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robertogreco : elisaalbert   1

The Snarling Girl | Hazlitt
"Oh really, she says. Now I matter? Wrong, motherfucker: I mattered before. (Also: Nope, can’t help you write a book, best of luck.)

She’s a little trigger-happy on the misanthropic rage, this snarling girl. She is often accused of “not living up to her potential.” She is neither inspired by nor impressed with prep school. The college admissions race leaves her cold. Her overbearing mother berates her about crappy grades and lack of ambition. (O-ho, the snarling girl says, you want to see lack of ambition? I’ll show you lack of ambition!) Where she is expected to go right, she makes a habit of veering left. She is not popular, not likely to succeed. Her salvation arrives (surely you saw this coming) in the form of books, movies, music. She obsessively follows the trail of breadcrumbs they leave behind. Here is a neat kind of power: she can be her own curator. She can find her way from one sustaining voice to another, sniffing out what’s true, what’s real. In her notebooks she copies out passages from novels, essays, poems, and songs. She Sharpies the especially resonant bits on her bedroom wall. This is how she learns to trust herself, no easy feat. These are epigraphs to the as yet unwritten book of her life, rehearsals for the senior page she is keen to assemble. These stories and lines and lyrics are companionship, proof that the universe is much, much bigger than her radioactive family and rich bitch west L.A. and Hebrew school and Zionist summer camp. Behold: She is not crazy! She is not alone! She is not a freak! Or, rather: she is crazy, she is alone, she is a freak, and she’ll keep glorious company with all of these other crazy, lonely, amazing freaks.

Look at her notebooks, all in a row. They live in my study, above shelves stacked with my books, galleys, audiobooks, foreign editions, literary journals, anthologies, Literary Death Match Champion medal, and piles of newspapers and magazines in which I’m celebrated as this amazing thing: a writer. A novelist. Legit. But witness, please, no coincidence, the notebooks live above that stuff. Spiral-bound, leather-bound, fabric-bound, black, pink, green, floral. This Notebook Belongs To: Elisa Albert, neatly printed in the earliest, 1992. Fake it ’til you make it, girl! The notebooks have seniority. Here is how she began to forge a system of belief and belonging, to say nothing of a career. Am I aggrandizing her? Probably. I am just so goddamn proud of her."



"Everything worthwhile is a sort of secret, not to be bought or sold, just rooted out painstakingly in whatever darkness you call home.

Here is what we know for sure: there is no end to want. Want is a vast universe within other vast universes. There is always more, and more again. There are prizes and grants and fellowships and lists and reviews and recognitions that elude us, mysterious invitations to take up residence at some castle in Italy. One can make a life out of focusing on what one does not have, but that’s no way to live. A seat at the table is plenty. (But is it a good seat? At which end of the table??? Alongside whom!?) A seat at the table means we are free to do our work, the end. Work! What a fantastic privilege."



"Some ambition is banal: Rich spouse. Thigh gap. Gold-buckle shoes. Quilted Chanel. Penthouse. Windowed office. Tony address. Notoriety. Ten thousand followers. A hundred thousand followers. Bestseller list. Editor-in-Chief. Face on billboard. A million dollars. A million followers. There are ways of working toward these things, clear examples of how it can be done. Programs, degrees, seminars, diets, schemes, connections, conferences. Hands to shake, ladders to climb. If you are smart, if you are savvy, who’s to stop you? Godspeed and good luck. I hope you get what you want, and when you do, I hope you aren’t disappointed.

Remember the famous curse? May you get absolutely everything you want.

Here’s what impresses me: Sangfroid. Good health. The ability to float softly with an iron core through Ashtanga primary series. Eye contact. Self-possession. Loyalty. Boundaries. Good posture. Moderation. Restraint. Laugh lines. Gardening. Activism. Originality. Kindness. Self-awareness. Simple food, prepared with love. Style. Hope. Lust. Grace. Aging. Humility. Nurturance. Learning from mistakes. Moving on. Letting go. Forms of practice, in other words. Constant, ongoing work. No endpoint in sight. Not goal-oriented, not gendered. Idiosyncratic and pretty much impossible to monetize.

I mean: What kind of person are you? What kind of craft have you honed? What is my experience of looking into your eyes, being around you? Are you at home in your body? Can you sit still? Do you make me laugh? Can you give and receive affection? Do you know yourself? How sophisticated is your sense of humor, how finely tuned your understanding of life’s absurdities? How thoughtfully do you interact with others? How honest are you with yourself? How do you deal with your various addictive tendencies? How do you face your darkness? How broad and deep is your perspective? How willing are you to be quiet? How do you care for yourself? How do you treat people you deem unimportant?

So you’re a CEO. So you made a million dollars. So your name is in the paper. So your face is in a magazine. So your song is on the radio. So your book is number one. You probably worked really hard; I salute you. So you got what you wanted and now you want something else. I mean, good, good, good, great, great, great. But if you have ever spent any time around seriously ambitious people, you know that they are very often some of the unhappiest crazies alive, forever rooting around for more, having a hard time with basics like breathing and eating and sleeping, forever trying to cover some hysterical imagined nakedness.

I get that my foremothers and sisters fought long and hard so that my relationship to ambition could be so … careless. I get that some foremothers and sisters might read me as ungrateful because I don’t want to fight their battles, because I don’t want to claw my way anywhere. My apologies, foremothers: I don’t want to fight. Oh, is there still sexism in the world? Sigh. Huh. Well. Knock me over with a feather. Now: how do I transplant the peonies to a sunnier spot so they yield more flowers next year or the year after? How do I conquer chapter three of this new novel? I’ve rewritten it and rewritten it for months. I need asana practice, and then I need to sit in meditation for a while. Then some laundry. And the vacuum cleaner needs a new filter. Then respond to some emails from an expectant woman for whom I’m serving as doula. And it’s actually my anniversary, so I’m gonna write my spouse a love letter. Then pick up the young’un from school. And I need to figure out what I’m making for dinner. Something with lentils, probably, and butter. Then text my friends a stupid photo and talk smack with them for a while.

Taking care of myself and my loved ones feels like meaningful work to me, see? I care about care. And I don’t care if I’m socialized to feel this way, because in point of fact I do feel this way. So! I am unavailable for striving today. I’m suuuuuper busy.

Yes, oppression is systemic, I get it, I feel it, I live it, I struggle, I do. Women are not equal, we’re not fairly represented, the pie charts are clear as day: nothing’s fair, nothing at all, it’s maddening, it’s saddening, it’s not at all gladdening. We all suffer private and public indignities (micro-aggressions, if you prefer) big and small. It’s one thing to pause and grapple with unfairness, but if we set up camp there, we can’t get anything done, can’t get to the root of the problem. So sure, great, go on and on about how women should help other women! Rah rah, put it on a T-shirt, sell it on Etsy. Great marketing, but what’s actually being accomplished? Who, specifically, is being helped? A collection of egos shouting ME ME ME is not artistically or intellectually productive or interesting.

“Real” work is often invisible, and maybe sort of sacred as such. The hollering and clamoring and status anxiety and PR two inches from our collective eyeballs all day? Not so much. So tell the gatekeepers to shove it, don’t play by their rules, and get back to work on whatever it is you hold dear. Nothing’s ever been fair. Nothing will ever be fair. But there is ever so much work to be done. Pretty please can I go back to my silly sweet secret sacred novel now? Bye. Take care."



"Here’s what bothers me about conventional ambition, the assumption that we all aspire to the top, the winner’s circle, the biggest brightest bestest, the blah blah blah, and that we will run around and around and around our little hamster wheels to get there: most of these goals are standardized. Cartoonish. Cliché. Beware anything standardized, that’s what I would teach my daughter. Health care, ambition, education, diet, culture: name it, and you will suffer endlessly from any attempt to go about it the same way as some projected Everyone Else. You cannot be standardized. You are a unique flower, daughter. Maybe the Ivy League will be wonderful for you; maybe it will crush your soul. If the former, I will mortgage the house to pay your way; if the latter, give that shit the finger and help me move these peonies, will you? You are not defined by such things, either way. Anyway, let us discuss what we want to whip up for dinner and take turns playing DJ while doing so.

“She can, though every face should scowl / And every windy quarter howl / Or every bellows burst, be happy still.” That was Yeats.

I mean, fuck ambition, that’s where this is going. I don’t buy the idea that acting like the oppressor is a liberation, personal ambition being, in essence, see above, patriarchal. And yeah, about recognition. What about when genius and/or hard work isn’t recognized? Because often it isn’t, and what do we make of that… [more]
elisaalbert  writing  belief  2017  literature  purpose  books  notebooks  care  caring  emotionallabor  whatmatters  feminism  audience  small  slow  ambition  standardization  mayaangelou  patriarchy  liberation  recognition  success  mastery  accomplishment  sideeffects  unintendedconsequences  striving  humility  winning 
april 2017 by robertogreco

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