This summer was the summer I gave up applying for things. I have always wanted to be the person who gets into the fancy things and then spurns them--you know this person? The person who is so smart everyone wants her, and then she is just disdainful--but it has been a long many years for me, of being the person who is actually visibly too far out there to be remotely appealing to the fancy things, whether the fancy thing is a doctorate at Columbia (who was I kidding?) or a prestigious artist residency. And finally it just started to seem like a waste of my time, applying to places that were never going to let me in, and so I officially gave up, and then a week later I got a letter from one of the fanciest residencies of all, asking me to come. I won't lie, I cried. So that's where I've been, this last month, living in a little cabin in the woods and going running for miles through acres of forest, getting my lunch delivered every day in a picnic basket (!!!), feeling suddenly like maybe I am not such a fuckup after all. Maybe I am finally figuring out how to do this right.
It's kind of a convention, at this residency, to present your work to the other people there. Artists have open studios and composers play their pieces and writers read. Filmmakers show their movies. No big deal. People drink whiskey and look thoughtful, and then later in the night when the whiskey is gone no one looks thoughtful at all and everyone plays ping pong. But I couldn't do it. I don't know why. I like my work; I think when it is good it is quite good, or at least funny, which always goes over well at readings--but there was just something in me, this month, that said No very firmly. So I didn't do it. Instead, I made the other artists at my artist residency watch The Lost Boys.
Someone asked me after the movie what it is that vampires represent for me, I think to inject some kind of seriousness into the proceedings, and I couldn't really say. I mean, there's the obvious stuff. You don't have to have a graduate degree in semiotics to know there is something about sex in there. Adolescence, fearlessness, intoxication. Really good clothes--to be honest, that that is one of my biggest beefs with Twilight, that Stephenie Meyer mistook the apparatuses of capitalism (the vampires' expensive cars, blandly luxurious houses, nondescript "designer" clothes) for a cultivated aesthetic, like those people who get a lot of money suddenly and turn their house into a Pottery Barn showroom. "I spent a lot of money on it": not much edge in that.
But also, and this is something I keep coming back to, the vampires are having a way better time than everyone else. And for those of us who grew up on the margins of girlness, who understood as girl-children that someone had handed us a bad apple (no pun intended), the appeal of those boys is irresistible. Not to love them, but to be them, to inhabit their lives, their swagger, their total surety in their own coolness and power. Who wants to be dopey Star, cow-eyed and incompetent and saddled with a kid, when you can be David, jumping off railroad bridges into the dark without blinking, your long black coat flapping around you. Like a lot of women I knew who picked hoodlumry over the narrow playing field of being pretty, it took me a long time to figure out you can live like a boy without picking on girls, that there are a lot of different strategies for taking up space in a female body and all of them are equally valuable. But I've never lost my love of the lost boys' posturing, or the visceral feeling it evokes in me. Not that's what I want , but that's what I want to be. That's kind of, as silly as it sounds, the person I am turning out to be: not fearless, but getting there. Not the toughest, but pretty tough. Not in possession of Laddie's Civil War band jacket, but there is always Ebay.
It's been a strange month, out here in the woods, and a beautiful one, and one I am intensely grateful for. It is funny to be in a place where someone with the most enviable imaginable career trajectory--years as an editor at a very major magazine, published essays in all the big places, big book deal--can tell me over a glass of whiskey, in all seriousness, how jealous she is of my own career trajectory (which is, basically: "dropped out of college to be a hellion"). It is surreal to be at the dinner table with a lot of perfectly ordinary-looking people talking about perfectly ordinary things, who will casually mention the time they won a Guggenheim, or the time they were in Indonesia on a Fulbright, or the time they got their doctorate from Juilliard. When people ask me what I write about, I say, "Myself." Which always elicits a laugh--but it is, as you know, quite true. I write about myself all the time. That is pretty much all I write about, is myself. This is already a very long piece, this piece I am writing ostensibly about The Lost Boys, but which is, in fact, about me. I do not have a resumé, let alone an MFA. But I have never let anyone make me feel small in my life, and I see no reason to start now.
What is The Lost Boys about? I guess, for me, it is about not apologizing for what you are, whether that is a vampire or a person who takes only nineties band shirts and black leggings to your artist residency ("Have you ever, like, worn a color? What if I paid you to wear a color?" --a very prestigious filmmaker), barely has a college degree, and spends the bulk of her days thinking deep thoughts about herself and snacking. There are people here who are doing work that is incredible--I mean, really, really, incredible, work that is political and charged and making public things that should be known--and that's been inspiring, too, and reminds me of a time when I did work that felt useful, and I have been asking myself a lot how to make my own writing do more to create change in the world. How to make work that is also, always, activism, but also, always, good. There are people here who I adore, and people who I find a little tedious; people who are charmed by my vagaries, and people who think I am obnoxious. That's what happens, when you put some human beings in the woods together. "Now you know what we are," says Kiefer Sutherland, "and now you know what you are."
It gets easier when you start figuring out that everyone is fucking up all the time, fucking up and muddling through, whether that person is you or the person who just won the Guggenheim, and that is maybe the best lesson: we are all doing the best we can, most of us, and there is no real answer to any of it. We are all picking our own roads. I'm at the end of a month in the woods at what is basically a very high-end art camp, and it's been every different kind of magical, and there are also the parts where you are stuck in a cabin for a long time with your own brain, and sometimes that is less magical, and there is no moral to this story except that I am figuring it out. You know? The whole thing. Maybe fucking up, but getting somewhere. Maybe running away, maybe staying here. Maybe this book will go somewhere, maybe it won't. Maybe the world will end tomorrow. Maybe I will pick up everything and go to Spain and eat olives in a field until the ice caps melt and everything is over. There is always a tomorrow where you get to pick something else: that's what I remembered this month, and had forgotten. I do know what I am. Bloodsucking Brady Bunch and all.