I actually just sent this to the New Yorker. It has been a rough day for women in the literary arts!
James Wood’s review of Sheila Heti’s novel, HOW SHOULD A PERSON BE? (“True Lives”), completely fails to take into account one of the novel’s greatest virtues—ITS HUMOR! For Woods to so earnestly take apart (protagonist) Sheila’s desire to be “a celebrity,” her indulgent and narcissistic presentation of her artist friends’ conversations, and even her misguided trip to New York (the city with the most Important people in it), is to entirely miss the point, and even highlights what’s so very wrong with literary criticism today. As a young woman working in the publishing industry, I’m pretty familiar with the gender and generational gap that exists amongst editors, writers, and critics—but for God’s sake, we’ve reached this amazing moment where young women are writing things as smart and incisive, as compelling and AS HUMOROUS as the best of what’s being produced (or was produced) by Franzen, Foster-Wallace, and all the supposed Male Literary Gods, and yet this book is criticized for “never pursu[ing] that solitary note with the rigor that it deserves?” BORING! Who wants to see solitude pursued with rigor when they could read a tremendous portrait of a woman trying to get her shit together, of friendship between women artists, of narcissism being examined in the most hilarious way? Did James Wood miss, or choose to ignore, the several moments in which Heti realizes that one of the characters—a boyfriend, a shopkeeper, etc—is “just another man trying to teach me something?”
It is really hard to know what to write here, as I’ve resolved NOT to write about work or books, which are my work. And when your work is your life and every free moment seems like a moment in which you should be reading or educating yourself about the Publishing Industry or having drinks with an Industry expert or memorizing the New York Times bestseller list, you can really be made to feel naughty and self-indulgent when you take a few seconds to contemplate the things that interest you, like food and Law and Order and New York Magazine and the record player, now playing TV on the Radio.
It can really fuck with your style when the only writing you do is in the form of memos, reader reports, copy, galley pitches—all of which you’ve finally succeeded in writing in the style of your boss, the person who must read and approve these things.
I was a very self-reflective adolescent and college student, always writing in my journal and taking long, lonely walks on the Brooklyn Bridge—so much time to think about myself and my angst! And now I find myself classifying nearly everything I do outside of work as a guilty pleasure—Gossip Girl, US Magazine, Sherlock Holmes, sleeping on the subway. But I also feel good about this, purposeful, much more purposeful than I felt while writing long, self-absorbed essays about literature vs. reality at NYU. Those were good days for sure, but I suppose there comes a time when one must stop relying on professors and on the “academic atmosphere” and the long hours of free, sedentary time to stimulate one’s brain into brilliance. And so much about editing really is about losing yourself, putting yourself in the service of someone else’s text, there’s a reason to shrink into the background and to resist thinking hard about yourself
A professor once made us perform this writing exercise where we pretended we were connected by an IV to a writer whose work we’d just read, and we had to write with that writer’s style and sensibility. And I try to think about that when I’m editing, that I’m not necessarily an objective “outside pair of eyes” wielding a red pen but actually an empty vessel charged with “becoming” the author so I can then understand what the author might do (not what I might do) to improve on his/her work. So there is a case to be made for both self-reflection and self-sacrifice, in writing and in life. RIght? That said I am going to try and recover or invent some interest so I don’t find myself (surprise!) writing about work again.
Staring down this “add a text post” window brings back the strongest memories of my high school and even (early) college days, when we all used our livejournals to convey cryptic messages to each other. I’ll admit I tried to log in to my old livejournal to remember what I used to write about when I wrote these Interblogs, but I couldn’t remember the password and would have had to reactivate my NYU email to retrieve it, and to be honest I know very well what I used to read and write on livejournal—thinly veiled confessions of love, duh.
Speaking of high school, tomorrow I am going to see my favorite musical artist of all time, the man I’ve loved from afar ever since I listened to “If Winter Ends” on the family Compaq Presario, CONOR OBERST of BRIGHT EYES. So I’m doing a little pregaming, listening to Lifted and wishing I had a bottle of cheap red wine to wash down these sweet, sad melodies. I am going alone so that I can sit there (in Radio City Music Hall, weird) and revel in the journey back to 11th grade without feeling in the least embarrassed.
I am having a real night of nostalgia here, what with Conor and the blogging, which seems to belong exclusively to an era during which I wanted to confess everything without actually revealing anything. When I felt everyone should be privy to my profound meditations but I didn’t actually want anyone to know what I was thinking. Or maybe I hoped someone would divine what I was thinking from my cryptic posts, and then I’d have found my other half, the one person in this Interworld cool enough to be my friend.