Sunday, December 14, 2014

"Friendship" by Emily Gould: On becoming the site of someone's shame.

When I heard a novel was coming out from Emily Gould, I was extremely eager to know, foremost: is it an Emily Book? Find out with me in my review-as-intrusively-long-hug at Queen Mob's:

Gould’s vulnerability is not a performance. Friendship does not demonstrate the redeeming or attractive facets of empathy. Feeling for someone is troublesome, as people never stop changing. But anchoring a book like Friendship in one’s reading life prepares one for that.

Spoilers: I loved the book very much. It could not have showed up during a rougher year, and I am grateful for it.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Comparing/contrasting the circumstance in which I find myself with Hannah's season 3 arc on "Girls."

  1. No one is dead.
  2. Like Hannah, I did write a book that I was urged to write by an editor.
  3. Unlike Hannah, instead of avoiding a thing that had come to represent my hopes and the foundation of my self-worth, I took the very casual proposal that was extended to me and transformed it from an enhanced, more lucid version of my season one recapping of Girls into a meticulous close reading of the show that explores how art by women is viewed and reviewed. And thank goodness! If no one had said, "You should write this book," I doubt I would have put the discipline and vigor into it that I did.
  4. Having the example of Girls on my mind, something that has been rewarding, empowering, and comforting over the past year is how possible this project was to research, organize, and write. The fact that I could complete this manuscript with a day job into which I pour a lot of resources and energy, coordinate two consistent freelance jobs, move my significant other seamlessly into my apartment, and still read Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Novels — that has come as the greatest relief to me and a chiefly exciting facet of this venture that cannot be diminished. I did not have to cancel parts of my life to make this manuscript into exactly what I wanted it to be.
  5. Like Hannah, my publisher was not able to publish the book.
  6. Unlike Hannah, this decision was reached before I signed the contract — and for the better. I maintain nothing but good will and best wishes for Lost Angelene, and the decision not to move forward was a mutual one based on the method of production and distribution planned for the book.
  7. To clarify: I have faith that my book will find a great home, and I can encourage everyone everywhere to purchase it. I will be more than ready to advise them where to purchase it. If someone told me they bought it from a company that would prefer booksellers and publishers not to exist and endeavors to replace them, I would not be thrilled. If that company controlled the production and distribution of my book, ensuring that they profited from every sale, I would not, in good conscience, be able to recommend my own book. And I could not bear that quandary, because I wrote a spectacular book.
  8. Like Hannah, I am moved to take action immediately. My campaign of query letters begins.
  9. The people in my life have been tremendously supportive and kind and made it easy to appreciate my advantages, having this manuscript fully composed.
  10. The day after this happened, I had to manage the coverage of Peter Pan Live! at work. My fear of musical theatre is bordering on a phobia and my tolerance for fake British accents is nonexistent. But something about the blunt force of it — and Allison Williams, who was having an inspiring blast with her role as Ray from Girls disguised as Peter Pan — I did forget I was sad. I was sad. But I've got a lot of work to do now.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Notes on BinderCon

In October, I took myself to Out of the Binders: a Symposium on Women Writers Today (which I, along with many others, documented on Instagram).

It was such a gift to listen to so many excellent writers address biases, harassments, setbacks, and struggles in a space really electrified by excitement and the sheer necessity of the conference. And, for me, to be in New York by myself.

I get exceedingly ungraceful when all I can say is "I had a great time," but — not only did I have a great time — I also wanted to extend my help to everyone trying to power projects, to justify my own nervous energy and insecurity, and do just as the feedback form figured: run home and write.

That was part of the poignancy of the experience, since most of the panelists had a career arc to discuss, had achieved significantly, had manifested dreams to some degree, and this year was the first year I stood still. That was an achievement for me — I had not kept a job for a year since graduating from college. I love my job. It is challenging, and it absorbs my energy in a way that I have never had to negotiate before, and that has made keeping my momentum outside of work harder. I am terrifically harsh on myself about this, though — during this same time I claim to have stood still, I wrote a book in half a year! Something I've never done before! That is nothing to denigrate. But I find a way.

The "Writing While Trans" panel was my favorite, and not only because the Lillian Vernon House is punishing in how beautiful it is. Ashley Lauren Rogers and Imogen Binnie's panel demonstrated the importance of trans writing and writing about transgender experiences gaining greater visibility, and the fun they had doing it was a fantastic testament as to why. I admire Imogen Binnie's writing so much — I will never stop recommending Nevada; I have never been so excited reading a book — I really wanted to say something but I ran away. I've physically ejected myself from a lot of high (emotional) stakes interactions lately, so that's looking like my thing for 2015.

Other things: the sight of Leigh Stein and Leslie Jamison first thing at BinderCon reduced me to some kind of middle school version of myself, I was so excited/so awful about articulating it. Anna Holmes' talk with Rachel Sklar resonated profoundly, especially everything she had to say about exhaustion. The way working on a web publication can consume you. I'm afraid I alarmed Dodai Stewart in the bathroom, but I had to tell her what her work means to me and was, by that point, quite emboldened by how much I had been crying.

I didn't know Jenna Wortham or Anna Fitzpatrick were going to be there, and those were two episodes of crying — in part because it was such a great event, in part because of how badly I needed that time alone with myself, and the relief was intimidating, knowing I could not sustain that. I did a lot of work with sports this season, which was new world of stress.

My behavior hardly departed from the time I went to &Now. I get overwhelmed — I never knew people who wrote growing up, never saw evidence that people did that work or could achieve and be proud of themselves and share that work.

Amanda Hess, Beejoli Shah and everything out of the "Don't Read the Comments" panel tore me apart — I am a comment moderator, I have experienced sexual harassment by commenters, and I was expecting something more practical about how to manage those interactions, but instead — and the content of the panel was more necessary than what I just described as expecting — the speakers described severe episodes of harassment and threats made against them, and how they were dismissed and confronted by how they have little to no means of recourse in defending themselves and holding those harassers accountable. That was a discussion I wish all the writers I know could have heard and that I hope to see again at other conferences.

Jill Abramson's talk with Emily Bell made me wish I could reflect on a long career. I could really feel my soul leaving my body at that point, especially when the conversation expanded to include the audience. People were seated on the floor, the tables were packed, and being in such an intimate space with so many people, all of whom I would have loved to listen to. And as many people were there, I kept thinking about the people I know who were not there, who I would have liked to have taken there with me and how many writers — especially young writers who do not see evidence of other people doing that work — should be there to take part in something like that.

And it's happening again! In March, in L.A., which is a dream, but, maybe.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

My world acquired a tendency to crumble as easily as a soda cracker.

Finishing a book really buried me! But now I am back!

Two phenomena making persistent, positive reverberations on my days: the impending return of Twin Peaks and the whole notion of The New Yorker Presents.

  1. The fact of Twin Peaks being a show back from the dead, more than two decades after its life on air, and the skepticism naturally borne of returning to the well of that particular magical success, I think, has obscured the fact that it is in the hands of David Lynch, and nothing could ever dream of getting me more excited than David Lynch excited to return to the site of one of his favorite ideas. I am prepared for whatever dances out of his brain. I am also an aggressive admirer of Fire Walk With Me, so I would be overjoyed with some more dark material that recontextualizes the original show.
  2. As one who does subscribe to The New Yorker, I am disappointed that — as far as I know — I will not be able to experience the live action version of the magazine's issues as they will exist in The New Yorker Presents, one of Amazon's 2015 pilots that may/may not go to series (will not give Amazon money). I would like to see a periodical experiment with that form, and I would like to see how the content comes off when presented in that way: the fiction as dramatic shorts, readings of poems, small documentaries based on the articles and interviews. I do not think they have plans for a Rod Serling-style host to lend cohesion to the overall product — like some guy dressed as Eustace Tilley forever lost in the New World Trade Center. If they decline that route, I would mourn it.

I have more going on than that, I mean: my Lessons for Girls — named, in full, Listen, Ladies, Leave Me Alone: Lessons for Girls. The contract is under review by a lawyer, I am reviewing proofs of the cover. I am proud of the work and proud for having done it. I gave myself a hard, fast rule about not responding to the criticisms of Lena Dunham's book in my own, making it strictly about Girls. I am not exactly happy that everything I could say about the criticisms leveled against Not That Kind of Girl come up elsewhere in my text, but it made it easier for me.

The symphony season this year, so far, has yielded two radiant concerts — one dedicated to Beethoven, one featuring Bernstein and Prokofiev's takes on "Romeo and Juliet" with a world premier clarinet concerto — the latter of which may have dethroned last year's "Rite of Spring" as my favorite time at the orchestra. The reviews have to be prepared fast, and all I wanted to do was stop and take in the "Notturno Concertante" and the HSO, totally in its element, playing the "West Side Story" dances.

In between the concerts, I went to the west coast, to Portland and Olympia, to read about Lee Miller, eat blackberries and varieties of Viennoiserie, leave Powell's as rarely as possible, and ride the Amtrak to see one of my best friends. I bought everything I could find by and about Tove Jansson and read — and finished — her Fair Play on the train. I read Men Explain Things to Me and Rape New York in my hotel room, late at night. I recommend both volumes, but I do not recommend reading them like that.

Before and after that, I was in New York for flashes of time. I spent the majority of that time on the Lower East Side and I fell hard and deep for Russ and Daughters. I never want to leave. I want to inhabit it, The Shining-style, forever.

On my first visit to the Cafe, the first day of BinderCon, I had the little Super Heebster, baked farmer cheese, coffee and a cucumber soda. I was too sick to risk an egg cream (I am lactose intolerant but, in this case, I don't care) or a cocktail. That was the best dining experience I have ever had! Having varieties of cold fish at my disposal, coffee poured along with water upon seating, handsome decor, soft jazz, and a very unawake New York outside: that was the best present. I went again a few weeks ago, with Seth, on a work trip, and had all of that plus the Shtetl. I bought a load of stuff home from the store, including Holland Herring, which is mesmerizing.

I am almost finished with My Brilliant Friend, the first of Elena Ferrante's works I've read, and it has made the kind of profound impression that Lolita and the Sound and the Fury made on me. I hope Ferrante never reveals herself, but I do hope she produces work as long as she is capable. Its greatest contender for best book that I read this year is the New York Review Books' selection of Elizabeth Taylor stories, You'll Enjoy it When You Get There. Or, no, I'm wrong about that. I'll think about it.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

I have to live them first.

Reading Joanna Ruocco's Dan and Nell Zink's the Wallcreeper has been like running through a field of flowers! It is futile to declare any year the best Dorothy, a Publishing Project year, but this is ridiculous. Also, this is Joanna Ruocco's best work yet, and having lately reopened a Compendium of Domestic Incidents, I am no less convinced and no less going "HOLY SHIT" to myself over and over, all the time, like Franny and the Jesus Prayer.

I got the news that I am still the symphony critic at work, which means a lot to me. I am especially looking forward to the world premiere of a piece structured around the REM cycle situated between dances from West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet.

The pleasure I glean from so much being written on the Mitford Sisters is dubious, all of it being the result of Deborah's death. To take that dubiousness a step beyond, I could not be more into the Gawker Review of Books with Michelle Dean at its helm.

Last year, I dedicated my fall vacation around the west coast to hunting for Jessica Mitford's Hons & Rebels and did not find it until I was in New York for an afternoon. The clerk upstairs at McNally Jackson referred me to the memoirs, downstairs, where, at the bottom of the staircase, I was met by another clerk holding Hons & Rebels, asking, "Is this yours?" with so much immediacy and magic.

I am going back to part of the west coast — Portland and Olympia — right after BinderCon. I am glad not to have my heart set on anything but taking in where I am and browsing every single spine of fiction at Powell's. And I'll be done with my book!

The final essay needs to make more sense, but there is a lot to celebrate besides that: twenty pages of footnotes! Some historical context! The knowledge that Malcolm Gladwell finds writing an entire book about a single case to be a nigh intolerable task to complete! The fact that I set out to write this book and I did it in less than half a year!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Destroying all the ladies.

The original, central Mad Men characters all had names that directly referenced some major sixties thing — Dorothy Draper, Hare Krishna, Betty Friedan, Alfred Kinsey, Campbell's Soup as made famous by Warhol, and so forth. Peggy's name has eluded people trying to fit her into that scheme. I do not think Matthew Weiner has ever definitively identified whose names came from where, but the soundest explanation I have found for Peggy's name is the Simon & Garfunkel take on the folk song "Peggy-O," which is about a very conditional love affair — so sad and so apt.

The song is on Wednesday Morning, 3AM, which is also where "Bleeker Street" comes from, the central song of the episode "the Suitcase." If there is anything that locates my greatest vulnerability with maximumly-abusable precision, it is Peggy on Mad Men, and "Peggy-O" is the experience of watching her in song-form. Mad Men started airing when I went away to college, and all my initial viewings of its pre-hiatus seasons were in dark pockets between everything that was going on at school and the time I could coerce friends into spending with me. I am so absorbed in every detail of every episode that, every time I watch it, I return to being that person: stuck and terrified about what is going to happen to me and accounting for my every moment but still in the dark, watching this show. To re-feel those feelings in the fall now, there is a dimension of gratification, because now is a very good time — there are things that have never, ever been good about my life that are good now. Fall has always caught me on the edge. It is not a bad time to be haunted.

EDIT: From the best brain, which happens to inhabit my best friend, Clare —
I think this is a very astute reading of Peggy's origin and got me thinking a lot about it, and I think Bob Dylan's 1962 version may capture Peggy better, lyrically. Dylan's take on the traditional is still a love song but with very explicit political ties (dead Captains and Lieutenants). Unlike the S&G version, she is left alone but it does not seem like such a personal tragedy. In fact, you don't even know where she is or if she is alone, you just know that this dude is telling her the captains are gone and Lieutenants dead. 
Mad Men have also made some great references to the folk scene of the time, and while S&G were undoubtedly important, Dylan is really the face of the whole thing. I think that he captures Peggy's spirit as well. The S&G version implies that Peggy has stayed where she is ("If I ever come back") whereas the Dylan version is very vague, going from 1) at the march, 2) what the mother says, 3) come down the stairs, 4) Lieutenant is gone, 4) Captain is dead, end of song. She is not heartbroken, explicitly, and honestly she could be anywhere. She may not have stayed at home, waiting for him. I also think the bit with the mother is so important because that sort of independence was a theme in the early seasons [note: Peggy's relationship with her mother gets play for most of the series in seasons two through five]. 
The mother's thoughts are brought closer to the end in the S&G version, but asks what she will think about her going to places far and strange. Dylan's version is a little bit more final — "what will your mother say to know you've gone away and never, never, never coming back"(i-ooooo, if you will). 
The arrangement of the lyrics is very important. The S&G version, the running is early — right after the march, and she's straight into riding a carriage. This seems to explicitly be about a marriage: she is still very much wrapped up in a man. Dylan's Peggy, rather, does not have a carriage: she runs down the stairs and is immediately greeted with the Lieutenant's death and a missing Captain. The question of the mother is asked and them immediately she seen running down the stairs — this impatience to move beyond, to get out, is coursing through Peggy, and it feels like that man is an excuse to go out beyond. 
One can only surmise this Peggy, like Ms. Olson, had to take things upon herself to get through the death of a leader (hiiiint) and the the absences of a captain (hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiint). 
I don't think we ever will know definitively where Peggy comes from, but I think that song, regardless of the version, is a really good bet. There are so many readings and interpretations of the original ballad that many artists have created, and it — like Peggy — resists traditional readings because there are so many versions and truths, and these versions are often selected or altered to meet specific requirements of the artist using it. Dylan made it more political, S&G make it more romantic, and there is no One True Reading, no version is more or less right. Like Peggy, it contains multitudes and the version used relfects more on the user than the subject.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

There is no treatment for capture myopathy.

Capture and restraining of an animal are extremely stressful. An immediate reaction to stress is the "flight or fight" syndrome, to which the body responds by producing adrenaline. Persistent overproduction of adrenaline leads to a buildup of lactic acid in the bloodstream, which affects the heart's ability to pump correct oxygen to the muscles, which may cause muscles to start to die: myopathy (from the ancient greek pathos, "suffering," and mus, which means 1. "a field mouse"; 2. "a muscle of the body"). There are four categories of capture myopathy ranging from peracute, with death resulting in a matter of minutes, to chronic, where the captive animal may survive days or even months, riding horses and sending off telegrams, only to die suddenly from heart failure or some apparent accident. There is no treatment for capture myopathy. 
- Anne Carson, the Albertine Workout

Getting ready for BinderCon, and the news of Jill Abramson being there turns everything cosmic.

Getting ready for BinderCon amounts to anticipating which restaurants I can haul my carcass to from the conference locations. My restaurant rotation in New York has gotten really fixed, and since I do not have to accommodate anyone's desires but my own on this weekend, I envision it being full of lox.

My contributor copy of Women in Clothes is in my arms. Reading all the bylines, every few names, my heart leapt into my throat:

Alissa Nutting! Amy Rose Spiegel! Anisse Gross! Audrey Gelman! Carrie Murphy! Donora Hillard! Eileen Myles! Elif Batuman! Elissa Schappell! Emily Gould! Haley Mlotek! Jenna Wortham! Joana Avillez! Johanna Fateman! Justin Vivian Bond! Kate Zambreno! Kim Gordon! Lena Dunham! Mairead Case! Masha Tupitsyn! Mira Gonzalez! Miranda July! Molly Ringwald! Rachel Antonoff! Rachel Comey! Renee Gladman! Rivka Galchen! Roxane Gay! Sadie Stein! Sarah Nicole Prickett! Sasha Grey! Semi Chellas! Tavi Gevinson! Thessaly La Force! Zosia Mamet! To say nothing of the towering Sheila Heti, Leanna Shapton, and Heidi Julavits, who put Women in Clothes together and whose unified vision and individual-but-impeccably-meshed-styles gives the giant project (639 contributors besides themselves) so much cohesion. If my own presence in Women in Clothes sways you, by all means, be swayed — I'm (clearly) the least of what's to be enjoyed in there, but the fact that I am in this book with all these people is never going to stop making me feel really fucking awesome forever.

I need that some days.

Lessons for Girls is burning in my hands — I have never had a time like this, working on a piece of writing, feeling like it is so important and urgent and I have the tools to articulate why. I'm putting a jaunty bow on certain arguments, appraising each time I use the word "bullshit," and reading everything aloud to find where the prose gets strangled in my fury. It's almost done. It's beautiful.