“I am not sure whether, even if I had welcomed it, these women would have wanted to be my mentors. But I am certain that it didn’t much matter: I have always been too scared, in one way or another, to pursue or even accept mentoring; too proud to admit up close what I don’t know; too intimidated to seek those who can show me. So when I read about Sontag’s blithe dismissal, I feel like a sugar-starved child watching adults decline ice cream cones.”—
I found Molly Fischer’s essay about Jezebel, The Hairpin, xojane.com and Rookie interesting, provocative, and deeply frustrating. Her dissection of these blogs’ aesthetics and the rhetorical styles they’ve bred in their commenter-bases is skillful, but what is its point? There are a lot of filler posts and overt invitations to commenter sycophancy on blogs. This is a little like saying “there are blogs.” I’m also suspicious when anyone tells me what “the Internet” did, as if the Internet ever packs its collective bags and moves anywhere as a whole, as in, “Thenceforth, the internet noticed xojane only when it perpetrated something really egregious.” The internet, at least my internet, has noticed a couple of things about xojane lately that have not been really egregious: Michelle Tea’s interesting diary of her attempts to get pregnant springs to mind. Which leads me to my other point. In composing an essay that ranges from the smell of Moe Tkacik’s forgotten tampon all the way to whether it’s creepy that thirtysomething women revere Tavi Gevinson, it’s going to be hard not to leave anything out. But here are some things that don’t fit comfortably into Fischer’s theory that these blogs’ internet is “a place to make people like you: the world’s biggest slumber party”:
These pieces are not likeable. They are not about “performing inclusion.” They are not about “how to belong.” They are about some of the most treacherous and controversial aspects of being female, and I am so glad they exist. They exist alongside lesser stuff, a lot of which annoys me. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It means that blogs have to pump out a lot of varied content to stay economically viable, “lady-” or no.
Media that’s explicitly created “for women” is inherently problematic, but simultaneously, women-only spaces (ha! sorry! So Sarah Lawrence!) can be important sites (again, sorry) of radical change. They can also be sites of retro eye makeup tutorials. Whether they can successfully be those things simultaneously remains to be seen. But to completely ignore the former while focusing the latter trivializes something that, appearances to the contrary, is not actually trivial.
Cook’s Illustrated executive editor Amanda Agee ladles herself a tray full of samples of water in which bay leaves had been steeped for various amounts of time during a taste test for an upcoming Kitchen Notes entry. See more behind-the-scenes photos at: http://bit.ly/o0qi36
PSA: this is a great tumblr to follow if you love taste tests, recherché cooking tips and dumb puns (I love all of these.)
“There was a moment in the office, my third year in the business. It was past 7pm and my boss was scheduled to fly to Frankfurt for the book fair the following morning. I was sitting at my desk, patiently waiting for her to leave so that I could go home. She called my name and asked me for her flight confirmation number. I told her I had to look it up and she went into a fit of rage: “How do you not know my confirmation number? You know what? Don’t bother. I’ll look it up. You should just go home.” At that moment, she could have told me that I wasn’t fit to edit a Chinese take-out menu and I would have believed her.”—
“It took me weeks to get up the courage to show her any of my work, though she, in her typical way, kept prodding. (“I’m dying of curiosity!”) The story I finally gave her was not a story at all but the sort of thing Flannery O’Connor (another major American writer Susan did not love) had in mind when she complained about beginning fiction writers being “concerned primarily with unfleshed ideas and emotions.” Susan saw the problem at once. “You need an agon,” she said. And then, of course, she had to explain to me what that meant.
At other times she cautioned me against being too explicit, and she said I should try to write more elliptically and streamline the prose to get it moving at a faster clip. (“If there’s one thing modernism has taught us, it’s that speed is everything.”) Describing an evening as sultry, she told me, was as bad as describing someone as having distinguished gray hair.
Other than this, though, I remember very little that she said about anything I ever showed her that was helpful. Most of the problem lay with me: I was like a lot of the students I would end up teaching. It’s not criticism many young writers want, just praise, thank you very much. And Susan did offer praise; in fact, she was overgenerous. (“I’m so relieved,” she confessed, after reading my work that first time. And one could tell she really was. She had taught in a writing program and knew that having an MFA did not necessarily mean that you could write a sentence.) But because I did not like her fiction—because I saw so little to admire in her use of language, her style—I did not trust what she had to say about writing.”—
Last night, Marco Roth asked Emily Carter this question and I desperately wish I had transcribed her entire response. I don’t want to misquote her but I do remember that the sense of it was that her writing itself, the fact of its existence, is a feminist act. “When you look at a girl, and she looks back and looks you in the eye, whether she knows it or not, that’s a feminist act.”
“Metaphor is the currency of knowledge. I have spent my life learning incredible amounts of disparate, disconnected, obscure, useless pieces of knowledge and they have turned out to be, almost all of them, extremely useful. Why. Because there is no such thing as disconnected facts. There is only complex structure. And both to explain complex structure to others and, perhaps more important— this is forgotten, usually — to understand it oneself, one needs better metaphors.”—
"That’s real blonde, isn’t it?" said a voice behind me. I was dancing in a minidress, dripping with sweat and making eyes at every man and woman in the half-lit nightclub. Wait, no: I was in the Hoyt-Schermerhorn subway station, which despite recent renovations is one of the saddest places known to New York public transit. The whole thing is basically constructed from rat corpses and peeling paint and its location near the hub of several City social services headquarters means that the people passing through its turnstiles are, best case scenario, in bad moods. It was 20 degrees out, I was wrapped head to toe in utilitarian outerwear, but my ponytail was still visible and that was enough.
"Is it? Are you a real blonde? I know you! I see you around here! I know you!" the man continued. I didn’t get a good look at him; he was just outside my peripheral vision, slightly behind me, over my right shoulder. I was in that vulnerable moment of taking my metrocard out of my wallet, it usually only takes a second but it was so cold that all the pieces of plastic were stuck together in their sheath.
19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29 year old me might have turned her head and automatically flashed this person a polite, disarming smile. Without realizing she was doing it she might have laughed a perfunctory laugh, as though he’d told a joke. God forbid you make someone uncomfortable. God forbid you give someone every right to follow after you shouting “Bitch! Stuck-up bitch!” so that every other commuter turns around and looks at you and you end up drawing attention to yourself.
30 year old me just kept walking, unstuck the card, swiped it through the turnstile, didn’t even turn to check to see whether he was still following, didn’t even speed up, not even a little bit.
“The bawdy humor makes it easy to ignore the quality of the writing—and then to be cowed by its ease. Carter’s figurative language is minimal and usually fruit-filled and lapidary (“The temptation to act badly dangled before me like an irradiated apple, emitting a sick and luminous glow”). Bleary eyes are “dusty grapes,” an embarrassed child “sparkl[es] quietly like a candied plum,” and her husband is an “uncut jewel… who could spell ‘phlegm’ if he had to.” But the whimsy is low-key. Usually, Glory’s giving it to us straight: “I was the most useless and helpless of all things,” she announces, “a rich girl with no money whatsoever.””—
“It’s easiest when you have a lot to get rid of some of it, so then you can have something to blame when things go wrong. Sometimes I believe that’s really what those friends were trying to do: making themselves weak so that they’d have to be noticed and cared for.”—
“I used to go to Al-Anon, largely because I couldn’t afford therapy,” I said, “but also because I went out with one alcoholic or addict after another. I accompanied those guys to AA meetings, too, and held their hands the entire time,” I confessed, cringing a little. “So you’re more than a little bit familiar with the Twelve Steps and Traditions,” she said. “Put it this way,” I said. “For someone whose primary addictions are to Trident Bubble, singing in private, and recovery memoirs, I’ve spent an awful lot of time in ‘The Rooms.’” She laughed again. “But that’s not really true,” I said. “My main addiction has been to male approval.”—
This is a game Ruth and I made up today when we were sitting around drinking coffee and trying to wrap our minds around the idea of emerging into a New Year/putting on real pants. I woke up with the Katy Perry song about smelling like a minibar stuck in my head and so I’d been thinking about KP, specifically about how she and Zoeey Deschanel, in addition to being human beings, also seem like variations on the same brand concept aimed at slightly different demographics. This is related to but distinct from Molly Lambert’s black swan/white swan game, which evaluates twinned entities and determines which is the evil/better half. To be a trash swan (Katy is Zoeey’s), you have to be the more accessible, mass-market version of a person, band, concept, food, et cetera, but you do not have to be evil necessarily. You shouldn’t be related to the class swan except via this relationship: a brand’s diffusion line is not its couture brand’s trash swan, but probably something else is.
The Eagles are the trash swan of the Byrds. Liz Phair has staged several attempts to become her own trash swan but can’t get around herself, thank goodness. My inability to think of more good ones right now might be a sign that this isn’t a great game, or it might mean that I’m still brain-damaged from last night.