On Pandering Analysis

Description

Write 500 word mini essay analyzing Watkins message, as well as what Waldman finds as the essay’s shortcomings. Please include your own analysis of each. Use the two links below to help.


http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2015/11/24/cla…





E S S AY
ON
PANDERING
Claire Vaye Watkins
How to write like a man
Some Exposition
Until recently I was a professor at a private
liberal arts university in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, a little town located at the exact
point of overlap of a three-part Venn diagram. Draw one in your mind: label circle
#1 Amish country, label circle #2 coal
country, label circle #3 fracking country.
The towns near Lewisburg have names
like Shamokin Dam, Frackville, Minersville,
and Coal Township. You might have heard
of a place called Centralia, a modern-day
ghost town thanks to a vein of coal that
has been burning beneath the ground since
1962, belching up smoke and carbon monoxide, forcing people to flee their homes
and poisoning those who refuse. That vein,
by the way, is expected to continue burning for another 250 years. So if you haven’t
visited Centralia, there’s still time. Centralia is about forty miles from my old house,
and people from the Buffalo Valley, where I
lived, often took day trips there. So basically
all you need to know about this particular
region of central Pennsylvania is that we
went to Centralia—a smoldering village of
noxious fumes—on vacation.
31
Remarks delivered at the Tin House Writer’s
Workshop, July 2015
32
CLAIRE VAYE WATKINS
icon. It is a place, as residents often insist,
that time forgot.
In short, Lewisburg looks almost nothing like its neighbors in coal-Amish-fracking country, which time has remembered
all too well. Obviously, this has everything
to do with the university—one year spent
at this college, located about three hours
from New York City, costs $62,368. Generally speaking the campus can be fairly
characterized by the setting of Frederick
Busch’s wonderful short story “Ralph the
Duck,” a “northeastern camp for the overindulged.” Money from the school, its faculty, its students and their parents props
up the local economy. Simple enough.
But the true relationship between the
town and the university did not occur
to me until one of my students, from
Youngstown, Ohio, described how much
her mother loved coming to Lewisburg,
how each time she visited her mother
would say, “Look at that adorable chocolate
shop, look at those gleaming lampposts. I
just love Lewisburg!” My student, sharper
than we give Millennials credit for, told her
mother, “Of course you love it. It’s for you.”
What she meant, I think, is that Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, is a town in coal country the way Disney’s Celebration, Florida,
is a suburb of Orlando. Lewisburg, and
countless other so-called college towns like
it, is Bedford Falls in loco parentis. It’s a
country-mouse theme park for young people wanting the illusion of distance, wanting the sense of being away on a journey
and all the self-discovery that promises. It’s
for them, and it’s for their parents, who will
PR EVIOU S PAG E: © A LL C A N ADA PH OTO S / A L A MY STO CK PHOTO
The Buffalo Valley smells like pig shit,
puppy mills, or burning garbage, depending on which way the wind blows. It is not
uncommon, when hiking, to come across a
tarry black field where old-growth forest
has been recently clear-cut, the ground still
soaked with diesel. This all sounds pretty
bleak, and it was, even to me, a person with
a high tolerance for bleakness and an affection for abused landscapes. Living there,
I can admit now that I’ve fled, corroded a
part of my soul. Driving to a neighboring
town for a prenatal checkup felt like driving through Capote’s In Cold Blood. During
the time I lived in central Pennsylvania the
adjective I used most to describe the place
to faraway friends was “murdersome.”
And yet the little town of Lewisburg,
where this expensive private university
is located, is actually quite pleasant. The
houses are gingerbread Victorians and
stately brick colonials, all turrets, stained
glass, and sleeping porches. Market Street
is lined with parks and bed and breakfasts
and small local businesses from another
era—a shoe repair shop, a butcher, a vacuum cleaner repairman, a chocolatier, an
independent bookstore, a single-screen
art deco movie theater where they put real
melted butter on the popcorn. The town
square boasts a Christmas tree in the winter, scarecrows in the autumn, and alfresco
concerts and community theater in the
summer. Every street is lit by old-fashioned globe lampposts, the proud town’s
tolerate this distance and this freaky looming self-discovery, so long as it comes with
the quaintness of the country, the control
of a company town, and all the safety that
$62,368 can buy.
All to say that for the past four years, I
lived in a landscape of pandering.
all this with writers who’ve been there. After
lunch, Stephen takes a nap at my house
while I go teach. I come back and take him
to his reading, then to a bar with the other
grad students, then to get donuts on our
way home. Stephen flirts with me all night
and back at my apartment he attempts, with
what I’ll graciously term considerable persisStephen Elliott Comes to Town
tence, to convince me to let him sleep in my
bed rather than on the air
Let’s segue into one of my
mattress I’ve inflated for
favorite subgenres of lithim in the other room.
Living there, I can
erary gossip: writers
I decline several times
behaving badly. What
before he relents, doing
admit now that I’ve
writers’ conference would
so only after I tell him
fled, corroded a
be complete without it?
I’m seeing someone. He
part of my soul.
It is the fall of 2009
sleeps on the air mattress,
and I’m in the final year
and in the morning we
of my three-year MFA
have breakfast and then I
program. The program is hosting a readdrive him to the airport.
ing by the writer and P. T. Barnum figure
Later that day, a friend forwards me the
Stephen Elliott, who, in addition to being
Daily Rumpus e-newsletter, which Stea novelist and memoirist, is editor in chief
phen wrote in the airport and sent to his
of the online literary magazine The Rumpus.
subscribers, allegedly a few thousand readThe university does not provide him accomers, writers, and fans of his site. Its subject
modations so our program director passes
line is “Overheard in Columbus.” Of the
along his request that someone put him
visit Stephen wrote:
up for the night. I volunteer. Kyle Minor,
another writer and an alumnus of the proIt was really a great time, though I
gram, fetches Stephen from the airport. Stecan’t put my finger on exactly why. It
phen, Kyle, and I have lunch, where we talk
might have been the ride from the airabout Denis Johnson, our works in progress,
port with Kyle Miner [sic] who’s livand our agents. I’d landed a hotshot agent six
ing the post MFA life with a book of
months earlier, am still freaked out by how,
stories out, a couple of kids, teaching
when I Google her, names like Junot Díaz
classes up in Toledo, finishing what
and Jonathan Safran Foer appear. I have a
sounds like a fantastic novel and constory coming out in Granta, a collection in
templating law school. Or it might
the homestretch, and I’m eager to talk about
have been Claire, the student I stayed
On Pandering
33
with. Or the walk for donuts at 10:30
on a Wednesday night, which felt late
in that town, especially on the strip.
I tried to get in Claire’s bed. It was
a big, comfortable bed. She said no,
how would she explain it to the boy
she was getting to know. I said there
was nothing to explain to the boy,
nothing’s going to happen. It’s like
sleeping with your gay friend. But she
wasn’t so sure. She had been drinking
and I don’t drink. I slept on the air
mattress in the other room.
Now, I realize I’m not a special snowflake, that every woman who writes has a
handbag full of stories like this. There is
probably an entire teeming sub-subgenre
titled “Stephen Elliott Comes to Town.” I
offer this here partly because it was my very
first personal run-in with overtly misogynistic behavior from a male writer, and so perhaps my most instructive. I learned a lot
from that Daily Rumpus e-mail (which is a
sentence that has never before been uttered).
I want to stress that I’m not presenting Stephen Elliott as a rogue figure, but as utterly
emblematic. I want to show you how, via his
compulsive stream-of-consciousness monologue e-mailed to a few thousand readers, I
was given a glass-bottom-boat tour of a certain type of male writer’s mind.
I scrolled up and down, reading and
rereading, and through that glass-bottom
boat saw a world where Kyle Minor was
Kyle Minor, a writer “with a book of stories out, a couple of kids, teaching classes
up in Toledo, finishing what sounds like
34
CLAIRE VAYE WATKINS
a fantastic novel and contemplating law
school.” Whereas I was Claire, no last name,
“the student,” owner of a big, comfortable
bed. Until my friend forwarded that e-mail
to me, I’d been under the impression that
since I wrote, I was a writer, period. If I
wrote bad I was a bad writer, if I wrote
good I was a good writer. Simple as that. I
was, I knew, every bit as ambitious as Kyle
Minor and Stephen Elliott. I loved books
just as much as Kyle and Stephen did, read
as much as they did, and worked just as hard
to get the right words in the right order. But
now I was confronted with Google Groups
listserv proof that, to Stephen, Kyle was a
writer and I was a drunk girl.
But fuck ’em, right? What did Tina Fey say
about sexists in the workplace: over, under,
and through. The problem with responding to sexism with Sesame Street is that if you
read that e-mail as I read that e-mail, as
I was being trained to read—that is, carefully and curiously, over and over—you’ll see
something more than the story Stephen told
himself about me as a writer or, in this case,
not a writer. I saw, in the form of paragraphs
and sentences, my area of expertise, how it
took only a few
sexual
lines to go from
professional disentitlement
missal to sexual
entitlement to being treated as property to
gaslighting.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I
tend to think professional sexism via artistic infantilization is a bummer, frustrating,
disappointing, but distinct and apart from
those violent expressions of misogyny
widely agreed upon as horrific: domestic
violence, sex slavery, rape. Stephen Elliott
did not rape me, did not attempt to rape
me. I am not anywhere close to implying
that he did. I am saying a sexist negation, a
refusal to acknowledge a female writer as a
writer, as a peer, as a person, is of a piece
with sexual entitlement. No, more than of
a piece, it is practically a prerequisite.
Humans are wide, open vessels, capable of
almost anything—if you read you know
this—but you cannot beat the mother
woman
of your children, or
as property
rape your childhood
friend while she’s
unconscious, or walk up to a sorority outside Santa Barbara and start shooting
without first convincing yourself and
allowing our culture to convince you that
those women are less than human.
professional dismissal
(Kyle = writer; Claire = student)
I know that’s an intense analogy. I
intend it to be.
Here, Stephen Elliot handily provides a
clear illustration of an idea most recently
proposed by Rebecca Solnit in her important essay collection Men Explain Things
to Me: these things exist on a continuum.
gaslighting
Sexist dismissal of women as artists and
the assumption of sexual entitlement over
them that is necessary to make something
like rape okay in our culture—and it very
much is okay in our culture—are not separated by vast chasms of principles. Look
here, they are two paragraphs of the same
story, separated by only a keystroke.
When I said, I’m a writer, Stephen heard,
I’m a girl. And, because I was a girl, when I
said, No, you cannot sleep in my bed, he heard
someone who “wasn’t so sure.” I continued,
in his mind, to be unsure, and only the man
I was dating—in Stephen’s infantilizing
phrase “the boy she was getting to know”—
could be sure for me. The story Stephen
told himself went: “She had been drinking and I don’t drink.” Because I was not a
writer, not a person, I was easily made into a
drunk girl unable to tell her own story.
That is, until now.
Watching Boys Do Stuff
But you know all this, even if you haven’t
heard it recently, even if you haven’t heard
it out loud. I am not interested in why Stephen did what he did. I was a women’s
studies minor, I get it. What I’m curious
about is what I did with what he did.
For years, I thought this encounter was
formative. I described it as I have above, a
kind of revelation. These days I think, if only.
After all, it’s so much gentler to be presented
with an ugliness of which you’d been previously completely and honestly oblivious
than one you were trying to pretend didn’t
exist. The truth is, the fact that our culture
36
CLAIRE VAYE WATKINS
considers male writers more serious than
me was not a revelation. I’d been getting the
messages of Stephen’s e-mail long before
my friend forwarded it to me—all women
do. We live in a culture that hates us. We get
that. Misogyny is the water we swim in.
To wit:
As a young woman I had one and only
one intense and ceaseless pastime, though
that’s not the right word, though neither is
hobby or passion. I have practiced this activity
with religious devotion and for longer than
I can remember. I have been trying to give
it up recently, since moving away from Bedford Falls, since around the time my daughter was born. But nearly all of my life has
been arranged around this activity. I’ve filled
my days doing this, spent all my free time
and a great amount of time that was not free
doing it. That hobby, that interest, that passion was this: watching boys do stuff.
I’ve watched boys play the drums, guitar, sing, watched them play football, baseball, soccer, pool, Dungeons and Dragons
and Magic: The Gathering. I’ve watched
them golf. Just the other day I watched
them play a kind of sweaty, book-nerd version of basketball. I’ve watched them work
on their trucks and work on their master’s
theses. I’ve watched boys build things: halfpipes, bookshelves, screenplays, careers. I’ve
watched boys skateboard, snowboard, act,
bike, box, paint, fight, and drink. I could
probably write my own series of six virtuosic autobiographical novels based solely on
the years I spent watching boys play Resident Evil and Tony Hawk’s ProSkater. I
watched boys in my leisure time, I watched
boys in my love life, and I watched boys
legalized in Colorado and a friend from
in my education. I watched Melville, I
there gifts me a joint. I approach another
watched Salinger, watched Ford, Flaubert,
writer, this one down from Alaska, who is
Díaz, Dickens, watched even when I didn’t
standing alone beside the glowing hotel
particularly like what I saw—especially
pool. I make small talk:
then, because it proved there was someI say, So, how long have you lived in
thing wrong with me, something I wanted
Alaska?
to fix. So I watched Nabokov, watched
She says, Well, I’m an Eskimo, so . . .
Thomas Hardy, watched Raymond Carver.
I ask if she wants to share the joint.
I read women (some, but
She looks circumspect,
not enough) but I didn’t
which is puzzling to me.
watch them. I didn’t give
I’ve heard her mention
The fact that our culture
them megaphones in my
Mary Jane before and
mind. The writers with
I’m pretty sure we’re of
considers male writers
megaphones in my mind
the same mind about it.
more serious than me
were not Mary Austin,
Right here? she asks.
was not a revelation.
or Louise Erdrich, or
Yeah, I say, looking
Joan Didion, or Joy Wilaround for what’s bothliams, or Toni Morrison,
ering her. It’s dark, only
though all have been as important to me
the pool lights glowing, and we’re the
as any of the male writers I mentioned, or
only ones outside. The stars overhead are
more. Still, I watched the boys, watched to
staggering.
learn. I wanted to write something Cormac
She says, But weed’s not legal here.
McCarthy would like, something Thomas
I note that it’s legal in Colorado, and
Pynchon would come out of hiding to
that Colorado touches New Mexico.
endorse, something David Foster Wallace
What if someone calls the cops?
would blurb from beyond the grave.
They won’t call the cops! Are you crazy?
I have been reenacting in my artmakWe’re guests of the hotel.
ing the undying pastime of my girlhood:
What if we get arrested?
watching boys, emulating them, trying to
At this point we’re both super puzzled,
catch the attention of the ones who have
not understanding each other at all. I’m
no idea I exist.
thinking, Lighten up. People smoke weed
in city parks, at music festivals, on hikOn Invisibility
ing trails. The last time I smoked was at a
wedding in Maine.
Speaking of things that are invisible: picI say, Come on, they’re not going to
ture me in New Mexico, where I’ve come
arrest us for one tiny joint. We’re profesto teach for a week. Marijuana’s just been
sors for fuck’s sake!
On Pandering
37
Okay, she says finally, lighting up. But if
novelists” and relocated to “American
they call the cops you better hide me under
women novelists.” These categories—
your invisible cloak of white privilege.
writer or student, writer or girl, woman
At moments like this, when my whitenovelist, Eskimo, Latino, Literary or African
ness materializes in front of me and I can
American—matter. As Sontag told Mailer,
see it, I am so embarrassed of it and also
“Words matter, Norman.” They affect the
so angry at myself for not being always as
way we live—whether we can smoke a joint
aware of it as I am there in that awkward,
beside a hotel pool in New Mexico without
painful, absurd, essential moment. I want
fear of being arrested; whether someone
to unsee it, make it inviswill hear no when we say
ible again, and usually I
it—and they affect the
do, because it feels betway we write.
I am hiding under Tom’s
ter. I have that privilege.
Others don’t.
The “little white man
invisible cloak of male
I have watched writdeep inside of all of us”
privilege.
ers go brown right
before my eyes. My husIt was Toni Morrison
band, half Cuban but
who pointed out that
made much more so on a job interview,
Tolstoy was not writing for her, who said
is told by a white male scholar specializshe was writing toward black women. It
ing in African American literature that his
makes you wonder, Who am I writing for?
inventing and imagining aspects of Cuba
Who am I writing toward?
in his novel was “problematic” and that
Myself, I have been writing to impress
according to this white professor, he got
old white men. Countless decisions I’ve
things about Cuba “wrong.”
made about what to write and how to write
My best friend, a Basque American,
it have been in acquiescence to the opinpublishes a book set in the Spanish Basque
ions of the white male literati. Not only
country and Publishers Weekly lauds it “just
acquiescence but a beseeching, approval
exotic enough.” My iBooks library categoseeking, people pleasing.
rizes Joshua Cohen as “Literary” and Toni
But whom do I mean when I say white
Morrison as “African American.” Think
male literati? Sounds like a conspiracy theabout that for a second: it’s either/or. Meanory, one of my favorite genres of Ameriing, according to iBooks, you cannot be
can storytelling. I mean the people and
African American and Literary. And it was
voices real and imagined in the positions
only two years ago that, over on Wikipeof power (or at least influence) in writing
dia, American authors whom editors susand publishing, but mostly I mean the man
pected of being in possession of a pussy
in my mind. James Baldwin wrote of the
were removed from the category “American
“little white man deep inside of all of us”
38
CLAIRE VAYE WATKINS
but mine is tall. He’s a white-haired chain
smoker from New Mexico, the short story
writer called “Cheever’s true heir.” It is Lee
K. Abbot I hear in my mind. This has little
to do with Lee himself, a mentor I admire,
a writer I adore, whose encouragement has
helped land me before you, whose support
I treasure. I am not talking about Lee K.
Abbot who once turned to me in workshop when I was a first-year MFA with a
dead mom, a desert rat without a proper
winter coat and in bad need of a thumbsup, and asked me, because I’d turned in a
story he liked, “Claire, who are the great
Nevada writers?” And when I sputtered
something about Robert Laxalt and Mark
Twain he stopped me and said, “No. You
are.” I am speaking not of Lee Kitteridge
Abbott the man but what he represents.
Or rather I am talking about them both,
about the representation and the man
himself, for didn’t I know he would like
that story, about an old prospector who
finds a nubile young girl left for dead in
the desert?
Glad you like it, Lee. It’s for you.
I am talking about this reading I gave in
Montana in the fall when it was so beautiful I almost never went home, where a latemiddle-aged white cowboy—let’s call him
the Old Sumbitch—waited in my signing
line, among the brown-haired girls with
glasses, and when he got to me said, “I
usually don’t read stuff like this but Tom
McGuane said you were all right.” I am
talking about being at once grateful for
the friendship and encouragement offered
me by Tom McGuane but also angry and
exhausted by the fact that I need it. The
Old Sumbitch would not have read me if
Tom hadn’t said I was all right. I am hiding
under Tom’s invisible cloak of male privilege. At issue is not Tom McGuane or Lee
K. Abbott or Jeffrey Eugenides or Christopher Coake or Chang-Rae Lee, all of whom
have offered me guidance and friendship
for which I’m tremendously grateful. But
why should their voices be louder in my
head than that of Karen Russell, a beyond
generous certified genius and, with any
luck, my future sister-wife? Why should
they be louder than Antonya Nelson, who
wrote the most illuminating review of Battleborn I’ve ever read? Why should they be
louder than Erin McGraw, who read Battleborn in its every incarnation, who taught me
how to get a job and keep it, who’s written
me about a hundred letters of recommendation and done everything short of hand
me this microphone today?
The stunning truth is that I am asking,
deep down, as I write, What would Philip
Roth think of this? What would Jonathan
Franzen think of this? When the answer is
probably: nothing. More staggering is the
question of why I am trying to prove myself
to writers whose work, in many cases, I
don’t particularly admire? I recently finished Roth’s Indignation with nothing more
lasting than a sincere curiosity as to whether
Roth is aware that these days even nice girls
give blow jobs.
I am trying to understand a phenomenon that happens in my head, and maybe
in yours too, whereby the white supremacist patriarchy determines what I write.
On Pandering
39
I wrote Battleborn for white men, toward
them. If you hold the book to a certain
light, you’ll see it as an exercise in selfhazing, a product of working-class madness, the female strain. So, natural then
that Battleborn was well-received by the
white male lit establishment: it was written
for them. The whole book’s a pander. Look,
I said with my stories: I can write old men, I
can write sex, I can write abortion. I can write
hard, unflinching, unsentimental. I can write an
old man getting a boner!
Here are the lampposts, here is the single-screen movie theater. It’s all an architecture of pandering. It’s for them.
She can write like a man, they said, by
which they meant, She can write.
A fellow on Twitter says:
“A lot of young women (not to mention this
WM) loved that book. Should I tell them
to disregard their reading experience?”
If you like my book I’m grateful. But I
remind you that people at the periphery
will travel to accept and even love things
not made for or toward them: we have
been trained to do so our entire lives. I’m
not trying to talk anyone out of their readerly response, only to confess to what went
on in my mind when I made the book, to
assemble an honest inventory of people
I have not been writing toward (though
I thought I was): women, young women,
people of color, the rural poor, the American West, my dead mother.
This is frightening on its face, but manyfold scarier because I thought I was doing
40
CLAIRE VAYE WATKINS
this for myself. I was under the impression
that artmaking was apart from all the rottenness of our culture, when in fact it’s not
apart from it. It is made of it.
The preceding
is either an aesthetic/artistic/personal
epiphany or my ritualistic prepublication
freak-out; perhaps a little of column A, a
little of column B. I’ll tell you this: I have
not written anything of consequence since
my daughter was born. It’s easy to say, You
had a baby, you’re busy, it gets better, and I’m
really glad to hear from those of you who
have said as much. But I wonder if part of
the reason I have not been writing is
because I have not been seeing. My gaze is
no longer an artist’s gaze.
Why would that be? I think it has something to do with the fact that I don’t wander in the desert much anymore. I spend
my days with a baby and that, patriarchy
says, is not the stuff of art. Once again I am
a girl and not a writer. No one said this. No
one has to. I am saying it to myself. That’s
the terrible efficiency of gaslighting.
After watching Girls for the first time
my friend Annie McGreevy says, “That
was my experience, too, but I didn’t know
it was okay to make art about it.” And
maybe it’s still not okay. After doing an
event with Miranda July, Lena Dunham
tweets this quote from Lorrie Moore, writing on July in the New York Review of Books,
“When one googles ‘Wes Anderson’ and
‘fey’ one gets a lot of pictures of him and
Tina Fey.”
About a year ago I had a baby,
place and, in a culture wherein women
are subject to infantilization and gaslightand while my life was suddenly more
ing, in a culture that says your “telepathic
intense, more frightening, more beautiful,
heart” (that’s Moore on July) is dumb
more difficult, and more profound than it
and delicate and boring and frippery and
had ever been, I found myself with nothfor girls, I sometimes wonder if it’s even
ing to write about.
possible.
“Nothing’s happening to me,” I bemoan
I have built a working miniature replica
to Annie. “I need to go shoot an elephant.”
of the patriarchy in my mind. I would like
Annie replies, in her
very much to bust it up
late-night Lebowskian
or burn it down. But I
cadence, “Dude, you’re
am afraid I don’t know
Motherhood has softened
a mother. You’ve had a
how. Though I do have
child. You’re struggling
some ideas.
me. I have a tighter valve
to make your marriage
on what I’ll read and what
work, man. You are trySome ideas:
I’ll watch.
ing, against your nature
and circumstance, to be
Let’s punch up.
decent. That’s your elephant!” Yet when I write some version
Let us not make people at the margins into
of this down it seems quaint or worse. I
scouts or spies for the mainstream. Let us
thought I had enough material for a novel
stop asking people to speak for the entire
but when it came out it was a short story,
cacophonic segment of humanity that shares
and one that felt unserious. I tried a story
their pigmentation, genitalia, or turn-ons.
in the form of a postpartum-depression
questionnaire and it felt quaint. Domestic.
Let us spend more time in those uncomFor women. Motherhood has softened me.
fortable moments when our privilege is
I have a tighter valve on what I’ll read and
showing. Let us reflect there, let us linger,
what I’ll watch. I don’t want to write like a
rather than recoil into the status quo.
man anymore. I don’t want to be praised for
being “unflinching.” I want to flinch. I want
Let us continue to count, and talk, and
to be wide open.
think about the numbers.
I am trying to write something urgent,
trying to be vulnerable and honest, trying
Let us name those things that are nameless,
to listen, trying to identify and articulate
as Solnit describes, the way “mansplaining”
my innermost feelings, trying to make you
or “rape culture” or “sexual harassment”
feel them too, trying a kind of telepathy, all
were nameless before feminists named
of which is really fucking hard in the first
them. Let those names sing.
On Pandering
41
Let us hear the stories we are telling ourselves about ourselves. Let us remember
that we become the stories we tell. An
illustration: I was talking with the writer
Elissa Schappell about how much we are
both anticipating Carrie Brownstein’s new
book. I asked Elissa what she made of this
new trend of memoirs by badass women:
Carrie Brownstein, Kim Gordon, Sally
Mann, Amy Poehler. Was this trend the
result of Patti Smith winning the National
Book Award five years ago? Was the trend
indicative of a new wave of feminism?
Elissa interrupted me. “You keep using
that word,” she said. “Trend. It’s not a
trend. We are here now. We’re not going
anywhere. We are here now.”
Let us embrace a do-it-yourself canon,
wherein we each make our own canon
filled with what we love to read, what
speaks to us and challenges us and opens us
42
CLAIRE VAYE WATKINS
up, wherein we can each determine our
artistic lineages for ourselves, with curiosity and vigor, rather than trying to shoehorn ourselves into a canon ready made
and gifted us by some white fucks at
Oxford.
(I will start us off by spending no more
of my living breath apologizing for the fact
that no, actually, even though I write about
the American West, Cormac McCarthy is
not a major influence of mine.)
Let us use our words and our gazes to make
the invisible visible. Let us tell the truth.
Let us, each of us, write things that are
uncategorizable, rather than something
that panders to and condones and codifies
those categories.
Let us burn this motherfucking system to
the ground and build something better.

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