Look more and see more

My little brother who lives in Asheville stayed with me all last week.  Asheville is only 690 miles away from New York City but it’s not just physical distance that comes between me and my brother; having him around reminded me constantly that I spend so much of my time caring about and knowing about things that people who don’t live in NYC genuinely have no reason to care about or to know about.  Some people who don’t live in NYC know about and care about some of these things anyway; when I meet those people I feel grateful for the conversational common ground but slightly concerned for their mental health.  Like, shouldn’t they probably stop looking at Tumblr and go mountain biking?  (You could make the case, of course, that so should I.  Well, consider it a resolution.)

Anyway, my brother left some things here: a pair of worn-out, whiskey-stained khaki pants, some old tube socks, and issue 27 of Cindy Crabb’s zine Doris.  Somehow I had never read Doris before; this zine, in addition to ‘No More Nice Girls’ by Ellen Willis and both ‘Dusty In …’ recordings, Memphis and London, are all things I discovered over this “winter break” period that I feel like I should have known about for as long as they or I have existed.  It’s that feeling of coming home to a thing you know almost immediately that you are going to love without reservation; the feeling that a thing is at once totally new and somehow familiar. It’s almost like the moment you realize you have forgotten enough of your favorite book or movie or album to read or watch or listen to it again without feeling bored or taking anything for granted, except better because the thing is actually new.

Anyway, here is a part of Doris #27 that I am still thinking about days after reading it:

“I used to worry a lot about getting older — about punks getting older.  Like what would we all do?  We had been taught that to be successful in life you had to go to school, get a job, stick with that job no matter how much it sucked.  You needed health insurance, your own little apartment, your own little girlfriend, you needed to go out to dinner, go out to the movies, buy things to make you and your life prettier.  As punks we said “fuck that.” We were ugly, we were slutty, we lived all together or nowhere at all. We created our own aesthetics. We got everything we needed from what the rest of the world threw out.  Including each other.  We were throwouts.  We found each other in the trash.

But there was a time when my friends started dying, and there was a time when my friends started standing in the back of the room during the shows and then leaving.  And I retreated somewhat too, beacuse there was a part of myself I had to rescue. And now that it was rescued, now that it was flourishing, I wondered what it would be like, out there.”

My brother lives in a group house with a shifting cast of maybe four or five other roommates, some of whom are in couples, and a dog and a somewhat outdoor-only cat.   He spends a lot of time thinking about the problems  of his housing situation; in my experience the more people you live with the better things can be because it forces you to come up with systems and rules if you are going to live by any kind of standards at all, but this doesn’t seem to be the case in my brother’s house.  I don’t know if these people are declared anarchists/punks or if they are just college students who feel like they are going to invent new ways of doing everything that will solve age-old problems via sheer willpower and ingenuity.  Either way it doesn’t seem to be working out.

I live by myself in a one-bedroom apartment with my cat (and, when he’s in town — so like less than 30% of this past year — my boyfriend).  Every day I think about how lucky I am to have this luxury, and how unsustainable — in every sense — this situation is.  Living by my convictions is a luxury in and of itself.  Barring Lotto-type intervention, I will not be able to continue to live like this if I continue defining success Bob Dylan-style.   I would hazard a guess that defining success that way — “What’s money?” — is easier if, like Bob Dylan, you know that you will always have enough of it.

There is also a two-page comic in this issue of Doris titled “Writing,” about Cindy’s insecurities about writing and her struggles to understand whether her methods or habits disqualify her from being “a writer.”   “Was I a fake? What if I was stuck? What was the point?  I thought there had to be an answer, a key.”   She collected tidbits about the habits of famous writers — “Delmore Schwartz liked to write for only one hour a day. Preferably in a crowded cafe.”  “Ursula LeGuin kept a pad of paper on the kitchen table and scratched out sentences between taking care of her kids.”

Eventually Cindy figured out that her questions were “bullshit.”

“The question ‘was I a real writer’ was part of the competitive system I wanted to destroy, where everyone is supposed to strive to do something new that’s never been done, to make a mark on history, to be better than anyone else.  I didn’t want that shit, so why was I looking to those labels for legitimacy?”   She decided instead to hold herself accountable to her own standards — and to ask herself different questions, like, “Why do I write?”

Some of her answers:

“Writing helps me to look more and see more.”

“I write Doris because I believe that in order to change the world fundamentally, we have to challenge ourselves and each other to be brave and alive.   And we have to take our experiences and find the lessons in them and pass on these lessons in a way that doesn’t alienate.”

Also “I believe in care but not a stifling fear or ego driven perfection.”

I thought of a book I’d just finished reading, a book whose publisher had created a national media campaign for it and had printed probably more than a hundred thousand copies.  In an interview the author was asked why she had written the book.  “I wrote this book because I wanted to figure out what was going on in my marriage,” she’d said.

The last line of the Doris comic about Writing is “It helps me to have a project I can finish and put out there to feel connected and not so alone.”

Information about purchasing this zine — it’s $2.75 — or past issues is here.

17 comments to Look more and see more

  • j

    this was very nice.

  • Emily! Wait till you read the Doris book Cindy put a few years ago, or the alphabet series (which is still going on) or any of her other genius zines. Cindy is one of my favorite living writers, and her writing knocks me for a loop almost every time.

  • What a great post! I was reminded of my own twenties — most of which I spent living in apartments with uncountable numbers of people — but also of being on tour in my band, where I met so many others — punks, drug addicts, drifters, freaks — who I think about now and wonder where they could possibly be, because even then they were living on the margins of society. (Or at least anything that I would have considered society, even then, coming from NYC). Sometimes I want to go back to say, Gainesville or Toledo or Dayton and see if anyone I met is still alive.

  • emily

    @ Jackie I am excited to read the book!

    @ Matt, I am horrified by the alone-but-notness of most roommate situations. this sounds princessy but I feel like I just wasn’t cut out for it.

  • Oh, girl.

    I am feeling your ‘feelingssss’.

  • So happy to hear from other “Doris” fans. I made a posting on my blog just before Christmas about how much I love Doris and the writing of Cindy Crabb. I especially loved the comic about writing from the last issue. It’s the kind of thing I want to copy and give to all my friends.

  • BCre

    “Like, shouldn’t they probably stop looking at Tumblr and go mountain biking?”

    Oh my God, right? And I live in Western Washington! What am I doing? That is my number one resolution. Even though, to be fair, I will probably buy your book in hardcover because of how much of my life I’ve wasted.

  • Bobo

    Ellen Willis is the shit. Coincidentally I’ve been dipping back into her stuff just these past few weeks. If you haven’t yet, read her essays from “Beginning to See the Light.” (“The Family: Love it or Leave it” and the essay about “classical” vs. “baroque” sex are two standouts.)

  • emily

    @BCre I can’t tell if you are being sarcastic, I hope not, anyway luckily you will not have to buy my book in hardcover cause it’s a paperback original, cause that’s what the kids are into. I think you can preorder it for some embarrassingly low low price right now actually.

  • I don’t think it’s princess-y at all to want to live alone! (One of the things I have always admired about my bf/partner Stephen is his determination to live alone, even when he was making next to nothing, which is how he ended up in Washington Heights.) In my case living with so many others was another way I managed (mostly unconsciously, but not completely) to avoid ‘growing up,’ which in my case was tied to ‘coming out,’ something I was not willing to do until I was in my 30s (ridiculously enough). Thus I always lived with and largely existed in groups — I was the one who lived in what amounted to a hallway, paying like $150/month for a ‘room’ — constantly socializing or playing music, which was fun for a few years but eventually grew very tiresome. (I was also very shrill/ judgmental about many things, which was a projection of my feelings about myself onto others, obv). I don’t regret it now (well, maybe a little), but I certainly wouldn’t want to go back! (Sorry if that was too long…)

  • Tim

    I like the sampling from Doris 27 about aging punks. I wrote a similar ‘dirge’ about youthfulness on my blog a little over a year ago http://timfreeman.wordpress.com/2008/10/20/file-this-under-inadequacey/

  • Rebecca A

    See? The angst of young adulthood knows no city boundaries…

  • BCre

    Oh, I’m not! I’m sorry, really, I’m not. It really is sad that I spend so much of my time on the internet given the fact that it’s not my job or anything and the gorgeous perfect place I live. And I think you’re a good writer and will probably buy your book, espesh since now I know it’s only coming out in paperback.

  • ow a paper cut

    Asheville-New York City connection:
    Zelda Fitzgerald (along with her husband F.Scott) were literary celebrities in NYC. She died at Highland Mental Hospital in Asheville when it caught fire

  • After years of having roommates and subletting rooms from older people who have proper apartments with hallways and dining rooms (which, IMO, is way better than the former), I thought that all I wanted was to live with a boyfriend. When that finally happened and ended disastrously, I vowed to live alone at whatever cost. Similarly, it seems like it’s a luxury I can’t continue to afford without making some sacrifices (ie, taking a job with an actual salary and benefits, if those exist anymore), but at the same time, living alone makes me so much happier that maybe I’d give up eating first.

  • Dude

    The thing about this is that most people are “looking and seeing more” so that they can write about it in a book and hopefully sell it.

    So it’s like “I see your pain”. But not because I care but because I want to use it for my writing.

  • Andrew

    Waiting for a plane. First time reading the blog and got excited to read about others who love her zine as much as I do. Doris is great and Cindy is, well, just an awesome person in so many ways. Hope the reading in Asheville went well!

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