I met a woman at a party on the west side of the river. She was reading my Facebook posts and messaged me to say her husband was a contractor. This is a way the world is better. Everyone’s art is an expression of personality. I am a scrounger. I get on whatever plane is leaving the airport. I make meals from whatever’s in the fridge. Arizona was always an airport lounge to me. The house in Hudson is where you go to from the airport. People on Facebook are beating up white male filmmakers and white male writers for focusing on the inner and outer lives of male characters just like them. These men are being asked by people on Facebook to make art a different way. To make art that would interest the people who are unhappy. You can’t ask artists to do this. Art is not a takeout menu. You can’t order the hamburger with a salad instead of the fries. The only thing you can do is recognize in any moment whether you are moved by something you encounter and opened to the world. These men have lived their entire lives betting on the understanding that everyone was interested in them. Everyone was was not interested in them, but only now, during the last three years—and you know why this is—is everyone saying to these men, “Your way of working and thinking about what is cause and what is effect makes no impression on me. I don’t believe you. I’m not moved by you, and you take up too much space.” On our road is a farm with sheep, and each day as we approach the farm, we wonder whether the sheep will be standing or sitting in the snow, inside their enclosure or wandering about their pens. Richard’s interest in the workings of the house have become my interest. It’s like discovering unseen rooms in him—secret basements where pipes and wires crawl across the ceilings. I can’t tell if I am recovering from my back injury at the same speed I would have when young, or if my body is taking longer, or if the injury was so horrendous I should be happy I could right myself like a turtle and scuttle off at all. In Arizona, I would lie on our bed and look at the pictures arranged on the opposite wall. They were mounted like postage stamps in an album, and I never tired of looking at the different color mats or the images inside the frames. I never know why I am chosing an image, but I always know what image to choose. Now the pictures from the bedroom are spread around the new house, and I remember the beauty of their former composition and all the fruit I would pick off the trees as I walked. I thought Richard would forget his life in Arizona after we left, and he has, just as I have forgotten my former lives that in retrospect seem a little like stage sets. Things happened in these spaces, but it no longer matters because the world is entirely changed, and I am entirely changed. Our house will be a place no one has ever seen before.
When we went down to the basement one day with our realtor, he unfolded an old, blue plastic tarp, and out jumped a commune of black spiders. I said, “What are they?” He said, “Poisonous.” I said, “Should we kill them?” He said, “You could.” I have taken to wearing pink iridescent gardening clogs. Every step matters. We have taken to falling asleep at 10 and waking up at 4. We are learning about the house after the fact, the way I have learned about every relationship I have ever been in. In the basement, I picked up a circular metal thing I guessed served an electrical purpose and felt a sudden jolt of pain in the pillow of my thumb so surprising I didn’t know what kind of pain it was or what had caused it. I dropped the thing on the metal table I had picked it up from and walked away. Then something clicked below consciousness and I walked back. It couldn’t have been a shock, so it must have been a sting or a bite, and sure enough when I inspected the metal thing again, the head of a wasp or hornet peeked out. The insect was indolent, one of those bugs past flying that scuttles along improbably on a cement floor. I hit it several times with the thing it had been living in because I was angry and afraid, and a few moments later saw myself as witless and cruel. The sting did not hurt very much. Everyone who looked at the house before us was stopped by the serial killer aspect of the basement with its corroded metal shelves, duct tape remedies, and decades of mounded dirt. The first thing I thought when I saw the tragic carelessness of the banged out wall between the two basements, the bloody, chipped-tooth, broken mouth aspect of the hole in the wall was, I can make it beautiful. I was thinking the other day, Any man with a sexy mouth is going to have a better life. I was thinking there are no good endings. All endings are bad. That is why it is difficult to end a story. You have to stop before the end, because the end is always bad. The standard ideas about endings–just no. Arrival, no. Death, no. Marriage, no. A baby, no. Love gained, no. Knowledge acquired, no. Today I bought a cotton mop and two pails and Pine Sol.
This morning in bed, Richard and I listened to Joni Mitchell singing “Case of You,” and I thought about some of the lyrics and ways they might be interpreted in #MeToo‘s framing of sex and female suffering. I know there is no such thing as a #MeToo philosophy you can nail down, but bear with me in my attempt to think about a thrust from feminism, the reboot that misses some of the subtlety of sexual desire mixed with drunken passion for another person you are lucky in a lifetime to feel even once. That’s what the song portrays, these feelings felt by a woman for a man. It’s widely known Joni was writing about her love affair with Leonard Cohen. The lyrics that struck me were these:
I met a woman
She had a mouth like yours, she knew your life
She knew your devils and your deeds and she said
“Go to him
stay with him if you can
But be prepared to bleed”
Oh, but you are in my blood you’re my holy wine
You’re so bitter
Bitter and so sweet, oh
I could drink a case of you darling
Still I’d be on my feet
I would still be on my feet
The woman with a mouth like Leonard’s is his mother. So here is a mother–not Joni’s, but a woman of an older generation instructing a younger woman about how to shape herself around an attractive but clearly difficult man. From our perspective now, you could wonder why Mom doesn’t think her son needs to reshape himself to fit better into Joni’s needs. In 1971, when the song was composed, the women’s movement was in full throttle and plenty of us were thinking these exact thoughts. But Joni wasn’t a feminist and has said numerous times she still isn’t a feminist, damn her, but put that bit aside for now. I am. Back to young Joni and young Leonard. Young Leonard is already a star and very sexy. He just had a sexiness about him that came across in his writing, a man awash in sex in ways women could identify with. Me, anyway. I don’t know if he was actually good in bed, but never mind that, too. Leonard can probably have sex with anyone he wants whenever he wants to, and who is going to resist that? (This is a rhetorical question.) The thing I love about this song and this particular lyric is that Joni/narrator doesn’t care about getting wounded. She is “prepared to bleed” because we always have to be prepared to bleed in these kinds of encounters in life. There is no safety that any amount of reforming men can assure, and even if there were, then there would not be “the case of you” to drink. The “case of you” is the sense of sweptness you feel in a passionate erotic relationship, however long it lasts, and it doesn’t last long like this, in my experience. The point I am making and I think I am making a point is that the song understands the stakes of these kinds of feelings and that they are joyous to celebrate. They are joyous for women to express that they feel. Joni is in control of every note.
By now everyone on the planet knows you have to protect male supremacy and white supremacy all the time because they are unearned and unfair. The closer the awareness these powers are not intrinsic and are therefore vulnerable, the higher the degree of panic. The higher the degree of panic, the more brutal the enforcements on gender separation and the quarantining of othered bodies. The attack is the denial of knowledge that really can’t be deleted. Trump is the embodiment of this awareness/denial. Calling him a narcissistic child psychologizes his condition and seems to me irrelevant. He is the last best hope for white supremacy and male supremacy. That’s what these things look like now.
My next book will launch on January 15, 2020 and preorders will be available on November 1, 2019. Here is some information and advance praise.
For immediate release
Laurie Stone: Lstonehere@aol.com, 917-696-4059
To book events at bookstores: Louise Crawford and Linda Quigley
“A galvanic account of our era, a trumpet blare aimed at sleepwalkers.” – Emily Nussbaum
EVERYTHING IS PERSONAL, NOTES ON NOW
By Laurie Stone
January 15, 2020 (Scuppernong Editions)
Introduction by Chris Kraus, author of I Love Dick, After Kathy Acker
Afterward by Marco Roth, co-founder and editor of n+1
Laurie Stone’s Everything is Personal is a galvanic account of our era, a trumpet blare aimed at sleepwalkers. In essays and diary entries that are sharply observant, grieving and generous, Stone seeks links between 1968 and now, meditating with wit and complexity on her own intimate and intellectual history, the question of separating the artist from the art, sexual violence, romantic love, friendship, comedy, television and more. A voice unlike any other, she’s a fearless thinker in an age submerged in fear. –Emily Nussbaum, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, TV critic for The New Yorker.
EVERYTHING IS PERSONAL, NOTES ON NOW is a collage of hybrid narratives that begin with the stunning events of November 2016 and challenge Laurie Stone, a longtime feminist and writer for the Village Voice, to feel good when everything is bad. Stone travels to D.C. to bird-dog senators ahead of the hearings for Brett Kavanaugh, considers the pleasures and terrors of the #MeToo movement, and remembers her 25 years at the Voice after the announcement of its demise. Freely jumping between social commentary, criticism, memoir, and fiction, Stone reconsiders the legacy of Valerie Solanas and recalls the way that in 1968 the sense of power and hope made you feel it would always be 1968. The pieces are constructed the way dreams and films are: juxtaposing images, racing along with dolly shots, moving in for close-ups, and pulling back for a sweeping sense of time. Woven through the volume are chunks from Stone’s Facebook posts called “The Clock” that read like tender and funny postcards written to everyone from a time that is unimaginable, even as it’s being lived.
SOME ADVANCE PRAISE FOR EVERYTHING IS PERSONAL, NOTES ON NOW,
‘Every new language sounds harsh at first,’ writes Laurie Stone. Everything is Personal belongs on the shelf with Debord’s Society of the Spectacle and Adorno’s Minima Morialia, books that deliver great wisdom in rolling waves of epigrams. Stone knows that in a world crowded with opinions, a thought can’t just be good, it has to be elegant. Her powerful sentences smile at their own precision, they don’t just make a social point but offer a model on how to think, how to think in this time. As she says, ‘What offends you is always going to be my endangered devotion, and vice versa.’ As she says, ‘About the matter of redemption, as far as I am concerned, human beings don’t fall and therefore do not need to be redeemed. We are not on a path, period.’
—Michael Tolkin, author of The Player and cowriter of Escape at Dannemora.
To read Laurie Stone’s Everything is Personal, Notes on Now is to read Laurie Stone, is to experience a present tense intimacy with a lusty, testy, ebullient, scintillating mind, a woman’s mind, a woman who remembers the summer of ’68 and is living, right now, in this instant, through the Trump years, indeed is surviving the Trump years through documenting her perceptions and memories, her fierce judgments and sweeping opinions about everything from the Brontes to butter, Norman Mailer to Louis CK, Junot Diaz to bird shit, #MeToo to The Handmaid’s Tale, piranhas to praying mantises, The Village Voice to Andy Warhol’s shooter and author of SCUM Manifesto, Valerie Solanas, crystalizing, meanwhile, nuances of feeling—sanctimony, remorse, grief, desire desire desire, and then to keep us sane, to keep herself sane, moments like this: “It was chilly this morning, and I wore a black jacket with a paperclip for a zipper pull. The grass was the green of electricity, and the trees were heavy with grapefruits and lemons. It was silent. Ducks and geese paddled in the shape of a wedge. It reminded me of pie, and I missed my sister.” Read Laurie Stone. Read this book.
—Diane Seuss, author of Four-Legged Girl and Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl
Laurie Stone is the author of My Life as an Animal, Stories. She has published numerous stories in such publications as n + 1, Waxwing, Tin House, Evergreen Review, Fence, Open City, Threepenny Review, and Creative Nonfiction. Her next book will be Postcards from the Thing that is Happening, a collage of hybrid narratives.
Title: Everything is Personal, Notes on Now
Author: Laurie Stone
Introduction by: Chris Kraus
Afterward: Marco Roth
Publisher: Scuppernong Editions
Publication Date: January 15, 2020
On 12th Street, waiting for the light to change. We’re on a little island, and cars are whizzing fast. A young man in a hoodie sidles close and says, “How can I get money off you?” I don’t have anywhere to move. I say, “No.” It’s not the answer to his question. There’s a little hole in my mouth. A crown has come off at dinner the night before, and I’m on my way to the dentist to get it cemented back. He stands near me and says, “How can I get money off you?” I look at him. He’s beautiful. There are little tattoos on his face and hands. Blond corkscrew curls tumble out of the hoodie onto his forehead. His skin is the color of caramel, and there’s a tribal thing happening with his outfit and jewelry and the whole look of him. I say, “Sweetheart, you’re beautiful, and that’s no way to start a conversation with a stranger.” I’m carrying a yoga mat. A shy smile slowly forms on his face. Maybe he’s stoned and isn’t sure what’s happening. I don’t know what’s happening, either. It’s his beauty, or maybe the boredom of the way the thing is supposed to play out. Old to young. White to tan. Male to female. What the fuck ever to what the fuck ever. I say, “Let’s start again,” and I hold out my hand, and he takes my hand. It’s my favorite thing about New York, and I hate fear.
You must make the bodily sovereignty of women your first priority. It doesn’t matter if you don’t really care about the bodily sovereignty of women. It doesn’t matter that curtailments on the bodily sovereignty of women have in the past served your interests in ways you consciously or passively appreciated. None of this matters because the bodily sovereignty of male humans opposing the thing that has happened to us is also at risk and has been at risk since this thing started. The attack on the bodies of women is calculated to divide male humans from female humans. The world has always counted on men not to care, and there aren’t enough women to turn this around. The things running us know as well as we know that male humans have no record of making abortion rights their first priority, nor do male humans have a record of strenuously opposing restrictions on what the female body must wear and where the female body may go or not go. It’s not your body. Now, though, you need to put all that aside and pretend you do care about the bodies of women and the lives lived in those bodies. Or, you know, it’s not going to go well.
If you are a male human who has not wanted to play on the girls’ team because you don’t feel all that confident as a male, this is the time to get over it. If you are a male human who feels guilt and shame for enjoying male privilege and then feels rage at the thing that has stirred the guilt and shame, meaning female humans, this is the time to stop doing that. Male privilege is boring, however much you have benefitted from it. Actually, you haven’t benefitted. It’s dulled your senses to how power operates in the world. Also, nothing you believe you’ve earned has actually been earned on a level playing field. It’s like someone paid your boss to hire you. The love and compassion you feel pouring out to you from female humans is so coerced and unconsciously and reflexively extended, it’s kind of Stepford love. The thing that has happened to our country and that you hate and feel has turned you into a helpless blob of jelly requires you join with feminists to put an end to the core issue entrapping you. The one you’ve soft pedaled and enabled: a consuming war against the free bodies of women and the free lives lived in those bodies.
This morning Richard and I talked about mind/body dualism. He was in his bed in Arizona. I was in mine in New Y ork. It reminded me of our first conversation in a little library at Yaddo. I had been thinking about the way religion and consciousness must have arrived together in the mind of the small Lucy creature who first heard thoughts in her head. Somehow, the cries and gestures that signified fear or hunger were imagined rather than enacted, and it did not seem possible she had generated thought in her body. It sounded like a voice from an external source. A god or other external entity must have installed this marvelous power. I said to this man I had just met, “I think religion and consciousness arrived together, the second mistaken for the first.” He mentioned Daniel Dennett, and we were off and running along the savanna we have been wandering ever since. This past semester he has been teaching a course with his colleague Kostalena Michelaki about the agency of objects, combining their expertises on material culture, Richard as a museologist, Kostalena as an archaelogist. They have been trying to entice their students away from the habit of dualism and show them that the uber category that contains humans as well as non-organic entities is objects or things. Humans are objects with agency and consciousness. The planet we live on, too, is an object with agency that lacks consciousness. The planet has the agency to sustain or end organic existence, for example. Richard and Kostalena were also showing students the way objects and humans have always been embedded in one another, homo sapiens being the makers of tools, language being one of those tools, as the means of shaping their evolution. The human body, with its opposing thumb, is a combination of the organic and technological all the way in and all the way out. Richard had been reading the final papers of the students, many of whom had gone the way of object agency but still clung to forms of mind/body dualism. We talked about the seductions of dualism. What does it afford, and why it it so difficult to over-ride? It seemed to me the contradictions were in consciousness itself. On one hand, it’s difficult for people to join the category of object or thing because it seems like a demotion. It seems like a demotion because for so long our culture has believed in some form of special category for humans—designated by a diety for higher status. In other words metaphysics. Metaphysics entering with consciousness and language and language, in the way it symbolizes the nonpresent and nonmaterial, being the machine that produces metaphysics all the time. Consciousness doesn’t feel like an emanation of the body because it’s the nature of consciousness to feel split off from materiality. What is required is a trick of the mind, prompted by a nudge or bop on the head with a bladder at the end of a stick, to remind us that thought is material, that airy nothings are not airy and not nothings, although we feel them as split off from our blood and gristle. It is the power of imagination to create metaphysics and the power of imagination to understand that metaphysics is an invention of mind. You can’t have it both ways. There is no way to have it but both ways. I said something like this. Then we went off to boil our separate kettles and have tea.
I finished watching Leaving Neverland. Part two is extraordinary and moving. The men are present and touching, grappling with the complexity of their childhoods and the legacy of those experiences in their adult lives. Wade’s mother asks, “How could you not have told me?” It was the question my sister asked me about the sexual abuse I experienced at the hands of a man trusted and revered by my family. I was 14. My cousin, to whom it also happened, was 11 when it began for her. It happened to me twice in the course of a day and night. That’s all, and yet it marked my life, because the person who is doing it to you has no idea how they are changing you from that time forward. You are never going to be the person you were before those experiences, but this is only something I can tell you looking back over many decades. My sense of myself and of the world was spliced in that day. It never occurred to me to tell anyone at the time it happened, just as it did not occur to Wade and Jimmy to tell anyone, despite the fact that other boys came forward. It is part of the enchantment of the experience that you live with it inside you in ways that are not translatable. The film conveys this beautifully in the attention it pays to these men, remembering their lives with far less interest in blame than in seeing who they were and who the man was who ushered them to sex before they had words for these states of being. I was older and could attach language to it. Also, I was not seduced and did not love the man, as Jimmy and Wade loved Michael. I knew all sorts of things I could not speak about. The film is important in tracing the natural history of sexual abuse inside the people it happened to, inside the families that allowed it to occur, inside the culture that accepted the limitless power of certain individuals and still accepts their power.
I posted this on Facebook, then added these comments about switching focus to the bad man away from those who were manipulated: So often in stories about sexual abuse, the focus is on the abuser, so people can aim their righteous attention without having to take in the more nuanced and layered story of the person who came under the influence of power. What does it feel like being a child with the potential to upend the reality of everyone you know? That condition alone has enormous weight in your psyche, especially if it is unable to be shared. When I wrote about “The Incest Diary,” I found the same wish to shift focus to the bad man from the female narrator who was taking pains to present the moment-to-moment variability of her consciousness. Some people found that too difficult to look at, so they shut it down. To me, what these men are doing on camera in their vigilant accounts is riveting because it feels so right and because what happened to them and who they were in those moments also contains a component that will remain mysterious and unanalyzable.