This morning my train to work was unusually empty, so I got to sit down. It’s generally my goal not to look at anybody too much on the subway, and I’m still trying to figure out whether it’s easier to avoid eye contact while standing or sitting. (Standing you can more easily read the ads, I think, but sitting you can more easily look at the floor. I’m still evaluating.) Today I sat with my purse in my lap and looked at my phone for the distance between my stop and the next, but at the next I looked up to see the people get on.
A girl around my age, maybe younger, walked on and stood at the doors across from me. I looked back down, but once we were moving, I glanced up and noticed her again. She was alone, not wearing headphones, and smiling just slightly, with her mouth closed. She looked the way I think I look when I’m trying not to smile to myself in public because I’m worried about looking strange, but can’t help it. I didn’t think she looked strange.
I noticed she was looking at the doors opposite her, which probably means she was looking at her reflection in the window panels. She would look straight ahead, smile a little, touch part of her outfit, and then recompose herself into seriousness. Then she’d do it again. I also saw her take her long hair into her hand a couple times and smell the ends of it, which also made her smile, which made me smile too (though I tried not to). She just seemed really happy about herself. I don’t know, maybe she’s in love or something. But I think she was just really pleased with how she looked today, and how her hair smelled.
Anyway, I guess this is all to say that today I did not do a great job of not staring at people on the subway.
The men in [Waldman’s] milieu who have written about Nates haven’t looked so closely at the pain these men cause: her book is less an apologia than the case for the prosecution. It is methodical; Waldman has done the work of imagining so we can all understand this sort of guy’s behaviour and mentality. It’s almost a public service.
Waldman is especially sensitive to what’s at stake in love for her female characters; for women in literature, love always represents certain destinies. For Lily Bart in The House of Mirth, the stakes of love are economic. For the women in Waldman’s world, it’s their personal dignity that hangs in the balance. The difference between the way the women see themselves and the way they appear to the men they’re involved with is what they have to reckon with: they have to hold on to their sense of their own value, against the lack of value they have in the eyes of the men they date.
”— Sheila Heti on The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. is excellent.
“Look, maybe an analogy will help? Okay. What if every time you said a word that started with an L, I kicked you in the shins? You’d probably start flinching a lot, or just avoiding words that start with L. Right? And you shouldn’t have to do that! It’s not your responsibility! AND YET. The solution is not “you should stop flinching so much.” It’s “I should stop fucking kicking you.” Any attempt to solve your flinching problem without acknowledging that I KEEP KICKING YOU is just … not going to get very far.”—The great Lindsay King-Miller succinctly sums up why that Pantene ‘Not Sorry’ commercial is actually kinda bullshit.
Since moving to New York I haven’t talked to my friends at home as much as I’d like, because the amount I’d like to be talking to them is everyday, and, well, now that’s impossible. It’s weird how you adapt, even against your will — I don’t WANT us to need each other any less, but we do. At least on a daily basis, at least for now. You learn to siphon the daily, text-able concerns toward people physically closer to you, and save the bigger updates and themes for your weekly (or whatever) catch-ups. Another factor is that my friends at home are perfect and wonderful human beings who don’t have any flaws, except that they are bad at email and don’t Gchat.
There have been a few times, since moving, when I’ve remembered that calling them unscheduled is an option, which implies that I’ve temporarily forgotten it, which alarms me. When I was younger, especially, I’d get mad at my friends for “forgetting” about me when they transferred or moved home or started grad school with new people, and didn’t call me as often as I wanted. They were always the ones to move and change and meet new people while I stayed, but now the one to do all that is me. (Well, to move, anyway. I neither approve of nor welcome change; it is only ever forced upon me.) It’s been an adjustment in self-management. So now I get it, several years too late to be sympathetic. We were all right, I think: we all CAN get by talking to our best friends less often, and there are probably periods in life when that just has to be how it is, but I still think it’s bad and short-sighted to let it happen for very long, if you love each other. Not doing it just builds it up into this big ordeal, and it isn’t.
Lately I’ve read a few things and heard a bunch of people talk about how much they hate talking on the phone. It’s kind of a ~millennial joke~, I think, and maybe a little bit of a writer one, like, AHH, THERE IS NOTHING WORSE THAN TALKING ON A PHONE WITH YOUR VOICE, and don’t even get me STARTED on VOICEMAIL. But I love talking on the phone, especially while walking somewhere or lying on my bed, for hours, like a teen. On the phone you can hear each other laugh, and emphasize what needs emphasizing, and know when something’s being danced around. You can also interrupt each other, which, honestly, is sometimes necessary. That is how it works in real life, is you and your friends interrupt each other constantly. You, after so many years of talking, are the only ones who know how to get each other to the point.
Anyway, I love the phone, even if I sometimes forget how much, even if I don’t need it. Today I called C after going just a little too long, and she picked up after two rings, and I was like, oh right, thank god, it’s you.
“The perceptions don’t make the man here; this isn’t “Terry Richardson Has a Cold.” If a girl says “he told me to have sex with him, but I didn’t want to,” her unwillingness is not up for discussion; you can’t retroactively celebrity-testimony her into feeling comfortable and empowered and pressure-free. People saying Richardson isn’t a creep doesn’t prove that he isn’t a creep. It just proves that there will always be people willing to make excuses for men who exploit and prey upon women, by insisting that women’s emotions must be fake or overblown—by showing the “other side” of their experience, the one where they’re wrong about what they think they wanted.”—This piece by Jess Zimmerman on Terry Richardson (and rape culture at large) is very, very good.
Something that is very funny to me is that, because the blurb on my book’s front cover says something like, “You’ll probably want Katie to be your best friend,” a couple of the people who’ve reviewed my book negatively have taken it upon themselves to clarify, like, “I do NOT want to be Katie’s best friend.” As a sentence from a stranger this makes me laugh so, so much, even though I (sort of) get the context. I’m like, OK!!! Fine!!!!!! I already have one anyway!
Something I fantasize about a lot is threatening my friends’ rapists. In college, the morning after one of the times it happened, we ate breakfast in the cafeteria and tried to negotiate our continued existence in the same confined space as them (because, though the school would find out, they would not be expelled), and I saw them joking about it. My school was small and you either ate on one side of the cafeteria or the other, and their side was the same as ours, and so I saw them. They had taken turns raping my friend and filming it on one of their phones. At breakfast I saw them mimicking the act of filming with an old-timey camera, like you do when you play Charades. They laughed and so did all the guys sitting with them. They were popular.
My friend’s back was to them, and I sat across, watching them behind her, and I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want her to know. There had already been so much invasion. I wanted our table to close in on itself. I was afraid of them. I was 19. Not that I think I’d be less afraid now. Only in my daydreams.
When I think about it, I picture me standing up, and walking over to their table, and climbing on top of it. I picture me standing up on a table in front of the whole cafeteria, and screaming. In my mind I feel the pressure in my chest and the heat in my face, and I see them shocked and at least quiet, but I can’t imagine the words I’d say. I can’t imagine them looking afraid. I’ve thought about it a lot and still I can’t think what I’d say to get them to feel afraid of me.
I thought about that today, on Twitter, while hundreds and probably thousands of women spoke up, and supported each other, and retweeted each other, and still men clamored to speak up and insist they knew better. That they knew what *really* happened. I started and deleted so many furious tweets because I didn’t and don’t know how to address it. Each time I’d start, it was, I guess, with some hope that the right collection of words could make a few men “get it,” or something, but each time I stopped it was because I could never pinpoint what that might be.
What do you do when you get a Facebook message from a man you don’t know who is 51 years old (which is 24 years older than you are) and it says “You seem interesting ….. and a little damaged. I think I’d like that” ?
I thought I meant that question rhetorically, exasperatedly, at first, but actually I really want to know.
I have gotten a lot of creepy messages from men I don’t know during the last few years I’ve lived my life partly online/in print, but especially in the last few months. When my book came out, a few excerpts were printed online. I am very grateful for them and mostly it was for the good. The downside was that people who didn’t read the full book and had no plans to had access to my name, my picture, and a narrow window into my romantic history, which, basically, was that I didn’t have one. And a number of THOSE people, all male, took these excerpts as invitations to email me, tweet at me, and Facebook message me to do one of a few things:
1. Ask me out (sometimes confusingly in other states/countries??)
2. Accuse me of friend-zoning or otherwise wronging men
3. …. ?? I’m not sure what?? But there’s definitely a third category, and the above message falls here. (So does the one I got the other day that was like “hey I read something about your book, you should check out my photo albums—I’ve traveled the world.” ??? Like, congratulations on having a camera and being able to find an airport?) I guess the best name I can think of for this category is “Announcement of My Male Existence.”
Haha. But seriously.
I have dealt with these messages and things pretty well I think, which is to say that I’ve almost exclusively ignored them. But, I don’t know, sometimes I wonder if I ignore them too much. Sometimes I really want to respond! I really wanted to respond to PUA McReddit up there—not because it’s even that bad on this totally shit relativity scale, but just because today I felt like punching back—and I even wrote out “cool message to send to a stranger half your age who doesn’t give a shit!” in the little reply box. But then I deleted it and reported him as spam instead.
Partly that is because responding would do nothing, and I know that even if I took the time to craft the BEST and cleverest of all possible wounding insults, it would do nothing. He’s nothing to me. It’s nothing.
But all TOGETHER, among all the women writers I know and talk to and read about, it’s … a lot! It’s not even just “hate mail.” I don’t know what to call it, even. It’s just mail we get for being women. And sometimes I wonder if there should be a place to put all of it and then make every man who works for or reads the internet (so, all of them) look at the log for, I don’t know, an hour a week. That seems fair to me. I just worry sometimes that men—even the ones who are kinda paying attention—have a vague idea that they understand the extent to which this happens. But they don’t really? I mean, how could they.
Every time I get an unwelcome/harassing/mean/rude/bizarre message from a man I don’t know, I have to decide whether to be proud that I can ignore it and say nothing, or to be aggressive, and make it known somehow, and give it (and therefore him) attention. These are terrible options. I think they are both brave (because it’s brave to believe you’ll always have skin this thick, and it’s brave to believe other people will care to hear about something that seems wrong to you), but I don’t know if either feels all that good. What it feels like, at this point, is a routine.
I have a thick skin the way you must when you’re a woman with an internet presence. (Or a woman in general.) Sometimes I feel like I’m (or we’re) not supposed to acknowledge our toughness. There have been times I’ve wanted to publicize something like this and didn’t because it somehow felt like bragging. But I AM proud of it, even if it’s fucked up that’s a skill I ever needed to develop. I guess I think vocal pride has to be part of this raw deal we were handed. If I don’t get to team-brag with other women about how tough we are, and how the mail/tweeting/messages/comments media guys consider “hateful" are, like, Edible Arrangements compared to what we deal with, then I don’t know what recourse is left.
Yesterday I gchatted Chiara “I’m depressed about UFOs,” which did not exactly mean I was sad about them but a little disappointed on their behalf, maybe, or mine, because very few people care about them. It first came up with this picture, which I dropped in my work chatroom, and nobody said anything, and then later people left. It was probably because it was lunch time, but still. Then I tried to show the link (it was just a GOOD one, okay? Like you just do not get a lot of decent UFO pictures to look at and I thought this one was worth it) to another one of my friends, and he said “I don’t care about UFOs,” and I was like “Well I don’t care about stupid cats and you talk about them literally constantly, so.” So then we reached an impasse.
This led me to despair to ANOTHER friend, who said she thinks there are so many other “real” mysteries to care about, so why would anyone smart invest mental space in UFOs? (Which, well, lots of reasons, including that they are fucking cool, but also: people believe in and think about and get very very into all kinds of unlikely things, and that is one thing I really like about them.) But anyway I said to me it IS a real mystery, or at least real-ish, or at least something I love. I don’t care almost ever if it’s just me, but sometimes I want someone else to just look at a picture and say “What!! Oh my god??? What IS this object with beautiful lights?!?!?” and then I’ll be like “I KNOW WTF!”
The other day Chiara linked me to this video stream of an eagle’s nest, which she’s started watching again lately because the babies are about to hatch. She’s been checking in on these eagles forever, and she wrote about why she loves them in 2011. Anyway, she’s been tweeting about them a lot in the past few days: how cute-ugly the babies will be, how big and weird their feet are. This is what she gchatted to me this morning.
Today after a book event I had in Boston a man came up to the table where I was signing books and told me a very long four-part joke about a man who finds a talking girl frog. (I don’t know!)
The girl frog keeps begging the man to kiss her so she can be human, and with each round her promises to him escalate. She’ll be beautiful, a princess, she’ll love him only, she’ll do whatever he wants. The man keeps saying no but also putting her back in his pocket. Finally she asks why he keeps her if he doesn’t want to be with her and he says that as an engineer he’s too busy for a girlfriend, but a talking frog is too interesting to set free. So he puts her back in his pocket.
!!!!!!! WHAT THE FUCK ??????
Anyway afterward the man looked at me smiling and clearly expecting me to laugh and instead my face looked like this:
Last Friday our office rearranged seating, and though I didn’t personally have to change desks, I did take the opportunity to clean mine up at least, because it was covered in papers with weird/bad post ideas on them and also some stickiness, presumably from all the Sour Patch Kids. When I was done it was pretty bare and sad-looking, so I decided I would get a plant, even though I pretty much always kill them. All that time living with a horticulturist and I never learned anything! I watched Rylee water our plants so many times and I swear I am doing it the same (she REALLY soaks them, holding them under the faucet until the water pours out through the holes in the bottom; this way you don’t have to water so often) but it does not work the same. But anyway I figured I’d try.
After work I went to the gym, and on the way back I stopped at this flower shop I always see downstairs from my apartment but never go into. (I do this a lot: walk by a place I’m curious about lots and lots of times and never go in, but then ultimately go in and love it. Why don’t I just go in sooner? I don’t know.) Anyway I walked in, and in right after me walked this really tall handsome older guy wearing an apron, and he said “Hi Joy, can I have a pen?” Joy, the woman working there, shuffled around the tiny shop looking for a pen, and I stood there trying to sneakily wipe sweat off my face, and when it became clear she wasn’t going to find a pen quickly, I offered the man one of mine, even though they are this very specific thin-tipped gel kind, with navy ink that my mom and I are obsessed with, that she orders online and gives me for Christmas. The man said “Are you sure? I have to take it with me!” And I said “It’s really okay! I have like 40!!” which wasn’t true, I have maybe 8, but he was so handsome. He said “I have a bar around the corner, you can come whenever and have a free drink for this pen,” and I laughed and kept trying to wipe sweat off my face. Then he said “What’s your name?” and I said Katie, and he said “Where are you from, what’s your favorite color?” And I said “Minnesota, green.” ‘Katie, Minnesota, Green,” he said. “When you want to remember someone’s name you’re supposed to picture their favorite color written on their forehead.” I didn’t do this for him, and I do not remember his name, so I guess this is true. Though I do remember he said green was his favorite color too.
He left the store (after kind of standing next to me to compare our heights?! He was so much taller than me, ahh, so handsome and I think inappropriately aged) and Joy helped me find a plant. We settled on one called a Waffle Plant that doesn’t look anything like waffles but is pretty and very dark green. She found a black pot and put rocks in the bottom for me, to gather extra water and make the plant fit, and then charged me $12, which seemed like nothing, and I carried my plant home around the corner. On Monday I brought it to work in a canvas bag with plastic over the top to protect it from the cold, and it looked very cute and helped take up space on my desk. It looked a little sad, but also determined.
I came into work this morning and Waffle was not dead, but was perhaps as close to dead as one can come while still having a shot at recovery. I sent Rylee a panicky text message with a picture of him, and she said to water him all the way through like she’s shown me, so I took him to the kitchen and did my best. He’s over by the window now, which is a little annoying because the whole point was to have him at my desk, but I am trying to be flexible and patient, which are two things I don’t do very well, and I really want this one to make it.
“All acts of sex were forms of degradation. Some random recollections: East 11th Street, on the bed with Murray Gorman: “Swallow this mother ‘til you choke.” East 11th Street, in the bed with Gary Becker: “The trouble with you is, you’re such a shallow person.” East 11th Street, up against the wall with Peter Baumann: “The only thing that turns me on about you is pretending you’re a whore.” Second Avenue, the kitchen, Michael Wainwright: “Quite frankly, I deserve a better-looking, better educated girlfriend.” What do you do with the Serious Young Woman (short hair, flat shoes, body slightly hunched, head drifting back and forth between the books she’s read)? You slap her, fuck her up the ass and treat her like a boy. The Serious Young Woman looked everywhere for sex but when she got it it became an exercise in disintegration. What was the motivation of these men? Was it hatred she evoked? Was it some kind of challenge, trying to make the Serious Young Woman femme?”—
Chris Kraus, I Love Dick
This book is like a talisman, or something, or a spell, like sort of a secret, because it wasn’t in any of your Women’s Studies classes or even on the radar for so long, but all the women you meet now or see at readings or online are talking about it in a way that makes you both doubt it’s really everything they say (because WHY DIDN’T YOU HEAR SOONER) but then you buy it and read it and are like, oh, yeah. It’s the kind of thing that makes you write exclamation points in the margins. It’s as totally revelatory and gutting as Emily in particular always says, of course.
One of my favorite types of bonding is the kind done with strangers over simply being near each other in a public place. Mostly this happens in a restaurant (like if your table is near theirs but near BOTH of your tables is another one with a really annoying baby) or on the elevator (like if you try, you swear you tried, to hold the door open for someone but it closes anyway, so you say to the person inside with you, “You saw I tried, right?” and they’re like “You did your best.”) or in a store (like if you accidentally pull a whole thing of pens off the hook and are like “What the heck!” and someone near you is like “haha omg that always happens” and you’re like “I know!!!”). Sometimes it also happens in a bar bathroom, when you’re flushed drunk and you tell a girl you love her shoes and you’d buy them if only you could wear heels, and she yells that “you SHOULD.”
Anyway, this thing, this type of meeting, is one of my favorites, and I become very suspicious of anyone who doesn’t reciprocate when I provide the entry point. Like today: I was in my office snack room and I poured some chocolate almonds into my hand and THEN into a dish for some reason, and they went all over and I said, partly because I sometimes talk to myself but largely because there was another girl in there, “Why am I doing this this way?” and then she just walked out! Can you believe that? Anyone who refuses to briefly bond with me in public over something like that is briefly my enemy instead.
Here is an excerpt of my book on BuzzFeed! In the middle of it there is a picture of me as a very small seventh-grader dressed TOO FANCILY for middle school Halloween levels. Too much effort!! Not cool!!!!!!
“My roommate in New York City is a dating expert. She was one professionally for years, but now she’s more like a retired military general about it. She can’t stop talking strategy. Now, instead of writing tips for an online dating website, she just tells me what to do. And then I pretty much ignore her.”—
C:I danced with this really hot guy who was telling me how to dance. He said I was a FOUR. In dancing. But then he taught me this move and then he said I was a six.
C:I told him my name was Kelly.
C:I also saw this guy who was hot, he was wearing a flannel and this like, hat. He looked like a bad "boy."
K:Why are you only putting air quotes around the boy part?
C:Anyway we ended up talking just us by the bar and he said "what are you doing later?" and I said "what are YOU doing later?" and he said "I'll go wherever you want me to go. I'll go home with you."
C:I was like "OK well I'm gonna go find my friend and find you later." And then I turned to leave and we held each other's hands and like squeezed them for a second. I wanted to get away from him because I was scared.
C:I have LOVE written backwards on my chest somehow.
K:You don't remember how you got it?
C:Oh ... wait it was written on the shirt I slept in. I was worried someone with LOVE written on their shirt threw themselves into my chest.
R:You thought someone threw themselves into your chest so hard it imprinted the word "love" on your chest? Backwards?