"I am a social maniac and a misanthrope." Heidi Julavits and Leslie Jamison at Word

Last month I saw Heidi Julavits and Leslie Jamison at Word in Greenpoint, and before I get to my fawning I must say – what a perfect little bookstore! I have never seen so many quality notebooks alongside such a well curated selection of books about and by women (surely there were books by men too, but I didn't notice.) And snuggled so well into an economical space, as one must do in Brooklyn, Manhattan, anywhere in this radius.

Of course I had to buy five books before the event started. Bluets because I hadn't read it yet and there it was, and as one would suspect the bookstore lady commented on it. The Lonely City by Olivia Laing, about the relationship between cities and art and solitude. All the Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister – anyone sensing the grand themes of my life at play? Dark Money by Jane Mayer, because one must learn and be in fear occasionally during the fun of reading. And I had to buy a paperback copy of The Folded Clock, even though I had the hardcover literally in my bag, because it came with a free notebook with the same design as the book jacket that says 'Today I...' See? Notebooks and great books by ladies.

While waiting for the reading slash discussion to start, I eavesdropped on the humans around me, all of whom seemed to know each other. This used to bother me when I went to readings in NYC, but now I don't really care. I may not know humans at every reading I go to, but I know some humans, and I even know some humans at readings. (Rare, but happens.) The knowledge that I have humans to drink wine with and meet for events and people that I'm working to befriend makes me not feel inescapably lonely in rooms where I know no one, and then I get to overhear great tidbits like -

Some humans gossiping that their friend just got into Iowa and went out for a drink with Heidi before the reading, whatever, jealous, and of course a dude. Typical, dudes getting into Iowa.

It is also somehow comforting that there is this language that I am well versed in even if I don't know the people talking. Like oh, I can probably figure out what event you're talking about at the Strand, and writing grad schools, and I can probably guess how you all know each other. It's a very interesting situation to be in – not like college where if you turned around you'd see someone who one of your friends is in a secret war with, and not like California where the only language everyone has in common is the sun. Somewhere in the middle, like a big old pasture where you all see the same trees.

And then Heidi and Leslie came out, and of course Heidi is so fucking fashionable! Wearing this crazy bold patterned wrap dress with every color you didn't know you wanted to pair together. Incredible. And then they started talking, and even her voice is majestic.

Apparently they went to lunch to talk about what they were going to discuss at the reading, and had such a good time that they just decided to repeat the conversation – or, in Heidi's words:

“So we are going to have lunch again, in front of all of you, and talk.”

Doesn't that sound fun?

She started with a passage from The Folded Clock, and stopped mid reading to laugh at herself, because she is the coolest. It was really adorable watching the two of them interact, because you could tell that they're actually becoming friends. They talked about this a lot, how hard it is to make friends in adulthood, and how time consuming. The way Heidi described it -

“It's like the economics of intimacy...” she paused, “And that is the title of my new novel.” and we all laughed and laughed.

Then she talked about how she was a waitress until she was 30, and I cried and cried, but out of happiness more than sadness. I knew this already, because I am a creep, but it never gets old to hear about writers waiting tables. (Though, as of now, I do not wait tables. I do nothing. For the next, you know, two weeks until I get paranoid and start schlepping my resume again.) Anyway, Heidi's most brilliant quote on it of the night:

“When I first started serving in New York, I was the twenty five year old matron among nineteen year olds in a nightclub, and then I moved to upscale, and I was surrounded by forty five year old alcoholics. That will make you write. That made me write.”

This spurned a discussion between her and Leslie about writing while having a day job, and Leslie said:

“You have to go to such extensive lengths to make yourself do the only thing you want to do,” discussing how hard it can be to make yourself write when you aren't at work. Sigh. So true. But also so great to know that it is not just me, and that it is also talented published teaching writer ladies. Hope springs eternal!

 

Just me interacting with some humans I admire

Today, I took a truly excellent one day writing workshop at Catapult with Emily Gould and Chloe Caldwell. Anyone who has listened to me nerd out on contemporary women writers over the past two years can guess that this was a v meaningful experience for me, that may or may not have involved a cup full of tears while walking down 6 Av listening to Welcome to New York afterwards. But I'm going to save that particular bit of emotional absurdity for another time.

We did a bunch of short generative exercises, which was actually perfect for me right now because I keep trying to work on these large expansive essays that say so much about my experience as a college educated service industry professional and gentrification or sexual dynamics in the 21st century, which are all important topics but really hard to focus in on. Thus writing these short really focused excercises really reminded me that I can just – write. And, coincidentally, my sister and I had a hilarious time last night which just happened to translate very well into one of the prompts.

I've decided to transcribe it here, because getting back into blogging and New York times and writer times and the things that happen.

So we were writing based on our horoscope from Friday, and mine was something along the lines of - “you're inspired to connect, have an intense evening, but you shouldn't start conversations that won't end well.”

Here she is -

“My sister and I stood outside Cowgirl, on the corner of Hudson and West 10th, debating over whether to go inside.

“I mean, I think it's fine,” I said, “There probably isn't a wait and you are impatient.”

“But it looks like they're serving the food out of baskets...” she said.

Suddenly, a distinguished older woman rushed past us, looked at the restaurant, blurted “Yes!” and ran inside.

My sister and I locked eyes and immediately followed her.

Rachel and I are not normally prone to making decisions based on the choices of elegant older women, but we'd immediately recognized this particular one as Sharon Olds, who we'd just seen read at the Pushcart Prize 40th Anniversary reading.

We put our name in and took a seat at the bar, ordering one strawberry margarita and one habanero.

“It's been a while for her to be in the bathroom,” I said. “Do you think she's actually eating here?!”

“I assume so,” my sister said, gesturing to a back room just out of sight.

“Wait...do you think they're ALL here?!” I said, quickly calculating that, if this were the case, I would be in the same breathing space as Zadie Smith and Ben Marcus for the second time in one night.”

“Dude, that's what I thought when we followed her in here!” my sister replied.

We began taking turns canvassing the restaurant – pretending to look for the bathroom or being on our cell phones. I recognized with my superior creeping skills that about half the people working the event appeared to be eating in an anterior dining room, and a few more trickled in, waiting for another table.

“I want to buy them a drink but they're probably already on an expense account, so it would be pointless.” I sighed. “And I don't want to be a total creep.”

'Total Creep' around distinguished people was, however, in my repertoire. I'd befreinded all my college professors by schmoozing with them at free wine events, eventually asking them out to fancy dinners with the generous help of my best friend. We'd ended our senior year with telling one of them the details of the keg race tournament we ran for the rest of the school and possibly revealing the names and relative transgressions of underclassmen we'd had certain relations with.

As it turned out, not everyone involved with the ceremony was at the after dinner – aka, Zadie and Ben never reappeared. I speculated:

“Zadie lives in SoHo so she probably went home, and Ben splits his time between here and Maine and I mean I'd probably want to get home too if I was married to Heidi Julavits...”

My sister replied: “Yeah...it's probably good that you didn't have the opportunity to talk to them again.”

Instead, we made a strategic plan for how I'll convince my new restaurant to host after event galas for authors in our private room, thus giving me a future excuse to speak to the people I admire with a good reason: I'll be serving them food.

And plus, Zadie Smith had already given me the most affirming line of the night: when she was signing my anthology, I told her:

“I sent my ex your essays, and you're the first woman writer he's ever loved.”

She gave me a quick look, and then said in her deep, posh accent: “Well it's good that you two broke up then.”