Other than that fear and the constant feeling of loss of an essential part of the self, life turns out to be so much easier when you’ve turned off the part of your brain that does writing! I have a job now where I work during the weeks and for the first couple of months of it I was in the library each weekend working on the book, but now my weekends are weekends. I experienced the feeling of “TGIF” for the first time in years on 10/11 and I probably don’t have to tell you that TGIF is A GREAT FEELING. I’ve had so much time these past few weeks to hang out and have fun and organize and clean and budget and transfer balances from one credit card to another and make obsessive plans for the future. Does that not sound fun? It has been GREAT. One of the things about working on a book, at least for me — and probably it doesn’t have to be this way! — is that you spend a lot of time in “finals week mode.” Like, years on end. Neglecting your body, your friendships, your family and your finances because nothing is more important than your book. Some of that damage will take years to undo (financial, mostly), but my skin already looks better. Not writing a novel is a beauty treatment. Not writing a novel is a spa vacation. Not writing a novel is the best thing that’s ever happened to me, except the nagging terror that this happiness is temporary and fake and could shade into misery the minute I try to start another one.
Last night I went to see Barbara Browning, Kate Zambreno and Matthias Viegener read and converse at McNally Jackson. Barbara read the part from I’m Trying To Reach You where the narrator describes John Cage and Merce Cunningham’s relationship and Cage’s death, and also Merce Cunningham’s relationship with one of his longtime dancers and his compassion towards her when it was time for her to stop dancing. The passage ends with the words “People often know when they don’t say enough.” Barbara cried a little bit and it was very moving.
After everyone read they had a conversation that began with a suggestion that they start out by talking about “form and formlessness” in their work. Uh oh. But the conversation, though super duper formless, wasn’t boring. I did have just one moment of writhing in my seat, though, and this was when they talked briefly about “bloggy writing.” This started to be an interesting conversation but was curtailed somehow. The panelists talked about the affectations of bloggy writing they find irritating: faux-chattiness, “Hey guys,” phony intimacy. Barbara and Kate said they liked “bloggish” writing but Kate said she hated the words bloggy, blog. All the panelists praised the merits of compression, which Matthias funnily misheard at one point as “confession.” (I’m sorry if I’m misstating any of this or compressing it too much, btw, but I have ten minutes to write this before I leave for work.)
ISN’T BLOGGING A FORM OF PERFORMANCE? I wanted to shout, but it wasn’t Q&A time yet. CAN BLOGGING BE A FORM OF DURATIONAL PERFORMANCE ART? ISN’T ONE OF THE WEIRDEST AND COOLEST THINGS ABOUT BEING ALIVE RIGHT NOW HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE USING WORDS AND IMAGES TO PERFORM AN IDENTITY ONLINE? ISN’T THERE A REAL INTIMACY TRAPPED IN FAKE INTIMACY THAT IS SOMETIMES MORE INTERESTING THAN OVERT INTIMACY?
But even I know that it is rude to ask yes/no questions/non-questions during a q&a so I didn’t do this. I’d like this panel to reconvene and discuss only my pet themes, please.
One of the terrifying things about writing is that sometimes the same techniques and strategies that can improve your work can destroy it, and it’s hard, as you work, to know what’s happening. Sometimes a long process of revision and outside editing can strengthen and clarify stories and make them worth reading; sometimes it can leave them as limp and lifeless as an oil-free steam-table vegan curry. Worse, incompetent editing can shunt experience and description into the evil proscribed molds — This American Life-y punchlines, women’s-magazine happy endings — that kill truth.
The fear seemed completely irrational, which made it even more frustrating and maddening and painful. It was also hard to explain to anyone else what was happening. I would lie and say I was physically sick; it wasn’t really lying. I would stand in the vestibule of my apartment building, waves of nausea washing over me, willing myself to push the door open. Half the time I’d go back inside.
In retrospect, my fear doesn’t seem irrational. I was afraid to leave my apartment because my subconscious had access to the information, stored in some mental safe that my conscious mind couldn’t unlock, that the day was coming when I would leave my apartment and everything in it and everything about the life I was living in it for good, forever.
The Value of Cat Photos: A Discussion (that we did this AM precoffee)
|Choire:||Emily Gould! I am online for 15 minutes, here in the middle of my Official Week Off Work. Thank you very much for pinch-hitting on The Awl this week. How is it… going?|
|Emily:||I didn't really factor in that your being on vacation would mean... that you are on vacation. So that's one thing. I was somehow like "Oh it will be so much fun filling in for Choire, I'll get to IM with Choire all day just like old tymes."|
|Choire:||Oh right. Surprise! Have you actually been to our office??|
|Choire:||How do you like our office?|
|Emily:||So, your office is located in sort of a large windowed closet, in the back room of a production company of some nature, in sort of a best-case-scenario smack dab in the middle of Manhattan location.|
|Choire:||I call it "Penn Station adjacent."|
|Emily:||And the other businesses on your floor could not be more comical if they tried?|
|Emily:||Can we say this, that there's a Private Investigator? Edith was marveling that the door of his office just comes right out and says "Private Investigator." She thinks it should be like... "Carrot Salesman" or something.|
|Choire:||It does seem like a missed opportunity. There's a very handsome tattooed boy who works there who is very shady.|
|Emily:||So no fedora or anything. Ok, that's disappointing. Also a few oddball fake-seeming publications. Like Irish Times Magazine. Home and Away Newspaper. Basically your office is on a soundstage in a made-up world? I dunno, I liked it.|
|Choire:||The Irish Times is, in my mind, a bustling global enterprise. Not just a door to a small room that Irish people sometimes come out of.|
|Emily:||It was reassuring to hear Alex's noises again. Like being in a barn with a familiar horse (not a metaphor).|
|Choire:||He's like one of those pretty horses in a beer commercial. How does actual "blogging" feel?|
|Emily:||It kind of sucks and is kind of fun. I am filled with horrible remorse about everything I've posted, basically?|
|Choire:||EVEN THE CAT SIGN LANGUAGE VIDEO?|
|Emily:||When I write a long thing quickly, especially if it's about A Stance That Will Endear Me To Absolutely No One (aka, "my beat"), I am so afraid I've gotten something crucially wrong. You know, you see that one comment that's like "You're just a terrible writer, these are all garbage sentences." And I'm kind of a perfection ..ist ... ish. Or just, like, a Libra. Sorry, I haven't been to therapy in a while!|
|Choire:||Maybe you're like one of those horses too, like the ones that love to jump but sometimes they look down at the thing they're jumping over and they're like "nnaaaaaay." (OMG SORRY, THIS IS WHAT FREE THERAPY IS LIKE.) Also I spotted in the comments on your first day that someone was like "Are there going to be commenter executions now that you're here?" and you were like "let's hope!" I was LOLing and LOLing.|
|Emily:||Can there be?|
|Choire:||My general practice here is that if I think someone is being a jerk or whatever, I just like, email them.|
|Emily:||In my experience of, er, teaching teenagers yoga... there is always a class clown/bad kid who disrupts the class and almost makes it impossible for the thing to continue. And if he's not there someone else (the mild-mannered girl who you would never have suspected!) steps up to take his place.|
|Choire:||I cannot imagine teaching teenagers ANYTHING, much less yoga. But actually, I think that the kind of regret that you experience on publication, everyone sort of does as well? So when people get called out nicely, the sort of shame or whatever comes out, and they're like "Oh I hate this feeling, I won't put myself in this position again." (Except the real trolls, who are just trolls, nbd.)|
|Emily:||Well, grand scheme of things, it's interesting to think of all the people we've known who've sort of graduated from being trolls to being productive members of blog society.|
|Choire:||The thing I like about blogs is that they're not over-worked. I say dumb stuff, I get stuff wrong, I wake up on the wrong side of the bed, I highlight things that aren't actually interesting… I dunno, I guess I'm extremely self-forgiving or maybe perhaps not very conscientious. So I'm glad you have a high bar!|
|Emily:||It's crippling and I think I censor myself too much. For a while I was so paranoid about offending anyone ever that I couldn't write anything.|
|Choire:||That sounds terrible!|
|Emily:||And then I guess kind of recently I started to loosen up. That book The Buddhist had a lot to do with it anyway. And then, you know, I swing to the other end of the spectrum and check myself. Well, the thing about Working Out Your Stuff in Public is that you have to be careful not to Work Out Anyone Else's stuff.|
|Choire:||But like… isn't it good when viewpoints inspire a reaction? Or was it like, too distracting. (What do you think Katie Roiphe thinks!)|
|Emily:||In the larger world, yes, sure -- I want to provoke people to reexamine their prejudices and reject received ideas. Even if they disagree with me, if they do that I'm happy. With people I know and love, though, if I write something that hurts them, it's impossible to feel happy about that. Or like it was "worth it." Even people I just kind of like, or admire, that thing of walking into a party and worrying half the people there are mad at you... and, like, they are!|
|Choire:||Oh, that's too much burden to take on though!|
|Emily:||Probably the Roiphes of the world love that feeling. It's never been my drug.|
|Choire:||This is why I rarely write anything actually personal! Okay, so, what have we learned in all these years and days of blogging? Oh that's right: NOTHING.|
|Emily:||It's incredibly hard to take away a lesson besides "it's complicated." Um but luckily I am just here to post cat photos, mostly, this week.|
|Choire:||"It's not right but it's okay," as the poet said.|
|Emily:||Which, I guess I should ... get back to that?|
|Choire:||Honestly the website could use way more cat photos. Too many bear videos, not enough Cats Doing Improbable Things.|