like suicide

the first time i saw soundgarden live was memorial day weekend of my freshman year of high school. "i found religion," i wrote that night in my journal. i'd spent the entirety of that school year unsuccessfully lobbying my parents to allow me to go to all-ages shows; my best friend lola (who was surreally, uncannily gorgeous) and i (who was prosaically, emphatically not) had been adopted by erica and lara, the super-cool girl besties of our tiny private school's senior class, who spent most of their time smoking camel lights and/or weed, singing like angels, hanging out with musicians, and going to shows in seattle. they gave us mix tapes and cigarettes, taught me to play the piano intro to "chloe dancer" on the piano, loaned us a battered VHS copy of perry farrell's bizarre 1993 movie "the gift"; they drove us to the head shop to buy patchouli and hippie skirts and we listened to badmotorfinger all the way there. by the time my months-long campaign of attrition paid off and my parents finally allowed me, with great reluctance, to see soundgarden play at the fairgrounds a mile from my house, i was already obsessed with the mythology of a seattle i was just barely too young to have experienced--a world that seemed to me impossibly adult and perfectly cool, shrouded in the ceaseless rain of seattle winters, peopled by beautiful men and glamorous, tragedy-ridden ghosts.

the seattle i loved as a fourteen-year-old growing up just a ferry ride away was no more real than the seattle of singles--a movie lola and i watched obsessively--or the seattle of the Great Grunge Hoax of 1992, the seattle of mad love and ten things i hate about you, the seattle of kristen mcmenamy and naomi campbell brooding in a field wearing nirvana shirts and thousand-dollar marc jacobs flannels. i was no less susceptible to the myth for living next door to it, for growing up in its shadow; i took the ferry over at least once a month to spend hours with lola in café paradiso (RIP) or bauhaus (RIP), lurking around the pike place market (where the members of 7 year bitch had met, a fact we considered of great importance) eyeballing cute dirty boys with guitars and waiting hopefully for one of them to offer lola a cigarette, realize my inner beauty, and kick-start my actual life. the seattle of grunge was a dreamscape concocted out of million-dollar record deals and press passes and long hair and bad drugs, the same fiction that gets spun up any time a small, insular community of enormously talented artists is torn apart by the tag-teaming demons of ambition and capital and hype, gilt on cheap plate; but looking in through the window of the jewelry store, all lola and i saw was the shine. the lives we promised one another we would someday have, our lives, the shapes of which were blurry but the details of which we repeated like catechism: jobs at pike place, crushed velvet and christmas lights, candles and nag champa, record collections and espresso makers, our docs lined up next to our rock-star boyfriends' by the door, watching the storms come in over the bay through our windows. we would learn to play the guitar. we would have songs written about us. probably, we shrugged, we'd be on drugs. 

but there was still a there there. underneath the bumbling reporters and record executives and busloads of long-haired bros piling into the city by the hundreds in search of fortunes like the ones they'd seen on mtv, the devastation of an entire city fracturing, underneath the moss and flannel and long underwear and all of jeff ament's silly hats, there was still the music, and the thing about that music is that there was a lot of it and it was alive and magical and angry and raw and polished and heavy and bright and fast and sweet and young; the music of your windows rolled down on the first warm day of spring with the freeway underneath your wheels and the world pouring in, the music of friday morning before first period headphones cranked all the way up drum solo kick-starting your heart, the music of fourteen and a window out of your shitty small town full of shitty small people and their shitty small lives. once my parents finally let me go see soundgarden the floodgates loosed; lola and i pored obsessively through the stranger every week sussing out all-ages shows in community centers and concert halls, dirty clubs, parking lots, coffee shops; we pooled our allowances for the rare, costly treat of arena shows until finally we were old enough to get jobs. i went to shows with the fervor of the newly converted. i went to shows like i wanted to get saved.

and i went to shows because i found, for the first time, a medium that articulated the inchoate rage and pain i carried around with me. i was angry about a lot of things as a young person that i had no language yet to name. i worshiped chris cornell, layne staley, eddie vedder, andrew wood; at the time, i thought i wanted to be a rock star's girlfriend; looking back, i think i wanted a rock star's freedom. i wanted to say my fury out loud. i wanted autonomy, to be larger than the constraints of my gender, the teachers i despised, the adults who understood nothing and tried to stop me from everything; i wanted that noise to be my whole big fearless life. in a couple of years, i'd see 7 year bitch play "dead men don't rape" and start to realize that maybe some of the things i was so angry about could be identified in specific ways. lola and i would find sky cries mary and goodness, hammerbox and hovercraft, the gits, the fastbacks, lucky me, bell; pedestal heroines next to our heroes; i'd begin to wonder if maybe freedom could also look like being a girl. but our bonds and our wants were forged in the crucible of boys: long-haired howling banshees who said the things about sadness we didn't know how to say ourselves. in the early years of our passion we were disinterested in nirvana, a band whose complaints seemed reserved for the ilk of jerky james c. in art class, who told me the day i'd dyed my hair purple that he had dyed his hair first. it's okay to eat fish 'cause they don't have any feeeeee-lings, lola and i would sneer at each other, mocking poor old kurt's nasal whine. we had no use for riot grrrl, regarded its proponents as shrill and ill-kempt. but holy hell, did we ever love chris cornell. that operatic voice, that hair, the sludgy wall of guitar, the songs that seemed to scream everything we were hurting into the howling void until our hurts lost their power to hold us in thrall, even if it was just for the space of verse chorus verse. 

it's strange, now, to read so many pieces in the wake of chris cornell's suicide by men; by men who seem universally to be operating from the assumption that chris cornell's music--seattle music, "grunge" as we teens said with a roll of our knowing eyes back then--was written for, and of interest only to, other men. in those days there were girls everywhere. i inherited my love of that music through a lineage of girls; there were girls in the bands, girls at all the shows, girls who knew all the lyrics by heart and screamed them back in ecstasy from the pit, girls who memorized the words of new songs as they were being sung and dissected them later in the car on the way home--first in their parents' cars, their parents being instructed to drop them off and pick them up again after the show at a minimum distance of two blocks, and later in the cars of their best friends. lola's new friend jenny started going to shows with us; she had the enviable commodities of a car of her own and parents who were largely indifferent to her activities, and she drove us to show after show after show--two-hour-long drives each way sometimes, if we were going to oly or issaquah or some other obscure suburb--and on the way home we'd drink a million coffees and roll down all the windows to stay awake and listen to the music we'd just heard live with the volume turned all the way up screaming our heads off. girls went to shows with other girls, even girls who had boyfriends; you saw the same girls at shows year after year, clock the movement of time by their changing hair colors, fashions, the widening splits in the seams of their boots. if you went to shows in olympia you'd see the bitchy riot grrrl girls in their black-dyed bobs and fake-fur coats and granny dresses who only ever talked to each other, if at all. the girls in tacoma were punk and dirty and the girls in seattle had baggy clothes and sometimes white-girl dreads dyed blond and red and black. girls in fairy wings and glitter at sky cries shows, girls in studded leather bracelets at botch shows, girls in all black at shakabrah java jazz shows, like little bohemians. once we went to an all-ages show at a club in seattle where you could get alcohol if you were over 21 and a boy--a man, i guess--tried to buy jenny a drink and she said i'm only sixteen! in horrified disgust and we ran into the bathroom and laughed about it for an hour, all the way through the opening band. 

every show was a universe of girls, every girl would have gone to every show if she could; we went to see each other; we went because we wanted to be seen. if we weren't going to shows we were lying in our beds at home, telephones pressed to our ears, listening to each other breathe, listening to each other's radios piping tinnily through the receiver until we fell asleep. in those days girls shucked the burdens of their bodies through sex and drugs; we were too shy and stumbling-awkward, even beautiful lola, for the former; lola's and my parents too investigative for us to do much of the latter; and so that left us rock and roll, our long-haired messiahs howling into the sweat-steamed dark, our girl-bodies slamming into one another until we could no longer tell where one of us stopped and the other began. when our friendships began to unravel and re-ravel, as the girl-bonds of adolescence so often do, when lola got a boyfriend--on the golf team! the golf team!!--and left jenny and i to our own devices, when jenny--who'd navigated the terrifying freedom bestowed upon her by her parents by transforming herself into the most responsible person on the planet--fretted through my drug-taking class-skipping suicidal-ideating semester of catholic school, when i switched schools yet again and spent the long dreary days sundered from the proximity of my twinned beloveds and running around trying to prove myself to a pack of mean-mouthed boys, it was music that kept us together in the face of all the forces vying to tear us apart. jenny's car in the dark, hurtling all those miles home, our ears still ringing from the noise.

the summer before i went to college i gave away all my concert shirts, my beloved soundgarden shirt included; i was determined to distance myself from such girlish nonsense, to separate the erudite and stoic person i was determined to become from the angry and tear-soaked child i had been, lying around in my room in the dark crooning along to "seasons" and sobbing into my pillow, feeling ancient in the way you can only ever feel when you are very very young. i didn't want to be a girl anymore. i hadn’t asked for it; i wanted to send it back. jenny and lola and i drifted apart; i dropped out of college after a while and spent the next set of years banging around the country and getting in trouble; flinging myself gleefully into all the bad decisions that had been forbidden to me for so long, making up a rock and roll of my own. headstrong and headlong, a life that finally, finally felt to me like freedom. a life stripped bare of girls. a life that, in retrospect, looks a lot more like loneliness than liberty.

this isn’t an essay about chris cornell. it’s an essay about how i grew up. i'm sure you already figured that out. the music and the city, the rain at night, the wind in the trees, salt-fogged grey mornings, ferry over the puget sound in the quiet dark, the moment before the drums kick and your whole body hangs weightless in the balance blood roaring in your ears breath caught chest-deep hand in your best friend's hand. the apartment i lived in on summit avenue the year i was twenty. the way tenzing momo has smelled for the last thirty years; the way that’s the only thing left of the city i knew. condos closing in on the once-dirty streets, condos where bauhaus used to be, where paradiso used to be, where bailey/coy used to be, condos blooming like black rot over the street where mia zapata died, condos spreading through belltown and swallowing up the vegan restaurant where jenny and i liked to celebrate our birthdays, the bookstore i worked for the year i lived in seattle, the import store where anisa romero worked when we were in high school and we'd creep in like acolytes, pretending to look at the fancy carpets when really we were only ever looking at her.

sometimes late at night i spend hours searching online for all the girls i used to know, most of whom have vanished into my history. i am not sure what i am hoping they might tell me. jenny moved back to seattle a few years ago; we have coffee whenever i visit. she has children now and a husband and a mortgage and she is exactly the same. she would probably say the same thing about me. we picked up our friendship as though we had just set it down for a while. the morning chris cornell died we emailed one another like the teenagers we'd been, palming notes to one another when the teacher's back was turned. i listened to "seasons" and cried so hard i couldn't see the keys. “come home,” she wrote me, “so we can cry about it together.” can a single person be a symbol of an entire girlhood? of every outsize yearning, every dream, every impossible future? can a single person's death foreground the truth that hurts the most, that growing up is not enough to outrun the darkest parts of your heart?

i don’t think so. but i think about how jenny still has all her ticket stubs from high school. i think about how lucky i was to have her and lola both in those long brutal years of my girlhood. i think about how the people who understand what music did for me then, what it meant to me, are almost entirely other women. i think about how hard it can be to sometimes to not die and how glad i am most of the time that i didn't. i think about how for some of us it doesn't get better and how much i still want everyone i love to live and keep fighting. i think about that ocean, that galaxy, that miracle of girls.

i think about soundgarden, 1994. pressed breathless against the stage, screaming the words out of my girl's throat. all the girls, leaning towards our futures, our hearts crawling from our chests, thousands of girls a chorus of hell-sprung angels singing let me out, let me go, let me fly, for just this moment, just this sound. let me be salvation and solace. let me be loved. let me be perfected. let me be holy. let me be seen. let me be bigger than my body.

let me, for just this measure, be free.

 

status report

[here is the cat helping to edit my book]

HI IM STILL HERE just sleepy and fairly sad a lot of the time. for the last month or two i have been reading a lot and trying not to look at the internet and working hard on leaving my house as little as possible and writing notes to myself that go like this

YOU ARE DOING GREAT
YOU ARE LOVED & CARED FOR
YOUR WORK IS IMPORTANT
SO MANY BEAUTIFUL THINGS STILL SURVIVE
FIGHT, BITCH, FIGHT

i do have a lot of excellent books to tell you about!!!!!!!! but i am really fucking tired right now so that will have to wait a little longer, sorry. i want to remind you that lyric’s chapbook MOTHERWORT is on sale now and it is so, so, so, so, so beautiful and good. if you are in brooklyn this weekend please come celebrate the launch of this marvelous tiny book & two new books from ugly duckling and gramma poetry with our brilliant friends catherine taylor and christine hou. then i'm going to take a nap and then i will tell you about what you should be reading, cross my heart. if you want to do your reading ahead of class: hannah lillith assadi, Sonora; rabih alameddine, The Angel of History, elana k. arnold, What Girls Are Made Of; romina paula, August; michelle tea, Black Wave. there will be more homework but that should be a good head start.

did you read this essay about david foster wallace by deirdre coyle? i guess part of the internet [men] got quite upset about this essay about david foster wallace, which upset feels very…. 2007? 2008?

(here is beloved genius/guillotine alum jenny zhang on this topic:

Dead white guys and not-dead not-white not guys hate it when you dismiss revered canonical works of art and literature by saying, Uggggggggggh. I hate this. And give no reasons why at all. If I live to a hundred, do I really have to spend eighty-five or more of those years explaining why I don’t like this?

fucking A MEN JENNY).

i honestly did not realize people [men] still felt so strongly about david foster wallace! but i guess those people [men] are still going strong. anyway i quite liked deirdre coyle's essay about david foster wallace, this part especially:

It is enraging to have a straight man tell me a story about straight men telling stories to a woman about straight men acting like shitheads. I understand that this is the point of the text. I know. I understand that maybe other men wouldn’t absorb the message unless it was being told to them by another, probably smarter and better educated man. But then why do men keep recommending his work to me? BECAUSE I KNOW I KNOW I KNOW I KNOW I KNOW I KNOW I KNOW I KNOW I KNOW.

fucking A MEN DEIRDRE. this passage suggests to me that the point of this essay about david foster wallace is maybe not quite so much david foster wallace as people [men] who recommend david foster wallace to other people [women] against their wishes, interests, and tastes, and who accuse of critical incompetence any persons [women] who do not particularly care about [INSERT (MALE) WRITER HERE] but perhaps i am mistaken and the people [men] who dislike this essay are quite correct in it being about someone [a woman] who is too stupid to understand david foster wallace. it took me a long time to be able to say “if this art was good i wouldn't find it boring” to people [men] but now it’s a thing i say all the time. i don't even mean it always! but it's a fine way to end labor-intensive conversations that do not interest you. another good one is "i don't think there is such a thing as male genius, actually." getting older is great.

all of which is to say that last summer or maybe the summer before i was invited to be a guest lecturer at a university, and before my lecture the graduate students and some of the faculty took me out to dinner, and there was a graduate student at the dinner—quite nice, to be sure; bearded; in ugly shoes—who flirted with me genteelly and expressed astonishment that i have not only never read Infinite Jest, i have never even tried. for my lecture i read an earlier draft of my story Blue Is a Darkness Weakened by Light. the graduate student sat in the front row. when i read this part of the story i tried not to look at him:

The writers congregate at the watering hole, wary of predators. The writers would not hesitate to leave the weakest among them behind. I eat a bacon-wrapped shrimp off a tray and a tiny piece of toast covered in salmon and a single fried dumpling filled with pork. After a while the caterers avoid me. —Of course you’ve read Infinite Jest, a writer says to someone behind me. —But the essays? I turn around. The writer has an unflattering beard and shoes the vampire would not be caught dead in.

after the reading he got up right away and left. he didn’t stay for cookies. but i did.

keep loving, keep fighting

xoxox sarah

all the books i didn't read in ireland

hi, how are you doing? yeah, me too. the grocery store across the street from my apartment is falling apart in an exponentially allegorical way: the yam bin splitting and disgorging its contents onto the shabby linoleum, the ceiling blooming open in petals of paint and plaster, pipes drooling water into expanding pools below, the cashiers sad-eyed and listless in their crumbling demesne. it’s just brooklyn but it feels like my heart. i went away for two weeks, first to DC for AWP—oh AWP! but this year was more fun than i expected, i didn’t have to manage any poets, or wake them up in the morning after they drank too much vodka the night before, or remind them not to lose the cash-box; i saw a lot of people i love, and showed off lyric’s chapbook (did you order one yet? why not?), and the only person i had to wake up in the morning after she drank too much whiskey was myself—and then to england for a little while, for a conference about eve k.s., and then to dublin with j., just for fun.

everyone was so nice in dublin! which i was not expecting, not right now; i was prepared to be apologetic and embarrassed, hi sorry we’re a nation of horrors murdering our citizens bulldozing the indigenous people desperately trying to preserve clean drinking water on their own fucking land and tearing apart the fucking world! but people just wanted to tell us about the times they had been to new york, and smile indulgently while we took silly tourist pictures, and advise us on what sorts of whiskies to drink, and show us how to pay for the bus, and laugh gently at me when i couldn’t finish my coddle, which is a sort of soup with a lot of bacon and sausages and potatoes in it, and which was the first meal to defeat me in many a moon, probably because before the coddle i had also eaten half a loaf of soda bread and about a pound of very sharp and delicious cheddar cheese and several pieces of corned beef and a quantity of potato salad with mustard in it, and an egg.

i dragged poor j. all over dublin, to the oscar wilde statue (he looks drunk! oscar i mean, not j.) and to evensong at st. pat’s, which is a trick i learned from hal if you want to see a famous cathedral for free and hear some nice choral music as well, and to the natural history museum (i was having fun until i got to the taxidermied elephants and polar bears and orangutans and wolves, and then i got horribly sad and had to leave; the victorians were fucking monsters, they shot everything, not that we’re not fucking monsters now, but you know what i mean), and to the national gallery and the communist bookstore and the chester beatty library and about sixteen different pubs people recommended and also the national print museum. i got overexcited at the print museum and towed j. around to all the presses explaining how they work and what people used them for and the difference between monotype and linotype and handset type and wood type and alloys and casting and photoemulsion processes for platemaking and how to ink the presses and what sorts of ink to use and did you know they used to use kerosene to clean presses, very unhealthy! some places still do but i don’t recommend it, and then the fellow working at the museum came over and told me in a patronizing manner not to put my fingers near the mechanized platen press as i was in imminent danger of losing them, and i was like “well you’d probably have to plug the press in first, don’t you think?”

and then the fellow took j. about and told him all the exact same things i had just said, and which i am quite certain he overheard, and ignored me completely, and said a number of things that were completely incorrect besides, and i was so incoherent with rage i had to go upstairs to the special exhibition and talk to myself quietly for some time. i will put up with a lot of condescension from men who know a lot more than i do about something i am interested in (with the possible exception of automotive and bicycle repair, as a number of male ex-partners, ex-friends, and former co-workers would be quick to point out) but the experience of being condescended to by a man who knows a great deal less than me about something i am fairly good at is so intolerable that even now, after literal decades of having this happen, it will occasionally render me absolutely incandescent with fury. if there are any experiences shared by all female-bodied and more or less female-identified people, i imagine that is perhaps foremost among them, i don’t need to go solnit on you, but having the experience articulated is no palliative for being forced to endure it. anyway i got a small revenge by disparaging the fellow’s brayer placement on his inking plate, in my own most contemptuous and patronizing affect (which is, if i do say so myself, pretty formidable); this barb proved effective, as he ran after me several moments later to explain that he couldn’t possibly clean it after every use as he showed children how to ink type with it whenever they came into the museum, and i replied in an even deadlier manner that i hadn’t told him to clean it i had told him not to leave it sitting roller-side down in the ink, which is one of the first things you learn if the person teaching you is any good (thank you, rebecca gilbert, strictest and most best of printing instructors; i still live in terror of leaving the rollers down on the press even for a moment).

none of which has anything to do with books! because i didn’t read any. i bought about fifteen books at AWP and haven’t read any of them yet, i brought five books to ireland with me, none of which i read, and i bought about ten more there, which i didn’t read either. i felt the whole time as though i was carrying about a dull clanging instrument instead of a brain. i didn’t think about things and i didn’t want to. i walked around and cried in the natural history museum and went to howth and climbed about on the headland and ate a cioppino and six oysters and every time i started to have a thought i went to a pub instead. i don’t know if i am ready to start being a person again—the risks seem rather higher than the rewards, these days!—but quitting isn’t really an option, so.

i did read some excellent books before i left and i have been working on—by “working on” i mean “periodically thinking ‘oh, i should work on’”—an essay about survival stories, because survival stories seem more concrete than ever these days; i have been trying to schedule the times i am allowed to look at the news, because otherwise i just throw up, which doesn’t do anybody a bit of good. i am giving up whiskey for a while; in my experience, it is inadvisable to transition coping mechanisms into daily practice. i definitely keep meaning to do yoga. i hope you are okay, or mostly okay; you don’t need me to tell you about what’s going on in the world, or that it’s hard. the way forward is with a broken heart; i'm tattooing that on my fucking face. keep loving, keep fighting, i'll go back to talking about books soon i promise.

xoxo sarah

AU REVOIR LE R.

hi! it's still me! this weekend i made a fancy new website for guillotine & retired the rejectionist. it's a little sad to say goodbye to le r.; i had no idea when i started the blog nine (!!!) years ago that it would change my entire life, bring me many of the people i love most dearly, or become (modestly) legendary (in a fairly limited circle) (well, maybe not "legendary," but indulge me). i will miss that irascible, intemperate person i pieced together on the fly during what was one of the most difficult years of my life; she will remain archived, however, at therejectionistsaysno.blogspot.com (BLOGGER!!!! o, were we ever so young!!!!). 

also, i'm not going anywhere! i will continue to write about books that i love with utter irregularity at this new home! shit's real fucked out there but boy have i read some fantastic things lately (cara hoffman's RUNNING! out this month! hanna lillith assadi's SONORA, out next month! cristina moracho's A GOOD IDEA, also out next month! SHIRLEY JACKSON: A RATHER HAUNTED LIFE, very sharp; aracelis girmay's THE BLACK MARIA, holy shit) and i will tell you more about them at length shortly. i swear, i really do. 

if you have been reading the rejectionist since forever: thank you, from the bottom of my heart. i have been lucky enough over the last near-decade (!!!!) to have some of the smartest, funniest, and most talented people on the planet find their way to me through that blog. & whether you're a longtime reader or a new one, hang in there; these are hard times, but we're some tough-ass motherfuckers. i have faith in us. RESIST. 

xoxo sarah