Back to The Garden

A lovely person gave me a gift certificate to my favorite bookstore, Word bookstore in Greenpoint, and I had absolutely nothing to do today (except work I didn’t want to do) so I went there to cash it in.  I finally got Drinking at the Movies by Julia Wertz, an autographed copy!  I wish it weren’t so time-consuming to make comics because then Julia could just churn out endless books and I would read one every day.  I was more engrossed and happy while reading her book than I have been in ages.  Reading books is one of the most reliable pleasures in my life, but occasionally I OD on big important affecting novels and burn out on them and suddenly all books seem boring and terrible.  When this happens I have a crisis and become depressed; it’s like if a food you’d subsisted on suddenly started tasting like garbage.  The solution, always, is comics.  For me, they stroke all the same brain-regions as novels do, but there is an added blissful noncompetitive component of my enjoyment: I don’t draw comics, so I don’t have to worry about how I will never be as great at it as Julia (or Gabrielle Bell or Lynda Barry or Jaime Hernandez or Aline Kominsky or Kate Beaton etc).   Whereas when I’m reading a regular book, if it’s a good book, there is often to some extent a part of my brain that’s continually whispering “You will never ever be able to write books as well as this person can, pssh, just give up!”  I know that’s stupid and obviously the point is not to be Isaac Bashevis Singer or Sigrid Nunez or David Bezmozgis or Elisa Albert or Barbara Comyns (man, I have read a lot of random great books lately) but to be best-case-scenario me.  Still, it’s very hard to shush that insidious whisper.

It was warm out today and I felt exposed walking around without my hat and scarf covering up half my face; I exchanged a lot of  passing smiles and nods with similarly un-bundled strangers.  I went all the way to Manhattan on an invented errand (fancy shampoo that costs a depressing  % of my current net worth) and on my way to the Kiehl’s store I went into St. Mark’s bookstore to see if they had the book I’ve been thinking of getting my dad for a belated Hanukah present.  They didn’t, and also they didn’t have my book, which sent me into a spiral of self- and world-hatred.  Clearly, I reasoned, the St. Marks staff and management have a personal vendetta against me.  Or maybe they have not read anything by me and have just read a lot of stuff about me and so have (very reasonably) decided that I am crappy and not to be taken seriously and just generally representative of everything bad in the world. Or worst of all they have never heard of me (the likeliest explanation).  I was being crazy but whatever.

At Kiehl’s, not content to spend $17 on shampoo, I also spent $30 on lotion.

As I walked from the G to Word I saw that a townhouse on one of the prettiest blocks in Greenpoint (Milton b/t Manhattan and Franklin) was for sale and I regretted the $30 lotion even more, as though if I hadn’t bought $30 lotion I’d have enough money for a down payment on a townhouse, as opposed to what I actually have which is $800 that is not earmarked for rent.

After I got the book I decided to inflict on myself the bizarre psychic torture that is going to The Garden, Greenpoint’s cute, clean, well-curated natural-foods supermarket.  When I lived in Greenpoint I went to the Garden almost every day; I have probably spent tens of thousands of dollars there, primarily on cheese and organic lettuce and Gerolsteiner mineral water (which is often on sale!)  I haven’t, of course, lived in Greenpoint for years, and if you’re interested in reading more about my wistful nostalgia for and/or abject misery associated with the Greenpoint part of my life, I have an awesome book to recommend to you, but don’t go looking for it at St. Mark’s.  I wanted to make a big salad for myself for dinner and no place in my neighborhood was going to have vegetables as good at the Garden’s, so I decided I would brave whatever memories the Garden stirred up in order to get some greens in my diet.

I did okay except I did think about how we ate little takeout containers full of food from the prepared food counter at the Garden while sitting on the floor of the Greenpoint apartment on the day we moved in, but I only thought about this fleetingly and in a mostly pleasant way.  As I recall we ate caprese salad.  It wasn’t that great.

At some point in my travels today I also thought about at what point do you tell people you’re writing a novel.  I think maybe “never.”  It’s kind of like being pregnant, in that ideally people will eventually figure it out for themselves, and who cares if in the meantime they think you’re fat (only substitute “insane” for “fat.”)  Actually maybe it’s more like telling people you’re trying to get pregnant, which is just tacky.  BTW, in case it was unclear, that was a metaphor, I am not pregnant in the slightest.  I heard a rumor recently that my boyfriend and I had gotten secretly married and I thought that was hilarious.  I am not married, or pregnant.  I may or may not be writing a novel.  I am broke and directionless and a lot of the time I’m bored.   I have mostly (except, obviously, right now) taken a giant step back from getting way too personal way too often on the Internet but I haven’t quite figured out what to replace that vocation/hobby with yet.   All I know for sure about my future is that sometime this evening — in fact, maybe right now — I’m going to wash my hair with $17 shampoo.

I hope it will be really awesome.

14 comments to Back to The Garden

  • aw shucks, thanks for the nice words! also, that’s exactly how I feel when I read “normal” books. When they’re excellent, I can just enjoy it and not feel threatened. When a comic is excellent, all I can so is sit and stew in my inferiority and self doubt. Haha!

  • emily

    Julia!! Thanks for making such an awesome book. By the way my hair smells amazing.

  • Bob

    Have you read Peter Bagge’s “Hate”? The whole (comic) series is amazing but I particularly recommend it to you for the character of Lisa Leavenworth, Buddy’s girlfriend. Initially she’s played as kind of the low-hanging-fruit-girlfriend-from-hell, but as the series progresses she becomes Buddy’s true opposite number and a full comic portrait of abjectly self-sabotaging young womanhood…so hilariously damaged and pathetic and cowardly that she becomes oddly heroic.

    Fantagraphics has published the whole run in two volumes, Buddy Does Seattle and Buddy Does New Jersey. Too bad the gift certificate is already spent!

  • emily

    I haven’t! I have no idea why. However I still have like $20 of gift certificate remaining!

  • Anne Schwartz

    Emily, I am SO glad I was the inspiration, sort of, for this lovely day that you spent. Of course I didn’t know it might stir up old, unpleasant (?) memories. Sorry. I really feel guilty now about spending almost $50 for a bottle of shampoo, but it is HUGE, GIGANTIC and will outlive me! Trying to get pregnant is the pits. I spent almost 5 years at it. I hope “trying to write a novel” is less anxiety-provoking, and less disappointing every month. BTW, here is the link to that Sondheim radio interview on Fresh Air. It was replayed around the holidays. It’s from April, and he was turning 80. I think you’ll like it.

  • emily

    Ooh, Anne! Thank you, I am gonna listen to it right now.

  • Eric

    I dont’ know if this will make you feel better, but i have seen your book at St. Mark’s several times to the left when you walk in the door. I also bought my copy there.

  • Todd

    I had no idea you liked comics! Based on that choice, you might find some you would like in this “Year’s Best…” list my friend compiled:

    Years ago I did an indie comics magazine column and Sean took over after I left and remained much more in touch with the scene than I. He’s got great taste!

  • emily

    @Eric that totally makes me feel better. Thanks for humoring my book insanity.

  • Bill G

    Ah, classic EG! It’s been a while.

  • Nate

    I happened upon your story, and it reminded me of a couple of poems from a favorite writer of mine that seemed relevant. Thought I’d share them here, not didactially or to make a specific point, but just as interesting meditations on the subject. If anything, they are meant to be supportive of your path.

    A Secret Life

    Why you need to have one
    is not much more mysterious than
    why you don’t say what you think
    at the birth of an ugly baby.
    Or, you’ve just made love
    and feel you’d rather have been
    in a dark booth where your partner
    was nodding, whispering yes, yes,
    you’re brilliant. The secret life
    begins early, is kept alive
    by all that’s unpopular
    in you, all that you know
    a Baptist, say, or some other
    accountant would object to.
    It becomes what you’d most protect
    if the government said you can protect
    one thing, all else is ours.
    When you write late at night
    it’s like a small fire
    in a clearing, it’s what
    radiates and what can hurt
    if you get too close to it.
    It’s why your silence is a kind of truth.
    Even when you speak to your best friend,
    the one who’ll never betray you,
    you always leave out one thing;
    a secret life is that important.

    Ordinary Days

    The storm is over; too bad, I say.
    At least storms are clear
    about their dangerous intent.

    Ordinary days are what I fear,
    the sneaky speed
    with which noon arrives, the sun

    shining while a government darkens
    a decade, or a man
    falls out of love. I fear the solace

    of repetition, a withheld slap in the face.
    Someone is singing
    in Portugal. Here the mockingbird

    is a crow and a gackle, then a cat.
    So many things
    happening at once. If I decide

    to turn over my desk, go privately wild,
    trash the house,
    no one across the town will know.

    I must insist how disturbing this is–
    the necessity
    of going public, of being a fool.

    -Stephen Dunn

    Finally, from the second paragraph of Thoreau’s WALDEN:

    “In most books, the I, or first person, is omitted; in this it will be retained; that, in respect to egotism, is the main difference. We commonly do not remember that it is, after all, always the first person that is speaking. I should not talk so much about myself if there were any body else whom I knew as well. Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience. [...] As for the rest of my readers, they will accept such portions as apply to them. I trust that none will stretch the seams in putting on the coat, for it may do good service to him whom it fits.”

    Here’s to the small fire in a clearing and the power of precise words.

  • emily

    Whoa, thank you, Nate. What a thoughtful response. I appreciate it.

  • Walter Konopka

    Dear Emily,
    I am not used to blogs, and haven’t found the place on yours where one comments on your book, but I can see you read the comments here, so this will do.
    By way of background, I am a 66 year old retired chemist and normally read non-fiction, and historical fiction, with an occasional foray into fantasy. As I was browsing the bookshelves I came upon your book, read the cover and a few paragraphs and thought I might give it a try, especially since I thought the self-contained essay-as-chapter format would make it suitable for moments I wanted a bit of diversion. As it turned out I got engrossed in it and finished it much to quickly. I love your power of observation, and am amazed that anyone would remember the details you do. In particular I enjoy the ruthless honesty with which you dissect your life and feelings. It has been a long time since I was young, and was always a nerd, awkward with women, and have no inclination toward alcohol and marijuana, and have always wondered about, and sometimes envied those people that were out partying (now I just envy anyone under 40). So for me your book had the added interest of opening up a different culture, as when I read about people living in ancient Rome, or medieval Wales. However, I can remember enough of the intensity of passion, the hope for the future, the quest for love, for meaning in life, and the uncertainty of youth to identify with you. Your revelation of yourself gives your book meaning and depth, and creates a bond of empathy in your reader (at least me). You are brave to do so, especially since in your book you mention how, in your job as a cultural critic/blogger, you had alienated and betrayed all of your contacts. I’m sure you have had some difficult times having your book, a personal extension of your ego, savaged by people who just want to hurt you. Be comforted, for I believe there are many like me who did not know you, but now value you as a writer, and as a person, as reflected in your book. Indeed, I was quite worried about you at the end of your book, and am delighted to read that you have found love, and a day-job with yoga, and are using your sensitivity to smell with the food section of your blog.
    All the best, I will continue to visit your blog on occasion, and look forward to your next book,

  • emily

    I appreciate your taking the time to write such a thoughtful response! Thank you.

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