” anything “happen” for you. As mentioned, Capote knows all about where candor gets one as a writer: banished, exiled, forsaken. All because he wrote the unbridled truth about the “wrong people” for his unfinished final work, Answered Prayers. Select chapters of which were published in Esquire, and eviscerated the likes of Babe Paley by outing her powerful husband, William S. Paley, as a philanderer (as though many couldn’t have guessed). 

Writing of Answered Prayers’ aftermath, William F. Buckley Jr. would note, “That work finished Truman Capote’s social life as decisively as a hangman’s trapdoor. It collected brilliantly and with relish related every ugly fact and rumor about New York’s glitterati that Truman Capote, in years of knowing and mixing with them, had assembled. He seemed astonished, at first, that old friends hung up the telephone when he called, and that others took trouble to avoid him. And so he took refuge in booze and pills, pills and booze.” All because he deigned to give an honest portrait of something he knew only too well about, having spent his post-fame years mingling among the so-called glitterati. Too lily-livered to look at themselves in the mirror of Capote’s words. 

Some might say Capote had no right to “use” these people because it wasn’t really “his” story he was telling, but theirs. Worse still, a version of their story too venomous to stomach. And yet, by associating with them, their stories became part of his own. And let us not forget what Lamott rightly declared: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” Of course, Carrie isn’t going to take heed of that. Not if she wants to “stand by her man” by standing by his ex-wife. This means, ultimately, that Carrie continues to sacrifice large chunks of herself in service of a relationship. Something that Sex and the City also made the mistake of parading with its conclusion. One that found Carrie jumping at the chance to ditch Paris and go crawling back to New York and Big…sort of one and the same for toxicity levels. 

Series creator Darren Starr would later remark of this decision, “I think the show ultimately betrayed what it was about, which was that women don’t ultimately find happiness from marriage. Not that they can’t. But the show initially was going off script from the romantic comedies that had come before it. That’s what had made women so attached. At the end, it became a conventional romantic comedy.” And the girl ran off into the sunset with the sexual predator.

After that “fairy-tale ending,” Carrie’s writing became far less gritty (by American standards) as “Mrs. Preston.” Not just because of her new lifestyle, but because some part of her was always held back creatively by a Kathy-like internal voice. Does it feel absolutely terrifying to write the truth? To speak without the “conscience” in your head that tells you, “I can’t upset that person” or “Better rein it in, they’ll know I’m talking about them”? Good. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better. That includes the under eighteen set. Much to Kathy’s chagrin.

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