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.
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.
The first time it happened I was twenty, and a little bit drunk on cheap white wine we had stolen from the college reunions happening all over campus. I saw L. in the elevator on the way up to my apartment and didn’t exactly recognize him— it had been years since we’d last talked, early in my freshman September, before he dropped out. He was a couple of years older, skinny, twitchy, and famous mostly for being a fuckup.
I left the front door to my apartment unlocked. An accident. He let himself in.
Then he came into my bedroom. He sat on my bed and explained that he was looking for a friend, and thought I might have his phone number. I don’t remember if he bothered with a pretext before he kissed me. I asked him to leave. He asked me to take off my shirt.
J. was in love with me. I know this because he told me: “I’m in love with you,” he said. He had emailed me earlier in the day to say he was going to a bar near my place, if I wanted to stop by. I told him no. He texted on the walk over about how much he wanted to see me. I said no. He called from the bar to say how much fun it was. I said no.
He came to my apartment, told my roommate I was expecting him, and let himself into my room.
He laid down on my bed, exhausted. “I’m in love with you,” he said.
"I’m so sorry," I said. What’s worse is: I meant it.
Part of the reason I couldn’t be in love with J. was because of D., who had broken up with his girlfriend to be with me. Maybe. We kept arguing about whether we were dating, whether we could date. He’d gone out to a party and I very deliberately hadn’t come. I don’t know what he told E. when he came in. All I know is that he wasn’t supposed to be there, and then he was. “I’m not used to sleeping in a bed with a girl who has so many clothes on,” he said, so I took mine off. “I can’t sleep if I don’t,” he said, but I wouldn’t. I would love to say it was because I was older, and I knew I didn’t have to, but the truth is that I was just more scared of what would happen if we did than what he would say if I didn’t.
(I should probably clarify that “my book” is currently an unrepresented Word document, and may remain that way for all of eternity. Hopefully not! But it’s not getting published anytime soon, anyway. Unless one of you is an agent, in which case: zanopticon at gmail, please and thank you.)
[ETA that this is somehow no longer true]
The problem that needs to be fixed is not kick all the girls out of YA, it’s teach boys that stories featuring female protagonists or written by female authors also apply to them. Boys fall in love. Boys want to be important. Boys have hopes and fears and dreams and ambitions. What boys also have is a sexist society in which they are belittled for “liking girl stuff.” Male is neutral, female is specific.
I heard someone mention that Sarah Rees Brennan’s THE DEMON’S LEXICON would be great for boys, but they’d never read it with that cover. Friends, then the problem is NOT with the book. It’s with the society that’s raising that boy. It’s with the community who inculcated that boy with the idea that he can’t read a book with an attractive guy on the cover.
Here’s how we solve the OMG SO MANY GIRLS IN YA problem: quit treating women like secondary appendages. Quit treating women’s art like it’s a niche, novelty creation only for girls. Quit teaching boys to fear the feminine, quit insisting that it’s a hardship for men to have to relate to anything that doesn’t specifically cater to them.
Because if I can watch Raiders of the Lost Ark and want to grow up to be an archaeologist, there’s no reason at all that a boy shouldn’t be able to read THE DEMON’S LEXICON with its cover on. My friends, sexism doesn’t just hurt women, and our young men’s abysmal rate of attraction to literacy is the proof of it.
If you want to fix the male literary crisis, here’s your solution:
Become a feminist.