Friday, August 30, 2013

Why THE PARIS REVIEW's fashion article made me nauseous.

The piece starts like this, "In New York City's esteemed literary world, there are parties, and then there are The Paris Review parties..."

If you didn't read that in a slightly drunken slurry British accent -- or pick your Capote or a little Tsa Tsa Gabor -- you've done it wrong. Go back and start over.

The piece appears here at and goes on to offer a slideshow of the various editors and interns (and one box of high heels) talking about their taste in fashion and sometimes literature within the gorgeous digs of The Paris Review now lodged in a loft space in New York City, in Chelsea to be exact. 

Reading it, I felt a little nauseous and yet riveted. It was like finding out that there's still an airline -- a secret, hidden, desperately expensive airline -- that still makes their stewardesses weigh in and has a uniform of pink twill suits with matching berets.

And on this airline, which you'll never see with your own eyes, they serve cocktails and prawns. 

On the one hand, I felt sorry for some of the editors. One, in particular, seemed to say (without saying it), I hate this. I'm in hell. Can't you see the fear I'm telegraphing to you via my pained language?

Others seemed to take it in stride. Maybe they even enjoyed it a little. And I'd be lying if I said I didn't look lovingly at the slide that focused on the box of heels. I did.

And it's fine to have a hip literary magazine with an incredible pedigree featured in a fashion magazine. It's good for those who wouldn't normally think of poetry and fiction and lit-rah-cha in their day-to-day and see it dressed in a leather mini-skirt with over-the-knee socks. Right? Right.

But the problem is that the piece actually zipped around to poets and writers. And in this crowd -- especially the younger poets and writers -- it's hard to take and I fear it sends the wrong message.

It seems to say there's an It-Crowd in literature and you're either in or your not and your career hinges on this invite and, moreover, your fashion sense is crucial.

Listen. Line up the biggest award winners and bestsellers and critical favorites from the last ten years. You're not going to get many fashion tips. Trust me.

If there is a literary It-Crowd, they don't matter as much as those who write brilliantly regardless of where they live and what parties they attend and what heels their donning.

Personally, I couldn't be an artist in New York City. I spent a good bit of time there as a kid and interned there at 19 and, even then, I knew that it crashed my circuits -- too much to process and I'm a processor.

I've been to a few parties of the literary variety, and I prefer parties of the non-literary variety, frankly. I prefer being around people who do something different from what I do -- give me a guy who researches monogamous prairie voles or an artist who's making a bust of her mother from dead cell phones or a guy who just inherited the family farm but isn't a farmer or a bartender or a woman who does the hair for the deceased at a funeral parlor. Give me your bawdy librarian! Give me the guy who raises falcons! Give me a league of dart players!

Now -- most importantly -- let me tell you what I'm wearing. 

I'm barefoot. I'm wearing a longish sweater adorned with dollops of wispy dog fur -- collie to be exact. Under that, I have on one of my husband's soccer-coach shirts -- given free with the entry into a soccer tournament for 12 year old boys. Youthful, yes, but not overstated. My yoga pants, which my oldest daughter has dubbed "my generation's equivalent of the muumuu" are inside out. Seams chafe me. In fact, I come from a long hereditary line of those chafed by seams. 

Could you say this is also how my literary tastes run? [Insert gentle laughter.] Well, of course.  

Now, wherever you are, go write your ass off.