The Other in Oneself: An Interview with Vivian Gornick (Part 2)

August 27, 2019 § 6 Comments

Brevity’s Associate Editor Kathleen B. Jones, author of Diving for Pearls: A Thinking Journey with Hannah Arendt, interviewed memoirist Vivian Gornick about The Situation and The Story, her career as an author, and her other works. The interview is divided into three parts. Part One, “Structure is Everything,” ran yesterday, and can be found here.

Part 2: Finding the Persona of the Narrator and Other Craft Elements in Creative Nonfiction

gornickJONES: Let’s talk about craft elements that you discuss in The Situation and The Story. You described how, when you were writing Fierce Attachments, you came to the realization that the voice you habitually lived in wouldn’t do. Can you talk a little bit about the process of discovering what you call “the other in oneself who can complicate the subject and avoid writing the story with cardboard characters”?

GORNICK: Well that has to do with a lot of soul searching. When I say the ‘other in oneself,’ I mean really digging hard to see how you contributed to the situation. Because otherwise there’s no drama. I wrote an essay on letter-writing, which is in Approaching Eye Level, many years ago. And the way it started was I read a piece in the New York Review of Books by one Englishman reviewing a book by another Englishman in which they were both bemoaning the loss of letter-writing, saying we all grew up with letter writing and no one writes letters any more. I thought about how I really grew up in a letter-writing world, in a working class tenement in the Bronx. My mother wrote letters, the next-door neighbor wrote letters, the doctor wrote letters, everybody wrote letters. So this review was bemoaning the loss of letter writing and I was reading the review, right here in my apartment, with a friend, and I was bemoaning the fact that I live in world where there’s no letter writing anymore. And this man, my friend, got irritated with my bitching and he said, ‘Oh, fuck that, why don’t you write letters? Don’t give me the world, the world, is doing this to you and that to you.’ That’s what it sounded like, the world is doing this to me. ‘Oh, I feel so terrible, the world seemed so much richer when we were all writing letters, now nobody does.’ And as soon as he said that, I had my essay.

Now that was a personal essay. So, I sit down to write this essay, and I’m aware of the fact that I’m going to use this particular narrator to show how this world has changed, using myself first and foremost. Once I decide to do that, then I start to inspect all the times, in another time when I would have written a letter, but this time instead I picked up the telephone. This is on the cusp of email, we don’t even talk any more (laughs).

JONES: True (laughs). We don’t even email. It’s text.

GORNICK: Oh, I don’t go that far. I only do email.  So, back to this essay, I had in my mind the controlling outlook of always knowing I was going to be reaching for the moment when I was going to inspect my own feelings, which is, of course, how it all changes, to see how I had internalized picking up the phone instead of writing a letter. And that was the person, the narrator, who was going to write that story. And it was a great pleasure to hit with such particularity on that position and that condition. And that’s the personal essay. I don’t know….what was my point? (laughs)

JONES: I’d asked you to describe the process of discovering the other self.

GORNICK: Well, that’s what I mean..

JONES: The investigation..being a little hard on oneself, so to speak.

GORNICK: Yes, yes.

JONES: Not letting oneself off the hook.

GORNICK: That’s right, exactly.

JONES: Instead of creating this ‘woe is me self’—the victim.

GORNICK: Right, precisely.

JONES: The monster has to have humanity or it’s not interesting.

GORNICK: Absolutely. But the reason that writing political social polemic lost its charm for me, which it had when I was a young woman writing for The Village Voice, was I really got tired, even though I feel the weight of the terrible world we live in, I got tired of writing from that perspective, of accusing the world of not being what I wanted it to be.

JONES: Like a harangue.

GORNICK: Yeah, it’s a rant, no matter how good it is.  In the end, it’s a bewailing…I mean political journalists should do it; that’s their job. But not a writer, not a writer who is in the business of fashioning out of the expressiveness of language, and the power of structure, something else.

JONES: I also think there’s no place for the reader in that kind of writing.

GORNICK: No. That’s right. The reader’s not invited. The reader is the passive receiver. Just sit there and shut up.

JONES: And literary writing not only engages the imagination, but gives you space to think.

GORNICK: Absolutely. I certainly hope I’m letting the reader in.

JONES: Do you have any other recommendations for strategies to find the voice for a personal essay writer or memoir writer? For instance, how do you approach the rewriting?

GORNICK: For myself?

JONES: Yes, and as advice for others. Stuff that comes out in first draft doesn’t usually work very well.

GORNICK: No. Well, what can I tell you. In my case, it’s all intuition.  You read what you write and then you see, am I losing the subject? Have I got the subject? I can’t really tell you how; my gut tells me.

JONES: Sometimes, does reading something else give you ideas?

GORNICK: Well, everything, conversation. You’re stuck at something, you go away, you live your life for that day, you take a walk, you have a coffee, meet a friend, read a book, or a newspaper, or something, and somewhere this writing is on your mind, and something clarifies. There are no prescriptions for it.

JONES: You talk about tone of sentence and syntax in The Situation and The Story, and give a lot of examples. About the very different kind of writing that comes out of Seymour Krim, for instance—and he reappears in the Odd Woman and the City—versus, say, The Duke of Deception, by Geoffrey Wolff.

GORNICK: Well, Krim was a very self-conscious Beat writer. The Beats were all tone.

JONES: Any examples of books you’ve read lately, beside those you mention in S&S that display innovative syntax, that particularly fits the story well?

GORNICK: I never can think when that question is asked. I need to see a list. Actually, I was just recently reading the work of an American writer, a man whom I just met recently, but who’s been around forever, in fact, he’s my age, Jerome Charyn. He writes in a very jazzy personal way and the way he’s writing is very much what he’s writing about. People are doing all kinds of interesting things.

In the end, it all depends on how smart you are and how much you know to make the book interesting. If you isolate a story, and do it well, it’s not that hard. I mean it’s hard to write it, it’s not that hard to have the idea. But there are no prescriptions for it.
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Read Part One

Read Part Three
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Kathleen B. Jones taught Women’s Studies for twenty-four years at San Diego State University. She is the author of two memoirs, Living Between Danger and Loveand Diving for Pearls: A Thinking Journey with Hannah Arendt. Her writing has appeared in Fiction InternationalMr. Beller’s NeighborhoodThe Briar Cliff Review, and The Los Angeles Review of Books. She recently served as Brevity‘s Associate Editor while completing an MFA in writing at Fairfield University.

 

 

Structure is Everything: An Interview with Vivian Gornick

August 26, 2019 § 4 Comments

Tgornickhe publication of Vivian Gornick’s Fierce Attachments in 1987 was a landmark event, establishing Gornick as a distinctive voice in the genre of memoir. Now, more than thirty years later, that book is experiencing renewed life in Europe, has been translated into ten languages, and recently earned first place in the New York Times‘ “50 Best Memoirs of the Past 50 Years.”

Gornick followed up about a dozen years later with The Situation and The Story, explaining how she created the persona of an “unsurrogated narrator” to serve the story she wanted to tell in her memoir. The Situation and The Story became an indispensable guide to the literary strategies of creative nonfiction, popular in the classroom and often quoted.

Brevity’s Associate Editor Kathleen B. Jones, author of the memoir Diving for Pearls: A Thinking Journey with Hannah Arendt, interviewed Gornick about The Situation and The Story, her career as an author, and her other works. The interview is divided into three parts.

Part 1: Writing and Teaching The Situation and The Story

KATHLEEN B. JONES: You wrote The Situation and The Story almost 20 years ago.

VIVIAN GORNICK Oh, my god, is it that long?? (laughs)

JONES: What motivated you to write that book?

GORNICK: Well, actually, it started because somebody else came to me, a teacher of writing, and wanted to do this book together. I can’t remember how I knew her. She came to me with this proposal that we write a textbook together. And, of course, the lure was, we were going to make a fortune, because we would write a textbook that would be adopted all over the country (laughs). And, I agreed to it and got involved in it enough to see it really did interest me. We went along for a while but we really weren’t getting anywhere. We didn’t work well together, and I didn’t really know how to structure it for a textbook. She became, I thought—but who knows—she became exasperated with the difficulties that I posed. Probably it was out of frustration we were not going to make this thing work. So, I said, let’s abandon this. And once we abandoned it I realized that I had really become interested in writing, completely on my own, my version of what it meant to create a nonfiction persona. I realized I had been reading this stuff, and writing this stuff, and teaching this stuff for fifteen years by then. I thought it would be a piece of cake. But, it wasn’t, of course; it was really hard to structure. I thought it would take six months. It took two years (laughs).

JONES: It actually has become kind of a bible…

GORNICK: Yes, it has…

JONES: In many places…

GORNICK: I know; it’s taught all over the country. I’m amazed by it myself.

JONES: So if you were writing the book now, is there any way you would change it?

GORNICK: No! I look at it and I’m amazed at how good it is (laughs). I can’t believe I wrote it…It was really hard to write. I wrote a whole manuscript and I knew I hadn’t gotten it right. I just could feel in my gut it wasn’t in the right shape. I’m really a writer who needs an editor all the time; there’s a certain constipation in my own way of writing. I telescope too much in first drafts. I’m not sufficiently aware of what the reader actually has to know, or not know. I need somebody to set me straight. And a very talented editor at FSG all those years ago read [the manuscript]. He was brilliant about what I needed to do and how I needed to restructure it. Structure was everything. Just as, in the life of nonfiction writing, structure is everything. It took quite a while for me to figure out the elements that were necessary. The most important thing was developing my idea of the persona… which I lay out in the very beginning. The girl who is doing the eulogy and how she knows who she is in relation to the subject and therefore she knows how to write—that was very important.

JONES: In The Situation and The Story, you wrote about why you thought memoir writing was, at that time, felt as a particularly urgent call. You said modernist novels had been bypassed by this genre. Now, some critics declare the age of memoir writing to be over. You might read—ironically, in a New York Times book review of some new memoir—a critic saying she thought we were done with all this, but this book has really done something different with the form.

GORNICK: I really don’t know what to think. The reason that is said is because we live now in a time when every deluge is just gigantic. In a previous time, when one literary genre replaced another, you might have had hundreds, now you have thousands of instances. The memoir, the memoir, the memoir. So it’s a glut on the market.

Look, the fact of the matter is, most memoirs are not literature, and most novels are not literature. When a good one comes along, its power is felt all over again. I do believe that the passion for the novel has run its course for the time being. It doesn’t feel, not to me at any rate, that one looks forward to the next novel. You know, it’s so hard for me to have any really organized opinions about all this.

All I know is this: I grew up in a book culture which means that that book culture never had huge numbers of devotees. Where people took literature seriously, we all read the same books, we all read the same reviews, and we waited for the next book of a writer to come out. The reviewers in the New York Times Book Review were of a really high order. You had that whole generation of Irving Howe, Alfred Kazin, all those men who were very serious critics writing the Sunday Times Book Review. You don’t have anything of the sort anymore. All that has just dissolved. So what we have is this gigantic entertainment world and a world of celebrity where writers have become celebrities. It all feels hit or miss to me. I remain devoted to looking for the same experience in a book that I always look for. And when I say a book is good or not good it’s out of a mindset that was formed 50 years ago. So I really don’t know what to make of this business—the age of memoir. We’re talking about 20 years. I mean, we’re too old (laughter) to subscribe to that sort of thing as ‘the age’ or, better yet, ‘the era’.

JONES: Say more about that.

GORNICK: I do think the memoir will continue to be written more readily than the novel, and only a fraction of them are works that will last. I mean, they come and go, and most of them are not literature. They remain books of confession. Somebody writes a memoir about not being able to give birth to a baby and then what follows is her encounter with fertility clinics. There’s that. Or then there’s alcohol and there’s incest and there’s just a glut of stuff. I wrote [The Situation and The Story] out of what I thought was a serious consideration of serious books. I know people now who teach courses out of this book. They make their students read the books that I refer to. And the same with my other collection, The End of the Novel of Love, they teach out of that. And I’m thrilled by it. But they do it because they think those books I wrote about are serious examples and they can run the rest of time. There will never be a time when those books will not look good.

JONES: Surely those books you cited aren’t the only ones?

GORNICK: Oh, of course. There are always others.

JONES: Have you been in contact with people who use The Situation and The Story the way you describe?

GORNICK: Always.

JONES: Do they talk about how they structure their classes?

GORNICK: No, and that’s interesting. I should ask. I never have asked that. I shouldn’t say I’m in contact with people. I meet people all the time who tell me they teach it but I never have asked how exactly they teach it. Well, you probably know more.

JONES: I did teach it in a writing class.

GORNICK: How did you use it?

JONES: I used it as the main way to think about how to structure an essay and find the language and persona necessary to tell whatever the story was. And then we looked at other texts. Interestingly enough, this was not in a literary writing class, but in a course about writing a master’s thesis, with people from a variety of disciplines.

GORNICK: Interesting.

JONES: Some students were creative writers; others were writing in philosophy, or anthropology.

GORNICK: Oh!

JONES: Each one of them had the situation of their research that she needed to turn into a story.

GORNICK: Exactly. Very good.

JONES: So that’s how I used it and tried to make it fit all these different disciplinary fields.

GORNICK: That must have been fun.

kathleenbjonesJONES: No matter what your field, you still have to write and you have to write well. You may be constrained by the structure of what a university tells you must be done for a thesis. But the narrative, the story, can bear all those same qualities you described.

GORNICK: My niece, who is in social policy, writes reports nonstop. She understands you have to be telling a story all the time. With her, it’s easy to see what her situation is—it’s the background of her discipline. But she knows, within that, you must tell a story and she’s made use of that. Just to clarify on that concept should help you.

JONES: Are you still teaching?

GORNICK: No,  no. I try not to. I taught a couple of years ago in Iowa and I swore I’d rather go on welfare than do this again (laughs).

JONES: When you were teaching, how did you structure your workshops?

GORNICK: I had a very simple method. The workshop would just concentrate on the immediacy of what they were writing. I made all my students write 1,000 words every other week. A three-page piece. And then we would workshop them. I did not give out assignments, but the pieces would generate themselves out of the previous week’s discussion. I had no pedagogy.

JONES: Assigned readings?

GORNICK: For sure. A lot of the books I refer to in the books I wrote came out of those courses.

JONES: No in-class writing exercises?

GORNICK: No. these were graduate students. Gotta write.

JONES: At the end of The Situation and The Story, you wrote that all the years of teaching led you to conclude that you can’t teach people how to write but you can teach them how to read. How do you teach people how to read?

GORNICK: You depend upon them learning from the critiquing, if you’re going to teach people how to gain judgment about their own work—and what else are all these MFA programs about? They’re allowing people to write and to hear their own writing read in the company of others so that they see how it hits a reader, when it seems right and when it’s absolutely wrong. And through the critiquing, which keeps concentrating on the relation between the persona and the story in the situation, you learn by example. If you can’t learn by example you can’t learn. There’s nothing for you to memorize, no body of information that’s being passed on. It’s all a matter of experience; it’s a matter of doing it and hearing it done, and learning from that.

Now, I taught for 6 or 7 years at the University of Arizona, a perfectly standard, straightforward, conventional MFA program. It happened to be filled with perfectly ordinary people teaching. It also happened that David Foster Wallace was a student there. And he kept writing his stuff and he kept being told it was no good. Not a well-crafted novel.

Now, when you have someone like that, all bets are off. So, I think what it did for him was, it showed him he had to go his own way. And he had genius. He wrote Infinite Jest, a thousand or so page novel, soon after leaving the program.

So these programs are for the most ordinary of the ordinary. First of all, very, very few writers emerge from them. Very few. The mass of people go on to other lives. They’re not writers. They’re not writers; they’re wanna-bes. And so what you can teach, as I said, is you can teach someone how to read their own writing better. You can’t teach them how to do it better, unless , if someone has some writing talent, they can make better use of it because you’re being taught how to criticize yourself.

JONES: I think the books that you read while you’re in a program enable you to see how to write better.

GORNICK: Sure.

JONES: Because you look at them and take them apart differently, instead of just being immersed in the plot.

GORNICK: Right, how did I become a writer? Out of City College’s English Department. Because of all the great books people put in my hands.

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Part Two of this interview: The Other in Oneself

Part Three of this interview: Of Reading and Culture

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Kathleen B. Jones taught Women’s Studies for twenty-four years at San Diego State University. She is the author of two memoirs, Living Between Danger and Loveand Diving for Pearls: A Thinking Journey with Hannah Arendt. Her writing has appeared in Fiction InternationalMr. Beller’s NeighborhoodThe Briar Cliff Review, and The Los Angeles Review of Books. She recently served as Brevity‘s Associate Editor while completing an MFA in writing at Fairfield University.

Finish Your Book

August 20, 2019 § 10 Comments

I’ve found ‘one weird trick’ that gets me to the end of major projects:

Doing one thing.

It seems so simple, and yet this morning I:
Checked email
Made breakfast
Gave feedback on pages
Tore apart my closet looking for a thing I tucked away while I was on vacation, and had hidden so well I couldn’t find it (my closet is now extremely tidy and partially Konmari-ed)
Dealt with the air conditioner repair men
Washed dishes

You get it. Chances are, you do it too. And it doesn’t make us bad people, or even bad writers. We’re human. We got stuff to do.

But three months ago I really needed to finish a website. I made it my “weekend” project, and worked only on website copy and pictures and html code until I was done. No editing, no other writing, no reading, no errands. It took four days. But it’s done.

Two months ago I needed to finish a book proposal. Weekend project. Blinders on. Six days. But it’s done.

I don’t have kids and I set my own work hours and my spouse is beyond supportive. But it’s still hard to pick one thing, figure out how to tackle it, and do it until it’s done. It’s hard to stay focused when totally legit things want our attention (I did shower and cook dinners).

That’s why so many writers love retreats. A blissful week away in which someone else cooks and cleans, and no-one can “Hey Mom!” or “Ummm…Dad?” or “I need that presentation” you. But even on retreats it’s hard to get started. And if you’ve only got a week, you need a plan. A big-picture view of what needs doing and how.

At home, you can enlist a writer friend. Split an Airbnb for a week, read each other’s manuscript before you go and give specific, prescriptive feedback about what to work on in what order. Not “your book should be like this” but, after hearing your goals, “Restructure the plot, then fix the ending, then rewrite chapters 8-10.” Check in with each other daily for accountability.

But if you have time and funds, we’d like to suggest a retreat…that comes with a manuscript read. (This is where the ad part starts!) Brevity Editor-in-Chief Dinty W. Moore and Social Media Editor Allison K Williams would like to invite you to Costa Rica.

Next May, we’ll be hosting 10 dedicated writers in a luxury eco-lodge overlooking the Pacific. Organic food that you don’t cook. Beautiful grounds you don’t mow. Probably sloths. Definitely monkeys. But most importantly, we read your entire manuscript before you arrive, and with you, make a work plan to finish a draft, a proposal, or your book, before you leave. Don’t have a book yet? Write the first draft with us, and we’ll read it when you go home. Either way, it’s a chance to focus deeply on the work that’s most important to you.

If a travel retreat isn’t in your bag, grab a friend and start picking dates for your own week of fabulous productivity. But if you think finishing your book in tropical paradise might be for you, we’d love to spend that time together.

More information about Rebirth Your Book retreats. (If you’re already close to done, there’s room for two more in Italy in October!)

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Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor. Please say hello if you’re at Hippocamp!

Ten Reasons Why Women Writers Can’t Write 10,000 Words, Written by a Woman Writer

June 12, 2019 § 36 Comments

brianna bellBy Brianna Bell

Last week Jeffrey Goldberg, mansplainer-in-chief at The Atlantic, wrote an article appearing to suggest that women can’t write 10,000 words. Women across the world nodded their heads in unison, “Yes, Mr. Goldberg,” they said. “Finally a white man who understands us.”

I can’t write 10,000 words, because I’m a woman, of course. I can write 700 words, however, and a listicle is even better for my short attention span. As the wise Mark Twain once said, “write what you know,” and what I know is why I cannot write 10,000 words.

Here are the reasons:

Women can’t write long features because we’re so busy talking

I know that women can be long-winded, but that’s when we’re using our mouth, using our fingers to type is a completely different thing. Besides, women don’t need facts and figures to back them up when we ramble on with our words. If only we spent less time talking, we could have the gumption to write long-winded stories like white men can.

We are too busy with our families to write 10,000 words

Women work really hard to balance it all. But some dreams are just too big and insurmountable. Sure, we can write a 2,000-word feature in Good Housekeeping, but we cannot write a full cover story of 10,000 words. We can’t even read those cover stories—we skim them quickly between soccer practice or driving our elderly parent to their dentist appt (we can’t even write the full word, appointment, appt will do). There is no time to read 10,000 words, and there is definitely no time to write 10,000 words.

We prefer the personal essay

Women are such deep feelers. My feelings are so deep, an ocean can barely contain all the feelings I have, about all the things. The personal essay is perfect because it requires only feelings, no research or statistics.

The women who can write 10,000 words, write books instead

There are some women out there that are capable of writing more than their grocery list. But these energetic women decide to focus their time writing books. Although women don’t like reading 10,000-word magazine features, we love ourselves a good book. There’s nothing like chick lit and a hot bubble bath to relax us after a long day of balancing it all.

There already is one woman doing it

It is important to fill quotas, and I don’t think it’s right for men to dominate with their 10,000 words without a little bit of a challenge. Luckily, there was that one woman who wrote a cover story that one time, and so now thankfully we can say that we’ve already done it. There’s no need to put too much pressure on ourselves.

We get distracted easily

There’s nothing like a woman who flits about, from one task to the next. One minute she’s folding a load of laundry, the next she’s paying the heat bill, and then she remembers her Starbucks date with her high school friend Sally, so she’s flitted off to that. Expecting a woman to stay focused for an entire 10,000 words on a single story is an impossible expectation.

I know I said that this would be 10 points and 700 words, but I’ve been writing this at my kitchen island while my three kids, two cats, and a dog all begged for snacks and entertainment. I simply cannot finish, which proves that Mr. Goldberg was absolutely correct. Us women cannot be trusted to write 10,000 words.

For this woman writer, 590 words will do.
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Brianna Bell is a Canadian freelance writer with work published in The Independent, CBC, and The Globe & Mail. She has never written a 10,000-word feature.

My One, My Only

May 16, 2019 § 2 Comments

thorntonMichaella A. Thornton, in a flash essay from our May 2019 issue, released this week, writes beautifully about her one, her only child, and what the stranger in the grocery store will never understand:

I will not show you photographs of my pin-pricked stomach, a quilt of blue, green, and yellow bruises with Band-Aids of the solar system over fresh injection sites. I will not show you the hardship of lying prostrate on our marriage bed, ass in the air, gritting my teeth as my husband administers the long, nightly needle, progesterone shots to keep me pregnant. He never complains; he never tells anyone else what he is going through either. I will not show you our loneliness together. I will not show you him holding a fresh, perfect baby as the doctors put my organs back into my body, as I throw up into a kidney-shaped pan, crying over and over again to my newborn daughter, “I love you. I love you so much.”

The rest of Thornton’s lovely essay can (and should) be read here.

The Dance Between Fiction and Nonfiction

May 15, 2019 § 3 Comments

castro-photo-1In her insightful craft essay, “Genre as a Vessel for Presence,” in our May 2019 issue of Brevity, Joy Castro explores the slow-dancing, inseparable relationship between fiction and nonfiction:

Both fiction and nonfiction can weave history, myth and legend into their narratives; both can investigate the limits of form. Both, at their best, are rooted in risk. My creative nonfiction is highly shaped and always already subjective, necessarily reliant on my faulty memory, idiosyncratic perceptions, evolving interpretations, and changeable feelings. My fiction, on the other hand, includes a great deal of accurate research, statistics, real places, the actual price of half a muffaletta at Central Grocery in New Orleans. A recently published short story is factually accurate in almost every respect, but its mood is entirely different from the way I felt when it all was happening. During the events, I felt bliss, but the story is sad. In the most intimate and important sense, then, the text falsifies what happened. Yet a neutral observer could testify to its truth.

That’s just a bit of Joy Castro’s wisdom and analysis. Read the full craft essay here.

Genre as a Vessel for Presence

Whenever Men Think I’m Smiling

May 14, 2019 § 1 Comment

Meganmp_davis Pillow Davis bares her teeth in the newest issue of Brevity, out just yesterday:

There are men all around me. There are all men and me. So I stare straight ahead. I drink my coffee. I let him touch me, because it could be worse, it could be worse, it could always be worse and then in the middle of the next sip of scalding coffee that I bring to my lips come the memories, descending on me like a flock of birds: the time when I was ten and a waiter cornered me in the dark restaurant hallway and ran a finger down the side of my breast and said wanna fuck—the time I was twelve and wore my first bikini to a pool party, and my father’s friend walked up and put his hand on my shoulder as he talked to my dad and with the other hand, pulled gently at the string of the bikini top, letting me know he could untie it any time he wanted—the time I was fourteen and in London on the Tube late at night and the drunk man got on and pressed his erection up against me again and again and I did nothing because I was terrified and then he stumbled off at the next stop—the time when I was sixteen, and the boy I thought was a friend grabbed my breast and kissed me with whiskey breath before I was able to push him away—and the time—and the time—the time the time the time the time and then the man turns and looks at me and the memories flutter and wing away.

This is just a bit. Read the entire brilliant essay here.

 

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