In high school, some friends and I had a crush on this one boy. Or. We thought he was cute, I guess, and funny, and smart. And he had really nice calves. We thought this was the funniest, weirdest thing to appreciate about someone: the shape of his calves. What even was that? We giggled about it all the time, and walked up stairs behind him, watching those muscles flex. It didn’t occur to me until really very recently that you just can’t see a man’s thighs in the kind of shorts boys were wearing, then, and are mostly wearing now. All we meant was a completely ordinary, adolescent thing, the kind of thing boys were only supposed to say to us girls, that we somehow didn’t have the language for ourselves. What we meant was: he had really nice legs. 

-

This thing happens, inevitably, at some point when I’m in bed with someone. I mean, lying around, post-coital. He will catalogue for me the parts of my body he likes best. He’s been taught how to appreciate a woman for each of her features in turn, to think long and hard about which ones he likes, and then to offer them up to her, as a compliment. I’m not complaining; I’m not asking them to complain. I’m just saying, you know, I never know what to say in return. No one ever taught me how to tell a man: I like your shoulders, your waist, your belly, your mouth.

-

One of my favorite parts about writing this book was writing about the main character, a teenage girl, getting up close to a boy’s body for the first time. It felt impossibly illicit to catalogue the mundane things I’ve spent years developing a vocabulary for, all the tender parts of men’s bodies I’ve learned to recognize and appreciate. They’re so funny, and always covered in ridiculous clothes— until you get them into bed, and then they take off those clothes, and lie there in the dark with you, and tell you about how they like to look at you. Once that’s out of the way they tell you other things, too, there in the dark, where no one is looking at anyone, and you can forget for a minute that you’re supposed to be responsible to your body, or your idea of your self. 

-

I recently read a couple of books in a row— one by a woman, one by a man— that spent pages on male narrators describing the lush bodies of teenage girls. God it was exhausting. Claustrophobic. It made my skin feel tight, like: the shape of me will always be fruit, either ripe or spoiled. Like the inside of a girl’s head was empty or impenetrable, and either way besides the point.

-

Why read YA? People have been asking, and I could give a fuck, honestly. Read whatever it is you want to read. So why write YA, I ask myself. Because I could write other things. But I want to offer at least one teenage girl a vocabulary for her desires, or the idea that there is one. There’s not what’s inside her head and the shape of her body, one irrevocably private, the other unavoidably public. When you grow up learning about sex from the media, you imagine it’s all about looking; when you grow up a (straight) girl, you imagine that it’s all about how men want or don’t want to look at you.

It’s so surprising, when it happens, and it turns out it’s about touch, and reaction, and relationship. Reaching into a space between yourself and someone else, and saying: here. But you have to figure out where you are, first, and that inside of you is a place, too. If you don’t have words for it yet, that’s not because it’s unspeakable. That’s what I learned, when I finally started giving things names: that my desire was unmapped, but not so unfamiliar after all. It looked like everyone else’s, actually, lumpy, particular, personal, fine. I wanted and wanted and wanted. Just like everyone else. And, more than that: I allowed to say so.

This boy fell in love with me in college. I’ve written about it before. He spent years trying to have me, and I use that particular phrasing deliberately. “Why can’t you give it up?” I asked, once, years on.

"You’re still a worthy prize," he said. 

Or: a different time: “Why do you keep asking?” I asked. “Even when I keep saying no?”

He told me about a television show he’d watched, in which the asking finally worked. I’m not fucking making this up. We were in our twenties. “I though it would be like Sports Night,” he said. 

He was an egregious example, but it’s happened before and since with other men. I almost can’t blame them. In fact the trope is everywhere: smart girls love mean boys until one smart, nice boy sees through all of that, and convinces them, and wins them, and has them. Because the girl needs to be seen and known and had by someone else if she is going to matter. 

I knew the second Alice reappeared in The Magician’s Land, wandering around Quentin’s dead magic mirror house, that this was going to end poorly. She’s trapped there, and he visits her over and over again, delighted that she’s close to him again, even though she is a fucking demon. They can’t talk. She hates him. It doesn’t matter. He has her back. 

I did everything I could to convince this boy not to love me. I tried so hard to make myself unloveable. (I couldn’t say no. I could be a bitch and make him hate me, but just saying no— it was too deeply ingrained to be ignored, the first commandment of femininity: thou shalt say yes, and fucking smile while you do it.) I made myself into a wraith and a monster and I did so many mean things, and it didn’t matter. He had to have me. He came and sat at my feet, and told me that he could love me even though I was awful. 

I made myself a demon. He told me his love would make me human again. 

The Magician’s Land ends with Quentin forcing Alice back into her human skin, and then fucking her into liking it. I’m not make this up, you guys. He feeds her bacon and champagne and his dick, and then she can admit that she was in pain, and she was wrong to want to be a demon. She was wrong to be furious with him, for causing her so much pain. 

And this hero’s story doesn’t end with him as king of a magical land, no, but instead as the father of a new one, his first and only love at his side again. All girls ever are is the prize that you win, in this case for having achieved some basic emotional maturity. Quentin admires Alice— he’s always on about how she’s a better magician and person— but he never fucking sees her.

He never thinks that saving her might have been unforgivably selfish. And he genuinely doesn’t care about what she’s been through, or going through. He doesn’t doubt himself.

I don’t blame him. That shit is women’s work. Who would do it, if he didn’t have to?

Alice loses seven years of her life. During that time, we’re meant to understand, Quentin grows into the kind of emotionally mature man she deserves. Lev Grossman has no clue what might happen to a woman while she waits for a man (or why she would, though that’s another kind of argument) so he just turns her into a demon for the duration.

She’s not a real character, and never was, so there’s nothing she could be doing in the mean time. No real life she could be having, or decisions she could be making. Alice doesn’t change or grow because there’s nowhere for her to go. She was made to love Quentin, and all three of these books are the interminable story of how he eventually comes to be even the least bit deserving of that love.

I just wanted her to have a choice. I wanted her to come back of her own volition, for her own reasons, under her own power. That’s all I ever wanted for myself, anyway, was to know that I was allowed to have my own life, without him (any number of them). That they knew I wasn’t walking off-screen when I walked out of a room. Why is it so impossible for men to believe that women’s lives go on without them?

artsorority:

Here’s zanopticon making me cry. (That’s her on the bottom left, standing inside a life-sized Polaroid, in the spring of 2006.)

Daoud is one of the first people I ever collaborated on a creative project with: he photographed me in front of a wall of my Polaroids my freshman year of college. The first portrait was a bust— it was taken with lots of lights set up in a friend’s borrowed dorm room, and with me in a low-cut tank top and this tiny blazer K. had given me, looking uncomfortable like I do when someone trains a camera on me. The one he ended up using was an off-the-cuff reshoot in front of a bulletin board in one of the art school hallways. I think I was talking when he took it. Later, after he graduated, we sent each other square shaped surprises sometimes: a copy of his EP, and my photographs of the first beginnings of spring at the end of a difficult winter. 

Years later, he got in touch to say he needed to get out of DC, and so we spent a long weekend in New Haven trying to write together. I had just had this piece come out, and agents were asking if I had a book, which I did not, so I was trying and failing very badly at writing one. Essays, I thought. I remember that we took a break and hiked to the top of East Rock after brunch, and that he climbed a tree there. I remember how nice it was, to have someone sitting across the table from me, struggling while I struggled.

Anyway:

I love Daoud’s music. I hope you do, too. 

Love you too, kiddo. Let’s do it again sometime.

(BTW, the stated theme of this series was “Everything’s about to change; here are a few great people I’ve come to know, seen as I’d like to remember them.”)

Jesus Christ. Jesus actual Christ. I don’t think I’ve seen this picture since I was nineteen. Look at that tiny, suspicious face!

artsorority:

The new Art Sorority for Girls album is called Older Boys. It’ll be available 10/1. You can download “Man with a Van” for free right now.

Meanwhile: A song of fathers and sons, perhaps the closest I’ve ever come to sounding like “a DC band.” Enjoy.

Daoud is one of the first people I ever collaborated on a creative project with: he photographed me in front of a wall of my Polaroids my freshman year of college. The first portrait was a bust— it was taken with lots of lights set up in a friend’s borrowed dorm room, and with me in a low-cut tank top and this tiny blazer K. had given me, looking uncomfortable like I do when someone trains a camera on me. The one he ended up using was an off-the-cuff reshoot in front of a bulletin board in one of the art school hallways. I think I was talking when he took it. Later, after he graduated, we sent each other square shaped surprises sometimes: a copy of his EP, and my photographs of the first beginnings of spring at the end of a difficult winter. 

Years later, he got in touch to say he needed to get out of DC, and so we spent a long weekend in New Haven trying to write together. I had just had this piece come out, and agents were asking if I had a book, which I did not, so I was trying and failing very badly at writing one. Essays, I thought. I remember that we took a break and hiked to the top of East Rock after brunch, and that he climbed a tree there. I remember how nice it was, to have someone sitting across the table from me, struggling while I struggled.

Anyway:

I love Daoud’s music. I hope you do, too. 

In the last few years, though, television has stumbled onto a way to unsettle that kind of story, giving it pathos and resonance in the simplest possible reversal: by making all of the police women, whose mere physical presence in the narrative stands in stark, blessed contrast to the silent, still bodies of the girls whose lives and deaths they are called on to investigate.
The message of all of this was something beyond the mere maintenance of law and order: it’s difficult to imagine how armored officers with what looked like a mobile military sniper’s nest could quell the anxieties of a community outraged by allegations regarding the excessive use of force. It revealed itself as a raw matter of public intimidation.
I spent my first east coast fourth of July in Martha’s Vineyard with B’s family. We mixed secret G&Ts on the porch at night and slept on twin beds in the damp basement of their regular rental house. I’ve written about it before. I’ve written the same things about, it actually: gin, porch, basement, beds. That’s the story to tell about that summer, the romantic one, the one I believed so deeply I had trouble reconciling it with the truth of what was actually happening, which was more complicated.
I had so many rich friends, always but especially that summer, when I lived in Manhattan and it was evident, when I would take the 2/3 or the 4/5 from the bottom of the island to the upper west, upper east side to their parents’ apartments and a $20 cab home when the subway started running local late nights, and I didn’t want to fall asleep and miss my stop, or walk through the deserted financial district alone at 2 or 3 or 4 am. 
I had $20 to take a cab home. It wasn’t like I wasn’t rich, too. 
I wanted to badly so be easy, easy, to take the Jitney, to see the Hamptons, to have summer dresses and a summer tan and a summer house. Years later M & I tried to explain to H what we meant by it, frayed-cuff khaki rich, but he didn’t understand a word of it. He taught us how to drive a motorboat on the short jaunt between the dock and the island where we were weekending. A good way to know if you are rich is if you vacation so often and so specifically that each kind of trip has its own dedicated verb. 
There’s having money, and having friends with money. The one facilitates the other. The more of each you have, the harder it is to remember what your life might look like from the outside, which is to say, how much less money other people and other people’s friends have.  You get used to a certain floor on things. The human brain likes to keep it all as simple as possible. 
It was easy, while it was happening, to compartmentalize that particular summer’s miseries. It looked good on Polaroid film and in Facebook status updates. It was easier to dwell on the surface of it than to duck my head underneath, into the darkness, where I knew perfectly well there were monsters lurking, staring up at me, ravenous, through the water’s glassy surface. 

I spent my first east coast fourth of July in Martha’s Vineyard with B’s family. We mixed secret G&Ts on the porch at night and slept on twin beds in the damp basement of their regular rental house. I’ve written about it before. I’ve written the same things about, it actually: gin, porch, basement, beds. That’s the story to tell about that summer, the romantic one, the one I believed so deeply I had trouble reconciling it with the truth of what was actually happening, which was more complicated.

I had so many rich friends, always but especially that summer, when I lived in Manhattan and it was evident, when I would take the 2/3 or the 4/5 from the bottom of the island to the upper west, upper east side to their parents’ apartments and a $20 cab home when the subway started running local late nights, and I didn’t want to fall asleep and miss my stop, or walk through the deserted financial district alone at 2 or 3 or 4 am. 

I had $20 to take a cab home. It wasn’t like I wasn’t rich, too. 

I wanted to badly so be easy, easy, to take the Jitney, to see the Hamptons, to have summer dresses and a summer tan and a summer house. Years later M & I tried to explain to H what we meant by it, frayed-cuff khaki rich, but he didn’t understand a word of it. He taught us how to drive a motorboat on the short jaunt between the dock and the island where we were weekending. A good way to know if you are rich is if you vacation so often and so specifically that each kind of trip has its own dedicated verb. 

There’s having money, and having friends with money. The one facilitates the other. The more of each you have, the harder it is to remember what your life might look like from the outside, which is to say, how much less money other people and other people’s friends have.  You get used to a certain floor on things. The human brain likes to keep it all as simple as possible. 

It was easy, while it was happening, to compartmentalize that particular summer’s miseries. It looked good on Polaroid film and in Facebook status updates. It was easier to dwell on the surface of it than to duck my head underneath, into the darkness, where I knew perfectly well there were monsters lurking, staring up at me, ravenous, through the water’s glassy surface. 

I’ve come to appreciate how upfront L.A. is, its bullshit generally undisguised save for a light application of gold leaf.

The drought has seemed particularly intractable these last few months. In fact it’s been too dry for years now, but July turned the abstraction of reservoir levels into a series of ninety degree days, and sere grass anywhere it wasn’t watered, and dust settling on my dirty windshield to flatten the city’s late afternoon glare into something messy and mean. I keep joking to friends on the phone that I’ll end up east sooner than I mean to, when California dries or burns itself up.

Last night A. made dinner and then we walked a couple of blocks to a studio space to hear a friend’s band play a short set. Friends and family, the email said. When we got there they gave us cold PBR and earplugs. The building is a warren of hallways and half-furnished rooms, pinball machines, vending machines that sell Oreos and Snickers and Doritos and drumsticks. 

My book opens with two girls going to see a show. That’s what I did, in high school, before I could drive anyway: bought tickets on crappy 1.0 websites, paid a small fortune in Ticketmaster fees. Stood in lines, stood around waiting, stood through the opening act. Stood on the street, after, waiting for someone to come pick us up.

I did it like I do everything: until I was fucking sick of it. Now I go to concerts— not shows— and irregularly, infrequently. C and I are going to see Jeff Mangum at the Hollywood Bowl for her birthday in September. That kind of thing. I don’t miss it, particularly. 

Anyway last week an agent who had read the book scheduled a call with me. I was certain I knew what he’d say: that he liked it, that he wanted revisions, that if I could make them he might want to represent it. Instead I stood on the sidewalk outside of work, pacing, and he told me that he loved it, and that he wanted to work with me on it. 

The next day another one called, and said the same thing.

The agent I signed with on Friday morning is a third one. It was thrilling and terrifying to have options. I keep returning uselessly to the emotional muscle memory of querying: the lists I’ve been keeping, the doubt I kept in check and the hope that was almost too tender to acknowledge.

Now there are those revisions, inescapable, more doubt, more hope, probably plenty more waiting. I’ve cleared a hurdle, maybe— certainly I haven’t come to the end of any path.

There are things that happen in life that you can’t write into fiction. It’s too neat, too pat, far too fucking sentimental. But I am telling you the truth, now, so I can say that when we walked out of that show last night, it was to find that it had started raining.

so formative

so formative