My deepest impulses are optimistic, an attitude that seems to me as spiritually necessary and proper as it is intellectually suspect. In college and for some time afterward, my education taught me that the supreme imperative was courage to face the awful truth, to scorn the soft-minded optimism of religious and secular romantics as well as the corrupt optimism of governments, advertisers, and mechanistic or manipulative revolutionaries. I learned that lesson well (though it came too late to wholly supplant certain critical opposing influences, like comic books and rock-and-roll). Yet the modernists’ once-subversive refusal to be gulled or lulled has long degenerated into a ritual despair as least as corrupt, soft-minded, and cowardly—not to say smug—as the false cheer it replaced. The terms of the dialectic have reversed: now the subversive task is to affirm an authentic postmodernist optimism that gives full weight to existent horror and possible (or probable) apocalyptic disaster, yet insists—credibly—that we can, well, overcome. The catch is that you have to be an optimist (an American?) in the first place not to dismiss such a project as insane.
Ellen Willis, “Tom Wolfe’s Failed Optimism”
I flipped open to a random page in The Essential Ellen Willis and this is the first paragraph I read. (I stopped, I supposed, out of a mean desire to see Tom Wolfe, who I worshipped for a time in college, obliterated as a fraud.) Just so, so stupid good; I can’t tell if it’s worrisome that one paragraph written in 1977 crystallizes so many things I feel about 2014.
Talk about irony: the worst insult you could throw at those of us who had been formed by the sixties was to imply that we were living in the past; not to be totally wired into the immediate moment meant getting old, which we hoped we would die before
— Ellen Willis, “Beginning to See the Light”
At a book thing. The DJ will not play Drake, or anything anyone likes, so we’ve appended stickers to our necks in protest. No one is dancing; no one has danced; I think a “Come On Eileen” remix, or what sounds like it, is playing right now. Don’t move to New York.
Ill-conceived businesses sprout like weeds in neighborhoods such as the Lower East Side or Lincoln Park, where on any given day you’ll walk past stores that sell gourmet candy, specialty bath soaps, artisinal olive oil, custom dog furniture, and so forth, shops where upon stopping for just one second to glance inside you’ll notice a clerk or two immediately craning their neck to catch the eye of you, the prospective customer, so that you almost feel the need to apologetically wave your hand as you continue walking. You and your friends are skeptical of these places, because they never last and probably shouldn’t. But on Saturday night, it’ll be two A.M. and you need something to eat, most places are closed except for fast food or pizza joints and if the hunger isn’t enough you also have to go to the bathroom so you’re even antsier, and so as you’re both walking past the fancy-pants grilled cheese place that’s just opened on Allen, the one you said “is probably a trap,” he notices the sign advertising a late night special—grilled cheese and a beer for $7, and you say why not because hey, life’s an adventure. And not only is the grilled cheese the best you’ve had in years, the bread crisp and pleasantly acrid, the cheddar pungent and gooey, there’s even a pickle and bowl of tomato soup unadvertised on the sign, but there’s a bathroom. A bathroom! It would be good to be this wrong all of the time.
My only advice for young writers (as a “young writer” myself I realize this is precious, but allow me): Try not to tweet. If you must tweet—if the spirit rises, the blood boils, the brain crackles with thoughts and strands of thoughts so salient, so prescient, that they must be spat into the world (believe me, I know the feeling)—definitely try not to tweet your opinions. Save them for a medium where you can actually explain yourself.
I went to the Pokemon World Championships in Washington D.C. and wrote about it for The Awl.
Dressing for work got a lot easier once I decided to wear black every day (in mourning for Federer’s exit at the U.S. Open, which I’m honestly already over but why ruin a convenient thing).
September 4, 2014 at 3:29pm
Big day at the ‘fork