5 posts tagged long reads
His fist meets my face with strangely silent force. There is a pause between the impact of his hand in my face and the impact of my body against the wall behind me, and another pause, it seems, before I hear the sound of my body hitting that wall: the pause between lightning and thunder, the seconds you count as a child. How bad is the storm, mother, how far?
There is no pause between the crash of the wall and the shattering of my glass, in the other room I must have followed him what did I do, his forehead is bleeding now did I do that, I did that, I threw that glass at him, that is blood not wine that is blood. My body and my hands have moved before my brain: the lightning of rage before the lumbering sound waves of logic. I am crying, I think, hysterically now, and his boyfriend is shouting what the fuck you hit her you never hit a girl you little shit what is wrong with you and he is screaming get out, get out, fuck you, get out, but my mind is elsewhere, calmly studying something from anatomy class in high school, neat labels and arrows, words of undetermined relevance but definitively Latin or Greek origin, hovering over a cutaway drawing of the skin and muscles: contusion, periorbital hematoma, sphenoid bone. An explanation, a science. A logic for what has just occurred.
It is his twenty-second birthday, late in September, my last year of college, and he arrives at my house in his pickup truck just before sunset. I am wearing a green floral dress. He is blasting a Breeders EP, the good one, the one before Tanya what’s-her-face left for Throwing Muses. The air is cool but the ground holds the residual heat of day.
Half an hour later we sit on the bank of the river in a park near an old house, on an old picnic bench, smoking Nat Shermans, the pink and red ones, in silence, something I have always appreciated about him, the comfort with silence. There is a barge on the water, and he tells me about a French movie with a man who works on a barge. The light is soft and yellow and the air hums with cicadas.
When we met three years before, he and I were in love right away. We’ll get married, we promised each other, and I could date girls and he could date boys. We’ll never have to come out to our parents, and we will always have each other, forever and ever in sickness and in health. We are smart in the same way: quick-smart, word-smart, we read each other’s minds. At the time we are exactly the same height and weight. We wear each other’s clothes, eat off each other’s plates. The word is “codependency” but it still feels like a good thing.
My brother, my twin brother, my other half, my rock, my soil, my roots, my blood. We were fierce about each other: we were violent in each other’s defense, until we were violent about each other. I almost called him Judas here but that would have been too obvious. Besides, who does that make me? Mary Magdalene? Hooker with a heart of gold, at best.
There are other moments, too: Satie on the piano in the heat of summer, a dusty orange triangle of sunlight on the floor and me in a faded blue linen dress. Night on the balcony of the apartment in Hell’s Kitchen, the grid of the fire escapes and the shadows on the white-painted brick. The garden with the purple flowers where I photographed him in a purple shirt.
There was a time when I told him, with the covers over our heads and our bodies curled in towards each other, that he shouldn’t care about me so much because I couldn’t bear to betray him. He whispered: You’re assuming I believe in betrayal.
I am sitting on the bottom step now, outside his apartment. In my skull is there is a dull bulb of pain, a growing one, blossoming now, the confusion coagulating into calm rage, into understanding his betrayal, the eye of the storm: he hit me.
For some reason I go back upstairs and knock timidly. Can I have an ice pack, I say. I think I am trying to make him feel bad, or maybe I want him to hit me again. He is in another room, so his boyfriend wordlessly puts ice cubes in a Ziploc bag, wraps it in paper towels. We are both crying, silently.
Still shaking, I hail a cab. The driver sees my ice pack and asks: What happened? I got hit, I say. By a man? he asks, and I nod. Boyfriend? No, no, just a friend, and I start crying and the cabbie slams his fist into the steering wheel. Why did you not call the police?! he shouts. Call the cops. The way I was raised men who hit women are the scum of the earth. No, please, I am whispering. Just take me home. I will go back there and kill him myself, he is saying. With only my hands. There is no excuse for that. No excuse. I will kill this man for you.
Lately I’ve been really into weird concepts of something like failed, desperate, self-conscious deliberate performative femininity? Part of this is evidenced by the fact that I’ve been doing my hair in big curls with my kinda-crappy-blonde-dye-job and wearing a ridiculous faux-leopard coat with ripped tights and messy eyeliner, and part of it comes together more in at least 47 different e-mail conversations about books and movies with “unrepentantly fucked up” lady characters that I’ve been having with at least 5 different people of late. Some of these ideas have been written very eloquently by other folks already, and some of it is obvious and some of it is still vague, and all of it is definitely not “complete,” so, like, go at it in the comments, y’all, I wanna know what you’re thinking.
It begins, I think, with my ongoing frustration that when we are presented with male characters (or personas, or even real persons) who are basically bad people with one redeeming quality (still sleeps with a teddy bear, is a brilliant filmmaker) we let that one redeeming quality, you know, redeem them, and are collectively charmed by their fucked-up-ness. But I have a really hard time coming up with similar female examples: all of the ones I can think of we have opted to either lambast or concern-troll instead. And we always need to redeem them. They always need to learn something or be rescued, which we all know is basically the opposite of how the world really works. Kids, I am a hot mess, and almost all of the women I admire and love and am fascinated by are also hot fucking messes, and I so rarely see that represented in a real, nuanced, and fascinating way. To simplify: I am eternally tearing my hair out over the fact that I desperately want more female antiheroes. In books, film, pop culture personas, whatever. And I’ve been seeing this idea come up again and again lately.
As a brief list of some of what I’m referencing: There’s this Lana Del Rey album review, which is kind of the most astute thing I’ve read on her yet, and which hit the nail on the head of my bizarre, obsessive preoccupation with her and her aesthetic — though it condemned her where I obviously am fascinated instead. There was that Marie Calloway brouhaha, and the fantastic response to it all from Kate Zambreno, which also lead to The Rejectionist’s interview with her here. There were a bunch of folks over at Emily Books who managed to somehow misread a lot of lesbian moralism into Eileen Myles’ Inferno, when I thought it was just a book about, like, someone very funny and intelligent and unapologetic, who also lived a life that reminds me an awful lot of my life now. There was Charlize Theron in Young Adult, who would have been way fascinating if not for Diablo Cody’s frustrating insistence on de-nuancing her characters in favor of twee trope-tastic banter. There’s Cat Marnell at XOJane and the no-nonsense-it’s-okay-to-be-human writing at Rookie. Sarah’s and my Rayanne Project (which sort of fizzled out probably partially because I am a little bit too much of a whacked-out womanchild to coordinate and motivate folks to write me things like that, but the stuff that’s up there is still amazeballs!) The Amy-Winehouse-inspired couture collection that Gaultier showed yesterday. Courtney Love, like, in general.
I am really into this, you guys.
Every time I get into one of those All Time Desert Island Top Five conversations, I hesitate. I usually go for the safe, the safe and obvious — Radiohead, The Pixies, New Order, Gang of Four, maybe like Sleater Kinney or the Yeah Yeah Yeahs? But I’m always lying. Because the thing I always hesitate to admit is this: one of my favorite bands, and the band I have seen live more than any other, ever, is actually Rainer Maria.
That’s me, age 16, in a mall, holding a Frappochino, wearing a Rainer Maria shirt I made.
I don’t remember where, when, or how I first discovered the band — my best guess is on a mix or from one track that took me an hour to download from a nascent Napster. But I remember saving babysitting money to buy their CDs from Sound Exchange, the independent record store in my town, and biking home to pour over the liner notes while I listened to them. Rainer Maria was the only band I’d heard with the melodic rawness I’d come to love in bands like Braid and Alkaline Trio, but with a girl, and less violent and stupid, and with something else, something that seemed cool and too smart, something that seemed like how I saw myself. They wrote songs about Abraham Lincoln and Walt Whitman, they were named after a poet. Clearly this was something different, something I needed to love.
The context for this is, I suppose, is that I was born in the mid-80s and grew up in fucking New Jersey, a veritable mecca of hair gel, tanning beds, and strip malls. But it was a breeding ground for that now oft-maligned genre of our collective teenage shame – emo, which admittedly constituted a significant portion of my teenage identity, years before Jimmy Eat World records started going platinum. Between the ages of 13 and 16 my life revolved entirely around mixes from friends, crappy shows in American Legion hall basements, and college radio, facilitated by information I consumed ravenously from LiveJournal and an early Pitchfork Media, via the 14.4k modem my parents acquired when I was in the ninth grade.
Living in a town where “not tanning” and “taking an art class” was all it took to make you “subversive” was torture to my oh-so-misunderstood teenage self: Rainer Maria gave me a promise. My best friend and I would cut school to take the New Jersey Transit bus to New York, though we never knew what to do there. We did what we thought we should do and waited in the places we thought we should be — bought books at the Strand, records at Other Music, ate pizza. We shared my headphones waiting for the train at Broadway-Lafayette, one earbud in each of our ears, listening to the CD of A Better Version Of Me, which I’d just bought.
It seemed, at the time, that Caitlin de Marrais was actually singing about a better version of me, the one I could become. I too could one day live in Brooklyn and be a literary and complicated redhead (that Caithlin and Jenny Lewis are partially responsible for my ginger conversion at the age of 16 is undeniable) and wear Victorian blouses and skinny jeans tucked into boots. It seemed so sophisticated in comparison to my cropped hair and Converse sneakers. One day I too would have a complicated love life, a college education’s worth of pretentious literary references, and a knowledge of New York geography (the skyline is two gazes long, going nowhere on the BQE, pick me up on A & 9th) to drop into my songs to make up for a limited vocal range. Caithlin de Marrais was precisely who my maudlin, sheltered sixteen-year-old self knew I could be the moment I escaped New Jersey. Never before had it been more obvious an option as it was on that train platform as I’ve seen the girl who will pick up where I left off, she’s already smoothing her hands for the pictures…I know I should drop everything and let her sing she’s a better version of me strained through tinny headphone speakers into my ears.
I guess when I was 17 “taking a photo with the singer of the band” seemed like a cool thing to do
I saw them live for the first time on Valentine’s Day of my senior year of high school, in the echoing, shadowy chapel of the college (Vassar) that I had recently been accepted to. The next autumn, having escaped the suburbs at long last, I flung myself with wholehearted naiveté into becoming an “Interesting College Student/Intellectual English Major.” But as I surrounded myself with books, sweaters, and mismatched earth-toned dorm room bedding, something I had long suspected began to concretize for the first time as well, in the form of a dark-haired girl from New York who would come to visit another friend at Vassar. We went to a Le Tigre show at the campus center, and back in her friend’s room she smiled at me and held my hand under the blanket and my body froze at the electric warmth of her so near. She gave me a sterile kiss on the cheek and apologized for not having any time alone with me, and mentioned that she had Rainer Maria tickets in a few weeks, did I want to come?
I took the Metro North south to Grand Central, and we made our way to Northsix, the filthy Brooklyn venue that has since become the Bowery-Presents-owned chrome-finished Music Hall of Williamsburg. Her boyfriend bought us Sparks at a bodega, which we drank out of paper bags sitting on the broken concrete near the Kent waterfront (I know, I know) before the show. Later, I pressed myself up against the stage and sang along to every word, while she fought with her boyfriend outside.
He broke up with her (via text message) on our way home, and I consoled her on the train ride back, her head heavy in my lap. There was nowhere to sleep in her tiny Manhattan apartment but in her bed, and she clung to me throughout the night, her breath warm on the back of my neck, her hand on the small of my back. I left the next morning after another apology and sterile kiss on the cheek, and walked to the train with a joy of anticipation or self-actualization or understanding rising in my chest. There was a smaller sinking feeling in my stomach, and the suspicion that I had definitely cheated on my long-distance high-school boyfriend, though I was unsure why, as the evening’s most illicit incident had been a twenty-one year old buying beer for my eighteen year old self.
I wrote in a small black notebook on the train back upstate: Went to see Rainer Maria last night, in Brooklyn. I stared at the page for a while, unsure of what else to write, since I felt like Something Important had happened. Instead I carefully printed the lyrics: Save me some time. I’ve always wanted to wake up, on the Lower East Side. You want me completely and I’m ready and it’s fine, and so I begin the double life.
my dorm room, sophomore year of college
For the next few years I would see every show that Rainer Maria played in New York, including their last, which I would go to just hours after flying back from a semester living in Prague. Jet-lagged and alone, I lingered at the back rather than pressing myself against the stage, although I still knew the words. “Living in New York” and “dressing kinda arty” no longer held the mysterious, elite appeal it did when I was fifteen, and I was deeply ashamed of my screamo-heavy, mall-shopping suburban history — patently uncool amongst my city-raised I-have-wealthy-artist-parents classmates. An awareness of issues beyond “not fitting in at my high school” had developed, and I was conflicted by how self-indulgent the songs now seemed. My new life in New York, a developing career in the music industry, and my time in Prague (naturally filled with electroclash, a new haircut, and a terribly affected sense of self) had caused something else: a guilty suspicion that this just wasn’t cool. I left torn between embarrassment and a strange nostalgia for the person I had been when I loved them with such unbridled enthusiasm.
Five years later, all of this is, of course, hilariously petty. I’m sort of an adult now, with a day job and a live-in girlfriend and a lease I signed for and bills I pay, usually on time. My teenage image of who I would be in my mid twenties is oddly accurate, although shifted: I publish my writing differently than I thought I would, and I’m a blonde now, not a redhead. But as it turns out, there’s nothing especially glamorous about being a grown-up and living in New York. There are times that I feel cheated by how unglamorous the whole thing actually is — the drudgery of the commute, rude taxi drivers, roaches, Excel spreadsheets of personal budgets. I often feel old, old and boring.
But Rainer Maria is still on my iPod, every last song they’ve ever recorded, and I still listen to them more often than I want to admit. Strangely, I think my lingering affinity stems from the fact that the songs somehow manage to re-romanticize for me the shocking ordinariness of what it’s actually like to be a creative professional in New York. Somehow they bring back a nostalgia for the version of myself I am now, but as I saw that self ten years ago – the girl who will pick up where I leave off, the girl who will beat through all the hell and high water threatening what she believes. She’s a better version of me.
Okay, kids. I’ve been putting it off and re-editing and drafting and queueing and un-queueing a post about this for weeks now, but I need to stop waffling about it, since we need to talk about Lana Del Rey and Kreayshawn, and how I don’t hate them, and how I think the intensity and specificity of everyone else’s disdain for them is sort of shitty, and how self-righteous and unquestioning we’ve all been about that hatred. We’ve talked about both of these ladies to death, but it seems that very few people (in my admittedly over-stocked Googlereader, at least) have even so much as glanced at the intensity of the public reaction to both of them and really questioned why they irritate us so much.
There’s one disclaimer to be made here, first — it’s true that there are a lot of conversations to be had about Kreayshawn and race (and to some extent about Del Rey and nostalgia and class.) I want to make it clear that I’m not in any way refuting these, as a lot of those conversations are totally valid and necessary and you should read them or write them too and I think they are super important and want you to tell me about them too. This conversation, if it’s possible to do this, is slightly outside of those dialogues, a concurrent frame through which I think these two singers can be viewed. This is about ladyhate and the curious extent to which of these pretty lady pop singer internet sensations have become our most reviled cultural icons this year, our favorite objects of hate and disgust.
This isn’t criticizing thought-provoking conversation about potential social issues in pop culture, or any of the nuanced dialogues about femininity and race and queerness and class that they may have provoked — plenty of those have been super rad, and super necessary. This is about the personal attacks and the particular brand of lady-directed-snark we’ve been seeing all over with regards to both of these girls, lots of which are lacking in deeper analysis. This is about how despite the fact that Kreayshawn and Lana Del Rey have little in common other than having a YouTube account, we the feminist music-snob internet have reacted to them with the same variety of sneers and upturned noses.
“But what do people do on boats?” I asked. ”I just don’t get it. How long do you stay on the boat and am I going to get sick and do people bring food or am I going to have to help make the boat work or do you just like float around and am I going to get wet and what do I talk about with the kind of people who own boats? Who owns boats anyway? How much does a boat cost?”
A coworker had invited my girlfriend to go sailing on their yacht after work, an invitation which had been extended somewhat tersely to “partners” — a word which, coming from people who are old and straight and rich and conservative but at heart still genuinely “nice people,” has always sounded uncomfortable to me, a politically correct and sanitized way to acknowledge nonheterosexual relationships without the embarrassment of explicit reference to gender. A self-consciously magnanimous attempt at generous inclusion of that other kind of people, a well-intentioned but tight-lipped tolerance without wholehearted acceptance — something nice, something I give people credit for, but that always leaves a sour taste in my mouth. Would it be un-partner-ly of me not to go, or would I ruin their boat party simply by merit of being that, a partner? But more importantly, what was this even going to entail?
My friends assured me that it would be nice — calm down, they said! It’s just a boat! They invited you, you crazy person! It’ll be nice! ”But what do I do?” I asked them frantically. “What do people do on boats? Do I compliment them on their boat? Do I need to bring champagne? I can’t afford champagne until I get paid Friday. Can I wear Converse? I don’t have boat shoes. I’ve never been on a yacht, what are yachts even like?”
“Take a Xanax and don’t talk about politics,” my friend advised. “Maybe wear a floppy hat. There will be booze.”