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.)
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.
I think about this a lot: how to earn a living.
I always wanted to write, but writer isn’t really a job title. “You should go into television,” people would tell me, often, because I grew up in the industry, because that’s the closest Hollywood creatives come to job security, working season to season and collecting unemployment in between. “I want to be a journalist,” I started saying, instead, because at least people didn’t misunderstand it. The other response to I want to be a writer was “sure, but what are you going to do for work?”
In some ways I think it’s lucky. If you think that writing is a viable career path— if you are my age, anyway— you are almost certain to accrue some amount of credit card debt and psychic trauma in the long, slow struggle to figure out that it basically isn’t. I have always assumed that there was going to be some kind of nine to five in my life, and so I am not afraid of it. I have prepared for it. Instead of spending years trying to write and mostly failing,and doubting myself hideously in the process, I have worked various jobs, and figured out which ones I can stand for forty hours a week, fifty weeks a year. I have carved out thin slices of time to get my writing done around it. I have made a living for a number of years now.
On the other hand, part of me has always felt like shit about it.
The girls D. dated before and after me were both writers; one of them actually submitted her novella to an agent I was reading slush for while they were together. I was otherwise mostly unemployed, at that point, and the pain of it comes back to me with startling specificity: her cover letter, and its self-assured story pitch, and her credentials, and her pages, which were not brilliant but were skillful, and smart. This girl had written a fucking novella. I had only recently started this Tumblr.
The flipside of being practical is that it is very hard to be ambitious.
And there’s a lot to say about that, and the fact that you really can’t make a living as a writer, certainly not as a writer of the kind of fiction I produce. But I think it’s also true that for a long time there I was slowly poisoning myself on the toxic myth that my practicality wasn’t just a personality trait but instead a sign that I wasn’t a genius, or an artist, and that I never would be. If was really a writer my work would be consuming. If I was really a writer I would have been in New York, scrimping, starving, giving myself over it.
I like working, actually, and I always have. I take an almost surreal amount of pleasure in being capable and responsible, showing up on time, running through a to do list, matching hours worked to dollars on a paycheck. It satisfies the part of my mind that demands order, and soothes my tendency towards anxiety by organizing the day and the week and the year. I’m not sure I could write full-time, forever, even if the money weren’t an issue.
And it doesn’t mean anything. That’s just my process. It doesn’t fucking matter how you do the work, as long as you do it. And I do, and it’s good, or good enough that people like it, and pay me for it, and ask me to do it again. There’s no shame in being practical or in making a living. There’s no shame in wanting comfort and security, or in enjoying the things that aren’t my writing. I am earning a living; I am making a life for myself. I don’t owe it to anyone to do those things in a particular way.
This part of New York still belongs to K., for me, and to the spring I spent visiting her in her parents’ apartment. She had been put on an involuntary leave of absence by our college after a half-hearted suicide attempt, though I would not have qualified its type, then. It’s taken me years to acknowledge that she wasn’t serious when she did it, and to know that saying so doesn’t demean what she was going through, or what I went through because of her, after.
Anyway, then she just seemed like girls are supposed to seem: beautiful, and sad. B. and I would take the Metro North to Grand Central and the 6 to Bleecker, and we’d make the rounds to Mayle and Edith & Daha and Opening Ceremony, to Barney’s Co-Op, sometimes, to try things on. I can’t remember if we ever bought anything, but I can’t imagine that we did. I can’t even afford those clothes now.
K. taught me a lot about how to want things. She was good at fantasy— too good, maybe. I’m almost done with I Love Dick and thinking a lot about it, you will be unsurprised to hear. Thinking about how women are supposed to aspire to certain things— clothes, looks, husbands— but not allowed to really want them. Want is base, or animal, it is instinct and drive. K. wanted pretty things, and she was good at looking innocent while she took them with her teeth. She was not pretty, actually, but she had a sweet round face and a way with clothes, and a very little girl voice, improbably childlike.
It’s so surprising, even to me, even now, how vicious prettiness can be. K. was an aesthetic package centrifuged by her own anger and loneliness, a veneer held tightly together to cover over the psychedelic reality of a cracked and fractured psyche beneath. Last night M. and I were talking about regrets, about what we’d do over, about what was unavoidable in our lives. “You don’t think you had to go through that?” she asked, meaning not just the first suicide attempt but the summer that followed, when K. kissed a boy to provoke me, and when that didn’t work stopped talking to me, and when that didn’t work, tried to get everyone else to stop talking to me, too. The second time she pretended to try to kill herself, I wasn’t the one she called.
No, I said, I didn’t think so. It wasn’t a lesson. It’s just a wound. Sometimes I think it’s closed over and then I come back to New York and I remember: how she said she’d come get me at the airport and didn’t, and how she borrowed money to buy jeans with, and then more for a cab to see J. I keep an itemized list, offhand, like she might someday remember, and decide to pay me back.
And of course it’s because I can’t stop remembering, picking at the edges of the scab: how sweet she could be, sometimes, tender with me, careful, encouraging. I was eighteen and I had never been pretty before. I had never allowed myself to care about whether I was. And so it’s just: how thrilling and new it felt, to get off the train at Bleecker street, where it always seemed to be just lightly raining, and to know I would spend the afternoon touching expensive clothing with my fingertips, never daring to wonder what it would look like, if any of it would fit.
This weekend I started reading I Love Dick, and carried a six foot tall inflatable penis around the streets in Brooklyn for a while. (The thing was white-flesh colored, with head and shaft, no sac. Somehow the absence of balls made it seem slightly more neuter and cartoony, like a crude, featureless person we’d brought along, and posed with the captain’s hat L. got in a bar the night before. It is also Fleet Week. Men in uniform, America, etcetera.)
I don’t think about being straight all that often, which is kind of the point. One of those things that makes overkill in the telling: when we played Cards Against Humanity, L. had to ask what heteronormativity meant.
The book is really just an accident of timing, but it’s been a nice antidote to the relentless reality of a bachelorette party, which even in its most low-key incarnation is still a lot. And of course I’ve been enjoying myself. Last week, another Emily Book, Dodie Bellamy’s The Buddhist: “It’s exhausting… to continue to think & feel so many things I know better than.” Or is it offensive to take a theoretical stance against my own fun? Anyway, it’s weird to wake up in a room with a gigantic phallus, and tiaras and personalized drink cups citrus-scented from a day’s worth of bellinis.
The shooting bubbled up on my Twitter feed in the way that it does: outraged reactions, no details, so that I knew only something bad had happened, and it had happened to women. Everyone else at the table was on the internet, trying to find picture of Kim Kardashian’s wedding dress, which was why I had opened Twitter in the first place, but it wasn’t on their feeds, and I didn’t want to be the one to bring it up.
That night, drunk at a bar, waiting in line for the bathroom, I tweeted something pissy about not using hashtags to explain why I didn’t deserve to be raped or murdered, and I stand by the sentiment, if not the wording. Of course #yesallwomen. Every single woman, but I don’t have to speak for the rest of them, and they don’t have to speak for me. When I say: this happened, and this is how it felt, and that’s enough. I’m not interested in anything less.
Welcome to Call Your Girlfriend! We recorded this pilot many internet moons ago over too much wine but we hope you enjoy it. We’ll be on a #relevant internet schedule very soon.On the agenda: Special IRL circumstances, smug Californians, the Obamacare struggle is real, menstruation clickbait, Beyonce’s influence, and drunk online shopping. Plus: What’s in a name?
My long-distance bestie Aminatou Sow and I have started a podcast, with a major assist from radio goddess Gina Delvac. We’re going to call each other up and talk about current events (and, uh, not-so-current events) every-other week. Here’s the pilot, which is already a couple weeks old. We promise we’ll be timelier for the official first episode.
Gina & I have been hanging out since we were babies (we met once when we were five, and then again when we were fifteen, and the second time it stuck), and I endorse anything and everything with her name on it.