Fumbling deaf dumb and blind

A Radar commenter points out that Joni Mitchell wrote the original impressionistic, disillusioned party report.

I was listening to that song last night (um, what are the odds) and it got me started thinking about going to people’s parties, even though actually yes, there is a rule on the Internet that once Choire has weighed in about something there’s no point in anyone else doing so. And Choire really did nail it — except that the people I was talking to when Jessica was lurking around the periphery of our conversation, collecting dissilussioning impressions, are friends. No -imies suffix needed. And boy it is so true that we don’t control anything.

But even after Choire made sense of things I was still feeling angry at Jessica for sneaking into a party, not really bothering to talk to anyone except to confirm some biases she had going in, and then writing a sweeping pronouncement about it on the Internet and claiming that her insults and exaggerations and reductive, random slams were actually representative of her fearless writerly honesty. But then — uh oh! — I realized that I wasn’t feeling angry so much as I was feeling guilty. Hindsight, man. It’s like 20/10 around here lately.

There’s a difference between being honest and using “honesty” as a justification for being an asshole, and that difference can take years to figure out. I’m still trying to figure it out. I do know that it helps to actually talk to people and listen to what they have to say. It’s also good to actually describe things, to consider the source of everything you hear and everything you read, and to stop being flattered when someone who bears all the hallmarks of being a coward — anonymity, for instance! — tells you that you’re brave.

It’s hard to forgo the satisfaction of savaging someone when you know you’ve got the ammunition, and it’s hard to say no when you’re offered the spotlight. It’s hard to resist snap judgments. It’s hard to ask questions. But if you’re actually interested in being an “honest writer,” these are the things you’ll have to do. On the plus side, though, no blow jobs are involved.

(Also, I’m reinstating comments, but watch your step, crazies.)

(Also, unrelated to anything, via Alice:  the point of YouTube turns out to be Steve Nicks backstage awes randomness).

39 comments to Fumbling deaf dumb and blind

  • Heh. I happen to be that Joni referencing commenter. (It happens. A lot. The Joni referencing.) So fun to stumble across this. Also, I’m the chick who stated and sticks by my claim that Emily’s true skill in handling the recent Internet drama over her NYTimes piece/book deal was to rise above the whole matter and make use of the opportunity to name her book after a Stevie Nicks lyric. Clearly what matters most about the recent brouhaha is that it has transformed into a strategic and awesome way to send a public love letter to Ms Nicks. You can’t really go wrong when using Nicks/Mitchell, etc, as your basis of analysis.

  • Eric

    Also, unrelated to anything, via Russia: I really liked your interview with Gary Shteyngart (et. al.), and I *love* that magazine. The Virgin America flight attendants asked me what I was reading that was making me laugh so much. (The annotated lyrics to ‘Gonna Get Punished’). I hope you write for them again, I think your style really fits theirs.

  • Sarah

    It’s true, Choire is a genius with a real knack for cutting to the chase while also being both smart and charming.


    While I agree that poor little Jessica Roy is naive and a bit misguided, I don’t think she’s entirely wrong. Frankly, I’m a bit tired of this disingenuous attitude that has become all the rage amongst a certain set of bloggers. You know what I’m talking about…that particular sort of amused disbelief that anyone would consider a blogger to have any sort of influence at all. Indeed, that was the case a few years ago but let’s be honest – times have changed. And young Jessica’s piece is kind of a perfect example of that, don’t you think?

    To Jessica, many people in your social circle, Emily, have achieved a certain level of success. No, none of you are publishing best sellers (yet) or have achieved significant name recognition beyond New York (yet) but you do represent a sort of achievable level of status that I can imagine would be extremely appealing to a young person who has not yet graduated from college. That may seem funny to you and maybe you really do see yourselves as a group of people who all just happen to go to the same parties but I think it’s also possible that you’re too “insidery” at this point to parse the distinctions.

    So. Jessica Roy shouldn’t have crashed your parties but what she wrote about her experiences there probably wasn’t as far off the mark as you might like to believe.

    Choire for president!

  • emily

    Hi Sarah,

    I don’t think we disagree about anything. I’m just saying that Jessica would have had a different experience at that party if she hadn’t decided beforehand that the people there were somehow different from her, and that instead of, like, TALKING TO THEM she’d just walk around taking mental notes about their awfulness based on overheard snippets of conversation. When smart, funny, intelligent 23 year old women get written off as “underage Lolitas,” well, that’s pretty far off the mark.

    Maybe you’re right that some of these people “represent a sort of acheivable level of status” — it’d be hard to find a large group of people gathered in a backyard in any gentrified Brooklyn neighborhood on a Saturday night who didn’t represent a sort of achievable level of status in some field. And so that means … what, exactly? I’m not saying that no one there has any influence at all — Choire, who you nominate for president, said that, not me. I’m saying that they aren’t important in the way Jessica thinks they are.

  • Sarah

    Absolutely agree, Emily.

    I guess my point is that I wouldn’t expect this young girl – whose insecurity is more than evident in the piece she wrote – to have had any other kind of reaction. There was no way she was going to strike up a conversation with you or Keith Gessen or any of the other people she recognized but didn’t actually know – almost noone at that age has that kind of confidence.

    And I think anyone who has come of age in New York can understand how it feels the first time they find themselves in a room with a group of people whose career achievements they aspire to. It’s scary as hell! And more than that, for a certain type of person it’s easy to jump to the defensive “they all suck and are mean” position.

    But hopefully young Jessica will grow out of this phase and grow up to become more enlightened (also probably more jaded, cynical and fun at parties).

  • Well said. No tears for the writer, no tears for the audience.

  • Kara

    Your distinction between honesty and using honesty to be an asshole is so true.

    I’m teaching intro to journalism to a bunch of college sophomores in summer school, and the concept of objectivity as opposed to subjectivity in reporting is actually really difficult to impart because when you’re nineteen and figuring shit out, it’s hard to think that you might not be right about everything all the time. And it’s not like I’m all that much older than them. But the older I get, the more nuanced everything seems.

  • tra la la

    wait, i am so confused

    are you saying you see your self in this girl’s behavior and, having looked in the mirror, learned something?

    or getting almost there and then inching carefully away from it

    just can’t tell

  • Jack McKee



    Elba was a bitch…

  • I just read the Jessica article. I’m sorry, did I read it right? Is she escaping to Paris when she thinks NY is full vapid people who like to criticize? Criticizing is France national sport.
    I’m sorry but I think they will eat that poor little cocotte alive in Paris.


  • Choire

    Oh good! Comments are back! Ain’t no party like an Emily’s website comments party.

    Je suis Jessica Roy! Nous sommes tous Jessica Roy!

  • Amy

    That Stevie video is THE. BEST. But there are so many good ones on youtube to choose from. She’s special. See, I wasn’t kidding before when I said I’m here primarily for the SN/FM references.

  • Amy

    You’ve probably already seen this, but just in case.


  • “But hopefully young Jessica will grow out of this phase and grow up to become more enlightened (also probably more jaded, cynical and fun at parties).”

    Well, we’ll see what we can do for her in Paris this fall.

  • Rebecca A.

    How’s your cat Emily? The one with HIV? (Well both of them…how are both of them?) How about you post some updated pictures!!! We are kindred spirits you are I, although since I don’t have a blog you have no way of knowing that, especially when it comes to cats…..

    Oh and as someone who went to college in NYC, (and also as someone who has been to a few “trendy” parties here and there, even participated in giving one) I think this Jessica is a whiner. Yeah I was from a different world and had different aspirations, but you know what? I would have made conversation. I have ALWAYS found (even when I was MUCH younger than the young at heart age I am now) that people are more approachable than you think they will be….IF You actually just go up and start a conversation. Especially smart people.

  • chris

    i dont think it was an attack on you, as much as her disappointment in the shattering of an illusion she thought was real.

    (well, ok, maybe the blow job thing was an attack on you)

    the point is at 20 you have all of these preconceived notions of what life is supposed to be. after the security blanket of college, its likely “young jess” will be having quite a few more of these moments.

    why let this get to you?

  • Though I may bleakly listen to “Free Man In Paris” on my iPod every morning on my commute to a soul-crushing job in the distraction industry, I can’t equate Joni Mitchell with any kind of bleakness. The pure, sunny bourgeoisie runs too deep. But watching this tonight, I couldn’t help but feel warm memories of crushed dreams close to home:


    We love you, rhymeswithmemily!

  • Phyllis

    Are you reinstating comments because you tired of the lack of attention, both positive and negative?

  • Evelyn Marie

    It’s weird for me, someone a zillion degrees removed from this specific social rat-king, that these legions of haters could be so myopic and narcissistic in their projection of the very same qualities onto others/you.

    Reminds me of how we resent our siblings, parents for displaying the flaws we so want to conceal in ourselves. I don’t know.

    Regardless. Right on, Ms. Gould.

  • Jen

    Apart from anything else, I was always really impressed at how much effort you put into being honest and exploring an issue from multiple sides, even at Gawker where it was not really in the site mandate!
    The thing is, when people get jealous and spiteful, it’s really a failure of empathy for the complications of just about anyone’s life and tribulations. Jessica’s very young, so she gets a pass, but it’s an awfully useful thing to remind yourself of in NY.

  • Hi Emily
    I’ve never commented before. The Jessica scandal made me so f-ing grateful that I wasn’t writing on the web at that age. (The same kind of grateful I get when I see a teen starlet on TV making grand statements about politics and/or her own love life. ) The thing I found strange about what she wrote is that she didn’t write… anything. Exactly how were any of you being such jerks? And exactly how do you all control the industry? Hard to say. Mainly I am just so embarrassed for her. Especially for her belief that this, THIS is going to expose everything– change everything! Nothing will ever be the same. And now she will be remembered as a kind of shy lurking naive young thing.

  • Reinstated Crazies: Did you miss us?

  • poisson

    You’re brave.

  • One of the reasons “The Dark Knight” made so much money this weekend was probably because Heath Ledger’s Joker is the ultimate anonymous commenter.

  • emily

    @Phyllis: Probs!
    @Blueseaurchin: In a way!
    @poisson: Oh, *clever.*

  • I just stumbled across this Tennessee Williams quote (in the current issue of The Week): “All cruel people describe themselves as paragons of frankness.” So I guess it’s nothing new. I’m not sure lashing out due to insecurity/jealousy/inexperience is the same as cruelty, but it sort of looks the same on the screen.

  • JC Costa

    This what I wrote Keith about the matter a few days ago:

    hey, so when all was said and done by you, the crew at n+1, gawker commenters, choire, alex, emily and, lastly, the disaffected young femme writer who just left town, it was all about exclusion and inclusion, just like back in the days at max’s kansas city or, more appropriately, elaine’s.


  • Le Fabuleux Destin De Simeon Poisson

    Hi, Emily. Like a lot of people who read Emily Magazine, I became the subject of pretty widespread attention (both good and bad) through my blog by being outspoken, arguing with celebrities, stuff like that. I’m also a little bit older than you and don’t have a book deal. But at my day-job (part time, $8.50/hr.), I work around a lot of really smart, hyper-educated, worldly women. Lately, I’ve been learning what it feels like to be emasculated. It sucks, because as far as I can tell, feeling emasculated equates to being intimidated and nervous around people that are really awesome to be around and have lots of interesting things to say. One of the things I’ve been doing to get over it is to remind myself that the women I feel emasculated by are probably excited someone appreciates the things they’ve worked hard to accomplish. They probably understand that I feel that way (emasculated), and I probably just need to have a little faith that they’ll meet me half-way.

    The fact that I feel emasculated while leaving this comment on your blog makes me wonder if Jessica Roy considers you to be a role model. Thinks you’re “brave,” wants to be just like you. And the one thing in this installment of EmMag that didn’t sit right was the part where you said anonymity is a hallmark of cowardice.

    I *think* (meaning there’s the slightest bit of hesitation) that ultimately, you’re responsible for the response you have to positive-yet-anonymous attention. Kind of like if you’re talking with someone over AOL and they say “I’m studying Simeon Poisson. I just started and it’s a slow-and-difficult process because I have a hard time understanding what he has to say, but the fact that it’s so challenging is what makes me love it so much.”

    If you’ve never heard of “Simeon Poisson” and look him up in a popular online encyclopedia at the same time they’re telling you that, it’s up to you to decide if you’re going to find a polite way to express interest (“Yeah, I’m looking him up right now… This is really cool.”) or if you’re going to be an asshole and say “Yeah, I don’t find it difficult at all. To tell you the truth, I have encylopedic knowledge of him already and I’m just not impressed with the guy.”

    Anyway, I recently took a minute to read the sample chapter of your book. That bit about your desperate ex-boyfriend was pretty intense. Poor guy probably misses you. If he’s like my friends who play bass in up-and-coming noise rock bands (backs to the crowd and everything), he’ll probably see it when he swings by your blog to make sure you’re not abusing nasal spray. That said, I, as a late-twenties, procastinating, slacker narcissist who just finished his first 8 hour workday in 10 years read your blog because I think that you’re going to write things that are less “Trading Up” and more like “Sex In The City.” I thought the former sucked and really enjoyed the latter. But I also noticed that when you and I were in our early twenties, Amelie Poulain, Janey Wilcox and Carrie Bradshaw were (and still are) popular archetypes.

    And I think that you just wrote a textbook an entire class of young women are going to read to find out how *they* can get a book deal and work for publications like Jezebel and date cute, smart, artistic, intellectual, popular “boys.” When I try to think of an anonymous person who used your comments to tell you to be brave, I think of the person who said s/he’s friends with the woman who bought your book and that you should take your good fortune and use it to do something awesome.

    Point being, I really like your blog and what you do with it is none of my business. Since I keep a blog and live in a big city and have dealt with a lot of the same issues you have, I like to come by here and see what you’re up to. It’s a way to keep myself honest. And something about this whole thing reinforces the idea I’ve had that situations where flattery is involved are a lot like situations where crack is exchanged for sexual favors.

    And it’s like the $350k Woman said: If you do it the right way, no blow jobs are necessary.

    Keep It Real,

    P.S. It was a really interesting day in my personal blog saga, and it ended up being a lot of work wrapping my mind around that remark (about anonymity being a hallmark of cowardice) Even though it didn’t fit, it was a good time. Thanks.

  • ali

    Well, since we’re doing quotes here (are we doing quotes here, in the comments?), I’ve got one. It’s from a profile of the playwright Richard Greenberg that the NY Times mag did a couple years ago. I loved it. He said this:

    “But you know what, I appreciate people who are civil, whether they mean it or not. I think: Be civil. Do not cherish your opinion over my feelings. There’s a vanity to candor that isn’t really worth it. Be kind.”

    Kind of applicable here? Even if not, it’s good!

  • e.gaffer

    It is about inclusion but it’s also not fair to think that just because this girl feels on the outside her insights are irrelevant. I thought she came off as prematurely bitter but part of me felt really bad for her.

    And people outside of New York ARE New York-obsessed for the commenter who wrote that. And this group of people have achieved real success. See: Benjamin Kunkel and Sloane Crosley being on The New York Times bestseller lists — someone told me the other day that both of those people have paved the way for others to intelligently navel-gaze forever and I kind of agree — but are they even in the same universe as Leon and people like that? Probably not anymore. But still – even our own Emily being on the cover of The New York Times Magazines. I think that Jessica just misinterpreted the navel-gazing as being randomly snooty.

    Then again, at this point, not sure if people like Kunkel & Crosley (sounds like a hipster law firm) would even ATTEND such a gathering. I have a hard time imagining Eggers or Franzen attending, for example. It’s just a group of dorky kids sleeping with eachother not an intellectual movement. So part of me feels for Jessica and part of my thinks she just needs to take it for what it was — a bunch of dorky people having a fun night out.

  • like you miss the summer in winter, or like an ex you don’t necessarily want to see, hear, touch or speak to ever again, but still some how miss?


  • emily

    @Simeon Poisson: $350K, huh? See above re: “consider the source of everything you hear and everything you read.”
    @e.gaffer: Well, one of them was there!
    @Evil Amy Sohn: See above re: “watch your step, crazies.”

  • The Six-and-Three-Quarter-Dollars-After-Taxes Man

    @Simeon Poisson: $350K, huh? See above re: “consider the source of everything you hear and everything you read.”

    There’s this writer/polemicist I really like named Christopher Hitchens. As far as I can tell, he *likes* standing in-front of the crowd outside of Max Ophuls’ “Palace of Power.” (Sounds like a reality show-meets-American Gladiators thing you’d see on USA). I recently watched a debate between he and his brother (if you’d like to watch it, it’s here: http://youtube.com/user/HauensteinCenter). Half of it was dedicated to the subject of religion. Both he and his brother are considered conservative. Hitchens identifies (and occasionally allies) with the Neo-Con crowd. His brother is even more conservative (in the traditional sense).

    I won’t say which city the debate took place in, but I’ll say that I lived there for a couple of years and grew up in the city next door. It’s the Bible Belt Buckle. It’s been suggested that between the Prince family (Eric Prince of Blackwater), the Van Andel’s, the Devos’, and countless other less prominent gazillionaires, they’ve built themselves a blonde-haired, blue-eyed monarchy that makes Jesse Helms look like a member of Code Pink.

    And at one point, Hitchens is trying to convince the audience that it’s unreasonable to deny the logical bottom line of atheism (an argument against religion that can open the doors for antitheism). Now, most of that audience is Dutch Christian Reformed. Even the most intellectually inclined of this demographic will – without even considering shame is something they should take into consideration – stoop to the strangest and most pathetic lows to support and (more importantly) embrace their religion.

    To do so (convince the audience it’s unreasonable to deny the logical Bottom Line), after explaining the indignity, inhumanity, and inherent destructiveness of being such a thing, he polls the audience by asking anyone who considers themselves a sheep to stand up and admit to it. Statistically, the majority of the audience should have stood up immediately, proudly, and with their chins held high. Or, everyone would have stayed put, wondering why the Entertainment was trying to assert authority by having the audacity and hubris to consider it anything but his duty to speak and potentially burn bridges with his brother *for* them.

    So, standing there in the same place Darrow had stood before him, Hitchens was faced with the most disappointing and heartbraking response imaginable. If you want to know what I mean, watch the video.

    To the best of my knowledge, Ed McMahon’s never shown up at anybody’s house, knocked on the door and said, “Congratulations – everything’s smooth sailing from here on out. You’ve won a permanent state of satisfaction and fulfillment for the rest of your days.” But if the person was old enough, and if he had access to a decent LaserJet, I wouldn’t put it past the slimy piece of shit. Tell your therapist (the one who says you aren’t a celebrity) that those people that come by to tell you they’ll follow you for the rest of your career are what we-in-the-90’s referred to as stalkers. They make Ted Bundy look like a lollipop salesmen.

    I notice Ed lost his house recently. Followed it up with an appearance on on Larry King. He was wearing a fucking neckbrace, talking about suing his neighbor for having an unsafe walkway. Now he and old boy are shilling for the auto industry. Fuck it, maybe McMahon and Kimmel will spoof themselves. “Crazy Jimmie’s Slashing Prices and The Blue, Hairy Backed, Homeless Wookie says it’s a True Fact and Has No Problem Sucking Dick For Cocaine, a Sailboat, Bryan Ferry records, and the right to show his chest hair to mid-priced WeHo hookers.” (http://youtube.com/watch?v=x0sGAIHUC5I)

    If your publisher gave you anything more than a bucket of poulet frit and a subscription to Newsweek, my point still stands. I probably won’t read your book, but I like EmMag enough that I won’t think about what it means if that’s all you got. Regardless, one way or the other, maybe Jessica will be more fortunate.

    Which is so much better than taking it in the ass from Kimmel because they resent each other so much it becomes sexual. Because I can guarantee with 100% certainty he’s thought about doing it to you. And if you think I’m wrong, the only proof I need is the fact that he’s just not funny.

    I’ve seen Jimmy Kimmel’s stand-up. He pollutes the 15/30 seconds that keeps interrupting time with my family (Brothers and Sisters), and my main man (Daybreak) and I’ve seen him hosting Larry King Live. He and Tom Brokaw have matching tattoos on their faces of their favorite celebrities and more-accomplished colleagues. Jimmy Kimmel isn’t smart. He’s the sort of person that appeals to the lowest common denominator, the most sheepish of the sheep. He’s an untalented piece of shit and had to belittle you for the same reason that if I’d never seen his stand-up, I’d still bet my life savings (can’t bleed a stone, Kimmel) he’s not funny.

    ‘Cause he’s a stupid fucking bitch.

  • The Six-and-Three-Quarter-Dollars-After-Taxes Man

    *he and Brokaw have matching tattoos on their faces of the asses belonging to their favorite celebrities and more-accomplished colleagues, like the Morrissey fan with a sharpie and a little tolerance for pain.

  • I’m way late to the party here, but when I read the Jessica Roy piece, it sort of killed me, and I’m glad you responded. The whole tone of it sounded like it came directly from Mitch Kramer from Dazed and Confused after his first high school party.

    People are writing off her comments as the awe-struck musings of a naive college kid, but she’s savvy enough to know that if she had nothing but positives to say, there’s no story. She’s also well-schooled enough in this rough-and-tumble blog world, apparently, to master the art of the passive-aggressive swipe.

  • >There’s a difference between being honest and using “honesty” as a justification
    >for being an asshole, and that difference can take years to figure out.

    I’m still kicking myself because I didn’t record where I recently read this exact sentiment (and I’m still looking for it because I’m dying to send it to a few choice people, so if anyone recognizes it, please…) but it was one of the neatest little memoirs I’ve ever read, and it cited this epiphany as being the dividing line between the author’s adolescence and her adulthood. There’s a world of truth in this observation.

  • cj

    Jen said: >”The thing is, when people get jealous and spiteful, it’s really a failure of >empathy for the complications of just about anyone’s life and tribulations.”


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