Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

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.