Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

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.

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...

Monday, April 28, 2014

We're having a conversation!

Jim Cutler is reading Jessica Mitford's American Way of Death and says to/jokes with Harry about how they should get into the funeral business. This either hints at Cutler's propensity for long games (Mitford tore the funeral business a new one with that book — Cutler may suspect that the funeral business' thrust into the spotlight may pay off in publicity in the long run and may one day inspire a successful HBO show) — which Bert Cooper made a remark about, as he was surprised to hear some long term thinking from Cutler on the subject of Harry's computer — OR he likes the dead. This is the guy who, before the audience saw much of him, unabashedly watched Stan have sex with his late colleague's daughter and told Peggy to please not interrupt his peep session.

I say this as a person with a degree in creative writing, who, when I say I have work to do after work, means I have short stories to write, and who cares more about how every single sentence sounds than anything else (unless I am being compensated to care about something else). I say this also as someone who works in a newsroom: I have got an unmurderable bias against journalists (generally aspiring) who laud the fuck out of Joan Didion when Jessica Mitford — who one may only encounter by means of first being intrigued by the Mitford family — after a life of being denied access to the education she wanted, made herself into an investigative journalist and, after experiencing some predatory business in the planning of a funeral, dedicated herself to writing a book about the industry in order to expose her experience as part of a greater, reprehensible phenomenon. Grit! And style! I like Didion's 60s-70s work, too, and Play it as it Lays, just — I am overjoyed at the prospect Mad Men could give American Way of Death the Meditations in an Emergency bump.

Also: By some tremendous writing and canny use of the gap between seasons (as in the real life gap between season six ending in 2013 and season seven resuming three weeks ago), Mad Men has been able to obscure Don's latest, searing offenses to Peggy in order to make it appear to casual viewers like her rage at him comes from thin air*. Just as the audience may not realize they have misplaced something, so the partners fail to realize that "Lane's office," the office they offer Don, is occupied by guess who (edit: Peggy is the invisible boy!).

* - Don enabled Ted to head for Los Angeles, leaving Peggy with Lou — without support and with any dignity she may have scraped up totally crippled.

Monday, April 21, 2014

I'm so many people.

From Mad Men's second season seven episode, "A Day's Work," a recurring motif: "I said the wrong thing" and someone withholding humiliating information from someone else, resulting in something worse. The whole episode could therefore be a matroyshka doll of saying the wrong thing, winding up in a lie, and covering it up to no small consequence — in other words, Don Draper's MO getting into the water supply.

Who does this: Don, obviously, when he does not tell Sally that he no longer goes into the office and essentially does not work at Sterling Cooper & Partners, making it possible for her to walk in and find a strange man occupying his office, making her look like the lost child she is always afraid of coming off as in the presence of his coworkers. Peggy does this, too, when she does not give her secretary, Shirley, the opportunity to tell her that the roses that arrived for Valentine's Day belong to her, not to Peggy, whose assumption that they are from Ted traps her in a vise-like thought-prison that prevents her from doing any work or conducting herself in an unwretched way all day. And Lou does this as well, dispatching Dawn, who is now his secretary, to run an errand (he forgot to get his wife a Valentine's Day present), leaving him alone when Sally arrives in the office. Not wishing to be vulnerable to Don's messes, he fires Dawn from his desk (she comes out on top), and this arc would not have struck me as related to the other two were it not for Lou going, "I said the wrong thing." What did he say? Was it sending Dawn out and informing her her errand was damage control? Was it attempting to engineer consequence and have Joan reassign Dawn (so Dawn could pay for not only being a callback to the Draper regime but being poor at it, too)? Lou is allergic to facing the consequences of his own actions, Peggy is disappointed in herself for her own inability to manage her  consequences effectively, but that is all Don has, and he is newly, resolutely dedicated fully to those consequences.

This new interchangeability of characters, which started in "Time Zones" with Ken taking up Pete's psychotically frustrated schtick, Cutler and Ted Chaough taking up the old Roger and Don banter, is acknowledged in an exchange between Dawn and Shirley as they vent to one another about their ridiculous jobs: "Happy Valentine's, Dawn," Dawn says to Shirley. "Goodbye Shirley," Shirley says to Dawn. Of course the racist windbags they work with confuse them, but the other characters' identities have become just as blurred.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Cyrano de Bergerac to make New York fall in love with him.

Mad Men is back. When Don is on the plane talking to Neve Campbell, she tells him she scattered the ashes of her husband, who died of alcoholism, on Tom Sawyer Island and Disneyland. Tom Sawyer has come up on Mad Men before: in season three's "Guy Walks into an Advertising Agency," when Don and Layne follow felled ad man Guy McKendrick to the hospital after he gets mowed down by secretary Phyllis Sadler with a John Deere tractor. Don and Layne hang out in the waiting room and Layne tells Don he's been reading a lot of American literature. He cites Tom Sawyer as an example and says, "I feel like I just went to my own funeral."

Also: I read several recaps of "Time Zones" and none of them wondered about Harry Crane's whereabouts. Sally and the Francis family, yes. But not a peep about Mr. Crane.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Traumatic play.

That might have something to do with why writing "the perfect female epic" might seem so "daunting": if one’s life as an artist is a distraction, easily dispensed with, to evaluate one’s "real achievement" as a woman, how could a female epic, perfect or not, do much to absorb the shock of how little biographers care, fifty years later, about what one has written?
I reviewed Carl Rollyson's American Isis at Entropy. As a text, the review has some siblings: my review of Mad Girl's Love Song at HTMLGIANT as well as my disgust with Terry Castle's review of both these books.

The publication of this review could not have been more well timed, since Ted Hughes' estate is currently sick with the idea that a prospective biographer of Hughes will write a "biography" instead of a "literary life." That is, they're worried a biographer might privilege the sordid facts of Hughes' life over his work as an artist. That is, they're worried that a biographer will write about Ted Hughes the way the majority of biographers write about Sylvia Plath.


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

My first book.

"I I have a problem & I do, if an artwork has a problem & it must, then the key is to find out a form that will address the problem, even exacerbate it, while producing less anxiety, not more — ideally none — and yet never to become escapist, mendacious, or otherwise lame."
- Ariana Reines, the Origin of the World
My first book: I'm writing a book about GIRLS for Lost Angelene Press (thank you, Andrea Lambert!).

It's my first book! And it's perfect because it's nothing like I ever imagined, because I never, in times of dreaming, let myself get deeply vested in so many perfect things aligning. It's a queer feminist small press, which is exactly the engine I want to power. And criticism! I write fiction, I know I will publish fiction, but this is something I never thought I would have and that's so immense.

I'm editing it now, and will be into the summer, riding some blistering heat insomnia that is all ready needling and all ready making this feel like a wavering dream. I can't tell you how excited I am. I shouldn't, though, anyway, even if I could, I should save it. I have a lot to talk about in the meantime.

I mean, I will be talking a lot about editing this book and the bizarreness of rereading old blog entries, but I also would like to emphasize what a beautiful world my book is coming into. Like, Adult Mag (which I love) is now on the internet and you can read all of "Florida," my favorite piece from the first issue.

Ahhh but fair warning, Wayfaring Googlers, if you find irrepressible joy chafing, get ready to be deluged by nothing but how my first book is the coolest thing ever because that is my topic of conversation online and elsewhere for the foreseeable future — !!!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

La Borde. Bath, Ohio. The country of blue.

I do not write about what I read. That's absurd.

I, Little Asylum by Emmanuelle Guattari (Semiotext(e), 2014): started and finished in order to get it over with because I loved it and it could have gone on forever. It was short even for a novella, even more of an ethereal voice than Sweet Days of Discipline. In the same vein as Sweet Days of Discipline, of quiet, exotic memoir of remote France which should be a better populated genre than it is. What else would belong there? Claudine at School, sort of. What else?

Redefining Realness by Janet Mock (Atria, 2014): finished! I picked it up hoping it would be an objective resource on discussing trans issues; I didn't realize that it was strictly a memoir and that, as a memoir, it succeeded in addressing what I wanted it to precisely and is an astonishing story. I love how specific and personal it is. Especially interesting alongside She's Not There — they are not the only memoirs by transwomen, but they are very visible ones (I bought both of them at the area Barnes & Noble, which has a shamefully anemic LGBTQ+ section) and focus on very obverse circumstances (being attracted to men and women, being poor and wealthy, a person of color and a white person).

My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf (Harry N. Abrams, 2012): I stayed up late and woke up early just to speed through this. It looks so rough — and, yes, is about a rough subject — but the story is told in such a sensitive way, grounded in the seventies, from the point of view of someone having as similar an experience as possible. I used to read anything I could find about Jeffrey Dahmer — I mean, to the exclusion of all else (not just in the way of reading but, activity-wise) for a while — so this was also evocative of my own excruciating time in school.

Tampa by Alissa Nutting (Ecco, 2013): it came out in paperback, so I bought it and started it this past weekend after a hurtful week, amidst a book-binge that yielded this, Stefan Zweig's the Post Office Girl, Kay Redfield Jamison's Touched with Fire, Mavis Gallant's Cost of Living, and How to Disappear Completely: on Modern Anorexia by Kelsey Osgood. A recent headline (how awful) reminded me that Tampa was on my radar. I was caught off guard by the trashy tone of this book and how well (at this point) it works to its advantage. I'm just about halfway through, the pace is keen and I am fully into the language of the romance novel describing such horrific pathology.

Also, with zeal, I cast Anna Camp as Celeste.

On Being Blue by William Gass (New York Review of Books, 2014): finished, after dragging it out for as long as a book of its size would allow. Not better than Bluets but what is. I have the source material for the cover (a Francesca Woodman photograph) on the wall next to my bed.

Notice by Heather Lewis (Serpent's Tail, 2004): halfway through it now, and every page is agony. I love it so much, it hurts so badly to read. I want to take days off to read this book. It is an experience reading Notice and Tampa simultaneously, neither book is easy. Tampa's narrator is so unsympathetic, it's an easier book through which to glide. Notice's narrator is so sympathetic, it makes every new development in the story agony and the prospect of abandoning the narrator at the end agony.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Girls Season 3, Episode 12: "Two Plane Rides" - MFA vs. NYC

This episode was literally MFA vs. NYC. If it hadn't been, the title of the entry would have been "break all your legs."

Photo: Mark Schafer/HBO

Girls, Episode Thirty-Two, "Two Plane Rides"

I. Hannah

When Hannah asks the people in her life if she should or should not do something, she is not really weighing their opinion against her intuition — she wants to see where their priorities are, what they think about her, and what action might elicit the biggest reaction.

This episode, season three's finale, starts out with Hannah receiving some news (it doesn't really, but I'll come back to that*) that she finds positive. The audience doesn't find out what it is right away. At first, I was skeptical that it could be good news for her — my first impulse was to wonder whether or not it might be bad news for Adam, something reigning him in, or something bad about Ray. Or bad about the publishing company that had tied up the rights to her book.

But the triumphant fist pumps that the title fades out from are for something good for Hannah, and the audience finds out when Hannah tells Marnie: she got accepted into the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Marnie abdicates Hannah's ability to tell her the news by providing a lengthy disclaimer re: her awfulness. She acknowledges that Hannah is actually erasing the events of "I Saw You," when Hannah walked in on Marnie and Ray, on something she knew Marnie — who lives to fill Hannah with shame — was ashamed of. Hannah doesn't care about that anymore, and her news does have the power to obliterate that and make Marnie listen and acknowledge what a good and massive thing this is for Hannah. That would have been a great way to justify that narrative handicap from which this season has suffered so much: there are events in real life that just blow up whatever one thought was one's primary focus or biggest anxiety.

Hannah ends her announcement with the disclaimer: she doesn't know if she's going to go. The scene smashes to an end on Marnie saying of course you should go, but if anyone has any personal investment in Hannah's decision making, this is the worst place to find one's self in. Hannah exists in an ambient space of shame and personal frustration and she would rather have fun than worry about whether or not that shame and frustration might be magnified due to others' reactions. She would rather pursue adventure than what may necessarily impress or appease the people close to her. It looks like she doesn't know what's good for her, but Hannah is aware that what's good for her is what challenges her, even if that challenge seems unreasonable, avoidable, and nothing but humiliating.

Lena Dunham leaves no doubt in viewers' minds the extent to which Hannah is proud of what she's done. It seems strange to think of growth on her character's part as, instead of pursuing a challenge in spite of what the people in her life think, doing — and, importantly, agreeing with — what those people think is the move she should make.

I was disappointed when I heard that it was the Iowa Writers' Workshop Hannah applied and got into (this was not, plot-wise, entirely out of nowhere: Hannah told Shoshanna in "Truth or Dare" that she applies to grad school every year) but then considered that it is the stock MFA program, just like New York is the stock creative city. And then I felt absurd because I just finished before the episode came on MFA vs. NYC. It is an exciting prospect (for me) to consider that Girls could turn out to be about the unsustainable pursuit of making one's self into a writer by means of these affiliations.

But the episode doesn't exactly make any promises. I'd like to hinge it all on Dunham's acting, on Hannah's dogged elation. Despite what a tough episode this is for Hannah, she begins and ends it with the ability to find joy in the fruits of her work. I want to look forward to a season with Hannah in school, but — considering how much erasing and backtracking the show's been prone to — I'm not committing to that hope.

Also, the unspoken element of Hannah's Iowa acceptance that I found most interesting: Hannah has worked up some traction exploiting her openness, her willingness, her ability to be a "sweatshop factory for puns," and this is the first indication that she did not give up on the kind of writing her late editor encouraged her to abandon. In all likelihood, the work she submitted to Iowa — which I hope (I hoopoe) the audience hears about next season — is not only the work that was inspired by her friendship with Marnie, it's probably so good that Hannah may bristle against it when she is isolated in the midwest, where she may be confronted with the dissolution of that relationship and her inability to rebuild it. This is my wish.

But, back to the episode: Hannah's parents are ecstatic for Hannah, Marnie is ecstatic for Hannah, and it's Adam's opening night. She forces her way backstage to wish Adam well in his dressing room and deliver her news. Because he's thrived, she says, she wants to thrive. It is a moment with so much vulnerability. This episode had a lot in common with "She Did," and this scene reminded me of when Hannah danced for Adam and he pulled her into him and told her to be careful: this as the inverse of that. Adam tells Hannah after the show that she sabotaged him, he ruined his performance (an imperceptible phenomenon to the audience, Hannah and Broadway-devotee Elijah among them), and he screams at her about why nothing can be "easy" with her. I wish there had been an "I'm the most scared" response from Hannah, but she just leaves Adam alone. He doesn't get struck by a car: instead, Adam gets a kiss from a cast mate. He cannot leverage any guilt over Hannah this time. She leaves the show to hold the acceptance letter in her hand and smile to herself.

II. Marnie

Marnie's plot line has embraced the fact that her professional pursuits are just a red herring. Her story wraps this season with her breathlessly sharing with Hannah, Elijah, and everyone who'll listen, "Desi kissed the shit out of me." Marnie going around finding people to share this with is a nod to how she's the same Marnie as she was in season one, when she worked her way through a party in "Welcome to Bushwick, a.k.a. the Crackcident," venting to anyone who'd listen about how Charlie got over her so fast and how she's an "ideal." As foretold by Elijah, this doesn't work out well for Marnie — Desi's girlfriend, Clementine, is in attendance at the "Major Barbara" premiere and, whether or not she is aware that Desi and Marnie kissed, she is aware of Marnie's MO and calls her on it.

So her failure to snare Desi is made explicit, but what shows up in fainter relief are the facts of where this season leaves Hannah and Marnie: they are united in their understanding that Hannah going to Iowa is a great thing. But where Hannah has that going for her, that means to advance professionally, that sign of having achieved at writing, that well-branded bit of writerly success, that thing she knows she could be doing for a few years and therefore some security about being able to answer "what are you doing these days?"-esque questions in a dignified way — Marnie doesn't have any of that. She's stalled in her career development, she's sexually involved with someone she doesn't respect. To wit: the way Marnie explained to Ray in "Incidentals" how she wouldn't eat pizza around him if she cared what he thought of him smacks of Hannah explaining in "Beach House" how she feels free to lavish all her feelings on Adam because he isn't really paying attention to who she is and how she behaves. Marnie's relationship to being judged isn't exactly like Hannah's — Marnie needs to have someone to impress and whose standards she can succeed to. But this forthcoming season may see Marnie turning more and more into Hannah. She's already been embroiled in circumstances more closely related to Hannah's for the past two seasons, but after Desi expressing how Marnie may be a writer (I would love to hear Marnie give a reading of her personal essays), this may be the dawn of her trying to exploit a more Hannah-esque approach to her travails.

III. Jessa

In all too brief moments, this episode provides glimpses (not glorified interstitials!), starring Louise Lasser, of what should have been Jessa's season three arc. Set up Withnail at the beginning, have him disappoint her with the action with Dot from "Role-Play" taking place during the first half of the season. The stuff about her allegedly deceased friend Season could have been excised completely. In criminally few scenes in this single episode, Jessa demonstrates that Louise Lasser's character, BD, has earned some respect from her, that she likes her, and that she wants Jessa to help her die. That's such a worthwhile dilemma! That the story spends no time on! For as rivetingly as it plays out over the episode, I was so irritated that this didn't occupy a greater part of season three when it seemed like the writers spent so much time perplexed over what to do with Jessa! This made me furious!

IV. Shoshanna

Same deal with Shoshanna, whose character did at least get the satisfaction of mauling Marnie. Marnie chooses exactly the wrong time to come clean to Shoshanna about her relationship with Ray. It struck me that Marnie doesn't tell Shoshanna, when she says she's slept with Ray several times, that she doesn't specify that it's a very recent thing. I think she purposefully provokes Shoshanna by not specifying that their involvement is recent and did not include when Ray was with Shoshanna. Marnie could not know how provokable Shoshanna is in that moment, though. Shosh discovers that, during her distraction-packed final semester — getting taken on stressful road trips and beach getaways, being dragged into Jessa's myriad miseries — she failed an incidental class and does not have the credits to graduate on time. The writers at least attempted to establish Shoshanna's plight from the start of the season, but for as great as her arc lands on this finale, her role this season was so anemic.

V. Miscellaneous

Adam could leave the show now and I'd be happy.

Ray's explanation to Shoshanna about how they've outgrown each other is as boring as his explanation to her about why they can't be friends.

Elijah is responsible for the funniest scene this season and probably in the show so far, which comes at the end of this episode. It's all worth it for that. I'm not exaggerating.

* - I never did come back to it. Adam's sister, Caroline, resurfaces and facilitates a scene that causes Hannah to consider the shelf life of her fertility. The scene is exactly as long as it should be.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Girls Season 3, Episode 11: "I Saw You" - You will never judge me again.

I will go through, when this season is over, and count how many times the show introduced a fact or scenario it erased the following episode.

Girls, Episode Thirty-One, "I Saw You"

In keeping with the fact that no crisis has resulted in any follow-through story-wise this season, Adam and Hannah are still having sex despite Adam's assertion as of last week's episode that he needs space. Everything's been looping back, and the things that have happened to impose plot on the characters have felt profoundly inorganic. To contextualize how inorganic lots of this season feels, Adam winding up on Broadway feels like one of the less inorganic elements of season three, even though so much of that is by the grace of Adam Driver.

Something this episode, and this season overall — though feebly — emphasized is how Hannah's use of Adam isn't any more savory than Adam's use of Hannah. She's the devil he knows: it's safe being with someone whose problems, though they may be extreme, resemble the ones his sister has, that he grew up handling. Adam "asks nothing" of Hannah, so she "give[s] him everything" — his love has no risks and no consequences. He will never judge her.

What's driven them apartish, for now, is Adam's impending Broadway debut. He lives with Ray now live; shamefully, they're as great to watch as you'd imagine. I didn't think last season's "Boys" was great, but oh, I hold out hope that there's a dynamite Ray/Adam episode somewhere in this show's lifespan. I hate Adam and Ray, but no amount of hate could stop me from appreciating half an hour of Alex Karpovsky and Adam Driver acting at each other, unencumbered by b-plots. I'm afraid this sounds like I'm referring to Marnie, Jessa, and Shoshanna as b-plots. I don't want them to be, but as of this season, everybody besides Hannah has been a b-plot in the worst way (Ray and Adam chief among them, with Adam only moving to the narrative front, really, as of "Incidentals").

Hannah, disregarding boundaries (which is a useful setup for the end of the episode), visits Adam at Ray's apartment. Please not that, in this scene, there is a box in the corner of the frame marked "Adam's creepy shit." The apartment's been featured this season otherwise, but it bares repeating that Ray's apartment, for the first two seasons of Girls, was Adam's. It's a shame they don't capitalize more on the juxtaposition between the present and the beginning of Hannah and Adam's relationship. Remember how fun and uncomfortable and complex those scenes were, I ask myself?

Season one callbacks do otherwise populate this episode. When Adam escorts Hannah back to her place, Adam apologizes for the space he's asserted he needs by informing Hannah that when she gets a break like he's gotten, and she needs to be in work mode, she'll understand what he's going through! Viewers may remember that Hannah has gone through this. In season one, she prioritized her work — even when there wasn't much of a sign that it would get her anywhere, save the invited reading that she botched — over Adam, and he reacted to this by verbally tearing her apart (which resulted in him injuring himself, and he used his injuries to shame and manipulate Hannah for the unseen months between seasons one and two).

What I love about that little narrative wave — of Hannah telling Adam she didn't want him to move in because she wanted her work to come first — was how, without even the external markers of success, it was articulated so well that being invited to the reading and failing at the reading, in addition to (crucially) Marnie pettily elevating Hannah's college nemesis, with her successful sob story — all lit a fire in Hannah, a fire she wanted, even for all of an episode, to take care of.

Since then, the external markers of success that have come Hannah's way have served as obstacles. They haven't necessarily lit her up in that same way. It's been two seasons since then, but what the audience has glimpsed that does light up, compel, inspire et al. Hannah is...Marnie.

Marnie was all Hannah could think about when she was on deadline with her ebook, but she couldn't control Marnie. She can control Adam, but what is that worth? This season's been full of tired warning signs directed at Hannah regarding why Adam isn't great for her, but — as ever — the biggest danger he poses to Hannah is that he is just a coping mechanism that has relieved the blow of Marnie disarticulating herself from Hannah's life. It's the lack of respect for the Marnie-wound that the writers have demonstrated this season that illuminates why season three has been a travesty. Divorcing Hannah's relationship with Marnie from her creative work is — has been proven — narratively unsound. That's my greatest dissatisfaction with this show, even more than — well, I'm going to hold off on listing everything. But I have to say I'm still raw about how Jessa showed up in "She Said OK," after two episodes with her as a central figure, and had NO LINES. My irritation persists!

Speaking of Marnie: she gets a season one callback, too. Marnie is in the same position at Soo Jin's gallery as she was at her first job — literally, in the same position in the frame, at the same kind of desk. She gets a scene with LOUISE LASSER. The woman who dared to be married to Woody Allen, star of Mary Harman, Mary Hartman! Although I haven't seen the show, since critics have been discussing it, it sounds like exactly what I want to watch right now. Lasser gets an absolutely killer line that can't get enough critical emphasis about why aging is "the pits," elevating this scene, at least, is required viewing.

Lasser's cameo dented my heart. She is as well formed a minor character as anyone in season one. Shortly after her first scene, Hannah and Elijah go together to resume the Patti LuPone interview Hannah started in "Incidentals." Mr. and Mrs. Patti LuPone function feebly as warning signs. I think this could've been pulled off, but they are both cartoon characters. Nobody in season one was a cartoon character. The closest anyone came to cartoondom then was Hannah's college nemesis, and it worked.

In the glorified interstitial corner:

  • Elijah, now fully back in Hannah's life, delivers the most precise and "so good" critical evaluation of Marnie's performing style: at once too stiff and too hopeful. This was good use of a brief scene.
  • Jessa dances the withdrawal out of her hair before rolling around on the floor crying, "I'm so bored!" Shoshanna also drops by to remind the audience that she's graduating soon.
  • Desi reminds the audience that Marnie made an amazing YouTube video we haven't heard about in episodes, infuriating me all over again.
  • Ray and Adam share with each other about the space they've insisted on from Marnie and Hannah, respectively. Although Ray doesn't acknowledge that it's Marnie he's talking about, he does mention that he loves her chin, which is a detail I appreciated.

As a result of Mr. and Mrs. Patti LuPone giving Hannah the glimpse at the relationship-fate of her nightmares, she gets herself fired from the advertorial department at GQ. If it's truly gone (I can't trust this show anymore), I'll miss the Yale Younger Poet's Prize-winner and his pitches, which were also stiff and hopeful. Those characters, except their awful cardboard supervisor, had the potential to become real. Hannah trashes the department's mission and its negative impact on the staff's creative lives in a speech that has none of the visceral darkness of, say, Hannah's "Vagina Panic" rape joke. Hannah's actions may demonstrate that it is, as Laird told her, a "dark scene" in her head, but I could have really gone for Hannah exorcizing that in that moment. For something. Although she does shut down Joe, who has been nice to her, as she detected that he wanted something from her, which is a detail I liked, even though their relationship amounted to nothing more than one introductory episode and a montage.

One complaint Hannah airs is the concern that she and her advertorial colleagues are a "sweatshop factory for puns," which is what's been paying off for her. Remember that her old publisher didn't want a friendship between two college girls, he wanted a pudgy face slick with semen and sadness. Her almost new publisher wanted a funny fat girl who, unlike Mindy Kaling, "goes all the way." Will Hannah be moved to reevaluate how she channels her "myriad talents"? It hurts to hope for anything now.

In the first scene I've enjoyed Jessa in in way, way too long, she crashes Marnie's workday and offers Louise Lasser the criticism she's been craving and trying to elicit from a too-timid Marnie. Jessa's boundary transgression earns a job offer from Lasser (it is interesting to notice who benefits and loses from boundary transgressions all over this episode) and Jemima Kirke gets to be funny again.

Rapper Lil' Freckles! Too good for this show at this point. Although she's on the writing staff for season four. So maybe that won't always be true.

Marnie bares her stiff and hopeful soul for Desi and tries to transgress the boundary of their professional relationship. I want Marnie to realize that something can come from her and that she can function as something other than the achieving man's significant other. It would make me scream in the best way of Marnie initiated the project of writing a memoir next season and called it the [Anything]'s Daughter/Girlfriend, she defines herself so exclusively by her relationships (and that title cliche is hilarious and the worst, just like her). I don't care for a man teaching her this lesson, but true to form, Marnie doesn't seem intent on learning anything from him. As soon as she's faced with the reality of Desi's girlfriend, Clementine, Marnie invites herself to Ray's apartment.

During the performance, Shoshanna detects that Hannah's blown up her life and asks her if she's going to be okay. Hannah demonstrates how and to what extent she's not okay at a dinner with Adam's theatre friends, the "scene" he said in "Incidentals" that he didn't want to be a part of. Hannah glories in the fact that she was fired — which means unemployment checks for her — and, wasted in Ray's apartment, forsakes sex with Adam to demonstrate how she has no respect for Ray. I don't have any respect for Ray, either, but this gesture comes out of nowhere. Sure, Hannah believing that "everything is [her] business" is an entrenched facet of her character; it was even pointed out in explicitly in "Flo," the way Hannah insists on knowing everything. But Ray has thrown a real wrench in Hannah's life before — it would have been awesome if, to rhyme Desi's attempt to teach Marnie a lesson, Ray brought up, in the wake of Hannah's firing, how she's made all these bad decisions, including the reading she botched after she took Ray's useless advice about what is and isn't a valid subject. It's a scene like that that should drive Hannah to want to violate Ray's privacy. When she finds him having sex with Marnie, though, her reaction has — perfectly — minimally to do with Ray.  "You will never judge me again," Hannah warns Marnie.

Please don't let that rage get erased.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Girls Season 3, Episode 10: "Role-Play" - A woman with a baby's body.

In response to my reading of last week's Girls installment, Gina Abelkop made the excellent point that just because Hannah was a sexual child does not make the character a monster. My wording of that statement pertains to the cumulative effect of what Gina perfectly terms "the monstering of Hannah," which has taken place over the course of the season in a big way. My distaste for that narrative move is because it was not in the service of exploring that children do this and it's part of childhood, but as another piece of evidence that Hannah is a destructive force. To clarify, because it is the practice of watching the show in order to feed the desire to judge the decisions of and be disgusted by the titulars, of watching the show to see a group of girls paying for their stupidity by not heeding the lessons adults and men and life try to teach them, that's what I'm against, and that's why I write about Girls.

Photo: Mark Schafer/HBO

Girls, Episode Thirty, "Role-Play"

Hannah did not used to drink, but she does now, and that change — her exploits notwithstanding — seem to be positive, fueled by her desire to relinquish her hangups and have fun. She recaptures the potential for fun bogged down in "Beach House" by cavorting with her work friends at a bar. After the brief montage, in which the audience get a great look at how minuscule a person Lena Dunham is, her coworker Joe continues hosing off her underwear-clad carcass and gives her space to crash in his suspiciously lovely apartment. This series of moments does not exist to suggest there is anything mounting between Hannah and Joe, and doesn't offer any clues into Joe's character — its purpose has a lot more traction and relevance to Hannah.

Too drunk to go home, Hannah spends the night at Joe's and comes home the next morning in her dress that looks like a long pajama, majorly disheveled, extremely upset to have worried Adam, the Adam who, last week, didn't want her to go away for a night. Adam, looking extra-strapping and in costume, which he has to break-in for the show, is totally unphased by her absence. Hannah mentions that she was with a boy from work, but Adam is totally at peace with the world, totally absorbed in his work on Major Barbara. Hannah tries to seduce him away from his work, but Adam doesn't want to have sex prior to rehearsal. Here Adam returns to a great old Adam thing last glimpsed, if I remember correctly, in this season's first episode, which is infantalizing Hannah when she calls him out. She didn't plan on making it complicated, she says, referring to the sex he doesn't want to have, and he laughs it off. This is vintage Adam, which is important to keep in mind.

In between these scenes, Marnie has a series of encounters. She meets up with Soo Jin, who is living Marnie's dream of being in a relationship, making music, running her new gallery — and Soo Jin wants Marnie in on all of it, but as an assistant, an apprentice towards this life that Soo Jin seems to have been able to seize with money and familial support. Marnie seems to have both these things, too, which, I believe, probably leaves her with the feeling that for all her privilege, there is something about her that is keeping her from doing what she wants to do.

Marnie explores this internal flaw when she meets up with Desi, who takes her journal and makes up little song pieces with her from what she's done. Desi berates her, in his suave-Ray act, about her tendency to diminish her work. He tells Marnie she's a writer, and what a thing to hear. She sees Soo Jin living the dream that belonged to her, and a man she's so taken with tells her she has something of Hannah in her, after Marnie has done so much to control and compartmentalize the Hannah element in her life. In an echo of Hannah and Adam's scene, Desi brings up his girlfriend the way Hannah brings up her male friend from work: just setting the scene, letting you know these threats exist.

Jessa is also with a man — Withnail has been crashing with her and Shoshanna for days untold, and he and Jessa are piled onto each other, babbling, more physical with one another than they were when Jessa was even soberish. Zosia Mamet plays a frayed Shoshanna so well, and I wish the whole scene could have been quieter, especially once Withnail leaves to see a man about a horse. Jessa has no regard for Shoshanna at all and keeps right on yammering as Withnail leaves.

Hannah abortively tries to visit Adam at rehearsal and walks, devastated, by a large advertisement featuring Adam prominently — way more professional recognition on a public and visual level than she has attained so far, and she did have a reasonable expectation at the beginning of the season that she was on her way to attaining some kind of professional validation on at least a comparable scale. This is a rough place to go, though, so instead of excavating her feelings about her book — it's pretty crucial that audiences haven't heard about Hannah's book in several episodes — Hannah power clashes with Elijah and opines the death of sex in her relationship. "He's one of the best people I've ever known," she says of Adam. Elijah encourages her to take some action, which, of course, involves Marnie's apartment and complicated underwear, but before getting into that: Adam is one of the best people Hannah's ever known? Where to look for evidence of what Hannah means by this: when Hannah told Marnie in season one that she hates everyone who loves her, when she told her father in season two how she hates his look of concern, when she extolled to Marnie, Jessa, and Shoshanna in "Beach House" how Adam expects nothing of her, so she gives him everything. Adam does not approach Hannah with corrective impulses, and even though his acceptance of her is fueled — at least in part — by a conscious obliviousness to who she really is, it at least gives her the ability to be who she is alongside someone who isn't dedicated to correcting her or teaching her lessons. I haven't forgotten about what Adam told his AA group, though, which is that being around Hannah involves "teaching her everything" — I think it's this gap that poses, and has posed, the greatest danger to them as a unit. As this episode demonstrates, Adam is moving on as a person, Hannah has "an old idea" of who he is, because professional validation has alerted him he can't just be old Adam and get by anymore. This is an accusation: Hannah's inability to abandon old Hannah, Adam's insinuating, is the reason her professional validation has disintegrated. Alyssa Rosenberg at Vulture nailed down exactly why this, from Adam, is bullshit:
Hannah may be a more difficult person than Adam is, less able to detach her body from the whirling clockwork of her brain. But that’s not exactly, or at least not entirely, the reason her road to the same sort of artistic independence that Adam’s achieved so easily is proving harder than his is. What people want from Adam, for him to be handsome, and dark, and a little weird and a lot intense, costs him very little. But what the professional world wants from Hannah, for her to repurpose her entire life into a monetizable story, and to do it before she gets old enough for her antics to be pathetic and unmarketable, costs quite a lot.
Before it all comes crashing down around Hannah, though, and Adam leaves her to stay with Ray, Hannah Hitchcocks him in an attempt to recapture their season one sex life where Adam fantasized that Hannah was "an orphan with a disease," among other things.

I liked the way Marnie's b-plot figured into this episode, but Jessa's was rushed. Shoshanna calls an intervention, dropping a bomb on Jessa and Withnail by inviting them and Withnail's daughter, Dot, to dinner. Much of what comes out of Dot's mouth and the conversation she has with her father resembles so closely exchanges Jessa has had with her own father, which is detectable even though the audience has seen Jessa interact minimally with her father. "You can't imagine how beautiful he can be; he'll never show you," Dot says of Withnail. I would have liked to have seen more lingering on what a destructive move this was for Jessa, but the focus is anchored on Dot, who has a skin condition, and Shoshanna, who watches Dot and Withnail like she watches daytime television. The purpose of the scene — how much Dot's situation mirrors Jessa's and how Dot, achieving and successful, represents everything Shoshanna wants to be in spite of her family. That's a lot on one scene full of amazing actors, and it could have been a major part of its own episode, the way Jessa's eruption at Thomas John was last season.

I wonder how strong a meta-element is this recurrent tension about making "progress" in a show that has not even an old idea of what it is, but a regressive one. That sounds even harsher than I mean it to, because regression has its purpose, and taking stock of one's foundation's adequacy can be vital to progress that looks the way it's expected to.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Body of the author: 27 years.

I am so grateful. Thursday night, I had been invited as the featured reader at the Almost Uptown Poetry Cartel, and Julia not only previewed the reading on the site we work for, but she and my close work friends came! And they enjoyed it! I rarely get to share my writing with my best friends, let alone new ones, so I am overwhelmed they all took the time to come and listen to me.

And then I turn around and the magnificent Tamryn Spruill has written so glowingly of Come as Your Madness and I can't believe it. And that is after a day of so many coworkers asking me how the reading went and if/when I'll have another one! This could not have come at a better time.

And I have an essay in the first print issue of the Juvenilia! Which only exists in the real world. So you'll have to become real before you read it. Take your time. It will wait for you.