I depend on me

“This is incredibly cheesy but I think about independence a lot this time of year. And not in, like, a geopolitical sense,” I told my friend Jami at lunch yesterday.  After I explained why, she told me that her acupuncturist told her that the body remembers the anniversaries of emotional wounds as well as physical ones.  This is exactly the kind of woo-woo thing I love. I made it part of my half-belief system immediately.  My body remembers!  My brain also remembers, though, and probably more easily because the events are linked to a conveniently significance-freighted national holiday.  Anyway, this summer marks the 5th anniversary of the beginning of my independence from everything that had defined my life up until that point.  This is a story I have told again and again, to the extent that now it almost seems like something that happened to someone else.  It happened to me, though — more accurately, I made it happen to me.  And every time I tell the story, more time has passed, and the meaning of the story has shifted a little bit.

In June of 2007 — sorry if you’ve heard this one before —  I had become afraid to leave my apartment. I would, under duress, walk to the grocery store at the end of the block, but even that was excruciating.  I had to take an Ativan to get on the subway.  The fear seemed completely irrational, which made it even more frustrating and maddening and painful.  It was also hard to explain to anyone else what was happening.  I would lie and say I was physically sick; it wasn’t really lying. I would stand in the vestibule of my apartment building, waves of nausea washing over me, willing myself to push the door open.  Half the time I’d go back inside.

In retrospect, my fear doesn’t seem irrational.  I was afraid to leave my apartment because my subconscious had access to the information,  stored in some mental safe that my conscious mind couldn’t unlock,  that the day was coming when I would leave my apartment and everything in it and everything about the life I was living in it for good, forever.

If anyone is contemplating doing something like this I recommend just going for it.  Some things to know: it’s terrible at first, and by “at first” I mean “for several subsequent years.”   All your fears are well-founded. Everything you’ve dreaded will happen; it’ll be even worse than you think.  But the upside is that after those things happen they will have happened, which means you won’t have to worry about what might happen anymore.  Also, you’ll have a new life.

The other important thing to know is that you can only do this once.  Doing it repeatedly looks like you haven’t learned anything.  Waiting until things get so catastrophically bad in your life that you have to burn everything to the ground  in order to change is not the ideal way to make changes.

I don’t really remember anything about the day I left except that it was sunny and Greenpoint was its usual big-skied self.  I got up early in the morning, when the heat of the day was only latent in the pavement and salty, sewagey breezes were still blowing in from the river.  I got on the subway and took it to Penn Station and got on the LIRR and took it to the ferry and arrived in Fire Island and started knocking down the dominos.  Descending into the subway I was terrified, nauseated, sweaty, white-knuckling it the whole way to 34th street. But as soon as I started doing the things I had been so scared to do I wasn’t scared anymore, which is usually the way.

Two Films, One of Which I'm Backing

Six days ago, Bret Easton Ellis’s Kickstarter campaign for his film project The Canyons met its goal of $100,000 and was funded. It has now exceeded that goal by an additional $59,015, thanks to the support of 1,050 backers who purchased various rewards with their pledges.  Some of these rewards are ordinary — autographed scripts, first editions, movie posters, DVDs of the eventual film — and some are more creative.  Five backers each spent $1,500 for the privilege of having Ellis and “former Lionsgate producer” Braxton Pope livetweet their “honest thoughts” about the backers’ film or tv premieres “to their 390,000 followers/fans, hopefully helping [the backers] trend worldwide.” (Uh-huh.) Two backers bought the “train with Bret” package: for $3,000, they’ll get three hour-long workouts and “access to supplements.”

I’m having a hard time pinning down exactly what I find so offensive about this whole endeavor.  Part of it might be the project page itself, which seems like an afterthought — un-copy-edited, un-thought-through, hurried.  ”The Canyons documents five twenty-something’s [sic] quest for power, love, sex and success in 2012 Hollywood,” one sentence reads.  Elsewhere: “The Canyons team has realized that Kickstarter is indeed a part of this new independent change, and is seeking to connect with our fan base even further with this campaign.  Raising money will assist us in the production of our film in addition to increasing awareness of it.  There is a distinct value in having an intimate relationship to those who care most about our work, and we are thankful to Kickstarter for helping foster these relationships.”

Simultaneously raising money and awareness is, of course, Kickstarter’s raison d’etre.  While famous people do use it, it’s most exciting when it’s used by unknown or little-known creators whose work might otherwise slip through the cracks of the free market economy. For those people, it’s a lifeline.  For the household-name author of bestselling novels and the director of Taxi Driver, it’s a marketing campaign, and not a very slick one.  There’s something gross about these people openly admitting that, while they could just fund the film with their own money, they’ll happily take yours and consider that to constitute an “intimate relationship.”  Oh, and they won’t even spellcheck the form they’re filling out in order to ask you to pay them.

Paying attention to a publicity stunt is inevitable. Paying into a publicity stunt is … new.

On the other hand, what chutzpah!  It’s classic BEE, and I admire his consistency.  I also admire his books — I’ve read and I like them all, for different reasons, even Glamorama, maybe especially Glamorama, anyway, I am a BEE fan from way back.  I find his utter refusal to censor himself or to make concessions to the mealymouthed logrolly hierarchy of literary fame incredibly appealing.  I love how he truly does not give a fuck about offending anyone. His twitter is awe-inspiring — and though the flavor of awe it inspires  is often a bad one, awe is in such short supply these days that I’ll take it where I can find it.

And if people want to pay thousands of dollars for walk-on roles in vanity projects, let them!  Who are they hurting?  It’s not like the money people spend supporting The Canyons is money they’d otherwise spend supporting, say, my friend Kat Hunt’s movie What’s Revenge.  Or maybe they are — the dollars we all have to support the arts are finite (or nonexistent.)  But I would go crazy (crazier) if I let myself go around believing that Kickstarter — or success, in general —  is a zero-sum game.

Speaking of jealousy, Kat’s movie is about justice, and one of the rewards is that you get your chart done, a bargain at $100.  Or, for $5,000, Kat and her crew will “plot and execute your own vengeance.” (NYC only.) Most of the crew is female.  And I get the sense that your dollar would mean something to Kat and her collaborators that it might not mean to the kind of people who use crowdsourced funding as a way to make headlines, all the while pretending they’re using it as a way to make friends.

Ought You To Know?

In seventh grade I was sent to the principal’s office for making posters and taping them up in the hallways of my school. The posters deplored sexism in some way; maybe there was some school policy that I found sexist. I wish I remembered the details. I do remember finding it maddening and a little bit funny that the “reason” I got in trouble was that the posters hadn’t passed through the correct bureaucratic process before I’d put them up: it turned out that if you wanted to put up posters, you had to ask permission from some arm of the Student-Teacher Association or the Student Council, some puppets or other of adult authority. The real reason of course was the posters’ content, which was a mean joke at the expense of whoever or whatever the “sexist” thing was. I think ankhs were involved in the design.

I was so upset about this sexist thing, whatever it was, because it affected me personally. I was pretending to be angry about the larger implications of the person or policy, on behalf of all my fellow oppressed seventh grade girls, but really I was angry that there was something I wasn’t allowed to do or someone who was getting something I wasn’t getting. In other words, I was jealous. And I knew that I could make other people pay attention to my jealousy by calling it feminism. In this respect, if no other, I was a bit of a prodigy.

Taking everything super personally remains my métier. Lately, however, I have begun to doubt its effectiveness as an activist strategy. I still believe with all my heart that the personal is political, that privacy is a patriarchal construct designed to keep women from telling the truth about their circumstances, and that “when a woman tells the truth she is creating the possibility for more truth around her.” And I also think anger can be a powerful engine of action and change. But finally I’m realizing that walking around all the time feeling overwhelmed with anger and jealousy can interfere with your ability and your will to tell the entire truth, in ways than my 12 year old self could never have imagined.

Last night when I was taking out the trash I heard the song “You Oughta Know” spilling out of the bar downstairs. People in the bar were singing along, as people often do when this song is played. It was a rainy, gross night but I stood under the awning for a moment and listened. Okay, I was smoking a cigarette, which I almost never do anymore, but I’d had a couple of glasses of wine. I blame Mad Men. Because I almost never smoke (and because of the wine) I felt high from the first hit of nicotine, and all my limbs felt heavy all of a sudden and I realized how tired I was and I became glued to the spot, leaning against the building and feeling the thrum of the music coming through the wall. The words of the song were just an indistinct buzz from that distance but it didn’t matter; like everyone my age, I know them all by heart.

Well I’m here
To remind you
Of the mess you left when you went away
It’s not fair
To deny me
The cross I bear that you gave to me
You, you, you oughta know

If you’d asked me whether I loved this song when it was dominating the airwaves, a few years after the poster incident, I’d have told you NO FUCKING WAY! I HATED this song, man. I knew that MTV thought it was speaking to me via this person. But I was so much smarter than that, I knew this music was a commercialized, manufactured, dumbed-down version of the riot-grrrl real thing. I wasn’t buying that Lilith Fair crap. I loved Liz Phair, not Sheryl Crow. I loved Bratmobile, not the Indigo Girls or Sarah McLachlan.

It wouldn’t take long, of course, for such fine distinctions to start seeming petty: after Britney hit, Alanis and Bikini Kill alike were relegated to the miscellaneous yesterday’s-news rack at Tower Records, and girls like me, if we had a shred of self-awareness, started feeling maybe a little guilty about how we should have reveled in our cultural moment while we had the chance. Why hadn’t I embraced Alanis and her mainstream girl-power ilk? Mainly for the simple reason that there’s almost nothing more irksome than seeing a writ-large version of yourself that, inevitably, gets the portrayal just slightly wrong.

Ironically – or, ahem, Alanically – You Oughta Know actually addresses this kind of narcissism-of-small-differences directly. The singer imagines her ex’s new lover:

Another version of me?
Is she perverted like me?

Admitting to being jealous of someone who you then accuse of being “another version of [you]” is really not a cute look. This line pulls off the neat trick of being both super pathetic and incredibly self-aggrandizing. I wish I could say that it describes a sentiment that is totally alien to me, but unfortunately I have been feeling exactly that icky strain of jealousy lately – not in my personal life, but in my professional life. I know this is ridiculous, but at 30, I feel usurped by young comers. I feel like I wrote and said a lot of unpopular things, things that I took truckloads of shit for, that are now accepted as commonplaces.

I try to curb these feelings by reassuring myself with a rotating assortment of pep talks, some of which can temporarily seem to work. One of them goes: “a rising tide floats all boats!” Another one goes: “put your head down and do your work. No one can be better than you are at being you. “ Above all, I try to convince myself that the idea that there are limited opportunities available to women is a big fat lie that the men who control most culture industries would love to have us believe, so we’ll keep ourselves occupied getting into Twitter wars instead of making art. There are as many spots available as we create for ourselves.

But then there’s this other part: this feeling that I have lost the impulse described by the song I heard last night. For the most part, I no longer feel like You Oughta Know. I feel like: I have sort of forgotten what I ever thought the point of telling you anything might be. Did I expect you to be forgiving, understanding, sympathetic? Did I think you’d feel guilty for being so mean and making me feel so bad? Was I fucking retarded? You never really cared. You just wanted a distraction, and maybe someone to compare yourself to, so that you could feel superior. Well, someone else can be that for you, now. Does she speak eloquently? Seriously, fuck you both.

This morning I woke up with another song in my (throbbing) head: the Liz Phair song “Money,” an early demo that became the Whitechocolatespaceegg track “Shitloads of Money.”  In both versions this song goes: “It’s nice to be liked, but it’s better by far to get paid. I know that most of the friends that I have don’t really see it that way. But if you could give ‘em each one wish, how much do you want to bet/they’d wish success for themselves and their friends, and that would include lots of money.”

Liz’s career path is instructive in complicated ways. First she made three albums that sounded like the fulfillment of a totally uncompromised creative vision. I love them more than I can say. A lot of women and even some men say that these albums changed their lives. (“It’s nice to be liked.”) But they didn’t make Liz rich, so she made three more albums that had radio-friendly hooks and slick production values. They had just enough real Liz in them to prevent them from being really hugely popular, but they did have movie-soundtrack hits on them, and if Liz’s true-blue fans made fun of their weak, unworthy songs and wrote about how betrayed they felt, Liz made, one hopes, enough money from them that she didn’t care. (“It’s better by far to get paid.”)

The dream, of course, is to somehow pull off the trick of doing both of those things simultaneously. Right now I’m not doing either. But I haven’t given up hope yet of someday being able to do at least one or the other. I know/hope/imagine that I’ll get there by learning, finally, how to zoom out past personal resentment and see the big picture, and not only how some aspect of the unjust world affects me me me.

Laughing and crying

“Writing about the buddist here has been public display, of course, but it’s been a public display of trying to figure something out, I’m not sure what it is – something about desire, obviously, and the trajectory of mourning – but also about boundaries, about secret/public, about embodiment and meaning, and the fragility of the ego, about the embarrassment and shame of being left or rejected, about pushing myself into ever uncomfortable spaces in writing. I’m not talking about my life here because it’s particularly interesting, it’s more the whole ‘push the personal until it’s universal’ cliché, though of course nothing is ever universal. I’m not an essentialist.” […]

“But I’ve had enough of my cyber vulnerability and honesty. It’s time to direct these forces into book projects I want to finish. So, I’m saying goodbye to the buddhist vein here. I already said that, but I mean it this time. Any more I’d have to say about this stuff needs the intense focus and discipline of Real Writing to tease it out,” Dodie Bellamy writes, in one of the blog posts that became her book the buddhist.  This post comes about halfway through the book.

Luckily (and obviously) she does not make good on her promise to “say goodbye to the buddhist vein,” and in her next post she revisits this question of blog writing versus “Real Writing.”  “I’ve always considered the whole Writing Practice idea as yet another example of some poets’ insufferable egotism, a total guy thing, like they think they’re such geniuses their shopping lists should be bronzed. Would these guys consider a woman blogging about her heartbreak as part of a serious writing practice? I doubt it. Is my refusing to consider this blog Real Writing an internalized misogyny?”   In the post after that one, she explains the idea of the “extradiegetic” while drinking “organic unfiltered sake, the creamy white kind”  (these details are so important to the Dodieness of Dodie’s writing that I can’t leave them out).  “Intradiegetic refers to the reality that exists within the narrative of a movie or fiction” – plot, characters, dialogue, first-person narration – while “extradiegetic refers to elements that exist outside that narrative” – third-person narration, the musical score of a film, the audience’s preexisting knowledge of the ‘real life’ a narrative is based on, the audience’s knowledge about the lives of actors who play characters in a film.  The example that Dodie gives is how Heath Ledger’s death “added a frisson” to The Dark Knight.

The example that springs most easily to my mind is: the first time I heard the song “Video Games” I was lying in savasana at Go Yoga in Williamsburg. Continue reading Laughing and crying

Re: Things I Ate That I Love

This is for the person who searched for “Why did Emily Gould delete Things I Ate That I Love”?  I didn’t, I just changed its URL (stupidly, I think now) to http://emilygould.tumblr.com.  I wanted it to be clearer it was me when I reblogged or left a note on something, was part of my thinking?  This will be gobbledygook to anyone who doesn’t have a Tumblr.  Anyway, it’s all still there, very much so.  Someone else has scooped up thingsiatethatilove and is squatting on it, which is weird. Stop living in my old house, squatter, or if you’re gonna live there, at least repaint it.

Our graffiti

Lately because of Emily Books I’ve been trying to anatomize my own taste. It’s not that I have to figure out why I like the things I do but it would probably be helpful to understand my impulses as I try again and again to explain what these books do that’s different from what other books do. (You know: “branding.”) To market Emily Books, in emails and blog posts and interviews, I’ve used words like “gross” “kinky” “transgressive” “feminist” “weird” “strange” “fascinating” “riveting” “first-person” “autobiographical fiction,” “weird sex” “sexual weirdness” “queer” “mind-blowing” “consciousness-shifting” “druggy” ”outsider art” “documentary” “druglike” “life-changing” “funny” “hilarious” “oddball” “lesbian” et cetera. All of these words apply but none of them really convey what I mean.

I read a blog post over the weekend that reminded me about the idea of a continuum that connects all the different writing that I like. The reason the blog post triggered this obsession was that I felt like the writer either didn’t know her work was part of a tradition or was willfully feigning ignorance of that tradition. I want to locate her story in a tradition because for years I didn’t understand that my own writing was part of a tradition. Maybe a name exists in literary theory but outside academia there is not a mainstream accepted satisfying name for this tradition. But there are exemplars of it and I want to force the world to read their books, so I have to figure out what this tradition encompasses and what to call it.


Toward the end of my doomed stint at Kenyon College I spray-painted the word “slut” on the dorm room door of a boy who, for the purposes of this story, I’ll call Dave (okay, that was his real name, but it’s also the name of almost all other white dudes his age so I feel okay about using it). It was green spray paint, and I remember thinking that almost any other color would have been more appropriate, more violent and emphatic. “Slut” the color of springtime leaves. Like everything else about the gesture, it needs a lot of context to make any sense.

Continue reading Our graffiti

Chad Harbach makes protein bars

The Art of Fielding is a great book and a popular book — an odd and miraculous-seeming combination!  Chad Harbach is a great person and now, after years of hard work and no ego rewards, also a successful person. Another too-rare combination.

Hemp protein powder, yogurt, agave syrup and oats are also weirdish things to combine but these protein bars came out mostly okay. Recipe here, should you wish to cook along at home.