Tomorrow at SisterWives, the identity of everyone’s favourite Dilettante, Helena Hann-Basquiat, will be revealed to all the world. Prepare to be stunned, but come here, and listen to my story first.
Helena and I go back a long way, as far as the Blogosphere’s concerned. Over a year, at least, and it was her stories I first fell for. She was featured as a guest post at someone else’s blog, and as I read, I delighted in the craft of the tale; the way the words and images danced inside my brain in intricate loops and whorls of masterfully invented fiction. I followed her home, and I’ve stayed ever since, continuing to enjoy her writing.
But here’s the thing – Helena’s a character, and utterly fascinating for being so overt about it. She’s never purported to be anything other than a masquerade – a fiction whose world draws on circumstances and stories from her writer’s own life, as well as from the lives of others – and she has been fiercely unapologetic about it, for why NOT?! The point of her existence is to entertain – to hold her audience captive with beautiful, wonderful storytelling.
And so it was, that with eyes wide open to the fact that Helena was a mystery, a mask, and a muddle, I struck up the beginnings of a friendship with her, appreciating that the writer behind the fiction was someone who, for their own reasons (none of my business), was not prepared to be public about their identity.
Time went by, though, and increasingly our interactions were spotted with moments where Helena would gently remind me that the stories I read didn’t necessarily belong to the same person, or the same timeline, or truth. It was a pageant of pretends and realities woven into stories, and in spite of my insistence that I didn’t need to know the truth, I felt myself beginning to fall in friends with this ‘Helena’, and to experience the emotions which go with genuine relationship. Which was confusing at times, because I knew she was a construct.
I went with it, though, because in spite of the sometimes confusion, the person with whom I spoke was real enough, and caring and kind and generous with their time and conversation. We laughed, we shared moments which were as ‘real’ as any I would be allowed to know (photos of dinner plates, and explanations of emotional landscapes not tied up in the stories, but in the very complex job of managing the mask), and I felt warmth towards, and respect for this hidden author.
I didn’t pressure ‘Helena’, because to my mind, friendship (in whatever form it took) with an author so creative and competent, was reward enough to mitigate the not knowing, and I accepted things on the level at which they were proffered. I referred to her in our interactions as ‘cherie’ – the French for ‘dear’ – because as well as the elegance and chic it lent to a character who I consider to embody huge depths of sophisticated fiction, it reminded me that I was addressing neither Helena nor her writer, but somewhere in between, and in the midst of those two, was a person I cared for.
In the time before I knew the truth, there were various things I tried to get Helena involved with, like Sisterwives, like Facebook, like chats and friendships and groups and interactions, and each time, had to bear the disappointment of rebuff, being told very gently, time and time again, that it wasn’t fair to other people to allow them to build genuine friendships with a falsehood, and that Helena shouldn’t be privy to ‘behind the scenes’ information which mightn’t be so willingly offered were the author’s true identity known.
All along, there was such a core of integrity that in spite of my sadness that I couldn’t invite Helena into every aspect of my online life, I understood that these let-downs came from a place of respect rather than rejection.
Until one day, quite out of the blue, I was offered the reveal.
I won’t pretend I wasn’t shocked by who I found, but I laughed with delight at the incredible genius of a mind so capable of maintaining the person of the Dilettante whilst remaining active in their own world. I accepted that although I’d developed certain expectations about the author’s true identity, I’d had no basis to do so, and chuckled good-naturedly because what I had done was develop a character in my head, and all along, had been interacting with a Fiction and an Assumption, neither of which was entirely the truth, but at the same time, were also not lies.
Since then, we’ve been firm friends, and the proffered trust led to wonderful new depths of friendship. I was grateful to be allowed behind the mask, and understood quite simply that it was for the sake of the fiction that it remained in place. Because if the stories are good, and transfixing, what does the truth really matter to an author?
Well, it turns out the truth does matter, and I began to increasingly get a sense that the writer felt isolated from friendships and frustrated by the mask, and the self-imposed gulf which prevented genuine relationships from forming with others.
I never confirmed this, but it certainly seemed to be the truth, and in publishing a collaborative work, being able to share a true identity with another few writers seemed to be a huge boost.
But the time has come for the mask to be removed. The Dilettante ended up painting her creator into a corner, and it was for the sake of the fiction that the corner was borne.
Now it’s time for Helena’s creator to take centre stage, remove the mask, and offer you the hand of friendship, tomorrow, at the Sisterwives blog.
I hope you’re there to receive it.
Learn more about Helena over at her blog: Being the Memoirs of Helena Hann-Basquiat, Dilettante