Thursday, September 6, 2012

Your daily dose of despair

The other day I was talking to Jen, one of my best friends, who lives in New York, and she was telling me that it's unfair that she can keep up with my life via my blog, but I can't keep up with hers because I'm not on Facebook. She quickly admitted that the real reason she wants me on Facebook is to "like" her pictures, because in truth I keep up with her life just fine through email and phone calls. Still, I told her that Facebook drives me batty because the updates that are personal (as opposed to just links to news and crap) are positive and self-flattering to a wildly disproportional degree. (At least that's how it seems to me when I scan someone else's Facebook feed and am rapidly bored to tears.)

To be fair, some people, writers especially, use blogs (and Twitter, which, let's remember, is a microblogging platform as much as it's a social network) the same way, as a vehicle for self-promotion, for "building your personal brand." But I don't bother reading those blogs. My two favorite writer blogs these days are Molly Says (Molly Laich) and Frances Farmer Is My Sister (Kate Zambreno). What I love about these blogs, aside from the fact that I love the way Molly and Kate write (which is another way of saying that I love the way they think), is that they aren't an exercise in maintaining the illusion that life is always fun, happy and on an obvious upward trajectory career- and success-wise. Instead, they are confident enough to show self-doubt, to reveal flaws and general life messiness. I'm not the first person to say this but guess what? If you pretend your life is perfect all the time, nobody believes you, and if your life is perfect all the time, you're boring.

Here are some recent snippets from Kate Zambreno's blog:

I will not write anything this weekend, most likely, and will spend it recovering. This morning I read the Bookforum review of Heroines that's in the new issue. I can only describe the experience of reading it as devastating. There has become such a taboo in our literary culture about writing or venting when we receive a bad review. But the thing is, and I've spent some time thinking about whether I should write about it, this wasn't just a bad review, it was a dangerous, mean-spirited, intellectually dishonest review, and the irony is, it was a review that was not aware of itself as committing the same sort of critical crimes against a woman writer, the same sort of shaming and silencing and disciplining, that is itself the subject of the book. (from "one can be dumb and sad at exactly the same time" 8-31-12)

Toxic shock on the Internet. I begin to be obsessed with myself as a minor author in society. Two versions of the minor: the anonymous, the Solanas, and then the one who deranges the master language, as D&G write of Kafka. Perhaps these are the same. I begin googling myself obsessively. I visit my Goodreads page. My novel Green Girl is involved in some sort of brutal bloodsport literary prize, where it is decimated, where I feel decimated. I take to my blog to rant this all out. I have just taught Sarah Kane’s perfect crystalline text of fury, Psychosis 4.48 to my Women and Madness class. I expel my alienation. Then I erase it all. I suicide my blog. 
Feeling sometimes like Carrie at the prom—it is her alienation and fury that sets everything on fire. 
I decide I must expel all the toxins from my system. I go on a juice cleanse. I drink beet juice that stains my fingers, my cutting board. I shit out pink, mingling too with my darker menstrual blood in the toilet bowl. 
I am psychotic. 
I write so as not to suicide. And yet—I suicide. I stop writing. Whenever I don’t write I commit violence to myself. I write instead of kicking and screaming. I write instead of dying. (from "Apoplexia, Toxic Shock and Toilet Bowl: Some Notes on Why I Write" 7-4-12)

And from Molly Laich's blog:

Jesse’s an orphan and a roofer and he stares at me for what I consider to be uncomfortable lengths of time. He tells me I move through the world awkwardly, which I already knew but it’s always devastating to be reminded. He said to me, “I feel embarrassed for you sometimes,” and well, that makes two of us. 
The first week I lived here he asked me where he could read some of my writing, and I told him about this blog. I watched him read through every post, and he laughed in a way I found uncomfortable and a little terrifying. Every day since, he asks me, “Have you updated your blog yet?” He says he wants me to write about him. People often don’t mean that, I find. Actually, most people don’t even say that. We will see. 
Jesse is almost always mad at me, and I find it frustrating and exhilarating. I keep trying to learn the rules, but they’re always changing. There are no rules! He’s got bright white teeth and expressive eyebrows. He rotates between a few torn up t-shirts and camouflage cargo shorts. Jesse stares at himself in the mirror constantly. I find him egotistical and difficult. 
When I watch Jesse pick the best cucumbers out of a pile of cucumbers, I start to fall in love with him, and then he opens his mouth and says something. (from "my domestic situation so far." 9-6-12)

I guess what I'm saying is that I like people who are sometimes devastated, who are OK with confronting the devastating.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. I just wanted to edit my comment below but there was no edit feature so I deleted and re-posted.

      "This comment has been removed by the author" feels kind of shameful, like I wrote something inappropriate or embarrassing. I don't know, some kind of strange connotation. It was just a typo. It won't happen again.

    2. Heh, sorry. I have long hated that there's no way to edit one's own comments.

  2. Amen. Molly in particular is fantastic. The whole idea of promoting one's "personal brand" or worse, promoting one's family's "personal brand" is so boring it's kind of exhausting.

    Feel like a lot of writers have embraced the "personal brand" concept and it just feels so corporatized... it's weird that it can be openly discussed among writers in anything other than a satiric sense. You can just imagine the next logical step-- readers are "customers" and the writer's job is to provide great customer service. The whole concept of art and artists subsumed by the overwhelming crush of hyper-capitalist dogma/jargon.

    Only complaint: I wish Molly would blog and write more.

    1. Great customer service! Sheesh. I agree. I've been thinking a lot lately about the general feeling that you're supposed to maximize the number of people who like you, and how making other people happy and making yourself happy are so often not compatible. Which is not to say that I don't believe in living an ethical life -- more that worrying about how people perceive my personality and my writing is a recipe for pain.

      And yes, Molly should blog more.

    2. I think there is a younger generation of writers and readers who take the personal brand concept for granted. The defining characteristic of alt lit (btw, I am fascinated by alt lit and its characters so this should not be construed as "shit-talking") is the emphasis on the writer herself. That is, the writing is at best secondary to the experience of the artist.

      The basic posture of alt lit is "hey, like my tumblr/facebook/twitter brand? Maybe check out my writing sometime." I have no doubt there are alt lit fans who have never read, and have no intention of reading, the work of their favorite writers. The lit journals, chapbooks and novels function like a Justin Bieber cd-- an important token of fandom but not the primary content. A Justin Bieber cd is a Justin Bieber delivery device, not a text that should be experienced independently.

      Can you imagine if Annie Proulx or Don DeLilo had been forced to cultivate a personal brand before they could publish? Cultivation requires a writer to literally flirt with her online fans. The resulting imperative on physical attractiveness is obviously a bit unsettling.

      For a really fascinating take on the pressures this creates, check out one female alt lit writer's response to another:

      Maybe this stuff is all well-worn territory, but I find it all really interesting.

    3. That is a really fascinating take on alt-lit! I'm inclined to agree. Several years ago now (I think) I wrote what is probably my most quoted/linked blog post ever called "Publish the poem, not the poet" which was a response to journals publishing crappy work by "name" poets. That happens at every level of "lit" but I think you're right that it's more of a phenomenon with young writers that focus so much on having an internet presence. Fascinating stuff.

  3. Your final statement in the post emphasizes what I wanted to comment on, namely, that both excerpts reference "devastation." Something about the use of this word has sparked my interest and I'm wondering how you think of this emotion/feeling/mindset.

    How does devastation manifest itself in one's countenance, physical/emotional feelings, etc.?

    1. Yes, I noticed after I chose the excerpts that both used that word! I guess I love that word. It's a rare word that, to me, is both really overdramatic, really drama-queen-self-aggrandizing, and yet affecting. (This is kind of the flip side of the thing I was talking about in re Tao Lin a few months back, where a childish flatness can somehow be affecting.) But in a literal sense, to be devastated is to be destroyed, if only temporarily (as by hurricane). I am interested in ruination, in events that are so powerful they seem to wreck you and/or force you to reevaluate your sense of yourself and your place in the world. Basically, the opposite of stasis and complacency. Complacency is death!

  4. I read most of the archives on Molly Says one night many months ago, but for whatever dunderheaded reason did not add the link to my Google Reader and have had it nagging nebulously at my mind ever since, like, "Find that blog with the writer who lives in Montana and felt awkward at a writers' colony" (way specific, brain). Anyway, *thank you* for redirecting me. I'm glad to be able to catch up. To self-doubt!

  5. Now I'm seeing Carrie covered with pink pig blood...

  6. what a rad conversation. I am thrilled to be a part of it! here are just a few of my thoughts on the subject:

    the whole branding thing is pretty weird, I'd say. I think I've done okay at it almost entirely by accident. god bless my clunky, german last name. people are shy trying to pronounce it, but you do a google search for "molly laich" and I'm the only one. that's helpful.

    I think it's totally cool for people to keep a blog simply as a self promotion tool or whatever, if perhaps a little boring. every person who wants to be an author should have a website, I think, if only just to collect links to your publications. you should make it easy for readers to read your work! if you don't want people to read you, why are you writing?

    or if you're not getting published and you still want to be heard, BAM! blog that shit! done. I bet way more people read my blog than have read whatever story I published in a print journal two years ago. Quote my friend Alice, on the subject of being published in print: "It's like they've taken my poems and buried them in a hole."

    When it comes to promoting things that I've published, I find facebook and twitter are actually a lot more helpful than my blog. The blog is like a book on a shelf that you can be directed to by a librarian. A librarian named Twitter.

    I'm an internet baby. I've kept a blog of some kind since I was 15 or 16, and now I'm 30, lordy. Blogging meant that I was writing on a consistent basis in a conversational style with no real goal other than to entertain and charm the reader. Back in the early 2000s we didn't even know what the Internet was, we just played on that shit.

    Blogging has been great practice for "real" writing. It's probably the single biggest factor in my "success" as a writer. when I applied for a job at the local paper here, I apparently seriously bombed the interview. (them: "would you consider yourself an organized person?" me: "no.") But they gave me the job anyway because they read my blog and liked it.

    of course, I can't account for any number of jobs I DIDN'T get because an employer googled me and found my loose lips. but who wants those jobs anyway? This is the business we've chosen!

    as for delving into the murky depths of human experience, I don't know what to say about that. I find life to be incredibly painful and difficult, personally. It had not occurred to me to pretend otherwise.

    If you're curious, my favorite writer blog is

    Elisa, thanks for writing this. and thanks for reading my stuff, you guys. what more could a girl want.

    1. Hi Molly!

      I think it's totally cool and OK for writers to keep blogs just for self-promotion, too. I just don't personally enjoy reading those blogs. Does anyone, other than the writer's mom? Probably not. But they're still useful, especially if you've just discovered a writer and want a bunch of links to all their crap. I don't have a website that just links out to all my junk, but whatever. I'm not that famous.

      Pretty awesome about the bad job interview and getting the job anyway.

      I will definitely check out your favorite writer's blog. Thanks for the recommendation!


  7. I've reread this post, and I'm ambivalent. One of my blogs, bird's-eye-maple pajamas, is mostly yacking; but it includes little about my fears of being a failure, my fantasies of driving into brick walls, my wee-hour panic attacks, getting my feelings hurt by criticisms of my poetry (“empty wordplay”) or my person (“This guy is soft-spoken and really, really boring,” said one student eval), drinking too much coffee and shitting black, etc. For one thing, I extricated myself from the mire of self-absorption in my late 20s, and I vowed to be more outward-looking for the rest of my life. For another, I figure anyone who reads me can assume that I have the usual fears and disappointments, that sometimes after blowing my nose I go around with boogers clinging to my nostril hair, that I have nasty, un-PC thoughts, “hot wishes I dare not speak,” etc. I don't know, maybe I'm wrong; maybe people want to read that. Maybe it'd be good for me to write it down.

    There's some nice stuff in the passage by Molly Laich. I like that last sentence very much.

    1. If you're talking about yourself, whether it's good things or bad things, aren't you in self-absorption territory? People talk about their own lives on their personal blogs most of the time; the distinction I was making was whether or not you "keep up appearances" ... people who always seem happy and "with it" feel less real to me. But I'm sure there are other people who would prefer to surround themselves with 24-hour sunshine.