She doesn’t write on command, can’t write your friend a birthday poem or an ode for the centennial celebration. She writes when the words strike her, making sure to keep stacks of paper scattered around the house. And she writes with pen and paper, never a computer, though she does email and knows enough about Facebook to know she hates it, the way people share every detail of their lives.
When I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, Baxter Black — maybe he’s the Prime Minister of Cowboy Poetry? — had a segment on our public radio station. His short weekly bit is how I learned about the festival; this piece reminded me that I’ve long wanted to go. I added it to my calendar for 2018.
“Above my basement stairwell is a little cubby hole in which I put junk I don’t know what to do with,” she begins, “and I take the box out every once in a while and I ruffle through it, and one day I found a little notebook that said ‘21st Anniversary.’ The poem went like this:
Eva Tenuto | Longreads | January 2017 | 22 minutes (5,426 words)
I entered the sandwich shop and saw him at the counter, my old high school freshman homeroom teacher, placing his lunch order. I hadn’t seen him since I’d graduated 17 years earlier.
He and I were the only customers. If I got in line, it was clear, there’d be no avoiding him. I’d heard through the small-town-grapevine that he’d been forced to retire early just a year after I graduated, after one brave young woman turned him in for touching her inappropriately. I remember thinking he got what he deserved. But it never occurred to me that I was traumatized by what happened with him until seeing him in person that day made me seize up in a full body rage.
“Well, hello Ms. Tenuto,” he said when he spotted me. That was how he always addressed me, even as a high school freshman. It was only in that moment that I realized the subtlety of the language that had taken my childhood away, that made his power and authority seem to disappear, that created the illusion we were equal, as if we were both adults. “You don’t remember who I am, do you?” he asked. How could he have the nerve to think I might have possibly forgotten? Like nothing had happened between us that would stand to be memorable. But nothing did happen. That’s what I had been telling myself all these years.
“Oh, I remember you,” I said, looking him straight in the eyes. My body started to feel charged, as if my insides were effervescent. I knew this was an important moment and if I didn’t claim it, it would quickly pass me by. Read more…
In my youth I didn’t always understand the complexities of why we marched but I felt the great love that motivated all those who participated. It was a love of self and each other that turned the dark nights into mornings, and eased the painful recognition that marching was mandatory. Marching was an act of survival and the literal act of placing one foot in front of the other assured us of progress even when circumstances seemed bleak.
Laura Goode | Longreads | January 2017 | 23 minutes (5,818 words)
In the last formal confession I remember having delivered, I sat face-to-face in the room with a priest: the confessional booth and screen, while useful for dramatic staging in mob cinema, has mostly fallen out of the contemporary Catholic architecture. I was 10 or 12, and mostly absorbed the time with meditations on curse words and disobedience to my mother, too skittish to relieve myself of what I knew to be my more impure concerns, those having to do with other people’s private parts. There was nothing remarkable about this last confession, except for my discomfort with its blocking: why did God suppose that I, a young girl, facing this elder male stranger alone, would feel safe enough to truly unburden myself, or to be relieved by such an unburdening? After this event, I gratefully allied myself with my father’s discomfort with the sacrament—he has always felt a license to improvise within the choreography of the sacraments that my more faithful mother eschews—and I would not confess.
I was a senior in high school in suburban Minneapolis in 2002, when The Boston Globe published the sea-changing evidence of rampant sex abuse, and institutional harboring of abusers, within the Catholic church. One shudders to imagine a readier justification to depart from one’s own native faith, and the fact that it arrived in my defiant throes of late adolescence only accelerated my exit out the papal door. Catholicism was guilty of cloaking the wolf, so I would no longer call myself a Catholic. I traipsed off to college prepared to locate and adopt a more unimpeachable moral code, as convinced as any other 18-year-old that I was in possession of some sacred and unique ethical ambition absent from my parents.
Tellingly, since relieving myself of the formal sacrament of reconciliation, I have pursued no dialectical gesture more compulsively than the informal “confession.” Especially in those tender, feckless years that begin adulthood, I have always apprenticed myself to my own peccadillos, constantly working them over in thought, diary and conversation; I am constantly forcing myself to think, write, or speak at least some of the feelings and behaviors that disturb me the most. I am the partygoer forever in pursuit of the inappropriate comment everyone else is thinking. I am the stranger who will tell you the secret she’s never told anyone else; I can keep any secret but my own. Sometimes I inflect it with humor, sometimes rue; here, candor, there, shock value. I fetishize the intimacy of revelation between unlikely interlocutors. I am no evangelist, but O! paradox enamors me. Read more…
It isn’t a fact universally acknowledged that a person who mistakes his opinions for facts may also mistake himself for God. This can happen if he’s been insufficiently exposed to the fact that there are also other people who have other experiences, and that they too were created equal, with certain inalienable rights, and that consciousness thing that is so interesting and troubling is also going on inside their heads. This is a problem straight white men suffer from especially, because the western world has held up a mirror to them for so long—and turns compliant women into mirrors reflecting them back twice life size, Virginia Woolf noted. The rest of us get used to the transgendering and cross-racializing of our identities as we invest in protagonists like Ishmael or Dirty Harry or Holden Caulfield. But straight white men don’t, so much. I coined a term a while ago, privelobliviousness, to try to describe the way that being the advantaged one, the represented one, often means being the one who doesn’t need to be aware and, often, isn’t. Which is a form of loss in its own way.
-At Lithub, Men Explain Things To Me author Rebecca Solnit writes about all the mansplaining she was treated to in response to her November essay, “80 Books No Woman Should Read” on the same site—itself a response to a much re-posted Esquire feature called “80 Best Books Every Man Should Read,” which includes 79 men. Most of all, men—”liberal men”—told her she misunderstood Lolita and was wrong for identifying with the young girl who’s been raped and robbed of her agency, “which made me wonder,” she writes, “if there’s a book called ‘Reading Lolita in Patriarchy.'”
A few years ago, novelist Siri Hustvedt interviewed fellow Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard in public. Toward the end, she asked why, in thousands of pages filled with hundreds of mentions of writers, he’d mentioned only one woman writer, Julia Kristeva. “No competition,” he said without much thought.
This stunning comment from a man whose six-volume autobiographical opus, My Struggle, treads in territory long considered the unserious domain of women writers–deeply emotional self-examination and domestic ennui–provoked Hustvedt’s curiosity about the gendering of literature. At Lithub, she presents a deep examination of gender bias among readers and writers alike, and asks what bearing an author’s sex has on the writing itself.
When I look back at the “no competition” remark, I suppose I should be offended or righteously indignant, but that is not at all how I feel. What I feel is compassion and pity for a person who made a remark, no doubt in earnest, which is nevertheless truly silly. Thousands of pages of self-examination apparently did not bring him to enlightenment about the “woman” in himself. “It’s still in me.” It is not enough to notice that a feminine text by a man and a feminine text by a woman are received differently or to call attention to numbers that represent sexual inequality in the world of letters. It is absolutely essential that men and women become fully conscious of what is at stake, that it is blazingly clear to every single one of us who cares about the novel that there is something at once pernicious and silly at work in our reading habits, that the fate of literary works cannot be decided by a no-competition clause appended to a spurious homo-social contract written under the aegis of fear, that such a clause is nothing short of “insane.”
It’s difficult to select just one perfect quote as a representative sample of Rachel Syme’s excellent ode to the selfie, at Matter. She comes at the subject from so many smart angles that there are too many to choose from. A prolific self-portrait poster herself, Syme defends this hugely popular phenomenon–so frequently derided as narcissistic and shallow, especially in reference to women–as a respectable act of self-expression and self-determination:
We are living in times of peak-selfie, and therefore, peak selfie-hatred. When a phenomenon leaks so completely and quickly into the cultural water supply, people are bound to get freaked out…
Those who see selfies as signs of the end times are focusing on the outliers; the bad actors. The people who accidentally fall into a waterfall and die in the pursuit of the perfect shot. The kids who get addicted to the digital feedback loop and start relying on hearts to get up in the morning. The moms and dads who take selfies when they should be watching their babies; the seething loners who use their selfies as a way to spread hate (if this hate spills over into violence, then selfies will surely get the blame). But these types of delinquents have always existed: the teenagers who don’t pay attention in class, the bros who snooze through cultural events, the trolls who care about snark over compassion. There are always going to be tourists who shove themselves obnoxiously to the front of the line, people who put their needs over the needs of others, people who gawk at fires and funerals: these are not unique social problems created by the selfie or its accoutrement.
What the critics don’t focus on is how to decode the language of selfies when they are being used correctly: what the people in them are trying to do with their portraiture, what big message each individual’s self-representational practice all adds up to in the end.
Once, I did a reading in New York where an older lady came up to me afterwards and said, “Your writing is beautiful, and there’s no doubt you’re a great writer, but I’m sorry I won’t be reading any more of that story. That was just too painful for me.” Then, a year or two later, I did a reading in Florida where another lady raised her hand and asked, “Don’t you write anything happy?” After a couple more of those, it finally clicked. I realized that for many people attending a reading is like watching television at the end of a long day. They don’t want to be sad. They want to laugh. Chances are they’ll pick the sitcoms over the horror movies. This writing business is all about learning. So I learned. I learned that, while one’s larger body of fiction can have quite a bit of sadness and conflict and tragedy in it (and in fact, most good fiction does), in a reading environment, the average audience member seems able to tolerate only a little bit of sadness. They’d much rather the reading be sexy, funny, intelligent, and witty. But little to no sadness. Life is hard these days. There’s more than enough sadness in the world, so I certainly can’t blame them.
–At The Rumpus, en route to the Wordstock Festival in Portland, Nigerian writer Chinelo Okparanta–author of the recently released novel Under the Udala Trees, and the 2013 story collection Happiness, Like Water–talked to Ryan Krull about waiting until stories feel ready to be written, trying not to bum out the people who come to readings, and Americans’ naivete about the dangers faced by LBGTQ people in other countries.
I think there’s a very interesting poetry moment going on culturally now. Part of what I’m experiencing with this nice reception of this book is the way being a female poet is a certain version of coming of age — poetry is very diaristic, small pieces, an art form you can realize — you wrote poems when you were young — a quick, young, cheap available art form.
I’m getting a sense, because I’m meeting so many young people on this tour and a lot of them are writing poetry and a lot of them are female, and so there’s a way I feel there’s a revolution going on, like the road saga of the ’50s and ’60s for boys might be writing poetry for females right now. And I just love how poetry seems to be totally … the notebook is open — girls, and girlboys, young people and older people and all kinds of people are writing in it. Something special, mortal, cheap and fun, a new way of being smart and fast — it coincides with texting, and social media — it’s a leaky, glittering sort of form.
So here was my father, in this white apartment with textured walls and thick carpeting, and the scant amount of furniture and paintings he’d brought from Redmond, looking like interlopers, like imposters, neither here nor there. And we’re sitting in this living room and I have no idea who he is and he says, “So I guess I’m coming out to you.” He said it like that, in a sort of meta way, as if he were along for a ride that his new self was taking him on. Which was typical, like he was just a sidekick in his own life, a shadow, though I’m assuming it was more of a linguistic fumbling, not knowing exactly how to come out or what words to use…
…When my father came out to his mom, my grandmother said, “You waited for your father to die, why couldn’t you have waited for me to die?” I knew then that I never want to contribute to the corrosiveness of wanting someone to stay hidden. Despite all my initial conflicts about trying to reconcile the father I had as a child to the one I have now, I am thankful that he is happy, that he did not waste another second.
-From The New Yorker’s excerpt of Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl: a Memoir, by musician, writer and “Portlandia” star Carrie Brownstein, in which her father surprises her by coming out. A few years later, Brownstein herself would be outed as bisexual, to her parents and to the world, by Spin magazine. The book is out next week.