Monday, April 24, 2017
Thursday, April 20, 2017
I have never admired the confessional model. From conventional Catholicism to traditional psychotherapy to contemporary memoir writing and “creative nonfiction,” the confession is seen as the ultimate gateway to some sort of exalted self-purification. I think, in contemporary times, it’s become something more akin to an off-ramp for basking in one’s own troubled past. When I was looking into grad school for writing more than a decade ago, I mostly looked at creative writing programs. But when I visited them, I met a lot of people who were into writing memoirs, and who seemed quite fascinated by their own tragedies, great and small. This mirrored the market, where a heavy influx of confessional abuse- and addiction-centric memoir stories written by women were being published. I think Elizabeth Wurtzel probably started this trend, and it was really in high gear ten years ago. I think that kind of literature is still common, though I don’t really read much contemporary literature so I wouldn’t know. When I met with these people, I thought: I really can’t see spending two years workshopping my writing with these writers. My baseline creative and intellectual interest has been, since teenagehood, in uniting text and image (which is why I’ve always written for magazines). So, I decided to go study at an art criticism and writing program, which ended up being sort of the right decision (I did email Dave Hickey and ask him for advice as to where to study. He told me to go study with George Saunders at Syracuse. I didn’t want to move there, but I still regard this as a sort of missed opportunity).
This is just to say that I really do not favor a confessional creative style, nor do I find a confessional culture very interesting. Why? Because I don’t think people are often (or ever) confessing to things they are actually ashamed of. If you write a book telling me how awful it was to be an alcoholic, and I feel nothing when I read it—you either aren’t going deep enough, or, more likely, you aren’t that ashamed of being an alcoholic. Again I think of Elizabeth Wurtzel, who made her name as a writer by glamorizing her addictions and mental illness. I have no idea what these things meant to her personally, but her work around them just feels like a narcissistic girl who was really into flaunting her identity as a beautiful, fucked-up, smart-in-a-certain-way, ivy league mess. Contrary to popular believe, you can self-aggrandize dysfunction, and make your “survival story” nothing more than a marketing tool showcasing how dangerously great you are—all that and brains too. And I think the culture of young American memoir writers really capitalized on this. Another aspect of this is the exaltation of victimhood via abusive childhoods. There were a lot of memoirs about abuse that came out, and this is such a tricky area. You can’t necessarily blame the writers. I just think about the publishers, and how they were able to calculate sales from these books. It’s sort of like offering a pay-per-view seat to a car crash, and charging extra for front row seats. I don’t think the production of these types of memoirs really heralded a golden age for publishing.
However, I think there is a new type of “confession” floating around in the zeitgeist, and I feel myself and others diving into it. It is the confession of something that you are truly ashamed of—something that doesn’t glamorize you or make people feel sorry for you. It’s about something that goes beyond you. I have a neutral feeling toward the actress Anne Hathaway, as I haven’t seen too many of her movies. My taste in movies—like my taste in music—is either so brilliant or so stupid that it’s not worth me trying to explain it. I don’t like most movies, and the movies I do like run the gamut from masterpieces to trash. But her performance here is something new. The spiritual teacher Teal Swan talks a lot about the ego’s need to see itself as good. I myself have this intense need to be seen as good, because I derive my worth from people viewing me as a good person. I think if people see my badness, they won’t love me. I think most people hold this belief. Here we see, firsthand, a woman (Anne Hathaway) allowing her viewers to honestly see her as something “not good.” I’m telling you guys: this is it. Authenticity—true authenticity that makes you feel momentarily awful, and turns your neck red with shame—is the wave of the future. Not because it makes you feel bad or because it leaves you open to attack. Because it’s all we have—it's all that's real. We’ve had seven or more years of pretty, phony Instagram lives. The pendulum needs to swing. Get on board.
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Tuesday, April 18, 2017
For someone to have your best interests at heart, I guess it would help for them to know what your best interests actually are. It recently occurred to me that I don’t think I’ve ever really tried to make anyone understand what my best interests might be. Which is interesting, since I think that I’ve led a life that has been solely about me, myself and I from childhood onward. I think, because I lack the ability to trust people in such a deep way, I’ve always figured that my best interests wouldn’t matter to them even if they did know them, so it was better to keep them secreted away—therefore, hopefully, they could be protected by me (for the most part).
This is a deeply cynical way to live, even though, on the surface, I’ve always been one to denounce cynicism and cynical people. I guess this seemed different to me. I can trust that the world is basically good, and that people, in their hearts, do want the best for one another. But I guess I just don’t think this rule applies to me.
I remember, when I was about fourteen or fifteen, I had a boy in my bedroom after school. This occasion was the first time I touched a penis on my own accord. That evening, my mother’s prize of a boyfriend let me know that he’d been listening at my bedroom door, and repeated to me what I’d said during that event.
From that point on, I’ve had a paranoid fear that if anyone knew anything about my sex life (or even just my life, really), they would use it against me to humiliate me. I’ve kept my private life under very tight raps, and would freak out if I felt like anyone knew anything that I hadn’t myself told them. Sometimes they did know things. Sometimes they did use things against me, repeating a dynamic set up in my childhood. Often, I think it was my paranoia getting the better of me.
I have always had this deep fear inside myself that whatever I did that made me happy was doomed to be destroyed by someone else. Whenever I’ve felt a deep sense of happiness, my second thought has always been: “What or who is going to take this feeling away from me?” I’ve tried to prevent that feeling, to live a life with minimal happiness, because I’ve felt like I was very stupid for having it. It was only going to be taken away from me.
So, this has created a superficially socially gregarious/extreme loner personality. I find it very difficult (at times, impossible) to rely on anyone or any situation to work out for the best for me. The last thing I’ve wanted to do was let people in on what I truly desired and cared about, since that seemed like I was basically providing them with the knife needed to stab me in the back. I created many friendships that were friendships in name only, shallow and superficial and usually related to some work interest. I wanted people around me so I wouldn’t feel “lonely”—but I didn’t really want them to know me. And, in turn, I discovered people who didn’t want to know me, and were more than happy to stay superficial. Usually they felt they could extract a use from me—if they had social anxiety, I could make them feel more comfortable, since I am comfortable being superficially social. If they weren’t seen as super smart, I could (in some circles) confer a sense of intelligence.
Of course, no life constructed on such thin ice can last forever. Up until maybe seven or eight years ago, I had a habit of developing crushes on men I liked talking to but was not sexually attracted to, and getting together with extremely inappropriate people who weren’t “boyfriend material,” but were easy to get together with at parties (I hated talking to someone on a “date.” I did and do have a hard time with doing an activity, like eating dinner, with a stranger, as a prelude to intimacy. It feels very disconnected to me. Very transactional and not fun). My life has always been basically me, myself and I—super career-focused—and I never imagined what it would even be like to have a boyfriend, simply because I really hadn’t worked together all the puzzle pieces that this status seemed to require. I could only feel aroused by myself, I could only really talk to men who were a very specific blend of intelligent and avoidant, I didn’t like to be touched, and I only got into sexual situations with the literal bad boys. On top of this I was dissociative during intimacy.
But then I met someone through work who I really liked to talk to—a very different kind of person from anyone I’d ever been around. I used to look at him and think, “this man was born sweet.” He was also quite masculine and headstrong, and I found that attractive. I got to know this person slowly, and something inside me began to change. I began to feel all these disparate feelings collect into something new. When he would embrace me, I would melt into his touch and feel my whole body buzz with feeling. I loved taking to him. I deeply desired him. I loved his touch. I truly trusted him, even though we were very different people who needed different things and wanted different lives. All of these things were scary, yet I didn’t feel scared of him, or to be with him. This situation did not work out because we were simply too different (which is a very painful and very adult thing to realize), but it was the first glimpse I’d ever had into what being in love with someone could be like. I never wanted it to end, and when it did end I was devastated. Yet it awoke something in me that was so strong and so powerful, I knew it all had happened for a reason, and that this person was put into my life to help me.
So now I am trying to figure out what my best interests are, so I could maybe let a few people in on those! Might be a good idea. I think people have always thought my work was my biggest thing for me. Truthfully, work has been the biggest thing for me simply because it is the only thing I’ve ever actually been good at maintaining long-term. It has also been the only thing that has ever made me feel safe and secure. And as much as I’ve appreciated that in the past, I now see how my laser focus on work, and my constant hopping around from different position, different “role,” different type of writing, has truly only been in the interest of keeping me from committing to anyone and anything. Keeping me spinning in the air—no sense of direction, but a constant thrill of movement. I’ve had to enter a pretty radical situation to figure out that this can’t sustain itself. While on one level I’m scared, I’m also very excited to finally live a life that will allow me to reach for what it might feel like to be happy—without fearing that this happiness will forever be stolen away from me.
Sunday, April 16, 2017
This woman just does not stop. Such a refined intellect. Her work on shame and on relationships in general is so important right now—and so inspiring to me personally. Get on board guys: this is the wave of the future. We all need to figure out our own shame cycles and move through them so we can truly connect as human beings. Creating a life that's just for show is over over over. Authenticity with yourself and others is the way to end abuse in your own life, and will prevent you from engaging in abusive behavior, be it overt or covert, in the lives of others. I have a long way to go on this, but trust me: it's time for EVERYONE to get on board. Your can't—and WON'T—change the world or even your own life for the better until you bring psychological health to your interpersonal relationships. And I've never met one human being who I didn't think could benefit from a closer analysis of their own shame and boundaries.
Friday, April 14, 2017
I’ve been mulling over something for the last few days. I am not a New York City nostalgist. By any means. I think it’s weird to want to live in the past. When you begin to stagnate or worse, look backward, you tend to become either rigidly complacent or an ideologue. Not my thing. I’ve always been attuned to the forward momentum of things, which is what brought me to New York and to working at culture magazines in the first place. While my growth and maturation make trendy things and youth culture much less interesting to me now than they were in my teens and 20s, I still find forward momentum—in all areas, but the particularly forward momentum of creativity, discernment and thought—to be what inspires me most.
The one thing I will say about New York right now is this: it is losing cool factor. Rapidly. This could be seen as a global phenomenon, with the rise of internet culture and the demise of true subculture. But I’m not sure about that. I think there is still cool to be found in this world. But New York is really getting tough on cool. People don’t act cool. Their voices don’t sound cool. Their choices, sartorial and otherwise, don’t exemplify cool. When they try to be cool, I get the feeling of someone who has grudgingly put on the “cool” hat, but who would rather be wearing athleisure.
And I say this as someone who openly engages in things I consider very uncool! I am spiritual, and the aesthetic of American New Thought spirituality is deeply uncool. It’s like a rainbow fairy crystal. I also do yoga, which has basically the same terrible aesthetic. In the past, my two sports of choice were horseback riding and wing chun kung fu, both of which I consider very cool. They are both intense, creative, intellectual and dangerous—you can get badly hurt doing both of them. Horseback riding is inherently chic—you get to wear chic clothing and chic boots and a chic cap while doing it. You carry a chic little crop. Even the horse looks chic, in a bondage kind of way. Kung fu may not be quite as outwardly chic, but it’s still quite cool in a wild, street way. I always thought of yoga as something I would NEVER do, purely based on the aesthetic. Which I hate. Fortunately, as I grew older, I realized that some things were worth doing even if you didn’t think they were very cool-looking. And it’s nice to do an activity where you don’t get hurt.
So aesthetic should not dictate everything. By any means. You get into weird, potentially vapid territory when that happens. However, it seems most people in New York now are A-OK with almost all things not being cool, and definitely not being cool-looking. New York just feels like marketing to me now. Everything feels like SoulCycle—spandex pants, safety, and someone yelling at you to feel bad/good. When you look at the people who are really thriving right now: these people may call themselves an old-school term like writer, curator, etc.—but what they really are is marketers. I don’t hate money and I don’t think it’s inherently evil. I think it’s useful, and I’ve bought many things I like to wear and read with it. But I remember Dave Hickey’s treatise on smart money and dumb money in relation to the art world. There is just so much dumb, empty money in New York right now. And it’s turning culture into nothing more than a Hot List that ticks all the right boxes. There's no place for enchantment. It's all metrics.
Can we stop with the marketing (outside the realm of actual marketing)? Can the truly cool people try to be nice to each other and support each other again? Please? Because I really need that right now. I'm serious.
I will tell you something I’ve learned many times over living here: most people do not belong in New York. I don’t have parents. I’ve been totally on my own, here, since age seventeen. I’ve been financially in dire straights, with NO ONE to turn to, many times. While outwardly I think I have a relatively mild demeanor, inwardly I’m a very tough person. I've had many beautiful experiences here, and some really awful ones. I wouldn’t want someone else to live my life, just as I would not want to live someone else’s life. But my life, and my personality: that’s New York City. For better or worse. When I walk the streets of New York, sometimes I feel like a territorial little feline, like, “This is my city.”
And anyone who thinks they do belong here should be here. But for those who don’t really feel like they belong here, or for those who think that they’ve conquered New York because they’ve made friends or money here: you are not New York. Not yet. New York is always good to people—at first. It's a playground. But everyone has the moment where what they’ve been doing—their cute little game—doesn’t work for them anymore. That’s when you understand if you belong here. And I don’t say that as a “hardened” New Yorker. I say that as a softened New Yorker, who has been made to swallow her pride until she realized that it was only pride that masked her from her true self. I feel like I’ve married New York, for better or for worse—and it's a relationship that functions mostly because of how true it has made me to myself. I don’t know if I will always live here, but I know I made a commitment to something here. When other people go "home" for the holidays: this is my home. So please: try to be cool.
Sunday, April 9, 2017
This is a really beautiful little talk exploring the denied aspects of femininity. I love the masculine and the feminine—they are my favorite concepts to think about and talk about. I believe the masculine and the feminine need to rediscover each other without judgment or inhibition. They need to unite, and to grow each other to their mutual highest purpose in this life.
Thursday, April 6, 2017
In the 24 years I’ve lived in New York, I feel like I’ve lived a multitude of different lives, with different careers, different friendships, etc. Over the past few years I’ve realized that I chose New York as my home because it allowed me so much growth and expansion as a human being. This hasn’t always been comforting, and it has often felt destabilizing. But, if your primary purpose on this planet is personal, spiritual, creative and intellectual growth, New York offers a great many opportunities to engage with that complicated pursuit (if you don’t fear change, and don’t lock yourself inside your own ego).
The one thing that I’ve seen time and time again, in so many intriguing and baffling iterations, is the way in which people here who really align with a certain “world” can be so incredibly (and bizarrely) cutthroat about elevating and/or maintaining their status in that world. This mentality suggests a belief system where there is only one acceptable spot open (or role to play) in their specific world, and they must aggressively knock out the “competition” to get to that role or spot. And then they must defend their role or spot at all costs.
Super interesting. For this type of person, it is not about getting better and better at what they do, and inviting their evolving talent to open the doorways and pathways that will also evolve their career. For this person, it is more about eliminating all “competition,” so they are then seen as the “last man standing.” The game of life played as a zero sum game. A good rule of thumb in identifying this type of person is: if you are in the presence of someone who is either subtly or obviously tearing someone else down—ESPECIALLY A PEER, COLLEAGUE OR SUPPOSED "FRIEND"—you are definitely in the presence of a cutthroat. So good luck with that! They won't stop there. As the horror movie tagline goes: you're next.
I’m personally quite fascinated by this mentality and methodology, mostly because it is often such a recipe for disaster. Because what this person has to do—and, in my experience, always does—is seek out some kind of situation where they will get close to their intended “victim,” then betray their victim by talking shit about them. This is always the way it goes down. I’ve seen it countless times. Then they will often assume a role previously occupied by that “victim,” wearing that person's old role like some strange spoil of war.
And the bizarre thing is: the cutthroats usually have this weird reverence for their “victims.” It’s like they admire this person so much that they want to be them, so they have to “destroy” them in order to do it.
But then this other thing happens that is also super interesting. In every case I’ve ever seen, the cutthroat person pulls their little power move. Then, within months, something happens that scatters their plans to the wind. The magazine they clawed their way to the middle of closes. Someone else gets tapped for the job they thought they were a shoe-in for. Something always puts a spoke in their wheels.
I use the words victim and competition in quotes here because these situations are not real, in any sense of the word. They are imaginary games. They are played by very cynical people who think that life is a game, that talent isn’t real, that there is nothing new to create or achieve, and thus the only way to get ahead is to beat out someone else. This is a very common and very sad way to exist. But it’s the way many people play their own little game of New York. A hyper importance is placed on status, with very little consideration given to nurturing their own talent. This suggests to me a childhood where the person was not encouraged to explore or evolve outside the boundaries of what their family deemed appropriate. Success and achievement only mattered if they fit into the strict definitions set forth by the family. In adulthood, the insular and stultifying confinement of the family is then re-created in the world of this person’s chosen identity or profession. Super fun.
But, in my experience, it is talent that always kind of keeps quietly chugging along on its own accord, and in spite of any situation. I’ve been fortunate enough to work for extremely talented people, none of whom were cutthroats, and they showed me how to care for my own talent. I have always kind of babied my own talent and let it wander off where it needed to go, like a curious little kid, because I truly am in love with it. It is my compass, my companion, my little comfort, and it has never failed me. It deserves to be treated with love and respect. Everyone has this; I am not special at all in this regard. But people forget about it or disown it. I find that really sad. I’ve had many interpersonal relationships where I tried to coax people to align with their abandoned or forgotten talent, because I thought they had something special that they were abusing through neglect. I have learned that this is absolutely a fool’s mission. You cannot change someone’s mentality on this topic. They either value their talent or they don’t. Case closed.
In every “world” I’ve experienced, people who over-identify with that world tend to value its own vague structures of success as though they were the only structures that have ever existed. But those structures are illusory; pillars of sand. What people should value more, in my opinion, are their own gifts and their own unique abilities in this life. Those are the things that will give to you and guide you, eternally.