My issue of the Make Believe issue of Bitch came in the mail yesterday. I wrote an article in it called “In Love With Herself” about Mary MacLane, a memoirist born in 1891 whose books The Mary MacLane Story and I, Mary MacLane (I know!!) are fascinating time-capsules of what life was like for a funny, astute observer who died 78 years before Tumblr was invented. These books are a little hard to find but well worth the effort.
I reread this essay last night and got super annoyed at myself. I saw the part near the end of it where I had started a sentence by saying “Forgive me for making everything about me, but” and I just cringed and said “No!” And if I don’t forgive me I don’t really expect anyone else to, either.
I was working on this essay during the time right before and after my book came out and boy does it show. Even more than lots of other things I’ve written, this piece is written from a defensive crouch. In it, I rail against people who think that only people who’ve done or seen or survived something objectively important and newsworthy “deserve” to explicitly focus their writing on themselves. Basically I call the people who believe this idiots.
I read to inhabit other people’s consciousnesses; imaginary or real people, it doesn’t make a ton of difference to me. Not everyone feels this way and I guess I shouldn’t call people with whom I disagree idiots, but I tend think people are idiots if they want to cut themselves off from experience. You know what, though? I respect that some people don’t want to be inside someone else’s brain. Maybe that’s just not their favorite flavor of ice cream. It doesn’t make them idiots.
I go into this in more detail in the article, but reviewers really condescended to Mary MacLane. They always mentioned her good looks up front and they pretended to worry about her emotional and physical health. They insulted her and then they pretended to wish her the best in her future endeavors. They wrote about her in a way that no reviewer would ever remotely write about a dude (unless they were Alexandra Jacobs but it was like 100 years ago so none of them were). It was hard for me to get, like, objective critical distance on this shit, and while I guess that’s understandable, a few months of perspective make it easy for me to see how my tendency to take everything personally damaged my essay. I come off as angry and bitter and I never seem to have earned this anger or this bitterness.
My September perspective on my May book is still insane, of course, but by now it’s a little bit more chill. At some point I started to realize how genuinely great it was that some people got it, and that the people who got it really got it, and that other people were not ever going to be able to open themselves up to it. Or maybe more like: nothing had happened to those people to open them up to it. I’m happy for those people, actually, and I hope they can maintain that uncracked status. I still don’t think they should have talked about my looks in their reviews, but in the grand scheme of things this seems like a minor quibble. Also I’ll age out of being an ingenue in like 14 months so I suppose I should live it up while I can.
I’ve been annoyed by a lot of the things that have been written on the Internet around (but not about) Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, which is a book I loved so much that I actually can’t talk about it, in print or IRL. The controversy about books by women not getting reviewed as well, or as much, and then this latest thing by Lionel Shriver (whose books I love!) about how much it sucks that her publishers always try to package her books in a way they think will appeal to women, and it’s like trying to stuff a “rottweiler into a dress” all just made me cringe on behalf of their authors — even when I thought those authors had a point! — because the thing is, I know that particular brand of yes-but-my-book-my-book-my-book-MY-BOOK-HELLOO-MY-BOOK!!! psychosis (Mary MacLane might write that I know it “oh, very well”) and I know that it makes perfect sense from the inside but from the outside it’s just not ever a cute look.
People might care about your book but the stark fact of the matter is that no one will ever care about your book more than you do. I think that is the secret, crazy desire in the heart of every author, male and female: to know what being entirely comprehended feels like, to be so thoroughly and intimately understood. I think that’s what we all deep-down assume that the kind of insta-canonization that Freedom seems to be enjoying entails.
And it might? But I doubt it, actually, because no one is ever on the exact same page. It’s like that moment that can happen during good sex when you think you can sense that you and the other person are absolutely simpatico in terms of everything you are feeling. And maybe you are, maybe you have hit some biochemical, emotional jackpot and all your subtle and gross equipment is tuned to the exact same frequency. But I’m thinking also that it’s possible that this is something that’s only happening in one or the other person’s mind.
The other point I wanted to make was that all that really matters at the end of the day is money, because you can quantify that but the other thing is made out of fantasies.