Am reading some of Eileen Myles' The Importance of Being Iceland (Semiotext(e), Active Agents), MIT Press sent it to me as Chris wants me to read to think about my own book, which of course, makes me a bit nervous as a)I'm not Eileen Myles, unfortunately and b)yeah, that's basically it. Talk about the anxiety of influence! Although lately I've been doing this interview with Kate Durbin, and she brought up all the women writers/artists I love, Jean Rhys, or Chris Kraus, or Louise Bourgeois, Elfriede Jelinek so so many more how I ape them, inhabit their texts, want to dress like them, fall passionately in love with their work, and I've been thinking perhaps we're in an ecstasy of influence now! Not an anxiety but an ecstasy! So I will read Eileen Myles and feel ecstastic, not anxious. That's better. Why all of this dread about influence? That's close to competition and that seems antithetical to inspiration, more like a stoppage.
Anyway. I like what Eileen Myles writes about being an artist and working-class, as I'm working-class too, culturally definitely, there's a distinction now in our post-Palin world, my father was a lawyer, but we lived in a working-class suburb and I was the kid who didn't know what a Banana Republic was in high school and wore my sister's hand-me-downs from Kohl's and Carson's and was taunted for my wardrobe, and I never really understood until recently the class dynamics of cruelty in high school where I was definitely the lower rung, the school librarian gave us a ride to school every day because we never had a car. But definitely working-class culturally, in that my extended family is working-class, check-out clerks at grocery stores, bus drivers, people that work with their hands, and my family shops at Aldi and buys generic and is horrified of my penchant for vegan foods, natural foods. Horrified by me. Who has no idea how to make money, has never prioritized making money, and hates the idea of art and money, together, I think it ruins it, I want to have a press someday and give the books away for free, that's my great dream.
Anyway being an artist is not acceptable where I'm from, it's unheard of, unless it's something you do for money, my parents never wanted me to take art classes in high school, or be in drama in high school, as that would contradict with taking everything honors, even math and science classes, which I was terrible at. It was important getting into a good college, which my parents paid for, so I'm not saying I'm working-class actually, just culturally, but it was important to major in something practical, why I majored in journalism, being a creative writer was not an option, was never an option until later when my mother knew of my dreams and supported and understood. A lot of people are shocked I don't talk to my family about my book coming out, I mean they know but they're not terribly interested and honestly if they knew that 99% of what I do now I make zero money at, the writing, the editing, they would be horrified, and I haven't told them about the Semiotext(e) book, because why? I've stopped trying to look to their approval, I still love them, in that I will care when they are sick, when they are ailing, that they are aging, but to them I am not a tremendous success, I am a giant giant failure such a fuck-up.
This is what Eileen Myles writes:
The thing is if you learn how you fit in a culture fairly late (and I'm thinking your mid-twenties is actually quite late in terms of development) you will probably spend the next bunch of time sort of exploding with the news while variously attempting to wedge your way into the imagined cultural body you think you need to belong to whether it's a loosely organized one like the art world, the poetry world, or the gay community.
Belonging is definitely the problem for a very good reason. The working class prepares you to be a player in a very unspecialized arena. Because you have been educated to support the way the world turns.
I feel a lot of connection with this. I wasn't a creative writer in college, I didn't take comparative literature classes or English classes, there were students who were into the avant-garde and I was into smoking pot and going to frat parties and generally, fucking up, terribly fucking up, not in the admirable way Susie Bright describes here the slut-dyke-punk scene in California in the late 70s which reminds me of Lidia's story "Loving Dora" that I will write about in next post!, I was never part of a subculture, if anything my friends in high school were more akin to a Trench Coat Mafia pre-Columbine, we were the losers, the misfits, we got good grades and listened to Nine Inch Nails and Trent Reznor and had bonfires on the beach where we smoked cigarettes but were never going to be the thinkers, the visionaries, because we were disciplined so harshly by our parents to be good, we rebelled in other ways, cliched ways, secret ways, because parental consent was so important to us.
And I was a stupid toxic fuckup the first three years of college went silly goth died hair black had sex parties and drug parties and what was school? never went to school then senior year went to New York for a prestigious magazine internship (my link to Sylvia) had a massive nervous breakdown, the suicide hotline, the tranquilizers, lithium, the antidepressants,the sleeping on floors, the purchasing of a $300 water bed with a wooden frame from the Chicago Reader online which I never slept in and chopped up to pieces with an axe when I was moving it was the only fucking way I could think to move it, the not going to class, any classes, the statistics for social sciences class I had to take my spring semester senior year, I went up to the professor, begged him, please don't fail me, I got a C-, and everyone my senior year was worried about jobs, was putting on suits and going for interviews with Anderson Consulting, I was waiting tables and putting on an experimental theater festival at an impromptu (quasi illegal) space on campus we called the Shack, I was finally reading, my depression, my solipsism, was making me at least turn inwards,have an inner experience, come to consciousness, read, Artaud, monologues of Karen Finley, Doestoevsky, the moving home with my parents to the northwest suburbs, you got to get a job my mother said, I worked at Steak and Shake for a week, had a torrid affair with a line cook at a barbecue joint in Evanston, moved to Chicago finally, worked at the 24-hour Hollywood Grill, greasiest spoon, where I served gangbangers and yuppies and tattoo artists and homeless people and pimps, lived with a girl who was now dead, all the people I knew from this time are dead or diagnosed as mentally ill, or changed, completely changed, have children and mortgages and work in cubicles, a sort of death, to me, maybe because I'm still a child.
This was my coming to consciouness. Being a complete fuck-up. A total slacker. And this was my training to be an artist? And now I see now I see this *was* a training to be an artist this was my EXPERIENCE my LIFE EXPERIENCE my DEATH EXPERIENCE I put on my CV. But that's not what they want on your curriculum vitae. They don't want to know how you've lived. How you've survived. How literature was the only thing that changed your fucking life. Especially not the Ph.D programs in literature or people who are going to hire you to teach literature. I realize, to quote Myles, I have had my coming of age very late, late twenties, when I realized I had to be a writer, only 5 years now, and I am not pedigreed, I don't have the appropriate degrees, and passion is not enough. I have spent the past two years trying to wedge myself into the cultural body, attempting to belong to this world of the Elite the Herr Professors and I think that's what hurt most about not getting in to a Ph.D program is that it cemented the notion that this world was not for people like me, this lack of belonging.
So perhaps it's best not to try to belong. Stop trying to hurl my tiny useless body against the great ivy fortress.
But I need to figure out something to do with my life. Besides the writing and the editing which I love love love but does not put food on the table and John and I have lived with being fairly poor for years now. Will this always be the way? Maybe that's okay?
I think of Sylvia writing in her journal about going to a Ph.D in psychology, becoming a psychologist. Louise Bourgeois filling out an application to study art history in New York, to be a high school arts teacher.
Last night I thought of all the things I actually wanted to do, for a job, in my life. I am thinking this because the head at Emory tells me that the reason I didn't get in was because of my undergraduate grades (now 12-15 years ago). So thinking of my experiences besides classes, my life experiences, what I was doing, dreaming, when everyone was going for interviews. I had an interview, too, a copy editing position at the Village Voice, I had a roommate in New York, who I had met during my internship, she designed costumes at Juillard, but then I had to go ahead and have a complete nervous breakdown. And I've never moved to New York, it never happened, I've been trying to for years, it's become my Moscow.
For a while I really wanted to write for Vogue. In college. I wanted to be an editor at Vogue. I wanted to be like Sylvia and work at a woman's magazines, I think at this time I misread The Bell Jar. Or like Joan Didion.
After my breakdown I wanted to be a mime. Desperately. My mother, who of anyone was amused by me, began to support what she'd call my "avant-garde" tastes, thought this was hilarious, maybe wonderful. I had gone to Paris my junior year, my first time in Europe (second time on a plane?) with the girl who is now dead, and saw the mimes outside of Sacre Couer, and they were the only spectacles that could lighten my mood. I came home and was obsessed with training to be a mime. I never took a course, obviously. Although when I co-curated that experimental week I did get Northwestern's troupe of mimes to perform, and my parents came, they were so cute, my father wore a tie, in that gritty grungy shack, I remember that very affectionately.
I wanted to be a performance artist like Karen Finley and perform crazy monologues of the id with my tit out. I wanted to be naked on stage. I was a narcissist.
I wanted to be an actress, desperately, once I moved to the city, I had acted in a play at Northwestern, but I was convinced I had to learn techniques, and I would search for classes, but could never find one. I did take improv classes.
When I was waiting tables for years after college I became obsessed with the idea of being a puppeteer, like the guy in La Double Vie de Veronique. I would stage creepy puppet plays in my mind (always, only). I did a day internship with the Red Moon Theater Company (it was supposed to be a summer long internship). I realized with horror that day that to be a puppeteer you had to actually make things and I quickly lost interest.
Most recently, last summer, I decided I would become a filmmaker, and do cinematic essays, like Su Friedrich or Varda. I took out a Columbia College film professor to breakfast at the Bongo Room in the South Loop even though I didn't have money to go to the Bongo Room and nervously nibbled wheat toast and a cup of sad fruit and asked his advice. He advised me to take pictures with a digital camera. I wrote pages of notes about possible films but took only a few half-hearted pictures with the camera which was a tiny digital camera my sister had given me another hand-me-down. I realized with film you have to know computer software, and make things as well, and I too lost interest. And plus I signed up for a class with Chicago Filmmakers and it cost like $600 or something and I wasn't teaching last summer as my class got cancelled and I realized John and I could eat or I could take the film class and I had to call them and cancel it but they charged me $50.
I'm realizing most of these career pursuits would not have made any money. A puppeteer! A mime! These are my Plan-Bs!
an addendum: for those who have read O Fallen Angel: I am not Maggie
an addendum: for those who have read O Fallen Angel: Maggie, c'est moi (and myriads of others as well have been Maggie)
(pps go read Repat Blues' newest post, such ecstasy of anomie, a paen to our patron saint of drifting Lol Stein. Also Bhanu's latest, also about vocation, Bhanu it's your failures that are so glorious.)