Thursday, August 28, 2014

Tour de blog.

Photo by Ellen Willis

Tagged by Gina!

1. What are you working on?

Lessons for Girls, a book of essays about HBO's Girls, specifically the first season and the critical reaction to it with some slight references to how that criticism impacted the show as it went on. Reviewing the morass of reactions to the show when it barely existed has been fascinating/horrible. Coming to terms with how long it has really been since 2012 has been even more so. The face completely melted off my life in 2012. Technically, the answer to "What are you working on?" has been the same since 2012, and it is, "Regaining the ability to respond proportionally to everyday stressors."

2. How does your work differ from others’ in the same genre?

I wager that others who have undertaken large-scale critical works on one specific subject have, at some point in the past, found joy in writing criticism, which I never did in school. So I'm sure I'm suffering some convenient amnesia about what my past critical writing experiences. Now I love it and feel deeply that the work has a purpose.

3. Why do you write what you do?

I'm writing Lessons for Girls because for all the criticism disseminated over the life of Girls on television, I do not think anyone has nailed what the show is doing or why it is significant, particularly with regards to what kind of criticism has been leveled against it.

4. How does your writing process work?

I watched the first season as it aired and recorded my initial impressions. In starting Lessons, I watched the first season again — for the first time, closely, since 2012 — and transcribed the events of each episode. Then I combed through and inserted my observations and conclusions regarding each episode, what themes are present individually and overall throughout the season. Then I read everything that I could that was written during/about the first season and have been weaving in/responding to those critical reactions. The first layer of writing, I stayed completely immersed in my impressions, and since then, I've been completely immersed in other critics' impressions. Now I'm working that all together. As my first work of this scale written while I have a job and lots of other responsibilities, it has been invaluable in developing more effective ways of structuring and building something big made of "moving" parts. It is not exactly like a piece of fiction, but in dealing with smaller essays that make up a single season, I am treading over information that becomes relevant at one point but central to another. And it has been simply reassuring that I can tackle something as substantial as this with everything else I have going on — a full-time job, two part-time jobs, a partner I now live with, friends who live far away, exercise that is vital to my health, blogs that I hate to ignore.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A roller coaster of creative experience as if I’m making a new life for myself in France.

Horrids, at first sight, is not even a space, but a humid maze of bodies. London becomes for Ruth a series of grubby rented rooms the color of dud avocados. But while shopping in Liberty, Ruth beams when the clerks at Liberty call out and say, "Oh, you look like a little Parisian girl!" In Frances Ha, Frances (who was one of the "green girls" in her childhood ballet troupe) goes to New York to follow her dreams, which she scores to songs of the French New Wave while she sees her dream disintegrate in the reality of the city. Likewise, now that Ruth has relocated from Chicago to London, she has had to push her dreams elsewhere. She casts her gestures as those of a French New Wave gamine slogging tragically through Paris, redeemed by the fantasy that someone has found her significant enough to document.

I wrote about the space inside Kate Zambreno's Green Girl (rereleased by Harper Perennial!) and the space it creates and infiltrates in readers at the Fanzine. If you loved the 2011 Emergency Press release of the novel as urgently as I did, this is not only a perfect time to revisit it, but it's also not the same book in the way that one is, presumably, not the same reader. Or it gives the pleasant illusion that one has changed for the better as much as the text has. This is a very small part of its impact, though; I go into greater detail on its merit in the essay.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Blue hydrangea, cold cash.

Gentrification of the Mind (Sarah Schulman), the Art of Cruelty (Maggie Nelson), and Airless Spaces (Shulamith Firestone) will each demolish a reader all on their own. Taken all at once, talk about blurring the world.

...if you correct dancers in terms of their technique, the thing they have worked so hard on, this can be very wounding to them. "But if you give them a metaphor they go home and figure it out, and they haven't gotten a complex about it."
- Joan Acocella on Suzanne Farrell in the essay "Second Act"

Roistering summer insomnia is in effect. I'm up late again watching Rose, c'est Paris again and again. One of my favorite scenes is close to the beginning, when B. is pasting up missing notices of her sister, Rose, and the way she moves, the way she ascends a ladder, make her seem as if she is filling with air and floating off. My favorite alias of Rose's is Marcelle Souveste. I love the identical twins and the bouquet of aliases.

There is one single copy left of my Birds of Lace chapbook, Come as Your Madness.

Gypsy Rose Lee writing the G-String Murders (Life Magazine)

My book Lessons for Girls is in the research phase. The track is laid. One of my favorite things to have emerged from working on an in-depth, book-length study of Girls is noticing this conversation between the two books that buttress the plot at the opposite ends of the first season: Listen, Ladies. Leave Me Alone.

Meanwhile, I am carving out pockets of time to exercise. I like to wind around and walk, but have not been able to seduce myself into any activity besides dance, a term I am really abusing here. I contort, spin, stretch, punch, kick. Writing a book is hard. Assuming the responsibility of so many words is hard, where they are directed at writers navigating the lessons that critical reactions teach them. I need a metaphor to take home.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Chekov's Chip 'n Dip

The gun may have been lurking in the Mad Men shadows since season one, but the means by which the gun made it into Pete Campbell's hands was the Chip 'n Dip he traded in. And so I hope with everything I have that the real Chekovian comeuppance will be delivered upon Pete Campbell in the form of some vengeful, trendy serveware. That would be so great.

Like, you try to be the guy wielding the gun at the office, Pete, but you're really embarrassing, trying too hard, and filled with lies. You're the human Chip 'n Dip.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


I've been writing a book about how what it means when girls are taught lessons and when an audience is inspired by what they see to teach girls lessons. And Maya Angelou has died, some people around me said some horrible things about her, and tried to challenge my assertion that she is an important figure. My friend Liz Laribee posted on Facebook this quote from her: "Don't let anybody raise you. You've been raised."

I've been crying a lot lately. The last time I cried this much was when someone was hurting my physically. Jill Abramson was fired from the New York Times on May 14. The next day:
Though Bly got her start with rightful, well-articulated rage, she didn't let those qualities define her career. In "The Girl Puzzle," Bly's first published article, she argued that women should be allowed to do serious and interesting work, and that they should be equally compensated for it. The assignments that followed—the "life-style pieces"—weren’t what she wanted to be doing, but rather than rebel with polemic Bly travelled the world, interviewed politicians, and put herself in dangerous situations. Rather than work to expose unfair expectations, she chose to subvert them. Bly reported the stories that she believed she was entitled to write.

For young women just starting out in journalism today, it is perilously easy to fall into the trap of writing only about so-called women's issues. In a media environment that reliably rewards trading on one's gender identity, the financial incentive for young female writers to approach the world with a narrow set of politicized questions—the answers to which they already know—is great. And while there is surely a place for this, no girl grows up wanting to count bylines or to scour TV shows for signs of sexism. This week in particular, in the wake of Jill Abramson's firing by the Times, is a good moment for women journalists to remember Nellie Bly, a flawed but still effective model who wrote about what she wanted instead of arming herself with the hammer she acquired in her youth and spending the rest of her career searching for nails.

- Alice Gregory, "Nellie Bly's Lessons in Writing What You Want To" in the New Yorker
Then Isla Vista. Then I went to talk to a group of girls, seniors in high school, about pursuing careers in media, and I could not keep myself from mentioning Isla Vista. Or crying about how getting diminished, interrupted, belittled and verbally abused by men in my life (which I was able to reign in until I was no longer talking to the high school seniors).

"The answers to which they already know" — that article inspires real fury in me. What an awful, irresponsible thing to impart to aspiring female-identified journalists. The generalization "no girl grows up wanting to count bylines or to scour TV shows for signs of sexism" is a clear indication of bias — perhaps Alice Gregory does not want to do that, but neither she nor any other person who is not a straight, white male could grow up and do whatever kind of journalism they want were it not for those who call out the bullshit. Maybe Gregory met a person who liked to call out bullshit because it made them feel superior, but when faced with a group of high school girls overjoyed to talk to a young woman doing what they want to do about their dreams, I am fucking on fire to make that possible for them, to model a voice for calling out bullshit. What is the point in denigrating that but to train the blame on women who find their place in the world to be the thing worth writing about the most?

I stand with anyone that might get called "defined by" rage. It is not a limitation you place on yourself, it is the limitation others who are intimidated and annoyed by a problem they refuse to see try and erect. It is an indication that you understand the world in which you operate and love it enough to want it to change.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

An update on the book I'm writing.

Via molly-morrow

When I was in college I wrote a very long research paper about the problem of how female writers are read and reviewed. My (male) professor did not want me to write the paper if I did not devote sufficient space to illustrating how the problem I was describing was real, and not what I think he perceived as being my hair-trigger reaction to the subject. I was pretty beaten down by then, and when I reread the paper, I was sad to look back on how much I had intended to write about solutions, about ways to make change, and instead I spent such a long time cataloging stuff I found totally dispiriting, the ways in which all of these writers whose work had made my life were dismissed, insulted, and dehumanized.

Which is to say: I have had some practice that has prepared me for the task of slogging through article after article after article denigrating, threatening, and condemning Lena Dunham for her work on Girls. I've got fifty pages of research I am weaving into my prepared notes on the series.

That's fifty Word document pages, I explained to a coworker yesterday. This is the first time I have ever done research strictly on the internet! When I was in middle school and high school, my school allowed only a certain number of online sources — everything else had to be from books — and in college I could never get my internet connection verified by security, so I just gave up and did all my research in books in the library. So the ease of this has been something of a revelation.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Creative lounge.

Some may have found the computer being installed in the creative lounge to be too on-the-nose, but come on. Catharsis. It's nice and safe to be disappointed and furious at a fictional story.

Hang in there for fifty years, Sterling Cooper & Partners creative: you will get your lounge back (although you will not have offices) and you will each have computers slender enough to smash when everything gets too stupid.

Also: "Lou Avery" was the name of James Mason's wife in "Bigger Than Life." I have not seen that yet — are there parallels? She was subject to her husband's raging addiction...