I’ve been pretty good at setting up interesting book tour events and pretty terrible, so far, at keeping a tour diary. I tend to get home and get immediately swept up in the next round of things. But I’m on a quasi retreat right now (family stuff), which is giving me the space to reflect on recent events.
Last week, I did a two-day stint at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. On day 1, I gave a presentation hosted by the women’s studies department and the Institute for Research on Women and Gender, or IRWG—which I later found out, to my delight, is pronounced “earwig.”
I thought about posting an image of an earwig here but it’s actually just too awful, so I will spare you.
This was only my second time presenting in a straight-up academic context, and I wrote a whole new talk for it. Representative sentence:
The notion that Riot Grrrl was principally touring musicians in their twenties and their implicitly younger fans—i.e., passive, girlish, consumerist, not themselves creative—rehearses a pervasive inability to take seriously the cultural work of female adolescence, an inability common even among feminists, an inability that has resulted in a particular and infuriating (to me) selective amnesia about Riot Grrrl that I saw becoming calcified in the two decades following its efflorescence, and that finally spurred me to tackle the story myself.
For awhile, I thought that the only way to learn to think in a more advanced fashion would be to go to a PhD program, which I was resistant to because the idea of spending a lot of time writing things that would be read by only three people made no sense to me. (Before you fire up your snarky e-mail, I don’t mean journal articles and academic books—I know those can have several thousand readers—I mean papers for class.) It turned out, apparently, that working for a magazine whose writers are mostly professors has had a deep impact on the range of modes in which I feel comfortable thinking and writing.
After the talk was over, I realized that there were quite a few teenagers present—not just college-student teenagers, but kids who were in high school. A few of the kids were part of something called RIOT YOUTH. It’s a group of LGBTQQA youth (the second Q is “questioning”; the A is “allies”; you know you’ve gotten old when the next generation’s acronyms are mysteries to you) that’s part support and social group, part activist group.
They bought a copy of the book for their Riot Youth library and agreed to pose with it for me.
They all told me their names, grades, and pronouns, and I thought about the line in my book where I talk about the riot grrrls feeling themselves kindreds of the older feminist activists and at the same time feeling miles out ahead of them. And I also thought about Jessica Hopper writing “BLAZE THE FUCK PAST US.”
I asked the Riot Youth what they are working on, activist-wise. They said, “We’re doing a lot of safe schools stuff, mostly around antibullying. We have a Gayrilla Theater troupe—we did an assessment and then we wrote a script dramatizing the main issues and performed it for administrators and counselors and principals, and we’re working now on writing a new script to perform for peers. It’s a really good script.”
Oh. Well, okay. Um, what am I working on, then?
The next morning I had breakfast with my dear friend Ilana, whom I was staying with, and her friend Akiva. Akiva and I have a million friends and acquaintances in common in the New York magazine/writer/whatever world so we just gossiped all through breakfast. Here is a photo of me and him looking quasi-mistrustful and smug, respectively. I’m partial to the light coming in; I feel like some kind of medieval saint.
We ate at Fleetwood Diner, which is known for a vegetarian dish called Hippie Hash. You can see it on my plate above, but here’s a close-up that I pulled from Google Images.
I somehow didn’t realize until later, when my strength began fading and I thought back on it, that Hippie Hash contains no protein other than like half an ounce of crumbled feta cheese. Maybe it’s called Hippie Hash because after you eat it, you feel sluggish and slow like somebody who has smoked too much pot.
Walking back to Akiva’s car after breakfast, we were discussing the recent VIDA survey showing how women’s writing is published in major magazines far less often than men’s. Many theories about why this is the case involve the idea that women are less ambitious in their pitches—that perhaps we’re more inclined to stick with assignments from an editor who likes us, say, rather than plotting our next move proactively. I asked Akiva what publications he would be pitching if he were me, if he had just written the book I wrote. I thought maybe he, as a man, would have more ambitious ideas, and then I could act on them, become masculinely ambitious, and buck the Vida-documented trend.
But as soon as he started giving his ideas, I started arguing with him and talking about which sorts of pitches and publications would be better than the ones he was suggesting to me.
Maybe the most helpful thing for the women whose absence is mapped by the Vida study, these women who (it’s implied) aren’t being published as “well” or “ambitiously” as they ought to or could be, would be a male friend to argue with.
This is a flippant thought, and I hope to take it up in greater detail later, but I’m tired and the above mentioned family stuff is super draining, so for now I’m going to leave it at that.
After the Hippie Hash breakfast, I was interviewed on a radio show on WCBN called Living Writers, during which I apologized for being such a bad blogger and refused to make up for it by singing opera on the air. I haven’t listened to the show yet, but you can find a link to it here.
Then I had lunch and then I did some work and then I gave a reading sponsored by the creative writing department and then we all went to dinner and then I went to sleep and then I woke up very very early and flew home. And I love Ilana. The End.