Part of the problem

It seems obvious to me now that anytime you write about a person online they are likely to read what you’ve written, so you should keep that in mind while writing. It’s odd to think that there was a time — relatively recently! — when I didn’t know this. It’s even odder to read things that are written by people who still haven’t realized this. I mean, either people haven’t realized this or they have zero ethical qualms about hurting other people. Sometimes it’s the latter. That’s a boring line of inquiry, right? Still, people have written entire books about: ‘Whoa, the Internet is such a mean, mean place,’ and my feeling is always, well, duh. Some people are mean. Some people have always been mean, and when you overstimulate mean people and reward them with attention and also vouchsafe quasi-anonymity to them, they’ll get meaner by orders of magnitude. As Lamar Van Dyke might say, “well, yeah. That’d be yeah.”

The interesting thing, to me, is when people write online in a way that belies their belief that they’re passing some kind of secret private note that the person they’re eviscerating — or, more accurately, the received-idea-of-person they’re eviscerating — will never see. I understand this mentality because I used to embody it, uh, approximately 12 times a day. When I thought of the audience for my Gawker posts, I thought about how many people would agree with me, how we’d all bond over my witty observation about how thing/person X sucked in this particular way or had said some impolitic or dumb thing. I really did not ever think of the person I was writing about sitting there and reading what I’d written. I sincerely thought that the kind of people who got written about were somehow different from me.

Well, maybe some people don’t, but I read every single god damn thing that people write about me. All of it. If it is possible to find via a Google Blog or a Technorati search, I have read it. I’m not so obsessive that I will read all the comments on a blog post, and I definitely haven’t read all the comments on the Times magazine story (I made Choire skim them to find “questions” that I could “answer” when I had to do that for the Times’ website), but I am fairly thorough with my online self-flagellation/self-gratification. Probably this admission will not change the mind of anyone who thinks I’m a narcissist. But honestly, guys, can you sit there and tell me you don’t do the same thing? If you don’t, it might just be because there’s only so obsessed you can get when the third result after your LinkedIn profile is a track meet score from high school. But if you are a writer or performer or artist or have any kind of online presence beyond social networking sites, you engage in what Joanne McNeil has dubbed “narci-searching.” (Guess how I found that blog post!) Don’t tell me that you don’t. Actually, do tell me that you don’t! Write me an email and tell me how you avoid doing this. I would love to know your secret. Because even when I have taken breaks from the Internet, I’ve always had well-meaning friends who’ve been like “Oooh, saw the thing about you … sucks, right? Haha, weird.” Far from avoidable, knowledge of every dumb (or occasionally nice!) thing anyone writes about the cloud of concepts they perceive to represent “Emily Gould” is, for me, inevitable.

I am trying to get to a point here and the point had to do with, I was sitting on the subway today reading last week’s New Yorker, which was the best New Yorker of all time, pretty much. Ryan Lizza’s Rahm Emanuel profile. Ariel Levy on Van Lesbians. Rebecca Mead making some opera lady interesting. And then this week there was that D. T. Max David Foster Wallace piece, which I read online in its 13-page entirety, sometimes through tears. Basically the New Yorker is so good lately that whenever there’s a particularly Dad-funny Shouts and Murmurs or, say, an annoying Adam Gopnik thing about Damon Runyon and Guys and Dolls, it really clunks loudly. So I was thinking about this and suddenly my mind started to whirr with ideas for an old-school blog post about all the mockery-ripe Gopniky moments (“And then, just as it takes a naïf to find Paris cafés adorable—the natives find them about as interesting as diners—it took another kind of naïf to think that the lowlifes of Broadway were charming”) in that piece and how I’d dissect them (I know, ha ha.) Then I thought about how long it had been since I’d written something like that and I started to think about why, exactly, that was.

Here is an example of someone who wrote about me who, it seems clear, didn’t think I would ever read what she’d written.

This is someone I met when my ex-boyfriend was in a band with her husband. She wrote this post on a blog that seems to be otherwise comprised of sweet observations about her infant daughter and wry observations about her job teaching in a NYC public school. Based on that stuff, I’d assume that she is a person who has ethical qualms about hurting others. She really did not think I’d ever read this. Right?

Oh hmm. Wait. “I remember that my husband hung out at their apartment once, bringing home to Manhattan the opinion that they were a really nice couple as well as a copy of a fun novelty book from Emily’s publishing company. Emily, if you read this, I think we still have that book – do you want it back?

Okay, so. She does assume I’ll read her blog post. Except, maybe this is a rhetorical device? You know, “An Open Letter to [X].” Because what kind of person would want someone they’d met a couple times and been friendly with in real life to read something like this:

I find Emily’s career arc to be slightly distasteful – the lack of general seriousness, the rise to public prominence for no meaningful reason, the dependence on celebrity/gossip culture, the exhibitionism, etc.

Or, well, this:

THE TATTOOS. Emily, if you read this, I am so, so sorry, I truly am, but HOLY GOD THE TATTOOS. Yes, I know I have a tattoo also, BUT IT IS NOT OF THE SEQUINNED FLOWERS ON GRAM PARSON’S NUDIE SUIT. IT JUST ISN’T, OK? Emily, if you read this, you totally know that there is a difference between just getting a tattoo and getting THAT TATTOO. I know you know there’s a difference, because that’s why you got that tattoo, but you think it’s a GOOD DIFFERENCE and I think it’s a BAD DIFFERENCE. AND KNOWING ABOUT IT MAKES IT REALLY HARD FOR ME TO TAKE YOUR WORK SERIOUSLY. I’M SORRY. There. I said it. (But not really. I typed it. Your article is sort of about the difference between those two things. Maybe it would have been a better article if it had been more specifically, thoughtfully about the difference between those two things. I don’t know. I’m just glad I didn’t have to write it.)

Wow. Um. I wish I remembered what tattoo this woman has, that is so much better than my tattoo. Ostensibly it is a kind of tattoo that would lead you to take someone’s work more, not less, seriously — assuming, of course, that you were the kind of person who judges the seriousness of someone’s work based on her tattoos.

And then then there is this paragraph, which is where I begin to feel physically sick.

“The worst thing I have to say about the article (and also Emily Magazine) is that it’s often not particularly compelling writing. (Emily, if you read this, I am really sorry. I have no wish to cause you personal pain, even though that is of course what I might be doing. Really, I should just shut up and go back to staring moodily at my sleeping babymy perineum or my new sandals or my recent trip to Ikea. Because who elected me Ms. Critic of the Universe and gave me the right to talk trash about other people’s creative productions? Nobody, that’s who. But I’m going to keep writing this anyway, and then I’m going to post it online where everyone can see it forever. Because, just like you did, I feel driven to do it, and I feel like it’s some sort of innate right. I feel you, girlfriend. I really feel you. Though, Emily, if you read this, you probably hate the fact that I just called you “girlfriend.” Sorry for that, too.) She is not an especially bad writer, and I guess I ought to salute her for that, as there are lots of especially bad writers out there, but she is not amazing either. For the most part (and there are exceptions), I cannot hear a strong, lively voice behind her words; I cannot pick out the clear, individual consciousness that makes any piece of writing more than just the story that it tells, thus lifting it out of tedium [...]“

“I am really sorry.” That’s what gets me.

Right now, I am writing in a medium that can deceive its participants into thinking that real people — people who’ve invited us into their thought processes, or even people who have invited us into their literal homes — should be written about the same way we’d write about a character on a tv show that we hate-watch.

I am aware of this now and I will try not to be deceived.

95 comments to Part of the problem

  • Adam Gopnik

    Thanks, Emily. I appreciate your restraint.

  • kt

    i like your tattoos and i like your blog and sometimes someone hurts you a lot and it takes nine months or longer to understand how you feel about that…ie what it means that that person did that to you, how you felt when it first happened, how you feel now, what it means that you feel that way, how to respond. it hurts to carry all the mean things around that people have said about you or done to you. it is bewildering.

    i hope you feel better, emily.

  • “I would do/would have done things VERY differently, believe me.” If I were your writing/poetry(gag) prof i would circle this is red and demand you tell your reader what this MEANS. i got that quite often. now, i write shitty venn diagrams to avoid writing beyond. eh.

  • Just write for yourself.A man told my friend Diane von Furstenberg “You can lose everything in life, you can lose your health, your wealth,you can lose your partner, your child. you can.lose your job. What you never lose is your character.”

    Diane continued to say “Life is all about the relationship you have with yourself. If I did one thing right in my life. it’s that very early on I became my best friend.”

    In my case in particular I am the mouthpiece for a pharma heir who was a celebrity gynecologist and now a comic and filmaker.i can’t control his comments so I simply stopped caring. When a reporter from London calls and says’ Did you read what Dr Rand Pink said on The Howard Stern Show I am never surprised.

    I predict twitter will become as big as google – it just turned down $500 million offer from facebook. Google will probably buy it for $3 billion.

    The only way to control anything you say on the internet is to say nothing.So with that I have no comment

  • A Friend

    If it makes you feel any better, that girl’s baby is really ugly.

  • Rahm

    Hey, It’s the Undersecretary of Shut The Fuck Up here.

    Maybe you should spend more time doing yoga so that you can maybe kiss your ass one day.

    Also, it might be getting past you, but this lady is righton about at least one thing. Your tattoos really are fucking dumb!

  • ineke

    Did you notice how many posts on that woman’s blog are tagged “anxiety”? Why would you bother to take seriously the criticism of somebody with serious self esteem problems?

    By linking your own narcissism together with your own extreme judgmental side together with how sick you feel at reading harsh words directed against you, you’ve composed a pretty artful post, but I wonder if you’re serious about “trying not to be deceived.” Kinda seems more about revenge.

  • I thoroughly learned this lesson last week at the hands of one Julia Allison.

  • I’m sorry.

    I was just being a jealous weenie. Ur tats r totally hot!

    And I’m taking yoga classes just to learn how to self-fellate. I still got a long ways to go because I don’t have a lot to work with :( (

  • I am not a futurists but I believe most blogs will die unless they adapt to the immediacy of twiiter and similar IM sites.

    And with that I must pay dome bills

  • The Real Rahm

    This is the real Rahm here. And no, I’m not being a jealous weenie about your dumb tattoos. See, I’m an observant Jew! Also, I’m hung like a horse because, well, I’m a Jew! And tattoos will send you straight to Jewish hell! Didn’t you pay attetion in Hebrew school? An eternity without bagels where you’re forced to pay retail for everything! You’re doomed.

    No, seriously. Get them removed now, or you will die alone. Any dude with any sense looks at your inked-up arms and shit and he sees the wrinkled swirly mess that it’ll be by the time you’re 36. Yeee-yuck! What’s more, would you make the decision to forever wear the jeans or yoga pants you got on now? No. No, you would not, because things go in and out of fashion and you are nothing if not fashionable. But now you’re also kinda fucked!

  • Adam Gopnik

    I’m probably not fooling anyone, but I should admit that I’m not really Adam Gopnik.

  • Hey, this is off-topic a little, but come to think of it, Emily would be the perfect person to answer.

    Since there’s no response-email-challenge (or indeed, any verification process for blog comments), and this being the Google age where your name may forever be linked to text you had nothing to do with, what do you do if someone emails you and says, “Hey, that racist sexist comment attributed to me on your post of xyz…I didn’t write that. Could you delete it?”

    Has this ever happened to you Emily? How did you handle it?

    Just for the record, every comment made on Emily’s blog so far has, regrettably, been written by me.

    And as far as the tats go, although I too feel you may one day come to re-think them (but then I’m just an old fuddy-duddy), for now…they rock. Just don’t age and you’ll be fine!

  • In my humble opinion as a card carrying member of the commentariat, it appears more likely than not, that the proverbial “bottom of the barrel” has been reached through the preceding ten comments.

    [{wondering} maybe an all-time low for EM]

  • Don’t be crazy, Jack, we can go much lower.

    I mean, we’ve only begun to critique the barest minimally irrelevant aspects of Emily’s appearance. There’s still hair, makeup, clothes…my God, shoes alone is probably worth another 60 comments!

    Meanwhile…Emily is trying to write! It’s amazing that she has ANY HAIR LEFT with what she must pull out night after night.

    Don’t underestimate us, Jack. Bald Emily…we’ll get there.

  • Justine

    Emily I have a great therapist. He’s in Chelsea. You should call him. But that’s not why I commented — I just want you to know that you are soooo not a narcissist. You are way too human and non-pathological to be considered a narcissist. You are an artist, not a narcissist, there IS a difference. Seriously, there is a universe between you and your sometimes navel gazing writing and say, Ramona from Real Housewives of NYC. She, my dear, is pathological. You are a soul with an ounce of self awareness, honesty and humility. Don’t let the haters make you think otherwise.

  • p.s. your body is a wonderland

  • You are an artist, not a narcissist, there IS a difference.

    Narcissartist. I googled it and there are almost no citations. Maybe Emily can claim it somehow.

  • @HJG

    Agreed – a bald EG would be a most terrible thing.

    NB: I did state that the bottom of the barrel had been reached, but scraping of the same had not yet commenced.
    So, yes, we do still have a long ways to go…

    BTW your blog exhibits the best of the minimalist features and I commented there.

  • arthur

    emily here is something I thought you may enjoy:

    As much as I do enjoy following all your trials and tribulations, I do hope you are not suffering too much.

  • Anonymous

    Back in the USSR…

    Oh, how one wishes sometimes to escape from the meaningless dullness of human eloquence, from all those sublime phrases, to take refuge in nature, apparently so inarticulate, or in the wordlessness of long grinding labor, of sound sleep, of true music, or of a human understanding, rendered speechless by emotion!
    Boris Pasternak, Dr. Zhivago

  • Chuck

    My wife and I spent nine months making a kickarse baby.

  • bennett

    pretty sure “Justine” above is Mrs. the Countess LuAnn De Lesseps. the “my dear” and the blind hatred of Ramona are dead giveaways!

    first adam gopnik and now this!

  • confused

    Can someone just explain to me what’s wrong with the Gram Parsons flowers tattoo?

    She seemed to have a strong objection to it, on principle, but I cannot fathom the principle.

    I would appreciate if someone with more insight could explain it to me.

  • Now I’m pretty sure “Anon” has to be her boyfriend. Anyway, I’m getting the feeling that La Gould is nearing the end of her involvement with this blog. When someone blogs as infrequently as she does now (and who can blame her? I am amazed she has any free time at all) then the rest of us are kinda left to our own devices, our disembodied voices echoing through the empty corridors of the blog like ghosts in the machine, posting random, irrelevant comments like this one and chatting amongst ourselves. Don’t you think so Rebecca A? So Jack, how did that haircut come out? Molly…loved your last post. Whatever happened to Gay Blade?

    riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs…

  • JMc

    It’s a shame that what once were journals, which would be published after the works, are now online as blogs before the fact. At least as authors are concerned.

  • Rebecca A

    JMC, I don’t think it’s a shame. I like it. Life is change, you know.

    Hal, I like where you wrote “our disembodied voices echoing through the empty corridors of the blog.”

    Except there’re some weirdos in here with us. Which makes it creepy…. Not ME of course….

  • @confused: The problem is not with the tattoo, per se, but with its association with Gram Parsons — substance abuser, wife beater, child molester, baby seal killer, and he doesn’t recycle.

    If that’s not a principle, I don’t know what is.

  • dainys

    You can almost always tell someone’s half-baked thoughts by the amount of CAPS LOCK. It’s like they’re trying to over-inflate balloons that they know are full of leaks. Maybe if they pump fast enough, no one will notice how these balloons are canting to the side, nodding their heads to a slowing rhythm, and softening to the floor.

  • [...] Socialite Rank, Gawker and yes this long line of Internet  “research” led me back to Emily Gould. I first heard about Emily nearly a year ago at a Gawker drinks night, the new-mediarati had [...]

  • I read this blog once every couple of months and it seems as though every other post boils down to:

    a) Why does everyone write mean things about me just because I’m only interested in myself?
    b) I need to figure out how to spend less time on the Internet.

    With the commenters inevitably commenting:

    a) You’re a great writer Emily don’t let the haters hate!

    And I wonder:

    a) Why aren’t you (and everyone else) bored with you by now?
    b) Has any of these people who think Emily is a talented writer actually read books? Because I can’t quite figure out the foundation for this opinion.

    Also, as a citizen of the world (i.e. not a Gawker reader and habitual blog commentator) I can say with authority that the woman who wrote about Emily is write on all points. Emily desperately needs a (methaphorical) kick in the balls. The end.

  • Seth Has No Balls

    Seth FUCK YOU

    Before you criticize a writer, why don’t you learn how to spell first?

    “write on all” maybe should be “right on all”

    “(methaphorical)” s/b “(metaphorical)”

    Your grammar is additional evidence of your ignorance


  • I’m going to jump in here and defend Emily, not because I think Seth has no point, but because he’s off the mark, although he’s not WAY off the mark.

    He’s simply not reading Emily properly. Here’s my take on the cloud of constructs known as “Emily Gould” (fwiw):

    If you read her as a human being — flesh and blood — then you are reading her wrong. Hence all the goofy, stupid comments about her self-absorption, her tats, her wanton, bohemian lifestyle…who cares about that? Dancing about architecture, as they say.

    You have to read her as an artistic creation.

    Whoever the human being(s) is/are behind the EG concept (and I am not convinced it isn’t a shadowy cabal of internet Illuminati) she/they is/are trying to give birth to a persona that will embody a mindset and sensibility — a voice if you will — that can attract an audience and be consumed by them (I mean consumed as a commercial product, not consumed by Hellfire, although probably that, too).

    They want to create a gift that will bring art to the world, and hopefully a bit of filthy lucre as well, since they have to keep themselves in mocha lattes as they hold Tittibhasana while prosecuting their affair with Vronsky.

    This Simone has undergone a series of transformations: Adolescent diarist, Gawker-stalker, Times correspondent, and now…what?

    I don’t think even she/they know(s).

    The problem is that Ms. Bartlby “does honesty” extremely well. This is not the same as being dishonest, but neither is it the same as being honest.

    It seems guarded to me, and honesty is like, like art, you know? You know it when you see it.

    Perhaps there is no there, there. Maybe she really is so shallow and self-absorbed that she’ll never be able to deliver. That would be a shame (and also surprise me).

    My guess is she’s either once burned twice shy, or she’s saving it for the writing she’s getting paid for.

    Time will tell.

  • Rebecca A

    Seth, for some reason I am going to reply. I guess I am in full procrastination mode again.

    Tell me, do you think you’ll go and read that woman’s (the one who wrote about Emily) blog once every couple of months? I went there, to her blog, and was bored stiff. The truth is, Emily’s summation of that post was a heck of a lot more entertaining that anything that woman wrote on her entire blog.

    Seth, I have read a heck of a lot of books. And I talk about them, with other educated folk and with dumbass fools alike, enough to know that even the best literature appeals to some and not to others.

    So. Emily’s writing doesn’t appeal to you. You are not entertained. You are not inspired. You are obviously also not too bright, because you keep coming back every few months to torture yourself with it. And you can’t understand a very basic concept: that people, the others that drive you crazy for defending Emily’s writing, would only do that because they ENJOY it. They relate to it. I myself enjoy and even, though we (EG and I) have little in common, relate to it. So leave us to what we like and by all means, go enjoy what YOU like.


  • brooksfoe

    In my opinion, when someone writes something that makes it clear they are envious of you, and which is hence embarrassing to them, the morally correct thing to do is to take no notice of it. It is a faux pas on their part. Calling attention to others’ faux pas is unnecessary and exploitative.

  • LB

    The illusory “Ms. Critic” seems to think she is giving you constructive, legitimate criticism– the I-would-never-do-it-I-have-taste career/tattoo snub and the most unhelpful ‘you can’t be helped’ message are NOT constructive (what are you supposed to do with that? get it all surgically removed?) Especially annoying is the lordly “I am really sorry”… as if her tirade is disinterested.

  • Rebecca A

    Hal, honestly I think you are reading too much into all this….

  • @Seth has no balls: Those were really more spelling errors than grammatical. Admittedly, I didn’t put too much effort into my comment because I am not a loser. Also, one does need to be a writer to have a valid critical opinion. And the fact remains that I am right/write and you are wrong. PS: I do not live under a rock, but a nice 3 bedroom / 2 1/2 bath detached house in a pleasant suburb of a western European city with a charming thrice weekly green market just a few blocks away. You should come for a visit!

    @Hal Jay Greene: an “artistic creation?” Okay, crazy, go back to dressing up your cats.

    @Rebecca A: I’m not saying I don’t enjoy her writing. (Although I don’t.) I’m saying she’s not a good writer. (And she’s not.) But you truly hurt my feelings, blog commentator, by saying that I am not too bright. Boo hoo poor me.

    I come for the blog, but I stay for the fantastic comments!

  • Rebecca A.

    @Seth: So you neither think the writing here is any good, nor do you enjoy it. And you are sarcastically caustic about the comments. And yet you keep coming back. And yet you claim you are not a loser…?

  • Hey Seth, baby,

    Don’t know and don’t care if you got kahunas or not. That’s kinda gay anyway…

    I do know and do care that your comments are boring – the worst sin.

    Put some goddam verve into your comments, you silly Eurotrash boy. Then come on back around and entertain us.

  • Regina

    I keep up with Emily Magazine kind of sporadically, so I’m only just reading this entry now.

    This woman’s post was so utterly unworthy of any response. I understand you’re much too close to the situation to realize that but, trust me. Writing an entire entry on the flaws of someone else is not something I’d criticize. But someone who writes an entry that is filled with qualifiers that essentially amount to: “I expect to take no responsibility for my shit-talking” is stupid, spineless and totally fucking absurd. If she had left out the personal entreaties of “Her writing isn’t TERRIBLE, I suppose, but it isn’t Goethe for God’s sake! Oh, Emily, I implore you not to think ill of me! Please, Emily, it’s not that your little tattoo isn’t terribly amusing to YOU, as I’m sure it is, but I just always assumed you knew better,” it wouldn’t be so ridiculous. As it is, this woman is a cartoon character.

    And you’re more than “not a bad writer.”

  • Lalo

    terrible thing about internets: stupid shit that girls write about you in their diaries becomes public shit that haunts your memory if you are reckless/egotistical enough to google yourself.

    I always said that diarists wouldn’t write diaries if they didn’t secretly want someone to read them (otherwise, what is THE INSIDE OF YOUR HEAD for?). this brave new world of blogness confirms it…

    the hardest thing to come to terms with isn’t that people write mean things on blogs
    it’s that people think mean things all the time inside their heads and sometimes, some of them write them on blogs.

    if you can come to terms with that – with strangers sometimes thinking you’re an arse, or not loving your tattoos, or thinking you’re a bad writer – and still like yourself -

    you’ll be a man, my son (or more appropriate words to that effect.)

    i say this as a fellow sufferer. I once read a series of internet attacks on me by a stranger, and I obsessed for years about finding out her real identity and RUINING HER LIFE somehow. I still feel THE BURN OF RAGE about it occasionally. But the thing is, if I’m realistic: it’s pretty clear she doesn’t know me personally, and if she doesn’t like my writing or my public persona, that’s nothing I can change. (I don’t have tattoos but if I did I bet she’d hate on those too.) Obsessing over people who don’t like you is the same insecure-teen tendency as chasing after boys who don’t phone back. Concentrate on the people who DO appreciate you!

    and speak to yourself frankly about whether your gripe is with the all-revealing internet, or with being criticised at all…?

    in closing though, you devalue yourself by giving time to the thoughts of some mealy-mouthed insecure person who hardly knows you and (reading between the lines) thinks her husband fancies you.

  • Anonymous

    Bottom line is that this post was very entertaining and got 92 comments. Y’all are missing the point! Catty shit like this and the stuff on Gawker was her specialty. Very well written and entertaing.

    Which is why I always post as anonymous. She’s scary!!!

  • Sevi

    Emily, I love your writing style!

  • [...] The New Yorker is a magazine that we’ll plop down a fiver for at the newsstand. And it has been oddly great lately. So when a rumor cropped up this morning on Twitter that they might be going biweekly or even [...]

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